Pinback's Beginner's Guide To Caves Of Qud
|(This guide contains very minor spoilers, which really shouldn't be spoilers, they should be shown to you immediately upon loading the game up, right on the goddamn main menu screen, and then maybe guides like this wouldn't be necessary.)
Until recently, my experience with Caves of Qud had been limited to purchasing it, installing it, being dropped in the middle of god-knows-where with a bunch of crazy crap on the screen, pressing the "go north" button 100 times and dying for some reason I couldn't understand. Then I'd try going east 100 times, and I'd die for some reason. Then west. Death. Sou--DEATH. It was like some overly-convoluted, less enjoyable version of Annoyotron. Eventually I realized there were a couple of "introductory" quests you could sign up for on the first screen. I attempted them about twenty times, and on the rare occasion I was able to actually find any of the places they were telling me to go before I died, I would die shortly thereafter, surrounded by a bunch of blinking characters and inscrutable stats and gobbledygook. Then I said, "fuck this", and uninstalled it.
Caves of Qud is an incredible game featuring a massive, bewilderingly creative world to explore, which is almost impossible to do, because though it's been in development for nearly a decade, it still does such a phenomenally woeful job of welcoming new players that I am sure my story is a common one, and Qud remains uninstalled on computers all over the world because of it.
So over a year later, I reinstalled and committed to finally figuring out what the hell was going on. I did this because the idea of the game -- a huge world in a far-future semi-dystopian science fiction setting -- still appealed to me, and I did love the pseudo-retro look of it, and I paid the $10, so goddammit I'm gonna figure this out. I scoured everywhere I could for tips and help. And I died a lot. But every time it'd take a little longer to die, and eventually I was able to complete the intro quests, and then it really started to click.
But I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone, so this guide is my attempt to help kickstart your enjoyment of the game, if you want to get down with the Qud, and get down in them Caves.
1. UNDERSTAND THE GAME WORLD.
As soon as you get into the game, hit the "<" key to go to the world map. I didn't even realize there was a world map a year ago. It is then that the scope of the game begins to hit you. The (fixed) world map fills the entire screen, and you're in a single square way down in the southwest. You can traverse the world without ever going to the world map, and you definitely should explore that way for a while, just to see how amazingly huge the game is.
On the world map, hit "l" to go into "look" mode and just arrow-key your way around it for a while, looking at the names of the various locations. Most of them are generic, but sprinkled around are special locations with specific names ("Rust Wells", "Asphalt Mines", etc.), which you can (and must, for quests) visit and see what's up. And in between these special places, vast, varied lands of unknown to explore. And this is just on the surface. If the game took place only on the surface, it would still offer a full, seemingly endless experience.
But beneath every square of that world map is also an infinite labyrinth of caves. If that doesn't get your roguelike juices flowing, I can't help you.
I say this not so much to sell the game to you as to deal with one of my first questions -- where the hell are the "caves" in "Caves of Qud"? What do you do? Where do you go? Well, the answer is, pretty much anywhere. If you wander around the surface enough, you WILL come across cave entrances, both at the "special locations", and also randomly all over the place. They are not as easy to find as I would have thought, though, which led to my initial confusion. Unlike a game like ADOM, where the overworld is just a convenient way to move from dungeon to dungeon, the "overworld" here is just another (humongous) level of the game world. So walk around. You'll find one. Then you'll find another. Life is in the caves, the rest is just waiting.
2. BUILD A GOOD STARTING CHARACTER.
Do not "create random character" at first, no matter how much you want to. The character creation screens are complex and daunting, but there is a way to build a simple character easily that will let you get into the game without dying immediately.
The idea is to build a "big dumb fighter guy". There are two kinds of characters you can build. One, "mutant humans" gives you a wide array of special, crazy mutations you can choose, and while these are surely a blast to play around with, it adds unnecessary complexity when you're just trying to go 100 squares without dying at first. The other category, "True Kin", just means, regular old dudes. So choose this.
Then choose your big dumb fighter stats. This means put most of your attribute points into STRENGTH ("Hulk smash!") and TOUGHNESS ("Hulk not get smashed!") We're just looking for a lumbering oaf with a big sword who can walk around bashing things and not running out of hit points. That's it. On the next and final screen, choose a caste that looks good to you. "Praetorian" offers more bonuses to strength and toughness, and makes you good with swords. Doesn't get much bigger, dumber, or fighterer than that.
3. HIT F1 AND DO WHAT IT SAYS UNDER "10 THINGS YOU SHOULD DO WHEN STARTING..."
That little help screen is the game's only attempt to be helpful, and while it is completely and utterly inadequate, it's still good information and advice, particularly the very first thing about assigning hotkeys to your abilities. In particular, make sure you map "sprint" to something easy to remember, because it is going to be your main escape method when you realize you are in over your head. Do not be afraid to use "sprint" early and often.
4. DO NOT DO THE STARTING QUESTS RIGHT AWAY.
In the first screen, you'll meet two guys, a farmer who wants you to go to Red Rock to figure out what's eating his crops, and a machinist/tinkerer guy who wants you to go fetch him a bunch of stupid shit from the Rust Wells. It's a common refrain among in-the-know Qud players that the Red Rock quest is a bit of a "trap", not meant for brand new characters. But frankly, they're all traps, and if you try to do either of them right away, you will probably end up uninstalling the game (again).
Instead, just go out into the wilderness, get comfortable with the surroundings, bash a bunch of crocodiles on the head with your big sword, and gain a few levels. I'd suggest getting to at least level 4 or 5 before trying the quests. You can succeed at them earlier, but the less stress the better.
5. LEAN ON THE "ALT" KEY.
Perhaps the most important key in the Qud keyboard, holding down Alt shows the current screen in a simplified, color-coded layout, the most important colors being green and red. NPCs/monsters/plants who are friendly are show in green, and those that are hostile (yes, there are hostile plants) are shown in red. Check it often to see exactly 1) where there are monsters, and 2) whether you need to worry about them or not. Without this, there is so much going on in every screen, particularly on the surface, that it can be hard to tell exactly who is where, and makes it real easy to die before you knew you were in trouble.
6. LEAN ON THE "L" KEY.
Once you have identified hostiles with the Alt key, use the l)ook command to see exactly what's going on with them. Particularly, it will show you how dangerous they are to you at the moment ("Trivial", "Easy", "Medium", "Tough", "Impossible", etc.) Anything "tough" or above, think twice, and if they're coming after you, remember when I said to use "sprint" often? This would be a good time.
7. LEAN ON THE "W" KEY.
If you take nothing else away from this guide, take this: Never, never, ever, nevereverever hold down a movement key to go in one direction quickly. Something eventually WILL jump out at you, and WILL kill you before you even realized there was anything there, as the status messages scroll crazily up the screen reporting your injuries until the "You died" window pops up. If you want to move a long distance in one direction, hit "w" first, and then hit the direction key. It will keep you walking in that direction until something happens or you see something (like an enemy) worth stopping for. Do it. You can also hit "0" to auto-explore the entire screen, which is also fine. Just never, ever hold down a mov-- well, I can't say it any more clearly than I already have.
8. LEAN ON THE "~" KEY.
The tilde key is the default key mapping for "rest until healed". Do this a lot. Don't go into danger without full HP unless you absolutely can't avoid it. In combination with the "sprint" ability (remember that, from a few other times I mentioned it in this guide?) you will almost always be able to survive and fight another day. Run away, hide, heal. Sounds like common sense, but in the heat of battle, pride and/or forgetting about it can kill you long before you needed to die.
9. REMEMBER TO LEVEL UP YOUR GUY.
Unlike a lot of games that, once you achieve a new level, will be upfront about asking which attribute or skill you want to upgrade, Qud just quietly puts upgrade points in a little pool, waiting for you to remember that they exist and divvy them out the way you want. Hit "x" to get to your character sheet, and if you have upgrade points waiting, assign them.
10. REMEMBER TO BUY SKILLS.
Like character upgrade points, "skill points" also collect as you progress through the game, and if you don't press "p", you may not even realize you can use them to purchase new skills.
11. REMEMBER TO BUY THESE SKILLS SPECIFICALLY.
This is just my preference, but for a new player, I would recommend the "harvest" and "butchery" skills. "Harvest" lets you gain helpful stuff from plants, particularly "witchwood bark" from Witchwood Trees (which are quick healing snacks) and "vinewafers" from Watervines, which are food. "Butchery" lets you get a lot more food from certain corpses than you otherwise would have, so you don't have to keep worrying about hunger.
12. USE THE WIKI
I ended up spoilerizing a few bits of the game by using the Wiki, but I forgive myself in this case, because I'm too old for this shit, and there's tons of great info in the Wiki that may not be clear in (or is absolutely absent from) the game itself.
I've barely scratched the surface (literally and figuratively) of Caves of Qud. I don't mean this in the lyrical Steam review sense ("I've played over 500 hours and I've just scratched the surface!") I mean, really. I just figured all of this stuff out within the last two weeks, and none of this should be considered expert advice. However, armed with this guide, you should be able to confidently step into the wild, wonderful world of Qud and have some basic idea what the hell is going on, and maybe not die immediately.