Isildur's guide to starting a Martial Artist character in Legends of Kesmai

yep, it's all (c) kevin maginn.

The following guide represents my opinions only. Don't take this as gospel; it's what I think, from my experiences playing a martial artist, is a good way to proceed. I tend to play very cautiously, conservatively, and extremely patiently. If your experiences are different, that's fine - it just goes to show how complex and exciting LoK can be. Is this the be-all and end-all of martial artist development? Absolutely not. There are as many ways to play as there are players. So take this all with a grain of salt, and see what works best for you.

In other words: YMMV.

Table of Contents

1 Why play a martial artist?

2 Getting started

3 On the docks

4 In the dungeons

5 Back in town

6 Dungeon antics

7 Deeper into the dungeon

8 Where to go from here?

9 Martial artist's guide to items

10 Early lair fights

11 Newbies and gifts

12 In closing

1. Why play a martial artist?

Martial artists (MAs) are at the same time one of the most highly praised and most maligned classes in Legends of Kesmai. Nearly everyone accepts that (as of the current version, 1.11) the martial arts skill is the most versatile and powerful combat skill there is. And, perhaps because of this power, the general sentiment among non-MAs is that the class is far too powerful, that it overshadows other classes, and that martial arts is the "easy" class.

Nonetheless, choosing to play a martial artist is a fundamental decision about the way you want to experience LoK. You will never have access to spells. You will likely never use the powerful weapons that are available (although many experienced players choose to use them anyway, the average mid-level MA usually doesn’t). You will probably never wear armor, and will thus become very susceptible to stuns. Your success or failure will be entirely based on the degree to which you develop your primary combat skill - and you will likely only develop one.

In return, you will get to play the class that is arguably the most powerful, versatile, and nastiest - only high-level Wizards can challenge a martial artist for supremacy. And you will get to use the Crystal Gauntlets, by far the most powerful weapon in the game (again, as of v1.11).

If careful thought and analysis of monster behavior is your thing, martial artists are not for you. Try a wizard, a thaumaturge, or a thief for a more cerebral game. If you like to stand in the middle of a huge pack of critters, fighting for your life against near-impossible odds, martial artists *are* for you. They are also an excellent choice for a first character, as they quickly become powerful enough to survive the challenges of the early game, and can be used as a "starter" character for one of the other, more difficult classes. Money and items you accumulate easily with your martial artist can be then transferred to a thief, mage, or thaum to increase their chances early on.

2. Getting started

The first thing to do is decide on your nationality. Leng and Hovath will both start you with Blue Belt hand skill, which is really the only reason to pick one over the other. There are rumours that certain nationalities are more likely to give you high hit point gains - but these rumours are wholly unconfirmed, and therefore I can offer no advice based on that. If you want to test different races to see what you get, by all means, do so.

The difference between blue and green belt is so insignificant, though, that you can feel free to select your nationality based on the picture, if you want. Tal.nisei is a Draznian, with a starting level of Green Belt, and I don't think it's hurt me much. It’s a nice picture, though <g>.

Next, buy your attributes. This is a no-brainer. Set Con, Str, and Dex to their maximum levels, and that's it. There's no reason to spend points on Int, Wis, or Cha - you don't need any of these statistics. MAs are easy to spend points on, as you have only one consideration - combat.

3. On the docks

Once you've entered the game, you need to immediately do a couple of things. First, ditch that crummy leather armor you're wearing. It's worthless, both as protection and for resale, so drop it right there on the dock. You should probably also ditch the weapon you're carrying, and whatever weapons are on your belt. You can sell these for a little money, or drop them, or locker them. I lockered mine, just in case I felt like swinging a katana. If you want to develop weapon skills, feel free -- you get no particular bonus from your martial arts skills, but perhaps you like the idea of using a particular weapon. I’m assuming for the rest of this guide that you’re using bare hand skill, but this is by no means necessary.

Many new players can't understand why you'd want to strip all your armor and weapons off. The answer is simple: you are a better combatant

when naked. Martial arts skill suffers greatly while wearing any type of armor, and will not grow if you are using any type of weapon. So, while your katana or staff may initially be a slightly better weapon, with a very small amount of practice, your empty hand skill will be much much better. And yes, even leather armor, or furs, or a robe will impede your martial arts abilities. You *can* develop staff, sword, or threestaff skill to a useful level, keeping in mind that it still will not be as nasty as bare hand skill.

Now that you're naked, you have a couple of tasks to set about. First, you need money to buy balms. Martial artists, as they wear no armor, are very prone to taking damage early on. If you have another character, you can use him or her as a source of money, but it's not necessary for an easy start. Just visit a couple of locations - the locker room, the entrance to the dungeon from the temple, and the entrance west of town. There may be sellable treasure in any of these places that you can take. Be careful in the lockers, though, to ask if the treasure belongs to anyone.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous early on, you can make short forays into the dungeon. Just go down the stairs in the temple, fight anything you see, run if you're overwhelmed, and most importantly - check the ground for treasure. Higher-level characters on their way to the lower levels of the dungeon will often kill critters on level one and leave their items behind, offering an easy way for you to gain cash quickly. Take gems, coins, and rings at first; eventually you'll figure out which gems and rings are worthless, and stop picking them up.

Once you have the money to buy some balm (and you will often find that some kind soul has already purchased plenty of balm at the balm-seller and left it there), grab about 8 or so bottles of it, and get ready to start fighting. The balm-seller is located in the temple on the north side of town, next to the counter. She’ll be yelling at the top of her lungs, so you can’t miss her <g>.

4. In the dungeons

There are a couple of important strategies to keep in mind for your early fights. The first one is DON'T fight too many critters at once. You are unarmored, and your skills are not high enough to prevent damage. If, as a 3rd level character, you find yourself fighting more than one or two critters at once, run! You don't want to die this early on.

Of course, if this is your first time playing, you *will* die, and you'll die often. Don't be disheartened by this; it's expected that you'll die a few times when first starting out, as you're not familiar with the game yet. Be patient; eventually you'll get better. Once you've had a few hours of playing under your belt, and have stopped dying so frequently, create a new character, and then come back to this guide. Also see my notes on Newbies and Gifts at the end.

Ok, the second important strategy for a beginning martial artist (or any character, really) is what I call "combat balming." It's all well and good to be able to balm while standing calmly in the lockers. Balming while under attack by a pack of orcs is another matter entirely. You want to practice switching to "sack" view (Alt-S), grabbing a balm, and dragging it to the "Character Portrait" button. Note that you don't have to actually be *looking* at the character portrait screen for this to work. Just drag it to the *button* and you'll balm.

Hunt near the temple stairs at first, and not the stairs outside of town. The reason for this is simple: when you run upstairs to escape the monsters, they may follow you up! If you're in the temple, the lawful temple residents will quickly kill whatever foul chaotic scum has wandered upstairs. This is often the only thing standing between you and dying, if you were doing particularly badly.

You shouldn’t try to jumpkick the monsters this early on. Concentrate on punching them to gain skill. You won't be able to hurt anyone with your jumpkick at this point except for yourself. What's more, a jumpkick will often take you into unexplored territory - where there may be more monsters waiting for you! As a general rule, you don't want to move too quickly into unknown territory. Take one or two square steps at first.

5. Back in town

When you've killed a couple of monsters, taken their treasure, and sold it, head to Neela. She's the low-level martial arts trainer on the west side of town. There are two commands you need to keep in mind when talking to Neela:

Neela, critique martialarts skill: Neela will tell you your current skill level, and how many "ranks" you've advanced into that skill level.

Neela, train me: You must be standing on the same square as Neela. Drop your coins, then ask for training. You get two benefits from training - instant experience points, and faster skill gain in your martial arts. Make sure your hand is empty to receive martial arts training!

Training is the lifeblood of MAs. It's the only thing that separates them from the unwashed hordes: the ability to train in martial arts indefinitely. Other classes would give their eyeteeth to be able to train as high as they liked in martial arts. So train! Spend every last cent you don't spend on balms on training! When Neela will no longer take your money, you've trained five full ranks. So, if she tells you that you've "reached the third rank of Blue Belt," and will no longer take coins from you, you don't need to train again until she tells you you've "reached the eighth rank of Blue Belt."

Some people advocate spending coins at the Sage to gain experience. I do not - those coins are better spent on training, or saving up for future training. If you find yourself with excess coins, bank them! You should never carry large amounts of money around, as the weight will interfere with your martial arts. Once you're safely back in town, and you've trained and replenished your balms, put the rest in the bank. Believe me, you'll need it soon enough!

I don't think I've emphasized this point enough, so I'll do it again: TRAIN! Train, fight, train, fight, then train again! Martial arts skill is almost unbearably slow to develop, but you'll need as much of it as you can get just to survive the harder areas of the game. Training is the key to your success.

If you’re using a weapon, you’ll need to visit Olaf in the gym to train that weapon’s skill. The procedure is the same; just make sure that you’ve got the weapon in your hand.

6. Dungeon antics

Once you reach Red Belt, you should be regularly able to do away with monsters on the first level of the dungeon in one or two punches. A good goal to set for yourself, once you're comfortable fighting a few first-level monsters, is to travel from the stairs down from the temple to the stairs west of town, and then back again. You'll fight a large number of critters that way, and gain plenty of skill. If you find the dungeon to be very depopulated, try switching to a new facet. Although most new players spend a lot of time in Agate at first, you'll find that the high player density there will result in fewer kills and more time spend walking around bored on the first level. Try Emerald, Diamond, or Garnet for greater numbers of critters.

At this point you should cautiously try jumpkicking some critters. You will have moderate success, with occasional hard hits or kills, but also occasional falls. Get used to the way jumpkicks work, as you'll be doing a lot of them as your character becomes more powerful. Make sure you're not wearing any boots, though - they increase your chances of being blocked by a creature's armor.

With training and aggressive exploration of the first level, you should be able to quickly rise to black belt. Now you'll start noticing many more hand blocks - the bad guys won't be able to strike you. Be careful, though, as a huge stack of monsters (a "zoo") will still get hits in on you! It seems as though (and this is my opinion only, and not confirmed) the more critters you're fighting, the fewer hand blocks you get against all of them. Learn to run away, drawing the critters out after you, so that you can fight them a few at a time, rather than trying to fight all of them at once.

Keep your eyes open in the lockers for amulets of fire and ice protection. These are relatively common treasure items that can be easily found on the fourth level of the dungeon, so many experienced players will leave them lying around in the lockers. If you like, you can even ask (politely!) for a fire and ice amulet, and someone may give you one. Don't *expect* to get one, but be very thankful if you do. If no-one will give you one, and you can't find one, then start looking for vests made of salamander scales. Yes, this violates the "no armor" rule, but you need some kind of fire protection to make any progress.

7. Deeper into the dungeon

With some kind of fire protection, you can cautiously venture into the second level of the dungeon. You can head there before you get fire protection, actually, if you’re on the lookout for single orcs – they have the fireball spell, and will use it. Generally, follow the same guidelines as the first level, but note that the critters are slightly tougher - goblins in particular are dangerous for low-level characters. Aggressive exploration here can get you as far as First Dan black belt. Watch for fireball-throwing orcs and large groups of monsters that will accumulate in the various rooms. Be sure to loot and take all the treasure, as your training is becoming more and more expensive. With the added income, make sure you buy recall rings, and always have one set. On the first level, this isn't as much of a priority, as you can usually escape to the surface quickly. But on level 2 and lower, you may not have time to run away - not to mention that at this point, the walk back up to the surface will become very tedious.

Recall rings can be bought for 150 coins in the square on the east side of town. Again, the recall seller will be hollering at you to come buy his rings, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding him.

8. Where to go from here?

At first dan and above, your options really open up, as you should now be receiving enough hand blocks to make you safe against a few critters at a time. So from here you can do a number of things:

Explore the third level. It's very important to not fight big zoos here at first dan - the monsters all wield greatswords, and will hit you very hard, possibly stunning you. Be ready to recall at a moment's notice. The bonus here is not only a high creature density, resulting in great skill gains, but the occasional Con potion (drake potion, or dp) found in a small porcelain vial. As your skills develop, you can move around the third level more aggressively, and perhaps make careful forays into the fourth level. Be careful of the death spells from the undead and NPCs, though.

Move to Oakvael. You'll need to do this eventually to get training (Neela will stop training you as you become more skilled, and Phong's hut, east of town, is a bit of a hike), but you can begin carefully exploring Oak now, if you like. The experience rewards are much greater, but the critters are noticeably tougher. Stay on the first two levels of the Oak dungeon, and DON'T jump in any air hexes (unless you have a death wish). On the second level of Oak, you'll need some kind of blindness protection. You can get this by killing a griffin and skinning him at the tanner's. If you're careful and balm a lot, or have some help, you can kill the griffins in the far eastern part of Kesmai, by the Knight trainer. The trip is relatively dangerous, as are the griffins, but with a little luck and preparation, you ought to be able to make it. The reason for this is that spectres on Oak -2 will blind you, and then cast death spells at you - all while totally invisible. A good strategy is to wear a waterbreathing ring, and stand in one of the many water hexes on the level, waiting for the spectre to exhaust its magic points. Balm often and wait, and he'll eventually come and attack you physically. As your skills develop, you can explore the third (Serpent Sea) and fourth (Troll Temple) levels. These levels are much like Kesmai’s fourth level, with minotaurs and spellcasting NPCs. On the Serpent Sea level, be careful of the fog and the serpent himself. The serpent can stun and poison you, spelling doom for the unwary.

Move to Leng. Leng can be pretty tough, what with all the death spells flying around. The treasure on the Mausoleum level is nice, though, so you may want to carefully explore this area. Don't enter any dark areas, and run/recall if things get too hairy. Again, you may be able to find Con potion here, and the experience is very very good.

Tal.nisei was able to reach 4th Dan on level 3 of Kesmai and levels one and two of Oakvael - though it took a lot of dull fighting/training. This is, I think, unusual – generally you’ll want to strike out for new areas, looking for somewhere you feel comfortable hunting, long before that point. At fourth dan, you can really pick and choose your hunting grounds.

After this point, you're experienced enough to be on your own. Try the deeper levels of Oak, explore more of Leng - even take a trip to Axe, though there's little for a MA to do there, and some of the critters can't be hurt by your punches. Have fun, and remember to keep your recall ring handy!

9. Martial Artist's guide to items

When you first start out, there are only a few item choices available to you. Here's a list of stuff to look for, when to use it, and how to find it. I’m basing this on Tal.nisei’s item set, so you should experiment some with different combinations of items until you have what feels right to you.

+1 Strength Rings (Gold ring with a small red gem): You can find these everywhere - even on level 1 of Kesmai, sometimes. You should wear a few until you can find better rings.

+3 Strength Rings (Gold ring with a large red gem): These are common on Kesmai level 4 and Oakvael level 3, pretty rare on Kesmai level 3, and available other places. Really only useful if you don't have glowers yet. Save your money for glowers.

+6 Strength Rings ("glowers"): Pretty hard to find early on, except that there are often glowers for sale in the pawn shop. Once you have two glowers, whether you bought them or got them from a generous player, ditch all your other strength rings. Tal wears two glowers, though other people advocate wearing more or less. I find two to be a nice number - you get a bonus in combat from two glowers, and they increase the maximum amount you can carry, which is nice once you start getting those huge training bills <g>.

+1 Shield rings (Iron ring with a black stone): Uncommon on level three of Kesmai. You should wear four of these, at least until you can find some +3 rings. Shield rings may be the only thing between you and death when you're stunned. On the down side, they mean less skill gain (as you're getting hit less often) - but that's a tradeoff *I'm* willing to make. Let your own personal preference decide.

+3 Shield rings (just like the +1 variety): Appraise all shield rings in shops, as the +1 and +3 rings look exactly alike. These are relatively rare on Kesmai level 4, and Oakvael level 3 (I think). But luckily for you, they're pretty commonly found in the pawnshop. "Look at ring in shop" to see if it's a shield ring. If so, look at the price. If it's 9000 coins or higher, it's a +3 ring. Eventually you'll probably want to have four of these - more if you're willing to sacrifice some of your glowers. Depends on how safe you want to be.

Waterbreathing Ring: These are found *everywhere*. Just appraise rings you find on level one - the WB ring is a thin metal ring with a small stone. I like to wear one all the time; other people don't use water as much.

Recall Ring: Wear it, live it, love it. It *will* save your life.

Troll Leather: Get it by skinning a troll. Some people advocate wearing this at low levels of MA skill. I am a naked martial artist purist. ANY armor is bad news.

Robes: Not useful to you. Sell them as they're worth a couple of thousand each. They _are_ a nice fashion statement, though...

Fire and Ice protection: In either amulet or ring form, this is an absolute necessity. The ring is found on Daisy, the dragon, but other players will often have many spares they'll leave laying around. I prefer the amulet at low levels, as it frees up a finger for another shield ring. Just be sure, when you put it on, that it still has its magic charge! You'll know because the "fire and ice protection" icon will appear in your active spells list. If this doesn't happen, the amulet is dead, and therefore worthless. Once you put it on, DON'T take it off - it will lose a charge, possibly becoming dead and worthless.

Featherfall boots: Other players may offer these for sale. You may want a pair, but be sure to put them on your belt when fighting; they impede your jumpkicking ability.

Threestaff: in regular or extra strength; these are not nearly as useful as they should be. Given that they have their own skill category, it’s sort of a shame, as they could be a truly neat martial arts weapon. Perhaps in a future version there will be a powerful version of this weapon. The existing models block reasonably well, so they may be a good choice if you’re determined to use a weapon of some kind.

Helmets: Eventually you will want some kind of nightvision helmet. Until then, the various skulls and so forth that you can find are really fashion statements alone; supposedly they help against stuns, but I've never noticed a real difference. The dragon skull does offer some amount of fire and ice protection, as well as concussion protection, but is totally optional, really.

Bracers: The non-magical ones are worthless, and at this stage you're unlikely to find any magical ones. If you do come into possession of one, by all means wear it! Bracers don't hurt your martial arts at all.

Gauntlets: Gloves and steel-plate gauntlets are almost worthless - you will be blocked more often, though you will do a bit more damage. The Crystal Gauntlets, on the other hand, are the best weapon in the game. No armor can block you, and you do all kinds of damage. However, with the new version (1.11), it is no longer an easy task for a lowly first through fourth dan MA to get these; the quest has been made much, much tougher. If you're curious as to what you'll need to do, take a look at any of the widely available guides to the gauntlet quest. If you want to try it, get a group of other martial artists together. They need to be high-level, high-skill MAs with some experience taking on the ninja lair. Even then, you may fail and die trying - but isn't that what a heroic quest is all about? <g> If you *do* decide to do it, consider doing the quests two or more times to assemble spares of every item you need. It's non-trivial to go through the quests again, and if you die and lose your gauntlets at some point, it's going to be a royal pain to replace them.

Drake Potions: As a MA, hit points are totally essential. The reason the MA class has more hit points than any other class is that they're unarmored warriors with no curative magic - or magic of any kind! So if you find these wonderful little potions, drink up! You can find tables of the maximum hit points at your level in many places on the web, so I won't repeat them here. Once you max your hit points out, you'll be huge! At level 14, Tal.nisei has nearly 200 hit points. Only Knights who have completed at least the first Knight quest can rival the MA for sheer bulk of hit points.

Other items: Experiment and find out. Just don't wear any of the "big" armors - dragon and drake scales. These are utterly destructive to your martial arts abilities.

10. Early lair fights

At black belt, you can probably kill Trog. The entrance can be found beyond the slimy water on level one. Trog is basically a very tough troll; he can knock you down, and will jumpkick you as well. Take lots of balm, and you should be victorious. His lair yields a number of diamonds, as well as a dexterity ring and a blind-resist ring. The skull he has is a nice fashion statement, but not too useful. You can find many of them in Leng, at the bridge into town.

At some point, you'll want to try Daisy. Make sure you're comfortable getting to her - you need to be able to take on the monsters and NPCs that wander level 4 of Kesmai. Then, once you're ready, go ahead and enter her lair. Daisy has really only two attacks: physical and fire. The fire damage is a bit more than what you'd expect from a salamander - in other words, not too bad, as long as you have a fire and ice amulet on. The physical damage can be fairly high - I seem to recall taking anywhere from 30-60 hits from her when I failed to block. She'll also knock you down into an adjacent square. This can be somewhat disconcerting, especially if you were trying to punch her and got the message "You can't find one here." Use jumpkicks and you'll make short work of her. Be sure to balm if you get too badly hurt. She yields the agate (which is not very useful to you), a fire and ice ring - possibly useful - and some miscellaneous goodies, including a dragon skull and some nice gems. You can take her to the tanner and skin her, if another of your characters needs dragon scales.

11. Newbies and gifts

Ok, you've just made your first character, and you wander into the lockers. A bit bewildered at first, you finally get up the courage to ask someone for a little advice, or maybe a tour of the dungeon. This nice person is so kind, they give you a huge pile of nifty equipment - all kinds of stuff you know, from reading this guide, that you really really need, and might not be able to find otherwise.

Exhilarated by your newfound goodies, you rush down into the dungeon. Perhaps your new items let you survive for a while, or perhaps not. Sooner or later, though, you die - either because you weren't familiar enough with the controls of the game, or just bad luck (happens to the best of us). You reappear in the temple ... without your cool items. And now you have no way of getting them back. What's worse, you got so used to having them you can't play effectively without them. You become frustrated with the game, and your apparent inability to be an effective combatant now, and you give up. How nice was that person who gave you all that stuff?

The horrible truth is that you WILL die. Sooner or later, as a new and inexperienced player, you'll hear that scream and turn into a ghost. When this happens, you might lose every item you had. Do you really want to be relying on items you can't replace, knowing full well that eventually that crutch is going to be kicked out from under you? Remember, as an inexperienced player, you have to expect a number of deaths before you really get used to the game.

I can't count the number of times I've had to give some poor bereft knight a chunk of yttril to make a new Black Broadsword, because he or she died and dropped it somewhere in the dungeon. But yttril is not that hard to find on level 3! What this says to me is that the person in need of yttril *can't* survive on level 3 on their own - and thus shouldn't have the BBS in the first place!

Isildur's rule of thumb: "Don't use any equipment you can't replace yourself." Tal.nisei, since the new version made the gauntlet quest so difficult, keeps his crystal gauntlets LOCKERED. That's right, I have the most powerful weapon in the game, and it collects dust in my locker! Why? Because if I die - and even at 4th Dan this is a very real and everpresent danger - I wouldn't be able to get a new set! Until I'm tough enough to take the ninjas on, I won't use the gauntlets. I still wear the glowers, even though I've never found them as treasure - because I bought them myself from the pawn shop. This makes them replaceable. But if someone gave me a brooch (a death protection item found in Mama's lair) I would LOCKER it. I wear fire and ice amulets, because they're so common I could reasonably expect to be able to replace mine in a couple of hours. But I don't wear the death protection ring I've been given, or the fear/blind bracer I was given. Besides, it's more fun, and more exciting, to get the items you need yourself. Working your way through some of the harder parts of the game adds to your enjoyment and general feeling of accomplishment. If you've been given dragon scales (if you're not a MA, of course) then killing Daisy isn't a very significant act; if you're still wearing salamander scales, killing her becomes hugely satisfying. And to all the experienced players who think that giving items to newbies is a good way to help: yes, your intentions are good. But I'm reminded of an old (and very worn-out) aphorism: "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime." Send those newbies off to read the Kesmai Kompanion. Give them advice, hints, pointers for making themselves more effective. But handing that knight a set of drake scales, yttril and ore, and a pile of rings doesn't teach him anything - and he'll be crushed when he dies.

12. In closing

Keep in mind that this is not necessarily the only way, or even the best way, to get your martial artist started. The sheer number of options available to you throughout the game should suggest different methods to you, so experiment. Most importantly, remember the tired old advice: “It’s only a game.” Though it’s a cliché, it is actually very good advice: if you’re bored, you’re not having a good time, or you feel too restricted, try something else! Venture out into the wide world. Get together with people to hunt in groups. Hang out in the lockers and talk (this is actually more fun, IMO, than fighting in the dungeons). You’re paying to play, so make sure play, and not work, is what you’re doing.

If you are still confused, or want more general help, you should take a look at the Kesmai Kompanion, a slightly out-of-date but still invaluable resource.

Have fun with your martial artist!

Isildur