Magicbane and artifact selection strategy in NetHack 3.4

art2-341.html Last edited 2003-03-09 for NetHack 3.4.1
Compiled for 3.2.2 by Kevin Hugo.
Updated for 3.4.1 by Dylan O'Donnell <>.
HTML Conversion by Kate Nepveu <>.



[Adapted from a spoiler courtesy of David Grabiner.]

Magicbane has several special effects when wielded that make this artifact a very useful item. It resists 95% of curses thrown at you, gives magic resistance, and can engrave without dulling. As a weapon, it may (depending on the monster's magic resistance saving throw) add additional damage and magical effects.

Damage 2d4 3d4 4d4 4d4 5d4 5d4 6d4 --
Ave dmg 5.0 7.5 10.0 10.0 12.5 12.5 15.0 --
+0 60% 1.8% 18.2% 0.9% 9.1% 0.9% 9.1% 7.66
+1 60% 3.6% 16.4% 1.8% 8.2% 1.8% 8.2% 8.57
+2 60% 5.5% 14.5% 2.7% 7.3% 2.7% 7.3% 9.48
+3 60% 10.9% 19.1% 1.8% 3.2% 1.8% 3.2% 10.01
+4 60% 13.6% 16.4% 2.3% 2.7% 2.3% 2.7% 10.92
+5 60% 16.4% 13.6% 2.7% 2.3% 2.7% 2.3% 11.77
+6 60% 22.3% 12.7% 3.2% 1.8% 0% 0% 12.49
+7 60% 25.5% 9.5% 3.6% 1.4% 0% 0% 13.40
+8 60% 28.6% 6.4% 4.1% 0.9% 0% 0% 14.31
+9 60% 36.4% 3.6% 0% 0% 0% 0% 15.09
more 60% 40% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 6.00+bonus

The above table describes the probability that each of the magical effects will occur, assuming that the monster does not successfully make any magic resistance saving throws. The ENCHANTment of Magicbane affects these probabilities; note that higher enchantments reduce the likelihood of the better effects. (Negative enchantments have the same probabilities as at +0.) Even the NORMAL, non-magical damage that occurs 60% of the time has an extra d4 damage above that of a normal athame unless the monster resists. If any magical attacks occur, an automatic extra d4 of damage is caused; the individual attacks have further effects as follows.

The PROBE effect usually does nothing special beyond adding the d4 for the magical effect; there is a 1 in (3 * (absolute value of enchantment)) chance that the probe is insightful, giving the effect of a wand of probing. A probe is always insightful if Magicbane is at +0.

"The magic-absorbing blade probes <monster>!"
"The magic-absorbing blade prods <monster>!" (hallucinating)

The STUN effect causes an additional d4 of damage; if none of the later effects have occurred and been successful, it stuns the monster (or you, for 3 (more) turns, if you are being attacked by Magicbane).

"The magic-absorbing blade stuns <monster>!"
"The magic-absorbing blade amazes <monster>!" (hallucinating)

The SCARE effect scares the monster for 3 (more) turns; the monster has a 50% chance of being given an opportunity to resist. If you are being attacked by Magicbane and aren't magic-resistant, this effect paralyses you for 3 (more) turns. There is also an additional d4 damage.

"The magic-absorbing blade scares <monster>!"
"The magic-absorbing blade tickles <monster>!" (hallucinating)

Finally, the CANCEL effect causes another additional d4 damage and has the same effect as a spell of cancellation (but with a fixed level of 10 for resistance saving throw purposes). If the monster has the ability to cast spells, the effect adds one to your current and maximum spell energy; the monster may resist. If you are hit with Magicbane and you don't have magic-resistance, you are cancelled and lose one current and maximum spell energy.

"The magic-absorbing blade cancels <monster>!"
"The magic-absorbing blade purges <monster>!"

In addition, any magical attack has a 1 in 12 chance of confusing the defender.

The AVE DMG column in the table above summarizes the expected average damage for each enchantment level; it includes bonuses due to enchantment but not to weapon skills (athames are in the dagger class). (Again, note that a monster with a high base magic resistance saving throw may avert magical effects, or reduce the severity of the effects that occur; the quoted figures are for monsters with 0 MR.) The Damage row lists the amount of damage each type of attack causes; the average of each attack type is given in the Ave dmg row.

For those source divers who are interested in how the above values were obtained, the following table may help:

Enchant +0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 more
* Probes/11 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
* Stuns/11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
Scare roll 4 4 4 2 2 2 1 1 1 0 0
Cancel roll 2 2 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Die roll 1 Pur Pur Pur Pur Pur Pur Sca Sca Sca * *
Die roll 2 Pur Pur Pur Sca Sca Sca * * * * *
Die roll 3 Sca Sca Sca * * * * * * * *
Die roll 4 Sca Sca Sca * * * * * * * *
Roll 5-8 * * * * * * * * * * *
Roll 9-20 Normal, non-magical damage

What is the best enchantment for Magicbane? If you simply want to cause the most damage, then the table indicates that you should enchant it as high as possible (safely to +7). Fortunately, your odds of magic- resistance, curse-resistance, and engraving do not depend upon the enchantment. However, if you want to maximize the best magical effects of this artifact, it should be enchanted to +2. Note that the only difference in the magical effects between the +0 and the +2 Magicbane is a 3.7% change between probing and stunning.

Magicbane is generally not the best weapon for combat, although medium-level characters with good dagger skill and poor skills in other weapon may find it their best choice. Higher-level characters may want to wield it as their regular weapon to absorb curses while they are travelling through the dungeon, switching to something else to fight powerful monsters.

Which artifact should I choose?

[Adapted from a spoiler courtesy of David Grabiner.]

If you get an early wish and decide to use it for a weapon, or if you have accumulated several artifact weapons, which weapon you should wield depends highly on your class because of the class limits on weapon skills.

ARTIFACT weapons that are worth keeping are listed in the table below. Some are artifacts are not listed, because they are only effective against a small subset of monsters. The SKILL category of each artifact is listed, as well as the maximum skill level for each class (ABCHKMPRaRoSTVW): - means restricted to unskilled, b means basic skill, s means skilled, and E means expert. Note that if you receive an artifact as a gift by crowning or sacrificing, any restriction on its weapon class will be removed and you will be able to advance to basic skill.

The table also indicates the damage range of each artifact against typical SMALL creatures, LARGE creatures, and major DEMONs. The damage calculations assume that the artifact is enchanted as shown, you have expert skill, and that the artifact's special attacks apply to the monster; the Longbow of Diana assumes that you are using normal +0 arrows fired at a rate of up to 4 a round (expert Ranger). Damage against major demons further assumes that the weapon is blessed and that the demon hates silver, is fire-resistant, and is drain-resistant. Finally, the table summarizes the average damage against major demons (DAVE), which are often the nastiest creatures in the dungeon. Magicbane's actual damage is slightly greater due to its special attacks, but it doesn't make a difference here.

+2 Magicbane (MB) Dagger bbbsb--E E bEEE 6-12 6-11 7-15 11.0
+7 Staff Aesculapius Quarterstaff sbEE-bEb - bbbE 19-36 19-36 11-19 15.0
+7 Stormbringer (SB) Broadsword -s--s--- s sbs- 13-27 13-26 12-20 16.0
+7 Grimtooth Dagger bbbsb--E E bEEE 11-18 11-18 12-22 17.0
+7 Sunsword Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 10-17 10-21 11-25 18.0
+7 Fire Brand Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 18-32 18-40 11-25 18.0
+7 Vorpal Blade Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 11-18 11-22 12-26 19.0
+7 Longbow Diana Bow -bs-b-bE - Eb-- 1-32 1-32 2-48 19.9
+7 Snickersnee Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 11-27 11-29 12-33 22.5
+7 Excalibur (EX) Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 11-27 11-31 12-35 23.5
+7 Cleaver Axe -Es-s--s - -bEs 12-27 13-29 14-33 23.5
+7 Sceptre of Might Mace -sEbs-E- s b-b 20-30 18-28 19-32 25.5
+7 Mjollnir (MJ) Hammer -Es-b-Eb b -bE- 12-38 11-37 12-41 26.5
+7 Tsurugi Muramasa Two-hand swd -E--s--- b EbE- 11-32 13-37 14-41 27.5
+7 Demonbane Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 10-17 10-21 19-44 31.5
+7 Frost Brand (FB) Long sword -s--E--- s EbE- 18-32 18-40 19-44 31.5
+7 Grayswandir (GS) Saber Eb-bs--- s bsb- 18-32 18-32 20-56 38.0

Six artifacts are particularly good all-purpose weapons and will be considered further. Magicbane (MB) has several magical effects (see section above) that make it a good weapon even though it doesn't cause much damage. It works best when enchanted at +2, as it loses its magical powers rapidly if you enchant it more. Magicbane is also good if you don't have magic resistance or are short of ways to remove curses. Stormbringer (SB) permanently drains levels from monsters -- although some species are resistant, including major demons -- and will attack tame or peaceful creatures without confirmation, so it's bad if you're trying to keep a pet. Excalibur (EX) is easy to get if you are lawful (dip a long sword in a fountain), has automatic searching, and is a somewhat effective weapon. Mjollnir (MJ) causes lightning damage, and when thrown by a Valkyrie with strength 25, will usually return to your hand. Being a hammer, it is good for classes who are restricted from blades. Frost Brand (FB) causes cold damage, which makes it an excellent all-around weapon. Although Fire Brand similarly causes fire damage, most major demons are fire-resistant. Finally, Grayswandir (GS) doubles most of its damage (working best when fully enchanted) and causes silver damage. Even though Grayswandir causes the most damage to major demons, Frost Brand is slightly better against ordinary large monsters.

The table below compares these six artifacts for each character CLASS. The EARLY GAME recommendation assumes that you will quickly reach maximum skill in the weapon and that the weapon is enchanted to +2, which might be expected from wishing or limited enchantment. The LATE GAME recommendation assumes that you are maximally skilled and that the weapon is enchanted as in the above table. If a weapon is listed with a slash, this means that several are comparable and the choice may depend on other factors. An artifact is listed in parentheses if its skill starts as restricted; you will usually want to obtain it or a weapon of its class as a divine gift in order to unrestrict the skill before using it.

The weapons listed include any weapon which could reasonably be the best for that class, as well as weapons which may be obtained without a wish and which are close in quality.

Arc - - E b - - GS GS
Bar s s b b E s MJ FB
Cav - - - b s - MJ/(FB)/(EX) (FB)/GS/MJ
Hea - - b s - - SoA/MB/(MJ)/GS SoA/(FB)/GS
Kni E E s b b s FB/MJ/EX FB
Mon - - - - - - None None
Pri - - - - E - MJ/(FB)/(EX) (FB)/MJ/(GS)
Ran - - - E b - MB/LoD MJ
Rog s s s E b s MJ/SB/MB FB/GS
Sam E E b b - s ToM/FB/EX FB
Tou b b s E b b MJ/MB GS/FB
Val E E b E E s MJ/EX FB/MJ
Wiz - - - E - - MB (FB)/(GS)

It's interesting that Magicbane does so well early in the game; this is a side effect of the weapon skills. Even for those classes which don't have it listed, it's a good artifact to wish for because it serves other useful purposes (magic resistance, engraving, and curse resistance). It's a useful weapon to keep as your main weapon after you have killed the Wizard; you can switch to Frost Brand when a lot of nasties appear, because Magicbane takes a long time to kill them, and powerful creatures will resist Magicbane's special attacks.


Thanks again to David Grabiner.
Corrections and clarifications provided by Steven Bush, Andreas Dorn, Kate Nepveu, and Darshan Shaligram.

Up to the NetHack Page