Ask an alcoholic what ruined his life, and he'll probably give you one of two answers. The specialist alcoholic will name a specific spirit. "Bourbon," he'll say, shaking his head dejectedly, "too much bourbon." Then he'll hate you because you reminded him of it. You're just as likely to hear "gin," or "vodka," or "rum," or even specific cocktails. ("Freakin' White Russians, man. I never shoulda seen that movie.") You'll get a dissertation on distilleries and methods of production, the virtues of various mixers, and the way the ice catches the light of the setting sun on an autumn afternoon.
The generalist alcoholic will say "booze." He doesn't care. He knew, early on, that he was drinking for the alcohol, and he's not picky about what kind of alcohol it is. His favorite whiskey is "whatever's cheapest." When he looks at the label on a bottle of wine, he's looking at the ABV figure. In many ways, he's the more honest of the two. But if I had to hypothesize, I would think that it might be easier for the generalist to quit. The specialist alcoholic doesn't just have a physiological investment in drinking; he has an intellectual one. "If I give up drinking," he thinks, "What will I do with all this accumulated knowledge about scotch? What other excuse will I have to quote all that Robert Burns I memorized?"
I'm a CRPG addict, but the more I play NetHack, the more I think that it's a specialized form of addiction that I'll never experience. I'm not sure it's possible to be both a general CRPGaholic and a hackaholic. I like the game, but I don't love it. I don't find this level of difficulty rewarding. I like games that are tactical, but not games that make me afraid to make a move. I like games that force me to replay for 15 minutes or half an hour when I die, not games that force me to replay entirely from the beginning.
But take all of this with a grain of salt: I'm depressed at a level that only a NetHack player could be depressed, as when a character--a character you've nurtured through countless difficulties--has just died on Level 29.
Haran was his name. Haran the Barbarian. He started out just like any character, and I didn't have any particular hopes for him. I didn't even start recording notes about of his adventures until I reached Level 8 or so, and then only because I had a hell of a time with a "treasure zoo." All I can remember from the early levels was that I deliberately ditched my dog after it got too annoying, and I had to hack through about half a dozen ghosts of previous adventurers.
Around Level 12, I realized this kid might really have something. Around Level 18, I began to root for him in a big way. And by Level 24, I was sure he'd be the champ. Hah. This is what I get for daring to believe. You know what? I'm going to go pour myself a glass of 17-year-old Balvenie Doublewood, neat. Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn, thou king o' grain!
|With all of these instrinsics, how did he die? How?!|
Okay, I'm back. Haran had a lot going for him, and looking back I can see why he was so comparatively successful. Here are a few reasons:
- He was a barbarian. I love barbarians. I know, some other classes are supposed to be ultimately more powerful and more tactical, but I love these guys' advantages. For one, they're just a little faster than the average monster, meaning they can outrun them and lead them back to the nearest stairway or ELBERETH square. For another, they're immune to poison, which means they can eat just about anything plus fend off the poisonous attacks of many creatures. Being able to eat anything is important.
- On an early level, he found a wand of fire, which as far as I'm concerned is one of the best items in the game. Why? It can be used to engrave permanent ELBERETH squares, on which he can rest and attack with impunity (aside from a few exceptions). Once he identified the wand and knew that it had 12 charges, he knew he had 12 "get out of death free" cards. Unfortunately, it didn't last that long (see below).
|Come to me, my wargs.|
- On Level 6, he killed a unicorn and took its horn. It took a long time of chasing the teleporting bastard around the level. (And unicorns are practically genius at staying out of your throwing path.) But with the horn, he could immediately cure blindness, confusion, stun, and other ill effects.
- On Level 8, he killed a dwarf and got its pick-axe, allowing him to hew his own paths through levels, around boulders, and so on.
|I know there's a secret room here somewhere, and it's not hiding from me.|
- He wasn't afraid to backtrack. When he thought he might need some more experience, or some magic items, he retreated a few levels and fought until he got what he wanted.
|He came all the way back to Level 4 from Level 11 just to see if there was anything interesting to buy.|
- He found three or four potions of gain level during his adventures, and gained more by eating corpses of wraiths. This was great because leveling by experience alone slowed considerably after 8 or 9.
- He loaded himself with throwing weapons--knives, spears, daggers, darts, arrows, bolts--and deployed them whenever he could.
- He found some pretty good equipment, including a blessed ring of protection +4, a regular ring of protection +5, and a shield +3. His armor class was -22 when he died. Perhaps more important, he was lucky with numerous scrolls of identify--including several blessed ones that identified nearly everything he was carrying.
- In an early store, he bought a blindfold. Coupled with the telepathy he'd received from a floating eye (it only works when blind), he could scope out levels periodically to learn the locations of monsters. This was invaluable.
|Looks like a room to my west is going to give me some trouble.|
Here are some of his exploits.
Level 4: He came across a shop while being chased and attacked by the ghost of a previous adventurer named Almodad. Knowing that his existing weapon--a two-handed sword that had been corroded to -1 by an acid blob--was useless, he dropped it off with the shopkeeper and bought an axe called "Cleaver" all while fending off Almodad's blows. The new axe took care of the ghost and three mimics hiding among the merchandise. Cleaver ended up sticking with him for the rest of his adventuring career. (He would have been happy trading it for a better weapon, but none ever came along.)
Level 8: He blundered into a "treasure zoo" full of ants, bees, and other assorted monsters. Trying to save an ELBERETH, he stood outside the door and exhausted his knives, daggers, and arrows, slaughtering a dozen enemies, before leading them down the hall one-by-one and engaging them with his axe. Yes, he had to lead them all the way to the stairs, retreat up, and rest a few times, but ultimately he scoured the zoo and picked up about a thousand gold pieces.
|All of those letters are indeed monsters.|
Level 9 produced a long room followed by a long corridor with snakes hiding under everything. Haran loved snakes. They couldn't harm him, and they were tasty. On the same level, there was a room full of gremlins and a fountain. Every time one fell in the fountain, it "multiplied." Haran did not feed them after midnight.
Level 13 was a joke. Upon entry, there was a message that "you feel like you were here in a previous lifetime." It had been made to look like Rogue (with the former game's wall textures and no physical doors) and one of the creatures was a "ghost of Michael Toy" (one of Rogue's co-creators), who was carrying a "cheap, plastic imitation of the Amulet of Yendor."
|I didn't play this version of Rogue, so it took me a while to figure it out.|
Level 15: He encountered a vampire that had the name of one of the previous adventurers. He even followed Haran up the stairs when he tried to flee. Haran killed him with 3 hit points to spare.
|Yes, he does.|
Level 18: For no reason that he ever discovered, Haran's hit points started regenerating very fast. He wasn't wearing anything that would account for it. (I remain confused about this at the end of the game.) It made waiting to heal much easier. Anyway, this level got crazy. Haran walked into a room and found himself face-to-face with a gray dragon. Lacking any special resources to defeat it, he decided to follow the usual standby strategy of leading it to a stairway and using the up/rest/down/attack/up sequence. He gulped a potion of speed and took off. While he was running down the corridor to the stairs, the dragon started breathing magic missiles. Some hit Haran, but most "whizzed past" him, killing a host of monsters that had regenerated in his back path. It was never-wracking and awesome.
|This felt very cinematic.|
Even after the dragon, he wandered into a "military barracks" and had to slay a bunch of soldiers, their two sergeants, and their lieutenants. He ended up getting most of his good armor there.
|This level did not want to give up.|
Level 19: The level had several rooms full of water with fungi in the center. I don't know what was going on with it. Haran avoided the water because he'd heard of other adventurers who drowned in it. That would have been a stupid death.
Level 20: There was a room that was a giant beehive. After killing all the bees (not too hard; again, poison-resistant), he stole their honey, which both nourishes and heals.
Level 21: An "opulent throne room" was full of goblins, gnomes, centaurs, gnome kings and a green dragon. Haran blasted an ELBERETH square in the floor and slew them all as they wandered into his range. The dragon did half the work, futilely breathing poison at Haran but hitting enemies in his path (and the few times he hit Haran, it didn't do anything). After the battle, Haran made a mistake of sitting in the throne and lost two points of strength, but he regained them with a poition of gain ability. There was also a troll on the level. It kept coming back to life after being slain. Haran solved this by eating the corpse.
|What's logical about that?|
Level 24: I had been looking forward to this level, after a fortune cookie told me that "Beyond the 23rd level lies a happy retirement room of your own." I'm not sure what it meant, but I didn't find anything special on the level. In fact, tragedy struck: I kicked open a trapped chest, and the resulting electricity blast destroyed my wand of fire. There were like 8 charges left.
Anyway, there was an altar room. Haran had amassed over 4,000 gold pieces and no shops were appearing any more, so he gave them all to the priest. In turn, the priest bestowed a "clairvoyance" blessing that allowed Haran to see hidden areas of the levels as he approached. (It only lasted for a few levels.) Tough monsters on the level included an elvenking and two Nazgul.
|I wonder if I could have gotten it for less.|
Level 25: Another beehive. Haran stepped into a teleport trap that sent him all the way back to Level 15. Haran didn't mind so much. His clairvoyance filled in areas that he'd missed, and he got some more experience during the return and found a ring of protection +5.
Level 26 put me face-to-face with another blue dragon and a lich. When I had killed both, I reached Level 13, at which point I immediately quaffed two potions of gain level I had been saving.
Throughout the level, I found statues of various monsters and named individuals, and I knew what that meant. Using my blindfold and telepathy, I identified the location of the medusa (near the stairs down, of course). Slowly, I made my way to her and put on the blindfold the moment I entered her room. Without the ability to petrify me, she died fairly quickly.
|About to face the medusa.|
After killing her, I spent a long time staring at the room to the northwest, which I could tell held a host of vampires, wraiths, barrow wights, and zombies. On one hand, the stairs down were right before me. On the other, eating wraiths could send me up another few levels. And for all I knew, they had the Amulet of Yendor. Still, it was a really tough call. I'd lost the wand that let me inscribe permanent ELBERETH. Finally, I sucked it up, found the secret door, and headed over.
I needed have worried so much. By standing in the doorway and hurling missile weapons, I took out a lot of them. Most of them were curiously reluctant to move until I actually attacked them, so it made it easier to engage them one-on-one. My high armor class protected me, even against a vampire lord and two demons called a "marilith" and a "hezrou." There were also a bunch of invisible ghosts named "Peter" and "Tom" and such--these were definitely not corpses of my colleagues.
|This was some weird smack talk.|
And my plan worked! Only one out of six wraiths left a corpse, but I wasn't going to complain about going from 160,000 experience points to 320,000 with one kill. I had entered the level at character level 12, and I left at 16.
Level 27 provided the first truly different thing since the fake Rogue level: a maze. I thought this must be it. Somewhere in this maze, I'd find the Amulet of Yendor. I was so excited, I didn't mind when I stepped on a trap and a gush of water corroded my axe. My blindfold revealed a lot of gray elves, a few assorted creatures, and one dragon--nothing I couldn't handle.
Admittedly, I was a little irked when a level teleport trap sent me back to Level 18, but I slowly worked my way back. I killed a lieutenant on the way and got a blessed +4 splint mail, which made the trip worth it.
A fight with a brigade of soldiers had my inventory overflowing with C-rations and K-rations, so I decided I could afford to take the time to search carefully when I got back to the maze, lest I trigger any more such traps. Unfortunately, this resolve didn't last to the next level.
I had a hairy moment when an air elemental came upon me unawares and engulfed me, pummeling me with debris every turn. I had no special attacks other than to keep hammering at its walls, and I was down to 14 hit points when I killed it.
|My heart was in my throat.|
My smile of anticipation began to fade as I explored more of the maze. In the end, there was just another stairway down, as always.
Level 28: At first, I sighed at what looked like another maze level, but it soon became clear that it was something different. I faced a tough minotaur--I had to use my stair trick to defeat him--and someone was shouting "off with his head!" in the distance. At last, I came to what was clearly a castle gate, surrounded by a moat, with xorns on the ramparts.
I spent some time trying to figure out how I was going to cross the moat. In my playing, I hadn't come across any obvious "dry water" spells. I figured freeze might work, but I didn't have anything that did it. Levitate would have also worked, but I hadn't come across it in this game. Ultimately, I used my pick axe to hack a perimeter around the moat, all the way to the back side of the castle. There, I found a back door by a dry spot. I felt pretty clever.
I took one step into the castle, and I fell through a trap door to "the center of the earth, where hell is located."
Level 29: I had achieved fire resistance somehow--by eating something, I'm sure--so the fires of hell didn't harm me. But the monsters, primarily something called Olog-Hai, did. One had knocked me down a decent bit of health when I made a fatal mistake: I kept walking instead of waiting to heal. I stepped on a teleport trap that launched me to another part of the level and blinded me. (I hate teleport traps; they foil all the careful planning I do with my blindfold and telepathy.) I found myself sandwiched between a black dragon and a "nurse." I killed the nurse first, hoping to use her path as an escape.
As I ran down the corridor, the black dragon fired disintegration spells after me. They whizzed by me and killed a gnome king, and another Olog-Hai. It was just like back on Level 18, and I laughed maniacally. Then I turned a corner and ran into a master lich. As I hacked away at him, a "zruty" came up behind me. Stuck between them, I searched my inventory desperately for something to use, but I came up with nothing. Helpless, I watched the master lich curse my items and drain my strength while the zruty depleted my hit points.
I begged the gods. I pleaded. I cried. I tried to engrave ELBERETH with the point of a spear, but it only partially engraved. In the end, the inevitable happened:
|The lich is south of me, but invisible.|
I started at this screen for a good long while, disbelieving. I was Level 16! I had 18/10 strength! I had a -22 armor class! How could I possibly die?!
I'm not looking forward to running into Haran's ghost with a later character.
For those NetHack-philes, these were my items upon death:
- Cursed amulet of strangulation. I was carrying it, waiting for a scroll of identify. I'm glad I didn't try it on.
- Blessed +1 spear
- 4 +0 spears
- +0 axe named Cleaver. Can you believe this is the best weapon I had after 28 levels?
- Blessed +4 split mail
- Cursed +0 pair of iron shoes (they hadn't been cursed before the lich)
- Blessed +2 pair of leather gloves
- Blessed +2 elven cloak
- +3 Uruk-hai shield
- Blessed +0 helmet
- Food ration
- 11 C-Rations
- 4 K-Rations
- Potion of speed
- Ring of regeneration
- Ring of cold resistance
- Blessed +4 ring of protection (worn)
- +5 ring of protection (worn)
- Blessed +2 ring of gain strength
- Cursed wand of digging (this also wasn't cursed before the lich)
- Wand of magic missile
- Unicorn horn
My intrinsics were:
- Stridently aligned
- Stealthy (I guess this is why groups of monsters weren't attacking me)
- Aggravate monsters
- Poison resistant
- Fire resistant
- Cold resistant
- Shock resistant
I'm trying to see past my frustration enough to do a little post-game analysis. What could I have done better? First, I could have started searching for traps a little more thoroughly, especially where I had plenty of food. The trap door in the castle shouldn't have gotten me. (I'm dying to know what was in that castle. Was the Amulet there?) Second, I should have ground more for a better weapon early on. Third, I need to always have a fail-safe with me. Losing the wand of fire was a big deal. I should have stayed on lower levels until I found another one, or some scrolls of teleportation, or anything like that that would save me in an emergency.
In the immediate moment, I should never have allowed myself to get sandwiched between monsters. The trap door had untethered me from the stairs and freaked me out a bit. If I'd thought more, I probably would have used my blindfold/telepathy and wand of digging to find a safe place., and...oh, no. I just realized something: the wand of digging can probably engrave ELBERETH, can't it? I could have...bloody hell, I'm going to get another scotch.
A few other playing notes:
- You have to watch the capitalization. At one point, intending to throw a dagger (E) at a leocrotta, I accidentally threw a healing potion (e) at him instead.
|I don't suppose this makes us friends?|
- Why aren't there any stores at lower levels? That's when you really need them. Or did I just get unlucky?
- When a leprechaun steals some of your gold, it's best just to let it go. I burned over an hour and nearly died three times trying to chase him down.
- My biggest question at this point is: Where the hell is the Amulet of Yendor?! How many levels down do I have to go? Was it in the castle? Someone tell me if I was close before I cave and look at spoilers. (And please remember I'm playing version 3.0.9; if you're not familiar with this version specifically, it's probably best not to try to give me hints.)
So it's going to be a good long while before I pick this up again. The game I described above took about 12 hours. It would have only taken about 90 minutes on "explore" mode, when I could just charge right down, but NetHack has made me paranoid. I've been playing it like chess, taking one move and then studying the board exhaustively before taking another. One step. Put blindfold on. Note locations of monsters. Note locations of likely secret doors. Search three times for traps. Review inventory. Another step. Repeat. This is a way for a NetHack addict to play a game he's obsessed with; it's no way for a generalist addict to play a CRPG.