Sickness

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Sickness is a terminal status affliction that, if untreated, will cause instadeath after a few turns. The main causes are eating too old corpses, special attacks, and cursed unicorn horns. The main remedies are applying a non-cursed unicorn horn, casting cure sickness, and quaffing certain potions.

The game uses "deathly sick" to specifically herald this condition, whereas there are many other cases where you simply "feel sick".

Sickness resistance in vanilla NetHack is possessed only by ghouls, which happily feast on old corpses, and fungi.[1]

Types of sickness

There are two distinct types of sickness, indicated separately on the status line. You can also suffer both conditions simultaneously. The effects and remedies are identical, except that only food poisoning can be cured by vomiting.[2]

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is only acquired by eating an old ("tainted") corpse or glob. It is marked by the text FoodPois on the status line. The initial time until death is set to 10-19 turns.[3]

Food poisoning is completely preventable in vanilla NetHack if you don't eat old corpses. A corpse is too old to eat after 6*(9+1d20) turns, where 6 is replaced with 8 if blessed and 4 if cursed.[4] Corpses left by undead except wraith are always pre-aged by 100 turns; eaten immediately, they have 40% chance of causing food poisoning. Old corpses can be rendered safe to eat by tinning them.

Despite the name, food poisoning is unrelated to poison and is unaffected by poison resistance.

Illness

Illness is conferred by the disease attacks of certain monsters, listed below, or by applying a cursed unicorn horn. It is marked by the text Ill on the status line.

The first time you contract the illness, a turns-to-live timer is started, set to between 20 and (19+Con). Each additional illness attack while you are Ill divides the remaining turns-to-live by roughly 3.[5]

Remedies

Sickness can be easily cured with any of the following:

The full list of less common remedies also includes:

  • vomiting from eating tripe, a rotten egg, or in SporkHack, drinking a potion of salt water. This cures food poisoning only, not illness. Quite unreliable, but it's there.
  • polymorphing into a new version of yourself[9] or a sickness-resistant monster[10] (ghoul or some fungi). (A new version includes if you "fail" to change form, but get your attributes adjusted.)
  • getting hit by a nurse's healing attack.[11]
  • sitting on a throne (1/13 chance).[12]

The only sure-fire cures are the potions, prayer if safe, the spell at 0% failure rate, and polyself. A unicorn horn is good enough if you weren't made sick multiple times.

Importantly, poison resistance is not a remedy; if you become food poisoned and rely on this you will die.

Messages

"Ulch - that <food type> was tainted!"
The corpse you are eating is old enough to cause food poisoning.
"You feel deathly sick."
You have contracted sickness and will soon die if untreated.
"It doesn't seem at all sickening, though..."
You would have contracted sickness but are resistant.
"You feel even worse."
"You feel much worse."
You have worsened your sickness, further shortening your time to live ("much" if reduced by at least half).
"You feel somewhat better."
Vomiting cured your food poisoning, but not illness. This doubles your time to live.[13]
"You are no longer ill."
The cure sickness spell is curing your sickness (even if it was food poisoning).
"What a relief!"
You have fully cured your sickness.

Enlightenment may reveal any of the following, which are self-explanatory:

"You are sick from food poisoning."
"You are sick from illness."
"You are immune to sickness."

Other uses of "sick"

A potion of sickness does not cause sickness, despite its name. Poison resistance does not prevent food poisoning.

You feel sick.
You ate an old-ish corpse or engulfed an undead monster, and lost 1d8 hit points.[14][15]
You feel a little sick
You lost intrinsic poison resistance to a gremlin attack.[16]
You feel very sick
A quaffed potion of sickness that reduces your constitution.[17] Replaces "You feel sick" if you are suffering sickness.
You feel incredibly sick
You will vomit in 5 turns, e.g. from eating tripe.[18]

SLASH'EM

In SLASH'EM, you may also get food poisoning from swallowing a pill, and you can cure food poisoning by sitting on a toilet. The Necromancer and the Undead Slayer roles start the game with innate sickness resistance.

Keep in mind that here unicorn horns need to be enchanted in order to be reliable.

References

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.