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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.

While worse than other melee fighters such as Valkyrie or Barbarian, Caveman is still a relatively strong role because it often has high starting strength and constitution. The Sceptre of Might is also one of the best quest artifacts in the game.

Starting equipment

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

Cavemen do not suffer any penalty for cannibalism, and do not gain aggravate monster from eating domestic cat or dog corpses.

Cavemen never get nausea from eating tripe rations.

Caveman have a role bonus for multishot for spear and sling.[5]


Character creation

Cavemen are unlikely to ever cast a spell in their lives, so the primary factor in choice of starting race is pure physical power. Dwarves are clearly the superior choice, with generous HP growth and the highest possible maximum dexterity and constitution; infravision and a relatively peaceful Gnomish Mines are side benefits. Humans are a distant second choice due to a more hostile Mines and lack of infravision. Gnomes tend to have the least racial benefits for the role; their maximum strength and HP growth are poor, and their bonus energy and higher maximum intelligence are virtually useless for Cavemen.

Cavemen are restricted in most of the strong one-handed weapon skills, so the deterministic nature of lawful sacrifice gifts can be an advantage. Your first gift is likely to be an artifact long sword, or even possibly Grayswandir; the former case unrestricts your long sword skill and allows accessing Excalibur. In addition to the lesser reliability of neutral sacrifice gifts, only humans and gnomes can be neutral Cavemen, which carries the aforementioned drawbacks; The Sceptre of Might is also a stronger artifact in the hands of a lawful Caveman, especially once you reach Gehennom.

Early game


Cavemen start with a ready source of ranged weapons in their sling and accompanying sets of flint stones and rocks, but they are quite 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. Upon finding a replacement ranged weapon or two, you can freely drop all the starting rocks. The starting club should be just enough to tide the player over until they can find a better weapon.

Cavemen can reach Expert in clubs, including the aklys, which as of 3.6.1 is a tetherable weapon that will return 99% of the time when thrown while it is wielded. Once you locate a non-cursed aklys or two, it can easily pull double duty as both a ranged and melee weapon. Spears, especially the dwarvish spear, are also a solid weapon choice, since Cavemen are the only class besides the Ranger that can reach Expert in spear; they can also stack and be used as projectiles, and the dwarvish spear has the best base damage after the silver spear.


The starting leather armor should be dumped for anything better, hopefully a mithril-coat, 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. Due to Cavemen possessing the second-largest spellcasting penalty of all classes (topped only by the Barbarian), high AC should be the main priority. Non-human Cavemen could consider the protection racket; however, this is an unreliable strategy.


After gaining a few levels, non-human Cavemen may want to head to the Gnomish Mines as soon as reasonably possible; they will not only have an easier time dealing with the inhabitants, but can more easily procure a better set of weapons and armor using their pet if they so choose. In addition to Minetown, an early visit to Sokoban is also worth considering for a source of permafood. In the interim, they can eat the corpses of their kills to keep themselves full.

Mid game


Cavemen are notably restricted in all swords. If you have access to a co-aligned altar, you may want to sacrifice for an artifact weapon--most of which are swords. Receiving a weapon from your god automatically un-restricts the corresponding skill. If lawful, you can #dip for Excalibur, but it will still be restricted unless your god has given you a long sword. A well-enchanted spear is still a viable primary mid-game weapon; you can price-check for enchantment at a shop. You can find dwarvish spears in the Mines, and soldiers are often generated with normal spears.


Since they can neither #twoweapon nor cast many spells, Cavemen need not worry as much about utilizing shields; in the event you chance upon a wish, Sokoban has not provided an amulet of reflection, and you have not found one elsewhere, a shield of reflection is particularly useful to wish for. This leaves the amulet slot open, and the reflection will prove vital for the Caveman quest.


Due to the nature of the quest, there is a guaranteed 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 Shaman Karnov 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 returning you to the main dungeon. You can then come back to the home area and wait for him to move out of the way so you can get to the priest.

The monster generation for quest levels favors bugbears and other humanoids, most of which are no trouble at this point outside of mind flayers; hill giants can provide valuable strength boosts from their corpses, and so it may be worth bringing a tinning kit along to avoid constant satiation. Bringing down the quest nemesis, the Chromatic Dragon, almost requires magic resistance and reflection, though there are alternative strategies; see that article for more detailed information. Once you have retrieved the Sceptre of Might, corrode-proof it as soon as possible.

Late game


Heading into 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.


The shield of reflection is still a very useful item to have for your ascension kit, especially when combined with gray dragon scale mail; this provides redundant magic resistance in case the Sceptre is stolen, as well as the free amulet slot (e.g. for an amulet of magical breathing or life saving).


Once you have reached XL 15 and received the warning intrinsic, leveling further is not strictly necessary; while improved hit rates and hit points are nice to have, alchemy and a blessed luckstone combined with high luck from sacrifices can easily provide a good substitute. In addition to alchemizing potions of full healing, nurse corpses can be freely eaten by human Cavemen to recover full HP; blessed tins of nurse meat provide a very effective healing resource for the late game alongside potions of full healing.

As discussed earlier, most Cavemen are unlikely to take up spell-casting; even though a player can sufficiently boost their intelligence and opt for a robe, Cavemen can only advance their skill in attack and matter spells, and will very likely prefer wands and other magical items. Unlike the Barbarian's ability to cast haste self, the Caveman's special spell, dig, is of much more questionable utility, and wands of digging (which the player is likely to have several by that point) serve the same purpose for much less opportunity cost.

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 Caveman role is based on the stock character used to represent primitive humans in the Paleolithic era, and such depictions date to the early 20th century, when Neanderthals were influentially described as "simian" or "ape-like".



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 ]