How to give DCSS temporal tension and urgency with scaling Orb-Zigs

Table of Contents

  1. Pervasive urgency in Castle of the Winds
  2. Redesigning DCSS for urgency
  3. Homebrewing urgency with Orb-Zigs

Pervasive urgency in Castle of the Winds

Castle of the Winds features a constant tension between aggression and caution, as one strives to confront Surtur before he masters the Helm of the Winds. The monsters of the dungeon also respawn and become stronger over time.

The meta in Castle of the Winds is to simply minimize spellcasting, thereby minimizing the need for deep sleep to recover MP. The warrior expends HP instead to kill monsters, which is quickly recoverable via light sleep. The difference is minutes versus hours. Thus the warrior out-levels the dungeon and finds Surtur a relatively easy battle. So the lesson of Castle of the Winds is that mages are wimps and barbarians come first.

This is simplistic, but still fun since magic is an overpowered emergency tool. CotW is a kids game; DCSS is for adults.

Redesigning DCSS for urgency

Historically, DCSS has lacked a comprehensive sense of urgency. As a result, one can infinitely farm the Abyss. Players hurry out of impatience, not dread.

(Recent versions of DCSS attempt to mitigate this with a Zot clock, a clumsy and arbitrary mechanic. Each version of DCSS past .23 has been a net devolution, for reasons beyond the scope of the article.)

Food was a great fundamental urgency mechanic and should be restored. But ultimately, what's missing in DCSS is a clock that makes the Orb run harder the longer in game time you take.

Of course, the player also needs continual feedback on whether he's going too slow. Bringing back respawns would fix this. Respawns should grow more difficult over time, to stay relevant. Respawn farming on cleared floors provides diminishing returns due to the absence of loot from exploration.

Lastly, DCSS should add a difficulty setting should control the intensity of these mechanisms. The ideal difficulty results in a 50% personal winrate, because this maximizes the feedback sensitivity of the win-loss outcome, thereby improving the player learning rate. Otherwise elite players can simply farm easy zones until their winrate approaches 100%, resulting in interminable streaks. (Not that farming is currently necessary to streak.)

Homebrewing urgency with Orb-Zigs

Without changing the code, how can one simulate this tension with DCSS? Well, one could add a Ziggurat to the Orb run, with the required Zig depth increasing per in-game time spent. For example, multiply game days by 9 to get required Orb-Zig floors. Spend 3 days, and you must complete an Orb-Zig to escape! That should cut down the win-rate and add a bit of tension.

How can this requirement be justified in terms of plot?

Simple: You went TOO SLOW. Xom is BORED. He wants to throw you a GOING AWAY PARTY.

You can always skip it and leave, of courseā€¦ but not with your sanity.

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