Thursday, May 20, 2010

demigod strategy: tower-slam rook build

I thought I had my Demigod habit kicked but apparently not.  No doubt, Demigod can be incredibly frustrating.  On a slow night, it can take nearly an hour to get into a decent game.  Connectivity issues have cleared up a little, but still plague players regularly:  "mystery lag" can slow down a match in which everyone's ping seems to be fine, and your teammate might get disconnected unexpectedly halfway through.  It's enough to make you want to poke your eyes out.  But when it all gels, Demigod is still one of the best tactical, team-based games on the market.  

After having played ~400 complete games, I feel relatively competent with most of the demigods.  I'm probably weakest with Queen of Thorns and the Demon Assassin, but they're the weakest demigods for everyone.  It look me a long time to get the hang of Rook, but I finally feel like I can help my team dominate a match with the Big Guy.

I'd argue there are two viable Rook builds:
  • Tower spam:  max out Power of the Tower, load up on some mana items, and annoy the hell out of your opponents.  This is probably the most common build and it certainly can be an effective one.
  • Hybrid tower-slam:  some have argued that the problem with a 100% tower build is that Rook's towers decrease in value as a game goes on.  Enemy demigods will start stacking health and armor, so that even the thickest tower farms aren't doing enough damage on their own.  As such, it can help Rook significantly to have an additional Ace up his sleeve.
Here's the Rook build I've been working with lately:

1.  Power of the Tower I
2.  Archer Tower
3.  Structural Transfer I
4.  Power of the Tower II
5.  Boulder Roll I
6.  Tower of Light
7.  Hammer Slam I
8.  Hammer Slam II
9.  Hammer Slam III
10.  Boulder Roll II
11.  Hammer Slam IV
12.  Power of the Tower III
13.  Trebuchet
14.  Power of the Tower IV
15.  Dizzying Force

First, some comments on Rook's weaknesses.
  • Rook is slow.  This is an understatement.  As such, you are at serious risk of getting ganked at almost any point of a game.  Different players utilize different strategies for dealing with this, but one thing is certain:  you need to have a Teleport scroll on you (or the Amulet of Teleportation) at all times.  If I'm flush with a little extra cash around level 7 or so, I'll also spring for the Wand of Speed (1750 gold) which can get you out of jam in a hurry.
  • Rook has low base armor.  I'm not sure if a lot of players are aware of this, but Rook (at level 1) has the same Armor rating (240) as Torchbearer.  Only Erebus (at 220) is lower, but Erebus has incredible speed and life-steal abilities to make up for this.  Rook looks a lot tougher than he actually is.  What this means is that Rook needs to be particular wary of an enemy Erebus, whose Bite (at level 1) reduces Armor by 250.  This would put Rook in negative armor, which means he will take massive amounts of damage from auto-attacks.  Rook also needs decent armor so that he can take out enemy towers, whose damage is mitigated by high armor.  As such, Nimoth Chest Armor is one of the best items you can get for Rook - and I try to get it ASAP.

So what are Rook's strengths?
  • Rook can dominant a lane.  Most teams like to send their Rook to the health flag on Cataract right away, so that he can set up camp and establish dominance over that +15% health bonus.  Along with a couple towers, Rook can farm creeps, level up, and keep enemy demigods out of the lane.
  • Rook can take down enemy towers in a snap.  Structural transfer helps quite a bit with this, but it's not even necessary. 
  • Rook's towers serve as teleportation beacons for his teammates throughout the entire map.  Thus, Rook makes ganking easier. 
  • Rook can do a shit-ton of damage.  He has tower farms, a good auto-attack that only gets better, and a Hammer Slam that can flatten any demigod.

Hybrid Rook works like this.  Through level 7 or so, play like a normal tower-spammer.  Try to have 2 or 4 towers up at all times (depending on what level you are), and use them to dominant lanes.  Your goal in the early game is two-fold:  1) help your team get a significant lead in Warscore, and 2) take down some enemy towers.  You are not out there to kill, and you must avoid dying.  Get dirty when your teammates port in to your towers for opportunistic ganks, but don't take any crazy risks.  Use Boulder Roll to stun enemy demigods trying to escape or chasing for kills.  Use Hammer Slam conservatively to take out some creep waves (for faster leveling) and minion armies.  If Oak's spirits are harassing you, a single Hammer Slam will usually do the trick.

Taking down enemy towers is a relatively simple affair.  It's best to wait until the opposing team leaves you alone in a lane.  Approach an enemy tower with a friendly creep wave just ahead of you.  Build a tower immediately in front of the enemy tower - this will draw it's fire while you crush it.  Start whacking away.  If your health dips (to 2/3 max), use Structural Transfer on the opposing tower.  Then whack away until it's gone.  This entire process should not take more than 10 seconds.  Good opposing teams will know not to leave a Rook alone in a lane, or if they do, they'll port in to protect their tower as soon as they hear the warning that it's under attack.  Keep an eye out for port-swirls 

Bolder Roll is such a great skill it deserves it's own paragraph and pic.  The true power of Boulder Roll emerges when you get to level 10.  As soon as you Roll an enemy demigod, start your Slam.  The 2 sec stun is enough to ensure they'll get crushed by the full weight of 1700 damage.

I can't count the number of times that a Rook has caught me off-guard with this move.  Level IV Hammer Slam is the single-most damaging skill in the game - and that includes Level IV Spit, which does 1650 damage over 10 seconds.  The problem with Hammer Slam is it's 1.5 sec cast time and obvious wind-up.  Any observant demigod with an interrupt is going to whack you as soon as they see it coming.  But if you stun them first with Boulder Roll, they're doomed.  No Heal or Shield is going to help them now.

The way I see it, Rook's biggest strength is that he's deceptive.  Early game, your opponents will view Rook as an easy target.  He's slow and he's big, so enemy demigods tend to target him by default and his low armor means that he really can't handle too much attention at once.  Your tower farms can cause headaches, but woe to the Rook caught outside a farm.

But then something happens.  Around level 8 (and certainly 10), Rook becomes a monster.  His role transforms from lane-controller to offensive powerhouse.  And it usually catches people off-guard.  Maybe they haven't even seen you pull off a Hammer Slam until that point in the game.  And BAM, they go from 2000 hp to 300.  Maybe it's that pesky Regulus, who thinks he's got your number with Mines.  Stun... SLAM!  Dead.  It's pretty satisfying, and honestly, a more fun way to play Rook that straight tower-spam.

What about items?

Favor:  you have a few options here. 
  • Personally, I like Dark Crimson Vial.  Once they patched this guy up a bit, it became a viable alternative to the standard Blood of the Fallen.  I prefer the Vial since it allows you to play dead and surprise your opponents.  That's half the trick of Rook.  Make your opponents think you're weak, lure them into your tower farm, and then pop the Vial.  Now they're running away and you can Roll and Slam for the kill.
  • On bigger maps especially, the Amulet of Teleportation can be Rook's best friend.  It basically guarantees that you'll always have that telie on you.
  • Pure tower-spammers will sometimes take Blade of the Serpent, which can completely solve your mana problems.  This also means that you don't really have to buy any helms and can stack health and armor.
 Items:  in order of importance to my particular build
  •  starting:  Banded Armor & Scaled Helm.  You could get Banded & Scalemail, but you'll run out of juice for your towers too quickly.  And it's key that Rook be able to stay in the field for as long as possible in the early game.  Remember:  you want to dominant a lane, control a flag, and level up.  If Rook falls behind on leveling, things can get ugly fast.
  • Nimoth Chest Armor:  your best friend in the world, until you can afford Groffling.
  • Unbreakable Boots:  your 2nd best friend in the world, and one of the best items for the money.
  • trade Scaled Helm for Vlemish Faceguard:   you're going to need one helm throughout this build, and it's likely that Vlemish will be enough. 
  • Wand of Speed:  especially if you're facing fast opponents, like UB, Erebus, fire TB, etc.
  • Duelist's Cuirass:  this is just a personal taste thing.  The safe bet would be to go with Hauberk of Life, for standard health stacking and auto-healing, but I don't think you need it if you're carrying the Crimson Vial.  Instead, I like the added offensive bonus that the Cuirass provides.
If the game lasts well past level 10, then you're going to need to make some final adjustments to all this:
  • trade Banded for Groffling Warplate.
  • trade Wand of Speed for Orb of Defiance.

A lot of Rook players love the Orb, since it can give your teammates time to port in (remember to always build a tower near you!) and reverse a losing situation. It also provides a great +500/500 health/armor boost to late-game Rook.

And there it is.  It's funny:  in the early days of Demigod, there was a lot of muted disappointment over Rook.  Not surprisingly, he was GPG's poster-child for their new IP.  Massive, towering over the battlefield, dominating all who approached.  He was the assassin you couldn't wait to play.  But then you played him and he was surprisingly fragile.  Slow and methodical, in a game that favored speed and flexibility.  Rook dropped to the bottom of the ranks (just above Queen of Thorns) in win %.  Players called for buffs.

Fast forward to now.  Rook is considered a "Tier 1" demigod, at least when paired with the right teammates (Oak and UB, for example).  A good Rook can completely dominate a match, tear down enemy towers on Cataract before anyone even hits level 3, and establish a unassailable Warscore advantage for his team.  What happened?  Well, people learned how to play him.  He's not an easy demigod to master.  He takes patience and skill and careful micro-management.  His item builds are vital to his success.  But when it all comes together, the Big Boy is a beauty to behold.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the sorcerer's house: analysis, part 3

In this 3rd installment of my (admittedly mediocre) analysis of Gene Wolfe's The Sorcerer's House, I'm going to take a close look at letter #31:  "Get Out - And Got Out".  I find this letter particularly interesting because it involves one of the more mysterious characters in the book:  the malevolent dwarf, Quorn.

First, note that this is a letter addressed to Millie from Bax.  As such, we should be suspicious of its content.  Bax paints himself to be extraordinarily brave, powerful, and heroic (even referring to himself as such, via Doris), and may be doing so as part of his plan to seduce his brother's wife.

A brief synopsis (assuming truth):  Bax returns to his house from his Chinese dinner with Jake and Dorris (described in letter #28), prompted in part by a phone call from Winkle.  Winkle tells Bax that a fat blond girl had arrived, started exploring the house, and now was lost.  This girl is the newspaper reporter, Cathy Ruth, whom Bax had agreed to meet that night for an exploration of the house's cellar.  Doris and Bax enter the cellar and begin looking for Cathy.  A rat "that looked larger than her head" attacks Doris (or, at least, is "clutching her hair") and Bax clubs it away with his flashlight.  They attempt to back-track to leave the cellar but fail to discover the original staircase.  They come across a different staircase and hear a dog yapping (Toby) and a woman scream (most likely Pogach).  Bax busts down the door and they see Quorn grappling with Pogach.  Bax commands Quorn to leave, and the dwarf complies.  They find Cathy also in the room, who has been raped by Quorn.  Winker appears and presents an ancient sword to Bax.  Winker leads them back through the house.  Doris decides to take Cathy to the hospital.  George suddenly arrives, thrusts open the trunk on the back of Bax's limousine and releases the vampire, Nicholas.  Nicholas, with George in pursuit, runs into the house and disappears.  Bax ends the letter to Millie by saying that he searched for his brother for hours, could not find him, and eventually went to bed.

An action-packed letter to be sure.  I assume the title of the letter refers to the following events:

  • "Get Out" - part of Bax's command to Quorn.
  •  "And Got Out" - the escape of Nicholas from the trunk.
  • (however, it is possible that "got out" refers to George getting out of jail)
If we view Bax's house as a ley-line between our world and that of Faerie, than I think there is something to be gained from analyzing these events symbolically.  A descent into a cellar, for example, might more broadly be viewed as a descent into the most dangerous and evil aspects of Faerie.  What do Bax and Doris encounter in the depths of the house?  Heaps of "objects veiled in dust," "hairy spiders as large as saucers," and a gigantic rat.  Not particularly enlightening, and this aspect of the letter makes me believe that it is, at least in part, a Bax confabulation designed to scare and impress Millie using stereotypical horror-genre tropes.

The cellar may also serve as a crossing point between worlds, much like the window in Bax's bedroom.  When Bax and Doris climb the 2nd staircase and confront Quorn, they could be within Faerie at that point.  Could this be relevant?  Perhaps.  It might explain why Quorn reacts so strongly to Bax's command, after his initial disdain.

When Bax first confronts Quorn, the dwarf is unafraid of his gun.

"They call me Ironskin."  He advanced, still grinning, and I pulled the trigger.

Perhaps Quorn knows that, in Faerie, he is invulnerable to the weapons of our world.  Bax drops his useless gun...

... and pointed both index fingers at him as though I held modern revolvers.  I intended to shout, but perhaps I screamed - I cannot be sure.  "Get out of here, you devil! This is my house! Out! I don't want you here!" With much, much more in the same vein.

The blood drained from his face, leaving it a dirty gray.  He backed away.  "Sorry, sir! I meaned no harm! No harm at all!"  He took a few more steps backward, knuckling his forehead, and fled.  I ought to have been amazed, but I was raging and there was no room for it.

In Faerie, Bax's wizardly powers emerge, especially since he wields magic rings ("weapons of sorcery").  Recall that in letter #41 ("The Riverman"), Martha tells Bax, "Magic is diplomacy.  It isn't just saying the words.  It's who says them, how he says them, and when he says them."  The voice of command that Bax adopts, in his rage towards Quorn, is imbued with mystical strength - Quorn instantly recognizes Bax as a legitimate sorcerer and a dangerous man.

Quorn's role in The Sorcerer's House is vague, at best.  We first encounter him "chained to a staple in the door frame" of Ieuan's room in letter #17 ("A Tramp").  I suspect that Quorn may serve as Ieuan's familiar.  At least two other characters within the narrative have familiars:  Bax has Winkle, and Old Nick/Zwart has Toby.  Interestingly, in both of these latter cases, the familiars are shapeshifters.  Does this suggest that Quorn also is a shapeshifter?  Does he make another appearance in the book, as an alternate character?  I can't think of a reasonable possibility, off-hand.

Symbolically, this scene could simply serve as evidence that Bax's powers are evolving and that he has vast potential to become a powerful force in Faerie, like his father.  I suspect it is his father, in fact, who sends Winker into the room soon after this confrontation with the magical samurai blade.

"This is a new reign.  There's a new emperor now.... Once in each reign we present the Fox Sword to a hero friend."

Wolfe certainly has a fondness for magic swords in his novels.  Severian had Terminus Est,  Able quested for (and lost) a magic sword, Latro discovers a magic sword in a river within the first couple chapters of Soldier of the Mist, etc.  In part, I believe, this is because Wolfe likes to utilize (and play with) genre tropes.  Heroes in fantasy novels have magic swords.  They're fun.  Period.  But also, these swords tend to serve symbolic purposes in the text.  What is the narrative function of the Fox Sword?  Bax wields it in the final battle (described in #41) on the Skotos strip against the werewolf, Lupine, and her pack.  The strip, like Bax's house, falls on a ley-line and is another location where his magic powers can make themselves evident.  If we assume his father granted him this sword, it is given to both aid in victory and help secure the continued dominance of the Black family line.