by Malcolm Rose

posted 02/25/2020

Difficulty: Easy
Minotaur Berserker of Trog Playlist

Crawl Version: 0.24

Minotaur Berserker (MiBe): How To Play DCSS for Beginners

Hey everybody! Malcolm Rose here. You might know me from my Youtube channel where lately I've been posting my 52 win streak - the current longest streak in DCSS history. Because this game is so hard to get into, hard to win, and hard to win consistently, I've decided to provide the community with a series of instructional guides. This one is friendly to absolute beginners of the game. So, let's dive right in!

Before I get started: this guide assumes you know the basics of controlling your character in DCSS! If you need to learn the controls, I suggest you run through the tutorial first. I do explain hotkeys in my Minotaur Berserker videos, so take a look at those if you're shaky on the controls. There are a lot of hotkeys in this game, so even if you are a Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup veteran, you might learn something!

A Word About Guides

This guide is meant to be a starting point for people who haven't won DCSS yet and have found themselves stymied by what a hard game this seems to be. With that said, it is important to remember that DCSS is a game which resists rules of thumb. It is a "roguelike" game, and this means that every run will tend to be very different. There will be different items, different amounts of consumables, different enemies (to some degree), and so on and so forth. Any choice you make in one run might be incorrect for another run! As a result, guides are very difficult to write for this game. MiBe, however, is both simple and strong enough that I am confident that even the most clueless player can read this guide and snatch their first win, learning how to survive in DCSS.

Smashing Through The Game

As a minotaur, you are going to be stronger in many ways than most other characters of the game. As a berserker, you are going to have special tools available to you which will give you the ability to succeed from the start without much worry about whether the game gives you good items or not. Minotaur Berserker (MiBe) is a crawl meme for a reason: it's easy to play, it's easy to win, and most of all it's simple and straightforward. This makes it ideal for learning the basics of Crawl and getting your first win under your belt!

The Statting Game

Every three levels, you will get to put a point into strength, intelligence, or dexterity. For this character, your points should almost always go into strength. However, because your intelligence is so low, it would behoove you to first bolster it to around 6 or even 7 - going to "stat zero" via stat damage is very bad! Of course, these threats don't really appear until after Lair, so feel free to delay raising your int if you like.

The Skilling Game

Before we get into basic strategy, we must take a look at skilling. "Skilling" is one of the main strategic choices one makes in DCSS. You gain skill points as you gain experience, but anyone other than a gnoll has to manually choose which skills that your experience goes into. You can change this at any moment in the game, so it tends to get pretty complicated! Luckily, skilling a minotaur berserker is very simple. Outside of a few caveats, it's rather hard to mess up skilling a minotaur berserker. In fact, if you really wanted to make things easy, you could simply turn the following skills on at the beginning of the game and never touch your skills again:

However, this is not optimal for many reasons. If we're wearing very heavy armor, we're probably going to want more armor skill than dodging. If we're using a broad axe, we probably don't want to go above 18 axe skill. Why? Broad axes - the best one handed axe in the game - has a "mindelay" value of 18, meaning that once you get 18 axe skill you won't be gaining attack speed with skill. Decide for yourself how much you want to micromanage this. As a rule of thumb, by the end of a 3-4 rune game, your skills ought to look something like this on a MiBe:

In general, you want to favor offense over defense in the beginning. You'll get a lot of bang for your buck out of early axe and fighting training in particular - faster attacks, more damaging attacks, and more hit points. Just remember what I said earlier: DCSS is a game which resists rules of thumb. This is perhaps most true in skilling, and we're only able to make these sorts of broad statements because MiBe is so consistently strong in consistent ways.

Basic Strategy & Early Game

Your early game, like the rest of your game, involves hitting things and - for the most part - not much else. You will start with a hand axe, which ordinarily is a pretty bad decision due to how inaccurate they are, but works out fine for a Minotaur with his high skill aptitudes and horns attack. When you attack an enemy, the axe will also attack every other tile around you. While it's generally not a good idea to be surrounded, this will help you quite a bit in bad situations.

So, we're hitting things. But we're not just pressing "o" (autoexplore) and "tab" (autoattack) mindlessly - oh no! We are hitting things in the classy way, by handling each situation carefully. We don't walk next to enemies, as this gives them a free hit on us. Instead, we press "." until they are next to us, then swing. If they are faster than us - such as an adder - we walk away until they get next to us, then swing. Again, this is to avoid taking free hits. If you're not sure what an enemy does or how fast it is, always examine it with x and v or look it up with an infobot for more information. One note: if you really really want to use tab, I suggest you add the following line to your RC file so that you can't autoattack past a very high amount of HP: "autofight_stop=90". There are also more options to change your autofight behavior in different ways, such as making it so your character never moves towards opponents; you can see these options here.

Another basic piece of strategy is positioning. Positioning tricks are extremely useful in the early game and remain powerful well into the extended postgame. If there is an enemy that can do a ranged attack to you, such as a centaur or orc priest or even just a goblin with a rock, you want to ask yourself: how can I minimize the number of turns this enemy gets to do damage to me without me doing damage to it? Look for a spot near you where you can walk around a corner and take away your line of sight to the enemy. Then, count how many tiles away the enemy is from your current position. Compare those two numbers - generally, you can save yourself some pain by hiding around a corner and forcing the ranged-attacking enemy to close the distance without actually being able to damage you! Likewise, remember that you can always go upstairs to an already-cleared floor and, as long as you can survive 2.5 turns of damage from the things around you, nothing will be able to follow you unless it is right next to you. This is a great way to thin a herd of enemies, or catch a moment to rest and get your hit points back.

Altars and Items

Because we're worshiping Trog from the start, our early game is pretty uneventful since we aren't hunting for a god to worship. Instead, we are full-clearing every floor as we search for the Lair, which will spawn anywhere from D:8 to D:11. We are also on the lookout for good items and equipment. In general we will wear the heaviest armor we can find, we wear the best axe that we can find, and we wear all of our aux slots (hats, gloves, boots, etc), and we follow best general practices for identifying scrolls, potions, rings, amulets, etc..

As soon as we find a wand, we start skilling evocations. This will make all of our evocable items much more powerful. Take the skill to at least to 5, but it's so great that you definitely want to take it to 15 by the end of the game and it probably would not hurt for you to just go ahead and set the skill training target to that as soon as you start training it. Once you reach around 10, boxes of beasts and sacks of spiders will start doing truly amazing things for you. If we are lucky enough to find a buckler, shield, or large shield, we immediately put it on and start skilling shields to the appropriate value (4 for bucklers, 15 for shields, and 25 for large shields). For this character, we typically wear the heaviest shield we can find.

Weapon choice is a very particular thing in DCSS. In general, it is best to stick with one weapon skill and not switch even if you find a pretty good weapon. Skill points are at a premium in DCSS. With that said, if you find a good enough weapon - especially if you find it early enough - it can be worth switching. There are so many factors to this decision that it can be hard to explain, but essentially, we want a one-handed weapon which also does great damage. The following types are worth paying particular attention to in DCSS as endgame-viable weapons:

With that said, if we find an extremely high bonus weapon of any type in the early game, it can be worth looking at using for the short term. If a weapon has an important resistance on it such as Magic Resistance, it can be worth keeping in your inventory as a "swap" for bad situations even if you don't intend to attack with it or skill it. Remember that this is not a decision that you have to put a lot of thought into for this character. Trog will eventually gift us an endgame-viable broad axe, which is what we really want.

Help: Grinder Killed Me Before I Even Reached Lair! Your Guide Sucks!

On our way through the early dungeon, we are going to see some powerful monsters that can take down our mighty minotaur if we don't use special tactics. In addition to the powerful ranged enemies who can be manipulated with the positioning tactics I described above, there are enemies such a Grinder and Sigmund, as well as more generic enemies like Orc Wizards, who have the ability to attack you through "magic resistance" by confusing you or paralyzing you. This can be very bad. Luckily, Trog allows us the ability to use Trog's Hand, which gives us a temporary MR++ and HP regeneration. Use this whenever an enemy is around who can target your MR.

Hey, I'm a Berserker! When Do I Use Berserk?

You don't. No, really - berserk is an extremely powerful, extremely dangerous tool. It's kind of like trying to fillet a fish with a shotgun in your kitchen. It will probably work, but you're risking buckshot ricocheting into your own face. Berserk has three effects: it temporarily increases your HP, it applies a "haste" effect which lets you move and attack very fast, and it applies a "might" effect which makes you do a lot more damage with melee attacks. If you spend too many turns "not attacking," the berserk effect will end. Trog will sometimes extend the berserk effect after you kill an enemy, but nevertheless, you will eventually find yourself out of the berserk state. Then, you will be guaranteed to be slowed for a period of time, and there will be a chance that you are paralyzed for a period of time. Both of these things are very bad, and reduce the amount of control you have over your character. Losing control over your character is very bad in DCSS!

If you really want to berserk against enemies in DCSS, the smart way to do it is usually to first lure them to a floor which is completely clear of enemies. That way, when the fight is over, there's no risk of an enemy wandering in and ruining your day while you are still hung over from your rage aneurysm. With that said, it is possible to win a MiBe without berserking even once. Think of it as a powerful but dangerous crutch. If you are busting it out - especially frivolously - you are probably making a mistake.

Once you find the Lair, the early game is over. Most characters should enter the Lair as soon as they find it, and our MiBe should easily be able to survive there.

Midgame and Lategame

Lair is the meatiest bit of the early-midgame transition, and also the most difficult for newer players. It's actually pretty easy for a MiBe, but has some caveats that you need to be aware of. Hydras in particular present a unique threat. Each "head" of the hydra can do up to 18 damage - this means that if you don't have high defenses (and especially AC) you are very likely to eat a ton of damage from hydras. On top of that, you can't really fight them with a cutting weapon like an axe because their heads will multiply, making them more dangerous and healing them at the same time. Here are some basic strategies for dealing with early hydras on a MiBe:

Once you reach - and finish! - Lair, you are in the midgame. You will probably have around 5* or 6* piety at this point, which is where your "Brothers in Arms" ability really starts to shine. At that point, you will generally receive far more powerful berserking allies. Don't be afraid to use this if you're in a sticky situation - it solves most problems, and you can navigate through your allies in hallways in order to put them between you and the enemy.

While I'm not going to discuss specific monsters (it's on you to x and v them to find out what they do - I am going to talk about where to go at which points of the game. Elliptic, a former dev and former world record streaker of DCSS, put it like this: Lair -> D:12 -> Orc -> D:15 -> S:3 -> maybe other S:3 -> maybe Elf:1-2 -> get one S rune -> Vaults:4 -> get second S rune -> maybe Crypt -> Depths:5 -> get three runes -> Zot ("S" means Shoals/Snake/Spider/Swamp). If you want to follow this every time, it will usually work out. It's not always correct, though!

This is general game pathing stuff which will eventually be moved to a different page, but for now, think of it like this. First, you finish Lair - or, if Lair:6 is giving you a hard time, you skip that particular floor until you feel stronger (remember - branch ends are harder, and DCSS almost never forces you to do floors as soon as you find them!). If you have enough Magic Resistance to be immune to an orc sorcerer's paralysis, you then go further down in the dungeon and do the orc mines. Our MiBe has built in MR via Trog's Hand as long as we activate it at the right times, so this is unlikely to be a problem. However, our intelligence stat is low. Bear in mind that orc sorcerers can summon minor demons - "neqoxecs" - which can drain your int, and if your intelligence goes to zero, you will be temporarily paralyzed, then permanently slowed and have a 50% fail rate on your scroll usage. This lasts until your intelligence goes above zero. As a result, you need to be very careful not to let this happen. Kill the orc sorcerers quickly and, if your intelligence does get drained, consider going elsewhere to gain experience to get it back before continuing.

Once you finish orc, you are generally safe to finish dungeon. Then, you do your two "Lair Branches." Lair Branches are Shoals, Snake, Spider, and Swamp, and you will always get two of the four every game. For Spider, Swamp, and Snake, you'd ideally like to have resistance to poison. For Snake, you'd ideally like to have resistance to electricity. Bear in mind that Swamp can give you rpois because the swamp dragons themselves may drop their swamp dragon scales for you to wear. Which branch you do first will generally be determined by what items you have found so far, so play it by ear. Like Elliptic said, it's technically best to do the first three floors of each branch before doing the fourth of either - this is because the final floor contains a "branch end" which has a rune of Zot and an enormous pack of dangerous monsters. Soak up as much safe experience as you can!

Once you have gotten the two Lair runes, the game really opens up. Entering Vaults requires you to have one rune, and going into Elf is fairly inadvisable unless you have "omniresistance," or a pip in most if not all resistances. Slime also requires very particular resistances. Any of these places - yes, even Slime! - are legitimate choices at this point of the game depending on what you've found so far. The rundown of requirements essentially goes like this:

The rules above can be bent or broken depending on how strong your character is and what his other resources are, and will be described in detail in later "area" guides. The final floors of both Slime and Vaults also feature what might be characterized as "boss fights" which require special tactics to win. For now, I suggest that you take a look at the third and fourth videos of the Minotaur Berserker of Trog Playlist in order to get an idea of what choices should be made and why.


If you want to do "extended" - the postgame content - on this character, sticking with Trog would be a slog. It is advisable to instead swap to Tso, who will heal you every time you kill a demon or an undead creature. Almost everything in extended is a demon or undead. Because I do not advise that you do extended on your first win, this is a little outside the scope of this guide. However, I do extended in the final video of the MiBe video series, so feel free to check that out.

Final Thoughts

Playing a MiBe condenses DCSS into a simplified and relatively easy version of itself. You don't have to worry about spells, you don't have to worry about which God to worship, and you don't even really have to worry about finding a good weapon since Trog will eventually give you one. He hands you the tools you need to survive the Dungeon every single time - you just have to use them properly! It's a great learning tool, one which will hand you your first win and give you the confidence to try harder combos.

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