Play NetHack

Patience. NetHack is all about patience. Never be too hasty, as the game is extremely unforgiving. If you let your guard down for just a few turns, you can easily lose everything. Death is permanent (with some exceptions), so dying means starting it all over with a new character.

I got into NetHack a couple of years ago. I play it in cycles, playing heavily for a couple of months at a time, then take a break for a couple months after I tire of getting stuck at the same point each game. I generally return a better player. The game is very complex, taking probably a hundred hours of play just to nail down the basic gameplay and techniques.

This is what my typical session looks like. I like it almost as simple as it comes. By default, color is off, but I like to have it on (a lot more information is available with color). The graphics may seem crappy, but it is said,

While the graphics may seem primitive by today's standards, today's gameplay seems primitive by NetHack standards.

The dingo is blinded by the flash!  The dingo turns to flee!

                                                                       -------
                                                                       |++...|
       --------------                               ----------         |.+...|
       |............|              --------         |>........#        ---|---
       |............|              |......|         |........|#           #
       |.........<...#            #.......|         |........|#         ###
       |...^........|           ###|......|         --.-------#         #
       --.----.------           #  ------.-#          #       ###       #
         #######              ###        ###          ###       #       #
            ####              #           #             #       ###     #
               ###          ###           ####          ###       #     #
                 #          #               #  #          #       ###---.----
                 ##       ###               #########     #         #.......|
                 -.----   #                      # -.-----|--        |@.....|
                 |.`...####                      ##-........|        |...[..|
                 |....|                            |........|        |......|
                 |{...|         0##################-........|########-......|
                 ------                            |........|#       --------
                                                   ----------#

wellons the Sightseer       St:12 Dx:12 Co:18 In:12 Wi:8 Ch:16  Neutral S:1967
Dlvl:6  $:1329 HP:48(48) Pw:17(17) AC:7  Xp:5/185 T:3717

Like most rogue-like games, playing NetHack is a rewarding experience, so if you never tried it out before, I suggest taking a look at the NetHack Guidebook and firing it up for yourself! If you don't want to install it, but you have a telnet client available, you can connect to the nethack.alt.org server to play and watch others play, which is a good way to learn more. Building it from source can be a little tricky (took me a little while to figure it out the first time), so using your package manager is advised if you do choose to install it to try it out.

Another good resource is the NetHack wiki NetHackWiki. However, if you don't want to "spoil" yourself, don't go there. Learning things about the game outside of the game is not considered cheating, but rather spoiling. I don't mind spoiling myself. I will run into plenty of things I have not yet spoiled myself on. The game is hard enough as it is!

There is a theory that if someone ever completely beats NetHack under the hardest conditions, the source code will be thrown out and replaced with something even harder and more unforgiving. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

When play for the first time, start with a Valkyrie or a Barbarian as these classes are pretty tough against baddies, simpler to play, and more foolproof than some of the squishier classes, like wizards.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW

To give an idea of some of the interesting gameplay, I have a couple examples.

               #
          -----.--
          |....y.|     ##
          |......|     #
          |.n....@f######
          |......|
          |....n.|
          --------

I am the @ symbol, which is how NetHack represents the player. I am entering the room with two awakened nymphs (n) and a yellow light (y). Behind me is my cat who fights alongside me and assists me. Nymphs do not do damage, but rather steal your equipment. They approach you, charm you into giving them something from your inventory, which includes weapons and armor, and teleport away. This means that you generally want to kill them before they close in.

Yellow lights also do no damage. They run up to you and explode, causing you to be blind for a number of turns. Normally, this can be a really bad situation if you do not have the right tools available to you, which is typical for early in the game. In the worst case, which also happens to be the most likely, while I work on the nymphs the yellow light will run up to be blinding me. Now, since I cannot see the nymphs, I cannot attack them at range and they run up to me each stealing one item. If I remain blind for long enough, they may find me again and steal something else while I am helpless. They would rob me blind! It would be up to my cat to dispatch them.

However, I did have some good tools available. I happened to get extremely lucky (the Random Number God was nice to me that day) and find both a cloak of displacement and jumping boots at a store at dungeon level 1. The cloak makes me appear to be in a different place than I really am while the jumping boots let me travel several squares in a single turn. I was also playing a rogue, so my main attack was already a ranged one: throwing daggers.

The yellow light ran up to my displaced image and exploded, causing no blindness to me. One down. Next, I threw my plentiful supply of daggers at the nymphs, keeping my distance by jumping around the room. I managed to prevent a deadly situation, being stuck naked with no weapon, by applying my resources well. With NetHack, I had plenty of time to plan out each move I made. There is no timer. NetHack moves at my pace.

There was a another situation a couple months ago (which I will not bother drawing) where I was attacked in the middle of a room by a werewolf. The werewolf summoned help immediately and I was surrounded by winter wolves and coyotes and such. Winter wolves can be dangerous because they shoot deadly frost bolts, and I had not yet have the cold resistance intrinsic.

I cut a hole through the canines towards the hallway where I could fight them one at a time, and I lost most of my health in the process. Then I prayed to recover my health. Then I starting hacking away at the canines. Again, I was low on health and running out of options. The winter wolves were firing bolts down the hallway at me. Engraving Elbereth on the floor was not going to save me from the ranged frost bolts. Things were looking quite grim for me. The end seemed near.

I did the only thing I could think to do at this point: I reached down and took a bite into one of the dead frost wolves that was resting on the floor beneath me.

Take a moment and picture this. Frost bolts are zipping down a dark cold hallway at a nearly dead Valkyrie. There are shattered potions and frozen liquids all over the floor. The winter wolves have caused the temperature to plummet. Her breath hangs visibly in the air. She quickly crouches down and shoves her face into a dead wolf, taking a nasty bite right into its furry, bloodied side. Between her clenched teeth she tears off a piece dripping with blood. Desperately, she stuffs her face with the fresh kill, trying to eat as much as fast as she can as she dodges more frost bolts.

At this moment, the Random Number God blessed me with good fortune, and I was granted the cold resistance intrinsic just before the next frost bolt was going to kill me, allowing me to harmlessly absorb it and continue hacking away the remaining canines. Her reward for victory was a canine feast!

So, yes, the simple looking NetHack can be quite exciting. :-)

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Chris Wellons