Nethack over the Net
December 20, 2011 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Noooooooo how could you. I've gone through phases where I've woken up with a start in the middle of the night, gibbering about the D in the corner of the room. It took a good long while to break the addiction, and now here it is again. I refuse to click. No, I won't. No, really I won't.

There is a link here.
You click the link.
You hear the rumble of distant thunder.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:26 PM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

How bizarre! After so long of not even thinking about Nethack just two hours ago coming home form work I was thinking about how I wanted to play some Nethack. Thanks!
posted by Phantomx at 8:27 PM on December 20, 2011

I was just playing some earlier tonight on a private server!

Also, seems like two of your links got messed up there.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2011

Damn, I saw this and was hoping that you were telling us that Nethack 3.5 had finally been released. Damn you devteam, why have you forsaken us?
posted by octothorpe at 8:34 PM on December 20, 2011

I invite ya'll to gather on #nethack on Watching a first-time ascension on NAO and talking about it in IRC has to be on my top 5 gaming experiences!
posted by yaymukund at 8:34 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

DAMMIT. I can't express how much I hate how broken links redirect back to MeFi's home page. I didn't catch them on my preview because they all showed up as visited -- but the visited side they led to wasn't the sites I had loaded while searching for material, but Metafilter's home page.

The first link should go to The fifth should lead to
posted by JHarris at 8:36 PM on December 20, 2011

posted by cortex at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2011

Oh! I was just about to fill out the contact form, thanks!

My personal project for December has been to try to make one post a day for the whole month. Alas, various things coming up, including a death in the family and finishing my Master's degree, have conspired to sabotage my efforts. The thing is, since you can only post once every 24 hours, I have to make the next post as close to a day after the previous one as possible. Various unavoidable delays have pushed the remaining time to less than an hour, with ten days to go. This means I've been making posts in kind of a hurry lately, which is why the broken links made it through.

Anyway, it's not really important to make a post a day, it's really just a game I'm playing with myself. I should probably just take my time and not worry about it. So, sorry about all of that.
posted by JHarris at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2011

Watching a first-time ascension on NAO and talking about it in IRC has to be on my top 5 gaming experiences!

Have to agree. A group of us joined the same server around the same time, and when one of us went for ascension for the first time, it was a lot more fun being able to chat about in IRC than just watch it in Terminal and send messages. Not that there's anything wrong with sending mail in the middle of combat.

Also, Tourist runs or nothing.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:49 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

This means I've been making posts in kind of a hurry lately
Pro Tip: Type up the HTML beforehand, and just copy/paste when you're ready to post.

posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:53 PM on December 20, 2011

The "ways to die" link misses at least the following:

Grappling yourself with a hook.
Axing a hard object.
Wedging into a narrow crevice.
Drinking scalding water from a sink.
Sitting in lava.
Falling victim to dangerous winds.
Rusting away.

If you want to get purely theoretical (and if you are a serious Nethack player, you *do*), add "touching the edge of the universe" to the list.

--Sourcequench, petrified by a tin of Medusa meat
posted by sourcequench at 9:09 PM on December 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

All that yellow makes me think of ZZT, though all that has in common with Roguelikes is the text-mode display.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:48 PM on December 20, 2011

An interesting coincidence: today I found a process named "nethack" that has been taking up ~90% of my cpu. It's been running for 35 hours. wtf.
posted by wayland at 9:53 PM on December 20, 2011

Ever since ascending with -47 AC, dual wielding a +7 excalibur and a +7 lance, while riding my invisible silver dragon, I haven't felt the need to try to top that.
posted by Joe Chip at 12:25 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm at the top level of the dungeon with a level 29 wizard getting ready to commence my first real ascension run.

The thing is, I've been there for the past six months. As far as I can tell, my character is basically invulnerable. I plowed through hell like a walk in the park. When the wizard shows up, I just give him the finger (of death). There was an archlich bugging me, so I just blessed genocided L. Frankly, I got a little bored with the game and left it alone.

Are the planes going to be a challenge, or just a grind?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:46 AM on December 21, 2011

My last game is stuck on hold as I try and figure out what to do now. I've never made it terribly far, but this last time my cat hit a polymorph trap in the bottom of the gnome mines and turned into some sort of fire-newt thing. Then proceeded to kill everything we met. Gnome town priest - gone (and sacrificed), kops, guards, shopkeepers - all dead. I stopped about 15 levels down with a pile of loot and an evil hungry pet. Guess I'll start over.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:49 AM on December 21, 2011

I stand by my theory that the Sanctum level is, itself, a picture of the Amulet of Yendor.
posted by fleacircus at 3:46 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

mr_roboto, the final astral plane is a challenge. If you just try to plow through it you have no chance. The final 3 enemies, the so-called horsemen of the apocalypse, Pestilence, Famine, and Death have special attacks that don't reduce your hit points directly but can kill you within a couple turns or instantly. You need to be prepared to counteract these quickly.

Plus there's the major problem that the horsemen come back to life, and fast. The corridors are so jammed full of enemies that you can't move around, and meanwhile the clock is ticking on the horseman's regeneration. Two-thirds of the time you end up going the wrong way and need to backtrack.

You can easily end up pressed up against a horseman or cornered, spending each turn defending against special attacks and just trying to stay alive. If you could afford to spend a turn to clear an escape path, you'd be fine, but you don't have a turn to spare. You need to spend your turn curing sickness, or eating food. Pretty soon something else also requires your immediate attention; you need refill your MP or HP, or the amulet curses something important. That turn you take a risk of dying. Meanwhile you know that these risks are adding up, and eventually you're going to run out of something in your inventory.

The astral plane is a race against time. It's not a question of if your character can survive on the astral plane. The question is, for how long?
posted by cotterpin at 3:53 AM on December 21, 2011

Oh great, there's (obviously) an android port.
posted by ersatz at 4:26 AM on December 21, 2011

This is the only game I have ever spent any real time on, having poked at it sporadically over the last 25 years. I have never ascended even when I was shamelessly saving my progress. And I still poke away at it. I find the iPhone port played on the iPad to be the best implementation I've tried. I think NetHack plays on some deep flaw in my character.
posted by Jode at 4:36 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

The NetHack wiki also has a lot of spoilers, including much stuff not covered anywhere else.
posted by Tjr at 5:14 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have like three books I'm supposed to writing Jharris this does not help. At all.
posted by The Whelk at 5:47 AM on December 21, 2011

The only roguelike I've ever got into is Desktop Dungeons.

And now I'm playing it again.

posted by mccarty.tim at 7:15 AM on December 21, 2011

Anyone into Slash [Super Lots of Added Stuff Hack]?
posted by Renoroc at 7:28 AM on December 21, 2011

Ascending a wizard (the only time I've ever beaten Nethack) is one of the crowning achievements of my video game life. I've actually not gone back to Nethack too much after I did that. There's definitely other things to discover in the game, not the least of which is ascending the other character classes, but time and life have kept me away, sadly.

mr_robato: My wizard's ascension run was actually fairly straightforward, as I recall. It was not difficult, primarily because I found the portals on the elemental planes quickly and picked the correct branch of the Astral plane on the first try. That being said, cotterpin's description of the Astral plane is correct. Even with the finger of death, my blood pressure must have been sky high while I fought my way to the first altar.
posted by Inkoate at 7:38 AM on December 21, 2011

Anyone into Slash [Super Lots of Added Stuff Hack]?

Yes. Also, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.
I've been trying to win this game for about 25 years now. I only ever won variants, like Larn and ADOM.

Now give me back my productivity.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:42 AM on December 21, 2011

By the way, I was shocked to learn that Thomas Biskup has actually been developing Adom Jade again. For anyone that remembers that. There's a "playable" release, but I use the word playable in the broadest possible sense.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:44 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't link to Wikihack because it's made the front page before, although at its old address. I wish I did now though, because they have a problem in that they abandoned Wikia as a host some time back, but Wikia refuses to take down their wiki at their request, so until recently Google still gave the old version priority for searches.

Are the planes going to be a challenge, or just a grind?


If it's your first time then definitely a challenge. Winning Nethack the first time is always a challenge. In addition to cotterpin description of the Astral Plane, the Elemental Planes each have a number of ways to screw you over if you're unprepared for them. If you want spoilers I now provide them so be warned!


First thing, when you leave the dungeon you can't go back. Take everything you want with you when you go up the stairs. Make absolutely sure you're carrying the real Amulet of Yendor, or you'll escape the dungeon -- not a death, but not winning either. If you have un-ID'd plastic amulets (from the Rogue level if you've had amnesia, or possibly dropped by Wizards of Yendor), you can tell they're fake by trying to identify them, or by trying to put them into any container. The real Amulet won't allow itself to be confined by such trappings.

All the elemental planes have a magic portal you need to find to progress to the next plane, which in game terms is treated as an undetected trap, and it's randomly placed at the start of the level too, so you're usually going to have to do some wandering around to find it. You cannot activate the portal yourself unless you're carrying the real Amulet of Yendor. One way of finding the portal that's always available to you is to wear or wield the Amulet; you'll get occasional messages that it's hot or cold depending on how far from the portal you are. If you're relying on your amulet slot for a needed intrinsic, consider setting the Amulet as your alternate weapon so you can switch to it with 'x'. Don't forget to switch back to your weapon or put on your usual amulet as needs arise. You can also find the portal by applying a crystal ball and searching for traps ('^'), or by searching from an adjacent spot. (I seem to remember that monsters can trigger the portal even if they aren't carrying the Amulet, but this might be from an old version.) Do not forget, on the planes, that you aren't in Genhennom anymore, so prayer is an option again.

The first elemental plane is Earth. If you have no means of digging here you're sunk. The game provides a spellbook of dig and a pickaxe (I seem to remember) in the first chamber, carried by monsters, for getting around. The best way to go is by wands of digging, which I collect throughout the game partly for this purpose. This is the last level they're useful on anyway. The level is full of minotaurs, and earth elementals, who don't have to follow the confines of the dungeon to get to you. Still, this is the easiest plane.

The second elemental plane is Air. You REALLY want a means of levitation to tackle this, to get yourself under control in this plane's lack of gravity. You can technically get around without one by kicking in the direction away from the one you want to go in. (You might be able to just move where you want to go once in a great while? Need to check source to know for sure.)

Reflection is also extremely important, or you're probably going to lose rings and hit points from the lightning storm in the middle of the level. This level is home to dragons and the scariest elementals. This is probably the most dangerous level for expert players because Air Elementals are the fastest opponents in the game, so when they engulf you they get extra attacks. You can get evicted from any vortex, Air Elementals included, by zapping a Wand of Slow Monster, or if you have the hit points to spare you can just strike it from the inside, which is a guaranteed hit. Having many sources of healing are good here. Be wary about using too many extra or full healing potions though; these are of prime importance when facing Pestilence, later. Of course you may not have to face him, a blessed unicorn horn will do the job reasonably well, and you'll never get that far if you run out of hit points. The portal is always on the right side of the map, beyond the clouds.

Air might be the first level on which you start to face serious opposition from Archons, since they can fly without trouble and the level is wide-open, and they can stun you with a gaze. The best way to handle them is to put on a blindfold or towel and rely on ESP.

The third elemental plane is Fire. You might not want to take off your source of levitation after Air just yet, because this level is full of lava. Depending on your class, this may be the first time you've faced lava. If you step into it and are not levitating or flying (water-walking is not good enough!), then if you're not fire resistant you die instantly, and if you are resistant you'll probably get stuck. Then you'll have to extract yourself quickly or get smothered by it. Your equipment will probably take a severe beating if this happens. It helps to at least fireproof your levitation boots if you're using them.

In addition to the lava there are lots of fire traps that can boil potions and burn scrolls and spellbooks. (Keep in a container to help protect.) Fire elementals can also destroy items with attacks. Salamanders can use weapons. The portal won't be too close to the entrance, and it also won't be over lava. Archons may also be a problem here, since there are no walls to block their gaze, and if you get stunned you might wander into lava.

The last elemental plane is Water. One of the coolest levels in the whole game -- it's a big field of water with dynamically-moving air pockets moving around! You need to be careful here not to walk into water accidentally. If you stand still, it seems you never have to worry about falling into water, you'll always have a one-space air bubble where you're standing. Because its structure is dynamic, this level doesn't automap.

The process of this level is, mostly, moving from bubble to bubble, waiting until the one you're in happens to intersect with the one containing the portal (which also moves around in its own bubble). If you're levitating, I think the water can't drown you, even if that makes no sense when the water should be all around you instead of just beneath your feet like the rest of the dungeon. There are giant eels here so you'll definitely want to take that into account. I find that the portal space usually ends up with items clustered on it after a while, so that might help you in deducing its location. It's possible to end up stuck here for some time, while you wander around hoping to luck into the portal's location. Once you've identified the portal though some means though, it'll continue to be visible when it comes into sight, even if it moves around.

Then comes the Astral plane. cotterpin already described much of this. I'll add this:
- If you cause conflict upon entering, the game will send in some hostile angels at the start. (There are already plenty of hostile angels on the level, but these will surround you on the first turn.) If you don't cause conflict, you receive a companion guardian angel at the start. Causing conflict during the level will result, I think, in the game sending in the angels but not you losing your guardian. Despite this, conflict is an extremely useful tool here when used wisely.
- Your best friend on the Astral Plane is your wand of death. Pestilence and Famine are both vulnerable to it. (Don't use it on Death -- it'll make him stronger!) Finger of Death spells are also good, although the Amulet of Yendor makes them consume more magic.
- If you got this far I shouldn't have to tell you, but be absolutely sure to have a source of magic resistance here. You might have gotten along without it by blessed-genociding liches and killing the Wizard early when he appears, but against Death not having it is an immediate game ender. Even with it, Death's own particular touch does a lot of damage and drains maximum hit points.
- The priests trying to kill you can in fact be your best friends. They like to summon clouds of nearly-harmless insects which can potentially be used to help block the progress of the Riders.
- If you get sickened by Pestilence, the best thing is to drink an uncursed potion of extra healing or full healing or cast a spell of Cure Sickness at 0% fail, and the second best is to apply a blessed unicorn horn. Against Famine, the best thing to do is to eat something. After you kill a Rider, it's only a matter of time before it revives. (There is an exception to this, but only diehard powergaming hackers will ever trigger it, the kind of people who care more about playing around than trying to win.) Trying to teleport a Rider away usually, but not always, fails. Trying to teleport a Rider's corpse away causes it to revive immediately. BY NO MEANS SHOULD YOU TRY TO EAT THE CORPSE OF A RIDER.
- When standing on an altar, to make sure it's the right one, press the colon key (':').
posted by JHarris at 7:48 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

My Nethack play totally fell off when I got a Macbook, as the keyboard isn't conducive to play. I miss it, but it's probably for the best. If I want to play it bad enough, I can always plug in a USB board or learn some mappings for this one.

Or someone here will present me with a better solution and ruin my girlfriend's Christmas.
posted by joshjs at 12:32 PM on December 21, 2011

If it's because of the lack of a number pad, you can get a USB numpad for cheap, like I used to carry around everywhere when I used my old laptop.
posted by JHarris at 1:29 PM on December 21, 2011

To JHarris's list of endgame lore, I'd add scrolls of gold detection, cursed or confused, to find the portals. Hugely important. Also, wands of teleport away don't work great on the riders but they are good to use liberally on those meddlesome priests.

joshjs, you should learn the joys of !number_pad. It's superior! Here's the big reason: you can use control+direction to move around, which is far safer (and faster) than running around manually. Yes, with the number pad on you can type g then a direction to do the same thing, but control+direction is easier.
posted by fleacircus at 1:34 PM on December 21, 2011

::rubs hands together::
posted by joshjs at 2:40 PM on December 21, 2011

As far as I can tell, my character is basically invulnerable.

My rule of thumb with Nethack (and, for that matter, most roguelikes) is that, if I ever find myself thinking this, I am at most a half hour away from death. Story time!

My character was a ludicrously powerful valkyrie. I don't remember the details, but I do know I had every resistance, an armor class around -50, and could finish off virtually any monster in a turn or two. Arriving at the Earth Elemental Plane, I realized that I hadn't brought any scrolls of gold detection. I grew concerned. Later, having used up all of my wands of digging looking for the exit, I grew very concerned.

Pondering my situation, I remembered that I had both a wand of polymorph and a ring of control polymorph. "I know," I thought. "I'll just turn into an earth elemental--they can phase through solid rock, right?" Indeed they can! They're also enormous. I changed form and promptly destroyed all of my armor except my amulet of life saving. (I guess earth elementals have tiny necks?)

At this point I knew the Nethack Axe of Doom had fallen upon me, and I started laughing. I wandered aimlessly about as an Elemental, still failing to find the portal, when suddenly I transformed back into a naked human... right in front of a mind flayer. Which ate my brain. "Um. Well. At least I was wearing an amulet of life saving, right?" So I was resurrected!

...having no brain, however, I expired again instantly, having gone from "invulnerable" to naked, brainless, and dead in about ninety seconds.

I have not played Nethack since.
posted by IjonTichy at 3:08 PM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

IjonTichy, my problem is, those kinds of things don't happen to me anymore. I have played the game so much and am so thoroughly spoiled that there just aren't that many things in it that surprise me. To a new player that must seem impossible, and it does take a while to get there, but in my experience the game is not inexhaustible.

What I would love is a game just as rich and unpredictable as Nethack, but not actually be Nethack, because I know all its tricks now.
posted by JHarris at 5:55 PM on December 21, 2011

The astral plane is a race against time. It's not a question of if your character can survive on the astral plane. The question is, for how long?

You can actually permanently kill the horsemen if you're determined and prepared enough. The trick is to kill one of them and then make sure there isn't a single available square on the board that isn't filled with other creatures. Then wait until their bodies start decomposing (can't remember how many turns that is, but it's about as long as it takes to make sure a troll isn't coming back). Repeat until they're all dead.

(Rumor even has it you can actually tame the horsemen. I don't know about this.)

The other trick is to get some boulders onto the plain, burn Elbereth onto a choke-point square between you and the horsement, and place a boulder on it. Scrolls of earth don't work on astral, though, so you have to reverse genocide or otherwise generate a set of giants and chances are pretty good one or two of them will be carrying a boulder.

Then (depending on how you've beefed up) you can pretty much camp out on the astral plane indefinitely.

A lot of the draw of nethack, I think is in discovering the balance between how horribly deadly the game is and how you can mitigate the danger -- sometimes so effectively that you are in fact nigh invulnerable. So, for a while, you're in near constant terrible danger, but then you kit out and level up and you're safe from most of the things the game will throw at you and it feels good that you've finally made yourself safe and therefor beaten the game. At least until the next stage (or until the RNG decides to really pile it on thick). Taming astral is, of course, the ultimate expression of this, because then there isn't any more. On the downside, though, then there isn't anymore. Usually better to briefly revel in your victory and then either attend to the challenges of real life or start a new game.

The third elemental plane is Fire. You might not want to take off your source of levitation after Air just yet, because this level is full of lava. Depending on your class, this may be the first time you've faced lava. If you step into it and are not levitating or flying (water-walking is not good enough!), then if you're not fire resistant you die instantly, and if you are resistant you'll probably get stuck.

It's been a while for me, but if I recall correctly, while water walking boots and fire resistance aren't good enough by themselves, fireproofed water walking boots + personal fire resistance will let you walk on lava without getting stuck or suffering damage.

Wearing speed boots and flying or levitating is probably better, though.
posted by weston at 6:15 PM on December 21, 2011

Permanently killing the horsemen: I nodded to this in my comment. You have to fill the level to do it, and it's pretty much always easier for people just trying to win to go ahead and offer the Amulet, which probably takes less time/is safer.

Taming the horsemen: You can do this with Pestilence and Famine. It is impossible to tame humans or covetous monsters. There are a few other things you can't time, too. But oddly, the endgame riders have no immunity, possibly because their levels are so high that none of the methods of taming will work, since they get a hit die-based saving throw.

But it is possible to lower their level, using level drain, and then tame once they get low enough. I think Stormbringer will do it. In the infamous case of Pepito, a pacifist gnomish healer I wrote about for @Play some time back, the player used the Healer quest artifact, which level drains targets when applied. Get Pestilence to low enough hit dice and a spell of Charm Monster should work.
posted by JHarris at 8:31 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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