Monday, December 10, 2012

NetHack: He Coulda Been a Contender

At least it wasn't an embarrassing death.

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.

Yo, dawg....

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 nerve-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 elven king 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 needn't 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 unaware 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 stared 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 splint 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
  • Mirror
  • Unicorn horn
  • Blindfold
  • Pick-axe
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
  • Protected
  • Telepathic
  • Fast

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.


  1. I don't know if it would have worked since you had "dropped into hell", but the Wand of Digging can always be used to open up a hole in the floor and drop out of sight. Maybe there was nowhere left to drop though. You know. In Hell.

    1. Ah, I didn't think of that. I'd never had a wand of digging before, and I'd only recently received that one, so I hadn't been experimenting much. It would have been worth a try.

  2. A couple of comments:

    1. Stores are more common on higher floors, without detailing the game logic, you are sure to find a store on level 3 and have roughly a 1 in 4 chance at floor 12, assuming the map generated has a spot one could fit in.

    2. You are on the right track for the amulet, it is in Hell, but you might want to explore the castle further as doing so will yield rewards.

    1. Well, it's not like I deliberately decided NOT to explore the castle. They were just inhospitable.

    2. On the stores, if they don't show up on lower levels, is there really any reason to keep hauling gold around? It's very burdensome.

    3. Gold always adds to score, and, if I remember the source correctly, the stores that do generate on the lower levels are skewed towards the rarer more costly items.

      Also, if you remember the intro, you are expected to escape the dungeon with the amulet, nothing says you need to haul everything with you the whole way down if you are just going to be coming back up later.

  3. Awww, man! That sucks. I remember playing Moria on Amiga and having my level 38 paladin die. So frustrating.

    I giggled at your "Yo dawg..." That meme always amuses me.

  4. As Lizard mentioned, you can make a hole with the wand of digging, but there's also something else you could have done with it.

    Spoiler here: Ratenivat jvgu n jnaq bs qvttvat znxrf n dhvpx, frzv-creznarag ratenivat, fvzvyne gb gur jnl n jnaq bs sver jbexf. Vg'f frzv-creznarag, zhpu ybatre-ynfgvat guna ratenivat va gur qhfg, ohg abg ybat-grez creznarag.

    The amulet is not in the castle, but there is something in there that is very, very, VERY worthwhile. Finding the item in the castle and learning how to use it properly makes the game MUCH easier, enough so that there is a "conduct" (sot of like an achievement) for winning the game without using it.

    There are usually 10-20 levels of maze (it varies somewhat). The amulet is down there, but there are other things along the way that you need to do before you can get it.

    You have found another of the keys to Nethack -- be fast. In fact, be very fast (this is what happens when you drink a potion of speed after you are already fast, plus the are other ways of gaining this intrinsic in a fashion that does not expire). Being fast lets you attack more often than the monsters (this is why sometimes you attack and then get another chance to attack before the monster does).

    Engraving Elbereth with the wand of fire is a good tactic. Have you tried engraving with the other wand types too?

    Playing the game carefully is definitely a major key to winning. I think you're probably taking it more slowly than is really necessary -- after a while you get a pretty good feel for what is and is not a safe thing to do.

    1. Thank you for the tips, and for confirming what I could have done with the wand.

      I think I engraved it with a wand of lightning once, too, but it blinded me and I ended up dying soon after for unrelated reasons.

      The barbarian already comes with the speed intrinsic; are there corpses that would make him even faster? Or is it all about objects and potions at that point?

    2. What the hell is up with this stuff?:

      Ratenivat jvgu n jnaq bs qvttvat znxrf... etc.

      Am I supposed to know how to translate that?

    3. @thelamebrain It's ROT13. can translate it, and here's the Wiki description: "ROT13 ("rotate by 13 places", sometimes hyphenated ROT-13) is a simple letter substitution cipher that replaces a letter with the letter 13 letters after it in the alphabet. ROT13 is an example of the Caesar cipher, developed in ancient Rome.

      In the basic Latin alphabet, ROT13 is its own inverse; that is, to undo ROT13, the same algorithm is applied, so the same action can be used for encoding and decoding. The algorithm provides no cryptographic security, and is often cited as a canonical example of weak encryption.

      ROT13 is used in online forums as a means of hiding spoilers, punchlines, puzzle solutions, and offensive materials from the casual glance. ROT13 has been described as the "Usenet equivalent of a magazine printing the answer to a quiz upside down".[1] ROT13 has inspired a variety of letter and word games on-line, and is frequently mentioned in newsgroup conversations."

    4. There are lots of ways of getting the "fast" intrinsic, although the only corpse that does it is the quantum mechanic (don't recall if those are in your version or not). You can also get it just by gaining levels, you may start with it, or you can be zapped by a wand of speed monster.

      "very fast" is something you get from an item. Potions of speed or the speed boots are the only ways I can remember to get it.

    5. ROT13 is my fault, sorry. There is also a firefox extension called 1337key that lets you highlight ROT13 text then decrypt it.

  5. This is why I don't play Rogue-likes; I don't have the nerves for it.

    "something called Olog-Hai"
    You failed a geek test.
    Hint: it comes from the same source as "Elbereth".

    1. You really are in nerd mode today :D

      If the first hint doesn't do it, here's another: Bybt unv unf n fvzvyne anzr gb n zhpu zber snzbhf oerrq bs zbafgre lbh zvtug rapbhagre va Argunpx. Gurl obgu pbzr sebz gur fnzr fbhepr.

    2. That looks like Geek to me.

    3. Yes, thank you. I imagined they were from LOTR because of the "Hai" suffix (I did see the movies, after all), but I didn't know what kind of creature they actually were, and I was too lazy to look it up.

    4. CRPG Addict's reply confirms it, I AM supposed to read your twisty language.


    5. Don't worry, I had a similar reaction the first time I encountered ROT 13. :D

      "What the hell is this? Am I supposed to be able to read this stuff? How on Earth do these people know about this?"

    6. In that same vein, the throne vanishing in a puff of logic smells like a reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide series in which one logician demonstrates to God that he (God) doesn't exist, causing the deity to vanish in similar fashion.

    7. Damned HGG references. I must be the only person alive who doesn't like that series of books.

    8. I haven't read the books. I am working my way through the original BBC radioplay though.

  6. I do like the "The bite covered troll rises from the dead!" message you get when its regeneration and your consuming of its corpse happen to co-incide :)

    1. I didn't experience that. That would have freaked me out.

    2. I know the timing doesn't seem right, but did eating the troll have anything to do with regenerating hit points?

    3. No, that would be a good guess, but it started happening well before I encountered my first troll. I was carrying a ring of regeneration when I started noticing it, but I never put it on. Some bug in the game?

    4. Not really, your normal regen will accelerate rather rapidly when you hit a certain level. Then again, it has been tweaked several times, so it may well be considered a bug ;)

    5. Trolls charmed into pets can be quite awesome. They're all but indestructible. Disintegration, and petrification are about the only things monsters have which keep them down, and those aren't common.

  7. That was a great read, thanks Chet.

    Marilith and Hezrou are D&D demons. Or Devils. There's some sort of alignment distinction and a lot of enmity going on between those synonyms.

    I can't remember finding either in a d&d pc game.

    1. Mariliths are in the Baldur's Gate II expansion. They cast "immunity to weapons" spells on themselves which you have to dispel before fighting them. Very annoying.

    2. Baatezu are devils, and Tanar'ri are demons. TSR started calling them by these names in order to fend off religious protests.

      Hezrou and Mariliths are demons. There are named Mariliths appearing in Pools of Darkness (coming up in a couple years, Chet), and Icewind Dale.

      I've never heard of Hezrou appearing in any other games.

      These Nethack games sound interesting, Chet, but wow... better you than me. Seriously though, I certainly wouldn't blame you for moving on from this version.

    3. Right now, I never want to play the game again, but I'm sure the itch will return. I'm going to keep it on my board until I either win or I finish the other 1989 games.

    4. Gee, I was going to say that I think you've gotten a good feel for this game. I'm not nearly careful enough for Nethack, so you just got further then I have in my years of playing. Admittedly, I haven't played heavily since high school, and I find I do way better now then I did back then, so if I really focused on it the way you do then I could probably do pretty well.

    5. Actually, the itch came back fairly quickly thanks to some of this discussion. I realized something about the game that I'll talk about in an upcoming posting. Right now, I much more want to play NetHack than Drakkhen.

  8. You are trying to win without spoilers, which I think is very uncommon among NetHack players. This means you have to accumulate all the necessary knowledge by trying and dying. Now that you know most of the basics, it means dying later in the game and losing promising characters. And NetHack is known for the number of quirks and tricks one needs to know, some of which are difficult to learn in-game.

    Maybe, you could do what almost all NetHackers do, and read the spoilers? With procedural world generation, even being thoroughly spoiled doesn't prevent enjoying the game. Trust the RNG - it can still let you kill your characters in interesting ways.

    Carrying "get out of death free" cards is essential. A wand of digging and scrolls of teleportation were already mentioned, you also encountered cursed potions of gain level, and there are others. It is recommended to have a few methods of escape, as some of them may fail or be destroyed.

    And you really should visit the castle. But beware: there are quite tough creatures there, who may show striking inhospitality...

    1. I'm on the verge of caving.

      I guess I've been playing NetHack with a Rogue mentality. I assumed that the monsters got harder and harder, but ultimately on Level X, I'd find the Amulet of Yendor sitting in the middle of a room somewhere, and I'd pick it up and head for the exit. Based on what I'm getting in these comments--and from my experience with the castle--is that there a lot more complexities than that, and I'll end up burning hundreds of hours and high-level characters trying to figure out all the quirks.

      Trying to "figure it all out on my own" was far less daunting when my deaths were mostly occurring on Levels 1-6.

    2. I don't know. I've won NetHack a few times (though knee deep in spoilers) and my experience was that the levels after the castle do indeed have a lot of that Rogue mentality. There are more and worse dangers, but not a lot of new tricks until the home stretch.

      The hardest parts are getting to the castle and the endgame. I looked up the endgame, and while it's nasty, it's only outright murderous in ways that a player who's reached it has [i]probably[/i] prepared for. Plus the commentators would no doubt provide you with all the tips you could eat.

      Which is not to say that you wouldn't die a lot. Though I suspect (and this is just speculation) that you'd seldom die to ways that are exclusive to high-level characters.

    3. Surviving the major opponents on the last level of the endgame without knowing about them ahead of time seems very unlikely to me. There are some specific preparations you want to carry with you to that level, and you're not likely to just have them randomly. It's also not clear to me how you're supposed to figure out the specific sequence of things to do with the artifacts to begin or finish the endgame without spoilers. I guess there are fortune cookies that talk about it, but...

    4. I hear you, codrus. I think you're thinking about elements that were introduced in later versions, but I suppose it would be absurd to argue that I shouldn't look at spoilers for THIS version but it'll be okay for version 3.1.

    5. Back when I was on the nethack usenet group most players talked about getting to low levels then working on their ascensions kits; A set of items and intristics that made them immune to everything they needed later in the game. There are guides to how to build one of these.

      There was a women who beat it without spoilers. She found the stethoscope the most useful item in the game, and people STILL talk about her a decade or so later. Yeah, it is not an easy task, I think it took her months of focused exploration.

    6. How do they really know, though? It strikes me that considering spoilers kosher and saving taboo might simply be a function of being about to verify the latter but not the former.

    7. It should be noted that many of the people here may be referring to the current endgame, which originated with Nethack 3.1. You are playing one of the last versions with a different endgame.

      Hell is different in this version that it was in 3.0.X as well. The Amulet is in a different place in this version.

  9. Yup. Let's use analogies to avoid any spoilers.

    Retrieving the Amulet of Yendor is a bit like stealing the Mona Lisa. Would you attempt that theft by walking in and seeing what happened when you grabbed it?

    To continue the analogy, your Barbarian was about as close to his goal as a guy who managed to break a window to get into the Louvre and had wandered the halls for a while... But you did not know where the goal was; the protections it would have; how to deal with the guards; or how to escape again with the prize.

    Or another analogy: you want to win the world series of poker. So you've played several times and you've learned that a flush beats a straight. And gotten a good sense of which opening hands to fold. On a good day you can play for several hours (at the low-stakes tables) before you go bust. But there's a LOT more game ahead of you.

    It sounds like a twisted kind of fun to play the game as you are doing it -- figuring it out on your own as you go (and nethack is definitely twisted no matter how you play it). So enjoy it that way if you want to. To extend the second metaphor, play casual poker with friends.

    But if you want to ascend with the amulet, in your natural lifetime, while holding down employment and remaining married, then I recommend a change of approach. Nethack is incredibly deep and highly addictive when playing with full information. Go ahead, get the museum plans. Read a book on poker strategy. Visit the nethack spoiler sites.

    Or better, delete the game right now. You might have a couple of years of productivity ahead of you before it worms back into your mind and you go download a new copy to restart the descent into madness that is nethack addiction....

    1. So if I read you correctly, what you're saying is that if the master lich hadn't killed me, inevitably something else would have, and if I insist on figuring everything out for myself, I'm in for hundreds of sob stories like these?

    2. Fraid so. Ascension (for me at least) takes tens of hours sunk into one game. Struggling to remain vigilant and avoid that one mistake that could cause your instant, permanant death right up to the very last turn. Unlike most CRPGs, while your character can get immensely powerful the opponents (and the other challenges) scale & remain very, very dangerous. You never get to a stage where you can relax & grind. Even characters that attain the amulet still face steep odds. And if loosing Haran felt tough, wait until you loose someone in the end game.... which you are almost certain to do -- repeatedly -- if you get that far unprepared.

    3. Glenn is right. I've been playing Nethack for about fifteen years on and, mostly, off. I get the itch every now and then and play. I've always done it spoiler free. Of course, spoilers worm their way in no matter what so I've had plenty of "free hints" over the years. I know some of the end game puzzles but have never even reached them!

      Every time you mention you're going to "win Nethack" without spoilers, I just sit back and laugh, sir. LAUGH!

      Although a part of me holds out hope seeing as you did beat Rogue. But I think that's the main problem with your Blog and its rules! You beat Rogue and now you think you're some kind of super being that can do whatever he pleases! You're not Superman. You're Robin with a Superman cape that accidentally caught Lex Luthor!

    4. Lizard's comment almost made me fall off my chair! "Robin with a Superman cape..." I guess that's one way to tell someone they are unprepared for what awaits them!

    5. I should clarify when I say "main problem with your Blog and its rules!" Your blog is fine! Terrific even! But the time you're going to need to beat even just one game is going to incrementally ramp up across the years, as you well know. And beating so many of the games you've come across has just inflated your ego to the point that you thought you could beat Nethack across the span of a year with no spoilers and large breaks?

      Forgive me as I chortle loudly, sir!

      Platonic Love and Kitten Kisses,
      The Red Lizard aka Eee! Tess Ate Chai Tea.

    6. To add to the chorus here:

      I have been playing Nethack since Nethack existed. I used to play Hack Lite on the Amiga. I've played probably hundreds of characters, and have gotten below the castle with thirty or forty of them. I've read all of the spoilers, I know most of the strategies, and in general have picked up a truly amazing amount of Nethack knowledge over the years.

      And in all that time, in all those games, with all that knowledge, I have never won without cheating. Never once. I have the necessary knowledge, but I have never had the necessary luck to succeed.

      Not one real win, in roughly 25 years of playing. Not one.

      You got maybe a third of the way into the game in this playthrough. Deadly serious. The Castle is the proving ground; if you can finish that, you've got a contender, but the game just keeps getting tougher right up until the end.

      Imagine putting three times as long into a character, only to die ten steps away from winning. That's happened to me.

      At the rate you're playing this game, and with the way you're accumulating knowledge, you will literally die of old age before you finish.

      Again: 25 years, fully spoilered, zero real wins.

    7. Thanks for that truthful experience, Teleport. I mean Malor. I've often seen people in forums say they can beat Nethack any game with any character because knowing about it equals succeeding at it. And I always have to think, "Eff you, you lying prick!" Actually, I think, "How is that possible? No matter how good you are at the game, luck is definitely a constant factor." Nethack is about continually increasing your probability of winning. But there's no way short of scum saving to save your ass from a horrible string of random bullcrap.

      Unless there is! (Covers own ass!)

    8. Well, I started mucking around a NetHack wiki (I've read entries on ELBERETH and PROPERTIES so far), and I must admit, I'm humbled. You are correct that I wouldn't have sussed out most of this stuff in a hundred years of playing.

      So the game was clearly deliberately designed to be difficult in two major ways: 1) all of the secret stuff; and 2) permadeath. What confuses me is why educating yourself with thousands of spoilers is considered okay among the NetHack community while backing up an occasional save is considered "scumming" and thus unforgivable. Both defeat the intended difficulty of the game.

    9. I think there was a degree of co-evolution between the spoilers and the game itself.

      The game is made by, and for, people who still love playing and know most of the tricks. While you can still 'pick up and play' NetHack, there seems to have been a clear departure from the idea of an unspoiled victory.

      I reckon Haran was victorious. He saw them and killed them and ate them. He died in Hell fer chrissakes. He was heroically successful. I reckon you can say you 'won'.

    10. Backing up saves is tempting when you're playing on an unreliable platform (yes, I've had games lost to *corrupted save files* with the amulet... talk about frustrating!!) but the rules are the rules, and this is a permadeath game -- just like the one I call "my life." You screw up, you can die.

      The difference between save scumming and spoilers is that the latter do *not* defeat the intended difficulty of the game -- at least not for many. Playing with spoilers frankly seems to be the intended difficulty level. It still took me years to build the technique to ascend. I've now ascended several times with various characters. But I remain in awe of those who can ascend wish-free, illiterate, pacifist, or some of the other serious conducts. Basically: this is a hellishly hard game. And you have some limited choice over just how hard you want it to be. But don't mess with the basic rules... and time flows only in one direction. There's no takebacks, no oops button, no magic undos. Well, unless you count certain amulets :).

    11. It just seems silly for the developers to exclude a huge segment of the population--"casual players"--that might want to see what the game has to offer without the maddening difficulty that permanent death brings.

      Personally, I'd rather explore the game world and figure out things on my own, but with occasional reloading after death, than look at spoilers for all of the features and still abide by the permadeath rules as if I was doing something noble and "pure" by doing so.

      When you think about it, it reverses the entire ethos of regular CRPGs. If someone won, say, Ultima IV without ever reloading a game, but he used a walkthrough to solve every puzzle, you wouldn't think it was much of an accomplishment, would you?

    12. What on earth is your avatar there Chet?

      The thing is, Nethack was made for Hack players. By Hack players, for Hack players. Permadeath is seen as a defining part of the game. The goal isn't to win; it is to play. No matter where you are, you are there.

      Also: They are giving it away for free, and have probably the largest and most loyal community of any roguelike. Why would they care how accessible it is? Even the modern, more popular roguelikes that have been bringing new players into the genre like Crawl have permadeath.

    13. Thanks for that truthful experience, Teleport. I mean Malor.

      Hah! You noticed! And not just the game, the actual spell. I actually took my handle from a D&D character, but I played the game in school, so I suspect it ultimately came from Wizardry. But nobody notices that anymore... here's a virtual gold star for your report card. :)

      What confuses me is why educating yourself with thousands of spoilers is considered okay among the NetHack community while backing up an occasional save is considered "scumming" and thus unforgivable. Both defeat the intended difficulty of the game.

      Originally, Nethack was a game that was installed on shared systems, by an administrator. As a user, you were allowed to run the binary, but had no other real control. There was a global scoreboard on your local system for all the people that were playing. Savescumming, which was possible with root access, was an unfair advantage in the top score list. I think that's where the scorn came from, and I believe it's well past its sell-by date.

      But you were supposed to be talking with everyone else in the computer lab. You were supposed to be comparing notes. The fact that the notes went worldwide doesn't change that thinking, that you're supposed to be sharing strategies with your friends. Talking about Nethack isn't cheating. Savescumming, by the standards of that community, is.

      If someone won, say, Ultima IV without ever reloading a game, but he used a walkthrough to solve every puzzle, you wouldn't think it was much of an accomplishment, would you?

      Actually, I think that would be rather impressive; it would take really excellent combat tactics to succeed 100% of the time. But U4 is about puzzles, with combat taking a back seat. Nethack is much more about combat, with lots and lots and lots of hidden behaviors to discover. It's a very different game.

      Personally, I'd rather explore the game world and figure out things on my own, but with occasional reloading after death, than look at spoilers for all of the features and still abide by the permadeath rules as if I was doing something noble and "pure" by doing so.

      Well, you can play Explore Mode... I believe it's shift-X in game. Whenever you would die, the game asks you whether or not to kill you. If you say no, you're restored to full health, but nothing else changes.

      Your score doesn't get saved, because you're "cheating", but it's a cheat mode that's built right into the binary. Might be worth considering.

      Typically, however, you won't develop the same degree of skill when you're not in constant fear of losing all your progress. You can typically bull your way through anything, where a normal character would be killed, and you'd be nursing your defeat, and thinking about how to do better next time.

      For instance, this playthrough taught you that wands of digging can engrave Elbereth. You will never forget that, as long as you live. But learning one key thing in twenty hours of play is a very slow way to progress.

    14. Those were good answers to my points, especially about the nature of the NetHack community trading notes. If that was really the intent of the designers, I can see why spoilers would be considered kosher while saving progress would not.

      I did know about Explore mode, but I found its utility limited for the very reason you say: without the danger, I wasn't really learning anything.

      The point is largely moot because I've already started reading spoilers. But I suspect even with spoilers I'll never have enough time to devote to this one game to ever win it.

    15. I think NetHack, and many other roguelikes, are mostly about the kind of 'puzzles' that are generated by the RNG; these can't be included in the spoilers, as they are different in each game.

      Strategic planning and inventory management depend mostly on what you find, which is randomized. This becomes less varied in late game (after the castle) because of the guaranteed wand of wishing and statistical averaging. Players usually end up with one of several variants of the "ascension kit"; that is IMHO rather a weak point of NetHack.

      Tactical 'puzzles', usually involving combat, are again random, because of the generated dungeon layout, random monsters, and the equipment at hand. You may read all spoilers about soldier ants, but they won't tell you exactly how to deal with the pack that you just encountered, using the stuff your character has.

    16. In fact, you have done very well already. Since you're reading spoilers, I will give you two hints. (I'll ROT13 them just in case.)

      LBH ARRQ N FBHEPR BS ZNTVP ERFVFGNAPR. Gung znfgre yvpu pbhyq unir xvyyrq lbh va bar ghea vs vg unq tbggra va n tbbq qvr ebyy. Zntvp erfvfgnapr, sebz gur pybnx naq irel yvggyr ryfr va guvf irefvba, cebgrpgf ntnvafg gung, naq n ubfg bs bgure ceboyrzf gbb.

      Gung oynpx qentba pbhyq nyfb unir xvyyrq lbh irel rnfvyl.

  10. I also recommend reading the spoilers. Lots of very useful information and you're still never going to beat the game anyway. :)

    How in the world did you learn about ELBERETH without spoilers? If someone told you, then you've already dipped your toe into the spoiler pool. Might as well go all the way.

    1. I've never utilized ELBERETH myself although I've known of it nearly the entire time I've been playing. No wonder I never come close to beating the stupid game!

      Plus my penchant for Archaeologists and exploring the Gnomish Mines as soon as I find them. My ghosts riddle those haunted halls!

    2. Oh, well never mind then! I guess it's good they put such a useful function in the manual.

      But as others have been saying, there are indeed actual puzzles in the game that are quite hard to figure out on your own.

      As a matter of fact, there are several somethings that you need to finish the game that you are likely passing up every time you play.

      rot13 spoiler: Lbh arrq frira pnaqyrf, juvpu pna hfhnyyl or sbhaq va gur yvtugvat fubc va Tabzvfu Gbja.

    3. I'm pretty sure all of that was introduced in a later version.

    4. Lizard: Are you the same Lizard from

    5. I am not that Lizard. I am The Red King from TIM, The Red Lizard from Xbox Live, Grunion Guy from all over the net, Tess! Ate Chai Tea from Tumblr and Blogspot, but not Lizard from

      Also, you said somewhere in here that the goal to Nethack isn't to win; it's to play. I couldn't agree more. I've known over the last 15 years of playing it off and on that I probably wouldn't ever win without major spoilers. But I love the game. The randomness of each crawl. And I don't do spoilers because I love, love, love the surprises in the game. It's so frickin' deep. Even a death in Hell usually leaves me grinning and not frustrated.

      There are so many other commercial games to play and win, Nethack is like meditation.

    6. Eee! Tess Ate Chai Tea is an admirably convoluted profane handle. I have not seen one that took a second to get since I first encountered Sho Khan Chit. I was 14, not that it was that clever.

  11. Your eventual return to Nethack, if it ever happens, promises to be entertaining. But personally I'm now super-eager to see you tangle with Drakkhen, which was one of my favourite games on the Amiga. Tricky and unforgiving, but with a really colourful and innovative world and roster of enemies. The 3D world was really something at the time. Not a great deal of role-playing to speak of, though.

    1. Drakkhen truly shines when it comes to freaky enemies, and exploring a mysterious world. Feels a bit like Kings Field or Shadow Tower in that regard.

    2. Glad to hear from some Drakkhen fans. While I have you, do you know:

      -How the hell I'm supposed to know what direction I'm facing?
      -Why my healing spells rarely work? (I equip them and right-click on the character I want healed, but 9/10 of the time, nothing happens.)
      -If there's any way to escape combat? I accidentally saved just before some huge flying creature swooped down. My characters can't hit him because he's flying, and he eventually kills everyone.

    3. Yes, there's a way to escape combat in the wilderness. In the SNES version, it's the same key as bringing the party on screen. Maybe it's the same on the PC.

    4. I'm just reading your Drakkhen entry now and will post a few more tips there, but you can indeed escape combat, or at least could in the Amiga version. It's a matter of pressing the key that changes from the 3D travel view to the party combat view. You need to time it right though; there's a short window of opportunity once the monster starts to spawn and pulls you out of the travel view, but before your characters have reached their default starting positions. Press the key (space? enter?) and you will return to the 3D view and be quickly rotated to face the opposite direction. I seem to remember if you don't move the monster reappears, so go forward immediately and don't stop until you're a fair distance away.

    5. "Before your characters have reached their default starting positions" must be the problem. I must have saved just after they reached them, because when I restart, they're all standing in a row. I can't remember why I exited 3-D travel in the first place, but it was really bad timing.

  12. I think you should still try to beat it without spoilers. I've never played, and I'm sure it's impossable like everyone says. But I think you should try on the off chance that you can just to show them all up.

    1. roberski: Go read the wiki, or some spoiler files. Please. Then you'll understand how insane that is.

    2. I could never get interested in a game that required reading spoilers. But my approach has been to consign nethack to the scrap pile. To each his own.

  13. There's an entire article on the Nethack wiki dedicated to what constitutes cheating among the community.

    Some around here have said that using spoilers is a legitimate way of playing the game; however there are those in the community who seem to think it's cheating, that it's against the spirit of the game:

    "NetHack is a difficult game, by design. Knowing how to bypass every single problem presented is against the spirit of the game. Explore mode was implemented to allow newer players to experience the game without having to constantly worry about losing their character. However, because so many players choose to spoil themselves, the community often does not consider spoilers to be cheating. When posting spoilers in a public discussion forum, it is often considered good form to warn others, so they don't inadvertently spoil themselves."

    One thing Chet does in almost every game, and Nethack has been no exception, is take notes. The thing is, the same page on cheating claims that taking notes also constitutes a form of cheating in Nethack. At least that's what some seem to think:

    "This is a controversial topic. Some players take minor notes, such as which levels have altars or shops, where the stash is, etc. (it is game feature in UnNetHack), but other players believe too many out of game notes constitutes a mild form of cheating. Taken to an extreme, it can nullify the mind flayer's memory loss attack.
    It is also possible to record the inventory of all characters who leave a bones file. In this way, the player manages to easily gain knowledge he or she should not have. Some might argue that those items are unidentified for a reason."

    So it's entirely possible that someone might argue that Chet has already cheated simply by taking out of game notes about Nethack.

    My two cents: look up the wiki page on Nethack cheating and limit yourself to avoiding those things which are marked as "Definitely cheating". Everything else seems to be a matter of debate, and of personal preference.

    1. I read it. I'm glad to know that start-scumming is only optional, because I'm going to start-scum the HELL out of my next character.

      The article also introduced me to "bones-stuffing." So I could, say, start-scum a Wizard until I get one that has equipment I want, have him commit suicide on the first level, and then have my next character loot his corpse for the items? And that's only "probably cheating?"

    2. Strange are the ways of Nethack.

      Me, I find the concept of "farming", regardless of game, to be a much bigger offense than reading spoilers. Not to mention taking notes. Yet they're all "degenerate behaviour" in Nethack it would seem.

      In the end I gave up trying to figure out what's right or wrong to do in this game, beyond "don't mess with your saves".

      Reading about Nethack brought me to the realization that there are a number of competing "schools of thought" regarding one's approach to Nethack and that made be a bit wary of the whole thing. It strikes me as taking a game too seriously, something I'm not very keen on.

    3. From what I remember from Usenet start-scumming was considered really sleazy, notes was normal, and stuffing never came up but would have been sleazy and 'not a real win'.

      I think what they are talking about with notes is taking notes for a character, then they die, then you use those notes with your next character to ID all the things in their bones file, and all the features on the level in which they died.

    4. On "farming," I don't understand why it's considered taboo at all. It's something that the game mechanic itself allows, and it's not like you're not taking a risk while doing it. I can't even wait around on Level 3 for my hit points to recharge without some yellow light coming along and blinding me, followed soon thereafter by an army of soldier ants who eat me while I'm searching desperately for the exit stairs.

    5. That isn't farming. Farming is when you grow and kill a bunch of black budding, as each one has a chance of dropping an item. It is boring, repetitive, and a bit risky, but can give you stupidly good rewards.

      Now nurse dancing, that is the risky one.

    6. No, I didn't mean to suggest my example was farming. My point was that at any point in the game where you stay fixed in one location for too long, you run the risk of some monsters showing up that you can't handle. By the time you're on a level where you could "farm" black puddings, that "some monster" could easily be a lich. In a game this difficult, I can't see any problem with ANYTHING that uses the game's own mechanics to give you some kind of advantage, short of exploiting an obvious bug.

    7. Basically, anything you couldn't do on a mainframe with multiple people playing (Which is still how a LOT of people play, via telnet or SSH) is cheating. Farming, notes, whatever, that is cool, if sometimes considered cheap.

      Heck, even learning stuff by logging in and watching another player play is normally considered fair game.

    8. Something important about bones stuffing: there's only a chance a bones level will be left when a character dies. There can also only ever be one bones level for each level of the dungeon, and some specific levels never generate bones (one of them is level 1).

      There is nothing against start scumming, but I tend to find it overrated.

    9. The other reason it is cheating is it wouldn't happen on a shared server.

      Also: There is only a chance a bones level will be loaded when you enter that level, due to the fact on a public sever someone will have died on EVERY level.

    10. Since everything you find on a body in a bones file is cursed anyway, I don't think it's a great cheating option. In fact, I'm pretty sick of those ghosts showing up at the most inopportune times. Do you suppose it's considered cheating to delete the bones files?

    11. Not everything, and sometimes cursed items is useful. Also, if you die next to your cache you can find a mountain of uncursed items. I've had that happen a couple of times, was awesome. There is also nothing worse then dieing right after leaving the level with your cache.

    12. I can only imagine that the only people who would consider note-taking cheating are people too lazy to take notes who want to hold others back. That's just ludicrous.

  14. This posting actually got me interested in the game. I wasn't interested in it much before even while reading about it. However just the way you presented the efforts of your barbarian got me interested enough to give the game a shot. Now I'm addicted to it.

    1. It's called gradewrecker for a reason. :)

    2. I can see why it is. I even love the difficulty. I'm even avoiding using the "easier" classes such as barbarian, valkrie, or knight. I'm running a rogue and after a couple dozen deaths I'm starting to get the hang of surviving with a rogue.

    3. I've decided I'm going to play exclusively Elf from now on. I'll explain why in a future posting, but the primary reason is that it's not available as a class after this version (later versions--likely, the one you're playing--separate races and classes).

    4. Actually Elf was still a class in 3.1. The race/role separation happened a bit later later.

    5. Thanks. I'm not sure where I got that idea.

  15. Scroll of Elbereth Engraving Everywhere would be quite the thing.

  16. Start scumming and bones stuffing are exploits. They may not be "cheating", but they are lame, unnecessary, and will have only marginal effect. You were on the right track with learning to use the item in the castle to its fullest capabilities.

    You could have used it to obtain speed boots (which make you even faster), reflection, and magic resistance. Cleaver is a very strong weapon. If you had also enchanted it up to +7, you would have been set for ascenscion.

    Magic resistance is absolutely essential. Liches will destroy all your hard-earned armor without it. But actually the best way to deal with Liches is with a blessed scroll of genocide. They should be your first genocide always, even if you have magic resist, because of their summoning and draining capabilities.

    I'm giving you some spoiler-ish advice to try to deter you from believing that start scumming and manipulating bones are the way to win!

    1. Cleaver is an artifact, isn't it? Even at +0 those are impressive.

      I too would be more interested in seeing you play properly, and would rather you spoil then cheat.

    2. "If you had also enchanted it up to +7." You say that like I deliberately decided not to. I didn't find a bunch of scrolls of enchant weapon and sell them for coke, I promise you.

      Seriously, though, with the spoilers you've all encouraged me to read, I'm coming up with an overall gameplan for my next series of forays, including items and intrinsics I want to be sure to find.

      I still don't think my experience is any way enhanced by knowing ahead of time that the item in the castle is a wand of wishes. That would have been cooler to find on my own. But I might have never gotten another character TO that point on my own.

    3. You know, it WOULD be nice to be able to just explore the game and find all that stuff out for yourself, but it would take probably a thousand hours or more. Your project to explore every RPG ever done would be stalled for a year or longer.

      The thrill of seeing a Wand of Wishing for the very first time would tingle you all the way to your toes, but would that tingle be worth months of your life?

    4. Did you name the axe Cleaver? I'm asking because it says "a +0 axe named Cleaver", whereas when identifying a true artifact it usually says "the +0 Cleaver". At least, it does in the later versions, it's possible that changed between 3.0.9 and the current code.

    5. No, I didn't name it. It was called that when I picked it up for 24 GP in a shop. Through the course of the game, I had it up to +3 at one point, but various traps and creatures eroded it.

    6. Methinks that shopkeeper is shady...

      "Of course it's THE Cleaver! Don't you see the word 'Cleaver' engraved there with a chisel strangely similar to the one behind my counter?"

    7. All weapons that you find laying around with names are artifacts; the only way non-artifact weapons get named is if you name them yourself. (In a couple of cases, you can MAKE artifacts that way. You might even be able to figure out which those are yourself...)

      However, most artifacts in Nethack are actually not all that great. They're better than the base weapon, but for the majority of them the bonus is either small, or only applies against one class of monster. Cleaver is above-average, but not top-tier.

    8. My general feeling is that in contrast to most RPGs, where you look forward to better and better equipment along the way, the best strategy in NetHack is to get a weapon you like early on so you can keep adding to it with Scrolls of Enchant Weapon throughout the game.

  17. Regarding the difficulty of the game and perma-death: This is not intended to be a game where you play it through once with save files, win, and move on to the next game. It is a game which tests your ability to prepare for and survive multiple, disparate, and unpredictable challenges simultaneously with little margin for error. Perma-death is part of the game, and always has been. The knowledge you gain from previous games is the only equivalent of a "saved game" for Nethack. Backing up save files is unquestionably cheating, but will certainly reduce the frustration factor.

    1. Well, I'm not going to do it, because I remember too well how good it felt to win Rogue without cheating. But Rogue was a MUCH easier game simply because it was so much shorter.

    2. You ARE playing one of the hardest of all Roguelikes. Even modern RL players think it is hardcore. Then they laugh at fans of it like me and go back to playing Crawl. You can try and beat DoomRL or ADOM without spoilers.

    3. Actually....

      For a perfectly spoiled player (I'm probably 95-98% spoiled), Rogue is harder than Nethack, because there are many more situations in Rogue where you're just screwed by the random number generator, while Nethack has a lot more means of getting out of them. The next version is easier still.

      Once you really know what you're doing, Nethack isn't actually that bad. The problem is learning it all and getting it in your brain in a form you can use.

    4. And having the patience to use it. Perhaps that's my big failing.

      My ultimate winning game of Rogue took about half the time I invested in this single character in NetHack, who didn't come close to winning. The longer the game goes on, the more chance you'll have to make a mistake--particularly if you're an impatient player.

  18. I want to dispel a comment made by Malor earlier in which he said he is fully spoiled but never had the necessary luck to succeed. _You make your own luck_ in this game. The world's greatest Nethack player, "Marvin", can ascend practically any character, he's got around a 75% ascension rate on a public server. Download and watch ttyrecs of his sessions and you'll learn a lot about how to insure your character against death.

    1. marvin is even better than that; he had a 29-game winning streak once.

    2. That's pretty incredible. I wonder what other games he plays. If the answer is "none" or "very few," then it supports my hypothesis about generalists and specialists.

    3. A lot of roguelike players are specialists in RLs, but not any specific one.

    4. Actually, Adeon is the 29-game winner.

      You can see from the multiple players with long streaks that once you know enough and are good at tactics, you are a threat to ascend most games.

  19. Whether you intended it or not, you've convinced me that NetHack is the kind of game I'd rather have dental work done than play. But I already knew that, really; Your description of the apprehension the permadeath system makes you feel is how I feel about the 'lose half an hour' save systems you're so fond of.

    1. I consider 'lose half an hour' systems as a happy medium between the permadeath of NetHack and the absurd simplicity of modern games, where death is no more than a 5-second inconvenience while you wait for the game to reload.

      The unfortunate thing is that NetHack is a very good game even without the roguelike insistence on permadeath. If the game saved your progress every level or two and had all of its other features, players turned off by roguelikes would still enjoy the game and find it challenging. I would actually encourage casual players to play it this way: back up your saved game every once in a while and let yourself restore it when you die, and enjoy all the other challenges the game has to offer.

  20. I haven't posted here in a while, but I drop in every month or so to catch up. Anyway, I think you should play whatever you feel like playing, that's what makes this blog what it is, and if that means spending half a year on NetHack, I'll live with that. I will say that as a reader, though, I'd rather see you spend 20 hours on five games and hear your views on those than watch your frustration at spending the same 100 hours trying to get lucky on NetHack, a game that doesn't even have a real narrative. Will those hours really change anything on the overall analysis? What I'm saying is, don't feel obliged, do it because you want to. But, like I say, if you feel like you have to beat NetHack, go for it. I can know that feeling as well.

    And a note on permadeath: I spent twelve years making video games and another five years teaching college grads how to make them, and if "breaking the rules" allows you to have more fun, go for it. You can always put an asterik beside the number of hours played to let people know you "cheated". But the truth is, there is no such thing as cheating in a one-player game, except perhaps hacking the code. And while hacking isn't appropriate for a site like this, in which you're trying to explain the original game experience, I even consider that appropriate for anyone playing at home, if it gives them a better experience. Where would all the great mods be without hacking?

    In summary, as long as you let people know what you're doing, who cares? You're in charge here. That's what being a Dungeon Master is all about. :)

    1. I would agree with you for most games, but I feel that part of a game like NetHack is immersing yourself in not only the game but the culture that has emerged around it. There are a lot of NetHack lovers among my readers, and I think they would feel collectively disappointed if I didn't win the game honestly, because it's part of their gaming culture that you don't save-scum.

      I cheated with Mission Mainframe and MAG just so I could write about the ending, so it's not a completely foreign concept, but those games didn't have the fan base of NetHack.

  21. Wow...this is a different world... I love the merciless comments here. I will have to try NetHack.

  22. Quote:"'s a specialized form of addiction that I'll never experience..."

    Dear CRPG Addict,

    i fear it may be already too late for you. To say it takes a different mindset for games embracing the concept of permanent character death is only partially true in the case of Nethack.

    Part of Nethack's success is the direct result of being a game TEACHING that this particular mindset to its players and revealing the simple truth that having fun playing a game does not solely come from beating the game. Its indeed about PLAYING the game.

    You are not quite there at this point, but you are very well on your way, Sir.

    A core concept of permanent death is heavy randomization and STILL delivering a consistent gameplay experience in a world that feels every time different enough to be entertained. And entertained you were, Sir.

    Its obvious, as you spun the tale of the adventures of your barbarian, its a well known symptom to the initiated of the first stage of the addiction.

    You have to admit that it was quite a tale for a game that is one of such simple appearance. Yes, there are games that build better atmosphere and spin epic stories. But deep in your heart you know this wasn't hard coded. You were NOT railroaded. This was YOUR story and you will remember it a long time. I also got a similar story. We all have.

    You think you will walk away? It will sit there in the back of your mind and each time you complete a railroaded game, the more you will be reminded about the freedom for opportunities for real adventure offered here, until... you come back. And you know you will come back, Sir.

    Yes there are other dungeon crawls, there are nicer ones and better UIs. But somehow only this game manages to unleash the development of adventures worth remembering.

    Yes, the death toll is catastrophic. Well, basically and technically its not impossible to beat Nethack, but its really not being meant for being beat. The road is the goal. You are meant to enjoy playing it. And the harder it its, the more time it takes to beat it, the more it keeps the game alive for you.

    In that respect its pretty much like FLT, a game that uses different mechanics in a similar fashion.

    Here you will feel accomplishment. True accomplishment which doesn't result from save loading but true achievement.

    Yes you can cheat. But you do not want to cheat. Because it would ruin the game for you. And you don't want that to happen, Sir.

    Why is that?

    1. I actually thought the addiction had taken irreversible hold when he posted his Friday, November 29, 2013 NetHack Version 2.3e: Ascended! post

      The cure to nethack addiction is to try other roguelikes until you find one you like more. Or is that an escalation of addiction? Either way have fun and remember to eat/sleep/work/pay rent/use actual words to communicate to your wife on occasion.

    2. I'm very much looking forward to hearing him compare/contrast Angband and ADOM, and to seeing him play DoomRL.

    3. I think he will enjoy ADOM as the natural progression from Omega. Back in the day it was basically nethack or Angband derivitives that comprised 99% of roguelikes with a handful falling into the Omega style and some outliers.

      With the recent roguelike boom the genre has much more innovation, mashups, offshoots, as well as bandwagon jumping flops. So I really want to see his take on those when he catches up, you know in 3045.

  23. If you ever do a collection of classic posts, I nominate this one. Great comment section, too.


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