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Overview

POWDER is an open-source roguelike RPG written almost exclusively by Jeff Lait for the Game Boy Advance. He has ported it to several other systems, including Windows, Linux, OSX, Nintendo DS, PSP, and GP2X. As of the writing of this article, it is in version 112.

The game itself departs from the standard Rogue-likes in a few ways, some due to memory restrictions, some for ease of control, and some for enhancing the pick-up nature of the game. It adheres to many of the main tenets, however, of

randomly generated levels, perma-death, self-destructing saved games, complex object interactions combined with a large number of different objects, a potentially-sophisticated series of actions for identifying magical items, high difficulty, tile-based movement, a turn-based system, and combat that emphasizes tactical play.

One of the main boons of POWDER in particular is that it was built from the ground up to support hand-held systems, and as such, it is ideal for taking with you on the road. You would be surprised to find how many extra minutes you can cram into playing this game, especially as you can save at any point and can usually pick up where you left off no matter how long it has been between sessions. The controls are comparatively simple, as the game auto-prompts you to interact with most things such as stairs and objects instead of requiring you to find the correct keyboard key, and buttons can be easily re-mapped in-game to suit your playing style.

Story

Well, the story is primarily an excuse to have a game. You are an aspiring adventurer, and you have decided that you want to win glory and fame. To that purpose, you have entered the dungeon containing Baezl'bub, or "He Who The Author Cannot Spell Consistently". Your mission is to slay him and bring his black heart to the surface as a trophy. That's it, huzzah.

Gameplay

The game screen

POWDER is a turn-based RPG with movement based on square tiles. You move around each level of the dungeon, exploring tunnels and rooms, fighting monsters, gathering equipment, and leveling once you have gathered enough experience. Each time you gain a level, you can select from a list of classes determined by which patron deities like you enough, or you can forgo deities entirely and simply level as an adventurer. You receive skills and spells from your deity or from books found around the dungeon, up to a maximum determined by your physical or mental levels, which in turn are determined by which class you level as. Each deity prefers to see certain actions performed, and dislikes others; if they like you (or hate you) enough, they may grant you a miracle (or a smiting). These miracles range from healing you when you are injured to enchanting your weapons or simply granting you XP. Smitings come in the form of such actions as spontaneous immolation, cursing your equipment, polymorphing you into a ridiculously weak creature, and temporarily causing your mana to drain for a period of time.

All of the equipment you pick up starts in an unidentified state, and certain specific items have randomly determined magical properties. Leather sandals, for example, may have a 1 or -1 bonus applied to them or be cursed or blessed, and you will not know until you either identify them through a spell, scroll, or potion, or wear them for a while. Winged boots, on the other hand, may be boots of speed, boots of water-walking, or a few other specific shoe enchantments, in addition to the potential bonus and cursed/holy state. This is determined at the beginning of each new game, requiring you to identify which type of magical item has what enchantment on it every time you have a new adventurer, and that will be quite often.

This brings to light another part of the game: permanent death. You only get one shot at the dungeon with each adventurer. When you save, the game ends, and when you load, the save marks itself as loaded from, and if you load it again (known as 'save scumming') you are not eligible for placement in the high scores. This encourages highly cautious play, amassing equipment to deal with every possible situation and fleeing from those threats you cannot yet handle.

Enemies are spawned randomly from a weighted and limited set of 'at-level' monsters, determined by the player's level and the level of the dungeon you are currently on. Occasionally you get an 'out-of-depth' monster of significantly higher threat than others, which it is generally advisable to run from. Typically this occurs due to a polymorphed monster or a specific room being placed on the map (of which there are several). The types of monsters are typical fantasy fare - dragons, giant rats, golems, et cetera - with some interesting exceptions, such as the lux, an animated desk lamp that blinds its opponents.

The levels themselves, though randomly generated, follow particular patterns; the first several are square rooms linked by dark tunnels, just below which are a handful of labyrinth-like stone-walled levels, lit at first and then pitch-dark as you descend further. Near the bottom of the 30-floor dungeon are what are known as the 'god rooms', with a few of the deities represented by themed rooms. The patron deity of warriors, for example, has a multi-room arena where you must defeat each monster to progress to the next room.

Survival depends heavily on your gear. You can equip a helm, an amulet, body armor, boots, two rings, and one item for each hand, whether it be a shield, weapon, staff, or even a book if you so desire. Rings, scrolls, potions, wands and amulets are all magical and are unidentified at the beginning of the game, though careful testing can determine some of the potential effects. A ring of light, for example, will light the area around it if dropped on the floor, and if you zap a wand at a monster, most of the potential effects will be immediately apparent. A wand of slowness will give an appropriate message when you slow down the affected monster, and a wand of polymorph will immediately change it to another type of monster (which is why

careful

testing is a good idea). In such situations the wand is immediately renamed to reflect that you know what type it is, and all future wands of that type will be pre-identified. This ID game can be bypassed completely with such things as the spell Identify.

In addition to the standard magical items are 'randart' items, or random artifacts. These are distinguished by a gold cross in the corner of the icon as well as a random name appended to the item. These can have any intrinsic effect possible, including effects not normally accessible such as 'breathless', and unfortunately, 'bleeding'. Frequently, an undesirable effect is paired with the item being cursed, which prevents you from removing the item unless you somehow uncurse it or destroy it. However, beneficial randart items, and especially weapons, typically play a large part in a successful descent and subsequent ascension. Although rare, you can expect to find a small handful of them by the time you reach the bottom.

There are also a few 'crafted' item types, weapons which can be created by the player which have added elemental damage or other benefits, as well as sets of equipment that will grant a particular bonus.

Classes and Gods

When you gain 1000 XP, you gain a level. The

classes

you are permitted to chose from are determined by what deities like you enough - a value you can see when you use the 'pray' command. The physical and mental stats are not translated directly into an increase in max

hit points

or magic points; instead, they represent the maximum potential points gained. Following Belweir, for example, may grant you an extra 15 max magic points, but it is more likely to receive fewer. For every 10 points in physical or mental stats you receive, you can learn one additional skill or spell, respectively. The classes, their associated deities, the classes of skills or spells and the physical/mental levels gained are as follows. Physical and mental levels are listed as physical/ mental.

  • Adventurer: This is what you take if you don't like the gods. You will not receive blessings, but neither will you receive smitings. Adventurers must learn all their skills and spells from books. They receive 5/ 5 per level.
  • Fighter: For the sophisticated fighter who doesn't want to eschew magic entirely. Klaskov is the patron deity of fighters, and he likes to see you slay your foes. He dislikes spellcasting, but won't be too upset about the Klaskovite who throws the occasional spell. All weapon and armor skills can be learned by leveling as a fighter. Followers receive 15/ 0 per level, which means if you want more than one spell, you'll have to find some other way to gain magic points.
  • Wizard: The glass cannon of POWDER. Although you will quickly gain a sizable arsenal of spells as a wizard, the utter lack of physical stats make it very difficult to make it through the dungeon as a pure wizard. Belweir is the patron deity, and he likes spellcasting and identifying items. He doesn't like melee. You only learn spells from Belweir, but all of the attack and utility spells are available from him. If you find that your spells are spread across too many different categories, make use of the 'forget' command and grab a spell book. Followers receive 0/ 15 per level; most wizards take a couple levels in fighter or something similar to ensure the possibility of surviving a fireball to the face in the upper dungeon levels.
  • Rogue: An interesting class, granting both physical and mental stats. Quizar, the patron deity of rogues, likes ranged attacks, identifying items, finding hidden doors and traps, and killing the helpless. He dislikes loud noises, so wear soft shoes and avoid plate mail. The skills he teaches are primarily involving traps and dual-wielding, so you'll likely need to pick up weapon and armor skills on your own. He'll teach you spells as well, on occasion, without any major focus on a particular school. Followers receive 10/ 5 per level.
  • Necromancer: This class focuses on making lots of cannon fodder and throwing them at anything you come across. It's a difficult class to play, as you need to keep an eye on your minions and hunger becomes something of an issue when you're converting corpses to undead. The Arch-Lich Tlosh is the patron deity, though he is a mortal who has raised himself to godlike power and immortality. He likes ranged killing and death magic, as well as killing the helpless, and dislikes melee combat and healing. He hates healing spells especially, and will smite any follower who casts one immediately. The spells he teaches are primarily necromancy, which can seem limiting until the later spells come into play - a particularly devastating set of spells, only increasing in lethality as you learn more of them. Followers gain 5/ 10 per level, making them less fragile than wizards.
  • Barbarian: Wade into melee and crush your enemies. This is the call of the barbarian, and the joy of their patron deity, H'ruth. Perhaps the easiest class to play, thanks to the quick rise in hit points and the lack of having to pick through spells to learn. Levelling in barbarian will teach you how to eat well in the dungeon, and give you some weapon skills as well, though several of the physical skills are out of his domain. Bearing that in mind, collecting the right skill books will make you a juggernaut. H'ruth likes seeing you surrounded by enemies and slaughtering your opponents, though he dislikes ranged attacks and will instantly smite a follower who casts any spell whatsoever. Followers gain a whopping 20/ 0.
  • Cleric: Perhaps the most challenging of classes to stick with, aside from going pure wizard. Significant amounts of healing and the potential for a powerful ally or two make it an interesting choice, however. The cleric has to maintain an unsteady balance between hit points, magic points, and hunger, though the last is helped significantly if you can learn the skill Endure Hunger. Pax, the patron deity, likes his followers to heal and smite the undead, but he has some stringent requirements: he doesn't like it when you initiate combat, eat when not hungry, and strike the helpless, and will smite the follower who attacks allies or casts death magic. Those who survive their first few levels rapidly gain strength though, as they gain 10/ 10 per level. On the gripping hand, it's difficult to gain those first few levels, as you have to cast enough healing spells to gain favor with Pax and you need to let everything hit you first before you pound on it. Keeping the other gods happy enough to protect you from the combined fury of Tlosh and H'ruth is highly suggested - they are perfectly capable of killing you with a string of ill-timed curses.
  • Cultist: The most random of classes, following the most random of deities. ><0|V|, as he is called, is fickle and whimsical, and will on occasion throw a wrench in the adventurer's gears simply for his own amusement. If you follow him, he will occasionally inform you of his mood, from which you must determine which of the gods' edicts you must adhere to in order to gain favor with him. Until he changes his mind again. You can learn any and all skills and spells from him, but the physical and mental levels he grants are completely random each time you level as a cultist. If you're lucky, you can become a phenomenally powerful adventurer in a short amount of time, or alternately, you could be a pitiful little wuss in a dungeon full of scary things. So it goes for the cultist. Followers of other deities tend to have a strong distaste for ><0|V|, as he will sometimes find you very amusing for a while until he decides that he doesn't like your spellcasting, and smite you for it after considering you a 'follower' for a while.

The first several times you play the game, you are given a random set of equipment consisting of a weapon, armor, a spell book, a skill book, and one random item. These are pre-identified as you are considered to have brought them with you from above-ground. After ten games, however, you are permitted to select from a class when you start and your equipment is better tailored to your choice. (Picking ><0|V| at the beginning lets you hear his moods.)

Evolution

As a homebrew game, the author is continually adding features and fixing bugs, making the gameplay subtly different each time a new release comes out. Spells and skills are added, different interactions between items and environments are taken into account, monsters get new abilities. The entire changelog is on the

official webpage

although it does contain some spoilers if you want to find everything out for yourself.

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