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Playing LambdaHack

The following blurb is a copy of the game intro screen.

          LambdaHack is a small dungeon crawler illustrating
          the roguelike game engine of the same name. Playing
          the game involves exploring spooky dungeons, alone
          or in a party of fearless explorers, avoiding
          and setting up ambushes, hiding in shadows from
          the gaze of unspeakable horrors, discovering secret
          passages and gorgeous magical treasure and making
          creative use of it all.

          The madness-inspiring abominations that multiply
          in the depths perform the same feats, due to their
          aberrant, abstract hyper-intelligence. They look out
          for any sign of weakness or indecision, ready
          to tirelessly chase the elusive heroes by sight,
          sound and smell.

Once the few basic command keys and on-screen symbols are learned, mastery and enjoyment of the game is the matter of tactical skill and literary imagination. To be honest, a lot of imagination is required for this modest sample game, but it has its own distinct quirky mood and is playable and winnable. Contributions are welcome.

If the game window is too large for your screen or you experience other technical issues, please consult or describe your problem on gitter or the issue tracker.

Game map

The map of any particular scenario consists of one or many levels and each level has a large number of tiles with a particular terrain kind on each. The game world is persistent, i.e., every time the player visits a level during a single game, its layout is the same.

Terrain is depicted with non-letter and non-digit (except zero 0) characters, the same as items lying on the ground, though blocky solid symbol are more likely to be non-passable terrain than items. In case of doubt, one of the aiming commands (keypad /, with default keybinding) cycles through all visible and remembered items on the level and another (keypad *, with default keybinding) through all foes. The basic terrain kinds are as follows.

terrain type                           on-screen symbol
wall (horizontal and vertical)         - and |
tree or rock or man-made column        0
rubble                                 &
bush, transparent obstacle             %
trap, ice obstacle                     ^
closed door                            +
open door (horizontal and vertical)    | and -
corridor                               #
smoke or fog                           ;
ground                                 .
water                                  ~
stairs or exit up                      <
stairs or exit down                    >
bedrock                                blank

Actors are marked with lower and upper case letters and with characters @ and 1 through 9 (but never 0). Player-controlled heroes are always bright white and by default they are selected (e.g., to run together) so they have a blue highlight around their symbol. If player manages to control animals or other actors, they retain their letter and color, but gain a highlight as well.

So, for example, the following map shows a room with a closed door, full of actors, connected by a corridor with a room with an open door, a pillar, a staircase down and rubble that obscures one of the corners. The lower row of the larger room is full of items.

------       ------
|@19.|       |....&&
|Ra..|       |[?!,)$"=|
------       ----------


The heroes are displayed on the map with bright white color (red if they are about to be lost) and symbols @ and 1 through 9 (never 0). The currently chosen party leader is yellow-highlighted on the map and his attributes are displayed at the bottom-most status line which, in its most complex form, looks as follows.

*@12   2m/s Calm: 20/60 HP: 33/50 Leader: Haskell Alvin   6d1+5% 4d1

The line starts with the list of party members, with the current leader highlighted in yellow. Most commands involve only the leader, including movement with keyboard's keypad or LMB (left mouse button). If more heroes are selected (highlighted in blue), they run together whenever : or RMB (right mouse button) over map area is pressed.

Next on the bottom-most status line is the leader's current and maximum Calm (morale, composure, focus, attentiveness), then his current and maximum HP (hit points, health). The colon after "Calm" turning into a dot signifies that the leader is in a position without ambient illumination, making a stealthy conduct easier. A brace sign instead of a colon after "HP" means the leader is braced for combat (see section Basic Commands).

In the second half of the bottom-most status line, the leader's name is shown. Then come damage dice of the leader's melee weapons and leader's appendages, ordered by their power. The dice of the first recharged weapon, the one that would be used in this moment, is adorned with percentage damage bonus collected from the whole equipment of the leader. If the dice are displayed with upper-case D instead of lower-case d, the weapon has additional effects apart of the usual kinetic damage. The nature of the effects can be appraised via the Equipment screen.

Weapon damage and other item properties are displayed using the dice notation xdy, which denotes x rolls of y-sided dice. A variant written xdLy is additionally scaled by the level depth in proportion to the maximal level depth (at the first level it's always one, then it grows up to full rolled value at the last level). Section Monsters below describes combat resolution in detail, including the role of the percentage damage bonus.

The second, the upper status line describes the current level in relation to the party.

5  Lofty hall    [33% seen] X-hair: dire basilisk    [**__]

First comes the depth of the current level and its name. Then the percentage of its explorable tiles already seen by the heroes. The X-hair (aiming crosshair) is the common focus of the whole party, marked on the map with a red box and manipulated with mouse or movement keys in aiming mode. In this example, the crosshair points at a dire basilisk monster, with its hit points drawn as a bar.

Instead of a monster, the X-hair area may describe a position on the map, a recently spotted item on the floor or an item in inventory selected for further action or, if none are available, a summary of the team status. For example, this form

5  Lofty hall    [33% seen] X-hair: exact spot (71,12)    p15 l10

indicates that the party is aiming at an exact spot on the map. At the end of the status line comes the length of the shortest path from the leader's position to the spot and the straight-line distance between the two points, one that a flung projectile would travel.

Basic Commands

This section is a copy of the few basic screens of in-game help. The help pages are automatically generated based on a game's keybinding content and on overrides in the player's config file. The remaining in-game help screens, not shown here, list all game commands grouped by categories in detail. A text snapshot of the complete in-game help is in InGameHelp.txt.

Walk throughout a level with mouse or numeric keypad (left diagram below), or with its compact laptop replacement (middle) or the Vi editor keys (right) selectable in config.ui.ini. Run until disturbed with Shift or Control. Go-to with LMB (left mouse button). Run collectively with RMB.

           7 8 9          7 8 9          y k u
            \|/            \|/            \|/
           4-5-6          u-i-o          h-.-l
            /|\            /|\            /|\
           1 2 3          j k l          b j n

In aiming mode, the same keys (and mouse) move the x-hair (aiming crosshair). Press KP_5 (5 on keypad) to wait, bracing for impact, which reduces any damage taken and prevents displacement by foes. Press C-KP_5 (the same key with Control) to wait 0.1 of a turn, without bracing and S-KP_5 (with Shift) to yell/yawn, taunting and waking up enemies/yourself. You displace enemies by running into them with Shift/Control or RMB. Search, open, descend and attack by bumping into walls, doors, stairs and enemies. The best melee weapon is automatically chosen from your equipment and from among your body parts.

The following commands, joined with the basic set above, let you accomplish anything in the game, though not necessarily with the fewest keystrokes. You can also play the game exclusively with a mouse, or both mouse and keyboard. (See the ending help screens for mouse commands.) Lastly, you can select a command with arrows or mouse directly from the help screen or the dashboard and execute it on the spot.

keys         command
P or I       manage inventory pack of the leader
g or ,       grab item(s)
ESC          finish aiming/open main menu
RET or INS   accept target/open dashboard
SPACE        clear messages/display history
S-TAB        cycle among all party members
KP_* or !    cycle x-hair among enemies
KP_/ or /    cycle x-hair among items
c            close door
+            swerve the aiming line

Screen area and UI mode (exploration/aiming) determine mouse click effects. We give an overview of effects of each button over the game map area. The list includes not only left and right buttons, but also the optional middle mouse button (MMB) and the mouse wheel, which is also used over menus, to page-scroll them. (For mice without RMB, one can use Control key with LMB.)

keys         command
LMB          set x-hair to enemy/go to pointer for 25 steps
RMB or C-LMB fling at enemy/run to pointer collectively for 25 steps
C-RMB        open or close or alter at pointer
MMB          snap x-hair to floor under pointer
WHEEL-UP     swerve the aiming line
WHEEL-DN     unswerve the aiming line

Advanced Commands

For ranged attacks, setting the aiming crosshair beforehand is not mandatory, because x-hair is set automatically as soon as a monster comes into view and can still be adjusted for as long as the missile to fling is not chosen. However, sometimes you want to examine the level map tile by tile or assign persistent personal targets to party members. The latter is essential in the rare cases when your henchmen (non-leader characters) can move autonomously or fire opportunistically (via innate skills or rare equipment). Also, if your henchman is adjacent to more than one enemy, setting his target makes him melee a particular foe.

You can enter the aiming mode with the * keypad key that selects enemies or the / keypad key that cycles among items on the floor and marks a tile underneath an item. You can move x-hair with direction keys and assign a personal target to the leader with a RET key (Return, Enter). The details of the shared x-hair mark are displayed in a status line close to the bottom of the screen, as explained in section Heroes above.

Commands for saving and exiting the current game, starting a new game, configuring convenience settings for the current game and challenges for the next game are listed in the main menu, brought up by the ESC key. Game difficulty, from the challenges menu, determines hitpoints at birth: difficulty below 5 multiplies hitpoints of player characters, difficulty over 5 multiplies hitpoints of their enemies. Of the convenience settings, the suspect terrain choice is particularly interesting, because it determines not only screen display of the level map, but also whether suspect tiles are considered for auto-explore and for the C-? command that marks the nearest unexplored position.

The "lone wolf" challenge mode reduces player's starting actors to exactly one (consequently, this does not affect the initial 'raid' scenario). The "cold fish" challenge mode makes it impossible for player characters to be healed by actors from other factions (this is a significant restriction in the final 'crawl' scenario).

For a person new to roguelikes, the 'raid' scenario offers a gentle introduction. The subsequent game scenarios lead the player along an optional story arc. They gradually introduce squad combat, stealth, opportunity fire, asymmetric battles and more. Starting from the second scenario, the player controls a whole team of characters and will develop his repertoire of squad formations, preferred rendezvous locations and the use of light sources.

The last scenario, the crawl, is the only one that takes place in a multi-floor setting, spanning 10 varied levels, requiring lots of time and focus to beat and providing considerable replayability. The player has a choice of exploring a single level at a time or portions of many levels along a single staircase. The scenario is the gist and the main challenge of the game, involving strategic resource management and area denial elements. Compared to that, the smaller scenarios provide mostly tactical training and additional entertainment by trying to beat a high-score. They offer variety and a breather between the deaths^H^H^H^H^H^H the brave attempts at the long crawl scenario.


The life of the heroes is full of dangers. Monstrosities, natural and out of this world, roam the dark corridors and crawl from damp holes day and night. While heroes pay attention to all other party members and take care to move one at a time, monsters don't care about each other and all move at once, sometimes brutally colliding by accident.

Monsters are depicted on the map with letters. Upper case letters are unique monsters, often guardians of dungeon levels, and lower case letters are the rabble. If there are humans not from our team, they are marked with @ and 1 through 9 in other colours than white.

When a hero walks and bumps into a monster or a monster attacks the hero, melee combat occurs. Hero running into and displacing a monster (with the Shift or Control key), or the other way around, does not inflict damage, but exchanges places. This gives the opponent a free blow, but can improve the tactical situation or aid escape. In some circumstances actors are immune to the displacing, e.g., when both parties form a continuous front-line.

In melee combat, the best recharged equipped weapon (or the best fighting organ that is not on cooldown) of each opponent is taken into account for determining the damage and any extra effects of the blow. To determine the damage dealt, the outcome of the weapon's damage dice roll is multiplied by a percentage bonus. The bonus is calculated by taking the damage bonus (summed from the equipped items of the attacker, capped at 200%) minus the melee armor modifier of the defender (capped at 200%, as well), with the outcome bounded between -99% and 99%, which means that at least 1% of damage always gets through and the damage is always lower than twice the dice roll. The current leader's melee bonus, armor modifier and other detailed skills can be viewed via the # command.

In ranged combat, the projectile is assumed to be attacking the defender in melee, using itself as the weapon, with the usual dice and damage bonus. This time, the ranged armor skill of the defender is taken into account and, additionally, the speed of the missile (based on shape and weight) figures in the calculation. You may propel any item from your inventory (by default you are offered only the appropriate items; press + to cycle item menu modes). Only items of a few kinds inflict any damage, but some have other effects, beneficial, detrimental or mixed.

In-game detailed item descriptions contain melee and ranged damage estimates. They do not take into account damage from effects and, if bonuses are not known, guesses are based on averages for the item kind in question. The displayed figures are rounded, but the game internally keeps track of minute fractions of HP.

The stress of combat drains Calm, gradually limiting viewing radius and, if Calm reaches zero and the actor is sufficiently impressed by his foes, making him defect and surrender to their domination. Whenever the monster's or hero's hit points reach zero, the combatant is incapacitated and promptly dies. When the last hero dies or is dominated, the scenario ends in defeat.

On Winning and Dying

You win a scenario if you escape the location alive (which may prove difficult, because your foes tend to gradually build up the ambush squad blocking your escape route) or, in scenarios with no exit locations, if you eliminate all opposition. In the former case, your score is based predominantly on the gold and precious gems you've plundered. In the latter case, your score is most influenced by the number of turns you spent overcoming your foes (the quicker the victory, the better; the slower the demise, the better). Bonus points, affected by the number of heroes lost, are awarded only if you win. The score is heavily modified by the chosen game difficulty, but not by any other challenges.

When all your heroes fall, you are going to invariably see a new foolhardy party of adventurers clamoring to be led into the unknown perils. They start their conquest from a new entrance, with no experience and no equipment, and new undaunted enemies bar their way. Lead the new hopeful explorers with wisdom and fortitude!