|Fair warning: this character does not ascend.|
NetHack involves so many quirks, vagaries, and complex gameplay elements that I've been having trouble organizing my thoughts. I thought it might be easier to describe a typical game and highlight those characteristics that I encounter along the way.
The game starts with a simple question: "Who are you?" This is the prompt to name the character. Next, the game offers to randomly choose your character class from among 12 types: archaeologist, barbarian, cave-man, elf, healer, knight, priest, rogue, samurai, tourist, valkyrie, and wizard. You also have the option to choose your own. For this illustration, I choose a barbarian.
|I am sure that I will eventually explore all of their strengths and weaknesses.|
The game then automatically rolls attributes for strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. These are mostly new; the last version I played, 2.3e, had only strength. The scores seem to be influenced by class, but with some randomness built in. You also get an alignment (again, I think based on class; I'm not yet sure what purpose it serves in the game) and a number of hit points. Each character class has a series of titles based on level; barbarians start as "plunderer."
|Other statistics along the bottom include the dungeon level, gold, magic power, armor class, experience, and time elapsed. I'm not sure what the "S:" value at the end of the first line means.|
The game starts in a dungeon room, which may be populated with monsters, items, or both. The rest of the map remains uncovered until I explore it. I start each game accompanied by a pet--a cat or a dog--which I can name. In this case, I have a kitten and have named her "Gatita." Both kinds of pets attack enemies and retrieve items. Supposedly, pets can be trained to do other things, but I haven't figured that out yet.
Each character has a starting inventory depending on class. Barbarians start with a two-handed sword, an axe, a ring mail, one food ration, and sometimes an additional item like a lamp. They have one of the most basic starting inventories; tourists and wizards start with so many items that you're overburdened at the outset.
|Some aspects of the equipment--such as whether a weapon is "blessed"--seem to be random.|
In this game, Adam the Barbarian soon encounters a jackal in the same room, which seems to be a low-level monster without any special attacks. Slaying him leaves a corpse; many monsters leave corpses which I can pick up and eat. I know from the last game that many of these corpses make the character sick, and some confer special benefits or curses. I don't remember what a jackal does, but since I'm not desperately hungry, I decide to forgo eating it.
I begin to explore the first level. The ostensible goal of each level is to find the stairway down to the next level, but of course you don't want to go charging down levels without building your character a bit first. I generally make it a policy to fully explore the level before moving onward. But each level features secret doors and passages that are only revealed with multiple searches and it's not really feasible to search every wall space multiple times, so the only ways you know for sure that there's a secret door is if you use a scroll of mapping or if you've explored the visible level and have not yet found the stairs.
As I explore, the game gives me occasional messages about the environment: "you hear some noises in the distance"; "you hear a door open and close"; "you hear bubbling water." I think these are supposed to clue you as to encounters to be found on the level (i.e., noises probably mean that there are more monsters somewhere). I soon come across a ruby potion on the floor. I have no idea what it does, and the only ways that I know to find out are to drink it and to find a scroll of identification. Since I don't have any conditions that I need a potion to cure, I decide to stuff it in my pack for now.
I come across a closed door. I don't believe the previous version of NetHack had doors at all. In this version, they can be opened or closed, and if closed they can be locked or booby-trapped. Locked doors respond to lock picks or just kicking them open. In this case, it wasn't locked, but it was booby-trapped. It blew up and I lost a couple of hit points and spent a few rounds stunned.
In the room beyond, I find 34 gold pieces and the stairway down. Unlike Rogue, where gold just affected your final score, NetHack has shops where you can spend your gold. I haven't been encountering them until dungeon level 3 or 4, however. The room also holds a food ration, which means I now have two. Given how often characters die of starvation in this game, having a good supply always makes me feel better.
A newt--another low-level creature without special attacks--wanders into the room. Fighting monsters with melee weapons simply involves moving into them. However, combat also offers the options of throwing items, zapping with wands, and casting spells (among others I'm sure I haven't discovered). I quickly dispatch the newt with my sword, and my cat eats its corpse. I'm not sure what the rules are governing pets eating corpses. I haven't seen a pet get sick or develop special abilities yet, but maybe that happens without any messages.
Another locked door responds to me kicking it open, and I find a room with several things on the other side. The first is a kobold zombie, which I kill quickly with my sword. There is also a statue of a goblin. I find statues like this everywhere, and I'm not sure what purpose they serve. Are they actual carved statues or beasts turned to stone by a medusa or something? The game lets me pick it up, but I don't see any purpose to that.
There is also a fountain in the room. I've found at least two things that fountains do: First, they can alleviate a little bit of hunger if you drink from them and nothing goes wrong. Second, dipping a weapon into them occasionally causes something good to happen, like the removal of a curse. In this case, nothing happens. My sword only "gets wet," and I find that "the tepid water is tasteless."
Finally, there is some more gold and a large box with a keyhole. This is the game's equivalent of a treasure chest, only I don't have anything to pick the lock with. I try to force the lock with my sword, but it doesn't work. I take the box hoping to find a way to open it later.
Another room has a pancake; my food stockpile is pretty good at this point, although any of the items could be rotten or poisoned and leave me worse off than if I hadn't eaten. I kill a kobold and take a gem from its body; I'm not sure if these serve any purpose except selling.
Another fountain, when I try to drink from it, produces a water nymph. I've only been playing this game for a few hours, but already I hate them. They hypnotize you and steal your stuff. Fortunately, I shrug off her charms this time and kill her in one blow. This brings Adam to level 2, but he only gains 1 extra hit point.
One of the hallways is blocked with a boulder. These appear all over the game and force you to push them out of the way, but sometimes you're blocked by doors, walls, or monsters. You can sometimes squeeze past them if you're not overloaded with inventory. I'm not sure if they serve any other purpose.
By the time I finish exploring the level to my satisfaction, I'm level 3. I have two food rations, a pancake, and a newt corpse in my packpack for food, and I've found three more potions of different colors, all of them still unidentified. I also have (from the water nymph) a mirror, but I'm not sure what it does. When I show it to my cat, she is "frightened by [her] reflection."
I head down to level 2, followed by Gatita. I fight several combats with giant bats and rats. Another bloody water nymph appears out of a fountain and this time steals my armor, my gem, my box, two potions, and my pancake, but Gatita kills it! I guess kittens do serve a useful purpose! I'm able to pick up all my stuff and put my armor back on. As I finish dressing, I finally get hungry. I know from experience that this hunger will transition to weakness, fainting, and finally death if I don't eat. I swallow the pancake and take the edge off.
The sound of someone counting money suggests that there's a shop on the level, but I've already explored everything and haven't found anything. That suggests a secret door somewhere. I have to weigh the length of time it will take me to search (and the consequent hunger I will have to sate) against the likelihood I'll find anything interesting in the shop.
I ultimately find a secret door at the end of a hallway, and behind it a room with a spellbook. Reading spellbooks is the only way to get spells into your inventory, so I decide to brave it and am rewarded with a cure sickness spell. This will come in handy when I eat some rotten food, although I think barbarians have a natural resistance to getting sick from food. (I can't remember why I have this idea; maybe it was a spoiler someone gave me last time.)
I never do find the likely shop, so after a few more combats, I head down to level 3. Hunger appears again, and after I eat, I'm down to only one food ration; all that searching on level 2 cost me dearly.
A few fights with geckos and kobolds, and then I get caught in a bear trap. There are several types of traps in the game, and bear traps are the most annoying I've encountered so far. You have to spend round after round futilely trying to wrench your leg from them, while you get hungry and expose yourself to monsters. I finally get out and in the same room find a black ring mail. This poses a bit of a quandry. If it's a better suit of armor than my existing ring mail, I should put it on (along with the black cap I found on level 2), but there's always a chance it could be cursed. I decide to take the risk. It isn't cursed, but it's actually worse than the armor I already had, so I take it off.
Later, I come to a dark room, so I use my lamp to light it up. Dark rooms are the same as regular rooms except that the entire room isn't revealed the moment you step into them. I pick up a tin opener in the same room. I've yet to find a tin to open with it, and it doesn't seem to work on the box I'm still lugging around. I find another locked box in a room and break my sword trying to pry it open. Equipping myself with my axe, I vow to leave locked boxes alone from now on. I drop the one I've been carrying since level 1.
I find a scroll labeled XIXAXA XOXAXA XUXAXA. Like potions, the only ways that I know to identify scrolls are to use them or find a Scroll of Identification. I decide to read it and see what it does. All it does is give me a "strange feeling." The game then gives me the option to name the scroll. I call it "Strange Feeling" so that every time I encounter a similar scroll later, I'll know what it did (not that I really know).
A fight with a jackalwere leaves me feeling "feverish" as I prepare to decend to level 4. Moments later, I turn into a jackalwere myself! This causes all my armor to fall off, and for me to become unable to equip weapons.
I decide to see if I can wait out the transformation. It works, but the moment that I return to human form, a gnome lord attacks me and kills me just as I get my weapon in my hand again.
As with every death, the game offers to identify my possessions, I guess just to screw with me and show me what I didn't get a chance to use. It turns out my potions included hallucination, levitation, confusion, and object detection (both cursed and uncursed versions).
|The game taunts me.|
What I experienced in this game only scratches the surface of the gameplay elements in NetHack, but it should give you some idea of the game's complexity and major characteristics. I'll probably do my next posting on Galdregon's Domain, but I'll keep popping into NetHack periodically as the year goes on.