Linley's Dungeon Crawl

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Linley's Dungeon Crawl (often called Dungeon Crawl or simply Crawl) is a roguelike game in a fantasy setting. Though NetHack has inspired many features of Crawl, the two games are very different.


The creator, Linley Henzell, made slight changes to the NetHack General Public License to create the "Crawl General Public License", thus Crawl is free software. Crawl does not contain any source code from NetHack.

Henzell created Crawl in 1995 and continued to improve the game until 1999. After that, he allowed a group of contributors to develop new versions of Crawl. Development stalled in 2003 with the release of Crawl 4.0.0 beta 26. The last developer, Brent Ross, proceeded to produce versions of Crawl 4.1 alpha until 2005.

A variant called Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup has displaced the original game (somewhat analogous to how NetHack displaced Hack). This variant integrates various bug fixes, interface improvements, statistical tweaks, and new dungeon branches. Most Crawl players now play Stone Soup.


Crawl and NetHack seem very similar in some ways.

  • The goal in both games is to retrieve a special thing from the dungeon. NetHack players seek the Amulet of Yendor, while Crawl players want the Orb of Zot. To open the way to the special thing, the player must perform the invocation ritual in NetHack or must collect runes of Zot in Crawl. Then one must return upward, carrying the special thing out of the dungeon.
  • Crawl and NetHack both use persistent levels, although Crawl has two significant areas with non-persistent levels (the Abyss and Pandemonium). You may take stairs to revisit levels. Strategic use of the stairs will help the survival of the player.
  • Crawl and NetHack both feature a similar fantasy settings. Expect to find elves, dwarves, orcs, kobolds and such in both games. Both games have magic items like scrolls, potions, rings and amulets.
  • Crawl and NetHack both allow you to attack monsters with melee attacks (by walking into them), ranged attacks (by shooting or throwing something at them), or magic (by zapping something at them).
  • Crawl and NetHack both have traps. Step on the wrong square, and it might teleport you or worse, for example.
  • Crawl and NetHack players may starve to death unless they eat corpses.
  • Crawl and NetHack both have bones levels, although they are sharply different in nature: NetHack bones save the entire level, including monsters and items, and a weak ghost, while Crawl bones do not save the level layout, monsters, or items, but contain a player ghost that has powers similar to the deceased character, and can easily kill a character in the shallow dungeon levels (albeit that in recent Stone Soup versions the ghost is sealed in a vault that only the player can open.)
  • Crawl and NetHack both have various dungeon branches.

Differences in gameplay

Players who try both games will immediately notice these obvious differences about the dungeon.

  • Crawl does not start you with a pet! In fact, allies (as they are called in Crawl) are extremely rare to find, although summoning spells (which create temporary allies) can eventually fill that gap.
  • Crawl generates larger dungeon levels than NetHack. In Crawl, the @ remains in the center of the map while the dungeon scrolls around the adventurer.
  • While NetHack starts out with distinct, separate rectangular rooms connected with corridors, Crawl starts out with more complex level designs, such as adjacent rooms, parallel corridors, pillars, and multiple staircases to the same level.

Crawl characters have better vision, too. If you give enough attention to the first dungeon branch in both games, you will notice the difference between NetHack's dark corridors and Crawl's lit corridors. If you play Stone Soup, your characters will see very well around corners, because of the Permissive Field of View. Vision in Stone Soup is symmetric, so if you can see the monster then the monster can see you. But Crawl limits the radius of vision; a Crawl player may be unable to see monsters on the other side of a large room, but NetHack players always see as far as possible in lit areas.

However, Crawl has subtle differences from NetHack that seriously affect how one plays the game. This presentation of the differences may be overly general, not to apply in all situations, so beware.

  • Skills are much more important in Crawl. In fact, the game is based around them. Your class only defines what skills you start with, and your race defines your relative aptitudes for skills as well as inborn mutations. However, the direction you go with those is entirely up to you. You can, for example, start as a Deep Dwarf Fighter, learn spells from a spellbook, and spend the rest of the game as a spellcaster. However, characters who try to fight monsters without enough skill are even more doomed than in NetHack: wielding a mace with low skill against a hydra is a very quick death, for example.
  • There are fewer incredibly nasty bad items in Crawl. There's nothing like the scroll of amnesia (although an item by such a name with a good effect exists!) or the possibility of a confused self-genocide. However, some potions are decidedly bad (eg degeneration), but it is still common to identify items (especially scrolls) by using them.
  • Crawl encourages the player to advance downward quickly, while NetHack players may linger on upper levels. Once a level is cleared, there is little reason to remain there (and in older versions the game would generate extremely out of depth monsters). NetHack players like to linger to regenerate or to sacrifice at an altar, and may encounter several battles even when traveling up through the dungeon. Of course, players of both games will travel up to escape monsters or to visit their stashes.
  • NetHack restricts shooting to eight directions. It is a tradition that will not disappear; it enhances strategy greatly by allowing monsters (especially those annoying unicorns) to be out of your line of fire. Crawl has a targeting system that allows you to shoot arbitrarily nearby targets within your field of view, plus all of the extra controls that such a system requires. Stone Soup's symmetric vision allows you and monsters to trade shots around corners. As a trade-off to this, many of Crawl's spells have comparatively limited range.
  • NetHack has containers. While Crawl players are dropping items on the ground, NetHack players like to place them in chests. In general, NetHack seems to have more complex object interactions than Crawl; the bag of holding is useful for carrying all those miscellaneous things (musical instruments, magic markers, spare unicorn horn, water-walking boots, junk scrolls to blank later, junk potions to dilute later, huge piles of food, collection of valuable gems) that an adventurer wants to exploit. (In compensation, Crawl has an elaborate "stash" system that tracks the location of all objects ever dropped or even seen on the ground, allowing you to return to their locations quickly.)
  • NetHack seems to give more emphasis to arbitrary uses for objects than Crawl. Although one can wield or throw any object in either game, in Crawl one does not obtain the special effects that one gets in NetHack from throwing potions, breaking wands, or wielding cream pies. Related to this, there are far fewer ways of ID'ing items in Crawl, and most means of implicitly ID'ing an item either identify it outright, or are actually forbidden (e.g. you cannot eat poisonous meat while wearing an unidentified source of poison resistance), depending on whether or not the process is tedious/counter-intuitive.
  • Characters and monsters in Crawl are much more vulnerable. For example, even a well armored early-game minotaur fighter may find 1/2 of their hitpoints knocked off by a (comparatively) measly ogre, and any living end-game character must deal with the effect known as torment, which cuts current HP in half. In addition, elemental resistances cannot be obtained simply by eating corpses, requiring mutations or extrinsic sources, and have three levels, the last of which still does not provide complete protection. On the other hand, monsters tend to have resistances less often as well, and AC protects against almost all attacks.
  • The game hinges less on finding a few particular items. There is no armor that provides a property like reflection, and most the useful extrinsics on armor are generated randomly, so nothing is guaranteed. On the other hand, the game lacks instakills such as "The poison was deadly..." and the touch of death, making such resistances as magic and poison harder to obtain but also less necessary. Also, artifacts are nice but not necessary. For the most part, they don't do any more damage than a corresponding branded mundane weapon.
  • Magic is generally much more powerful and accessible. Since any character can learn (almost) any skill, magic is accessible to most characters. Even low-level spells can provide useful or potentially life-saving effects. On the other end of the spectrum, high-level magic is by far the most damaging thing in the game, with the most powerful spells doing damage on the order of 7-8x what an endgame melee weapon will do. Killing the most powerful enemies in the game will often require at least some form of magic (even if it's just quaffing a potion of speed), and most high-level player deaths will be due to a spell, not to melee.

Differences in interface and documentation

Crawl's tty user interface is better than that of NetHack. NetHack's problem is its old source code and its desire to remain compatible with old Hack and NetHack versions. The default values of some options follow this desire. So color defaults to false, and msg_window defaults to 's' single rather than 'f' full, because older versions had no color and displayed only single previous messages. (At least menustyle defaults to 'f' full instead of 't' traditional. Traditional menus are that primitive type being familiar to Hack players.)

An 80x24 window is large enough to show the entire map of a NetHack level, which assists player awareness.

Crawl's manual is better organised than the NetHack Guidebook. Crawl's manual, a text file, keeps the less important material in appendixes, and shuns long alphabetic lists by presenting things in groups. A separate text file describes the options. Meanwhile, NetHack's Guidebook uses troff or TeX formatting, so that the DevTeam may create pretty PostScript and HTML versions of the Guidebook, not only plain text files.

Differences of development

The development of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is quite open; the developers use a Git repository that provides public read access, they chat on a public mailing list, and they seek new contributors. Much play of DCSS is on public servers, and the most recent development version is normally available.

NetHack's DevTeam has recently also moved to having an open version control repository.

External links

Crawl links:

External references: