A dark room, hard mode guide.
A dark room is a true work of art in gaming terms, from the sparse text to the grim world view to the access assistance. Playing on hard mode offers a distinctly different, and to my view more rewarding challenge to the standard game, as well as a slightly altered ending. Hard mode is however well deserving of it's name, you'll need distinct planning and a good amount of patience. Also note that while the game doesn't feature perminant death, mistakes in hard mode can cost you considderable time and progress, hence this guide which will provide some information and what are to my mind the best tactics for successs.
This guide is based on A dark room version 1.6, the current version as of July 2014.
First, if you have not completed the game on standard mode, do not read on sinse this guide is chock full of spoilers and assumes you already know how the game works. While standard mode is no push over, even the most unlucky player should eventually succeed.
Okay, here come the spoilers!
First, what exactly is hard mode?
After your ship navigates the asteroids you will recieve a message on your morally ambiguous conduct and a desire to find the builder again, ---- perhaps looking for redemption? You will then be told to try finishing the game without recruiting any villagers. This is hard mode! no just sitting back and waiting for your minians to work, no instant replacement if you died in the wilderness and your favourite steel sword got lost. Now, loot on the map becomes hugely important, outposts and mines are your friends, and the merchant, ---- remember that person you always thought "oh yee gods these prices are insane?" Well, prepare to be gouged!
in the standard game you need all the resources at some point or other sinse all are needed as part of build processes for your serfs to manufacture useful gear. Well, in hardmode that isn't true. Some resources are utterly worthless, and some are as precious as alien alloy. You will therefore then want to take extra care when wandering the world exactly what loot you choose to pick up, and what you leave behind, particularly sinse for much of the hard game you will likely have far more limited inventory space.
Wood: The first resource you will need and the only one that steadily increases throughout the game thanks to the builder's gathering. Crucially important at the beginning of the game, however nearly worthless once you've built the workshop, sinse your not going to be building much else, though it does pay to hit that "gather wood" button every time you check your traps sinse you will probably have to replace a few traps occasionally and some important items like torches and the wagon need wood, and too much is better than not enough.
Fir: Of the resources you get from your traps, fir is the most important sinse steel, iron and leather all cost more fir than either of the other resources. It's not usually worth looting fir from creatures in the world (sinse you'll be needing that bag space for actual resources not just tradables), still if you find yourself running into a beast when your one click away from your village with a few inventory spaces left fir is probably what you want to be filling them with. Also note that if you get the begger event offering to trade fir for scales or teeth, do not do it sinse fir is more valuable than either of the other animal based resources.
Scales/teeth: these are only important as far as they are needed to trade for steel and iron. even their secondary trading function of buying weaponry won't be needed (see section 3).
Meet: your going to get quite nostalgic for your smoke house as you trade 30 meet for one cured meet. If you've got the meet you might as well trade it sinse it's got no other use, however sinse there are easier ways of getting cured meet it's not a resource to focus on, and certainly shouldn't take up your valuable space.
cloth: Cloth was pretty useless in the standard game, and it's no more useful on hard. Only needed to make torches. You'll get more than enough cloth from your traps. It's a very common drop from defeated enemies, but should always be left on the ground.
bate: sinse the merchant doesn't sell it, with no trappers, there is only one way to get bate, from the wanderer who visits your village to trade. Always! trade for bates if the choice arises, sinse they're of considderably more use than scales and teeth and sinse your bated traps will give three or four times more firs than you paid for the bates you'll not lose anything by trading for them.
Cured meet: Not only will you need it for keeping yourself fed as you wander the barren world, but also you'll need 300 of the stuff to trade with the old wanderer for those important combat perks. You can buy cured meet from the merchant, but the most efficient way of getting it is to visit an outpost. Sinse there are probably several outposts close to your village, this isn't difficult, but you will need to make a good few journies to get enough to satisfy the old wanderer, as well as to have a reserve for long journeis of exploration. Still, sinse every outpost refreshes it's supply of cured meet it is the easiest of the resources to find.
Leather: With no tannery, and no instant spots on the map with a refreshing supply (I wish there was a leather mine), leather is one of the harder resources to find. This is a particular pain sinse many of the lower and mid range items need lots of leather, and your lack of it will often made those difficult or impossible to build. Fortunately, leather is commonly found in loot, particularly in towns, houses, and from the gaunt men who wander close to the village.
iron: Iron is needed for several major items, especially the wagon and water tank. While it's easier to obtain than leather thanks to the iron mine it is still valuable. You will find it in caves or in small amounts from scavangers also occasionally in the city, though the mine is still the most efficient method.
Steel: the single hardest resource to find in the game (really Alien aloy is easier), there are only two places to find it. In caves, and very occasionally in the city. You will want to grab as much as possible whenever you can and not leave a single peace on the ground, even if this means dropping torcches and other resources, (just be sure to keep enough cured meet to make it home, sinse starving in the wilderness and seeing a valuable load of metal vanish is not something you want).
Cole: with no steel works or armery, cole is entirely and completely worthless. You'll need to visit the cole mine to progress the story, but there's no point using it for any mining.
Sulphur: pretty much as useless as cole, THOUGH AGAIN YOU WILL NEED TO VISIT THE MINE TO CONTINUE THE PLOT THERE IS NO POINT COLLECTING ANY SULPHUR.
Alien alloy: Of course, you'll need this to fix your starship and finish the game. Actually easier to find than steel, sinse you can guarantee to always find some at a bore hole or battlefield, and sometimes (if your very lucky), in the city. The only real difference on hard mode is that your not going to be trading the merchant for any sinse you'll need all your firs for buying other resources.
3: Items and combat.
In hard mode, resources are going to be harder to get. This means that yuour not going to be able to build all the items one after another. Your also going to spend far more time wandering the world with less inventory space meaning that carrying around enough weapons to equip a small army is a bad idea. In addition, if you die out in the wild, all those weapons will be lost, which can be something of a disaster if you've just spent half an hour gathering the resources to build them.
The answer is simple, go unarmed!
Punch 50 times in combat and you'll earn the "boxer" perk, increasing your unarmed damage to 2, (3 if you have the "barbarian" perk from the old wanderer). Another hundred punches thrown will earn you the "martial artist" perk, raising your damage to 8 (or 9), per hitt. 200 more punches will earn you the "unarmed master" perk, raising your damage to a massive 26, ---- or 27 with "barbarian"
As contrast, the Katana does 12 damage and the carbine does 8. That is right! your fists can be the single most devastating attack in the game! Furthermore if you have the "martial artist" or "unarmed master" perks, and are carrying no OTHER WEAPONS, the cool down timer on your punch attack will become extremely short. It's possible to land 2, sometimes 3 blows for each attack of your enemy, meaning you can frequently slay even experienced soldiers before they've taken a single swing at you, which can be very helpful especially if you can't afford the items to make hefty armor.
Your first and major item building priority therefore in hardmode, are those items which will help you explore the world and bring back more loot, though bare in mind with leather far harder to come by, you'll probably be best missing many of the lower rank items and going for the HIGHER ONES.
4: I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay!
There is no other way of saying it the start of the game is a grind. Once you've lit the fire and met the builder, head out into the forest and start gathering wood. Visit the builder to first make the cart for wood collection then start on traps, and obviously don't build any huts or otherwise you'll invalidate your hard mode.
As an interesting fact, throwing wood on the fire is a waste of good wood and will only serve to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling. The only time you need to stoke the fire is at the start of the game, let the room become freezing and nothing at all bad will happen, (besides, keeping the fire going gives the builder something to do as she's going to be spending most of the game sitting on her rear twiddling her thumbs).
Make sure to keep checking your traps as you gather, sinse your going to need 100 fir for that compass. Occasionally you will find a bundle of sticks which will give you 100 wood as a little reprieve, though be prepared for some frustration as the encounter with a beast destroys three of your traps (there's no way of avoiding this unfortunately. If you ever get the gamble encounter, there's a better chance of success with the small gamble, so give the wanderer 100 wood or fir.
The "hear scratching noises" encounter will take up some of your wood and trade for scales or teeth, however sinse wood is far more valuable until you've got the workshop built I'd recommend ignoring this.
Also note the "secrets" button on the main screen of the room where you can listen to some audio commentaries by Michael and Amir, (check out the "my world is turned upside down for some thoughts on access"), which might help pass the time.
After 20 traps or so, you'll get the ability to build the trading post and workshop. Though you can now perchice a compass and head out into the barren world, you will still want all 30 traps going sinse those resources from traps are your only source of materials other than loot, though a quick hike out into the wilds might be a nice break at this point.
5: I love to go awandering
The first thing to do is kill yourself! No, not to escape the grinding (believe me there is more to go), but because the "slow metabolism" perk is going to be your best friend as it means you can move 4 clicks for every 1 cured meet you use, which of course means you can save that valuable inventory space for more important things like leather and steel. Therefore, set out in whatever direction you like, and keep going until you die of hungar, (you'll starve long before you die of thirst). Repeat 5 times. This will also have the advantage of learning more of the map. if you run into a gaunt man and defeat him in combat, take the leather and try to make it back sinse leather is valuable stuff.
Also, every time you return to your village don't forget to go back to the forest and check your traps and gather more wood. The option to build the work shop will appear sometime at this point and your going to want enough wood and fir to make it happen, albeit after the workshop is built the Builder will be pretty much just sitting and resting by the fire for the remainder of the game unless you need some traps replacing, lazy so and so!
You might run into the scout at this stage. The maps are definitely not worth it, sinse your going to want to save your firs, however the scouting ability can be useful sinse your going to be visiting a lot more dungeons on the map.
Once you succeeded at your super slimming diet, head for the closest house to the village (usually there are several within three or four squares). Enter and engage in fisticuffs with the squatter. This will create an outpost close to the village which might as well be renamed the meat mine. You can now try for the "desert rat" perk as well if you wish, grab 3 cured meet from the outpost and wander off into the wild and die of thirst 5 times. "Desert rat" will halve your water use meaning you use half a unit of water per move instead of a full one. It isn't quite as crucial to your success as slow metabolism, sinse your going to be visiting far more dungeons and creating more outposts, but it can still be useful to have,particularly sinse you don't want a valuable load of steel or leather getting lost after you expire.
continue exploring and visiting more houses, but don't forget to sttockpile cured meet back at your village, indeed you might need to repeatedly visit your closest outpost, grab a load of meet and return sinse your going to want to have something for the old wanderer when she/he comes calling, (remember to remove the cured meet from your inventory when you return sinse the game won't do this by default). Also, keep visiting your traps and the merchant to exchange your firs and other resources for more useful ones.
Fights will be difficult at this point, so make sure you've got some extra meet with you to heal in battle, and stay out of caves and towns.
You could build a bone spear at this stage sinse they don't cost much, however even though it will do more damage, your fists will eventually become a far deadlier weapon, and stabbing away with the spear won't help you in the long run so resist the urge.
6: paint your wagon!
Once you have discovered the Iron mine, prepare for more patience, sinse your going to need 100 units of Iron to build that wagon. Bare in mind that with your "slow metabolism" perk, you can go 4 spaces for every unit of food counting from leaving your village, so on one unit you can effectively do a 12 click journey, ---- 4 spaces, eat, another 4, then another 4 before death. This means if the Iron mine is within 6 spaces of your village you can pack just one unit of cured meet which you will eat on the way there, and then have 10 units of inventory space to devote to iron, meaning you should be able to have enough in 10-15 trips.
this is far easier than trying to find 200 units of leather for the rucksack, though if you get the chance to pick up some leather from a gaunt man only leave it in preference for iron sinse you'll be needing more later.
Resist the temptation to build iron armour at this point in the game, sinse the wagon is more valuable, also take the time to keep stock piling food to welcome the old wanderer with.
hopefully by the time you have the wagon built, you should also have recieved the "boxer" perk, and maybe "barbarian" as wellll meaning your punches are now doing 3 damage.
Now is when the game gets interesting, sinse your going to want to check as many dungeons as you can.
Start heading for caves and collecting steel, you should have more than enough wood and cloth for torches, though make sure to take two torches with you for each cave in case one goes out. The number of nasties in the caves will also give you a chance to improve your punching.
Tempting as it is to take valuable weapons like iron and steel swords, resist the urge and concentrate on steel, and if you've got any spare space, leather, iron and cured meet. An important thing about caves is that though all the other types of dungeon will show up if you explore the map far enough, there are however only a limited number of caves. Sinse they're the most reliable source of steel, this is why you want to stay out of them until you have the wagon, sinse the last thing you want to do is find 10 or more steel and have to leave some behind.
what is all this steel for?
7: My little tank
The water tank is what your collecting all this steel for. it takes 50 of the stuff, plus 100 iron, and sinse items like the ship and the swamp are located up to 50 or so clicks away, it's an absolute necessity.
Once you have the "martial artist" perk, and maybe "barbarian" and some of the others from the wanderer, you can start on towns and the coal mine, though these will not help you in collecting steel as steel only occurs in caves and very occasionally, the city.
You can also use some leather at this stage to build yourself the iron armour, though you are going to want to preserve your steel for the convoy. With iron armour, a couple of perks, and a good supply of cured meet, you might try the sulphur mine, probably the hardest fight in the game, however you'll still need luck on your side, especially against the veteran who does 10 damage with his katana. Do not be tempted to try a rifle, sinse even though as a ranged weapon it won't replace your fists, the cool down on your punch attack is increased if your holding a gun in the other hand, so the extra 5 damage it gives is negated by the slower attacks. Plus of course, the rifle is pretty heavy at 50 inventory space.
Stay out of cities and don't try following the compass until you've earnt the "unarmed master" perk, sinse those soldiers at 50 hp can be tough customers if your only doing 9 damage a hit.
8: Fists of fury!
Once you've performed 300 punchs, you'll earn the "unarmed master" perk. this makes your fists do a massive 27 damage (assuming you have "barbarian"), with a super fast cool down time). At this point, you are a pretty unstoppable killing machine! nobody on the map will be able to touch you, you can smash soldiers in two hits before they've shot once, eat snipers for breakfast and even serve the veteran at the sulphur mine (the hardest enemy in the game), a swift defeat.
at this stage, building more armour would be pointless and you hardly need more weapons, so you can go and find your ship. Once that is done, head into the forest for a few more incounters with the mysterious builder, then take the locket and head back out into the world to search for alien alloy.
You can visit the swamp if you like to see the old wanderer, learn some back story and get the "gastronome" perk which will increase the healing effect of cured meet in combat to 20 rather than 10, although at this stage your chance of needing healing in combat isn't high anyway given the awsome power of your attacks.
pay attention to the locket, the warmer and brighter it glows, the closer you are to a bore hole or battlefield where you'll find alien alloy. sadly all the awsome weaponry at battlefields won't particularly serve you any good, though you can still head to cities sinse there is a chance you'll find alien alloy there, and if you do manage to get enough steel to build the convoy that could be useful for carrying more goods, (although in my game I ended up finding more alien alloy than steel).
You will not lose anything serious if the ship takes off and gets smooshed by asteroids, so I would recommend giving this a try at 30 hp, however you might need as much as 45 or more to be safe (in my game I didn't make it out until I had 48 hp on my hull).
enjoy the mysterious, but far less morally crytical ending, and feel proud that you have not only succeeded without going down the dark path of slavery, but earned a major achievement in a truly challenging game.
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)