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Doctor Kildeer's Guide to NetHack

Your Character

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Your abilities and strengths for dealing with the hazards of adventure will vary with your background and training. You can choose from the following backgrounds/careers for your adventurer; click on any of them to read more details:



…have a largely academic background, but are skilled at sneaking around ancient tombs and avoiding enemies (a good idea since they begin as only indifferent fighters); this is shown by their intrinsic speed and stealth. They start the game dressed like Indiana Jones and in possession of a couple of unusual pieces of equipment.

Archeologists can only be male; their supernatural patron is Quetzalcoatl, the winged snake god of the Aztecs of old Mexico. Their initial Pet can be either a Kitten or a Little dog.

As an Archeologist, you'll begin the game with a +2 Bullwhip, a Leather jacket, a Fedora, some Food rations, a Pick-axe, a Tinning kit, and a Sack (which usually contains a useful object). Your Bullwhip or one of your Armor items may be Blessed.

When the game begins, Archeologists are intrinsically Stridently aligned, Fast, and Stealthy. A typical Archeologist starts out looking like this:

 --- St:M/hi Dx:Med Co:M/hi In:Hi Wi:Hi Ch:Lo Lawful

 --- $:0 HP:13 Pw:1 AC:9

This character class seems to be similar to the Speleologist class in older versions of Hack, but the Tinning kit is vastly superior to the speleologist's Refrigerator.



…are warriors out of the hinterland, hardened to battle. The early life of a barbarian would likely have been spent living off the land, learning to wield crude but mighty weapons, and above all else physical training. This upbringing is reflected in barbarians' intrinsic ability to resist poison (they can presumably detect it in time to avoid eating any; this would follow from their foraging for a living).

The Barbarians worship Crom, Conan's favorite deity. They may be male or female, and their initial Pet can be either a Kitten or a Little dog.

Barbarians start the game with a Battle-axe, a Short sword, a suit of Ring mail, a Food ration, and perhaps a Lamp.

They begin the game intrinsically Fervently aligned and Poison resistant, with typical attributes similar to this:

 --- St:V/hi Dx:Hi Co:V/hi In:Lo Wi:Lo Ch:Lo Neutral

 --- $:0 HP:16 Pw:1 AC:7


Cavemen and Cavewomen

…start with exceptional strength and neolithic weapons.

The god of the Cave-people is Anu. They may be either Cavemen or Cavewomen; their initial Pet is always a Little dog.

Cave-people start the game equipped with a +1 Club, a +1 Bow, some Arrows, and a crude hide effective as Leather armor. One item may be Blessed.

They begin the game intrinsically Nominally or Stridently aligned; they have no special qualities. Here are typical beginning attributes for a Cave-person:

 --- St:V/hi Dx: Hi Co:V/hi In:Med Wi:Lo Ch:Lo Lawful

 --- $:0 HP:16 Pw:1 AC:8



…are agile, quick, and sensitive; very little of what goes on will escape an Elf. The quality of Elven craftsmanship often gives them an advantage in arms and armor.

A beginning Elf character has an Elven short sword, an Elven bow and a goodly supply of Elven arrows; he or she wears an Elven cloak or an Elven mithril-coat and carries several pieces of Lembas.

The elven god is Erevan Ilesere; elves may be male or female, and their starting Pet can be either a Kitten or a Little dog.



…are wise in medicine and the apothecary. They know the herbs and simples that can restore vitality, ease pain, anesthetize, and neutralize poisons; and with their instruments, they can divine a being's state of health or sickness. Their medical practice earns them quite reasonable amounts of money, which they enter the dungeon with.

Healers begin play with about 1000 Gold pieces, Spellbooks of Healing and Extra healing, Potions of Healing and Extra healing, Apples to eat, a Wand of Sleep, and a Stethoscope; they are armed with a Scalpel and armored only with a pair of Leather gloves. Some of this equipment will likely be Blessed. They begin the game intrinsically Fervently aligned and Poison resistant.

Healers venerate Hermes, the fleet-footed Greek messenger-god. They may be male or female, and their starting Pet may be a Kittenor a Little dog. A typical beginning Healer's attributes look like this:

 --- St:Med Dx: Med Co:V/hi In:Med Wi:V/hi Ch:V/hi Neutral

 --- $:A lot HP:13 Pw:1 AC:8

The progression of Ranks for Healers is as follows:

Levels Rank name Levels Rank name
1, 2 Rhizotomist
3, 4 Empiric



…are distinguished from the common skirmisher by their devotion to the ideals of chivalry and by the surpassing excellence of their armor. They are always male, and their initial Pet can be either a Kitten or a Little dog.

They come equipped with arms and armor and nothing else. Specifically, a beginning Knight has a suit of +1 Ring mail, a Helmet, a Small shield, and a pair of Leather gloves; his weapons are a Long sword and a +2 Spear.

They begin the game intrinsically Stridently aligned, and they can Jump.


Priests and Priestesses

…are clerics militant, crusaders advancing the cause of righteousness with arms, armor, and arts thaumaturgic. Their ability to commune with deities via prayer occasionally extricates them from peril — but can also put them in it.



…are agile and stealthy thieves, who carry daggers, lock picks, and poisons to put on darts.



…are the elite warriors of feudal Nippon. They are lightly armored and quick, and wear the dai-sho, two swords of the deadliest keenness.

The deity revered by all Samurai is Omaterasu Susano; all Samurai are male. The Samurai's initial Pet is always a Little dog.

Along with the dai-sho (the Katana and the Wakizashi) the beginning Samurai will own a Yumi and a good supply of Ya; he wears Leather armor.

The many Japanese objects in NetHack are there to make the Samurai character feel at home. Some of them are: Osaku, Yumi and Ya, Katana, Wakizashi.



…start out with lots of Gold (suitable for shopping with), a Credit Card, lots of Food, some Maps, and an Expensive Camera. Most Monsters don't like being photographed.



…are hardy warrior women. Their upbringing in the harsh Northlands makes them strong and inures them to extremes of cold, and instills in them stealth and cunning.



…start out with a fair selection of magical goodies and a particular affinity for dweomercraft.

The deity of Wizards is Thoth; they may be male or female, and may have either a Little dog or a Kitten for their initial Pet. A newly generated Wizard has possessions similar to the following:

Blessed +1 Athame, Cloak of Magic resistance, 2 Scrolls of Identify, Scroll of Confuse monster, Spellbook of Detect food, Potion of Speed, Potion of Object detection, Potion of Sickness, +3 Ring of Protection, Ring of Fire resistance, Wand of Light, Magic marker. All are fully Identified, a big help when you have that many magical items!

A new Wizard character has Attributes similar to these:

 --- St:Lo Dx: Hi Co:Med In:V/hi Wi:Med Ch:Hi Neutral

 --- $:0 HP:12 Pw:3 AC:9

The progression of Ranks for Wizards is as follows:

Levels Rank name Levels Rank name
1, 2 Evoker 5, 6 Thaumaturge
3, 4 Conjurer

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Naming guidelines

If you're not sure how to create a really good name for your character, here are some guidelines I've found helpful:



…is the listing of the Objects in your immediate possession. This does not include anything you "own" that you have left behind in the Dungeons, nor items you are carrying in a Container, nor things you once owned but disposed of.

Each item in your Inventory is designated on the Display by a letter of the alphabet. This is the letter you type to choose that item when asked for such a selection (such as when dropping an item, wielding, it, or so on).

To use something you own but have put in a Container, you must remove the item from the Container; it will be placed in a free inventory slot and you can then use it. If you have all your inventory slots filled you will have to drop something temporarily.



If you see a Monster and you wish to fight it, just attempt to walk into it. Many Monsters you find will mind their own business unless you attack them. Some of them are very dangerous when angered. Remember: Discretion is the better part of valor. Once Combat starts, you will see Messages describing who hit whom, and how many Hit points of Damage were done. Each turn you can continue to fight, or if things are not going your way, you can move away and try to run for it.



…is just what it sounds like — harm done to your body by attacks of Monsters, the effects of Traps, or various self-inflicted or accidental disasters.

Damage is measured in Hit points. Each time you take some Damage, your hits decrease. If they reach zero, you die (well, your character dies), and you get the eerie thrill of seeing your own gravestone.

Hit points lost to Damage of any sort will gradually be replaced, until your current Hit points have reached the maximum value shown in parentheses.



…is the end of life, and incidentally the end of the game. When your character suffers sufficient Damage to reduce his or her Hit Points to zero, or if you are Poisoned or Sick for too many turns, or if an enemy hits you with the Touch of Death or a Wand of Death, then you die.

Assuming you have actuated the appropriate Options, you will be offered a chance to see the true identities of all you Inventory items, then all of your Intrinsic abilities; perhaps this is the NetHack equivalent of seeing your life flash before your eyes…Finally, a tombstone appears, your final memorial. It tells how you met your end. (One appears to the right.)

A NetHacker's tombstone

If you've previously made a backup copy of your game save file, you can copy it back to the proper filename and resume game play at the point you last saved. Everything that happened between that time and your Death will be reversed; indeed, none of it ever happened. This adds a sort of 'alternate universes' feeling to game play, and makes your character practically unkillable. Of course, it is cheating… and your bones files will definitely fill up… and you can't compare scores with anyone else if you do this. But if you can't make it past the tough spots otherwise, this can let you enjoy the game more.



…is the transformation of a mortal (a Human or Elf, or anything else you might have Polymorphed into) into a deity. Achievement of this exalted transcendental state is the ultimate goal of NetHack.

Before you can achieve Apotheosis, you must locate the Amulet of Yendor and exit the Dungeons via the Stairway up from the first Dungeon level.

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Intrinsic abilities

…include many of the properties that can make the difference between success and extinction for your character. They are not normally displayed during the game, but Self-knowledge will show them; you can also see them when you die (a bit late, really) or if you quit.

To learn a bit of subterfuge that will let you learn your Intrinsics, click here.

Some Intrinsics are permanent; some you keep only until they wear off, such as Invisibility from a Spell. Others you have only as long as you are wearing a particular magic item, such as Fire resistance from an Amulet of Fire resistance (Intrinsic is a misnomer, as such effects are clearly extrinsic).

To learn about a particular Intrinsic ability, click on its name in this list:


Intrinsic Alignment tenacity determines how resistant you are to changing Alignment. This rarely comes into play, from what the author has been able to determine, but it may help you to imagine your character's personality.

The various levels of Alignment tenacity are:

  1. Pious,
  2. Fervent,
  3. Strident,
  4. Halting,
  5. Nominal.

The author is uncertain just what the order of these is, but believes that given here to be correct.


Automatic searching is the Intrinsic ability to detect Secret doors, Corridors, and Traps without explicitly performing a Search (s) command. In effect, every game turn, your character will perform the Search command without taking any extra time or effort.


Bad luck no timeout is an Intrinsic "ability" — trait, really — that makes your Bad Luck (if any) never time out as it usually does.


Cold resistance is the Intrinsic ability that makes you immune to blasts of Cold, whether magical or ordinary. Note that this does not mean your possessions will be unaffected!


Disintegration resistance is the Intrinsic ability that gives you the ability to withstand Disintegration blasts such as that the Black dragon spouts.


Intrinsic Extra luck represents a large amount added to your Luck attribute. This ordinarily times out eventually.


Intrinsic Fire resistance gives you immunity to Fire and heat attacks of all sorts, and gives you the ability to travel to Hell without being consumed in the flames. Inflammable or otherwise heat-sensitive items in your equipment might not survive such treatment, though.


Good luck no timeout is an Intrinsic ability that makes your Good Luck (if any) never time out as it usually does.


Intrinsic Invisibility makes your character's symbol disappear from the Display (though you can still see the blinking cursor where you stand). Enemies cannot see you (unless, of course, they can See invisible)


Involuntary teleportation confers the Ability to Teleport to another place on the same Dungeon level using the Á-T command. Unfortunately, you will also Teleport at random times as well! Note that Teleportation of this sort causes you to get Hungry faster.

If you have Teleport control as well, you will be asked to point to your intended destination, or you can press the Esc key to abort the Teleport. If you don't have Teleport control as well, you'll simply Teleport to a random location on the same Dungeon level. This is still better than getting chewed up by an enemy… usually…


The Intrinsic ability of Jumping allows you to leap across a square of the Dungeon Floor (or lack thereof) and land safely on the other side (assuming there is a safe landing place there, of course). Knight characters start the game with this ability; there are also Boots of Jumping that confer the Ability on any wearer.


Levitation is an Intrinsic ability that lets you float in the air, above any Traps, Water, or other things on the dungeon Floor. While you are Levitating, you can fight and move as normal, but you cannot pick things up.

If you Levitate while standing under a hole in the Ceiling, you will float right up into it, possibly to the next Dungeon Level up, possibly much farther…


Intrinsic Luck represents some number added to your ordinary Luck attribute. It ordinarily times out eventually.


Intrinsic Modified speed comes in various degrees:

  1. Extra fast
  2. Fast
  3. (normal)
  4. Slow
  5. Extra slow

A character's personal Speed can be temporarily modified using Magic spells and so on. Note too that in addition to Speed, the rate at which a character can move, fight, etc. is modified by Encumbrance.


The Intrinsic ability of Poison resistance makes it possible for you to ignore Poison attacks from Monsters. You can also eat poisonous foods with impunity.

Barbarians and Healers begin the game with Poison Resistance.


The Intrinsic ability of Polymorph control provides partial protection against Polymorph spells. It lets you determine what sort of creature you want to be. When you are hit by a Polymorph, you will be told so on the Message line and given the opportunity to type in the name of the type of creature you wish to become. To avoid most of the effects of the Polymorph, type Human (or Elf if you are an Elf), or your Profession title, or any Rank for your Profession (you will be turned into the Profession you ask for, but probably not the Rank!)

Note that at times it may be advantageous to Polymorph into a powerful Monster with a special ability (such as a Breath weapon), fight a particularly nasty enemy, then Polymorph back into a Human again. Beware — you may lose Experience levels (but then you just may gain them); one or more of your Character attributes may also be altered, usually downward. That's the penalty for Polymorphing around. It's not good for your system!


The Intrinsic ability of Protection from shape changers makes the character harder for Shape changers (i.e., Lycanthropes, and perhaps Chameleons and Mimics) to hit him or her.


Punishment is a strange Intrinsic — the revenge of the gods upon those who offend them. The author is unsure how to gain such divine displeasure, but if you really get your deity mad, your ankle will be magically shackled to an Iron ball on an Iron chain. Needless to say, this makes it very difficult to get around the Dungeon!

The author also does not know how to remove such a thing. Any information and suggestions will be appreciated.


Reflection is one of the most valuable Intrinsic abilities. Spells and Breath weapons that do not pass by you will not hit you but be bounced back at the caster (or breather), harming and possibly killing them. What satisfying poetic justice!


The Intrinsic ability of Regeneration causes the possessor to regain Hit points lost to Damage at a far greater rate than is normally possible. All Trolls seem to have this Ability.


Telepathy in NetHack is a slightly enigmatic Intrinsic ability. It confers one specialized but useful psychic skill. It is not obvious, though. You will enjoy it more if you try for a while to find out what it does. If you can't (it does require unusual circumstances if you are to figure it out by yourself) the Secret is available.

To read the secret of how to use Telepathy, click this button.


The Ability of Teleport control lets you control your Teleportation from Intrinsic Involuntary teleportation, a Teleport trap, or a Wand zap. If you are Teleporting on the same Dungeon level, you get to pick a spot for your destination. If you are doing a Level teleport, you get to type in the number for the level to go to.

You can also press the Esc key to cancel the Teleport and stay where you are. The author believes that this lets you avoid Teleporting and also saves you from incurring greater Hunger.


The Intrinsic ability to See invisible lets you see creatures that have become Invisible just as if they were normally visible.


The Intrinsic ability of Shock resistance lets you withstand most electrical attacks. The zap is reduced to a slight tickle.


The Intrinsic ability of Sleep resistance makes it possible for you to remain awake in spite of Sleep spells cast at you or gas emitted by Sleep gas traps.


Stealth is the Intrinsic ability to sneak around the Dungeon, possibly without alerting Monsters to your presence.


The Intrinsic ability to Survive without air lets the character breathe under Water and in similar airless situations. This would, for example, allow you to walk into and through a Moat, but your possessions would still get wet (and possibly ruined).


Warning is an Intrinsic ability that gives you flashes of intuition concerning nearby Monsters. The color of the flash you perceive tells you what sort of Monster is around. You will get a message like:

 --- "You feel apprehensive as you see a pink flash"

For more information, click this button for secrets of Sensory impressions.

Note that this is not the same as reflection by a Looking glass; you cannot Petrify a Monster with a Petrifying gaze weapon by applying a Shield of Reflection in its direction, for instance.



…are special journeys NetHack characters must undertake. A Quest is undertaken to defeat a particular foe or foes and take possession of a certain item, the Quest object. To achieve the goal you must travel through special Quest levels that "branch off" from the main path of descent into the Dungeons.

Each Profession has a different Quest adventure, in search of a different Quest object, so even if you have played the game once through as (for instance) a Samurai, you can enjoy a different game playing an Elf.


Quest levels

…are special Dungeon levels that lead you toward the goal of your Quest. They do not form part of the main path of descent into the Dungeon, but a branch off to one side. The only way to get from the "normal" Dungeon Levels to the Quest Levels and back is by way of a Magic portal.

Each Profession's Quest has a different set of Quest levels, with a different ultimate enemy and a different Quest object as its goal.

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Quest objects

…are the items NetHack characters must acquire to complete the fulfillment of their Quests. There is a different Quest object for each Profession, as shown in the following list.

  • Archeologists
  • Barbarians
  • Cavemen/women
  • Elves
  • Healers — Staff of Aesculapius
  • Knights
  • Priests/Priestesses
  • Rogues
  • Samurai
  • Tourists
  • Valkyries
  • Wizards

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