May 6, 2009 8:00 AM |
['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]
While writing another article, I'm sorry to say I got sidetracked off of completing the overview of the 7DRL games this time out, which unfortunately will have to wait another couple of weeks. My apologizes to you, and the remaining game authors.
In the meantime, please accept this hopelessly spoiler-tastic strategy guide for Nethack. The object here is to aid players who have played the game somewhat but always thought that winning was out of their league. It doesn't cover everything in the game, far from it, but with some practice it should get people up to the endgame.
Some time in the future I hope to put up more of these roguelike strategy guides. I hope I don't have to say this, but everything that follows the jump is spoilers of an even greater variety than the usual ones presented here. It's been a while since we've had a big Nethack column, so I hope this keeps everyone interested. It's really long.
Much of the information here has been checked against (and sometimes cases, gleaned from) the Nethack Wiki.
1. Recognize how safe you are at the start of the game.
For most of the game, the difficulty of random monsters is determined by a simple formula:
Monster difficulty = (Player level + dungeon level) / 2
All monsters have such a difficulty rating. The program's internal name for this statistic is MONSTR.
The hardest random monster that can appear at a given time will have a MONSTR of this value + 1, and that happens rarely. So, while the player remains at experience level 1 and dungeon level 1, mostly it'll be monsters with a difficulty of 1 or less who can appear: grid bugs, jackals, kobold zombies, newts, sewer rats, foxes, lichen, goblins and kobolds. All of them a piece of cake.
If the player descends two levels, or gains two levels of experience, or does one of each, MONSTR 2 monsters get added into the mix: shriekers, large kobolds, hobbits, gas spores, red molds, green molds, brown molds, acid blobs, yellow molds, gnome zombies, giant rats, geckos, coyotes, humans and bats. Generic humans are not generated randomly, the four molds, acid blobs and gas spores only attack in retaliation, and the other monsters are only marginally more dangerous than a level 1 monster.
The lowest-difficulty random monsters that could potentially be troublesome are, ironically enough, the lowest-level pet types (kitten and little dog) and the two low-level lycanthropes (wererat and werejackal). All of these monsters are considered difficulty 3. The pets can be neutralized by throwing food at them; even if they won't eat the food, they'll often go peaceful from the consideration involved. The lycanthropes can be a problem, with their special lycanthropy-spread attack and summoning abilities. Gnomes also have a MONSTR of 3, and are sometimes generated with attack wands. Fortunately, difficulty 3 monsters usually only show up if the sum of player level plus dungeon level is six or more.
Difficulty 4 introduces dwarves (generated with considerable equipment); rothes and hill orcs (both of whom swarm); giant ants (swarm and are faster than most players); gnome lords (numerous in the Mines); and ponies (the toughest base pet type). This is where the monsters start to get really deadly. But so long as player level plus dungeon level is less than eight, the chances of running into one is small. If the player can find good-enough equipment before this point, his chances of survival shoot up greatly.
My point here is that Nethack characters are in almost no danger from monsters at the start of the game. He's better served by gaining equipment earlier on, which don't increase the difficulty of the monsters, than gaining levels. The better the equipment the player can find before the opposition ramps up, the better he'll do.
Notice that there is an exception to this rule. The Gnomish Mines start pre-stocked with a bunch of set opponents, gnomes and dwarves. The dwarves can be tough, and will be there regardless of player level, so if you want to take the Mines right off having a little better level will probably help you, unless you plan on running the protection racket, which is beyond the scope of this guide.
2. Do not give the game excuses to kill you.
What this means is don't do dangerous things. By far, the most common of these is drinking from fountains. You might be able to drink from fountains 20 times safely, but all it takes is that 21st time summoning the water demon, water moccasin or water nymph to ruin your whole game. Water demons, in particular, are deadly. Some players drink from all the fountains they see in the hopes of lucking into an early wish. They are far more likely to get it out of a magic lamp in the Minetown shop than from a water demon, and are much less likely to get killed in the process.
Also, don't drink from sinks, and don't kick sinks until you're able to handle black puddings. Don't dig up graves. Don't mess around unnecessarily. Don't anger shopkeepers, say by trying to steal from shops in non-pet ways. And don't anger the guards in Minetown (from drying up a fountain or messing too much with locked doors in their sight).
A lot of the process of getting better at Nethack is discovering the stupid little things that can kill you, and not doing them. There aren't as many as you might think, and in large part avoiding them is common sense.
Here's a list of things to be careful of:
Don't do things that do piddling damage if you're very low on hit points. Anything that can do at least one point of damage can potentially kill you in the right circumstances.
Don't smack floating eyes. Everyone dies to these babies in their first few games. Fortunately they're slow and don't attack.
Don't pray if it's been too soon since your last prayer. To tell for sure, try to sacrifice something; if you get a message that "You have a hopeful feeling," it's not safe to pray. If the message is "You have a feeling of reconciliation," then the offering's credit was just enough to eliminate your remaining prayer timeout.
Don't pray if you have negative luck (luck is usually zero unless you've done things to change it; things which lower your luck are breaking mirrors, attacking peacefuls, carrying a cursed luckstone, playing on Friday the 13th, harming your pets in an irresponsible way [check] and cheating in Sokoban. Prayers never work if your luck is negative. Luck gradually returns to zero over time unless you're carrying a luckstone.)
Don't break wands of death.
Don't teleport to level 0, or negative levels. These things may be funny to do once, but not in a game you care about losing.
Don't genocide yourself.
Don't wear amulets of unchanging while polymorphed unless you really know what you're doing. (Do you know what you're doing? No.)
Don't wear-test amulets; they're the only item class that has a member that can quickly kill the player in normal use, the amulet of strangulation. It's best not to use-test things at all if you can help it, but amulets are especially important to be care of.
3. Build the essential intrinsics as soon as possible.
This starts to get into real strategy. The most important intrinsic in the early game is poison resistance, which safeguards strength and prevents all poison-related instadeaths. Until you get it, monsters with poisonous bites (spiders, killer bees, soldier ants and some snakes among them) have a chance of killing you outright with each attack, and so do spiked pit traps, a particularly cheap way to go. Unfortunately, poison resistance is not easy to gain without some luck. You can usually get it by eating the corpses of poisonous monsters or blobs. This is never instantly fatal, but poison monsters will still poison you, lowering strength (and thus carrying capacity), and blobs are usually acidic and do stomach acid damage, and that could be fatal if you're low on HP. When you gain poison resistance from eating, by the way, the given message is "You feel healthy!"
The easiest way to gain poison resistance is to start with it, by playing a Barbarian (one of the reasons they're the easiest class) or Healer (not recommended for beginners). Beyond that, if you can find a Ring of Poison Resistance or Amulet vs. Poison, you can wear them long enough to gain intrinsic poison resistance through the eating poisonous monsters, and then discard the item.
Later on, the most important intrinsic is magic resistance, and it's one of the harder intrinsics to get. It can never be obtained naturally except through polymorph. The only ways to get magic resistance is by wearing a cloak of magic resistance, wearing gray dragon scales or gray dragon scale mail, by wielding the artifact Magicbane, or by holding a quest artifact that grants the property. Wizards begin with a cloak of magic resistance, and their first sacrifice gift, Magicbane, grants it when wielded.
Magic resistance is important because it prevents a wide range of troubles. They prevent teleport, level teleport and polymorph traps from working on the player, and they also protect against several monster spells, including Destroy Armor. Crucially, they're also the only reasonable way to survive death rays and the Touch of Death spell. Unlike other instadeath monsters, ToD-using monsters are usually capable of teleporting after the player, and so are very difficult to escape, and the worst monsters of the type, the Lich family of opponents, are immune to death spells themselves. Because liches don't usually appear before the Castle, many players can do without magic resistance for a long time, but usually regret it if they don't obtain it by Gehennom.
Beyond those two things, the most important qualities to gain are:
* magic cancellation level 3 for protection against level drain and many other annoying monster attacks, best obtained by wearing a cloak of magic resistance, protection or oilskin;
* a unicorn horn, which can nullify nearly all negative status effects without cost beyond using a few turns, and can also serve as a means of restoring strength lost to poisonous corpses when trying to gain resistance;
* high-quality escapes to get away when all else fails, items like scrolls of teleportation, wands of teleportation (either zap yourself or the monster attacking you), wands of digging (aim ">"), wands of sleep and death (be careful with them, however), and potions of full healing (uncursed extra and full healing potions also cure sickness).
4. Learn the most dangerous monsters.
* Soldier ants: on a game-by-game basis, the most lethal monster in Nethack. They're poisonous, they sometimes appear in groups, they're too fast to run from and get multiple attacks in melee. Don't count them out until you've got poison resistance and good AC.
* Mimics are one of the toughest monsters you'll find in the early levels. Fortunately, they appear almost exclusively in shops and are very slow. Treat them with respect.
* Hill orcs swarm and are generated with equipment. Mordor orcs and uruk-hai often get generated with poisoned arrows, another reason to go for poison resistance as soon as possible.
* Nymphs aren't very dangerous to your life, but their theft attacks are powerful even into the middle of the game. Have a pet kill these, or take care of them from a distance. Don't forget, if you're stolen from the nymph will teleport elsewhere on the level. While tracking her down remember that she'll make effective use of the item(s) she stole.
* Chickatrices and cockatrices are the source of more instadeaths than any other monster in the game. Your pets won't touch these. Kill them from a distance! If you're forced into melee with one, be on the lookout for slowdown messages if you hear their hissing. And once they're dead, they can be even more lethal. Be careful around these guys.
* Purple worms are strong opponents, but once they engulf you, if you've found a wand of digging they're easy to kill. Many other wands to good damage to them when you're engulfed. However, they're lethal to pets, even ones with much higher level.
* Chameleons may turn into an unusually deathly monster. Eating causes a polymorph. This is the only monster food effect that also affects pets, which could be either good or bad.
* Rust monsters will cause metal weapons you strike them with to degrade, and can also harm metal armor. Disenchanters work similary, but aren't restricted to metal items, and can instead reduce an item's plus.
* No elemental is a slouch in battle, but air elements are extremely quick so they can get extra attacks, and can engulf the player. One think that might help: if you're engulfed by a vortex-type monster like an air elemental, you can get expelled immediately by zapping a wand or spell of slow monster at it.
* Mind flayers and master mind flayers can drain intelligence and kill if it gets too low, but their attacks also cause amnesia, one of the most annoying effects in the game. Amnesia (by mind flater or scroll) causes you to forget item identifications and some level maps.
* Mumaks are rare and have no special abilities, but can do extremely high damage relative to when they can appear in the game.
* Beware of all liches, for their touch of death & teleportation harassment. These are prime targets for genocide, followed by giant eels, mind flayers and mimics (for getting more look out of shops).
* Medusa: learn to recognize her level and then don't approach unless blindfolded.
* Green slime is a late-appearing monster with a delayed instadeath sliming attack. Burn yourself, like with a wand of fire, to cure it. Prayer also can help.
* Black dragons are the only monster with a disintegration attack, which, if it hits, can only be survived by being disintegration-resistant -- from eating a black dragon corpse or wearing its scales -- or having reflection.
* Archons: the toughest random opponent in the game, who can blind and stun with a gaze.
* Demon lords and princes, immune to death rays in recent versions and perform teleport harassment
* Demogorgon, who only appears rarely, but has a highly dangerous sickness attack
* The Wizard of Yendor: touch of death, teleport harassment, and can't be killed permanently so can wear down the player over time; he is vulnerable to death wands and spells, however, and those are the recommended way of dealing with him
* The riders, Death, Pestilence and Famine, are practically impossible to kill permanently, and each has a unique, highly-dangerous attack
Liches, the demon lords, some quest nemeses and the Wizard of Yendor all have an aggravating trick they like to pull. They all have both teleport-at-will and teleport control, and heal rapidly, so they can teleport away when they reach low hit points and renew the attack when they've recovered. It is very difficult (though not impossible) to kill one of these enemies through damage alone before they teleport away. There is a trick for dealing with them; when they teleport away, it's always to the upstairs of that level. If you move in and stand on the upstairs when they're attacking you, they'll generally be much easier to finally kill. Other ways to kill some quest nemeses and the Wizard are with a wand of death. Vorpal Blade and the Tsurugi of Muramasa also have a chance of instantly killing most of these monsters. And wielding a cockatrice corpse and hitting a monster with it can instantly kill almost any monster in the game.
5. Build equipment for overcoming game obstacles.
Here's the contents for a typical ascension kit:
* A good artifact weapon. Get this through offering.
* Very good AC. By the castle you'll want at least -10, and by the planes around -40.
* All the resistances you can obtain, but especially poison and magic.
* Very fast speed. You can only really get this by wearing speed boots.
* A means of water travel. Levitation or water walking is best; an amulet of magical breathing will get you through, but your stuff will get water-damaged unless contained in an oilskin sack or greased other bag. In limited cases, you can make due with using scrolls of earth and wands of cold to make bridges.
* A means of distance attack, for taking out sea monsters and other troublesome guys
* A wand of digging, for zapping down (">") to escape from monsters
* A unicorn horn (blessed when you acquire the means)
* A lizard corpse (keep it in your main inventory)
* A bag of holding, blessed when you can swing that, same goes for greased
* A means of reflection: amulet of that type, silver dragon scales/scale mail or silver shield. This protects your inventory from getting burned/frozen/blasted/disintegrated. This isn't a top-priority thing if you keep destroyable stuff in a bag, but in that case make sure to at least get disintegration-resistance, which only comes eating a black dragon corpse. (Black dragons, are the only monsters that use disintegration rays.)
* A luckstone, preferably blessed
* A stockpile of holy water, for blessing and uncursing stuff
* Escape items (scrolls and wands of teleport are among the best)
6. Dealings with the gods:
Prayer will get you out of these troubles: Being low on HP (less than five or 1/7 your max, which ever is greater), being weak from hunger (not just hungry), being stoned, being sick from food poisoning, being strangled by an amulet, being stuck in a wall, and some other things besides. The chances of good things happening are increased if you're standing on an altar of your alignment. Please don't pray on a differently-aligned altar; check alignment by pressing colon (":") while standing on one. After praying, you can't pray for aid again until a certain number of turns, usually up to 300, have passed.
If your alignment score (a hidden variable tracked by the game) is high enough, you might be crowned. If this happens, you immediately get several useful resistances and are granted a powerful artifact weapon, but your prayer timeout also becomes much, much longer. Also occasionally your god will tell you about the Castle's drawbridge-opening tune, or just outright tell you what the tune is. And sometimes, your god will just outright grant you a minor intrinsic, such as stealth.
Sometimes in the dungeon you'll find an altar. If it's of your alignment then it's safe to offer dead monsters on it and offer them. (Shift-'o'.) Gods don't like really weak monsters compared to your level (though most monsters are still good at the time of the game where you encounter most altars), and always fail to appreciate kobolds. Also, don't sacrifice former pets or monsters of your race if you're not Chaotic. (Since Nethack elves are always Chaotic in alignment, elves are thus pretty much always okay to sacrifice.) If a monster corpse is too old (roughly the same time scale as it's good to eat them), then nothing will happen. Only freshly-killed monsters will work as sacrifices.
If you offer a corpse on an altar not if your alignment, then if your alignment score is too low you might get converted to the altar's alignment, an extremely bad thing that usually makes the game unwinnable. Fortunately, it's not hard at all to keep a good alignment score by playing normally. If you aren't converted, then there's a chance of converting the altar; if you succeed you gain luck, and if you fail you lose luck. (More on the Luck statistic is later in this column.) If you succeed but the altar belonged to a temple with a priest, then the priest will become angry with you, will begin attacking you, and you'll lose any divine protection thus far granted.
If you make a good sacrifice, several things may happen.
- If a prayer timeout is still active, it'll get reduced a bit, providing the message "You have a hopeful feeling." If this eliminates the remainder of the timeout, the message is "You have a feeling of reconciliation."
- If you have no prayer timeout currently, and your luck is lower than maximum (10 points), then you get a message about a four-leaf clover and gain a point of luck.
- Once in a while, insteads of a four-leaf clover, you'll get the message "An object appears at your feet!" This is usually an artifact, a powerful, unique weapon. Artifacts are rarely found on the dungeon floor, and can be wished for too, but this is by far the most common means of acquiring them. Some classes have a specific first artifact they receive this way. For Valkyries, for example, it's Mjollnir. If you were "restricted" in that weapon, that is unable to gain skill in it, it'll become unrestricted and you'll be able to advance to Basic skill.
7. What is safe to eat:
Mostly, if you use common sense, you'll be okay, but there are some exceptions:
- Don't eat kobolds. They cause sickness.
- Anything acidic (like acid blobs and ochre jellies) will do acid damage if you eat it, and if you're low on HP this will kill you. However, acid corpses never go bad, and eating one cures stoning in a pinch.
- If you're satiated, be very careful what you eat! One of the most ignominious ends in Nethack is choking on your food, which tends to happen to players relatively late on their journey. If you're not satiated when you start eating then there is nothing in Nethack that will kill you from choking, but if you are satiated when you start you're pushing it. Particularly, don't eat dragon corpses unless you're not satiated!
- If something has the power to kill you instantly while alive, then be careful about eating it when it's dead. Be careful around these things: chickatrices, cockatrices, green slimes or Medusa in particular.
- If the corpse has been dead for longer than about 15 turns, don't eat it. It's best not to risk eating a corpse unless it's really freshly killed; food poisoning sets in surprisingly fast, and it's fatal unless you have a means of curing it. (Apply a non-cursed unicorn horn, potion of extra healing, successful prayer.)
- If it was undead when "alive," don't eat it, even if you just re-killed it; the corpse starts out old in this case. Exception: wraiths are okay to eat if freshly killed, and in fact eating them is recommended.
- Don't eat creatures of your race; that counts as cannibalism, your god will be angered and you'll pick up the intrinsic Aggravate Monster.
- Don't eat pet-type creatures: white cats or dogs, or normal horses. You'll get Aggravate Monster, even if it wasn't already your pet.
- Don't eat or offer a creature that used to be your pet. It's a relatively new feature, but the game will punish you for it.
- Don't eat lizard corpses! It's not that they're bad, far from it. They're too good to waste on a quick meal. They never go bad, and if you start turning to stone from a cockatrice's hissing ("You slow down" and "Your limbs stiffen" are the signs) quickly take a bite of one to halt the process and save your life. By the way, only the monster called "lizard" has this effect; other monsters that happen to be lizards, like newts and geckos, don't have the same property.
8. About Elbereth:
One of the weirdest tricks in Nethack involves engraving the word "Elbereth" on the floor. Once done, if you stand on that square 90% of monsters won't attack you! Generally speaking, only humans, elves, minotaurs, angels and blinded monsters (oddly, not naturally-sightless sightless monsters) will attack someone standing on an Elbereth. Creatures that will "respect" it include all demons and demon lords, and nearly every other dangerous monster. Elbereth protects you against melee attacks only, and pets and peaceful monsters don't respect it.
The tradeoff is that, if you write it in the dust with your fingers, the word will degrade rapidly. If even one letter is changed, the whole thing will cease working, and often it'll have degraded by the time you finish the original writing! Writing with certain wands will do the job quickly, or an athame, or a magic marker (although that may be considered a waste of resources). You can also engrave slowly with a weapon, but doing so will rapidly dull the weapon into near uselessness, or a hard gem. Note that you're a sitting duck when slow-engraving; strangely, the game won't prompt you to stop engraving if you're attacked while writing.
Elbereth is useful in a pinch, but isn't necessary for survival; I win the game fairly often and don't use it. If you don't have the means or desire to write Elbereth for protection, standing on the same space as a scroll of scare monster has the same effect.
9. Use these identification tricks:
- The cheapest scroll in shops is Identify. If you have unknown scrolls and find a general store or bookstore, find out what their prices are (drop in the shop). If it's less than 30 to sell or 50 to buy it's probably Identify, and if it's not then it's probably light, a harmless scroll to read. It is best not to trial ID scrolls after Identify is known.
- To get a good clue as to what a wand does, engrave on the ground with you fingers (what you engrave doesn't matter), then try to add onto it with the wand. The message you get depends on the type of wand. Three wands give the same message, that the engraving disappears. Several wands do nothing special, but that mostly happens with the less useful wands and those that are out of charges. The only real drawback to this method is that it uses a single charge from the wand and, if it's a wand of create monster, it might give you some monsters to fight.
- If you have an extra ring of an unknown type, a similar trick can be done by dropping one of them down a sink. In that event, all rings have a unique message, and a couple of them even give the ring back. You can sometimes get a lost ring back by kicking it, but that means you won't get a random wing instead, and can attract dangerous monsters for early in the game.
- Enemies use many kinds of items, and if you see them do it you'll often get a good hint as to what the item does. They drink and throw certain potions, read scrolls, zap wands and wear certain types of armor. They will also wear one type of amulet. Notably, however, they never wear rings.
10. Make the most of your pets.
To get more pets easily, throw food at cats and dogs. Tripe rations always work for this. Horses can be tamed by throwing vegetable food at them. Even ordinary food rations work for this, although they won't eat them unless they're very hungry and it doesn't always work. Sometimes it'll make the creature in question peaceful instead.
Pets will not step on cursed items without a special message, unless there's a food item they're interested in on the same square. Opposing monsters will never attack pets in melee unless the pet attacks them first, and pets refuse to attack anything more than a level higher than it or extremely dangerous to attack (like cockatrices). Pets won't attack you unless they're blind, confused, stunned, extremely hungry or you're wearing a ring of conflict.
Every time a pet kills a monster, it gains a maximum hit point, and when it gains eight points it also gains a hit die, up to a maximum. Dogs, cats and horses are special, however, in that they can promote through three stages as they grow. A horse at maximum level is just barely capable of taking out a shopkeeper. Even so, these basic pet-types are typically only useful up to a certain point in the game.
11. Dealing with shops
Don't try to steal in plain sight of the shopkeeper; they are formidable opponents unless you're already strong enough that you'll probably not have much need for the stuff in the shop, they call in the Keystone Kops who can be difficult to deal with at low level, and money is worthless except for paying shopkeepers and priests anyway. In the early levels you can steal from shops safely by letting your pet do the lifting for you; stuff your pet carries out of the shop is free to take. The space right inside the shop's door counts as outside the shop for this. Don't attack a shopkeeper or zap wands at him, don't teleport while carrying stuff, don't dig holes in a shop's walls of floor, don't kick his closed door down (even if it says "Closed for inventory") and don't attack him directly.
12. Tackling special areas
- The Gnomish Mines are the first branch you'll encounter, a second set of down-stairs between levels 2 and 4. They have lots of gnomes and dwarves to fight. Gnomes are pretty much fodder, but dwarves sometimes wear good equipment. Dwarven mithril is good armor for this stage in the game. Halfway down the mines is Mine Town, referred to by some as the shopping mall. It's got many shops, including a guaranteed lighting shop run by a beloved figure, and also a guaranteed temple with a priest. Use the altar to ID curses, pay the priest for protection (see below), and check the shops for good items. Notably, both the tool shop and lighting shop may carry magic lamps, possibly the easiest source of a wish in the game. Make sure a magic lamp is blessed before rubbing it (Alt-'r'/#rub)!
- Sokoban is found a little deeper than the Mines. It's entered through a second upstairs found on a level, and all its levels start out pre-mapped. Sokoban is a series of boulder-pushing puzzles, along the line of the Sokoban puzzle game. The game's movement rules are subtly different here: you cannot move diagonally through corners or between boulders. Doing anythings that would break the rules of the puzzle of the same name causes you to incur a luck penalty while here, which could be a very bad thing if it goes negative (prayer never works when you have negative luck). To proceed, you must fill in all the pits blocking the way onward with boulders. Because of the puzzle aspects and luck penalties, many players choose to ignore Sokoban, but a lot of food, rings and wands tend to be generated there, and players who make it to the end can claim either a shield of reflection or a bag of holding.
- The Oracle level is in the main dungeon. It's mostly ordinary, except for the Oracle herself, who can be questioned for game hints. There are also several fountains and statues here. If you're a wizard, you can often find spellbooks by casting force bolt on the statues.
- The Quest, also known as the "Home" dungeon, is a branch accessed by entering a magic portal. The portal counts as a trap, so you won't find it at first until you happen upon its square. Until the quest is completed, you'll be given a reminder message each time you enter the level. Every character class has a different quest, some harder than others. (Monks have a particularly difficult quest.) The first level of the quest always has a staircase down that can't be used until the quest leader, a particular friendly monster on the level, gives you permission (chat with him to speak). To get permission, you must be level 14 and of your original alignment. Take heed! If you permanently change your alignment (by offering at a cross-aligned altar if you haven't been playing your alignment well, or by offering a unicorn of your alignment on an altar of a different alignment), you will be permanently barred from accessing the quest! Since the Bell of Opening must be obtained from the quest and it's needed to win, this means the game cannot be completed.
- Fort Ludios is a little-seen one-level branch that is sometimes, but not always, found from a magic portal in a vault in the middle of the main dungeon. Vaults are hard enough to find, and to reliably find the fort you'll probably to find several of them. It's a pretty difficult level, with a huge number of soldiers, a number of dragons, and King Croesus in the middle of a castle. There is a huge amount of equipment to be found here, and lots of gold and gems besides. Ludios is not present in every game.
- The Medusa level is fairly deep in the main dungeon. The two main obstacles here are a vast lake between you and the stairs down, and Medusa herself standing on the stairs. Make sure to be blinded when facing Medusa; seeing her alive is an instadeath. If you have a means of reflection then she'll probably turn to stone from seeing her own reflection. Sometimes there is a statue named Perseus on or near the stairs; if smashed to bits with force bolt or a pick-axe, there is sometimes a bag of holding and/or a shield of reflection inside it. (These should be checked for curses.) After Medusa's level, some of the dungeon levels will be mazes. If you get to Medusa without a way past the lake, you can dig down (">") with a pick-axe or wand of digging to fall past it and move on. Remember, however, you'll still have to cross the lake coming back, and Medusa will be right by the upstairs when you climb them, so remember to blindfold yourself before climbing the stairs on your way back up!
- Not much further down than Medusa is the Castle. The drawbridge can be shattered with force bolt (bridge the moat with a boulder or wand of ice, or cross the water by other means), opened with a wand of opening or a spell of Knock, or if you have a musical instrument you can play it to open the drawbridge by playing "Mastermind," using the noises received as clues for the notes you need to enter. Be careful however; if you get in by opening the drawbridge, if you're standing on the two spaces in front of it, you'll be crushed by the falling bridge! Even once open, you can be killed if someone shoots a wand of striking and shatters the bridge while you're standing on it. Inside the drawbridge is a lot of tough monsters, and the moat contains a number of deadly eels, which can instantly drown you if they swing themselves around you. In one of the corners of the Castle is the game's sole guaranteed wand of wishing. Good things to wish for: 2 blessed scrolls of charging (for recharging the wand once when it's out of charges), blessed +2 gray dragon scale mail (if without magic resistance), blessed +2 silver dragon scale mail (if already in possession of magic resistance), blessed +2 speed boots (only permanent source of "very fast" speed), spellbook of finger of death (if experienced in attack spells), and blessed magic marker (for making useful scrolls out of blank paper). There are lots of other good things to wish for; Google up a full spoiler for full details. There are a series of pit traps at the back of the Castle. These are the only way down to the next level.
- The Valley of Death is the first level of Gehennom; prayer doesn't work here. There are lots of undead monsters and treasure chests. There is a temple to Moloch near the end; although Moloch is the evil god of the game, you can still get protection from paying the priest here. The staircase down is hidden behind secret doors near the end; search for them.
- Gehennom, also known as "those stupid mazes," is really annoying to get through. I suggest magic mapping as many levels of Gehennom as you can, it'll come in handy later.
- Several demon lords have lairs in Gehenom: Asmodeous, Baalzebub, Juiblex and Orcus. Azzy and Bubs sometimes ask for a bribe if you're carrying money in your main inventory; they'll vanish without harming you if you pay them enough. Juiblex can make you deathly sick if it engulfs you, but you can escape being engulfed with a wand of digging and can then cure yourself with a potion of extra or full healing, a spell of cure sickness or applying an uncursed, but prefereably blessed unicorn horn (though that has a chance of failing to work each attempt). Orcus has a wand of death, although he'll probably use up all its charges in dealing with you. For more tactics in dealing with them, check the section on monsters.
- Vlad's Tower is entered through a second up-stairs in a Gehennom level. The tower is three very small levels with lots of traps and locked doors. A number of useful items are guaranteed to appear here, among a few other highly dangerous cursed items. Look for levitation boots and an amulet of life saving. At the top of the tower is Vlad the Impaler himself, who is possibly the easiest-to-kill "boss" monster in the game. He holds the second of the essential items, the Candelabrum of Invocation. Note that Vlad's Tower is not technically part of Genhennom; it is safe to pray here.
- There is a series of three levels in Genhennom with a huge, blocked-off rectangular section in the middle of them. This is the Wizard's Tower. There is no way in from these levels, however. To enter, you'll have to continue to explore down, where you'll find Fakewiz levels and the Wizard's Portal level, which all contain a small moat surrounding a few walled-off spaces. Cross the water and dig through the wall. One of these levels will have a portal there to the bottom of the Wizard's Tower. At the top of the tower is the Wizard of Yendor himself, who carries the Book of the Dead. Once awake, the Wizard will harass you periodically until the end of the game. Even if you kill him, he'll just keep coming back. Also, sometimes he'll call in a bunch of dangerous monsters to surround you, and sometimes he'll curse an item you're holding; he can do these things even if he doesn't actually show up on the level! He stops appearing once you reach the Astral Plane. (Twice now, I've been able to get the Wizard out of his room on the top level and teleport to attack me by playing a drum of earthquake while outside the tower on that level. I forget if he carries his Book with him in this event, though.)
- Once you have the Bell of Opening, the Candelabrum of Invocation, and the Book of the Dead, proceed to the vibrating square level, the bottom-most level of Genhennom. You'll also need seven uncursed or better candles; the lighting store in Mine Town is guaranteed to carry at least that many. One of the spots of floor on this level, which is impossible to determine until you step on it, gives the message "You feel a strange vibration under you feet." Once you find it, stand there then apply the candles to attach them to the Candelabrum. Then: ring the Bell, light the Candelabrum, and read the Book. The result is very cool, and produces a staircase down.
- Below that is Moloch's Sanctum, which contains more monsters than you've seen up to that point and a walled-off room containing Moloch's high priest, who carries the Amulet of Yendor. To get in, you'll need to get by a bunch a fire traps and find the secret door to the room; a wand of secret door detection is called for here. The high priest is a tough opponent, and while you're in the temple, Moloch will cast lightning bolts at you.
Once you get the Amulet of Yendor, the nature of the game changes. Now you have to carry it back up. You'll be completely unable to purposely level teleport, normal teleport often fails, going up-stairs in Genhennom has an annoying chance of teleporting you away or even back down into lower levels, and spellcasting requires many more power points than before. If you can get to level 1 with the Amulet and climb the stairs you'll get to enter the endgame. If you make it there, good luck! We're rooting for you.
13. Other things
- Turn autopickup OFF if it's on. (Shift-2 toggles.) Most players eventually find it more trouble than it's worth.
- If you don't know what bags of holding are, then don't put wands that might be cancellation or bags that might be holding or tricks into other bags. Bags of holding explode when these items are put into them! All good Nethack players fall afoul of this the hard way at some point in their careers, and are a lot more careful about it afterwards.
- Don't pick up a gray stone on a whim. If it's a lodestone you'll get weighed down and put in considerable danger even if it's uncursed, because they can curse themselves, and cursed lodestones cannot be dropped. To check, try kicking one ('k' when playing with numpad on, control-'d' if it's off) into an adjacent square; if it goes "thud" and doesnt' move it's a lodestone. (This doesn't apply if you have very high strength or are wearing kicking boots.) The dangers in picking up a lodestone are great enough to try, if a gray stone is generated in a corner, to try digging around it to give it room to move when kicked. It's safest to not pick up gray stones unless you're reasonably sure it's a luckstone. If you do pick one up, prayer can uncurse it so you can drop it.
- A quick way to determine which items are cursed or blessed is to drop them onto an altar. This works even if the altar is not of your alignment.
- One of the weird little facts of Nethack is that, after buying from shops, money is next to useless except as a minor score bonus. The best thing to do with money is to give it to priests: if you give a priest (using Alt-C/#chat) your experience level times 400 in gold, you'll gain points of intrinsic protection. It doesn't have to be a priest of your alignment. Since this protection cannot be lost by taking off your armor, and "stacks" with the protection offered by armor, it's an extremely useful attribute to have. Once protected, however, be careful not to do things that anger the gods or you'll lose it. Things that will cause loss of protection: killing an aligned priest, wearing a helm of opposite alignment, praying too often or while in Genhennom, and praying at an altar not of your alignment.
- Magic lamps never run out of fuel. That's a good way to identify such a lamp, but since it's the only never-expiring light source in the game, players who are already prepared for the ascension run sometimes keep one on-hand for light. Don't try to fill a magic lamp with oil, by the way; that will convert the lamp into an ordinary oil lamp.
- Your character has an invisible "luck" attribute. It goes up when you offer corpses on like-aligned altars ("You see a four-leaf clover at your feet."), when you convert altars to your alignment, when you throw good gems at unicorns, and in a few other cases. It goes down when you fail to convert an altar, when you cheat at Sokoban, sometimes when you anger the gods and in a few other circumstances. Luck "times out" over hundreds of turns, slowly returning to its base value, usually zero. Carrying a luckstone prevents this happening, which can be either good or bad. A cursed luckstone only prevents bad luck from timing out, and a blessed one prevents good luck from timing out. Luck affects many things, but in particular: it helps chances to hit, and it makes good effects from fountains, sinks and thrones more likely. Bad luck is very bad: if you have luck less than zero, prayer never works, and even wishes might fail. More on luck.
- Get poison and magic resistance as soon as you can. It's possible to win without them, but it's very unlikely and depends, to large extent, on luck.
- Get the other resistances soon: sleep, fire, shock, cold, disintegration. They can all be gained by eating the right monsters.
- Don't let yourself get surrounded if you can help it. If you see a group of hostile monsters, try to maneuver into a corridor so you can fight one at a time. Swarming monsters, such as hill orcs, killer bees (if you have poison resistance) and rothes, are much less dangerous when faced this way.
- Beware soldier ants at low level! They are the deadliest monster in Nethack. Wild big cats are tough opponents, too. Beware of leocrottas as well, and also mumaks, both 'q' monsters that can tear you up unexpectedly.
- Use weapons you can see yourself using in the long term, so you can build weapon skill in them. You don't have to use #enhance to win the game, but it can help. Not all classes can become proficient in all weapons. If you're a spellcasting class, focus on building your spell skills. If your god gives you an artifact or spell of a type you're not able to build skill in, he also grants you the ability to advance to Basic skill with a little practice; sometimes this is a more valuable gift than the object.
- Knowing the bad types of items can be of great help in identifying the others. The bad scrolls are amnesia, punishment, fire, destroy armor, create monster and most cursed scrolls. The bad potions are sickness, blindness, hallucination, confusion, paralysis, acid and most cursed potions. Blessed potions of invisibility grant permanent invisibility, which can make it difficult to patronize shops. Many wands are as dangerous as the are useful. The bad amulets are strangulation (which is extremely bad) and restful sleep. The bad rings are polymorph, hunger, conflict, teleportation, levitation, and increase rings with minuses. Some of these rings are sometimes cursed, but many of them are potentially useful too. Additionally, the ring of adornment is of only slight value.
- Besides just exploration and survival, the next-most-important thing you can do proactively to improve your chances of survival is to make a holy water engine. You can dip items, even whole stacks of items, into a potion of holy water (which is merely blessed water) in order to uncurse cursed items, and bless uncursed things. Most items are much more useful when blessed than uncursed or cursed, so a good supply of holy water can great aid you in your quest for the Amulet of Yendor. To do this:
Step 1: Take all the useless potions you've found and turn them into water. You can do this in a number of ways: dip them twice into fountains (only once you've gotten reasonably powerful, as it's dangerous), drop all your other stuff and walk into pools of water until they dilute, or wear water-walking boots then stand over a pool and dip. If you have a wand of cancellation, most potions can be cancelled to water by zapping them on the ground, and some unhealthy potions can be turned to water by dipping a unicorn horn into them.
Step 2: Find a self-aligned altar. That is to say, one whose alignment matches your own. If you find one that's not of your alignment and there's no attendant priest, you should try to convert it by offering dead monsters at it (Alt-O or #offer). Once it's your alignment, drop as much water on it as you can then pray to make them all into holy water.
Step 3: Once you have one potion of holy water it's much easier to make more. Make more potions of water by any of the methods in step 1, identify their curse status if not already known so they'll all stack together, then dip the whole stack into your remaining holy water at once; the whole stack will become holy water itself.
- Identify is one of the most useful scrolls. Once you learn it, try not to read them unless they're blessed, since they have a much greater chance of identifying everything you're carrying that way. Because of the chance of identifying everything, try to be holding as many unknown items as you can in main inventory before reading. Identifying a whole inventory of unknown things is one of the best things that can happen in Nethack.
- Zap yourself with a wand of speed monster to gain permanent speed. Zap your pets with it to make then permanently fast. Drink a blessed potion of see invisible to gain that property intrinsically. Drinking a blessed potion of invisibility, or zapping a wand of make invisible, both have permanent effects, which is mostly good but could pose problems in getting into shops. Wear a mummy wrapping to temporary make yourself visible again.
- Lawful characters of level 5 or better who can advance in long sword can fairly easily get one of the best artifacts in the game by dipping long swords into fountains. The chance is one in six times per dip.
- In enhancing your weapons and armor, extremely useful are the scrolls of enchant weapon and enchant armor, which each permanently increase the "plus" of an item. Blessed scrolls increase plus by one to three points, depending on how high its plus was already. Enchant weapon always affects your primary wielded weapon; enchant armor picks a random worn armor type to work upon, so if you want a specific piece enchanted take all the rest off before reading. When a weapon or elven mithril armor reaches +5, or any other armor reaches +3, you may enchant it just one more time safely. If these items are higher than the listed plus, enchanting them carries a very high risk of destroying the item.
- Some scrolls have different effects when read while you're confused. Some of these effects are very helpful and unavailable in other ways. Scrolls of enchant weapon and enchant armor will fire/rustproof instead of enchant, and scrolls of teleportation will cause you to level teleport. While scrolls may work, after a fashion, while you're confused, spells cast from memory do not. Neither spells nor scrolls will work when you're stunned.
Categories: Column: At Play