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A6: No skill points playthrough


Kelandon
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I've finally got around to playing Avernum 6, and I've found myself doing something really weird: I'm not using any skill points, except on Tool Use for one character and tiny amounts of Nature Lore and Arcane Lore.

 

This started sort of as an accident. I saw that there were trainers for really basic skills, like Melee Weapons, Pole Weapons, and Mage Spells, so I decided not to spend any skill points on those until I got to those trainers. But I wasn't sure what I wanted to spend skill points on, so I ended up not using basically any at all for a while. And that while stretched into what I assume is the third of the game or so.

 

Where I am at this point: My characters range from level 14 to level 18. Levitt just sent me into the Eastern Gallery to deal with Silvar, etc. My level 18 character has 78 skill points to spend, and, other than the character who became my lockpicker — who has a Tool Use of 12 now — everyone else is comparable.

 

My party looks like this:

 

Slith (no traits): dual wielding melee fighter

Slith (Divinely Touched and Elite Warrior): pole fighter

Nephil (Divinely Touched and Pure Spirit): priest/archer

Nephil (Divinely Touched and Natural Mage): mage/archer

 

(I intended to give the first character the same traits as the second, but by accident I didn't.)

 

Because of the traits, I gain in some skills as I gain levels, and I've been buying skills from various trainers. I'm also playing on Hard, not Torment. But I'm kind of shocked that I've gotten this far, and I'm going to see how much farther I can make it before I am so severely underpowered that I can't do anything. I already can't do a lot of the challenge sidequests (the skribbane eaters near Almaria have been mocking me for some time, and I haven't even begun to work my way through the Honeycomb), but I can still do the main quests up to this point.

 

I keep thinking of the comparison between this and Exile, where I think level mattered a lot less. (That's how all those BoE players were able to beat ridiculous scenarios with parties that entered at level 1.) I think that skills mattered in Exile in a way that they don't matter in Avernum, and levels matter in Avernum in a way that they didn't in Exile. I am getting stronger, albeit slowly, even though I don't spend skill points, but I don't think that I'd see the same effect at all in Exile (or even earlier Avernum games, probably).

 

Anyway, it's an interesting experience, and I'll post updates occasionally.

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I'm still working my way through the Eastern Gallery. I did the Silvar quest and took out the Darkside Loyalists in Fort Avernum. I'm doing quite a lot of two things: isolate enemies in narrow corridors so as to pick them off one-by-one as much as possible, and run away to heal in the middle of a fight. I think I ran back to Silvar about 10 times during the Fort Avernum fight, including 3 times after killing everyone except the leader there.

 

I do have Mass Heal and (now) Lightning Spray, because Pure Spirit and Natural Mage are letting my PS and MS rise just enough to get those spells. I think I also boosted Strength on one of my fighters to get him to be able to hold more equipment. But now everybody's gained another couple of levels, and I have enough cash now to buy nearly all of the skills that I could buy from Fort Remote.

 

Not sure how much longer this will hold up, but it's still okay so far.

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Melanchion and Gladwell will be impossible (if wants to kill them), aiding Solberg and defeating that Slith priestess (whatever) near Horned Gate and escaping from underground explosions while battling against Sliths impossible and Nephil battle too. Most Slith-battles occur outside so can't lure those to corridor etc.

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I gave my first fighter one more point of Strength, but I've otherwise left things alone, and I've managed to gain a few more levels and make it a little deeper into the Eastern Gallery. I also went back and cleaned up some old quests that I couldn't do before. I've still avoided the Honeycomb, because I don't know what that will be like, but all the quests say "THIS IS HARD!!!" Right now I'm in the middle of trying to find Asterios, and everything's pretty much okay.

 

I have to say, it's kind of a relief not trying to min-max. I would be worrying about where to put all these skills points if I were actually using them. But I'm not. So I don't. I just run away a lot.

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A collection of one-trick ponies is combined arms doctrine at the squad level. Rather than fielding identical generalists you have each character specialize and put them together so that they can cover all bases. Or think of it as division of labor.

 

—Alorael, who often plays through games with many of his skill points (or equivalent) unspent in case what he thinks is working will stop working and he'll need the flexibility to go down a different build path later. He loves the idea of being able to reallocate points and sincerely hopes it catches on. Realistic? Not at all, but it's much more fun. Too many games through curveballs at you that you can't foresee but that can ruin your game. Surprise, there are no good melee weapons after the halfway point of the game! You thought you could use diplomacy, but the end is actually mandatory combat! Yes, magic is strong in the beginning, but later everything becomes immune to magic, so you really should have just sucked it up and relied on bows. This is obnoxious design.

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Real problems in the Eastern Gallery. I'm not strong enough to take on Corma-Eye while fetching Asterios, and I'm nowhere near strong enough to deal with the attack on the caravan, so I'm doing miscellaneous exploration and quests to gain some levels. I'm hoping that I'll be able to take down the Eye soon with my usual multiple-retreat strategy. We'll see.

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Unless you consider a special forces a-team, combined arms is best visualized at the platoon level, mabe at the squad level, but more commonly at the company or battalion level. From this perspective each PC becomes a marker for a maneuver unit. Here is where I see a Mechanized Infantry platoon equipped with M2 Bradley (light artillery) with attached M1 Abrams, a support section (consisting of a scout detachment (Bradley-Stryker, engineer detachment, light mortars). and two artillery sections, one light (105mm) and one heavy (8 in). Medical personnel are attached to each unit,

 

As for looking at each PC as an individual soldier, then I have to apply the training and tactics of a special forces team, where cross training is the key to accomplishing the mission. Each team member does have one skill at which he is particularly able, so there is specialization to a degree. Not all team members know demolitions as well as the engineer specialist of the team, or be as skilled in medical techniques as the medical specialist, but they all know how to use a mortar or heavy machine gun, and they are all trained in hand to hand fighting, though some are better than others. Here I see a team leader, a rifleman/engineer, a medic with M203 (m16 with grenade launcher), and a heavy weapons specialist with RPG or LAW..

 

But this is just the doctrine as I learned it.

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But that's just it. Special forces have to be competent in many areas because the mission can't end when you lose one person. Or if one person gets separated. Everyone needs to be basically competent. At the higher levels and bigger units where combined arms really apply you're not looking at individual soldiers, you're looking at mixing units of different types to cover each other's weaknesses and emphasize each other's strengths and, most of all, coordinate the different types of units.

 

It's reasonable to think of a party in either way, but the type of game very much matters. If you're playing an RPG where party members are likely to die or be lost permanently, or at the very least incapacitated for a long time, making sure you can cover for the loss of any one (or few) PCs is a good practice. This is arguably how Exile was intended, with expensive resurrection that requires some travel (but everyone just reloads). This is definitely how a game like X-COM works. But it's not really how Spiderweb games work. You can rely on having your full party. if anyone starts dying, everyone starts dying and you reload. Instead, you're designing for maximum synergy. Your party is your battalion, or division, or whatever. Each party fills in a role, as you say. Mechanized infantry, artillery, engineering... only that's not what we call it in games. Tank, damage-dealer, buffer, healer, and so on.

 

There's nothing great about hyperspecializing per se. Instead, it's the fact that in many games, and Spiderweb games are very much included, a dedicated front-line fighter who takes all the hits and doesn't worry so much about damage combined with a glass cannon mage who can throw out immense damage is more effective than a pair of somewhat tough and somewhat damage-dealing characters. You do more damage and survive longer that way. Optimization is a matter of figuring out how to wring the most out of your skill points (or whatever) and you get more from synergizing skills within a character to be great at one thing, then doing the same with another character, and then having those two characters' synergy be huge.

 

There are times when adding a little of something else is very handy. A bit of priestliness for healing goes a long way in many Spiderweb games, after all. But you're best off having a party of guys who excel at their chosen tasks than a party of guys who are jacks of all trades. And this is in large part because the games let you get away with having people carry their own roles. If it were harder to keep enemies off your back line or there were more ambushes mages would need to get more tanky, but that's not how they are.

 

—Alorael, who gives heartfelt apologies for hijacking a playthrough topic for a fascinating attempt to flout all basic ideas of how RPGs are supposed to work. It really is a fun thing to read.

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I actually do understand your perspective, and when I first played through Exile I, II that is how I played it. Until I ran into the Dark River and found that I had no backup plan for losing any single PC. If I lost my tank, the rest of the squad had no shield, if I lost my mage, I had no ranged attacks ( bows were pretty weak in Exile). That's where I fell back on my military training and concocted a strategy that worked for me, and has continued to work through the entire Avernum series.

 

But in the end, these games are intended for having fun. I cede the thread back to its original intent with apologies for causing the distraction.

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  • 1 month later...

After a delay, I picked up on this game again and got through the Cotra-Asterios sequence. Still barely making it, but I'm able to hang on by the skin of my teeth. The Eye wasn't as much of a problem after I'd gained a few levels (no retreats necessary), but the next combat was. I was pretty disappointed when I managed to wipe out all but the main caster by Asterios, retreat to safety, and come back fully recharged only to find that the henchmen also revive and recharge if you do that.

 

They're now sending me to Formello. My characters range from level 21 to level 24, and I'm going to see if I can manage this assassination that they want me to do. My goal is to get into Fort Duvno and buy the skills there at the trainer, and then I'll probably give in and use some skill points. All of the characters (except the Tool Use guy) have over 100 skill points now.

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Bahhh, I finally admitted defeat when I encountered Khrez-Yss on the way to Formello. I probably could've kept going, but it was such a ridiculous slog that I just lost interest. I cranked Parry and Blademaster on my fighters (and the prereqs as necessary) and Mage Spells/Priest Spells/Spellcraft on my casters. I immediately started doing about 2x the damage I was doing before, maybe more. I also got access to a bunch of spells that I couldn't cast before, notably Cloak of Blades and Ward of Elements.

 

With that, I went back and cleared out the Honeycomb and anything else that seemed too hard at the time. (I left the stuff beyond the Dragon Gate for later. It seems insane right now.) I'm now finishing off odd quests in the Eastern Gallery, and then I'll take another swing at Formello. Things have been going so smoothly now that I haven't wanted to stop playing all day.

 

One other thing that occurred to me is that I ended up using tunnels and doorways to much greater effect than I ever had before. A6's creature AI is remarkably good at targeting exactly who I don't want it to, but I seemed to be able to fool it if I kept the casters back from a doorway and stuffed the warriors up right up against the doorway. Even if there was one extra space to step through to pursue my casters, the monsters tended to do that only when the casters were in close, not far back. I often found myself retreating into tunnels to take advantage of the same phenomenon.

 

I bet someone who was a lot more careful about equipment and quest sequence probably could've gotten a bunch farther than I did without using skill points (except, as noted, on the occasional utility/non-combat skill, such as Tool Use). It was time-consuming and ultimately kind of tedious, but it wasn't actually impossible.

 

Other random thought: Strength is a utility skill, too, although I've tended to boost it for its combat uses. But one of the unexpectedly frustrating things about this particular challenge was that I could wear so little equipment. After I started using skill points, I ended up boosting Strength on every character, even the casters.

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  • 3 months later...

I finally got around to finishing this game. (Figured it was time to do that and get on to Avadon 2.)

 

I ended up using all my skill points but none of the ingredients that could've made a ton of knowledge brews and stuff. Come to think of it, I never used my wisdom crystals or knowledge brews or knowledge elixirs, either. I had probably about 100 skill points (or more) out of consumables that I never used.

 

I'm now a little confused about the ending. I never saw any options that would let me not work for Melanchion, but I gather from reading some threads here that there are some, and apparently the ending is different. I did two quests for him — against the Darkside Loyalists and the sliths — and finished all of Gladwell's quests. That ended up with a kind of stalemate.

 

Is there some way to read ending variations? With everything else, I can just open up the scripts, but I think the endings may be coded outside the scripts, and I can't find them.

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Two quests is the minimum you can do for Melanchion, and leads to the stalemate you describe. If you do all his quests, he ends up ruling Avernum (although I think Gladwell might be able to oppose him more effectively than Starrus? Not sure). However, it's also possible to prevent this outcome by attacking and killing him after you get the assistance you need from him.

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  • 2 months later...

Heh, I might have to try this, although I still need to play A5. I did that for Avernum 4, though. About halfway through the game I started killing everything and just decided to conserve my skill points until I was sure I knew what I wanted to spend them on. I ended up not needing them, and finally used them to boost my health and spell points before the final battle. My main character(who I give all the knowledge brews and knowledge crystals to) still has 70+ unused skill points.

 

—Vexivero, who believes if one uses caution and patience, the game is actually very easy. Although that seems to be a trend; he tends to over-conserve in order to avoid getting into situations which are impossible to get out of. He remembers playing Quake 2 and using the infinite pistol to try and kill the hardest of bosses, or using the plasma pistol on Halo 1 Legendary to beat over half of the enemies.

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