Holding attack

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‘Holding’ redirects here. For the container, see Bag of holding.

A holding attack prevents the player from moving away from a monster. If you try to move away, you waste that turn and get the message "You cannot escape from the <monster>!". The special effects do not apply when attacking another monster. There are three types of holding attacks:

Grabbing attack

The grabbing attack is most famously possessed by owlbears. This is reflected by the messages "<monster> grabs you!" or "You are being crushed.". In the case of rope golems, the message is "You are being choked.". Apart from the inability to move (and extra damage from being crushed) there are no additional ill effects.

The grabbing attack will connect if the monster's previous two attacks both hit, or always if the monster is already holding you. It is impossible for the initial grabbing attack to succeed if you are wearing a non-cursed oilskin cloak or if your outermost item is greased; this is part of the reason why items of armor are largely wished for greased. No damage is done if the initial grabbing attack is deflected by grease. Bear in mind that grease has a 50% chance of disappearing with each grabbing attack it deflects.

The following monsters possess a grabbing attack:

Drowning attack

The drowning attack is a two-stage instadeath, which is deadly even to high level characters. It occurs when the player is first held by a monster, and then pulled into a moat or pool, effectively causing death by drowning.

The following monsters possess a drowning attack:

  • Electric eel
  • Giant eel
  • Kraken
  • Couatl (Note that the couatl is a land monster, and it must be encountered over water for the drowning attack to work).
  • Python (Just like couatls, pythons are land creatures, so they must be encountered over water for the attack to work. The message given is also "the python grabs you" instead of "swings itself around you").

At first stage, the monster tries to get hold of you. Even if the attack formally succeeds (that is, passes through your AC), most of the time the monster "brushes against your leg", but there is a 1 in 10 chance that instead the monster "swings itself around you!". Pythons are an exception to this rule, as they possess both a drowning attack and a regular crushing hug. The crushing hug has different success chances than the drowning attack and does not produce the "swings itself around you" message; however, the python is still able to drown you regardless of how it is holding you.

After the monster got hold of you, the next time its attack succeeds, it will drown you, thus killing you. This may take as little as one turn, but typically takes several turns.

The chance of an attack succeeding depends mainly on your armor class, and on monster's level, and is slightly decreased if you are invisible. See Armor class#How it works for more information, and Source:NetHack_3.6.0/src/monst.c for monster data. Note that for krakens, pythons, and couatls, the holding attack succeed if two previous attacks succeeded. Krakens and pythons are slow, so they attack on average once in 3 turns. Still, in 3.6.0., even they are sometimes able to attack after 2 turns from the previous attack, or even at the next turn, albeit very rarely.[1]

The monster will drown you only if it is in, or above, water.

Drowning kills you, but does not wet your stuff.

Magic cancellation does not protect against the drowning attack, nor does polymorphing into a large monster. Cancelling the monster will prevent the initial holding attack but not the fatal drowning after you have already been grabbed. Having good AC may cause the drowning attack to miss even if you have already been grabbed, but this should never be relied upon. In SLASH'EM, free action gives an additional chance of shaking off the initial grabbing attack based on your luck.

Amulet of life saving is not as useful as it seems. It will save your life, but you are still grabbed, and will be drowned again next time the attack succeeds.

Wearing an amulet of magical breathing or polymorphing into a swimming monster will prevent all drowning attacks, but not the initial grabbing attack.[2]

Uncursed or blessed oilskin cloaks and greased outermost shirt, suit, or cloak will prevent grabbing attacks, though just as with grabbing attacks, the grease has a 50% chance of disappearing. In case you are grabbed already, it is too late to wear oilskin cloak or greased armor, as this would not release you or prevent you from being drowned.[3]

If you are levitating in a controlled fashion over dry land, stop levitating and the monster will become startled, releasing you.[4] Starting levitation will not save you.


One way to almost completely protect yourself against the attack is to blessed-genocide all ';' monsters, and possibly also genocide pythons (which are 'S'). Some players do it as soon as possible, others do it on the Water Plane, to make the whole level clean. However, couatls also can drown the player, and cannot be genocided.

If you can, always have your outermost cloak, body armor, or shirt greased. This protects you against a drowning attack by preventing grabbing. Grease your cloak (or body armor, if you don't wear a cloak) as soon as you find a can of grease. However, holding attacks sometimes remove the grease, so you should be attentive to it. If you fight more than one monster with holding attack, there is a tiny chance that one of them would remove the grease, and another one grab you at the same turn.

If you wear an oilskin cloak, there is no need to grease it. It completely protects you from any drowning attacks by preventing monsters from grabbing you.

An amulet of magical breathing provides complete protection from drowning. If you prefer to wear an amulet of life saving, get the amulet of magical breathing ready, and wear it immediately after you are drowned and saved by the amulet of life saving. If you wear an amulet of life saving, and keep the amulet of magical breathing in a container, take it out whenever you are held by a drowning monster.

If fighting from ground, you may wear a ring of levitation, boots of levitation, or levitate with the Heart of Ahriman, and stop levitating whenever the holding attack succeeds. This way you will be released. But if unlucky, you will be held again immediately the next turn. Besides, electric eels can destroy a ring of levitation, so have a spare one.

Otherwise, be attentive, and better have one of the item below in the main inventory. When held, do one of the following:

  • teleport the monster with a wand of teleportation (works even on no-teleport levels (but does not work in Fourk))
  • teleport yourself with a wand of teleportation or non-cursed scroll of teleportation (doesn't work on no-teleport levels)
  • levelport with a cursed scroll of teleportation (does not work if you carry the Amulet of Yendor)
  • branchport with The Eye of the Aethiopica
  • kill the holding monster with a wand of death (be careful not to kill yourself)
  • use uncursed or blessed scroll of genocide to genocide the holding monster and all its colleagues (does not work with Couatl, which is genocide-resistant)
  • freeze the water with wand of cold or frost horn. Even if the monster survives, it cannot drown you while on ice.
  • evaporate the water with wand of fire, or another source of fire. This works only in a moat, and beware of the fire hitting you.
  • use a noncursed scroll of taming, or noncursed magic harp with charges, albeit couatls have about 30% chance of resisting
  • use a noncursed magic flute with charges, which will put all nearby monsters to sleep (couatls have about 30% chance of resisting
  • engrave Elbereth if you can, unless you are in Gehennom (does not work against couatls, as these don't respect Elbereth)
  • drop a scroll of scare monster (does not work against couatls)
  • scare the monster with a mirror, which, however, works only in 80% of cases, and does not work if you are invisible, or the monster is invisible or blind
  • scare the monster with a tooled horn (couatls have 30% chance of resisting)
  • scare the monster with an expensive camera (this may or may not work)
  • use a non-cursed scroll of earth, albeit there is 10% chance of failure, and it does not work on the Plane of Water
  • polymorph into a monster with a grabbing attack, such as an owlbear or an eel. You will be silently released, and the monster will not be able to use its drowning attack in the future[5].
  • polymorph into a monster which does not breathe. You will not be drowned.
  • polymorph the holding monster

If you are held, cancelling the holding monster with a wand of cancellation is too late. Similarly, it is useless at that stage to wear an oilskin cloak or greased armor.

Trying to run away from the holding monster is a bad idea. Each time you try to go away, you have only 10% chance of succeeding. It is much better to fight the monster; chances are good you will kill it before it drowns you.

Sticky attack

A sticky attack is a silent holding attack that differs from grabbing attacks and drowning attacks because it is preventable by having high magic cancellation. The large and giant mimics use the sticking attack, and they have the additional property of sticking to you if you stumble upon them while they are mimicking an object. Note that you will still stick to the mimic, even if you use a wand of digging to create a hole underneath you.

The following monsters possess a sticky attack:


In Slash'EM Extended, there is only a 33% chance of a drowning attack being fatal. Also in that variant, even if the player is breathless, amphibious or lucky to not get instakilled, every time the holding monster gets a turn the player's entire inventory will become wet. This will blank scrolls, dilute potions, rust and possibly even destroy every rustprone item, and if it is lethe water, the player's items may be disenchanted or transformed into junk. It is therefore advisable to kill the monster quickly or prevent it from attacking, even as an unbreathing character. Having free action also helps.


This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.2.

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-362}} or {{noversion}} as appropriate.