Friday, May 24, 2013

NetHack: The Blurst of Times

No, I don't want my #$&*@ possessions identified.

The saying goes that given an infinite amount of time, a monkey pounding at a typewriter will eventually produce Hamlet. It's too bad I know it's not true. Otherwise, it might give me hope that some random key combination will eventually produce a winning NetHack screen.

Let's begin by analyzing why the old monkey adage isn't true. First of all, it doesn't matter whether you phrase it as a single monkey on a single typewriter given infinite time or an infinite number of monkeys given a finite amount of time, or whatever. As long as any one of the dimensions of the problem is infinite, the mathematics are essentially the same as if they all are.

But if you're going to rest the argument on mathematics, you have to recognize two things:

1. There isn't enough energy in the universe for the monkey to type long enough to have even a one-in-a-trillion probability of even typing "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

2. Just because a series of events have a cumulative probability of 1 doesn't guarantee that it will ever happen, since each trial is independent. It violates no laws of probability for that monkey to bang at the typewriter for a billion years and never type the letter a, let alone "This above all: to thine own self be true."

So while it would be nice to think that all the time I've spent on NetHack will eventually produce an ascension, it's really just a gambler's fallacy. I could easily never ascend. It's entirely possible for none of my characters to get past Level 1 from now on, even.

I was reminded of this a couple months ago, when a reader wrote to me about his NetHack experience. At first, I thought it was a little odd that he was telling me, but then I realized that when your Level 20 character dies on Level 26 with two dozen active intrinsics and a blessed scroll of genocide you never got to use, who else are you going to tell? Your co-workers? Your spouse? The bartender at Applebee's? No, you have to write to someone who will empathize with that tragedy, and that's a service I'm happy to provide.

Anyway, my correspondent started his posting with: "I had some time off this week, and was resolved to finally ascend in NetHack after 25 years of intermittent tries."

Temporary insanity is really the only explanation for this statement. Anyone who's played the game for more than 25 hours, let alone 25 years, should know that you can't simply "decide" to ascend no matter how much time you're willing to put into it. It's like saying, "I had a week off so I decided to go to Vegas and make $20,000." (Actually, I think that might be easier.)

This is just a random image to show how much a loose NPC dwarf can mess up a level with his pick-axe.

It's been a while since I posted on NetHack, but that isn't because I haven't been playing. To the contrary, I've fielded almost four dozen characters in the past six months. But I wanted to wait until I had something more significant to report than I did last time, when Haran the Barbarian reached the castle and upper levels of Hell, although without much of a plan, and without having really explored the castle.

Shortly after Haran's discouraging death, I decided that you were all right: there was no way I was ever going to win the game without looking at spoilers. Not unless I was willing to jettison the rest of my blog and spend all my time on NetHack. My posting on "The Great Heist"--and I admit it wasn't all that clear in this regard--was supposed to convey that I had, in fact, looked at spoilers, had seen what major steps "ascending" required, and was assembling a master plan to reach that point--a plan that included a detailed "shopping list" of items and intrinsics needed before hitting the castle. Experienced players call this their "ascension kit."

Based on the intrinsics that I wanted in my kit, I decided to spend the rest of NetHack 3.0.9 playing an elf. The elf starts with reasonably decent statistics--not as good as the barbarian, but decent. More important, he comes with several intrinsics: automatic searching, see invisibility, sleep resistance, and speed. Some of these are hard to obtain through the normal mechanism of eating corpses. Automatic searching, for instance, is not available through any corpse-eating; you have to be a archaeologist or tourist at Level 10 (monks and rangers aren't in this version) or an elf at any level or find a Ring of Searching (thus wasting a ring slot). Seeing invisibility only comes from one creature--the stalker--and you have to already be invisible when you eat it. Sleep resistance is another intrinsic that only comes from one monster: an orange dragon.

The many benefits of being an elf.
The second reason I decided to stick to the elf is that it's not available as a class in later versions. Somewhere around version 3.2, races and classes are separated, and the elf's abilities are absorbed by the ranger class.

Thus I have since December thrown a company of elves into the Mazes of Menace, most of them dying around Level 8 or 9, often at the jaws of soldier ants. (Man, I know I'm supposed to save Scrolls of Genocide for higher-level creatures, but I sure would love to use them on soldier ants)

For a while, I gave all my elf characters different names, but I got sick of thinking them up, so I eventually settled on Ellasar and used it over and over. The one I'm about to describe might have been my 20th or so. I didn't really start taking notes about his adventures until he made it to duungeon level 15. At that point, he was at character level 10.

The first screenshot I took of this Ellasar. He's just eaten a hill giant corpse and increased his strength to 17.

I'd been playing him on and off for about four days at this point. Of his adventures, only a few things stand out:

1) On an early level, I'd taken a chance drinking from a fountain and a water demon offered me a wish. I asked for a Scroll of Genocide, one of the top things for any ascension kit. Later, I found another one. By the time I reached level 15, I had two potions of water in my inventory, and I was just waiting for an alignment-friendly altar to turn them into holy water and bless the Scrolls of Genocide. Blessed Scrolls of Genocide wipe out entire monster classes rather than individual monsters, and my plan was to use them on some of the more troublesome creatures at higher levels--probably liches and mind flayers.

2) Up to Level 15, I hadn't found a single store. I was walking around with a ton of cash--more than 4,000 gold pieces.

3) I don't think I encountered any soldier ants, either.

4) The only altar I found was back on Level 3. I kept trekking back up there from lower levels to test whether certain items in my inventory were cursed.

5) It took me a long time to improve my weapons and armor. I never found a good replacement for the blessed elven short sword that my elf started with, nor the elven mithril coat he was wearing. It took me until about Level 13 when I killed some soldiers to get some good supplementary armor, including a +1 small shield, a pair of fencing gloves, a pair of hard shoes, and--best of all--a cloak of displacement. Also on the same level, I found what turned out to be a blessed scroll of enchant weapon, which turned my +1 short sword into a +4.

I really like the cloak of displacement.

My inventory at this point was pretty good. I was wearing a circular amulet whose purpose I didn't know at the time (it later turned out to be a resist poison amulet, which was redundant with my intrinsic resistance), plenty of food, a ring of fire resistance and a ring of protection, two wands of cancellation (very effective against magic monsters), a wand of lightning for engraving ELBERETH, two unicorn horns (for dispelling blindness, confusion, etc.), a lizard corpse in case a cockatrice hissed at me, and a pick axe for carving my own paths. The major item lacking from my desired "kit" at this point was a blindfold. I had the "telepathic" intrinsic from eating a floating eye, and in previous games I found the combination of that and a blindfold almost essential.

Part of Ellasar's Level 15 inventory.

For other intrinsics, thanks to careful eating of the right monsters, I was poison resistant, fire resistant, cold resistant, and sleep resistant. I had hoped to find a Ring of Teleport Control so I could then eat something that granted teleportitis; other than that, shock resistance was the only thing on my shopping list.
At this point, I was still cautious. I'd been here before, plenty of times. My last Ellasar, in fact, had died at Level 20.

The level featured a barracks of soliders, which I defeated one-by-one, then spent a ridiculous amount of time--like all day one day--carefully testing much of their gear. But when I was done, I had an armor class of -17, so it was well worth it.

And to think I nearly fled when I saw this many soldiers.

Highlights from the next few levels included:

  • I found an identify spellbook on Level 18. I was delighted when I saw what it was. Unfortunately, none of my castings worked, and I ended up wearing it out without identifying a single thing.

Ellasar's spell list is a little paltry.

  • On Level 20, I ran into a stone giant. I was satiated at the time, so I retreated to the stairs and waited upstairs until I was hungry so I could eat it and get a point of strength from. While I was waiting upstairs, I made the rookie mistake of holding down the SPACE bar too long (instead of just typing in a number of turns, which is like NetHack 101) and nearly got killed by something called a "baluchitherium."
  • Later on Level 20, I finally found my blindfold! This is when I started to think Ellasar might be going places.

This is that weird "fungus level" I don't really understand.

  • On Level 21, I killed my first dragon of the game--a blue one. I was pissed. I needed to eat a blue dragon for shock resistance, but I was already satiated. I decided not to risk choking and moved on.
  • Level 22 brought an altar with a priestess. I gave her the huge pile of gold I was carrying, and she gave me the "protected" intrinsic. I tried to convert my potions of water to holy water, but it didn't work. It turns out the altar was "neutral" and I was lawful. I started to despair of ever getting holy water.

Ellasar fails the "atheist" conduct.

  • But Level 23 brought an altar to a chaotic god, so I started to have hope about Level 24. Then I stepped on a teleport trap and ended back on Level 6. It took me a while to work my way back down. I killed a wraith on the way, ate its corpse, and rose to Level 14.
  • I finally found a lawful altar on Level 25, made 4 potions of holy water, and dipped my Scrolls of Genocide within them. Bring on the liches!

The power is mine! Bwu-ha-ha-ha-ha!

  • On Level 26, a bunch of statues clued me in as to the presence of a medusa. I put on my blindfold and took care of her. There was also a "treasure zoo" on the level, which I dismantled with rapidity. With my 18+ strength, -18 AC, and pile of wands, I was feeling pretty invincible. I at last descended below the Dungeons of Doom for perhaps only the third time since December.

In the maze levels that followed, I stopped and searched for traps a couple of times between steps, checked my blindfold frequently, and walked slowly. It was tedious, and I forced myself to take breaks when it seemed like I was getting impatient and going too quickly. The way to play NetHack at all levels, but especially at these levels, is step, pause, scan, search, think, step.

I'm glad I didn't step on that.

At length, I arrived at the "castle" level, and unlike usual, I had a way to cross the moat: a pair of "boots of water walking" I'd found a few levels prior. I skirted the castle, dealing with the eels in the moat, the xans on the rampart, and the assorted minotaur. After that, it took me a while to get in. The wiki says something about playing a tune on a musical instrument, but that must have come in a later version because I've never found a musical instrument in this game. What worked for me was a Wand of Striking on the drawbridge.

The center of the castle was full of liches, who immediately tried to start cursing my stuff. It was time to shine. I read the Scroll of Genocide and wiped the entire lich race from the dungeon!

I really wish I could use this on cliff racers.

At last--for the first time--I had the fabled Wand of Wishing from the castle. Because I hadn't otherwise found one, and I needed it to progress, I made my first wish for a Ring of Teleport Control. Unfortunately, that was my only wish: the Wand had no more charges. I held onto it in case I found a Scroll of Charging later.

You've probably been reading all of this wondering how Ellasar ultimately died, so here's the twist: he's not dead. But he's stuck. As experienced NetHack players know, there are no "down" stairs after the castle; you have to get to the levels in Hell by teleporting. The options for doing so are limited. I need either a level teleport trap (they disappear when you first trigger them, though, and I can't find any more), a cursed potion of gain level, or a cursed scroll of teleportation. Actually, since I have some unholy water, regular versions of those items would work, too. Or a Scroll of Charging to recharge my Wand of Wishing.

Thus, for the last few days, for an hour or so a day, I've had Ellasar mincing about the lower levels, fighting random encounters, hoping to run into some foe that has one of these items. But there's a palpable sense of impending doom as I do so; it seems all but inevitable that something will eventually kill me, or rust monsters will slowly ruin all my equipment, or I'll accidentally walk into a patch of water and drown.

I'll let you know how Ellasar ultimately fares, but however it ends, I suspect he'll be my last character in this version.


  1. Good Luck :).

    Somehow I think you should park this character for now and start over.

    I played quite a lot of angband at one time and never got really far, mostly because of impatience.

    1. Are you mad?! Why would I start over when I have a character halfway through the game?

  2. And that is why you don't disarm trapdoors ;)

  3. To be honest, the only rogue-like games I can stand is the original Rogue and many years later, Diablo.

    Let's move on to Dragon Wars! I remember reading an article that it was originally slated to be Bard's Tale IV, but something happened with the licensing and that couldn't happen. Either way, I've heard only good things about it.

    You'll find Romance of the Three Kingdoms isn't a RPG though.

  4. This reminds me of an old joke about probability of meeting a dinosaur ;)

    1. I don't know the joke, but if I met one, I'd run away, because he Probablysaurus.

    2. The joke is that it's 50%: either you meet him, or you don't.

    3. The statistician in me bristles at that joke!

    4. Sometimes you see an elephant, and sometimes you don't. And no matter where you are, there you go.

  5. Funnily enough, I was refreshing my Baluchitherium (usually known as Paraceratherium) knowledge the other day. They're giant herbivorous rhino-like mammals, the largest ever land mammal in fact. They lived around 30 million years ago.

    "2. Just because a series of events have a cumulative probability of 1 doesn't guarantee that it will ever happen, since each trial is independent."

    A bit misleading. The likelihood of an independent event occurring approaches 1 as the number of trials increases. For any likelihood (even one such as a monkey banging out shakespeare), there is a number of events such that the probability of it occurring is, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from 1.

    The infinite monkey theorem exists in a theoretical space. As with a lot of math, the numbers involved get sufficiently large such that they lose any physical meaning. I mean, there are only something like 10^80 sub-atomic particles in the observable universe.

    1. The normal workaround on the infinite monkeys idea is, well, learning.

      If you are trying to build the Hamlet soliloquy through just complete randomness, it is extremely remote probability.

      If you have a specific goal, can measure progress against that goal, and can preserve smaller successes, then things can proceed much more quickly.

      Lets say you proceed one letter at a time- if it is the wrong letter, keep trying until the right one comes out.

      If you can learn as you progress, even better! You can make educated guesses about the next letter (q is almost always followed by u, which letters are more common than others).

      Of course, for Nethack you are dealing with first many possible failure conditions- the wrong choice forces you to start over. Add on top of that randomn chance rearranges what you are working through each time, and the amount of time needed to catch back up to where you had been, and the problem gets harder again.

    2. Right. Your analogy would be akin to a regular RPG where you can save your progress when you do something right.

    3. Surely the most interesting treatment of this theme is Borges' "Library of Babel?"

    4. That's the first I've heard of the Library of Babel. Sounds like the Internet. More seriously, the Library of Babel diverges by supposing all possible combinations of characters whereas the monkey is randomly banging away. Does infinite time ensure all combinations will occur? I don't believe it does.

    5. PetrusOctavianusMay 24, 2013 at 3:41 PM

      The point about the monkeys with the typewriters scenario is that given enough (ie infinite) time anything that is *possible* will happen sooner or later, no matter how remote the possibility. So if any one combination have a chance of occuring, *all* combinations will occur given infinite time.

      The monkeys example was to make it easier to understand, but it kind of muddles the point since too much is made of the monkeys and the physiology, the typewriters and the English alphabet, when it's really all about what can happen if given infinite time.

    6. But that's what's not true. I realize it's compelling to believe that all possible things, given infinite time, will occur, but nothing among the laws of probability make it so.

    7. I think you're just confusing probability theory with real life. Don't, they're completely unrelated ;)

    8. I'm not. I do this for a living. I started to write a long bit about it, but I realized that Wikipedia's entry has it covered:

      Read the bits under "Probabilities" and "Almost surely."

    9. Then I really can't understand why you're trying to apply common sense arguments to what is essentially a fancily formulated equation.
      Mathematical infinity is a magic place, it makes numbers act funny. And monkeys too ;)

    10. Seems fairly straightforward.

      Yes to Shakespeare
      Yes to Shakespeare 10^n times in a row
      No to forever typing Shakespeare

      Or, putting it differently, each monkey would type the complete works of shakespeare an infinite number of times, as well as every other conceivable, bounded permutation of characters.

    11. Essentially, it all boils down to this:
      lim(N->∞, P->0) 1-(1-P)^N = 1
      And monkeys and Shakespear are just props.

    12. PetrusOctavianusMay 25, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      Chet, you may be the world's foremost expert in probability, but I don't think you quite grasp the concept of infinity. Even a number like a googleplex is still only a small fart compared to infinite.
      Also, the section under "Almost surely" in the Wikipedia article concludes with:
      "At the same time, the probability that the sequence contains a particular subsequence (such as the word MONKEY, or the 12th through 999th digits of pi, or a version of the King James Bible) increases as the total string increases. This probability approaches 1 as the total string approaches infinity, and thus the original theorem is correct."

    13. PetrusOctavianusMay 25, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      "Googleplex" should of course be "gogolplex".

    14. I'd be more comfortable with the concept of randomly producing the works of Shakespeare if it didn't rely "monkeys banging on a typewriter" and instead used the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy method of selecting letters out of a bag. I mean, have you ever banged on a typewriter? I don't think I've ever seen two words appear next to each other. Monkeys being intelligent will have preferences. Take myself for example trying to bang out some words. The majority of the time I tend to start with the home keys.

    15. The key sentence is actually right at the beginning. "The probability that an infinite randomly generated string of text will contain a particular finite substring is 1. However, this does not mean the substring's absence is 'impossible,' despite the absence having a prior probability of 0."

      The source of all arguments on this theory is the concept of infinity, which is a useless concept when it comes to probability, since the entire point of probability is to work with bounded systems. If I was going to bring up the IMT, I should have just used it as a quick analogy to playing NetHack over and over and not mentioned the mathematics at al.

    16. It's certainly possible that the infitely typing monkey will never come up with the works of Shakespeare; but it's ridiculously unlikely. I mean, consider the finite case; by simply increasing the amount of time the monkey has even finitely, we can reduce the chance of him not typing the works of Shakespeare as low as we like. Given infinite time he's so much more likely to have typed the works of Shakespeare somewhere (and any other finite string we desire) than to not have done so you may as well view it as a certainty. (Assuming he has at least some chance of hitting each necessary key.)

  6. "1. There isn't enough energy in the universe for the monkey to type long enough to have even a one-in-a-trillion probability of even typing "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

    2. Just because a series of events have a cumulative probability of 1 doesn't guarantee that it will ever happen, since each trial is independent. It violates no laws of probability for that monkey to bang at the typewriter for a billion years and never type the letter a, let alone "This above all: to thine own self be true.""

    I just can't resist. I know I should. But,

    1. infinite time presupposes infinite energy. The second law of thermodynamics would not be in effect either way because if it were, there could not be infinite time to begin with, as with the process of entropy we would end up at a point where time itself stops existing. So it's a philosophical concept, not something that can be applied in reality as we know of. "Infinite time" is universe-breaking enough, you don't have to make a point about energy.

    2. A billion years != infinite amount of time. You're moving the goal posts!

    AHH, this felt good! There's no need to reply, I am not a physicist but I am into philosophy and sophistry (and counter-sophistry) is its own reward.

    1. Philosophical Ninjery: By far the least deadly of the shadow arts, yet the most vexing!!

    2. I like to think I can dabble in sophistry with the best but again I am shown that that in all things I am vexingly deficient. There is nothing I am sufficiently good at that I can even gauge myself as a dabbler. Nothing. I find myself on my figurative knees at this moment, tears in my eyes, realizing that at 50 years of age I am good at nothing. What use to even pretend I am a part of anything, even this ragtag group, when I have nothing at all to bring to the table? Damn it all, and damn my life.

    3. @william: the Internet can painfully humbling in that sense. Getting used to my own overall middle-groundness in all areas worth pursuing took a while, but the moment I stopped feeling anxious about it and came to accept it was when it became clear I was being denied even the fallback comfort of feeling good about the uniqueness of my obsessions. That was around the time I found Chet's blog. :-)

    4. William, as there is no objective notion of 'better', rest assured that you are as good as each and every one of us. :)

  7. It's interesting how much I can sympathise despite not having played nethack. ADOM seems to have borrowed much of the IP: Elves start with good armor; Soldier Ants are a pain; Altars make one leap with joy due to their identification and holy watering creating properties; intrinsic hunting is a big part of finishing the game.

    ADOM is definitely more structured though, mixing random and pre-generated content and containing overland exploration and quests.

    1. ADOM was always my roguelike of choice. But I did give up on it when I realized what a laundry list I'd have to go through to ascend. I did a lot of 'a month in the life of...' type of playing in ADOM, like, made a fighter and just wanted the plains, visited the village for supplies, fought in the infinite dungeon's first few floors once in a while. Got to level 20 or so, but once you have to start gearing up to say, survive the Pyramid, I found I didn't have the ambition for it.

  8. Just one quick question. Does this version allow you to sacrifice at altars (ctrl+o)? At least in recent versions, it allows you to trade monster bodies for artifacts/godly favors..

    1. Not sure if Chet wants spoilers or is rationing them as he finds he needs them, so this will be in ROT-13:

      Ng yrnfg va yngre irefvbaf bs Argunpx, vs lbh fnpevsvpr erpragyl xvyyrq pbecfrf ba n pebff-nyvtarq nygne, gurer vf n punapr gung lbh jvyy pbaireg gur nygne gb gur punenpgre'f nyvtazrag. Nyfb, Ncnean vf pbeerpg, vs lbh xrrc fnpevsvpvat, lbhe punenpgre pna erprvir ernyyl avpr vgrzf nf tvsgf.

      Nyfb, vs lbh svaq nal chqqvatf gung qvivqr, lbh pna gnxr fbzr gvzr naq qb "chqqvat snezvat" juvpu vf gerzraqbhfyl naablvat ohg gurl bppnfvbanyyl qebc enaqbz vgrzf. Be yvar hc fgnpxf bs haarrqrq vgrzf va n ebj naq mnc gurz jvgu n jnaq bs cbylzbecu. Ybj punaprf bs fhpprff ohg zvtug or jbegu n fubg.

      Svanyyl, vfa'g gurer n crefvfgrag gryrcbegre gung gnxrf lbh gb gur pnfgyr? Be vf gung bayl va arjre irefvbaf?

    2. Npghnyyl, va yngre irefvbaf bs Argunpx, lbh pna abg bayl fnpevsvpr sbe vgrzf, ohg jung V jnf npghnyyl gnyxvat nobhg vf 'pebjavat' - V'z abg fher vs vg'f va guvf irefvba bs Argunpx, ohg vg tenagf n fcryyobbx, hfhnyyl enaqbz vs lbh nyernql unir gbhpu bs qrngu.. naq V'z cerfhzvat Purfgre qbrf ol abj.

      That said? I'd be looking for and eating a nymph...

  9. <--
    As experienced NetHack players know, there are no "down" stairs after the castle;

    does the castle in 3.0.9 not have trap doors? in fact, i can see one on the last two screenshots. those should work just fine to get down :-)

    1. note to self:
      fact-check first.

      Hell in 3.0.9 indeed does not have any downstairs on any level.

  10. It has been immensely entertaining watching it slowly dawn on the author *just how hard* Nethack really is. Go read the early posts on this topic, he assumes he's going to finish it in 10-20 hours like any other RPG. Nope.

    Since he finally looked in the spoilers, isn't there a trapdoor near the back entrance of the castle? Or is that not in this version? How about digging down with direction > ?

    1. Yes, I wasn't clear: the castle level does have trap doors, but there's nothing on the first level below that. Digging down doesn't work. It says the "floor is too hard" or something. I have two wands of digging, too. I was hoping to be able to use them for escapes.

    2. How about level teleport traps? Your new ring should help with those.

    3. That would work just fine if I could find one. They were all over the place when I didn't want them.

    4. Well ... you could always sacrifice that wand. It seems like a shame to do so without having recharged it.

    5. If I recall correctly, digging down is only blocked in certain places to prevent you from bypassing the castle entirely.

      You will, however, definitely want a cursed potion of gain level for getting back out.

      There should be normal staircases below, but you might have to do some digging/secret door finding.

  11. I read an article once that said a zoo keeper put a typewriter in the chimpanzee cage and they never wrote Hamlet. They DID like the letter "s" and tended to pound on that key repeatedly.

    1. Bah you beat me to it, I did seem to remember reading something like that and the preference for the letter 's' :)
      I only played dragon wars briefly a long time back but it was like the bards tale. It was well acclaimed at the time, more so than bt2 and bt3 so hopefully thats a good sign. I think romance of the three kingdoms is more a strategy game but my knowledge there is quite hazy.

  12. Are you sure you can't fall through that trapdoor?

    1. And even if you can't fall through the trapdoor, you should consider whether you have an item capable of creating a downward hole.

    2. Yes, the trap door gets me from the castle level to the first level of Hell, but there's no trap door beyond that. And no, the wand of digging doesn't work there, either. Trust me: I tried the obvious stuff.

    3. I had completely forgotten about that "feature" of the early versions. You are playing the last version of Nethack that has no downstairs in Hell. Yeah, you need to level teleport down to max level (50 in that version) and then work your way back up. So, good choice on the Ring of Tele Control.

      In that old version, dragon scale mail can be obtained by polymorphing a dragon corpse.

    4. Thanks. I have a Wand of Polymorphing with 2 charges. I'll give it a try next time.

  13. Sounds frustrating! Nethack is so not my roguelike of choice :)

    1. And yet it's still a lot of fun. It's hard to explain. I really enjoy firing up a game of NetHack after it's been a week or so after my last one. What I hate (and can no longer do) is restarting after a high-level character has just died.

  14. Since you are soliciting blatant spoilers, I will provide some!

    Your first wish from the wand of wishing is always for "2 blessed scrolls of charging". Then you identify the scrolls (because they aren't necessarily blessed even though you asked for them to be). Bless them if needed. Identify the wand if wishing. Use wishes until wand is empty. Charge wand with scroll. Use remaining wishes (see below for recommended wish usage). Do not waste more scrolls trying to recharge wand of wishing a second time. Zap the empty wand until it grants you one final wish and is destroyed in the process.

    Regarding your Ascension Kit:
    I would recommend the following items which will more dramatically improve your survivability.
    1) "blessed rustproof +2 pair of speed boots" (speed boots are "very fast", intrinsic speed is only "fast")
    2) "blessed fireproof +2 cloak of magic resistance"
    3) "blessed +2 silver dragon scale mail" (for reflection)

    If you get an early wish from a fountain, I would get "blessed +2 gray dragon scale mail" which combines great armor class with magic resistance. The problem with early speed boots is that they can be destroyed by a lich if you don't already have magic resistance (and haven't genocided liches).

    My optimal ascenscion kit does not include the gray dragon scale mail because I'd rather wear silver dragon scale for reflection. This enables wearing an amulet of life protection, rather than an amulet of reflection, and your magic resistance will come from the cloak. Alternatively, you could use a shield of reflection with gray dragon scale mail.

    The reason liches are your number 1 blessed genocide target is not that they are trying to curse your armor (which they are), it's that they also can cast "Destroy Armor" which is arguably the first source of nerd rage.

    1. Ellasar does have some speed boots, though not blessed or +2, and I agree that they help out a lot. I guess I didn't realize you could be so specific with the wishes, or wish for m ore than one thing at a time.

    2. You can only wish for multiples on stackable items. If you wish for N quantity, the game rolls a d6. If the roll is greater than N then you get N, else you get only 1 (you always get at least 1).
      I suggest 2 scrolls of charging because the marginal value of the second one is much higher than that of the third one, so the risk of asking for 3 is not worth it.

    3. Excellent. Thanks for the clarification on that. More probability! The chance of getting at least 1 is 100%, so there's no downside to wishing for 2. But if you wish for 3, there's a 50% chance that you'll end up with only 1, instead of the prior 67% chance of getting 2.

  15. I agree with Dave on the GDSM and the appropriate first use of a wand of wishing. A couple other thoughts:

    - If you've got a blessed scroll of genocide and you KNOW that you're going to genocide liches, why wait until you run into a big pile of them? Do a pre-emptive strike, then you don't have to worry about cursing/destroying/etc before you can get the scroll deployed.

    - I like genociding eels ( ';' ) to avoid the whole "drag me into the water" thing.

    As for the "you can't decide to ascend", once you've done it a few times that's not really true any more. Once you learn and internalize the techniques ascending is fairly straightforward, assuming you don't do anything stupid. This is why people take on voluntary conducts (no wishes, not reading any scrolls, not eating any non-vegetarian food, etc) to make it harder. :)

    I'm not that good at it, but having ascending 3 or 4 times, if I've finished the mines and gone below level 10 in the main dungeon with a Valkyrie then I'm reasonably confident that that game is going to the end.

    1. Oh, I did think about that--using the scroll of genocide right away--but I wanted to see it (and get the screen shots) in action.

      I don't necessarily disagree with your final paragraphs, but my correspondent had never ascended before, like me, so to just sit down and "decide" to do it during a fixed time period seemed far too optimistic.

    2. As far as I know, I'm the only other reader who has recently played the version Chet is playing. It is significantly harder than later versions. I can ascend most of the time in recent Nethack versions and 3.0.9 was definitely making it a challenge to even reach the castle. This was primarily due to the fact that large packs of mobs could randomly spawn directly on your head in the old versions. At some point this was changed so that random spawns can only happen out of your line of sight.

    3. That's interesting to hear: that 3.0.9 is much harder. Perhaps that will make the next edition a breeze, much like I was encouraged to run on the beach in combat boots for the few weeks before I went to basic training.

  16. " I realized that when your Level 20 character dies on Level 26 with two dozen active intrinsics and a blessed scroll of genocide you never got to use, who else are you going to tell? Your co-workers? Your spouse? The bartender at Applebee's?"

    Ahhaha! so true (but in my case its normal RPG's)

    1. And this is why nethack has a crazily active usenet community.

  17. I never got into Nethack (or rather Hack, as it was when I started on these games). I was always a Moria and then later Angband player.

    I always remember the time (I think this has happened to every Angband/Moria player) I got stuck in a deep level, blinded, with some nasty (Ancient Multi-Hued Dragon, let's say) nearby.

    What eventually turned me off them was the fact that I couldn't resist Save-Scumming. I got so damn invested in my characters the thought of losing my progress was abhorrent to me.

    It wasn't until Dungeons of Dredmor that I every really broke that habit. Gaems like Dark Souls helped, I'd say.

    1. JPublic, have you played Angband recently? Around mid-September of last year the team released version 3.40, with several changes including a really nice new set of graphics tiles - much detail, and each sex/race/class combo has their own image!

    2. That should read 3.4.0 ....

  18. I've got to say, if I ever have grant money I need to use up in a hurry I'm buying super computer time and seeing how long it takes to generate the works of Shakespeare.

    Actually, I've heard of at least one RL that does bugtesting by always running a game in the background with 100% random keypresses, as it will then do things he'd never think of. For example, putting on an amulet of live saving, made of silver while a werewolf. (Crashed the game, so he fixed it to you die, come back to live, then are still wearing it, so die again).

  19. Hi, there! I teach probability and statistics at the graduate level and consult for several state gaming agencies. I came upon this article while Googling the infinite monkey theorem, specifically to refute it in a presentation I'm giving next month.

    I think it's too bad that the discussion went the way it did. The author seems to have tried to defend himself (herself?) for a while and then just gave up despite being 100% correct. Even if one of the dimensions is infinite (and he's also right that if one of them is, then it doesn't matter if all are), and the mathematical probability of an event is 1, there is still no guarantee that it will occur in a series (even an infinite series) of independent trials.

    Similar beliefs bankrupt people. In reality, there's no such thing as infinity, of course, but the monkey/typewriter theorem conveys an allure that if one does something randomly enough times, he'll eventually hit on a "win", whether that's playing roulette via the disastrous "Martingale" system, dating a slew of people expecting that one will inevitably turn out to be "Mr. Right," bouncing from job to job in the hopes that one will eventually land on one's "calling"--or, I suppose, creating dozens and dozens of characters in the expectation that "the laws of probability" will dictate that one will eventually win a game.

    I don't know if the author reads comments on posts this old, but if you could tell me how to get in touch with you, I'd love your permission to use your Nethack experience as a example in my presentation, and a forthcoming book.

    1. Always nice to hear from someone who agrees with me, even if it's been a while. You can reach me at; you're welcome to use my material for your examples.

    2. I don't know if you've seen this, but it's definitely relevant:


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