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The caveman (cavewoman if female) is one of the player roles in NetHack. Cavemen can be either lawful or neutral, and can be humans, dwarves or gnomes.

Their special spell is dig and their default starting pet is a little dog called Slasher. Cavemen suffer no consequences from cannibalism. The guidebook has little to say about cavemen:

         Cavemen  and  Cavewomen start with exceptional strength but,
         unfortunately, with neolithic weapons.

Caveman may be seen as a weaker, less advantaged version of Valkyrie. Certainly, they are a more difficult role and are more likely to appeal to the player looking for a bit of a challenge. In the gallery of NetHack's warrior-type roles, they have very few comparative advantages.

Starting inventory

Each caveman starts with the following:[1][2][3]


Cavemen gain intrinsics at these experience levels:[4]


Caveman skills
Max Skills

Cavemen start with Basic skill in Club, Sling and Bare hands.

Special Rules

Cave(wo)men do not suffer any penalty for cannibalism.


Early game


Cavemen start with a ready source of ranged weapons in their sling and some flintstones and rocks, but they are extremely heavy and will make the player want to drop them very quickly. Like all ranged weapons, they're handy for wearing down powerful opponents or killing enemies with deadly passive attacks like floating eyes, but in 3.6.1 this function is superseded by the aklys, which uses the same skill as club (which cavemen also start with), and will return when thrown 99% of the time if it is wielded (like Mjollnir). Once you locate a non-cursed aklys or two, it's best to drop all the starting rocks.


Leather armor should be dumped for anything better (hopefully mithril) as soon as possible. Your very poor starting AC can improve substantially if you use your pet to curse-test all the armor you find, and continually swap out worse pieces for better ones. Leather rots, so stay away from puddings while you are wearing your starting suit.

Mid game


Due to the nature of the quest leader, the caveman is guaranteed a co-aligned temple on the first level of the quest branch. Normally, the temple will be effectively unavailable to you until you reach experience level 14, as your quest leader will keep rejecting you and sending you back to the main dungeon if you make a move for the altar. However, if you are fast enough to move adjacent to Shaman Karnov on his turn and then #chat to him, he will begin wandering around (after first returning you to the main dungeon). After returning, you can then wait for him to move out of the way so you can get to the priest.


Cavemen are notably limited in their weapon options. If you stumble over a spear (try to get a dwarvish one, but if you can't, soldiers usually carry them), you might want to make it your primary weapon. Cavemen and Rangers are the only classes that can get expert in spears. Good weapons to wish for are silver spears, which do enormous damage against demons. In the hands of a Caveman they are better than most artifacts, and have the advantage that you may wish for a stack. Later in the game, you may wish to carry a small stack of highly enchanted spears as a distance weapon. Another good option is a mace, which is superior to a club and allows you to train mace skill in anticipation of your quest artifact. If you have access to a co-aligned altar, you may wish to sacrifice for an artifact weapon, as receiving a weapon from your god automatically un-restricts the corresponding skill. You don't really have to worry much about your weapon as long as it kills your quest nemesis, which is the Chromatic Dragon. After that, you get one of the best weapons in the game, The Sceptre of Might.

Late game


Once you have reached XL 15 and received the warning intrinsic, there is little reason to raise your experience level much farther unless you intend to make your Caveman a spellcaster. It only makes the game generate tougher monsters, while providing little benefit to you: hit points can be boosted through alchemy, you don't need a lot of skill slots for spells or additional weapons, and, with a blessed luckstone and high luck from sacrifices (remember the guaranteed temple on your quest), you should be able to hit opponents pretty much all of the time.


Heading in to the endgame, you must not rely on the Sceptre of Might as your only melee weapon or your only source of magic resistance, as the Sceptre can be stolen by the Wizard of Yendor. In case this happens, you need to be sure you have a backup weapon (one you would be willing to fight the Wizard with!) and a second source of magic resistance.


Cavemen cannot twoweapon and are bad spellcasters, so it is a good idea to wear a shield if you find one. A shield of reflection is very useful item, so you may want one for your acension kit (combined with GDSM) so you have a free amulet slot (for example for magical breathing or life saving).


Cavemen are, on the whole, abysmal spellcasters. Their stats are poor, their skills are limited, and of course they will be wearing as much metallic armor as they can get their hands on for much of the game. It is hard to imagine a Caveman removing armor to zap an attack spell like Force bolt, and their "special" spell, Dig, is so difficult that most Cavemen probably never cast it, even with the guaranteed spellbook on the Plane of Earth. Perhaps the one useful thing a Caveman can do is find an uncursed, low-level spellbook of any sort early in the game, read it once, wait 20,000 turns to forget it, and then "cast" the spell for on-demand confusion, useful for reading certain scrolls and portal location in the endgame.


Since cavemen can only be lawful or neutral, you will suffer consequences of murder, but not cannibalism. One happy consequence of this is that Nurses can be eaten by human cavemen without consequence to recover full HP, and, once you have a tinning kit, their corpses can be tinned, and the tins blessed, for a very effective healing resource.

Rank titles

The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:

  • XL 1-2: Troglodyte
  • XL 3-5: Aborigine
  • XL 6-9: Wanderer
  • XL 10-13: Vagrant
  • XL 14-17: Wayfarer
  • XL 18-21: Roamer
  • XL 22-25: Nomad
  • XL 26-29: Rover
  • XL 30: Pioneer


Main article: Caveman quest

The Caveman quest sees you fighting the Chromatic Dragon for The Sceptre of Might. The Sceptre is based on a mace. You might want to corrode-proof this artifact since it is not immune to either water or acid.



Cavemen in SLASH'EM have a handful of benefits beyond their NetHack equivalents; most obvious is their natural 2-square vision range, making corridors and places like the Gnomish Mines substantially safer to explore. In addition, they are guaranteed Skullcrusher as their first sacrifice gift, which is a weapon that holds its own well into the late game. Lawful Cavemen will gain a point of alignment for commiting cannibalism, with the message "You honour the dead". Also, their starting stack of flint stones can be upgraded into luckstones or healthstones. Unfortunately, The Sceptre of Might is considerably worse in SLASH'EM, and is not recommended as a main weapon unless no other alternatives exist.

The caveman's Primal roar technique can be a life-saver in early levels; using it temporarily boosts all your nearby pets up a tier in growth (a kitten becomes a housecat, a dog becomes a large dog, etc.). Enterprising Cavemen may find this technique useful in the late game as well, if they happen to find themselves with liches or gnolls as pets.


UnNethack gives Cavepeople a bit of help at the beginning: their starting pet is a wolf.

Encyclopedia entry

Human cave(wo)man

Now it was light enough to leave. Moon-Watcher picked up
the shriveled corpse and dragged it after him as he bent
under the low overhang of the cave. Once outside, he
threw the body over his shoulder and stood upright - the
only animal in all this world able to do so.
Among his kind, Moon-Watcher was almost a giant. He was
nearly five feet high, and though badly undernourished
weighed over a hundred pounds. His hairy, muscular body
was halfway between ape and man, but his head was already
much nearer to man than ape. The forehead was low, and
there were ridges over the eye sockets, yet he unmistakably
held in his genes the promise of humanity.

[ 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke ]

Dwarvish/Gnomish cave(wo)man

'Twas in a land unkempt of life's red dawn;
Where in his sanded cave he dwelt alone;
Sleeping by day, or sometimes worked upon
His flint-head arrows and his knives of stone;
By night stole forth and slew the savage boar,
So that he loomed a hunter of loud fame,
And many a skin of wolf and wild-cat wore,
And counted many a flint-head to his name;
Wherefore he walked the envy of the band,
Hated and feared, but matchless in his skill.
Till lo! one night deep in that shaggy land,
He tracked a yearling bear and made his kill;
Then over-worn he rested by a stream,
And sank into a sleep too deep for dream.

[ The Dreamer, by Robert Service ]


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