This survival guide is meant for new players who find themselves dying a lot, so it will not cover some of the more esoteric hazards. It also written for the Main Campaign (also known as 'Age of Ascension'). There are significant differences in the DLCs, Ashes of Urh'Rok and Embers of Rage.
For a general guide to recommended order to clear zones, see the Recommended Zone Order Progression guide.
Gear and Defensive Stats
Everyone starts out with a few pieces of terrible, unenchanted gear, which needs to be replaced as soon as you possibly can. Your main priority should be items with +maximum Life above anything else, with healing mod and con (because it gives HP) as second priorities. This is kinda why Constitution is mostly a poor stat choice for your level up stat points, because if you find a Bronze Lantern of Health or Rough Belt of Resilience, you've just gained 10-13 con worth of HP. It's still worth holding onto items that boost Con, however, as that still gives HP. At first, you should look over most any item you have that isn't white (AKA, unenchanted), but you'll eventually start noticing Egos (aka, item descriptions) worth keeping - for +max HP, for example, it's Resilience, though also of Health on lights and of Eyal or Fortifying on body armor.
Armour is a stat mostly gotten from your body armor and from the talent and acts as damage reduction. As it takes damage off every weapon attack you take, from melee weapons, bows, or slings, it can very quickly add up to reducing a lot of damage. It is mostly best achieved by wearing heavier armor.
Defense is also a stat that primarily comes from your body armor, but can also be gotten from boots or a cloak. It's a lower priority than many other stats, as its defensive properties are not very potent against many of the more dangerous enemies who will have very high Accuracy.
Saves are generally a poor stat to focus on, but should not be completely ignored. Their primary protection is avoiding getting bogged down in status effects from weaker enemies, but will generally not prevent most statuses from stronger enemies.
You also should, after you've cleared a couple of the earlier levels and collected gold, do a tour of the shops in all the towns (Derth, Elvala, Shatur, and Last Hope) and buy just about any gear that has +max HP on it and buy inscription upgrades. If you're a class that does not start with Combat Training, it would be wise to buy it in Last Hope for 50 gold.
Infusions and Runes make up the generally defensive abilities that almost every character has access to. While every race starts with different inscriptions equipped, these are not always the best inscriptions to have equipped. Note: The following advice assumes you have access to both Infusions and Runes, see further down for advice for Undead who cannot use Infusions. Having a Wild Infusion that clears off Physical statuses is a very high priority inscription to have - being stunned is one of the most deadly situations to be in, as you're slowed down and cannot do much damage. A second high priority inscription is a form healing or damage mitigation, such as a Healing Infusion, Regeneration Infusion, or Shield Rune. Your third rune should generally be an escape (see below) or a Manasurge Rune, if you're a class that uses mana.
If you're a Skeleton or Ghoul (one of the Undead races), unfortunately you cannot use Inscriptions. Fortunately, Heat Beam runes play a somewhat similar role in removing physical effects, but do not remove crosstier effects or provide all res.
Spam your inscriptions and healing skills. If you have a shield, pop it the turn before you think you'll take damage - and remember, shield runes are instant. If you have a regeneration infusion, use it after you're down like 20-30% hp. If you have a healing infusion, pop it as soon as you won't waste any heal. Use your Wild (Physical) infusion the turn you get stunned. Get use out of them and then start getting them cooling down quickly.
Encounters and Mobility
What I mean by an 'encounter' is really just any time you run into enemies to fight. Learning to fight encounters as the smallest chunk you can is super important - If you see a group of mobs and you're in an open room, you should almost always back up into a 1 tile wide corridor or back around a corner if a corridor isn't available (like Rhaloren Camp, Maze or Sandworm Lair). If you're a mage and your skills are on cooldown, don't try to bump things, just walk back and wait for your talents to be off cooldown. Getting ganged up on is going to kill you, every time. You'll learn how to 'pull aggro' of mobs and get them to come to you in a conga line, instead of you having to fight into all of them at once. Always open vaults at a diagonal so less of the vault can see you (and blast you). You'll also eventually get used to what to expect from vaults before you even open them, but that takes a lot of play. And remember - you don't have to open every vault, or even fight every enemy on a floor. If a rare is too strong for you, you can just leave it behind. Enemies don't know where you are, they rely on vision like you do, so breaking line of sight can be very strong.
The vast majority of early- to mid-game "unavoidable" deaths come from a very predictable set of circumstances that are usually avoidable if you play your cards right. If you use your mobility tool as a way to get into the fight, you no longer have it as an escape. Rushing at an archer might kill it, but his 4 friends that you didn't see might get their revenge. If, instead, you back up around a corner and draw the archer to you, you can more easily kill it and deal with its friends later. However, learning when it is correct to use a mobility tool to engage is also an important part of the learning process of ToME.
If you have a mobility skill, avoid using it to get in, unless you're out of your range against a mage or archer (and be wary of what might be out of sight) and use it to get out before you're at 10% hp, run away at more like 30 or 40% (unless your opponent is also very low, although even then it might be wise).
Further, you should use mobility well before a poor phase door jump or a sudden stun will cause your death next turn. Saving your mobility for when you're at 10% is just asking for a ranged attack to still kill you - use them while you still have some options left, instead of as your last resort.
For most classes, the best mobility tools tend to come in the form of infusions and runes. Here are some universally available escapes:
- Phase door: The worst escape in the game, it has a tendency to do nothing helpful for you, or even put you in a worse situation than before. However, it's better than nothing and in the very early game, you may have no alternatives.
- Teleport: Has a chance of landing you in the midst of more enemies, especially if you haven't cleared out most of the level yet. Also tends to fail on very small levels, like ambushes. Otherwise, the standard go-to escape.
- Movement infusion: Like a perfectly controlled phase door, but with the catch that you can't be surrounded. It has the advantage of being able to be used inside vaults and other no-teleport zones, and the disadvantage can be negated by things like a rogue's Switch Place, or a dwarf's Stone Walking. So if you have one or more of these things, or if you're antimagic (and therefore can't use runes), movement infusions are the way to go. The infusion shop at Last Hope sometimes stocks these, so once you collect your first 80 gold or so, it's worth coming here just to buy a movement infusion.
- Torque of psychoportation: Unlike the others, this is a charm, not an inscription. This means that it won't eat up an infusion slot, and it will only eat up your tool slot if you want an on-demand escape. It also means that silence, confusion, and stuns cannot disable it. If you have enough foresight to switch to it 3 turns before you actually need to escape, then you can simply keep it in your inventory and it won't even use your tool slot in the meanwhile. Now, the disadvantages are that, like the phase door rune, it has no minimum radius, so you might end up just one space away. The chances of this are small, however, as psychoport torques tend to have a much higher maximum radius. Also, since it's a charm, it shares a cooldown with all of your other charms. Disadvantages aside, there's almost nothing to be lost from just keeping one in your inventory, and it has fantastic synergy with movement infusions.
Even with good saves, you're still going to get hit by some detrimental status effects. These won't kill you directly, but they'll leave you vulnerable. Even worse, some of the effects leave you open to more negative effects, and pretty soon you're completely unable to do anything but die.
The worst part of status effects is having your escapes negated, either by having them on cooldown, or by having them fail when activated, or by having your feet stuck to the floor (which negates things like movement infusions, but not teleports).
- Confusion: This causes any talent that uses a turn to have a 50% chance to fail, except for talents on items. The vast majority of confusions are mental effects, so a mental wild infusion will clear this right up. It's even instant, so the wild infusion itself will never fail due to confusion. Do note, however, that there are some enemies, most notably snow giants and wights, who come in packs and all have the ability to confuse, so you might end up using your wild infusion only to be confused again immediately. Alternatively, you can stack confuse immunity or mental saves. Also note that torques of psychoportation, being an item, can be used with guaranteed success even while confused.
- Stun: Puts 3 talents on cooldown when you get stunned, lowers movement speed and damage, and your cooldowns do not count down. If one of those 3 talents happens to be your escape, then you may be in trouble. The most obvious solution is a physical wild infusion, but unlike with confusion, this is less reliable. That's because wild infusions clear only one condition of their type, and since there aren't many mental conditions, you're unlikely to have another one on top of your confusion. However, there are tons of physical effects, and they're quite commonplace. Burns, poisons, insidious poisons, cripple, slow, you name it. It's quite possible that you'll be stunned, and have one of those other physical effects, and if your physical wild infusion fails to clear the stun and instead clears that 2-damage-per-turn-for-6-turns bleed, you may regret your decision to rely on that physical wild infusion. Also, stuns tend not to hamper your defenses too much, so often you can just tank through it with a regeneration infusion or whatever, and then escape when the stun is over. Stun can never put your instant abilities or items, such as a torque of psychoportation, on cooldown.
- Freeze: Similar to stun, to the point of relying on the same immunity. The differences are: (1) you can't move until the ice block is shattered (see Pin below), and (2) you can't attack NPCs while frozen -- your attacks do damage to the ice block instead. You can either clear it with a physical wild infusion, or tank through it with regeneration effects, or dish out some damage to destroy the ice block. The nice thing about freeze is that you're immune to further effects and you take less damage while frozen.
- Silence: Prevents you from using spells. Runes count as spells. If you rely on spells to survive, then you'll want a mental wild infusion to clear this up, or just don't rely on a rune (hint hint, movement infusions) as your escape.
- Pin: Another physical effect (usually), but it only stops movement infusions so if you have anything else, you're fine. Plus if you're a ranged class, usually you don't even care if you're pinned.
- Dazed: This is something like a stun + pin. It's negated by taking damage, so usually you'll only be dazed for a single turn regardless of the duration of the effect (unless you're not being attacked, in which case, you don't really care as much). Attacking something that has retaliation damage should break the daze, at the cost of one turn spent attacking with reduced damage output. The pinning part negates some escapes, though.
- Pacification Hex: A devastating mental effect that lasts for 20 turns and dazes you every so often, it is yet another reason, in addition to Confusion, that mental wild infusions are so useful. A high mental save is also effective against Pacification Hex because it now gives you a chance per turn to break the hex.
This is last, because these don't really matter a whole lot until the later stages of the game (although the Storming the city quest in Derth is an early exception), as they rely on you having a large health pool to protect and the wide-spread variety of elements you'll be hit by making it hard to focus on resists based on what area you're in. However, many players strongly suggest you put at least one point into for the 4% resistance bonus. Putting five points into Thick Skin may be valuable by the middle to end of the game, as it grants 15% resistance to all damage types.