Caves of Qud is a science fantasy roguelike/RPG from Freehold Games. In this gameplay article, I share my experiences playing three short, noob-length games. They are told in narrative form with the story of Nezran, a mutant human character.
If you are unfamiliar with Caves of Qud, I hope this article provides a taste of the exotic world of Qud. Among roguelikes, it’s a glowing gem that undulates with ever greater power with every update. Freehold Games describes the game on their Press page as follows:
Caves of Qud is a project of epic proportions that began in 2007 and launched on Steam Early Access in 2015. We wanted to weave a rich, exotic, and well-researched culture around deeply simulated physical and political systems. The result is an open-world roguelike where the gameplay is unpredictable, the plants are sentient, and the development is ongoing.
For those that have played Caves of Qud, the oasis-hamlet of Joppa may not hold as much magic after playing through this original starter area many times. For you, the fun is in the exploration of higher-level lands and the additional starting locations the game now offers. Nonetheless, I hope to describe the experience with fresh eyes and words for you.
For the three short lives lived, I used the character build below. It’s an agility-focused, multi-limbed mutant character used in the Jay plays Caves of Qud – #1 – Comfort Zones video on the AnotherDying YouTube channel. The goal is to stay agile, improve the Fire Hands mutation for ranged combat, and the Multiple Arms mutation for melee combat.
If you would like to use the same character build and world seed, do the following:
Note: The story that follows derives from the details from three different games. The names and locations may not match the world seed provided above.
Nezran wiped the sweat off his forehead with a piece of silk linen. He eyed the torches in two of his other hands (four altogether). “Why do I have torches?,” he thought. “I see fine in the dark.”
Putting the torches in his pack, he stood and looked around. Nezran finally made it to the oasis-hamlet of Joppa. Huts made of rock salt and brinestalk. Moisture farmers ankle-deep in watervine pools.
In the distance, just beyond the huts, the jungles of the Qud mesa. Amid the vines and brinestalk, rusted archways and the glimmer of chrome. Nezran saw the strangled remnants of a dead civilization; past lives and technologies long forgotten, half-buried in the loam.
Farther in the distance, Nezran could just barely see the Maya-blue spire of the Spindle, so tall it touched the white clouds. Always there in the distance. A sort of traveling companion for the questing nomad.
A watervine farmer named, “Mehmet,” asked for help ridding the area of white, eight-legged critters eating their crops. Due to the red dirt left in the pool, Mehmet thought the creatures may come from the Red Rock cave to the north. Nezran agreed to help. Their high-pitched whine would be easy to discern.
Some of the huts appeared dark and empty; the owners gone or missing. Nezran helped himself to the chests and secret spaces, knowing he could sell anything not needed.
With the spoils of his hut plunder, Nezran looked around for a trader. Beyond the watervine pools he could see the glow of a fire and a bright-colored tent. Nezran smiled and made his way toward the fire.
Lifting the flap and stepping into the large tent, Nezran was surrounded by ornate chests and furniture, piles of strange artifacts, and a large, humped, dromad merchant sitting on a cushion. The dromad’s long neck straightened. Half-closed eyes looked into Nezran’s mind.
The dromad introduced himself as “Tam.” He assured Nezran that saltstrider people like him are resourceful and worthy of his business.
Nezran nodded and started unloading torches, a long sword, a bow, arrows, and his heaviest armor. After some haggling and figures written in the sand, the two agreed on an equivalent value in drams of water. The second round of trade included the purchase of weightless vinewafers and a copper dagger. Nezran hoped to have a dagger in each of his four hands soon.
“Wanderer! Orphan of the Salt! Hear me!”
Nezran walked up to the lady on the corner loudly requesting attention from passers-by. “What is this about the Six-Day Stilt splitting in the Great Salt Desert?”
The zealot lady said that in the Six-Day Stilt, there were pilgrims worshipping Shekhinah. Nezran would find a beautiful cathedral there, statues honoring the Argent Fathers, and the Sacred Well. Nezran didn’t wish to toss his copper nuggets into some revered well. However, the mention of the Stiltgrounds bazaar perked Nezran’s interest. There, he would find better wares and opportunities to trade artifacts. Six-Day Stilt may offer more than this small oasis. Nezran agreed to travel there, eventually.
To the northeast, was a shrine to Yuyumed, the Desiccated Wraith of Gymnasium Province Shuppur. From the stories told to him as a child and from the words chiseled in stone, Nezran could decipher the event in the sultan’s life that the shrine depicted.
Deep in Gymnasium Province Shuppur, Yuyumed discovered Hamrod. There he befriended succulents and fixed a satisfying meal.
Nezran whispered a brief prayer.
Evening fell. Two fires burned before the largest building, where Elder Irudad shares wisdom. Going inside, Nezran bowed and listened to the Elder talk about the dangers and treasures found in Qud.
Qud is a strange and terrifying mesa to the northeast. Her tainted rivers breed life in all its motley forms; her poisoned jungles shelter priceless relics of a forgotten past.
But that is just the half of it, for Qud’s most precious treasures — and her most hideous children — lie within the innumerable chrome caverns beneath the scarlet loam.
To ply those silver hollows — a spry adventurer’s dream! The years have wizened me beyond such foolish ambitions, but, you! Be not deterred so!
Nezran was not deterred. Rather, he felt invigorated; challenged by the prospect of adventure in the swamps and jungles of Qud’s buried civilizations.
Outside, Nezran spoke to Warden Ualraig, of the Fellowship of Wardens. As is custom, they shared their water and a quiet moment in a water ritual. They bowed to each other. Nezran softly smiled at the Warden. Once a stranger, no longer a stranger.
Nezran spied a large, magenta ray cat walking behind a hut. Somehow, Nezran knew the cat’s name: Ctesiphus. Nezran followed the cat. He softly pet the thick, magenta fur for good luck. Nezran began to glow. He illuminated the rock salt wall nearby and cast no shadow.
The man mumbled to himself. Nezran knew the sort. People deeply engrossed in the limitless puzzle and minutia of artifacts. These people had made progress. They had figured some things out: objects, instantiations, and the overloading of methods. There were always more codes to decipher, metals to manipulate.
Nezran cleared his throat.
This man, Argyve, wanted a knickknack. Nezran gives him a knickknack.
Argyve wanted another knickknack. Sighing, Nezran reached into his pocket vest and pulled out another. Luckily the piece had not been sold to Tam, hours earlier.
Argyve stepped closer, crazed eyes a few inches from Nezran’s. “Copper wire,” Argyve said. Incorrigible. He wanted copper wire from Red Rock. Nezran agreed; he figured he was going there eventually.
Walking around the outside walls of ruins, Nezran was struck by a thirst thistle plant with triangular leaves. He backed away from the sharp thistles of its flowerhead, then continued his search. The thirst thistle smirked.
Passing through the hallways and rooms of the ruins, Nezran had to pass by the red fronds of qudzu plants, which rusted his gear. In some cases, hallways were blocked entirely by the plant.
One of the more interesting finds among the debris was a knotted, wooden table with graffiti. Nezran paused to read the inscription before continuing.
A long, snaking centipede with hundreds of chittering legs snapped at Nezran. He moved away and blasted a ray of fire from his hand, killing the large insect.
Nezran walked in ankle-deep swamp water, pushing his way through tall brinestalks. He had been walking for hours, passing witchwood and starapple trees. The glowing light in the water turned out to be a glowfish. The rustle near the dogthorn tree was a goat.
Occasionally, Nezran set giant dragonflies aflame, lighting the sky as they fell and setting fire to brinestalks. Still, the constant, ambient drone of dragonfly wings could be heard.
At first, Nezran could only hear Red Rock. The primal beating of sticks and rocks. A low, foreboding chant of apes and the high pitched whine of insects.
Stepping out from a tall wall of brinestalks, Nezran stood in awe of steep escarpments of red rock. Hulking baboons perched on protruding boulders and landings. A goat scraping horns against witchwood bark. Despite burning muscles and exhaustion, Nezran was suddenly very alert and fearful for his life.
Only a few steps forward and the baboons took notice and began shooting rocks at him. Nezran killed a couple of baboons with his flaming hands. Some poor turns in direction allowed one baboon to get close. Nezran lashed out with four daggers and slashed the baboon open. Blood splattered. The baboon responded with a roar and pounded Nezran down.
The horror. What’s missing from the description is the fantastic soundtrack. When Nezran arrived at Red Rock, the mood felt like the final scenes of the Apocolypse Now movie. The music helped set that mood, that dark vision.
As mentioned above, this is from three short playthroughs. What can I say? Caves of Qud is a roguelike. Every game I got further though and there was always a sense of adventure. The lands outside Joppa and the ruins and dungeons are different each time. I had a blast!
TIP: Use the look key (L) to read the description of every plant and creature you find. Those details really add flavor to the world, and they just might save your life.
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Thanks for reading. Live and drink, water-brother!
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