28 March 2019

My NetHack Anniversary

I don't have any screenshots of my own, so the
pictures here are some random NetHack stuff.

Today is the fourth anniversary of my first NetHack win in 2015, and about eight years since I started to play the game*. Since then, I won three times more, so I sit at a comfortable one win per year. I should probably start to try getting a new character through the dungeon soon if I want to meet my quota of wins in 2019, because I'm an extraordinarily slow player of NetHack.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, NetHack is the greatest game you will ever play. Much has been written about it.

It's old and has a huge fanbase. It was inspired by the original D&D, one of the first attempts to take a tabletop RPG and make a computer game out of it. Its direct predecessor Hack was first released in 1982 and since then, NetHack never stopped growing and evolving. The last version, 3.6.1, was released on the 27th April 2018.

It has a public github repository. It can be played in browser. It has a very good Android port. It has many variants and some even have great let's plays.

Android port by Gurr.
It is surprisingly easy to play on your phone.

It has many, many faults, but it's still an incredible game and one of the really big names among roguelikes. And so I thought - why not post the story of my first winning character, this being an anniversary and all?

For the nit-pickers, I actually won UnNetHack, a variant that fixed a few bugs, reworked the most glaring issues and added some minor features, making the game a bit harder. I never won vanilla NetHack, even though I played it quite a bit, mostly because death-by-inattention in the more boring parts of Gehennom. I also played dNetHack and a little bit of SLEX and GruntHack, though never even getting close to a win.

But I digress...

Starting is always fun. Killing lichens and running from cats,
because cats will murder you without breaking a sweat.

I was playing a female orcish barbarian and reached the Minetown in Gnomish Mines without trouble, but also without anything exciting in the shops. Returning to the main Dungeon, I found Sokoban and messed it up. I eventually had to squeeze onto the boulders to fix the puzzle and get to the rewards. Then I got crowned with Cleaver after some sacrificing on a conveniently placed altar, but refrained from using it as I already had +5 two-handed sword.

Final Sokoban level with a monster zoo.

I returned to Gnomish Mines and got the luckstone from the Mine's End, then started clearing deeper Dungeon and arrived on the Nymph Level. Here I was nearly killed due to stupidly letting Aphrodite close enough for her to steal my wand of lightning. I barely survived her zapping and blinding me, but survive I did, and then proceeded to kill all the nymphs with extreme prejudice. I hate nymphs.

Gnomish Mines in all their glory.

I used a wand of cold to get to the Town and robbed its ring shop blind, finding a ring of levitation. I also found entrance to Moria. Durin's Bane put up quite a bit of fight, but I managed to beat it to death, then ascended to the halls of Moria. Funnily, all the starting orcs were hostile, but all the respawns were peaceful to my orcish PC, so I killed them anyway and took their wands, potions and scrolls.

The last level of Moria had an altar of Set and an ice box full of monsters, so I sacrificed a bit. I got the Frost Brand from my god and then sacrificed some fellow orcs, summoning peaceful Juiblex and Yeenoghu. I let them rot in there, never to be a bother again, and returned to the Dungeon. I didn't mess with the Watcher in the Water, because I have a very bad track record of being drowned by various monsters...


I decided to try the Quest and it was surprisingly easy, so I took the Bell of Opening and the Heart of Ahriman, and discarded my old luckstone. As the Heart gives displacement instead of stealth in UnNetHack, this was the first time in all of my games I was invisible and displaced at the same time. Later, it actually proved quite nice to have for all the monsters with see invisible in Gehennom.

Medusa has a nice lake-view house full of statues.

Medusa was a piece of cake, but only now I realise I never found the Black Market. I was wondering why I had so much gold and nowhere to spend it.

I got to the Castle and with my brand new ring of conflict got it cleared. Only two wishes for me, as in UnNetHack the wand of wishing is already recharged and with random amount of charges. Still, I got a cloak of magic resistance and a magic marker, so I was rather satisfied.

The Castle

Valley of the Dead was a pain in the arse with the sheer amount of monsters, plus dark angels constantly summoning more. Even with conflict it took ages to more or less clear. This time, I remembered to take off the ring of conflict before entering the Temple of Moloch, as that was how my last character died.

I found the Wyrm Caves and they proved to be quite rich, with the dragons generating tons of stuff for me as death drops. Then I took a look at Sheol, found out crystal ice golems are really badass and stayed the hell away from them. Still, I reached Vlad's Tower and this time, Vlad actually put up a fight, draining two levels from me. Good work, Vlad, I will still take your Candelabrum of Invocation.

The top of Vlad's Tower. Also pictured:
NetHack actually can be played with graphics!

I decided to go and see the Ice Palace at the bottom of Sheol and nearly died there, as I stupidly decided that the Executioner cannot be that bad and melee'd him. He punches through AC -36 as nothing! He got teleported and shot down with wands. I also found another magic marker in there, so not bad.

Sheol - the light blue floor means everything here is ice.

The whole of Gehennom wasn't really that bad, with most liches genocided and +7 Frost Brand dual-wielded with +6 long sword. I found the Wizard of Yendor, used up a charge of Orcus' wand of death and took the Book of the Dead. Invocation artifacts assembled!

The Sanctum was completely different from vanilla and had thrown hordes of monsters at me like crazy, plus there is Cthulhu in the High Temple of Moloch in UnNetHack, instead of the vanilla high priest of Moloch. The only bright side of this was that Cthulhu teleported to me and as it carries the Amulet of Yendor (aka MacGuffin), I didn't have to to traverse the whole level.

Moloch's Sanctum in UnNetHack is full of lava. The room
in the centre of the right half is the High Temple of Moloch.

I had to burn through one of my two wands of death escaping from the Sanctum; thanks Set that Cthulhu is not a demon in UnNetHack, thus being vulnerable to death rays. It hits like several trucks at once, plus it has mind flayer's brain-sucking attack. It actually got two melee attacks at me while I killed it five times total (no, it will never stay dead), and of course the grease on my helmet worn off and I got my memories erased. Stupid amnesia!

At least UnNetHack does not have
half the game made up of mazes.

Escaping from Gehennom and the Dungeon was rather smooth, even though I got surrounded by nasties several times. Conflict and two-weaponing took care of it. Actually, I was just bashing things to death so much I missed a vorpal jabberwock and let it take a swipe at me. So it beheaded me. Oops! That was my first death, thanks Set again that the amulet of life saving does not fall off the stump of your neck in NetHack like it does in IVAN (but IVAN is just brutal).

Anyway, I was so excited for the Elemental Planes that I forgot to stop at my stash, where I had Cleaver, Stormbringer, Werebane and Sunsword from sacrificing and lucky finds. Oh well, no bonus score from artifacts for me.

Don't worry about him, he got better. Repeatedly.

I got stuck a bit in the Elemental Planes, as confused scrolls of gold detection work in some mysterious way in UnNetHack, not actually detecting portals and traps. But they work just fine while cursed, so I found the portals after some struggle. Also, the Wizard depleted my second wand of death due to him constantly respawning.

By the way, the Plane of Water just plainly does not make any sense! How can I breathe on an elemental plane filled to the brim with water, wearing just a ring of levitation?

Elemental Plane of Air

And then the Astral Plane! My first time there! And I messed up terribly.

I fought Pestilence as the first Rider, killed it after a really annoying fight of being stranded by insects summoned by the horde of hostile priests and forced into melee, constantly infected with illness and stunned by spells. I hate illness (I hate quite a lot of things, don't I), but I still managed to kill the damned Rider. The altar was of Set, so I was so close to Ascension!

Than I fat-fingered and dropped the Amulet instead of offering it! And for some reason, dropped Amulet of Yendor in UnNetHack teleports elsewhere on the level! Yes, I was really pissed.

This is rather accurate depiction of how the win in NetHack feels.
Picture from here.

So, I had to massacre my way through the Astral Plane to find the Amulet. At least I had named it "real" beforehand, so it didn't end up mixed with all the fakes the other monsters are carrying. I eventually found it in the hands of a random tourist (Astral Plane, your best bet for unforgettable holiday!), but picking it up I let both Pestilence and Famine gang up on me and I was killed the second time. (I love amulets of life saving.) Then it was a mad rush for the altar and I threw the Amulet in the face of Set.


The Astral Plane with three temples of Law, Balance and Chaos.

It's hard to describe the feeling of winning a game such as NetHack for the first time. You keep hearing how hard the game is. You have been playing it for a while and know that it can be pretty unforgiving and that dying is easy.

And then a game comes where you find yourself farther then you have ever been and keep going, where you manage to survive against all odds and don't make too many mistakes. You start to believe that this could actually be the game, because you have overcome everything that killed you before. You are standing on the Astral Plane and still don't really believe it, because you have never came so close. You win and it's awesome and unreal, you're still nervous but also really, really happy.

This is the reason I love roguelikes, because only a few games reward your time and patience with such a feeling. It's a feeling of accomplishment, because you were not expected to win like in the modern games. Yes, the game is winnable, but many people give up before they learn enough tricks to survive. Many people keep dying. You have won.

by Dinosaur Comics

As a bonus here are three of my stupid deaths that make me the most proud (and salty):
  • Playing as a dwarven valkyrie, I conquered the Sanctum and was escaping Gehennom with the Amulet. I was strong enough that even the dreaded cockatrice was killed in a single hit, before it could touch me. However, NetHack monsters are clever and a yendorian soldier picked up the dead cockatrice and used it as a bludgeon, petrifying me.
  • As an orcish wizard, I survived the descent through the Dungeon and Gehennom, attained great arcane power and found Vlad's Tower. Funny thing, though - undead are immune to finger of death. To this day, I had no other character die to Vlad the Weak.
  • Demon lords in NetHack are not as awe-inspiring as in other games. By the time you fight them, you are well-equipped more than enough to handle them. Still, there is Demogorgon, but he is only very rarely summoned by other demons and never appears otherwise. Of course I had a game where my poor samurai fought Orcus and suddenly had Demogorgon appear behind her. She was torn to shreds.

This fanart is absolutely awesome. I can see the player, an elven wizard
wearing an elven mithril-coat, a robe, a pair of gauntlets of power,
a helmet (of brilliance?), a small shield, Magicbane and a pair of boots of
water walking. He's using magic missile to kill the clone of the Wizard
of Yendor, while the real Wizard is preparing to cast finger of death and has
the Book of the Dead floating in front of him. There is a vampire (lord?),
a gremlin, a cockatrice, a minotaur and a gold golem in the background.

*) Not the Game. You just lost it, by the way.


  1. I knew nothing about NetHack and still found this post fascinating. Great stuff. I want to try it now. I gave you a shout out on my blog/podcast this week. Enjoying your blog! Take it easy!

    1. Thank you very much!

      It's great to hear that you're interested in NetHack, but I feel obliged to warn you that it's not a beginner-friendly game. :D Wiki will be your best friend.

  2. Hi! I saw your blog mentioned on https://diyanddragons.blogspot.com/2019/03/who-is-glogosphere.html and on Froth's blog and wanted to ask you whether I could add it to one of the blog Planets I run. More info, and links to the three planets (Old School, Indie, and everything else) can be found on this page where I try to explain it all: https://campaignwiki.org/wiki/Planet/What_is_this%3f
    Please let me know if you're OK with this or not.
    Also, I just looked at my own blog and realized that I wrote a post back in 2006 titled "Started playing Nethack again". I must be the worst player out there, haha.

    1. Sure, that would be great!

      Hey, it's not about being good or bad, it's about having fun (or !!!FUN!!!). ;) IDK how much you like or play roguelikes, but if you wanted to try some more, I have to recommend IVAN:


      It kills me all the time and it's great. :D

    2. Noooo... I just started playing Dwarf Fortress!! 😭

    3. All hail Armok! Well, then you're already lost. :)

  3. Yay for mentioning SLEX (which, by the way, also has an absolutely awesome Let's Play on rpg.net!) :)

    1. I'm going to assume you're the Amy, in which case we have the dev of SLEX here, people! :) The thread is pretty good:


      Amy even gets her first SLEX ascension there, with a guy I suggested: Izquxxisquid the mind flayer scientist. :)