Part I
Session 2

1  Tactics

NetHack is both tactical and strategic. But to survive to the strategy, you need to not die, and this session we will examine a number of ways to not die. First we will look at tactics, including character movement and combat tricks, and then we will look at some common pitfalls (with occasional hilarious recordings of players dying to them).

1.1  Diagonal Movement

Diagonal movement is important, despite what Eidolos says:

<Eidolos> Diagonal movement is for heathens.
<Azeral> Diagonal movement is absolutely crucial.
<nailbunny> it's what separates us from the grid bugs

This example, from, demonstrates the difference between us and grid bugs:

Reaching the door in 3 moves:

---------   ---------   ---------   ---------
|..q....|   |.......|   |.......|   |.......|
|....@..|   |...q.@.|   |....q.@|   |.......|
|.......+   |.......+   |.......+   |.....q@+
---------   ---------   ---------   ---------

Reaching the door in 2 moves:

---------   ---------   ---------
|..q....|   |.......|   |.......|
|....@..|   |...q.@.|   |.......|
|.......+   |.......+   |....q.@+
---------   ---------   ---------

1.2  Doors

Doors are especially important in the example above, because (o)pening the door will take you at least one turn. (The door could be locked or, especially if your strength is low, you could get the “The door resists!” message.) If we move the monster one square left, this could even be the difference between life and death:

Reaching the door in 3 moves:

---------   ---------   ---------   ---------
|.q.....|   |.......|   |.......|   |.......|
|....@..|   |..q..@.|   |...q..@|   |.......|
|.......+   |.......+   |.......+   |....q.@+
---------   ---------   ---------   ---------

Reaching the door in 2 moves:

---------   ---------   ---------
|.q.....|   |.......|   |.......|
|....@..|   |..q..@.|   |.......|
|.......+   |.......+   |...q..@+
---------   ---------   ---------

Now, it turns out that most q that you encounter in the early and midgame are either slower than you (rothes, mumakil, wumpodes) or faster than you (leocrotta), but for example's sake, let's say that the monster in question is a mastodon, which has speed 12, the same speed that you do. This means that you can't outrun the mastodon to get to safety. But if you can get the door open and shut in one turn, you can do this:

---------   ---------   ---------
|.......|   |.......|   |.......|
|.......|   |.......|   |.......|
|...q..@+   |....q.@-#  |.....q.@#
---------   ---------   ---------

---------   ---------   
|.......|   |.......|  
|.......|   |.......| 
|......q-@  |......q+@
---------   --------- 

and you will be safe, assuming that the monster can't open doors. (Mastodons cannot.)

Some fun door facts:

1.3  Boulders

Boulders appear as 0 on NAO and as ` on They are generated randomly, are carried by giants, and can also be summoned by reading a scroll of earth.

Neither you nor monsters can see through boulders. This is sometimes a pain, as when you can't get through a boulder:

Perhaps there is a monster behind the boulder.


Normally you can push boulders by moving into them, but if you hit a wall or a monster or something similar you will not be able to push it farther. Sometimes boulders stop you from going where you want to go. There are many ways to get past a boulder:

This is probably not a comprehensive list, and we won't cover all of it today. I've also ignored some of the special rules that cover boulders in Sokoban; we'll get to those later. (Basically, trying to cheat will often cost you a point of in-game luck.)

We're going to look specifically at three options: destroying the boulder, squeezing past the boulder, and destroying the thing on the other side of the boulder that is preventing you from getting through it. I'll be providing examples in real-time, but here are the basics if you're reading along after the fact.

1.3.1  Destroy the boulder!

The simplest way to destroy a boulder is to shatter it with a force bolt or wand of striking; this takes one turn and also hits things behind the boulder. You can also (a)pply a pick-axe or mattock; this will take more than one turn but will not destroy anything behind the boulder. You can also destroy it by pushing it into a pit, hole, water, or lava; it will fill the first two and sometimes fill the second two.

1.3.2  Squeeze past the boulder!

If you drop everything, you can squeeze into the same square as a boulder if the boulder cannot otherwise be pushed. This isn't usually very useful, but if you accidentally pushed a boulder on top of something you want and don't have a way to destroy it, it can come in handy. (It's also useful if you mess up Sokoban, but it does have a luck penalty.)

1.3.3  Destroy the thing on the other side of the boulder!

Sometimes things get in the way. I don't know about you, but when things get in my way, I destroy them! Rocks, daggers, magic missiles, bolts of digging, fireballs, fingers of death, darts, and many other fun toys can get through boulders.

1.4  Stairwells

You can go up and down the stairs. This takes one turn. Some monsters will follow you up the stairs, and some won't. You can often use this to dodge monsters. However, as Rodney (the helpful bot on freenode's #nethack) tells us, some monsters will follow you:

Shopkeepers will follow if they're angry.

Monsters with the Amulet of Yendor won't follow across levels.

Monsters other than the Wizard of Yendor and shopkeepers won't follow if they're fleeing unless you have the Amulet of Yendor.

Monsters which follow you across staircases, level teleports, trapdoors etc. are the Wizard of Yendor, gremlins, stalkers, salamanders, ghosts, shades, mercenaries (soldiers etc. and watchmen/captains), Croesus, all quest nemeses, all zombies (Z except ghoul, skeleton), all i, t, A, T, &, V, W.

Sleeping followers will not follow. Remember this if you have stealth and are trying to use levelporting to lure wraiths from a graveyard.

Note that liches are NOT followers, but they will escape up stairs if you are nearby and they are deeply hurt. (They're very sensitive, you know.)

Don't memorize this list. But if you're ever trying to flee up or down a stairwell, it may be worth your while to look it up. I lost an atheist illiterate genoless polyless polyselfless priest at the Castle to not bothering to look this up. (I, of course, now have the list memorized.)

Also keep in mind that only monsters next to you can follow you up the stairs. So if you can get something away from you for even one turn, you can go up; using wands of teleport on teleporting monsters thus has a purpose. (If this doesn't make sense to you, I'll give you a demonstration.)

1.5  Hallways

Hallways look like this:

---------                   --------
|.......| this is the hall! |......|
|.......|                   |......|
---------                   --------

There are a lot of situations where a hallway can save your life. I'll show you some on the live screen. Here they are, in brief:

One of the reasons that so many characters die in the Mines is that they don't have hallways. One of the reasons that Gehennom is so easy is the levels are pretty much all hallways. Learn to love hallways. Hallways already know how to love you.

1.6  Traps

Traps can trap you! Be careful, it's a trap. Trappity trap trap.

There are a lot of different kinds of trap. If you know where they are, you can try to lead monsters onto them, or try to keep monsters away from you by using them. A lot of monsters won't cross traps, even dart traps (which you can cross relatively safely, though you risk poisoned darts if you don't yet have poison resistance).

You can jump in holes or trap doors to go to a lower level, sometimes more than one level down. You will end up in a different place every time. You will not land on anything deadly (another trap, lava) except in really bizarre situations; if you fill every level with blue jellies and then jump in a hole you might end up doing something bizarre. This is still dangerous, though, unless you know that the next couple of levels are safe. Jumping down a hole to avoid a mumak only to land between four killer bees? It happens, be careful.

Dart traps and arrow traps can be #untrapped for darts and arrows. Bear traps can be #untrapped and then set in hallways between you and monsters. Land mines can, too, and they leave pits behind after they explode, which help catch monsters as well. The pit will get in your way on the way back, though.

2  Monsters To Watch Out For

NetHack has many monsters. Some of them are relatively innocuous. Some of them are deadly. A few deserve special fear, and here they are:

2.1  Floating Eye (e)

These are harmless as long as you attack them from far away. If you walk into them, though, they'll paralyze you, and you will probably die. This happens to even very experienced players who aren't playing attention; I killed a streak of six ascensions this way. Look before you move.

To handle them:

2.2  Team Ant (a)

Giant ants, killer bees, and soldier ants are all very dangerous. They're fast, they're hard to hit, they travel in packs, and the last two are poisonous to boot. The best way to fight them is to avoid them until you are stronger, but if you do find yourself toe to toe:

Team ant are the top killer of players on Don't let them be the top killer of you.

2.3  Foxes (d)

Foxes aren't all that strong if you run into them after you're level two or three. But they're the strongest monster (by some criteria) that can be generated on dungeon level 1. They're faster than you are and they hit relatively hard. So how to deal with them?

2.4  Water moccassins (S)

A lot of you drink from fountains. This has all sorts of effects, both positive and negative, and eventually you'll learn to stop. But we all dabble in quaffing in our youth, and while you're doing so, you might as well learn how not to die while doing it.

2.5  Nymphs (n)

Nymphs don't do damage, but if they get next to you, they'll steal your stuff, including your weapons, armor, and wands. They're usually sleeping when you first find them, unless you generate them through fountain quaffing. So:

2.6  Leprechauns (l)

Leprechauns are a lot like nymphs, except they steal your gold, not your everything. So they're less dangerous but every bit as annoying. Lucky for you, they can't steal gold that's in a bag, so keep yoru gold squirreled away and then smack away.

2.7  Mumakil (q)

All q are troubling (well, except wumpodes; they're just cheerily unnerving.) Rothes travel in groups, leocrotta are very fast, and titanotheres, well, they just sound impressive. But mumakil are the most feared, and for good reason — when you see them, they can often take you out in two hits. Sometimes even one. So:

2.8  Uruk-Hai (o)

Uruk-hai, apart from being really ugly and one of the few NetHack monsters in a feature film, travel in packs and use ranged weapons. Not only do they shoot at you, they shoot poisoned arrows which, in the early game, can be an instakill. How to handle them?

2.9  Cockatrices (c)

Cockatrices are arguably the most dangerous monsters in the game. Even though they are slow, do little damage, and have only a small chance of affecting you, they are one of the few monsters whose presence haunts you even after death. The cockatrice's petrification attack can be cured with a lizard corpse, something acidic, or, in dire need, a prayer, but the touch of a cockatrice corpse can be fatal. There's a spoiler devoted to just cockatrices, but here are some basic notes:

2.10  Chameleons (:)

Chameleons don't look like chameleons unless you are wearing a ring of protection from shape changers. Otherwise they look like some other — pretty much any other — monster. Their potential appearances are not limited by silly things like “what monsters you are ready to fight.” Like polytraps, they can have wildly out-of-depth monsters up in your face by the time you hit dungeon level 8. Every monster could be something different, but:

3  Strategy

You can think about the strategy of NetHack in many different ways. Here are some of them:

I'm going to break the game up into things that I get that I consider milestones, and go through strategies that I recommend for getting those things. This part of my advice is more controversial than the first couple of lectures — experts disagree on a lot of these points — but I hope that you find these points helpful in your quest for the amulet.

3.1  A pet.

The first thing that you need is a pet. A pet will help you BUC-ID things. A pet can kill monsters while you stand on Elbereth. A pet can take up space. A pet can get you armor from peaceful monsters like dwarves or watchmen. A pet can find traps for you. Best of all, pets are expendable!

Luckily for you, you started with a pet. You got one waypoint for free. Happy hacking.

3.2  Poison resistance.

Poison resistance protects you from a variety of only partially avoidable instant death effects:

To get poison resistance, I eat corpses. The “Eating Corpses For Food And Intrinsics Spoiler” occupies a consistent place in my browser every November. It's great. Eating poisonous corpses is worth it if you have high strength and the percentage chance is at least 33%, or you have enough corpses that you are very likely to get poison resistance. You can always heal strength loss later; eating a poisonous (not food poisoning!) corpse is never an instadeath.

When eating such a corpse, be sure to wear any unidentified uncursed rings and amulets. They might confer poison resistance, and if you don't get poisoned, you'll know it was one of them. You can then chow down to your heart's content until you get “You feel especially healthy,” signifying that you gained the intrinsic despite having another source.

3.3  Magic Cancellation.

Magic cancellation protects from poison attacks (if you don't have poison resistance yet), drain attacks, sliming, and other nasty things that monsters can do to you. Ideally you get an MC3 cloak, providing 98% resistance. Some players (including myself, on two occasions) ascend with the MC2 provided by displacement, but getting something soon is important.

3.4  Unicorn horn.

The unicorn horn allows you to cure blindness, food poisoning, confusion, hallucination, stunning, illness, stat loss, and probably something else I am forgetting. Not only that, but it can be wielded as a two-handed weapon and used for quite a bit of damage! Basically, you get them by killing unicorns. Unicorns are much faster than you; try to work them into corners or fire at them in hallways.

Fun fact: Intelligent pets can heal themselves with unicorn horns!

3.5  Armor class −5.

Armor class between 10 and 0 influences how likely monsters are to hit you, and armor class below that reduces damage, roughly of the value AC/2. You don't need a lot to get reasonably far, but having −5 will keep you from taking lots of damage from small monsters and let you focus on real threats, while taking the edge off of every attack. It's easy enough to get to this point, too:

This desire for low AC fast makes hitting the first level or two of the mines early a good idea if your pet can pick off some dwarves for you.

If you're a caster, this can be tricky; you may want studded leather instead. Personally, I play my wizards as weak combat wombats, throwing daggers and wearing iron until I hit the Castle; some people think I am insane for this. Monks also suffer AC problems due to not being able to wear body armor until the endgame (minus twenty to hit is harsh). Still, you can often find random enchanted gear — sometimes even +4 or +5 — and you should be able to hit at least AC 0 before descending past DL 8 or 9.

3.6  Magic resistance.

Magic resistance is awesome. You should get it. My first wish will always go to MR if I don't have it yet. Even though reflection is easier to get, I rank MR as more necessary because it protects you from the most bad things in the early and midgame. You can get it from these sources:

...and that's it. You will often have to or want to burn a wish on one of these. GDSM is the most popular choice; the “younger generation” of experts prefer to wish for quest artifacts, but there is no chaotic quest artifact that confers magic resistance, so this is not always possible. Also, if enough artifacts have been generated, this likely won't work. I don't sac for artifacts until I have the Eye of the Aethiopica safe in hand, but I don't expect you all to be like me. GDSM is good. Get it.

3.7  Reflection.

Reflection protects you from all sorts of things too, and is much easier to come by; there's a 50% chance of picking it up in Sokoban and another 50% chance of getting it from Perseus's statue. Players have ascended without reflection, but they are insane. Losing rings and wands to lightning, potions and scrolls to fire, and potions to cold is awful. Get reflection as soon as you can. Some players, including me on alternate Thursdays, strongly recommend that you do Sokoban first because you might get reflection, as well as a number of other fun toys.

3.8  Luck.

Getting positive or zero luck — all you need to guarantee prayer and successful wishes — is easy. But high luck has a lot of benefits:

The guaranteed luckstone at the end of the mines is great, but not strictly necessary; you often find another.

3.9  Cold, fire, shock resistances.

You want these as soon as you can get them to deal with energy vortices and wand effects. I'm not above a local family farm of puddings until I've got my shock resistance, and neither should be you.

These aren't quite as necessary, except fire resistance, which prevents loss of max HP in Gehennom.

3.10  Armor class −20.

I usually aim to max my armor class once I hit the Castle. You can do the Castle however you want — I'll wizmode a couple of options for you — but one way or another, once you get the wand, you can get your AC to this point, where an average of ten damage is being shaved off of every hit. I recommend doing this by wishing for a magic marker and sinking it all into enchant armor. Once your AC is −20 (and hopefully you have speed or jumping boots), you should be all set to ascend. −40 doesn't hurt but isn't, in my experience, worth the effort; −30 is the sweet spot, but I don't sweat getting that far.

3.11  XL 14.

You need it to go on the quest. Plus, if you're casting any spells at all, it's a good place to be. (If you're casting a lot of spells, especially attack spells whose damage depends on XL, consider XL 30. I'm looking at you, Magic Missile.)

Ways to get those extra levels:

3.12  Bell of Opening.

You've got to finish the Quest! Some quests have specific requirements; others can be done before getting AC −20 in absolute comfort. But there's usually no need to do the Quest before the Castle, except collecting more loot to better plan your wishes; and you can always take the leftover wishes with you...

3.13  Magic Mapping.

Gehennom is boring. Seriously. But! One marker worth of scrolls will map pretty much all of it. Burn a wish on this. You'll be glad you did. Alternately, you can use the spell; I prefer this because finding 20 blank scrolls is actually a pain, but it requires a robe, an HoB, and XL 30 for most characters.

3.14  Candelabrum of Invocation.

All the cool kids these days kill Vlad with like a carrot or a wielded wand of wishing or something. Just don't forget to pick up the guaranteed amulet of lifesaving on the second floor — you'll be glad you did.

3.15  Vibrating Square.

From the Gazetteer:

It is in a corridor (not a wall), at least five squares from the side of the map, at least four squares from the top or bottom of the map, not within a circle of eleven squares radius around the upstair, not in a straight line with the upstair, and not on the same square as a trap.

Other than that it could be anywhere. Have fun with that. Once you find it, don't lose it. Remember, controlled teleport works on this level!

3.16  Portal detection.

Some options:

Get these together — I recommend the first or second option — before you wake the Wizard. Seriously. You'll be happier that way.

This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.