In ToME, drowning typically referred to the process of non-aggressively moving town NPCs into an air-depleting body of water to kill them.
This was usually done by players of higher difficulty setting characters to acquire early-game equipment, inscriptions, and experience, all of which can help jumpstart a character's early- and mid-game development.
Although drowning could yield some returns on lower difficulties, it was generally practiced on Insane and especially Madness due to both the greater need for early-game advantages as well as the presence of more and higher-leveled NPCs of appropriate rank.
In ToME version 1.6, town NPCs were changed to no longer generate as "rare" or higher rank, making drowning no longer a viable strategy. The remainder of this page discusses drowning as it existed in versions of ToME prior to 1.6.
The most straightforward method to drown an NPC is to repeatedly move into that NPC's tile, which swaps places between the player character and the intended victim, until the target is over a body of water, as indicated by the air bar appearing amongst the character's resources. Once there, the player waits or otherwise expends turns until the NPC runs out of air and begins to suffocate, which will rapidly damage and soon kill the townsperson.
If the NPC that drowns is of "rare" or "boss" rank, an appropriate amount of experience is awarded to the character and the victim drops a collection of loot proportionate to its level and rank. NPCs of lower rank do not generate rewards upon their death, and thus rare and boss residents are almost always the sole ones considered for harvesting.
Player-made mods have also been written to simplify and accelerate the process of drowning, which can become quite involved when many NPCs located distantly from water are present.
On high difficulties, the townsfolk across Eyal are surprisingly powerful and well-equipped: it is not uncommon for a level 30-50 rare or boss to appear packing tier-5 rare or even randart equipment, high-powered inscriptions, and significant extra coin.
Although the generation of NPCs in a town is procedurally randomized and differs greatly game-to-game, there are often many potential drowning victims in a town like Last Hope that can be accessed before most characters even need engage in combat. This allows the character to gain several levels and sometimes an impressive set of starting equipment and inscriptions to begin delving into the tier 1 dungeons.
These advantages often increase the effective starting power of a character several-fold, which makes a typically challenging and occasionally impossible beginning into something much more manageable.
- Like player characters, some NPCs can have equipment and/or talents that grant them underwater breathing or other immunity to air loss. These NPCs will not drown after any amount of time in water, which renders them unuseful for drowning.
- Once NPCs begin drowning, they will start to "run away," which can cause them to move out of the water and restart the already tedious process. NPCs generally appear to flee in predictable patterns, however, and selection of appropriate tiles can significantly mitigate this annoyance.
- In addition to the drowning NPCs fleeing, many other NPCs witnessing the drowning will also begin to move of their own accord. Ironically, this sometimes means into the water, which results in unintended collateral victims. It can also scare other targets away, again slowing down the process. Worst of all, some quest-giving NPCs, like Limmir the jeweler in Gates of Morning, can also die; this renders their quests (like Lost Knowledge in the Limmir example) incompletable and also awards nothing, as these NPCs are not of high enough rank to produce rewards.
- NPCs of the anorithil class will sometimes trigger the explosion effect of the Darkest Light talent during their death throes, resulting in high damage across a large radius surrounding them. This can kill other NPCs and, especially, the typically-low-leveled player.
- Lower difficulty levels produce fewer rare and elite NPCs that are also of lower level, so the rewards generated are significantly lessened.
- Some achievements predicate the survival of town citizens, which obviously become unobtainable if a player is indirectly responsible for killing said citizens.
Criticisms and Controversy
Because drowning produces significant reward with little risk, it has a mildly dubious reputation. Although it is neither officially nor unofficially recognized as an exploit, many players have voiced that the mechanic feels out-of-place and inconsistent with the rest of the game, significantly altering the typical early-game flow of players and effectively disadvantaging race and class combinations that do not have immediate access to towns for drowning (e.g. the Undead meta-race or Doombringer class).
Nevertheless, the substantial challenge of an early, high-difficulty game with few talents and little equipment makes drowning an extremely common practice.
Given the long history and high prevalence of drowning, its use appears to be tacitly "intended" as a gameplay mechanic.