Saturday, March 30, 2024

NetHack [3.1]: Seen the End! (with Summary and Rating)

If not for those dilithium crystals, I would have escaped with no wealth at all.
NetHack [3.1 series]
United States
Independently developed and released in four versions between January and July 1993
Date Started: 11 February 2024
Date Ended: 27 March 2024
Total Hours: 34
Difficulty: Hard (4.0/5)
Final Rating: 48
Ranking at time of posting: 465/508 (92%)
NetHack 3.1.3 is not quite the version of the roguelike that modern players experience, but it's the closest that I've covered so far. While still including the superior roguelike mechanics for which the series is famous, it tries to be a bit more like a traditional RPG with more background story, a branching dungeon, a personal quest, and a more complex endgame. While most of these changes are welcome, they add significantly to the length and thus create a more difficult experience than earlier versions.

The strengths of this series remain eternal, however, including very large libraries of monsters with special attacks and defenses, inventory items with special uses, and complex interactions between them. The game's complex rules and physics create unique tactical scenarios not only for each player but for each character. Except for graphics and sound, NetHack is perhaps the most sophisticated CRPG of its age.
I have now seen NetHack 3.1's winning screens but have not "won" it in the traditional sense, as I did not adhere to permadeath. My experience with the game is not over, as I intend to field new characters on and off for the indefinite future, and I will report occasionally on my progress. I would like to try to win it legitimately, but I cannot have my entire life subsumed to it.
When I left off last time, I was already on two reloads, one from eating a cockatrice egg, and one because I lost track of Vlad the Impaler. I probably would not have taken the second one if I had not already been forced to reload once. I would have tried harder to find the vampire among the game's 55 levels. But since I'd already given up my ability to win legitimately, I didn't have the patience for it. That kind of scenario is going to recur.
Leaving the dungeon for good.
I ended the last session at the stairs, preparing to leave the dungeon and enter the planes. Once you have the Amulet of Yendor and climb up the Level 1 stairs, you still have five levels left to complete: the Planes of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (in that order), and the final Astral Plane. The program simply displays these areas as "End Game."
I arrived on the Plane of Earth to find the Wizard of Yendor right in front of me. As usual, I blasted him away with a Wand of Death--down to 5 charges now. This time, he left a corpse, which I thought might be a good sign. I ate it just to be on the safe side. It turns out that leaving a corpse doesn't make him any "deader" than when he doesn't, but it was still satisfying.
Thankfully, my Wands of Death held up.
I was in a small chamber with no exits, but a minotaur (who I caught in the same blast as the Wizard) had a Wand of Digging, so I used it to blast a corridor northward. It took me to another small chamber where I stepped into a magic portal, and I was suddenly on the Plane of Air. I hoped I hadn't missed anything on Earth.
"It's hard to walk in thin air," the game said. I guess that's why there were no features around me. I put on my Ring of Levitation immediately. Dragons and air elementals attacked, the latter engulfing me and doing reasonable damage to my hit points. I found out the hard way that apparently Potions of Extra Healing (not to mention the spell) barely do anything in the endgame. I nearly died inside an air elemental and had to retreat quickly to avoid death at the hands of nearby allies. I was relieved when the magic portal appeared next to me on the east side of the map, and I got out of there.
I got lucky finding this the first time.
The Plane of Fire came next. At first, it didn't bother me. Fire elementals, fire dragons, and pit fiends can't really hurt me. But, blood and ashes, they never ended. I literally couldn't walk a step in the place. And for every one of my attacks, there were 25 of theirs, with dragon breath flying this way and that, shots from wands, special attacks from elementals that have their own special animation. I was relieved every time a fire vortex engulfed me; he couldn't damage me faster than I healed, and I got a break from all the chaos.
I violate NetHack rule #1 and let myself get surrounded.
But if those enemies weren't tough, the archons were. They kept approaching, spouting things about how I would bow to their god and I wasn't worthy of the Amulet of Yendor. They had artifact weapons like the Sunsword. They blinded and stunned me constantly, and in the end, surrounded by other enemies and unable to move, teleport, drill down, or do anything, I died to their attacks.

Analyzing that death, I decided that I needed to clear out some space on the planes. I restored from Level 1 (if you're keeping track, that's three reloads now), zapped my last wish, and wished for 2 blessed Scrolls of Genocide. It worked. I read the first one and took care of all dragons, except the chromatic one and "Ixoth," apparently. I read the second one, hit "E," and found out I'm not allowed to genocide elementals. Goddamn it. Archons, either. Or demons. I thought I had it all figured out. I wasted my last wish on killing dragons and what turned out to be giants because I couldn't think of anything else that had swarmed me on those levels. 
This felt bad. I kinda like dragons.
I went up the stairs to try again. The Plane of Earth took me a little longer because the teleporter wasn't in the same place, but I got a Scroll of Enchant Weapon and blessed it. I read it and got my Grayswandir up to +7. The Plane of Air was a little easier without the dragons, and I found a Potion of Gain Level after I killed a djinn, which got me to Level 29. It took me a lot of systematic exploring on the air level to realize how lucky I'd been the first time. I'd been fleeing a bunch of monsters, and I'd just stumbled upon the portal. This time, I had to go back and forth in rows, killing the Wizard twice, before I found it.
Fire was a bit easier this time. The lack of dragons made it harder for enemies to surround me, and I took the entire thing more cautiously. It was harder to identify the portal because the level had so many traps, and I had to circle a couple of times. Finally, I found it near the center of the map and entered.
The Plane of Water was weird. Every square was water except randomly-moving "bubbles" that threw off my attempts to navigate systematically. Water elementals and other water creatures attacked constantly. But I got lucky. I figured the portal would be on the opposite side of the screen from my arrival, so I made a beeline to the east to start systematically exploring there. I stumbled upon the portal almost immediately and got out of there.
In a bubble on the Plane of Water.
"You arrive on the Astral Plane!" the game said. "You sense alarm, hostility, and excitement in the air!" Immediately, a voice (my god) whispered, "Thou hast been worthy of me!" and I got a pet angel to help me, which I almost immediately lost track of.

The level had three rooms with altars--one lawful, one neutral, one chaotic. Each required a different path to get there, and each area in between was swarming with archons, angels, and priests. Some of them were friendly. There were also three special enemies named Death, Pestilence, and Famine. 
In the final level, I frequently lost track of which @ was me.
The worst part is that the priests kept summoning huge swarms of insects--giant ants and beetles and such. Soon there were so many that practically every free spot was filled with them. They posed no danger at all, but it's a huge pain in the ass to cleave your way through dozens of them, having to acknowledge every single attack that a couple dozen enemies are making against you for every step that you take. It made me realize that this game really needs an area damage spell. I wished I'd saved a Scroll of Genocide for the insects.
I first fought my way north to the central room. The game told me that it was an "aligned altar," but I took a save right in front of it just to be sure. I guess "aligned" meant that it was aligned with something (not neutral), because it wasn't aligned with me. When I sacrificed the Amulet of Yendor on the altar, the game said that: "Aerdrie Faenya accepts your gift, and gains dominion over Erevan Ilesere. Erevan Ilesere is enraged. Fortunately, Aerdrie Faenya permits you to live. A cloud of orange smoke surrounds you . . ." And that was it. The game showed me my inventory, intrinsics, and kills as if I had died, told me my total score (2,077,441), and entered me in the hall of fame. But I clearly hadn't "ascended."
Well, you should have put your altar in a more convenient location.
Reloading (that's four), I fought back to the south and then to the east, killing Death and Famine along the way. I then ate his corpse just to see what would happen, and pretty soon I had reloaded for the fifth time.
But what a flex, right?
I resumed my fight to the east but found that the altar was neutral. Of course. So now I needed to cross all the way to the other side of the map with a billion ants, priests, angels, and so forth in the way. I was so out of patience by this point that I stopped trying to do it carefully and just forced my way through the crowd. It took probably longer, again because of all the messages I had to acknowledge between moves. Then, with the western altar in my sight, the Wizard of Yendor appeared and stole the Amulet!
I didn't get a screenshot of the moment, but it was somewhere around here.
I suppose the proper thing to do would be to chase him down and get it back? I don't know. But instead I went to bed, reloaded the next day, and took it much more slowly. I killed Pestilence this time. I reached the altar and sacrificed the Amulet.
You offer the Amulet of Yendor to Erevan Ilesere. An invisible choir sings, and you are bathed in radiance. The voice of Erevan Ilesere booms: "Congratulations, mortal! In return for thy service, I grant thee the gift of immortality!" You ascend to the status of Demigod . . .
And then it was back to identifying items, intrinsics, etc., only this time my final score was 4,281,164. It only took six reloads.
My kills.
But it was a good experience. Now that I know the entire picture of the dungeon, I can see many ways I could have done things differently--how I will do things differently on the next play:
  • Now that I know what's at the bottom of the Gnomish Mines, I'll just grab it on my first visit rather than having to go back a dozen times.
  • I'll take the time to get all the way to Level 30 and to max out my armor class. There's no reason to go into the endgame with those values less than perfect.
  • I'll experiment a lot more with spells, at least for strong spellcasting classes. My elf got an insane number of spells (but never "Identify!") but barely used them. I'll also store my spellbooks in a central location so I can refresh my spell knowledge when it starts to fade.
My list of available spells towards the end of the game, most of them never cast. I'm not even sure what the numbers mean.
  • After the game ended, I read some more spoilers and realized that Stormbringer might have been a stronger option in the endgame, as it drains health and conveys them to the wielder. It also level-drains the enemy it hits. Apparently, you can level-drain the Wizard of Yendor down to nothing and make him a non-threat. I probably won't have this weapon specifically, but I'll analyze my weapons better.
  • I'll genocide insects.
  • I'll wear the Amulet of Yendor in the planes; apparently, it makes the portals easier to find.
  • I'll approach the Astral Plane with a better strategy than just "hack through everything because I'm sick of the game."
Now, my experience of nearly 30 hours with one character is probably on the high end, but I still think that the extra content added to this version at least doubles the amount of time it takes to ascend from 3.0. While I enjoyed parts of the new material, I didn't enjoy the extra length. The key problem, as I see it, is that the monsters in Gehennom are so hard that you need to be "ascension-ready" before you even enter the place. That means that almost all your development has been accomplished in the first half of the game, and you have much less to look forward to as you go through the interminable mazes. And frankly, the Astral Plane alone would have been enough at the end.
Nonetheless, I expect the GIMLET to rank the game slightly higher than the previous version:
  • 1 point for the game world. Some extra background for your character isn't quite enough to move it up a notch from its predecessor on a 10-point scale. A consistent and original world is not the game's strong suit.
  • 6 points for character creation and development. A solid character creation system with a lot of options. The choice of character is more meaningful here, as it defines the class-specific objective and the class-specific artifacts. Development is reasonably rewarding and the level cap is high.
My intrinsics at the end of the game.
  • 2 points for NPC interaction. They exist, but interaction is mostly limited to one line of dialogue. Again, those that show up for the quest are a bit more verbose.
  • 7 points for encounters and foes, which is about as high a score as a game can get without more non-combat encounters and puzzles. The number of enemies in this game, along with their special attacks, defenses, and even uses to the character, is beyond any commercial RPG of the era. And now they pick stuff up and use it! Looking at enemies gives you detailed descriptions.
  • 7 points for magic and combat. It's hard to think of a commercial RPG with a more complex combat system, with so many ways to fight, use items, protect yourself, hide, flee, teleport away, and so forth. Enemies can damage each other or themselves in fun ways that create epic gameplay stories. I continue to find the spell system a bit under-developed, alas.
  • 9 points for equipment. Again, a major strength. There are so many potential items to wield, wear, use, enchant, drink, eat, throw, loot, invoke, and a dozen other commands that you could play the game for years and not master all the potential interactions. Consider the ability to blank scrolls, write new ones, dilute potions, tin corpses for rations, and even change the navigable dungeon space. No commercial RPG is offering anything like it.
  • 5 points for the economy. The game has a reasonably strong economic system with several stores and other features like shrines and the Oracle to serve as money sinks. Like everything else, it gets lost in the last third of the game.
  • 4 points for quests, including a main quest and a required sub-quest, including a class-specific quest. There's even an "alternate ending" of sorts.
That's so much better than just joining the Guild.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. No roguelike is ever going to excel in the first two categories, although I found the graphics perfectly functional. I still like the keyboard interface, but man the game has got to do something about the way it handles messages of more than one line, particularly in combat.
  • 5 points for gameplay. It's non-linear and offers a lot of replayability. The difficulty level is somewhat fair, even for permadeath. But this entry simply lasts too long, and almost everything that happens after you enter Gehennom is a boring slog. I liked the personal quest and Gnomish Mine additions. In my opinion, the authors should have then cut about 20 of the final dungeon levels, though, and I'm not sure the four "elemental" levels at the end added anything but time and frustration.
That gives us a final score of 48, four points higher than I gave the last version. Looking over the GIMLET for that game, I'm not sure why I even offered a score of 1 to the kitchen sink game world with its minimal backstory. The other scores are comparable, except for "quests," which is where this version gets its major boost. I expected the "gameplay" score to be lower because I felt this one dragged the ending a lot more (and took a lot longer), but it was exactly the same. However, I also offered this paragraph in 2013:
With respect to legions of fans who feel otherwise, permadeath just sucks. I wouldn't mind limited save points--even extremely limited save points, like once every 4 hours or something. I wouldn't mind deaths that cost you dearly and take a long time to recover from. But you have to be extremely masochistic to burn through 262 hours and a few dozen characters in your effort to win the game without "save-scumming," and I'm not sure it's worth it. This will always be a complaint of mine with roguelikes, and I'll likely never rate them particularly high in this category for this reason.
The vitriol in this paragraph is clearly a product of how long it took me to win the game honestly. I've made peace with that and didn't take away as many points for "difficulty" as I have in the past. 
It also interests me that I offered, in that same entry, a bulleted list of 8 things I never quite mastered. I did better with most of them this time, making extensive use of magic markers and blank scrolls, luck, altars, artifact weapons, and mapping the maze levels. I used ELBERETH more often but not to "confine and route monsters." I still never made use of the pet or self-polymorphing.
The pull remains strong.
We next check in officially with NetHack with the 3.2 series in 1996, but like I said, I'm going to keep pecking at this version. It's a good late night game, when I want to kill half an hour before bed but I've run through all the New York Times puzzles for the day. I just started a new game, picked a random character, and was assigned a rogue. There are three fountains on the first level. What do you bet one of them will give me a wish?


  1. I would *not* genocide insects. The messages may get annoying, but if you aren't surrounded by insects, you're likely to get surrounded by monsters that can hurt you. (Also, according to the wiki, if you genocide insects they'll summon snakes, so you need to waste two scrolls of genocide.)

    What really helps on the Astral Plane is having a way to clear through crowds. Wands of teleportation can displace everything in a straight path (except that Riders will be teleported *next to you*) and give you time to get a few steps in. Also very helpful: a source of whzcvat.

    In my experience you don't necessarily have to be near level 30 to win. Getting your HP up and your AC down is more important. Potions of full healing are important here (there is a mechanic for making lots of those, which I can rot13 for you if you like).

    There is also a much quicker (and typically, more obscure) way of finding the endgame portals:
    Vs lbh pbashfr lbhefrys naq ernq n aba-phefrq fpebyy bs tbyq qrgrpgvba, vg jvyy vqragvsl rirel genc ba gur yriry, naq cbegnyf ner gencf. N phefrq fpebyy bs tbyq qrgrpgvba jvyy vqragvsl gencf nf tbyq pbvaf, juvpu vf yrff urycshy ba gur Cynar bs Sver orpnhfr lbh pna'g gryy gur cbegny sebz gur hzcgrra sver gencf.

    And that lets you wear an Amulet of Life Saving, or of Magical Breathing (which has obvious uses on the Plane of Water).

    1. I appreciate the advice. Maybe you're right. Like mastering the pet and self-polymorphing, figuring out how all the rules change when you're confused has never been something that I've had the patience for.

    2. Confused good detection is the best way to find the portals, but another, much more intuitive way is to just use a crystal ball (like your palantir) to search for ^

      Wands of secret door detection or the Detect Unseen spell will also reveal them in a fairly big radius.

    3. I don't think I ever used a crystal ball, but according to the wiki applying a crystal ball leaves you helpless for 1 to 10 turns, which seems like a Bad Idea on the planes.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Nah, 1d10 turns isn't really that much time. Even an air ele needs more than that to kill you.

    6. I'd add to this also that beyond a certain point, more *levels* may actually do more harm than good given that there's a pbeeryngvba orgjrra rkcrevrapr yriry naq gur nccrnenapr engr bs penc yvxr Nepubaf.

    7. GDI, I forgot to put my name in before commenting, the above comment was me. >_<

    8. I'd recommend learning a few of the confused scroll effects: definitely try confused scroll of teleport (ideally with teleport control!) and confused scroll of enchant armour (especially if the armour is damaged).

  2. Congratulations!! It's a big achievement.

    Roguelikes - NetHack in particular - definitely have a masochistic element to them. I think to really enjoy them you have to accept that you might NEVER actually win. It took me almost 15 years across about five devices - always as a gnome wizard - to finally ascend. It was worth it, though it probably means something that I haven't replayed the game since.

  3. In Angband, the usual way to deal with summoner spam like that is to dig out an anti-summoning corridor, where you go to the outside edge of the dungeon and dig a little diagonal-up, diagonal-down, then diagonal-up again so you can take enemies on one at a time and they don’t have line of sight to any open squares to summon more critters. Does that not work in NetHack? It seems like digging resources are more constrained, and the habit of disallowing teleport could make them more dangerous (in Angband it’s relatively easy to just phase door or teleport out if you get into trouble), but for situations like this it seems like a similar tactic might be useful.

    Congrats on winning the game! But yeah, your first couple of posts made me think “maybe I should give NetHack another try!” and then your last couple made me think “nah.”

    1. The strategy works in general, but a lot of levels (like the Astral Plane) don't allow digging. Even then, nothing stops me from standing in a doorway and taking them one at a time except that it would be an extremely long time and I'm not sure the enemies ever stop spawning.

  4. How do you reconcile 'I found the graphics perfectly functional' with not being able to tell which @ is you?

    1. You can use the examine command to move the cursor around and determine what any visible object is, including yourself.
      Additionally, in later versions, there is an option to highlight your @ and highlight your pets.

  5. Congratulations, mortal!

    You definitely gained substantial knowledge on the more complex elements of Nethack gameplay this time. That knowledge and skill which carries over between games is a defining element of the rogue-like genre, as you know. Doing so with this version was a good choice, because 3.1 definitely removes some randomness (while retaining plenty of that) and adds complexity.

    Gaining so many wishes before increasing your in-game luck is statistically impressive. If you want to nerd out on the rnl(x) function, just google it but the TLDR is that the benefits of luck are non-linear and "unlucky" outcomes are extremely unlikely with max Luck which is +13 (3 from blessed Luckstone and 10 from Luck variable).

    Equipping an item with a magic cancellation(MC) value (different than magic resistance) that is as high as possible early on will reduce the RNG. Dwarven mithril coats and elven cloaks are the preferred mid-game options. Cloak of protection or cloak of magic resistance are end-game options. Stacking two items with MC3 does not increase the benefit. A simple dwarvish or orcish cloak will provide MC2.

    1. Implied in my posting of this info on Luck and MC is the essential nature of understanding those in order to achieve a legit victory. They are the primary mechanisms (besides player skill) of mitigating negative effects, and thus increasing survival %.

      Personally, I found legit ascension easier the first time with a Lawful class using Excalibur. But Chaotic with Grayswandir was the preference of several DevTeam members, so you are in good company.

    2. > Gaining so many wishes before increasing your in-game luck is statistically impressive.

      Uh... no?

      Luck has no relation at all with the number of wishes you get, aside of the fact than negative luck can make wands of wish fail.

      The main effect of luck is the bonus to hit, which means you will never ever miss an attack once you max your luck - although by endgame, your level and weapon are enough to never miss anyway.

    3. The possibility of getting a wish from sitting on a throne is related to a character's natural luck, so...yes.

      Additionally, you accomplished the remarkable feat of proving yourself wrong in the same sentence in which you made your spurious claim. Negative luck can cause a wand to explode, which bears a clear relationship to future attempts to use said wand.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. > Negative luck can cause a wand to explode,

      Find a citation for that, please, because i am pretty sure that's 100% false.

      Wands have a fixed 1% chance to explode if cursed, luck doesn't affect them at all.

      Unless you are talking about chest shock traps exploding wands (something luck can prevent), which yes, that's true, but that's why you always carry a WoW inside your bag.

      That aside, yes, throne wishes can fail if you have negative luck, similar to how wands of wish can fail if you have negative luck. But good luck doesn't increase the chances of getting a wish, and neither does neutral Luck.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. > It made me realize that this game really needs an area damage spell.

    Fireballs have Aoe if you are trained in Attack spells! It works pretty well in astral, too, Angels aren't immune to fire.

    (Cone of cold also has AoE, but angels are immune to cold, so it's not as practical there).

    > I nearly died inside an air elemental

    Yup, i saw that one coming (you can see it in a ROT-13 comment i did a while ago). Air Elementals hit extremely hard in the air plane, and are one of the few things that can do meaningful hp damage to an endgame high AC character.

    (They are the main reason why i carry a few potions of full heal in my ascension kit).

    > But if those enemies weren't tough, the archons were.

    Ah, that was a bit of bad luck. Archons sometimes spawn in the plane of fire but only rarely.

    As you saw, Archons are extremely though, hit hard, and have an stunning gaze attack (you can protect against that one with a blindfold tho!). Also they have the Summon Nasties spell, so they can overwhem you with numbers.

    (If you are very unlucky - Archons can sometimes summon more Archons, and that can really get out of hand. But that's usually not a problem unless you genocide too many letters).

    Archons are strong enough that an Archon pet with good gear can solo the entire game for you - making it one of the favorite pets for pacifists.

  8. Trumpets and laurels! This was the latest version when I first encountered NetHack, and while I've never had the patience to ascend in any version (legitimately or not), it has a special place in my heart.

  9. I'm curious how you're going to fare with ADoM which is like NetHack on steroids in terms of obscure mechanics and random ways to die, but also significantly longer. On the plus side, there's a lot more RPG in it with an overworld, quests etc.

    1. Depending on how that one goes, we might very well see something dethrone Fate at the top of the longest played list!

  10. Congratulations! I don't think I'd have the patience for longer roguelikes, but the accounts of your playsessions of them are always a good read.

    "Except for graphics and sound, NetHack is perhaps the most sophisticated CRPG of its age."

    Hmm, how do you measure "sophistication" there? Given your GIMLET scores on 'game world' and 'NPCs', I assume those do not form part of the equation?

  11. I neglected to say congratulations! Hope you enjoy your future playing around with NetHack in between other games.

    You're exactly right about cutting 20 or so of the Gehennom levels. I said before that I like having a phase where you're overpowered and running over everything, but Gehennom overdoes it by a lot. I believe most of the variants like SLASH'EM, SporkHack, dNethack etc. redo Gehennom in various ways to make it less dull. (Sometimes by guaranteeing Demogorgon.)

    The length really does make the permadeath sting too. I stopped playing NetHack a while ago, and last time I tried the thing that put me off was the logistics management--a lot of shuffling back and forth between various stashes and worrying about encumbrance. For that reason I've been a lot more into Brogue, a trad roguelike with 26 levels (plus optional levels below) where the food clock pushes you forward at a reasonable pace and fast travel works very well; though the very end is often anticlimactic, grab the amulet and hit the less than key to autonavigate to the stairs. The shorter length softens the pain of permadeath (especially because I usually play the 6- or 3-level variants) but I do kind of miss having the power of steamrolling anything. Also a lot of what it strips out is stuff you like; no economy, the only stats are strength and max HP which increase by drinking potions, there's good item interactions and a decent variety of stuff (with many strategic options) but not the kitchen-sink multiplicity NetHack gives you.

  12. Congratulations! One thing I found permadeath good for is training you to play carefully. It's quite possible to streak ascension if you lower the variance by not taking risky actions that can do really well or badly, like quaffing fountains. Yes, getting an early wish lets you steamroll the game if you're good and know what to wish for, but getting an early angry demon or water mocassins is usually fatal. I still never quaff fountains until after I boost my luck, usually after getting the luckstone.

    1. Oh, no question. Most of the deaths I suffered after the first one I would not have suffered if I hadn't already "tainted" the character by dying once.

  13. Personally I'd still chalk this up as a win, although considering I'm a habitual savestate/rewind abuser I'm not exactly the sort to consider not playing as intended a problem.

    I'm wondering what happens if you don't get a "clean" win before you hit the next version, will this just be chalked up as a loss or will you keep going at it?

    1. Oh, I already counted it as a win in my spreadsheet. It was good enough for me. That doesn't mean I don't want to at least try to get it with permadeath.

  14. One trick I remember using on the Astral Plane to deal with Death, Famine and Pestilence (other than trying to avoid them, of course) was to lure them into temples, kill them there and lock the doors on my way out.

    But I think I reported it as a bug to the DevTeam and that it no longer works in later versions.

  15. Congratulations, even if it isn't a legit win. (Still better than most) Even better, I think, is that with this in the rear-view mirror you've done most, if not all of the big in length games from this year done. From here on out the year should be smooth sailing!

  16. I understand your playsessions are usually a couple entries ahead of your published pieces. Since I assume Labyrinth won't keep you busy for long and Dungeon Hack is up next, I thought it might make sense to mention a few issues that seem to crop up for other players:

    - Save function:
    If the game won't accept your save name, it apparently helps to just add a space to the start of it.

    - Key remapping of numpad default movement keys to "WASD": Depending on where you buy Forgotten Realms: The Archives - Collection Three (Dungeon Hack bundled with Menzoberranzan which is also on your list, in 1994), you can find instructions on how to do this here for the GOG version or here and here for the Steam one.

    - Also, for technical issues, the PC Gaming Wiki page on the game has a few hints.

    - Number of dungeon levels to select: Several commenters/reviewers (Scorpia among them) note ten (to fifteen) levels would be enough given their size and the repetitive nature of random combat.

    - Choice of character class and food/hunger issue: It seems hunger / lack of food can become a problem quite early and often. Unless you're playing on the easiest settings, it may be recommendable to have a cleric, either single class or as part of a multi-class character.

    Other commenters with first-hand experience might correct / add points.

    1. I had no problems with hunger the one time I played through it as paladin and I explored the whole map of each level. But maybe I was just lucky then. Although I did this I still fealt quite underleveled when I got to the end boss. I left every dungeon generation setting and the difficulty to standard.

    2. It's an easy game and not too long, he'll figure it out and even if the worst happens, a restart isn't as costly. The only thing I would stress is not making the dungeon too deep, as it just adds filler.

  17. This is one of the few games (that wasn't already on my long list of 80s/90s games to play/replay) that you've reviewed that made me want to play it. I already downloaded the current version (3.6.7) but it's a daunting task to start - it's so very complicated and my time's limited. On the other hand, I'm completely on board with your vitriol about permadeath. I will never play a game in which I'm forced to accept that end. Ain't nobody got time for that - there's way too much else to play. I plan to save-scum the hell out of Nethack if I ever get started on it.

    1. Nethack has an explore mode, which lets you decide if you really die when you die and allows you to keep a save file. I think it also gives you a wand of wishing at the beginning (you can throw it away if you want a more classic experience). That might be an alternative to save scumming. The only downside is that your score isn't registered, and it might lead to an agressive and possibly boring playstyle.

    2. Also, it's important to keep in mind that the game is balanced with permadeath in mind. It's actually not that hard a game if you're willing to reload a lot, so my advice is to limit your backups to once every few levels. You want to be SCARED about the possibility of dying. Maybe not as scared as you would be if you were adhering to permadeath, but still scared.

  18. It really sums up why I've never had the patience to play Nethack a lot, while I find the beginning of the game quite interesting in terms of it's randomness and variety, everything in the final third of this has not made me inclined to give it another shot.

    Always a great read though, I do enjoy seeing what I'm missing out on, even if I'd never have the patience even with save scumming.

  19. I wanted to say I personally don't have the time to devote to Nethack, but I find the concept fascinating, and I love to read your retellings of it. I think that this coverage of 3.1 was exceptional, it was entertaining, funny, gripping at times. Thanks.

    And I back 100% your decision to reload backups, after all what we want is the stories you tell and your coverage of the game, and there are so many more to come.

  20. "My list of available spells towards the end of the game, most of them never cast. I'm not even sure what the numbers mean."

    The numbers next to the spells are the spell's level. That informs how easy/difficult the spell is to learn from a spellbook, as well as how much Power it takes to cast (lvl*5).

  21. Congrats on your win. I started my nethack journey on this version and it took me years to ascend, even using all the spoilers I could get my hands on. I thought I would call out to all your readers that there is a varient of nethack called Gnollhack I have recently discovered. It has gone a long way to making Nethack more accesible, especialy on mobile devices. It has lots of elements to ease new players into the game, like NPCs giving friendly advice, and in game books listing catalogs of potions, armors, scrolls, ect. It even has voice acting. It is free. Worth checking out for new players interested in this game, who are used to more modern game design conventions.

  22. Congratulations! Due to the occasion, some thoughts about roguelikes in general and Nethack in particular:

    - This is just stating the obvious, but the classic roguelike games were iteratively developed over many years by people in their spare time, making them deep and well-balanced by incorporating a huge amount of feedback from their players; in contrast to contemporary commercial CRPGs with limited QA phases where it's often possible to "cheese" most challenges. It's almost an unfair comparison. Nowadays there are a lot more games which get to be iteratively developed over many years in close collaboration with their player community. In both cases the requirement for this approach was digital distribution.

    - They're very much targeted at long-time players. New players may have trouble getting a foothold, but I think they're being lured in anyway due to the praise of the hardcore players towards these games.

    - Permadeath, procedural generation and deep interactions between game systems result in high tension and sometimes surprising consequences. Ideally you enjoy rolling with the punches and even dying ("losing is fun") because you got an individual and fun story out of it (often with the moral "hubris before the fall"). But this is also possible in much shorter games than Nethack. Permadeath after more than 15 hours on a single run is pretty rough.

    - They motivate players with variable rate reinforcement, i.e. rewards that occur at variable & unpredictable intervals, and which have variable & unpredictable worth. Maybe the strongest reinforcement scheme according to behavioral science. For example, you could start a new game with the hope of finding a Wand of Wishing early on, in contrast to classic CRPGs with more predictable rewards (such as "you need to play for a few hours to amass 1000 XP before you can even think about getting a new ability").

    - They make sure that you know your vocabulary well before you get to the bigger challenges. Due to restarting so often, the basic tactics have been drilled into your memory. In contrast, games with saving and loading might allow you to advance "too far" and then you struggle to proceed due to your shaky foundations. (Kind of like math.) I've got a savegame in Baldur's Gate that I would like to continue, but it's in a difficult area and I haven't really learned what half of my abilities do.

    - Aside from the IMO excessive length, I don't like the way that Nethack lets you assemble pretty much any equipment and characteristics you want with sufficient grinding. I think I prefer how Rogue and Brogue only give you a few special items and you're encouraged to adapt your strategy around them, making each run a bit more unique.

    - You've praised the combat mechanics, but my main criticism of roguelikes would be that too many combats are trivial single-character melee bashing affairs, in contrast to games like Pool of Radiance or Baldur's Gate where you need to position each party member and utilize far more abilities during combat.

    - But I think that the not-too-taxing playstyle and the repetitive input method (tap-tap-tap) are also the reasons why it's relaxing.

    - The roguelike genre is a game concept with such a long-lasting spark that once Spelunky combined it with an action game genre, those genre combinations exploded in number. (Making some people now groan about their prevalence...) I'm not aware of any other game concept which achieved or could achieve something like this.

    1. All great points that add a lot to this entry. Thank you. I particularly agree with: "They motivate players with variable rate reinforcement." Not knowing what you're going to find in each room, but the possibility that you might find ANYTHING, is a huge part of each new game.

  23. I'm a little surprised you never wished for the item most likely to save your life. When you are at a low level, you are indeed best off wishing for one of the top survivability items, such as gray dragon scale mail. But by the time you reach the Castle, when are hard to kill and are only going to die from some difficult to foresee scenario, there is one item that will save you (once) from almost any such situation.

  24. If you haven't already, I'd strongly recommend spending a lot of money consulting the oracle. A big flaw with NetHack had been the reliance on spoilers. The oracle was a great solution to that, and one you should make sure to take up. The minor consultations are like blessed fortune cookies (they draw from all the true rumours). The major ones are 20 key pieces of advice for a NetHack player, including one that could have saved you from the Cockatrice egg situation.


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