Alignment

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For ways to change your alignment rating, see alignment record.

Alignment in NetHack is a trichotomy: lawful, neutral or chaotic. The following things have an alignment:

In addition to your character's alignment (whether you are lawful, neutral or chaotic), your character also has an alignment record, the integer u.ualign.record from the source code. Some spoilers refer to this integer as your "alignment", creating ambiguity.

Altars to the evil god Moloch are considered unaligned - that is, not lawful, neutral nor chaotic. Additionally, some artifact weapons are non-aligned. This only means that they express no preference for the alignment of their wielders, not that they are in some way allied to Moloch.

The interactions between objects of different alignments are many and varied. We say that two things are co-aligned when their alignments are the same, but cross-aligned when they are different.

Your alignment

You choose your alignment during character creation. If you choose any race except human, your alignment is assigned implicitly: dwarves are lawful, gnomes are neutral, and elves and orcs are chaotic. Humans may explicitly choose their alignment, although most roles have restrictions on permissible alignments. For example, barbarians cannot be lawful, cavemen cannot be chaotic, and knights must be lawful.

Your character does not normally change alignments, but there are two ways. You could wear a helm of opposite alignment for a temporary change. You could also try to convert yourself permanently by sacrificing at a cross-aligned altar under certain circumstances. If you do this before doing your quest, however, the game will be unwinnable.

Lawful

Lawful advantages

  • Easy access to Excalibur: dip a long sword into a fountain after you reach experience level 5. This does not unrestrict long sword skill, but see below.
  • You may receive Grayswandir, the coveted artifact silver saber, as a sacrifice gift.
    • If you don't receive Grayswandir and your role doesn't have a guaranteed first sacrifice gift, you will receive some sort of long sword. This unrestricts your long sword skill, allowing any lawful role to competently wield Excalibur.
  • The Gnomish Mines will have more peaceful monsters, so that branch is easier.
  • White unicorns are slightly more common than other colors, to compensate for the fact that they don't appear in Gehennom, making it easier to gain Luck early on.
  • Some nasty monsters such as titans, golden nagas, and especially Archons are co-aligned and will most often be peaceful.
  • You can reliably use a helm of opposite alignment on the chaotic high altar.
  • In SLASH'EM, Lawful characters get much more powerful minions than others, and they can get minions by praying with low HP as well as sacrifice (others only get them through sacrifice).

Lawful disadvantages

Neutral

Neutral advantages

  • Best choice of artifacts to wish for!
  • You have all alignments available with a helm of opposite alignment. In particular, this allows you to ascend on any high altar.
  • Air elementals, a very dangerous monster, may be generated peaceful.
  • Domestic animals may be generated peaceful, so you can keep them alive and return to tame them when you need them.

Neutral disadvantages

  • Neutral characters lose intrinsic telepathy and two points of Luck when they commit murder.
  • Using the helm of opposite alignment to ascend on a different altar is not reliable.
  • Your crowning artifact does less damage than the other alignments' and does not provide drain resistance.
  • A large number of low-level always-hostile monsters are neutral, giving neutral characters no alignment record gains for killing them, which may be a problem for protection racket runs.

Chaotic

Chaotic advantages

  • Chaotic is the only way to play an elf. Elven weapons and armor are some of the better common items in the game, and elves start the game with knowledge about them. Furthermore, they can gain a multishot bonus when skilled or expert with elven arrows if using an elven bow.
  • There is no Luck or telepathy penalty for murdering peaceful humans. (You still lose alignment record, however)
  • Direct theft from a shop actually gives a +1 alignment bonus (unless you are a Rogue).
  • Chaotic characters decrease their prayer timeout more quickly by sacrificing.
  • Chaotic players can sacrifice their own race at altars. When a chaotic player sacrifices in this manner, the chaotic god dispatches a peaceful unique demon lord to the altar, making one less demon to fight in Gehennom. This may also summon a peaceful Foocubus.
  • Sacrificing one's own race on a cross-aligned altar will automatically convert that altar to chaotic.
  • The mysterious force is more merciful.
  • You can reliably use a helm of opposite alignment on the lawful high altar.
  • The Book of the Dead can tame undead if blessed.
  • If you are not a Rogue, you can wish for the Master Key of Thievery.

Chaotic disadvantages

  • Angry chaotic gods are more difficult to mollify, demanding better sacrifices to reduce anger points. (Due to the advantages of being chaotic, however, chaotic gods are harder to anger in the first place.)
  • Chaotic artifacts are the most pathetic. Sting and Orcrist are among them and might be sacrifice gifts. There are a few good chaotic artifacts, but lawful and neutral artifacts are better, and none of the chaotic ones grant magic resistance. Most quest artifacts are lawful or neutral, so artifact wishing is less beneficial for chaotic characters.
  • Holy water will not cure a chaotic character's sickness. It does cure lycanthropy, but chaotic characters take damage when quaffing holy water.
  • Most of the more dangerous chaotic monsters are always hostile, regardless of your alignment.
  • You cannot ascend on the neutral high altar.

Monster alignment

A monster's alignment can determine whether it is peaceful or not towards you.[1] Monsters can be lawful, neutral or chaotic. Additionally the Wizard of Yendor and priests of Moloch are unaligned.

All monsters of the same type really have the same alignment. It is actually the integer maligntyp of struct permonst declared in permonst.h. A positive integer is lawful, 0 is neutral, a negative integer is chaotic, and thus some monsters are more strongly lawful than other lawful monsters, while some monsters are more strongly chaotic than other chaotic monsters. A neutral monster is simply any monster that is neither lawful or chaotic.

(So monster alignment is different from your alignment record. You have an alignment record even if you are neutral. You can also obtain a negative alignment record and have trouble with your god; that would never happen to a monster.)

White, gray, and black unicorns are lawful, neutral and chaotic respectively. Unicorns are especially important. Your god expects you to respect co-aligned unicorns and sacrificing cross-aligned ones is highly valued.

Altar alignment

Co-aligned altars can be used to pray and offer things to your god. Cross-aligned altars can be converted, but this is not always wise if there is an attendant priest.

See the altar page for much more information about what you can do with the different alignments of altars.

Artifact alignment

Most artifacts have an alignment. If the artifact is not intelligent, then you have only a 1/4 chance of being blasted if you have a different alignment from the artifact or have a negative alignment record (these two criteria not applying for unaligned artifacts), or are in the form of something the artifact specially attacks; damage is 4d4 (2d4 if you have magic resistance). If you have enough HP to survive the blast, you will be able to use the artifact.

Intelligent artifacts are different. Those can emit much stronger blasts; they might also "evade your grasp" meaning that you are unable to use them.

Dungeon alignment

Branches of the dungeon can be aligned in the sense that monster generation in that branch is biased towards monsters of that alignment.[2]

  • All other levels - Unaligned (No particular alignment bias)

Commentary

The three alignments of NetHack probably originate from Dungeons and Dragons. D&D gods have a specific alignment, and their worshipers are also of that alignment. D&D has since added a second axis, that of good, neutral or evil. The results are nine combinations like Chaotic Good and True Neutral.

Some D&D players had taken the idea that lawful meant good and chaotic meant evil; games like ADOM do follow this idea. Perhaps this is why D&D added the second axis. Many computer games, like NetHack, did not accept this complication. Then how does one interpret alignment in NetHack?

NetHack is always the same story about taking that Amulet of Yendor from Moloch, not the numerous plots of D&D. The best we can do is to understand alignment in the context of NetHack's story.

For a lawful character, think law and order. Perhaps the surface world has evil Knights and Samurai supporting tyrannical empires, but it is hard to believe that our Knight or Samurai seeking the Amulet is anything but good. They avoid murder and shoplifting, the Knight keeps a code of conduct, and the Samurai maintains honor. Perhaps other lawful roles need not act so good.

The neutral character does not much care about alignment. Most of the special effects of alignment are for lawful or chaotic characters. The neutral character just wants to obtain the best artifacts and win immortality. He or she might be planning from the start to take a helm of opposite alignment to the Astral Plane and just offer the Amulet to the closest high altar.

The chaotic alignment consists of players who aim for convenience and care not for order. In contrast to the lawful characters' like of social settings and orderly group activity, chaotic characters prefer individual action, and are perhaps most suited to a one-player game like NetHack. Chaotic players can own pets as well as lawful and neutral players can, before they take out Stormbringer. (In SLASH'EM, a lawful god will sometimes dispatch a tame monster to defend a lawful player who prays while having low hit points.)

Every elf is chaotic. NetHack's elves may be the size of humans, but they are not of Tolkien. Of elves, "there's hundreds of years of tradition of the land of Faerie being one where human concepts of law simply do not apply," writes the rec.games.roguelike.nethack FAQ.

Demons would seem to be a special case. They are evil almost by definition, and yet both lawful and chaotic (but not neutral) variants exist. If you polymorph into a demon, no matter what its alignment, you will be damaged by holy water and healed by unholy water, and be unable to pray to any but a chaotic god. Genocide carries an alignment penalty for lawful characters and a bonus for chaotic ones, but if you are in demon form these adjustments are reversed. It appears that for demons, "lawful" is equivalent to the D&D alignment "lawful evil", and "chaotic" to "chaotic evil", instead of the good / evil axis that describes players and other monsters. D&D divides its fiends into lawful evil "devils" and chaotic evil "demons", but NetHack makes no such distinction.

SLASH'EM

In SLASH'EM, elves are always lawful or neutral. There are also five new races in SLASH'EM; their alignments are as follows:

  • Drow: chaotic
  • Doppelganger: neutral or chaotic
  • Hobbit: lawful or neutral
  • Lycanthrope: chaotic
  • Vampire: chaotic

There are also many more special levels and dungeon branches in SLASH'EM. Their alignments are as follows:

  • Gnomish Mines: lawful
  • Mall: lawful
  • Oracle: neutral
  • Sokoban: neutral
  • Grund's Stronghold: chaotic
  • Lawful Quest: lawful
  • Neutral Quest: neutral
  • Chaotic Quest: chaotic
  • Wyrm Caves: chaotic
  • Black Market: chaotic
  • Lost Tomb: chaotic
  • Spider Caves: chaotic
  • Sunless Sea: chaotic
  • Temple of Moloch: chaotic
  • Giant Caverns: chaotic
  • Medusa: chaotic
  • Vlad's Tower: chaotic
  • Frankenstein's Lab: chaotic
  • All others: unaligned

This page is based on a spoiler by Dylan O'Donnell. The original license is:

Redistribution, copying, and editing of these spoilers, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

  1. The original contributors to any spoiler must continue to be credited.
  2. Any modifications to the spoiler must be acknowledged and credited.

This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.0.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.4.3. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-343}} tag to {{nethack-360}} or {{noversion}} as appropriate.