This is Part 2 of my Dungeons of Dredmor strategy guide, focused on analysis of all the skills in version 1.0.6 of the game. The second half of the skill list is in Part 3. See Part 1 of this guide if you have any interest in learning about character archetypes, primary & secondary stat progression, or general mechanics questions.
Update: I've added a fourth part, detailing some character skill builds.
Update2! : All skill discussion is now consistent with v1.0.10. A lot has changed, so pay close attention!
The best thing about the Swords skill is that it gives you access to swords - which are the most varied and most ubiquitous weapon type around. The Swords tree doesn't give you much damage - but it does raise your accuracy quite a bit, and the 6th skill gives +4 counter attack chance, which is very good. It also has a 20% chance to give you +16 counter chance when you are hit in combat! Skills 2, 3, and 4 each provide +damage, and level 4 gives you an interesting attack which hits three spaces in front of you. Swords are the weapon of choice for most Rogue-style characters, who are looking to maximize their critical chance.
If you take this you want to leave it at level 1, increase it to level 4, or get it all the way to level 6.
Axes deal more damage than swords in general, and the Axes skill line has a strong focus on critical hits. Level 4 is an area-attack which hits every square around you - this is interesting, but generally you do NOT want to be surrounded, so it is rare that you will make such good use of this skill. If you take axes, you will almost certainly want to build it up to level 6, to get the awesome +3 damage, +14 accuracy, +5 critical chance, and the "Cogito Ergo Splat" ability which deal existential damage in a 2-space radius all around you! If you are not willing to really focus on a melee weapon, axes are probably not the weapon you are looking for. For a really weird build, you can focus on Axes, Smithing AND Tinkering in an attempt to make the dreaded Clockwork Chainsaw!
Maces are a great melee option for characters who expect to use melee attacks frequently, but not exclusively. The second-level skill gives you the Dwarven Handshake, which is a knockback attack. Knockback gives you lots of breathing room, which increases your survivability significantly! Level 4 provides a 2x3 damage area in front of you (significantly more useful than the AoE in Axes) which ALSO deals knockback - your best tool for getting out of tight jams. Maces are a bit hard to find compared to swords, but Smithing can give you lots of great Maces pretty quickly. Level 5 and 6 is rarely worth taking on its own- it is a minor bonus.
Update! Mace level 6 now has the amazing "Pedantic Beating" ability - which gives you an 15% chance of paralyzing an enemy when you hit them! This cements Maces as the best defensive weapon for warriors, and makes level 6 a must-have.
Staves are really interesting weapons, because they provide lots of good abilities and defensive buffs. Level 4 gives you an area attack like Maces, Level 2 gives you a stunning attack (not as good as knockback, but quite good). But if you study staves, it is level 6 where you get your amazing bonuses: +3 magic power, +5 block, +4 Haywire, +5 Magic Defense. If you dual-wield your staves, you can have a total of +6 magic power and +18 block, ON TOP of whatever bonuses the two staves themselves provide. That's better than any shield in the game, plus you get the benefits of dual-wielding.
The downside of Staves, however, is that they don't do as much damage as other weapon types. Also, the Staves skill tree is a Warrior Archetype tree, so it isn't boosting your magic power an mana as much as simply taking more Wizard archetype skills. Wizards often take this skill for the initial bonuses, but then put no points into it. I give an example of a great dual-wielding staff wizard in part 4...
Archery is an interesting skill, but a rather hard lifestyle to stick with. Crossbows are everywhere in this game, but bolts (the ammunition you shoot) are pretty hard to come by. Unlike melee skills, you don't get any penalty for shooting a crossbow without this skill, so it's often better to take Tinkering, which gives you better Crossbows, instead of Archery. The one real benefit of the Archery line is the fact that it increases the rate at which you recover ammunition - a 30% recovery rate means you are getting significantly more shots out of your bolts than other people are. Even then, Tinkering is almost a must, to give you bolts to fire.
Update! Ranged weapons have been given quite a bit of love, and they are much more viable these days. Archery is now upgraded with 2 extra damage attributes at level 2 and 4. Level 2 gives extra damage which scales with melee power (odd...) and level 4 gives a significant armor reduction and extra damage which scales with Magic Power (ok...). Ammo recovery rate is still king, but all the new bolt types will give you more options.
If Archery is a questionable skill, Thrown Weapons is almost always a "Do Not Take." Thrown weapons are tremendously rare, and don't do much more damage than bolts, which you'll find more of. Thrown Weapons take damage bonuses from Burliness, which means they might work better for a Warrior type - but any real warrior wouldn't need thrown weapons. Worst of all, however, is the fact that there are some bolt types which deal massive damage - any player can horde a small stockpile of these until late in the game. There are no equivalently useful Thrown Weapons. You'll also need to invest in Tinkering to build more Thrown Weapons. Stick with Archery - or nothing! - for dealing ranged damage.
Update! I'm tempted to delete the entire above paragraph, because I'm totally in love with Throwing weapons these days. The damage still scales with Melee Damage, but all the new crafting recipes for throw objects - especially spears and throwing axes - means that a Throwing Smith can kick ass all kinds of ways. Throwing also now has the really fun "Monster Toss" ability at level 2, which is a lifesaver when facing tough melee boss characters. This is still not something new players should focus on, but I think it's now very viable for skilled players. And a TON of fun.
Unarmed Combat is a pretty awesome skill set - it gives huge bonuses to damage, block, dodge, accuracy, and counter-attack. The weakness, of course, is that you never have any weapons to boost your base damage, so Unarmed Combat can falter quite a bit in the later game. The semi-hidden bonus, however, is that "unarmed" fighters can hold a shield in each hand - increasing their survivability significantly. Unarmed Combat gets knockback attacks like Maces, which is awesome. If you take this skill tree, you almost certainly want to build it up to level 6. You also really need to have another source of damage - ranged weapons or magic, specifically, to deal with the later half of the dungeon.
Update! Essence cleverly added a "Nice Combo!" ability to level 6, which means you deal double damage or better 25% of the time when you hit in melee. This means that Unarmed still has damage trouble in the late game, but can totally get huge hits through sometimes without any additional tricks.
Dual Wielding is a very, very powerful skill. Any melee-focused character will want to consider it strongly. Simply selecting the skill tree means that you can use a weapon in both hands - probably doubling (or nearly) your melee output. Taking levels 2, 3, 4 and will provide you with decent bonuses to Counter Chance, which is nice but hardly worthwhile unless you are really focused on maximizing counter chance. Level 5 now grants +10 (!) to counter chance, making it pretty awesome for any melee character. Even with all these bonuses, 90% of the advantage given by Dual Wield are available with no extra points invested - So while many, many melee characters take Duel Wielding, very few put skill points into the tree.
Shield Bearer, though not obvious about it, is one of the very best defensive skill trees in the game. It provides some passive block bonus at every level, which is nice. The bonus persists even if you are not holding a shield - so it is not a worthless skill even if you choose to dual-wield. The flip side of that is that the bonuses do not double when you hold two shields, unlike weapon bonuses.
The second level gives a very nice (+10 block, +2 armor, +2 health regen) bonus when you are hit, which happens a lot for melee characters. The third level gives a very nice knockback & stun attack, which is worth its weight in gold. Level 4 provides an activated defense bonus nearly as good as level 2 (and they stack!). Level 5 simply grants +4 block, +1 armor, +1 Stubborness. That's not amazing, but all together the shield tree can provide you +25 block - which is pretty amazing. You absolutely want to get to level 3, at least, for the stun & knockback attack.
Update! Defensive Bash (level 3 skill) used to be a bit tricky - because the damage it deals scaled with Magic Power, which warriors often have none of. This has been changed to scale with Critical Chance, and has been given a 100% chance of paralysis! So... that's pretty amazing. Makes Shield Bearer + Axe wield characters especially awesome. (Remember that you still don't actually need a shield to get these benefits - so dual-wield axe berserkers with shield bearer would be amazing!)
You might assume that Berserker Rage is an offensive-oriented skill tree - but you would be wrong. This tree gives you heavy defense bonuses (and extra damage) when you are fighting toe-to-toe with enemies. The bonuses do not last very long, but if you are wading into a large group of enemies you can easily be looking at a permanent +10 damage, +15 armor bonus. Level 1 is decent, but doesn't really provide a reliable attack or defense bonus. Level 2 allows you to start gaining bonuses on attack AND defense. Level 4 is where you really start to shine. If you take this tree, you really want to get it to level 4. Interestingly, the power of this tree only comes out when you are not doing insane damage - so it doesn't pair will with dual-wielding. Vampirism for a Hybrid Wizard - Warrior character is a much better fit.
Update! This skill has been given 2 more levels, so it now provides a nice resistance stat-boost at level 3, and a guaranteed critical attack every 40 turns at level 5. Can you resist getting level 5? I've been unable to resist it thus far. Critical attacks can't be blocked or countered! Plus double damage!
Dodging is cool, but the dodge bonus provided by this skill tree is pretty minimal. However, the dodge bonus isn't the real reason you take this skill - you take it for Knightly Leap - the skill earned at level 3. This gives you a 2-by-3 teleport skill (like a Knight's move in chess) which can be used all the time. This is a lifesaver, and tremendously worthwhile for almost any character. Level 5 gives a +8 to dodge, which is fine but not always worth the 2 skill points. If you really want to be a master of the dodge, just focus on Rogue archetype skills exclusively, and you'll be just as well off.
Update! - Most level of Dodge have been given a few more points in dodge - making the tree much more effective as a source of overall defense. Knightly Leap is still the key ability - but +8 dodge at level 5 now brings the total dodge bonus to +19 - pretty good.
Master of Arms
Here is another skill tree which, like Berserker Rage, doesn't quite work as advertised - though it works well. Master of Arms is nominally about heavy armor - but actually it provides the same sort of protections heavy armor provides - making the armor sort of unnecessary. Master of Arms is a skill tree which substitutes for armor - allow your character to wear Wizard or Rogue-style armor and still have a high block + armor value. The big winner skill here is Walk It Off at level 3 - which increases your Life and Regeneration significantly when you are hit. Along with your other skills, this cuts your regeneration time tremendously, which helps to keep you in the fight. Note that the Vampirism skill tree eliminates health regeneration - so these two skill trees do NOT play well together.
The other big, big advantage of Master of Arms is that it starts your character with heavy armor - so you have some defense right away. If you are finding the first level of the dungeon tricky, this will increase your survivability tremendously at the start of the game.
Deadshot looks like an accuracy boost for ranged characters - but it isn't. Dead shot is a Warrior-archetype skill tree, which increases accuracy for ALL types of weapons, and also provides passive debuffs to your attacks. Deadshot increases your Critical Chance, and can inflict Bleeding or Crippling wounds on your opponents with any attack - melee or ranged. If you want to make a Hybrid crossbow / melee fighter, this skill tree is much better than Archery. With only 3 levels, it's easy to max out as well - though it's not something you'd want to max early.
Update! Deadshot has been removed from the game. Sorry. :(
Vampirism is a very interesting skill tree - it is a Wizard Archetype, which means that it does not increase your melee power, but it requires melee attacks to drain life for you. It adds 1 damage + 1/4 Magic Power to your attack, and returns that much health to you. That's amazing in the early game, but in order for it to matter in the late game you NEED a very high Magic Power - which means a Wizard-archetype build, rather than a heavy-hitting melee powerhouse. The flip side is that you cannot use food at all - which is deadly if you don't know how to manage your resources properly.
Level 2 gives you a spell which turns a corpse into 4 health - that doesn't scale well in the end-game no matter what your Magic Power is. Level 3 gives you a "Sparkly" stun spell, which is pretty useful and drains more health from a large area. VERY USEFUL. Level 4 gives you a 25% chance to confuse enemies - and does some minor mana drain as well. Level 5 turns you into a bat - which lets you fly AND gives you +50 Dodge. Run away! If you want to use Vampirism, you need to build your entire strategy around it. Not for beginners.
At last, we come to the first real magic tree - Golemancy. Magic skill trees grant a specific spell at each level, so they provide a lot of strategic depth by allowing for specific spell combinations at different levels. Blade Golem is a heavy-damage spell which requires a bit of foresight - you may only cast it on an empty square. Any enemy which enters that square takes damage, so you generally cast it between yourself an a foe. Not too hard to get the hang of. Mustache Golem is a favorite of many - he takes a beating (via very high dodge!) and can kill most enemies on the first 2-3 levels without breaking a sweat. Unliving Wall blocks off corridors and turns unwinnable battles into easy pickings. The Mortal Machine at level 5 is an industrial-strength version of the Mustache Golem - he can do your fighting well into floor 5. Level 6 gives the Digging Ray, which allows you to delete sections of wall, and re-form the dungeon as you see fit.
The most interesting spell, however, is Thaumite Swarm at level 4. If you have a very high Magic Power, this is the game's most deadly spell. It will deal huge damage to one target, and then re-cast itself on the space the target last occupied. If a bunch of monsters are running around an enclosed space, a single Thaumite Swarm can kill them all in relatively short order. This is interesting because the rest of the Golemancy tree works well regardless of how much Magic Power you have - making it an attractive choice for Wizard Hybrids. Thaumite Swarm is the opposite - it demands a heavy investment in Magic Power to really shine.
Fleshsmithing is a fairly versatile tree, especially with the most recent patch, which radically adjusted the order of its spels. The tree also gives you bonus health at each level, and some damage resists - so it's more than just the spells, which is a unique attribute among magic schools.
Zomby at level 1 is the very first summon creature spell in the game. Zomby is just terrible as a summon - but I wouldn't complain about getting him for free ;). Knit Tissue is one of the very best heals in the game at level 2. Many warriors take Fleshsmithing just for this spell. Fleshbore is a lovely single-target damage spell at level 3, which also reduces block and armor significantly - making monsters easier to beat to a pulp for a few turns. Meat Shield is now the level 4 skill - it gives solid regen and health boosts, which are of limited use for mages, and is now too "deep" in the tree for warriors to really go for. Corpus Burst at level 5 is a huge bomb - though it can be hard to set up properly. You need to kill an enemy, then move away from its corpse before you set it off! If you can manage it, the explosion is very satisfying.
Level 6 grants the spell Miasmatic Putrefaction, which is similar to Corpus Burst, but may be cast anywhere for a 3x3 cloud of destruction. This is a wonderful zoo-clearing spell, and does a great job of weakening monsters before you finish them off. Everyone with this tree needs to take it to level 2 for the heal - Wizards will want to get to 6 for the lovely Miasmatic Cloud.
Mathemagic is probably the worst magic skill tree you can take if you need an all-in-one solution, but it's one of the very best to take in supplement to another magic tree. The level 1 spell is a random teleport. I don't care for it, but it can probably save your life on occasion. It's cheap too, and works for non-Wizards just fine. Not a bad spell if you need to take a Magic Tree, but don't plan on putting any skill points into it. Level 2 gives Beklam's Diminishing Calculus - a terrible spell which does slight damage, and reduces a monster's damage output modestly. Avoid. Level 3 gives us the wonderful Curse of the Golden Ratio. This does moderate damage over time to one monster, but it turns that damage into gold coins - which drop at the monster's feet. Deadly and Profitable! The spell is expensive (twice as much as the similarly-powered Fleshbore) but not overly expensive for a dedicated Wizard.
Level 4 gives the confusingly -name Zenzizenzizenzic. This spell is an amazing force-multiplier for the dedicated Wizard. It increases your Magic Power by, essentially, 5. Plus it adds 4 Mana. You may cast it over and over. If you have 35+ Magic Power this spell will quickly push you to 50. Win.
Level 5 gives a perfect Teleport spell - arguably the best escape mechanism in the game. Level 7 gives the Recursive Curse, a combination of the level 2 and 3 spell which works wonders on even the strongest monsters in the game. It deals reasonable damage, but also weakens them against damage - so where the Curse of the Golden Ratio will often fail to hit heavily armored monsters, The Recursive Curse will eventually break down their defenses and kill them.
Psionics is one of the best magic schools for the non-Wizard to take, as it offers a wide variety of abilities which do not require high Magic Power to be effective. Level 1 gives a sleep spell, which is quite handy for thinning the ranks of an oncoming horde. Level 2 gives a knockback spell, which hits a wide area. Level 3 is a modest healing spell - it heals 36 Life, but you need to move around to take advantage of it properly. Level 4 is the awesome Nerve Staple. Nerve Staple does big damage to one target, and paralyzes them. It also buffs them against Nerve Staple damage - so you can't use it more than once to deal damage. High Magic-Power characters will use it to kill enemies outright, while low Magic-Power characters will use it more for the Paralyze.
Pyrokinesis at level 5 sets a target on fire. It deals damage equal to your Magic Power, plus a burn effect. Again, high Magic-Power users will kill enemies outright with the spell, while low Magic-Power users will use the burning damage to kill enemies. Level 6 turns an enemy into an ally for 16 turns - a pretty awesome (and cheap!) effect.
I've talked about 18 of the 34 skills - look for the remainder in Part 3 out this Thursday.