Crystal ball

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( Crystal ball.png
Name crystal ball
Appearance glass orb
Base price 60 zm
Weight 150
Material glass
Monster use Will not be used by monsters.

A crystal ball, when applied or #invoked, lets you search for a symbol on the current level, consuming a charge.[1] You use the crystal ball by looking into it, so it will not work if you are blind. A crystal ball appears as a glass orb when unidentified.

Being made of glass, a crystal ball will shatter and be destroyed if you throw it, kick it, drop it while levitating, or drop it down some stairs.

In addition to the usual places tools are generated, Elvenkings have a 2% chance of getting one.[2]

The Orb of Fate and Orb of Detection are both artifact crystal balls, as is the now-defunct Palantir of Westernesse. Invoking an artifact crystal ball will activate its artifact special ability; to peer into it you must apply it instead. Artifact crystal balls will not break.[3]


To successfully use a crystal ball, you must pass an Intelligence check. For a blessed or uncursed ball a d20 is rolled; the result must be less than or equal to your Intelligence. A cursed crystal ball will always produce failure when used.

If the check succeeds, "You may look for an object or monster symbol." You can specify any symbol representing a monster or an object, or you can enter ^ to look for traps and portals.

If you try to search for anything else, such as stairs or other dungeon features, you will receive a message hinting at the location of a special level: Delphi, Medusa's lair, the castle, or the Wizard of Yendor's tower chosen at random.[4] The message you receive depends on whether you are in the same dungeon branch as the target level and its dungeon level relative to yours: "You see <foo>, <where>."[5] The location <where> is determined by the following table:

Dlvl difference Message (in the same branch) Message (not in the same branch)
greater than 8-10[6] "far below/above" "far away"
greater than 1 but no greater than the above number "below/above you" "away below/above you"
1 "just below/above" "in the distance"
0 "near you" "in the distance"[7]

If the intelligence check fails or the ball is cursed, you will suffer one of the following effects at random:

  • No further effect.
  • You are confused for d100 turns.
  • You are blinded for d100 turns.
  • You hallucinate for d100 turns.
  • The ball explodes, dealing d30 damage. This will never happen to artifact crystal balls.

Attempting to use a crystal ball while blind will fail ("Too bad you can't see the crystal ball.") with no chance of negative effects and without consuming a charge.

Using a crystal ball while hallucinating still activates the Intelligence check, but if you pass, you will simply be given a useless message. Failure still has the usual consequences.

Using a crystal ball with no charges will always reveal nothing (“The vision is unclear.”) but does not risk negative effects.

If your successful peer reveals nothing, you might occasionally be told, "You see the Wizard of Yendor gazing out at you." This is just a little joke from the DevTeam to "make them nervous."

Applying a crystal ball will put you into a trance for 1 to 10 turns, during which time you will be helpless if attacked. A ring of free action will not prevent this.


A crystal ball can have up to 5 charges normally, and an uncursed scroll of charging will add a single charge up to this maximum. A blessed scroll of charging will set the crystal ball to 6 charges instead.

A crystal ball initially has 1-5 charges and is generated blessed (25%), uncursed (50%), or cursed (25%).[8]

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

You can now search for dungeon features by entering any of < > _ \ # {. Doing so will find all of these features regardless of which one you entered.

The intelligence check when applying a crystal ball now uses a d8 instead of d20 if it is your own quest artifact, or d16 for other blessed crystal balls.

Crystal balls are now generated with 3-7 charges. Uncursed charging adds 1-2 charges up to the maximum of 7. Blessed charging increases the number of charges to 7 and also blesses the ball. Cursed charging removes all charges and curses the ball.

Applying a cancelled crystal ball now destroys it, regardless of whether or not it is an artifact.


The crystal ball is characterized by its shortcomings at least as much as its strengths. It is quite heavy, makes the user helpless for a period of time, and even with 18 Intelligence, has a non-trivial 10% chance of failure, and failure can be deadly to a weak or low-level character. If it does work, it only allows the user to search for a single class of monster or object, whereas most searching items are completely reliable, non-incapacitating, and will reveal all monsters or objects on a level.

A crystal ball should never be used if you are in a position where you could be attacked in the next 10 turns.

If your Intelligence is less than 20 (and failure is therefore a possibility), it should not be used if:

  • you have fewer than 31 HP, in case of explosion
  • you lack the means to cure blindness, confusion, or hallucination and are unwilling to wait out the duration of those effects

That said, there are cases in which a crystal ball can be effectively employed:

  • It can be used to locate the portals on the elemental planes (as noted above) by searching for traps: ^. Do not do this unless you are safe from attack (remember, the Wizard can always show up). The more traditional approach is to read a scroll of gold detection while confused. Gold detection is usually preferable, because confusion is less dangerous than being in a trance, and because four scrolls and four potions of booze or confusion weigh less than a crystal ball.
  • If you are concerned about traps because, for example, you lack magic resistance and are below DL 8, where polymorph traps start to appear, using the crystal ball in a safe area can reduce the risk of falling prey to one. (Confused gold detection would still be better, but this is a question of resource availability and conservation.)
  • When searching for vaults to clean out or locate the portal to Fort Ludios, a crystal ball can be used on otherwise clear levels to search for $ with a minimum of risk. (Gold detection and object detection are safer, but the note on resources still applies.)
  • Finally, a crystal ball is a magical tool and a prime candidate for polypiling in hopes of receiving a magic marker.

Tourists are in a unique position to employ a crystal ball, as they have almost unlimited access to charging after their quest, and charging it will never explode it.

Encyclopedia entry

You look into one of these and see _vapours swirling like
clouds_. These shortly clear away to show a sort of video
without sound of something that is going to happen to you
soon. It is seldom good news.
[ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones ]


  1. use_crystal_ball in detect.c
  2. makemon.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 247
  3. breaktest in dothrow.c
  4. detect.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 890
  5. level_distance in detect.c
  6. level_distance in detect.c: The level difference is compared with the random roll (8 + rn2(3)).
  7. detect.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 776: This particular message is possible, for example, when you are in Sokoban and the target level is the Oracle level.
  8. mkobj.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 501

This page may need to be updated for the current version of NetHack.

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 the current version's tag or {{noversion}} as appropriate.