Saturday, May 25, 2013

NetHack: Another Milestone

Ellasar's predictable fate.

Well, probably no one thought that I was going to ascend after my last posting, but at least I got killed by the Wizard of Yendor himself.

If you'll recall from my last posting, Ellasar had reached Level 30, the first level of Hell, in pretty good shape in terms of equipment and intrinsics. I had recently genocided the entire lich class, and I still had another Blessed Scroll of Genocide to use. I had recently obtained a Ring of Teleport Control. The next major step was to get to Level 50 and work my way up to find the Wizard of Yendor and the Amulet of Yendor (for those of you confused, in this version, 3.0.9, the Wizard himself has the amulet).

I ended up finding a Scroll of Teleportation in a hidden area on a previous level. Normally, these work by teleporting you to another location on the current level. But a cursed scroll teleports you to a different level enitrely. Usually, this is bad, but when you have a Ring of Teleport Control, you get to decide where you go. To curse the scroll, I dipped it into a Potion of Unholy Water I happened to be carrying.

NetHack is the only game I know where it's advantageous to deliberately curse things.

Before I had found the scroll, I had killed a leprechaun, consumed him, and got "teleportitis," a condition that causes you to randomly teleport every few dozen moves (on average). Again, this is usually bad, but combined with Teleport Control, it's a nice bonus. If it comes upon you at the right time, you can escape bad combats and more easily navigate to stairs.

Teleportitis comes upon Ellasar just as a minotaur knocks down half his hit points.

Commenter Dave had clued me in that polymorphing a dead dragon produces dragon scale mail. I did that, too. It was on AC worse than what I'd been wearing (banded mail +4), but it was much lighter and by this point I was sick of over-encumbrance messages.

At this point, I made my biggest mistake of the game: I was so excited to have the ability to teleport to Level 50 and start looking for the Wizard that I read the scroll immediately. I should have waited around to finish my ascension kit first. Two items I critically lacked were anything involving magic resistance and a Wand of Death.

The moment I got to Level 50, I put on my blindfold and as surprised to see the Wizard of Yendor there. I had this idea that he appeared in a random level between 30 and 50, not on 50 itself.

Either there aren't many places where you can get "more info" or I've been completely overlooking this feature.

Studying the map, a plan came upon me. The Wizard was surrounded by a vampire lord and a death hound. Of the two, the vampire lord was most dangerous. I decided to use my second Scroll of Genocide to wipe out the vampire class, then wander around until teleportitis hit, and teleport myself into the vampire lord's previously-occupied square. From there, I'd blast him with a Wand of Cancellation and then pummel him to death with my sword.

There were three major flaws in my plan:

1. The game doesn't let you teleport into the Wizard's little chamber. So when I tried, it I ended up in a random place and had to walk there (carefully putting on my Boots of Water Walking to cross the moat).

2. The Wand of Cancellation doesn't actually do anything against the Wizard of Yendor. I had this idea that it would blank his spells or something.

3. The Wizard of Yendor has a "Touch of Death" attack that means instant death if you don't have any protection (or can't kill him first).

I suppose there was a fourth, for that matter.

4. Even if I killed him and got the Amulet, I still had to fight my way back up 20 levels of Hell.

To even get into the Wizard's little chamber, I had to use a Wand of Digging on the wall. That wasn't much of a problem. But the moment I got up to him, I only landed two hits before he killed me.

To be fair, he did warn me.

Let's do a little post-adventure analysis. I feel like I came really close. At some point, Ellasar was over a hump, with enough intrinsics and equipment that he could defeat almost any monster. Now that I know I can get to such a state, the game doesn't seem quite so intimidating. These are the things I did right with Ellasar:

  • Made ESP and finding a blindfold a priority. This helps an incredible amount with collecting intelligence on enemy positions.
  • Teleport Control and teleportitis. I'd venture a character that can get these early in the game has a much easier game.
  • Keeping a list of intrinsics and equipment and checking things off as I found them.
  • Spending a lot of time sorting through the equipment recovered from the barracks full of soldiers. When I had found a Ring of Protection +3, that might have been enough, but I couldn't stand the thought that there might be a Ring of Protection +5 unclaimed in the pile. I slowly went through everything, testing for curses and noting effects, until I had a great suit of stuff.

I feel like I needed three things to ensure victory:

  • A Wand of Death to kill the Wizard instantly (or at least have a chance)
  • Anything with magic resistance, so his "Touch of Death" (plus a host of enemy attacks) wouldn't kill me
  • A second Cursed Scroll of Teleportation, so I could fly back up to an earlier level (1, I guess) the moment I obtained the ring.

The thing is, there was nothing stopping me from lurking around earlier levels until I got these things. I had a pile of more than 50 C-rations and K-rations on one level, and I was absolutely dominating most monsters. All I really needed to find was a Scroll of Charging, which would have allowed me another wish or two from my Wand of Wishes. If only I hadn't jumped the gun getting to Level 50.

When I last posted, I was feeling depressed at the possibility of losing Ellasar, but some time between then and now, something turned in my mind, and I feel like I "get" the game now. I have another moth before my first anniversary of NetHack 3.0 arrives. There's still time.


  1. You are one of them now. Alas poor CRPG Addict, you were a great blogger, a crusader of a thousand thousand rpgs. Now you shall wander with the nethack fans, lost in the endless depths of the puzzle-dungeons, unraveling obdurate and occult mysteries, perilous plots, and platypus pains (ran out of Ps), one death at a time.

  2. Hmm... I don't play NetHack, but from your posts on the game, I have a pretty good idea why you can't ascend: you get impatient. Look back through those posts and see how many times you've written some variation of "but then I got careless and died/almost died." This happens to me too; I'll be playing some game or the other, get near the end, and wind up both tired of playing and eager to see the finale. So I try to burn rubber through the last bit, and eventually get stonewalled because I'm more interested in going fast than making sure I'm doing it right. Usually it's not such a big deal- I just tire myself out, call it a night, and go back to it the next day, when I'm recharged. But NetHack being so brutally unforgiving and having no saves, that's not really an option.

    1. Yep, the "All Too Easy" bug in the human AI. I'm still waiting for the patch.

    2. That is how ALL nethack characters die to experienced/spoiled players, pretty much.

  3. Another reason map out all those levels in between is that once you kill the wizard and take the amulet, he doesn't stay dead. At least, I'm pretty sure he doesn't. I'm not 100% sure about this version, but in both earlier and later versions he doesn't. Basically, you don't want to hang around with the amulet looking at it -- you want to head to the endgame (whatever that is in this version) ASAP Having to find the up stairs on 20 maze levels while defending against Rodney is not fun. :)

  4. One thing I like to do is use my pickaxe to dig express routes between the up and down stairs on every level. It makes vertical dungeon traversal much easier.

  5. Your first wish from the wand of wishing should always be for a way to recharge it. Next time, wish for 2 or 3 blessed scrolls of charging (or a blessed magic marker if your character is smart).

  6. Over-encumbrance messages are a sign of danger. The RNG can do enough mischief in one turn, giving it more is asking for trouble. Sometimes, being burdened for a few turns in a known environment may be an acceptable risk, but exploring or fighting while encumbered can quickly lead to YASD.

    1. I remember playing a game of Nethack where my character, over-encumbered, died while going down a dungeon level. Apparently he tripped and broke his neck tumbling down the stairs.

    2. One of my characters, with complete ascension kit, picked up a corpse of an Olog-hai to throw it into the moat surrounding Rodney's tower. He got overtaxed, and just at that moment a cockatrice wandered by...

  7. It must be after the same 'so-close' death, that I resorted to save-scumming.
    Then, I died a few step before ascention (elemental plane) and never player Nethack again. I never ascended, and probably never will. Moral: Dont save-scum.

    Nethack has a tendancy to throw new dangers at you, every time you feel secure.
    You cannot overcome them without extensively using spoiler. Even then, you may still forgot what you have to do, or how to be prepared.

    Some warnings (based on the most recent version, so perhaps useless) :
    You can NOT teleport with the amulet.
    There might be a fake amulet (I'm curious to know what happend when you ascend with it).
    You loose memory of previous levels once you take the amulet.
    The wizard of Yendor will still come after you AFTER his death. And again, and again (every xxx other turns)

    You should read about elemental plane, or you'll die there by not knowing the power of your foes, and/or some new special tiles and traps.

    1. And they were complaining about the immortal ghost of your nemesis Trebor in Wizardry IV...

  8. PetrusOctavianusMay 27, 2013 at 12:27 AM

    So what's next?
    Are you gonna play Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

    For Dragon Wars I have the following advice:
    If it's the first time playing it you may as well use the default party, since it's hard to decide what makes a good party before you know the game.
    If possible, play the Amiga version. Unlike SSI, Interplay really did a good job on the Amiga versions of their games.

  9. Congratulations, Chet!

    Seriously, getting killed by the Wizard means you have gotten much further than you have previously. And it sounds like you haven't quite burned out on the game yet. I can definitely see you ascending - perhaps not with this version, but before you reach the current one.

    I should resume playing it myself...I haven't even reached the Castle once, let alone Hell.

  10. In that version you are actually closer to ascending than in later versions. The wizard and then the Astral Plane (which is the final level) are really all that's left. The elemental planes are not in that version, I believe.

    With a cloak of magic resistance, I think your chances would have been decent of reaching the Astral plane. An armor class in the -20s would be desirable but is not imperative. Likewise a wand of death is desirable for dealing with the wizard, but not imperative. If you do acquire a wand of death, you need to remember that death beams bounce off walls, but magic resistance or reflection WILL protect you 100% from it. Before hitting Astral Plane, you should have MR and Reflect. A blessed amulet of life saving is highly desirable also.

    When you do reach the Astral plane you may want to read up on the Riders of the Apocalypse before facing them. Dealing with them is challenging even when you know what their abilities are. I have no recollection of how their abilities are different in 3.0.9 versus later versions.

    1. A couple more end game tips:
      - A blessed +4 or +5 T-shirt (or Hawaiian shirt from a dead Tourist) is part of the perfect ascension kit. A shirt can be worn in addition to other armor, and it's only purpose is to help boost your AC.
      - Armor class below 0 has a double benefit. If you have an AC of -N, then N is subtracted from the monster's to-hit roll. If it succeeds in hitting you, then 1dN is subtracted from the damage. This damage reduction is crucial to surviving the end game for a non-healing class.
      - A weapon that is enchanted to +6 can be knocked back down to +5 by engraving a single letter in the floor with it, so you can try for +7 again without risk of evaporating the weapon.
      - Read up on magic markers and writing scrolls of enchant armor and enchant weapon.
      - Silver weapons (including Grayswandir) do an extra 1d20 damage to demons and undead.
      - Artifact weapons can be obtained from offering corpses on altars (I think that's true of your version). Grayswandir is one possible gift for Lawfuls. Elves appear to still be Lawful in that version, so blessed +7 Grayswandir (which does double damage on every hit) would be your ideal weapon.
      - Elves were later changed to be a chaotic class, before becoming a race.
      - You don't have to contend with the named Demons in that version, so that is one way in which your version is easier.

    2. Two more things:
      1) Getting to the astral plane requires more than just going upstairs from Level 1. You probably have already run across the method, if not you can find it online.
      2) The objective of the game is to sacrifice the amulet on the altar of your alignment in the Astral Plane. Make sure to use the right altar!

    3. I'll keep adding things as I remember them.
      - A cloak of magic resistance can appear as "ornamental cope", "tattered cape", "opera cloak", or "piece of cloth". That last one in particular can be confusing.
      - Magic cancellation is different than magic resistance. A cloak of magic resistance provides the best level of both, but you should understand magic cancel.
      - Have you run across any luck stones? Is luck implemented in that version?

    4. Thanks for all the tips, Dave. I've had trouble finding a spoiler page specifically for this version. The one I've been consulting basically covers equipment but not the steps in the story. I'll probably give the game another sincere try in a week or so.

    5. Oh, and according to the FAQ I have, luck is in the game. I just realized that I can improve it by throwing a gem at a unicorn.

    6. If luck is in that version then you can make the mid-game and late game substantially easier by learning about luck.


      A summary (with some generalizations for the sake of simplicity):
      - Luck is a counter that varies between -10 and +10. Your luck will gradually return to 0 over time unless you're carrying a luckstone, which will "hold" your luck. Luckstones will also provide an additional +3 luck (unless they are cursed). Thus, if you are carrying an uncursed or blessed luckstone you can reach +13 luck.
      - Luck impacts a huge number of in-game "rolls". Most importantly, it impacts all to-hit rolls and all saving throws. A blessed item worn by a player with +13 luck will be nearly impervious to damage from acid (something like 0.3% chance of damage). Luck is added directly to your attack rolls, so +13 luck gives you +13 to-hit! Luck also helps substantially with finding secret doors and traps.
      - Don't worry about increasing luck until you have a luckstone, otherwise it will just leak out. Some people would disagree with me on this. Such people spend 1000 turns throwing pieces of glass at unicorns and then all their luck leaks out before the end-game anyway.
      - Luckstones appear as a "gray stone" until identified. Loadstones also appear as a "gray stone". In some versions there are additional types of gray stones: healthstone, flint stone, touchstone. I'm not sure which of those are in your version, but identify will tell you.
      - When you locate a gray stone, remove all the items from the square except the gray stone. Then kick the stone toward an empty space. If it moves then it is not a loadstone, and can be picked up.
      - The best way to increase your luck is to #offer a fresh corpse on an altar to your co-aligned deity. Do this until you stop seeing four leaf clovers appear. This is also the best way to get artifact weapons, and to get "crowned" as the avatar of your deity.


    7. After some brief testing with the version you sent me, I can conclude that one of the following is true of your version. Either 1) that version doesn't show your luck score in your intrinsics when you quit the game (which all later versions do), or 2) luck is not implemented in that version.

      I started to play another game and ragequit over the impossible-to-use bag interface. Later versions include a MUCH more user-friendly inventory management interface. You are on your own until 3.1 at least.

      One more thing that I remember helping me when I was learning to play: A ring of slow digestion decreases your food consumption immensely, thus giving you more time to lug items to altars and more corpses to sacrifice. Regeneration ring increases food consumption immensely. All other rings increase your food consumption by about 5%.

    8. I didn't like leaving this question unresolved. I figured out how to answer it definitively, and have done so. A sufficiently powerful sacrifice on a co-aligned altar yielded the "four leaf clover" message. This is definite proof that luck exists in your version.

      When I quit that game on the following turn, it didn't mention my luck (which would have been a positive number after the four leaf clover message). Therefore, we have also determined that your version does not reveal your luck score as part of your intrinsics. This was changed in later versions.

      In summary, luck is in there and finding a luckstone and capping your luck by offering corpses on a coaligned altar will be very helpful.

    9. Thanks for doing all that testing. I'll look for those luckstones in the next games.

  11. I don't know if potion mixing is in this version. In the more recent ones, dipping a stack of healing potions in a potion of speed. gain energy or gain level can give you a stack of (diluted) potions of extra healing; blessing them and quaffing when near full health raises permanent HP.

    1. I don't believe it is. I've never had it work, and it's not mentioned in this FAQ that I've been using lately:

  12. Phew, that was a whirlwind week-and-a-day. Since discovering your blog a week-and-a-day ago on a random Braminar search, I've read through the entire back archive of your blog in every spare moment, as you can no doubt tell from my comments on posts you made two years ago. Call me the CRPG addict addict. Hats off to you and your mission!

    As the only semiregular Mobygames contributor lurking around here it gives me pleasure and dismay to see the two circumstances under which we're namechecked here: as an authoritative source, and as a harbour for pernicious misinformation. We have our strengths and weaknesses, but the good news is that with a good source (such as your rigorous research here) the errors can be corrected by anyone with the will and patience to see it through.

    (I appreciate that it's easier still to submit correct information to Wikipedia, but the problem there is that once you have established a toweringly authoritative resource on an obscure topic such as a 1980s CRPG, some editor will delete the whole thing under the premise that it's not notable.)

    I understand you're a busy man, between the gaming, blogging, your work and Irene. I don't mean to suggest that you take time out to set the record straight on Mobygames; however, I would like to welcome any of your readers to help us maintain a correct record for posterity. I may go back and scour your blog for references for Mobygames in search of reports of our inaccuracy, but I could also get hit by a truck before I get a chance to do so. Who knows.

    1. I'm flattered and slightly disturbed that you spend so much time reviewing my last three years of postings. I appreciate all your comments; I've been traveling the last few days, so I haven't had as much time to respond to (everyone's) comments as usual.

      I realize it sounds like I must be bashing MobyGames a lot of the time, so I should say more positive things about it in a posting or two. It's a fabulous resource. It helped me refine my list and it helps me every time I want to look up things like reviews and credits for a game. I'd be lost without it.

      I did try to submit a correction once (a date) for a game, and it was utterly ignored, so it soured me as to the idea of trying to help edit the database. Is it any easier to add a new game? I suppose I could take the time to put Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure in there.

    2. MobyGames has precious few moderators and they have their priorities; some submissions get included into the database in a matter of days, others can take months. Quite often you'll be asked to provide a source for the info, or to make alterations to your submission.

    3. Yeah, try not to get too discouraged. Something small like a date change can take a while, but other things like genre change or new games are much quicker. Depends on what's easily verifiable. Giving good sources is a definite advantage.

      I submitted a scan of a tape for a really old game (Dungeon Campaign actually) that just got accepted, 5 years later. That was due to a lack of platform knowledge on my part since I wasn't sure if it was the Atari 8-bit or Apple II tape.

    4. I've actually saved time by reading all the back-postings, that might otherwise have to be spent playing the games. You have done it for me! (Fun I will take on myself, but head-beating-against-wall I leave for the experts.)

      MobyGames definitely has its problems, but though platform-specific sites have us thoroughly beaten, nowhere else is as good at delivering the many different presentations of a game across different machines, and who else goes to the bother of transcribing credits and ad blurbs?

      I believe that the site is awaiting a redesign and some database revision that should make it easier to submit (and approve) corrections; consequently, at the moment all but the most egregious are being put on the back burner until such time as the process is streamlined.

      Adding a new game is one of the simpler submissions. You just need a game name, year of release, a paragraph about gameplay and some good proof that the game did in fact exist.

      I'm actually a PC approver there, largely absentee since while I have great authority over MS-DOS software, most of the Windows entries are way out of my area of expertise. If you put in a new game submission and let me know, I can do my best to expedite it. (Sadly I don't have access to the corrections queue.)

      Most often the delays are just a matter of being able to get the attention of someone who knows one way or another; approvers do a lot of skipping over and escalating prickly particulars which they aren't actually qualified to rule on, kicking the can down the road. In time virtually everything gets approved (and then propagated in the numerous websites that clone MG's database without credit) but it can be a matter of days, weeks, months or even years for truly obscure matters. I think that anyone here however has done a good demonstration that they're in for the long haul, so the matter of patience shouldn't be a dealbreaker.

      As I note, links to posts from this very blog should be able to serve as excellent resources to provide evidence for corrections.

      Thanks everyone and keep up the good work! If you need help navigating the treacherous tides of MobyGames, look me up there as Pseudo_Intellectual. Cheers!

  13. You may enjoy the roguelike game Caraclysm : Dark Days ahead, saw it in a youtube let's play and this blog came to mind :)

  14. You're still playing nethack aren't you?

  15. Your little sojourn into Nethack has encouraged me to re-fire up. I was quite disheartened, honestly. Over about a four day play period, I managed to get a ridiculously overpowered Valkyrie all the way to the Plane of Earth (which I believe may not actually be in this version you're playing), but I accidentally read a cursed scroll of charging on my Bell of Opening, had to trek back up to level 12 to find something that'd help (ended up finding a randomly dropped wand of Wishing) - and then, because Rodney levels up every time you kill him.. well, turns out the 21st time was enough. :(

    Still. I can live vicariously through you. (And, apparently, Wil Wheaton.) Do it for us all, Chet!

    1. Yeah, no Plane of Earth in this version. I'm impressed that you got so far so fast, and I can only hope that my version is significantly harder.

    2. Well, I've been playing Nethack for a very, very long time. (Since I was around about 6, technically speaking, though at that point I wasn't really playing it to the point that I understood all of the keys etc - that was by about 10. :))

      Essentially, my game started out lucky (I started on a full moon and found a luckstone in level 2, so.. literally). Add in a bones level (which may not exist in your version - basically, you find a level in which an ex-character died and can take their stuff if you can kill their ghost plus the thing that killed them) which had a set of wished +3 silver dragon scale mail, AND dipping my starting long sword and emerging with Excalibur.. then, about five altars with two priests aligned to me.. It was a really fortuitous game in several ways. Genociding R (rust monster / disenchanters) and L (lich / master lich) made a big difference, also. But I stumbled at the end due to a few mind flayers and the constant harassment of the Wizard of Yendor.

      All in all, it was probably about eight hours' playtime. But there are several things that make the later versions easier in a lot of ways, I think - I should point out that between reflection, magic cancellation and resistances to everything (this is a literal statement - there is no resistance that cannot be gained as an intrinsic by diet/character class in some way, save level drain, sliming and stoning) you can really game the system far better than this version seems to allow you, and I had hooked and crooked my way to virtually all of that. Oh, and also, I was on my fourth amulet of life saving... 'You died for the 5th time' is just such an amusing thing to read of its own right. :)

    3. Oh, yes, there are bones levels in this one. Boy, do they piss me off. I occasionally delete it because it gets a little too populated. A lot of the other stuff you mention aren't in this version, though.

  16. I'm afraid I'm one of those people who get hopeless discouraged by the prospect of re-playing a game after my character dies. If the game offered a new story of a new experience I might get over this.

    And the concept of "ascension kit" screams cookie-cutter. If there were a set of mutually exclusive very different ascension kits tailored to playing style I might be tempted. But farming for a particular set of items hold no appeal for me either.

    I just don't see the appeal of this genre.

    1. Some people don't see the appeal of perma-death. It appeals to me because you can't just faceroll stuff until you die, then reload until you beat the fight, and then faceroll some more. You either play strategically and intelligently for the whole game, or you will never win.

      I can see your perspective, but I do believe you are over-simplifying both the goal and the process of achieving it. Consider a game like chess: the rules don't change, the pieces don't change, the winning conditions don't change, and yet almost every game is different. In chess, this is the result of two sentient intelligences interacting. In Nethack, it occurs as the player interacts with a dungeon that is completely randomized each time. Therefore, each game is different.

      Regarding cookie cutter ascenscion kits: The ideal ascension kit is highly debatable. More importantly, it can't be achieved in every game. There will be gear gaps in your kit and part of the challenge is adapting to what the RNG has given you and using that to win anyway.

    2. When I play games without perma-death, I do not faceroll stuff; if I cannot get past some obstacle and the game is nonlinear I do something else. If it is linear, I try a few times then either give up or restart.

      What I hate about perma-death is some arbitrary single event can kill me, either due to bad luck,carelessness or just plain stupid game features.

      A monster living in the racks of a store got me once. This feature was added to the game solely to kill newbies and has no re-deeming feature beyond enabling gloating by the club of often rude insiders that infest the rogue-like blogosphere.

    3. There are some nice atlernatives between saving whenever you want and permadeath. I don't like permadeath any more than banshee; I wish the entire roguelike genre had done something like save every time you enter a new level or something. You'd still die plenty, but you might have some hope of seeing the endgame without investing hundreds of hours. Hell, offer a "hardcore" mode for those gamers who want the permadeath.

      But I think Dave is right on the appeal of randomness. I wish more featured this level of random world-building. It does make each new game exciting and fresh.

    4. I like the method where they save the random seed, so if you try the same thing more then once, you get the same result.

    5. I actually liked the old Bard's tale type of save system where one has to get back to a fixed location to save. This creates lots of tension, especially if a weakened party may not make it back, and all the progress (including items found) is lost. I greatly prefer this to perma-death.

    6. I could see a rougelike working with a limited save. Say every 5 levels. Add in an option for unlimited saves on level 1 (requires tracking back, wasting food) and you'd have save points to work towards while not completely losing progress. It would all depend on the game.

      For me, permadeath is definitely the biggest turnoff.

    7. Banshee: That only works if there is also a suspend option: I should always be able to save the game and stop playing. I hate games where you can only save at the end of combat, etc. That caused a lot of problems when I was younger and Mom and Dad wanted to go somewhere, or it was time for bed or whatnot, and you couldn't save due to combat.

      Related notes: You should be able to pause and rewatch cutscenes at any time for similar reasons.

    8. Banshee, I agree: I've praised "fixed location saves" several times. I really loved how in Might & Magic, you had to be careful how far you extended yourself away from the latest save point. And while I understand the negatives that Canageek points out, it also works the other way:

      "Chet, come to bed!"
      "I can't! I have to get to a save point!"


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