Friday, August 26, 2016

The Six P's - Kingdom Death Strategy Guide

Okay, this is a bit of a weird one for me. I'm trying to write a tactics article about a game where you're fighting a cardboard computer instead of other players, and trying to not spoil anything. I guess that makes this my first strategy guide?

This will focus on the early game and some tips for planning ahead, because by the time you're through the mid-game, you'll be pretty well-versed in the system, so this is mostly about getting off the ground and setting up a strong settlement/hunting party.

There are tactics I've used that are surefire successes, but I don't actually think that level of detail is appropriate, and wouldn't really give you an interesting experience. This is mostly to share my ideas about some of the better options if you're having trouble- I've played somewhere in the order of 200 sessions at the time of writing this, and started at least a dozen campaigns, so hopefully there'll be some insights.

This guide is roughly in the order that things happen in the game, and will cover the first half or so of the core campaign. Once you're decently far along, if you're having trouble planning, there are some tips at the end dealing with managing survivors and gear. This is also largely about everything except the actual fights: the monsters are such fun, that I think it's great to figure those out yourself, so this is basically preparing everything else so those can go well.

The few spoilers that I felt I needed to touch upon will be clearly marked. I think the game's a great experience and you lose a lot if you know what's coming, so I'll err on the side of ambiguity if it could ruin something for you.

If you're playing this your first time through with a guide, I won't look down on you for it, but I do think it's best experienced without a guide- try to use this sparingly. If things are going wrong, maybe look back to see what would be better, rather than looking ahead.

Similarly, try to resist the urge to look ahead in the game- skim some cool illustrations, but don't read anything. You'll have plenty of time to game the system once you've experienced it, so try to keep surprises to a maximum, since you only get that chance experience.

Carving out a Niche
Your first session or two.
Player count
Before even getting started, a note on player count.

It's not explicit, but each survivor (not player) slot controls the monster once in a cycle, and if a survivor dies, their placeholder spot should still control the monster. We actually prefer rotating 3 players because it means the first time someone dies, everyone still gets to play.

Also, don't play the 5-6 player variant when starting out. If you're 100% set on it and haven't played much, completely ignore the monster modifiers except the life- it may be a little easy, but don't worry- the actual 5-6 variant is disproportionately difficult, especially when starting out so should be avoided.

The First Story
Not a lot of choice here. You have two resources- one rock each; one dodge each. (Also, I guess, one Survivor each, able to take 3 (on a really bad day) to 10+ damage, depending on how poorly those dice treat you.)

Don't be afraid to spend your rock. If you're worried, or out of position, they're not so hugely valuable that you should play conservatively. We usually end up spending 1-2 in this fight.

Be conservative about your one-time dodge, though- you're unlikely to get this replenished, so save it for a particularly bad attack, like one that will have a nasty secondary effect or that does extra damage. Remember, you get to choose to dodge after you know where the hits have gone.

Don't spread out- that will likely result in wasted actions or isolated and dead survivors.

That's about it- good luck!

Playing Smart
An addendum, because I realized I could offer some help, without actually spoiling anything, about fighting monsters. To some of you, this will come pretty naturally, especially if you're used to the more complex strategy miniatures and board games, but for those of you without that familiarity, or worse, if you're used to very simple strategy games where stats and rules are really straightforward, the fact that Kingdom Death is very heavily driven by exceptions and special rules may cause you some confusion.

If you're having trouble with fights despite seeming to have decent stats (reasonable defenses and damage output for how far along you are), a few thoughts:

Every Nemesis and level 2+ quarry, and quite a few level 1 quarries, has a strategy or two you should play to, or avoid. Many of those are just knowing where to stand, or which stats are valuable against the monster. This isn't to say you can't brute force your way through most of the game (you can, especially in the core), but if you don't get to play often, you should actively try to think of each fight as a puzzle and figure out what you're doing right or wrong: is something you're doing causing you to take extra damage? Is something seeming particularly effective?

Setting Goals
Once you get home for the first time...

A ton of this game can go wherever you'd want to and I won't generally say there's only one way to play. The first year, however, is pretty scripted as decidedly having best moves, in my opinion. Priorities should be:

1- 1x Rawhide Headband & Vest (2 hide)
2- enough weapons to give everyone a weapon including one throwing dart (probably 2 bone, maybe an organ for an axe- the Rawhide should stick together with either a weapon or gloves added for the two complete Affinities... stones are fine for now, and if you're unable to hit 4, drop the Rawhide user's weapon)
3- (probably) innovate (3 different resources)
This will probably be about all you can do, if you have a weird draw, you have spare resources, or for next year, continue with...
4- push to finish a Rawhide set, use leftover organs for Monster Grease

Priority for Endeavoring if you lost guys should probably be Innovate, Skinnery, Bone Smith, Organ Grinder, depending on what you got (obviously, if you had no bone, that wouldn't be a priority).

Once you have one Rawhide set and at least some sort of weapon for everyone (probably doable in your first 1-2 years), you can start branching out.

Starting Innovations
I believe in innovating any time it isn't going to heavily disrupt what you can do next year.

There are six tracks:
Art: Paint is one of the only things I think is necessary late-game (and good to have by mid- or even early-game), and you need a very good reason not to get it. The rest of the set are fine.

Education: Symposium is one of the only early innovations I'd suggest getting as an early investment rather than something that instantly pays off, as it has very good returns even in the short run, since more options are more power. The rest are okay as the game goes on but not very important early.

Faith: Inner Lantern is extremely valuable (probably near-required by the end of the game); the rest of this track are pretty good, too.

Home: This mostly makes your kids better. It has some cool features and can provide insurance, but isn't all that necessary.

Music: This is IMHO the least useful track. It can fix your characters a bit and do some other interesting things, but it's definitely on the low end of utility, especially early in a settlement.

Science: This track generally keeps you alive, and has a lot of interaction with gear. Ammonia is very useful, but not necessary and fairly resource-intensive to get much mileage out of it. It's also decently likely that you'll stumble across it through other means so, while good, not essential.

So, there are three options you'll hit early on. They're all fine and have advantages and disadvantages, except one- Just don't try Survival of the Fittest.

NB: despite being backed as Innovations, Principles don't count as Innovations: they don't count towards totals, and things that affect one won't affect the other.

Innovation and Principle update
These appear to be getting fixed in 1.5 edition, but don't bother with Pictographs or Heart Flute Innovations or the Survival of the Fittest Principle. The former is very poorly worded, and the latter two are just a terrible idea, at very least not worth it if you're looking to a strategy guide.

It's reassuring that they're all getting changed, since I felt like I was missing something. Avoid these, since they have issues with mechanics and/or balance.

The Hunters Become the Hunted
This covers around year 2 to 4-6, depending on how well things go.

One of three locations you get basically for free.

Rawhide Armor Set
This is a fantastic set for its cost.

Your priorities should be, in this order, Headband, Vest, Gloves, Boots, Pants.

The Headband and Vest gives you the option to manipulate the monster's next move. You generally want to do this at the end of the turn to be able to put the least-bad move on top, so it will go and the next time you wound will get rid of whatever you were avoiding. Adding Gloves or most weapons will get you the evasion bonus, which is nice.

The Gloves give survival and add the evasion above. The Boots give survival. The Pants are only an improvement to complete the set.

By the time you're at a complete set, you're also up 2 survival generated, 1 evasion, and have the great ability to look at the upcoming AI cards. You also get a 50/50 chance of not spending Survival, which means you get hugely more efficient, especially as your settlement survival and survival actions increase.

This is great for five resources, and cheap to replace if it somehow breaks. I'd hazard that you could get through the whole campaign without needing other armor sets than four Rawhide (I guess one would need to be proxied, and it would probably be a bit boring/inflexible to equip your guys), and have definitely played successful campaigns built around two early Rawhide sets for most of the campaign.

When to use a partial set
When getting it, in the aforementioned order. Other than that, the individual armor per piece kinda' sucks considering they take up gear slots. I've occasionally taken a head and chest piece as a defensive stop-gap and not completed the set.

Other gear
It's nice to have a Bandage around, we don't really care for either of the other two (the whip is a bit tricky and there are probably better investments; similarly, the Drum is... eh, a bit expensive and not necessary).

Bone Smith
These are most of your early weapons. There's nothing bad here. I consider having one dart early in a campaign essential- there are a few things that interact with range, so you'll be glad you have it. You generally don't want to be down to fewer weapons than people, so that might be a good time to invest in gear instead of Innovations.

Note, though, that a Rawhide survivor can be a dedicated support character, so if you are down to three weapons, or really want to not make a fourth this year, you can scrape by. We usually have ours with whatever's the least desirable weapon at any given time.

The helmet is good armor for the price, and you can't make the other gear yet.

NB: if you're not hunting the Lion, I might prioritize a Bone Dagger: worse stats may be worth avoiding "frail." 

Going in to weapon profiles a little.
High attack rate (speed 3+), low strength weapons (like Bone Daggers) have some vulnerabilities- you're getting a lot of opportunities to wound, but you're also not very good at it so have a lot of opportunities to fail to wound and have something bad happen to you. I highly recommend finding someone or some gear that gets better strength, to mitigate some of this threat.

Low attack rate (speed 1) weapons are just less likely to connect, and you'll never get a choice which location to attack first, but it's also fewer reactions so fewer bad things that can happen. They also tend to be stronger so those wound rolls will be more likely to succeed

Organ Grinder
Monster Grease is extremely good defenses for a single resource. This is another bit of gear that likely sticks around most of the campaign (and my group will replenish it, if lost). I don't think there would ever be a campaign where I'd regret getting 2 early Monster Grease with extra organs.

Fecal Salve and Lucky charm, together with a Rawhide set, will get you +1 luck which is pretty nice, and you can't get the other pieces yet.

White Lion
Currently your only quarry. He now has some grass and random other terrain, and is a lot hardier though not particularly more offensively potent. The Lion is pretty predictable and does a lot of straightforward attacks. Practice with your Rawhide headband.

Spoiler! Don't fight a level 2 Lion until you have Paint.

You get this automatically.

White Lion Armor Set
This set costs about twice as much as Rawhide armor, and is more specific in its requirements. It also comes with the Heavy keyword, which is occasionally a liability. The individual pieces and the set both end up with more armor than the Rawhide set, but without the Survival efficiency or Evasion Bonus.

The set's obvious role is to improve Daggers and Katars. These are specialized weapons that tend towards high Speed and low Strength- the added stats improve their strength and compensate for their weakness, respectively. Added bonus- the Bone Dagger has the right Affinity to stack right in to get either the Helm or Boot bonuses.

It's also worth noting that completing armor sets or working the next set available isn't always necessary or wise, since you generally can't recycle gear.

When to use a partial set
Since the benefit is mostly the weapon-specific offensive one (3 armor is very nice early on, but will drop off in utility), you don't lose much by taking an incomplete set.

Taking the Coat is useful on its own, because Pounce effectively gets around the worst parts of Cumbersome on melee weapons, and is situationally useful elsewhere, and the Gauntlets improve this. The other pieces are all fine for Affinities, but nothing special in my opinion.

The King Spear is a pretty beefy weapon this early, and reach is very useful for certain things (besides the obvious improved threat range, there's the less-obvious flexibility with Pounce positioning, which all reach weapons have).

The Katars have obvious synergies with the lion set and it's pretty easy to get another +1 luck off of the Rawhide set, plus they have some nice rules on their own.

The Bow's Cumbersome makes it very restrictive (and, as it's not melee, Pounce doesn't circumvent it)- I don't like it. The Claw Head Arrow gets past Cumbersome and is nice as a stat penalty, but is fairly limited compared to the resources you put in to it.

The Cat Fang Knife isn't something you'll be able to get for a while.

Other Gear
The Lion Skin Cloak is nice once you start seeing more attacks that do more than one damage and it interacts with Bone. Remember: things without an attack profile generally won't cause "hits" so won't be mitigated.

The Headdress is useless for its cost.

The Harp is pretty nice- definitely not necessary, but there are a lot of times when you'd rather make the monster act less nasty rather than try to deal another wound. It also has some overt interactions with the Lion.

The Frenzy drink is a lot of fun- especially early when you're running out of Survival pretty quickly anyway, it's a nice buff once you've exhausted your defenses.

The Cat Eye Circlet is an item some people swear by. It's most valuable if you're trying something tricky (usually you're getting a strong hit to go exactly where you want it to), but seems to mostly come up if you're struggling or on fire and nothing in-between.

Screaming Antelope
Your second Quarry. This one is probably a little less damaging than a Lion, but there are a lot more risks- both on the Hunt and during the Showdown, there will generally be more things you can't avoid. If you feel like you've got a handle on the Lion, you'll probably be fine.

There's no specific need to hunt any given quarry unless there's something you want from it, and if you're close to getting a set-up (like a full Lion set) you're probably better off focusing on that goal before hunting something new.

Its level 2 is probably the easiest in the game, but it's still a big step up from level 1.

The Butcher
I found the timeline counterintuitive. This should be your fifth fight- if you're doing that early, don't. This is your first real hurdle, and the training wheels are now off. If you want more info...

Spoilers! Bandages are your friends. Don't take survivors you care about. High-speed weapons aren't the answer.

The Second Great Expansion
Options after your settlement is getting established.
This probably covers years 5-7, to anywhere in the 10-15 range.

Going into weapon profiles... a little more
So, now that you have some gear, that's probably been mostly chosen by what's available if you're learning the game, and specifically now that you will probably have access to Monster Tooth Necklaces, it's worth looking at another aspect of the game: wounding.

Some of this is determined or modified by weapon specialization, but there's one basic thing to consider. This is the difference between increasing your Luck and increasing your Strength.

Luck increases the quality of your wounds. It's pretty easy to hit 8+ crits with a Luck Charm and something with Deadly. This means 3/10 times you hit, you'll do a crit if there is one. Especially at the beginning, it can mean that half the time you wound, you're critting (or potentially you only wound when critting, if using something like Fist and Tooth. However, with the exception of a few extreme Luck builds, it's rare that you're expanding your chances to wound. 

Strength is what (efficiently) increases your chance to wound. Most early weapons will give at least 2-3 Strength if they're not weak (like daggers) or fairly expensive. This is how you actually kill things.

So, do what it with you will, but Luck increases quality of wounds; Strength increases quantity of wounds.

Stone Circle
You get this from buying it at the Organ Grinder, and it mostly interacts with the Antelope.

Screaming Armor
This set's affinities line up very nicely. It situationally provides slightly more, or less, armor than a full Lion set, is a little harder to make (one resource isn't common), and is more versatile (it doesn't interact with specific weapons).

It took my group a while to figure out the set's strengths, but the major thing is its improved Slam from the set. It means that a lot of less-great offensive weapons, such as Whips, Shields, and Fist & Tooth, are much easier to wound with. It's straightforward to get effective 3 strength out of the set or 5 with a Monster Tooth Necklace.

Like Pounce, this set benefits from re-positioning flexibility with reach. 

When to use a partial set
It's got a lot of uncommon affinities, and the helmet's both tough and can improve your movement or insanity padding. More often than not, the Helmet is what we end up using on its own unless we really need that affinity combo.

Other gear
Beast Knuckles go extremely well with both second-tier armor sets- they're katars, and that strength buff makes them reach near-guaranteed wounds pretty quickly.

Blood Paint is very nice, with the notable combo of two paired weapons basically getting triple their normal attack speed.

The Charms and Boss Mendhi aren't all that influential or easy to acquire, we don't use them often, and it'll be a long time before you can get that Lance.

Flying the Black Flag
If taking the Antelope track even a bit, you can focus on an interesting and very cheap transitional build based around the Bone Earrings. They give you a speed and strength buff when only using bone, and are very easy to acquire from fighting Antelopes.

A few unique uses of this include fighting Tooth & Fist (one of very few ways of upping your basic attack's stats if going for the Specialization or Mastery without needing to deal with horrible odds), using Bone Darts (again, one of the only buffs, to one of the only early ranged options), or generally making any basic (and kinda' lame) bone weapons decent-to-good.

We've found the effectiveness of this build tapers off by mid-campaign, because other than head gear and a lion cloak's damage reduction, you've got no armor. A glass cannon can stand up early, but gets increasingly limited. Also, as you start getting utility items, you'll have a lot of unused slots that you'd wish you could stick other gear in that thematically seems fine (extremely low-tech and not armor) but is not allowed, such as war paint or grease, which is also a little frustrating. See the Barbarian build below for more info on this.

NB: we haven't tried this build with the broader, expanded set of monsters and their armor types- with the expansions, this style of play may be much more viable.

Weapon Crafter
Pretty obvious what you get here. Optional, but under most cases this is where you'll get your second tier of weapons, especially if not using expansion content.

Counterweighted axes are very solid, given reach, a good stat line, and a chance to auto-wound (increasing odds of auto-wounds is IMHO the best use of Timeless Eye- the ability to ignore everything from invulnerable locations, to bad reactions, to traps, since you don't draw a card is good averaging 1/5 of attacks, and great when that goes up to 2/5 (or greater with a speed buff)). They're okay on their own, but you want the Affinity if you're taking one, IMHO. These are okay against quarries, but I think they excel with nemeses, where you're more often looking for the quick kill rather than anything special.

Scrap Swords are pretty darn nice, and mesh very well with Rawhide for getting their affinity bonuses.

The Zanbato is a style that some swear by, but, given its slow attack rate and that it's expensive and breakable, you generally want a Cat Eye Circlet to get the most out of it.

There are no bad weapons here, but the rest aren't particularly notable in my opinion.

Actually, there's one more-- not for strategy, but an emphasis, the Whistling mace is 1 damage for any 1's, not per 1 rolled in an attack, so it's less harmful than it might look.

Scrap Smelting is worth noting, since not only are there the obvious benefits, but if there's a survivor who's for whatever reason a problem, you can pretty much guarantee a kill here, if you're the ruthless sort of group.

Leather Worker
Also pretty obvious. Again, optional, but pretty solid. We've done campaigns where we've never gotten it, so not the most important, but especially if you're struggling, it has a lot of useful stuff.

Leather Armor
This set works extremely well, and if you get Ammonia early, it's often worth shooting for this set before others. We often take two of these sets through a good chunk of the campaign.

The armor set's very tough for its cost/relative ease of acquisition, and importantly prevents Bash (not to be confused with all sources of Knock Down). Also, the Boot affinities are very easy to get, and give you a chance to run in, hit something, and get out of the way for another player to get in the blind spot (for instance).

When to use a partial set
The Boots are great on just about any build they fit in if you can hit their Affinities, and mesh well with Monster Grease. The helmet and chest both provide some very commonly useful Affinities.

Other gear
The Round Leather Shield is a fantastic return on resources (both cost and taking up only one gear slot) and fits in a lot of builds. The two harvesting tools you can get from access to leather are certainly not necessary, but if you're focusing on something, they're worth it. The Sickle helps a lot in longer hunts, where you can give yourself some free additional survival from the event.

The Hunter Whip follows the same profile as most whips in the game: it's got fairly bad stats for its price, and the main reason you take it is its special abilities. My group's warmed to the Hunter Whip, since it's a way to deal with moods while making attacks. It's not the easiest, but my group's occasionally trained whips to pretty rewarding success, since the training mitigates their poor stats, at which point you've got a good weapon with good abilities.

King's man
This one's a more complex fight. Get ready for something like the Butcher but more obnoxious. Again, if you want more info...

Spoilers! Low-speed weapons and Heavy gear aren't the answer. That's all you get, this time.

This guy's about as tough to take on as level 2 Antelopes and Lions. If you can take them on (especially the Lion), you'll probably be okay here. Again, that's all the non-spoiling help you get.

Part 2
I might make a guide to the second half of the game later, but for now I think that this one should get you far enough. So the last bit of this is a bit different. This section focuses on general tactics and goals, both for specific survivors and for gearing up.

Veterans and Training
Now that you have some durability and smarter/older survivors, some tips on planning.

Train Regularly
Weapon Mastery is a huge thing. I'd say a Survivor approaching Weapon Mastery is more valuable than any statted up awesome fighter with a bunch of Fighting Arts, especially in the first half of the game. Weapon Masters will get you a permanent Innovation that will get all your kids back home a Specialization so you never need to train them in that style of fighting again, and they can specialize in two (or more) weapon types at once. This permanent settlement buff is far more valuable than the abilities of any given Survivor.

Speaking of which, if you're going into a fight blind since it's your first time against a new monster, there's a good chance you'll die. In short, don't send in someone you're trying to level up (this probably goes for leveling up Understanding etc., too). Especially not on Nemeses.

If you're absolutely set on a Mastery, it's also definitely worth considering training two survivors at once, so if something unlucky happens, it only wrecks a Survivor instead of a potential Innovation.

My personal preference is on Masteries that provide excellent Specializations to the Settlement- this means the most difficult (Fist & Tooth, and Shields) are often my priority. This often means going against slightly weaker monsters than we might otherwise, because the decrease in resources is less of a hindrance than safely training a Master.

Note how little I've talked about Specialization. That's because I don't think it's something worth approaching. It helps you on your way to Mastery, but you should never stop at Specialization- if it's good enough that it's worth achieving on its own, it's good enough that you want the entire settlement to have access to it. If it's not that good on its own, then it still doesn't matter.

The only time Specialization is worth it on its own is if it's very late in the campaign and you want a Specialist for a specific fight or for a new weapon you're definitely using.

NB: Club specialization/mastery is getting a 1.5 revision, which is good, since the specialization isn't worth pursuing. Another one to basically ignore until 1.5.

Twilight Sword
This one's a real pain. Fortunately, you can plan for it. You almost always know when it's going to (possibly) show up, so you can prepare with your candidate(s) coming in with disposable weapon proficiency and an accuracy buff, if possible.

Frenzy and Pounce are the best ways of hitting those first two specialization levels, and after that you can just treat it like a grand weapon. (Big, that is. Well, also very nice.)

You should always prepare to have your Twilight swordsman dead or at 3 proficiency when the next Twilight Knight comes to town, since it's a spectacular weapon for its clear boss-killing purpose and you never want him to take your sword away forever. If you can hold him around, your swordsman can get ridiculously good, though remember to not have him get so much weapon proficiency that he leaves. Having Family will help this, since you can start a new kid off without the initial horrible penalty, so if you've got that going, you can be less careful about too much leveling.

The Right Job for the Tool
As your Survivors improve, they'll get better (or worse) stats, which will change their aptitude, particularly when it comes to achieving weapon mastery.

High strength (a relatively common one) and accuracy (less-common) help a lot of the weaker weapons, while there are some that are uniquely suited to a specific weapon, like Timeless Eye or Monster Claw Style. Depending on your stats, it might be worth starting over and finding a better survivor to get a given Mastery than working on the one you have with 2-3 more that'll be a real struggle to complete. (The other side is, if they're close enough anyway, you can push through those last fights and then de-facto retire them if they're not that good.)

A note on Saviors- some people seem to fixate on these characters, but, having played a lot of the game, I don't find them all that necessary. They give a nice little push under the right circumstances, but considering they generally don't last very long, they're more of an interesting bonus than something I consider epic. I'll tend to take them on Nemesis fights since they have nice bonuses and are more disposable.


These are all based on being relatively easy to acquire, early gear, and are some of the most reliable builds my group's made.

We do always choose our gear at the beginning of each scenario, and our preferences and choices change, but this should be a good guide to some strong gear sets and how you could look at preparing your Survivors.

Asterisks are optional*, brackets are {equivalent choices}.

The Scout
Rawhide Set; primary weapon*; Cat Eye Circlet*; Cat Bow & arrow*; {Monster Grease, shield, other defensive gear} (0-4 slots open)

The point here is mostly deck manipulating and support. Their job is mostly to go at the end of the turn and use their Rawhide Headband. They also do other assistance jobs, like set up hit locations or put an evasion penalty on the Monster. Given that they're offensively not all that important and will mostly be activating at the end of the turn, their job is often to stand in the way at the end, taking hits. Survival efficiency from the set and any gear that will add to their ability to take hits will improve this role.

As my group's played more, we've learned to not really like bows other than the best few, but the build works well enough that I've left this in, since it's reliable, if not a preference.
(Yes, we've actually played this enough that I made two of this gear set)

The Soldier
Leather Set; Monster Grease; {Zanbato; Counterweighted Axe}; {Round Leather Shield; other up-green (usually a tool)} (1 slot open)

This build generates 4-5 armor everywhere, 2 evasion, 2 insanity, 2 survival, a free move, anti-bash, and unlocks your heavy weapon's special rules. These are front-liners, and having a pair of these sets can brute force your through many things. You could easily replace the weapons, but we've used these because they efficiently and reliably achieve some of the harder Affinities to match so the build is more integral to playing them.

This can also swap in for luck easily enough, if you can get a blue affinity weapon or a green/blue affinity item, and a luck charm.

The Swordsman (or Boxer)
Rawhide Set; Scrap Sword*; Luck Charm; 1 blue affinity item (1-2 open slots)

The point of this build is generating a lot of +2 Luck attacks, and with Sword Specialization, you can pick where your critical wound hits. You have a lot of Survival for generating more attacks, and can deck fix in a pinch. The same principles also work well for training Fist & Tooth because of the Luck, though I'd try to fit in  anything in that can push your accuracy, for a little help. (NB: you can add a Monster Tooth Necklace for the strength, but my group often plays it with just the Luck, so any hit will also be a crit.) It's also pretty good with the lion's katar, though the below build is often stronger.

The Blender
Lion set; pair of {Beast Knuckles; Lion Beast Katars}; Blood Paint* (1-2 open slots)

Attack volume is the name of the game, here. Using variations on this concept, it's entirely possible to kill level 1 monsters in a single action. (While not necessarily a good thing and a pretty big gamble, it's pretty awesome when it happens.) You generate a lot of attacks, ignore the worst with Katar specialization, and then start pummeling the creature. The danger is small hit decks, since you can hit a trap more often. Fortunately, the attacks from the blood paint are two separate set, so you're less likely to ruin a great run. Daggers would of course work in this build, but my group prefers Katars in part for their easier access to Paired.

The Ram
Screaming set; low-str weapon you're training*; better weapon (preferably with reach)* (2-3 slots)

The point of this one is the strength buff on weak weapons. If you need to push it further, a Monster Tooth Necklace works. If you have the room, you can build it like a Fighter, adding a Round Leather Shield and Monster Grease for the defensive buffs.

This can of course also work with buffing a good weapon to make some extremely reliable damage, but isn't something I find very valuable.

The Barbarian
Bone Earrings; {Skull Helm; Screaming Horns}; Lion Skin Cloak*; Bone Darts*; monster tooth necklace* other bone weapon(s)- i.e. {Beast Knuckles, Bone Axe, basically anything...} (4-ish open slots... probably not a lot to fill them with)

Mentioned in the Antelope section, this can make a lot of mediocre weapons pretty solid, including Fist & Tooth, and similarly helps train towards them.

This is best if you're struggling to equip four survivors, since the Blender and Ram improve low-str weapons almost as much while giving you far more protection. This is a very effective stop-gap, but not something I'd field in the long run.

NB: outside the scope of this timeline, but still relevant to the build: people often overlook that the Scrap Shield has the bone keyword, which is the only core game way to get any real armor on this set. Actually, if you somehow manage to get an early one, this would be a great shield training build.

The Fail-safe
If you're really having trouble with the game, or you just don't enjoy your favorite characters dying, there is the option of Hero Mode. While purists might snub this, I think it's completely legit. One of the groups I play with is really just not very experienced with gaming, but liked Kingdom Death, even despite an early dead settlement. In order to not quarterback everything and still have a fun (read: less-stressful) time, we ended up playing hero mode for our second. It turns out, you still have all sorts of bad things happen, and get almost all of the core game experience, just with a little help.

 It's actually one of the best easy modes I've played, and would highly recommend it for people who like the game, but don't necessarily want something punishing.