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Tips for new players (no spoilers)


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Here are some tips for players new to Spiderweb games, especially those transitioning from AD&D-style games. I've finished three Spiderweb games (Avernum 6, Avadon 1 and 2) and I think they're among the most well designed and fun RPGs out there. Here are some things I would have liked to know when I started.

 

These notes are based on playing the game on the Normal setting. That’s probably the most enjoyable setting for your first Spiderweb game.

 

QUESTING

Avadon 2 is mostly quest-driven; although you can just explore, if you stay "on quest" you’ll have less backtracking to do.

  • Jeff's games are very much about the story and writing. If you try to just hack-and-slash your way through, you'll get frustrated at key points. Read the dialogue boxes and think about the decisions offered. If you see a dire warning about being rested, that means you’re about to enter a part of the story where you can't return to base for several hours.
  • On the Normal setting, the game is just as Jeff describes: an enjoyable and moderately challenging play. If a fight seems impossible, try a quest to level up and come back. Generally, the required main quests assigned by Protos or Redbeard are easier, because you could be playing through the game without the optional side quests.
  • A lot of XPs come from returning to talk to the person who gave you a quest, and maybe another person who guided you along the way. For finding these, the Journal is helpful but not always complete. It can be helpful to keep some notes of your own.
  • Each of your NPCs will engage you in an NPC quest, which usually begins with that NPC disappearing. If you want them back, you have to start the quest, but you don't have to finish the NPC quests to finish the game -- for example, if you don't like any of the available outcomes.
  • Expect to travel back and forth quite a bit. You're not doing anything wrong, it's part of being a Hand of Avadon. It helps to explore all edges of each map and make note of which entrance to the map is closest to the most important areas, for future use.
  • Look around for clearings hidden in the woods, rooms hidden behind secret doors, areas behind locked doors, etc. If there's a blank space on the map, there's probably a way to get there, if not now then in a later quest.
  • The final quest (called The Final Hunt) finishes the game; you can no longer travel. So if you want to explore everything, do that first, or save and go back.
  • Although the game intentionally includes hard moral choices, as far as I can tell there are no decisions that would prevent you from finishing the game, or accessing major parts of the game. So you are free to choose what you think is best.
  • Save often. Can't be said too often. Jeff's worlds are open-ended and he likes to throw curve balls. You can run into a surprisingly hard encounter around any corner (though in Avadon 2 this rarely happens by accident).

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Jeff's character development system is highly refined over many years (it's, like, level 100 or something). It provides far more room for different character builds than you might think at first:

  • Classes that might initially look like AD&D-style classes (Blademaster=Fighter, Shadowwalker=Thief, etc.) can gain spell-like abilities, such as area of effect abilities and party buffs and de-buffs. Essentially, at higher levels all your characters will be spell-casters in some way. This also helps balance your small party size.
  • The character classes are different, but more importantly, each class can grow very differently (unlike an AD&D-style game). By following different parts of the skill tree, you can build a Blademaster than plays a lot like a traditional Cleric, or a Tinkermage that plays a lot like a melee Fighter.
  • There are many items (potions, wands, scrolls, and crystals) that reproduce character abilities. You can build a character that is weak in one area and use items to supplement it. For example, a Blademaster with minimal buffing abilities can rely on potions and crystals in tough fights.
  • Throughout the game you can acquire Scarabs that can give a character major abilities beyond what's available in that character’s skill tree. For example, your Sorcerer could heal themselves like a Shaman, or your Blademaster could teleport like a Shadowwalker.
  • Although you have four attributes to adjust (Str, Dex, Int, End), only one really matters for each character class. If you want to keep things simple, you can level up just that attribute and do fine (other attributes will improve automatically just enough to get by).
  • You have the opportunity to retrain (redistribute all points from leveling up) starting around level 20 and as often as you like after that, for all your characters, for free. For example, you can focus on offensive abilities in the first 2/3 of the game (more melee opponents), and shift to more buffs and defense for the last 1/3 (more spell casting opponents).
  • Nearly any character and party build is survivable (at Normal difficulty, with a party of three). Don't obsess too much when leveling up; choose skills to create characters you enjoy playing. You can safely ignore the power gamers telling you that one class or skill is weaker or stronger than another.

SKILL TREE

The skill tree is more complex than it looks. A few non-obvious things about navigating the skill tree are:

  • Wherever the skill descriptions refer to "level", they mean your level in the skill, not your character level. (Obvious once you know, not obvious when you don't.)
  • The upper skills in the Battle (left) branch of the tree cost a lot more, compared to the Utility (right branch), because you must also improve the Power (center) branch to get there. You can max out the Battle branch before the level cap (level 30), but don't expect to do much else.
  • Many skills grant a primary ability available at level 1, an upgrade to the same ability at level 3, and an additional ability at level 6. But if you use one of the two abilities in combat, you can't use the other until you've recovered from Fatigue. (Not applicable to passive abilities and the basic melee and ranged attacks in the bottom left of the skill tree.)
  • Therefore, for non-melee characters, early in the game it can make sense to advance up the tree to gain more different abilities to use within the same fight. Later in the game, it usually makes sense to spend more points lower in the tree to increase effectiveness.
  • If you have bonus skill points (such as from a specialization or item), those don't count toward determining whether you can level up skills further up the tree (only the points you spend count toward raising higher tiers). Therefore, it can make sense to spend more skill points on one branch of the tree (to gain more new abilities up the tree), while spending specializations on a different branch (to make frequently-used skills lower in the tree more effective).
  • Skill bonuses from items aren't displayed when leveling up, but can be important. In particular, skill bonuses from items give you the ability to use an ability without spending skill points yourself, whereas specializations don't have this effect.

COMBAT

The wide variety of available character and party builds allows many combat tactics. A few things that might be new to you are:

  • Health points work differently from AD&D-style hit points. You recover health automatically and quickly after a fight (out of sight of enemies). In most fights, it's fine to lose nearly all your health (or even all your characters but one). Therefore, even your less armored characters can afford to get hit a few times. Similarly, poison, acid, and corruption aren't as serious as in other games.
  • There is no way to rest and recover Vitality (the ability to use skills) without returning to a Pylon. However, there are enough Vitality potions and fountains to get you through every quest without being stingy about using skills.
  • Jeff designs most encounters carefully to include some challenge. For example, one or several spell casters screened by other enemies; creatures that stun you, move you around, or fatigue you; or a spread-out group of ranged attackers. Come up with tactics for each.
  • If you are in a square immediately adjacent to an enemy (including mines and turrets), you can only move one square in your turn (unless you teleport). So plan ahead to get your most powerful attacks past a screen of enemies to the boss.
  • You could play without a "tank" character in your party; summoned creatures or turrets can screen you from enemies effectively, though they cost Vitality.
  • Most fights start in big spaces. Jeff likes to give everyone lots of room, including indoors (which is why the graphics look unusual -- they're nicely drawn, but very spread out). You can significantly change a fight by withdrawing to a corner, doorway, or bridge.
  • Area of effect spells (other than cones) can be targeted at any range, as long as someone has line of sight (and you can find an unoccupied space to target). Areas of effect (including cones) can extend to affect enemies you can't see yet.
  • If you initiate a ranged attack, your character may automatically move close enough to attack (if they need to). They may get snagged on another enemy or a mine on the way, or not get close enough to attack. In a busy fight, best to move characters yourself.

LOOT

Although there are many items to collect, sell, and buy, the game isn't primarily about resource management unless you want it to be. A few things about that:

  • You can pick things up to sell them later (and the Junk Bag makes this pretty efficient), but if you don't enjoy that, skip it. You won't need the extra money.
  • Hit G often to see what's lying around, like maybe a potion or scroll you didn't see on the main screen.
  • There are more magic items lying around for free than you probably need, even without buying anything or spending skill points on lock picking. I never bought any magic items but Scarabs, and rarely picked locks, but ended the game with about 20 extra wands, 45 extra scrolls, 140 extra potions, and 30 extra lock picks.
  • A few quite nice magic items just lie around looking exactly like mundane items, until you hover the cursor and read the description.
  • It's very minor, but tripped me up: although the Tinkermage skills refer to a "wristflinger", don’t go hunting for one — what you need to equip is a Razordisk, just like for a Shadowwalker.
  • Early in the game, save any decent armor you find lying around (armor, helmet, gauntlets, greaves, and boots) and use it to provide basic equipment for all five NPCs. It'll be faster to change up your party when you don't have to swap around that one pair of Chain Boots or whatever.

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If you have bonus skill points (such as from a specialization or item), those don't count toward determining whether you can level up skills further up the tree.

Not sure what you mean here. EDIT: Now I see. You mean that only skillpoints that you spend in lower tiers allow you the raise higher tier skills.

Skill bonuses from items aren't displayed when leveling up, but can be important. [...] Once you have those, buying the first level of a skill can take you straight to level 3 or 4 in that skill.

Skill bonuses from items grant you the ability to use that skill even when you have not spent any skillpoints, while specialization doesn't.

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Very nice; I'll add a link to this in Strategy Central.

 

In reference to this:

  • Area of effect spells (other than cones) can be targeted at any range, as long as someone has line of sight. Areas of effect (including cones) can extend to affect enemies you can't see yet.

I would add "as long as someone has line of sight, and no enemy is on the targeted space." If the space is occupied, then normal range restrictions apply. It's just a little quirk in the system.

 

Also note that you can pick up a razordisk in the first zone, not long after the first bow.

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  • Although the game intentionally includes hard moral choices, as far as I can tell there are no decisions that would prevent you from finishing the game, or accessing major parts of the game. So you are free to choose what you think is best.

 

Although this is true for most of Jeff's games, Geneforge 5 did have a game-losing faction (out of six total). He dropped some hints that you might want to consider a different path, but they were nowhere near as obvious as most of the hints he drops.

 

 

  • There is no way to rest and recover Vitality (the ability to use skills) without returning to a Pylon. However, there are enough Vitality potions and fountains to get you though every quest without being stingy about using skills.

 

I find the Tinkermage to be an exception to this, since Turrets have such high Vitality costs. Though probably the most powerful class, I found I did have to be a bit stingy about when I took out the really good turrets, or he would run out of vitality long before his companions.

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It's very minor, but tripped me up: although the Tinkermage skills refer to a "wristflinger", don’t go hunting for one — what you need to equip is a Razordisk, just like for a Shadowwalker.

This completely eluded me. I assumed that the razordisks in question were those thrown by my Boltflinger turret, once it was at level 3.

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