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The name "Elbereth" rendered in three of the writing systems created by J.R.R. Tolkien. From top to bottom: 1. The "tehta mode" of the Tengwar script; 2. The "Mode of Beleriand," another Tengwar script; 3. The "Angerthas Moria" or "runic" script. The degradation patterns seem to imply the Latin alphabet is used for engravings by NetHack characters rather than any of these writing systems.

Parts of this entry were adapted from the NetHack Elbereth FAQ by Kate Nepveu.

Elbereth (also called the E-word or sometimes just E) is, in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, the name of a divine being worshipped by elves. In Nethack, engraving her name on a square prevents most monsters from attacking you while you are on that square. Use of Elbereth is a key survival strategy for new players or characters, and the difference between death and survival in many games.


A monster that respects Elbereth will not attack you in melee combat (hand to hand) or cast a directed spell at you while you are standing on a square where the word "Elbereth" is written. The word must be by itself on the square, with no extra characters before or after it. Elbereth has no effect on squares you are not occupying, making scrolls of scare monster more attractive for purposes such as protecting a stash. Additionally, monsters that respect Elbereth will be scared if they are next to you and while you are standing on Elbereth.[1] This causes them to flee. Most monsters in the game respect Elbereth; see below for exceptions.

Elbereth will not protect you from any missile or spell attack, nor anything else that allows a monster to inflict damage from a distance, such as a dragon's breath attack. It will not make monsters peaceful, or protect anything on another square (such as your pet); hostile monsters will still want to kill you, and will do anything they will ordinarily do to harm you, except attack you hand-to-hand. It will also not work in Gehennom or the endgame. ("The power of the Valar extends only so far.")

Elbereth stops working when it degrades into a different word, so if you are writing in the dust (E-), you might want to continually check on it with the : key. Attacking a monster by any means, or performing certain other hostile actions, will immediately erase any Elbereth engraving under you and reduce your alignment record by 5. ("You feel like a hypocrite.")

Partial exceptions exist where Elbereth will still protect you from non-melee; no monster already fleeing from you due to Elbereth can use its ranged attacks while adjacent, and are much less likely to do so even when not adjacent. Any dragon will choose melee over its breath weapon if it is adjacent to you, and if it cannot engage you because of Elbereth, it will not attack you at all.

Elbereth is case-insensitive, but engraving "Elbereth" as written, with capital "E", will exercise wisdom, so it is most beneficial to do it this way. You can use Elbereth while engrave-testing wands for this added bonus.

Monsters that do not respect Elbereth

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

Unique monsters are no longer scared of Elbereth. Although the commit message for commit dc9fe0d8 only mentions the scroll of scare monster, Elbereth is also affected because it is handled in the same function.

Types of monster

No monster represented by @[2] or A[3] will respect the word, nor will minotaurs,[4] or the Riders.[5] The Keystone Kops, while also human, will respect Elbereth.[6] [7] Shapechangers will respect it while they are in a form that otherwise would, and will not respect it while in a form that otherwise would not (such as a werecreature in human form). Certain monsters – shopkeepers, guards, high priests and the Wizard of Yendor – will never respect it,[8] even if they are polymorphed into a form that otherwise would.

Tame monsters

Any tame or peaceful monster will not respect Elbereth.[9] This is obviously not a problem in terms of avoiding attacks, as these monsters generally won't attack you. This does mean, however, that if you plan on using conflict to dispose of a group of monsters while waiting on an Elbereth square, you may have to endure attacks from any pets you have with you.

Blinded monsters

A blinded monster that can ordinarily see will not respect Elbereth while it is blind. This makes it unadvisable to use a camera, for instance, while you are hiding behind the power of Elbereth; blind monsters can not read the word anymore and will attack you. This is distinct from eyeless monsters, such as gelatinous cubes, which do not have sight in the first place and will respect Elbereth.

Chances of engraving

You are not guaranteed to engrave perfectly if you are impaired (such as being blind) or writing in the dust. If you are writing in the dust (with fingers, a wand, a soft gem, etc.) or are scrawling in blood, your chances of messing up each letter[10] add up to a (0.96 + 0.04 × 294)8 or about 72.7% on each attempt, as each of the eight letters in Elbereth must be engraved or "mis"-engraved correctly for the word to have power. It is entirely possible to require three, four, or even more attempts to get a correct "Elbereth" written in the dust, so you must not wait until you are one turn from death to get this done! If you can see, you can inspect your work with the "look" command, ([:]), which does not take a turn to do unless blind. You will also know it is working if you see the message, "The <monster> turns to flee."

Speed and quality

Engraving techniques may be classified as fast (fingers, wand, athame) or slow (other weapons, hard gems) (see Engraving#Speed for details). With a fast method, you can engrave up to 9 characters (enough for one Elbereth) immediately; this takes one move, and has immediate effect—affected monsters will not get another attack (if the engrave succeeds). This is almost always the preferred way to use Elbereth.

Engravings may be classified as permanent (will not degrade), semi-permanent (will degrade slowly), or temporary (will degrade very quickly).

For a permanent Elbereth, use a wand of fire or wand of lightning to burn it. The wand of lightning can blind you, but that is an acceptable risk during an emergency. (Note that the blindness takes effect after the engraving is completed—you will not increase your risk of misengraving through blindness.) Otherwise, unless you can easily cure blindness or protect your eyes, avoid any engraving with the wand of lightning. Permanent Elbereths are useful in combat situations, but because they always require a wand charge, it is best to save them for difficult situations rather than using them routinely. Permanent Elbereths will not erode from being stood on or walked over, but can be eliminated through techniques such as engraving over them or engraving with a wand of polymorph.

You can engrave a fast semi-permanent Elbereth using a non-cursed athame, a wand of digging or a charged magic marker (consuming four charges). Athames are the best way to engrave Elbereth in routine combat as they engrave semi-permanently and are not reliant on charges. Unfortunately, athames are difficult to find. They are never randomly generated, so you need to pick one up from a master lich's or arch-lich's inventory, get gifted Magicbane from your god or wish for one. Wizards' first sacrifice gift is Magicbane so they have the easiest time getting hold of an athame.

You can make a temporary "engraving" (actually just drawing in the dust on the floor, or writing in blood if you are polymorphed into a vampire) with your fingers by responding "-" when asked what to engrave with, or you can use a soft gemstone, or any wand other than fire, lightning, or digging (certain wands may have undesirable effects on the engraving itself, such as polymorphing it). This is fast, but subject to the 125 chance of mis-engraving per letter, and any movement, such as fighting or throwing missiles, will damage the engraving. Even standing still on the engraving will eventually degrade it, as no one stands perfectly still. However, one can levitate after engraving to keep the engraving from being eroded (if it is not already).

Semi-permanent Elbereths will erode over time as they are walked over or stood upon, but not nearly as quickly as will temporary (finger) engravings. See Engraving#Durability.

Slow engraving methods

Hard gemstones, any ring with a hard gemstone set in it, and bladed weapons can be used to engrave semi-permanent Elbereths, but these techniques are slow and will make weapons dull (other than athames which are fast to engrave and do not dull from it), and is thus generally not recommended.

If you really want to engrave with a slow method, do it one letter at a time as engraving more than one character at a time is dangerous due to being rendered helpless while engraving.

Another drawback of slow engraving was that, if you only have slow ways to do a semi-permanent Elbereth, you have no safe way to repair it once it is eroded, because you can't add a fast dust Elbereth over the top. So you are then forced to use up a charge for a permanent Elbereth, or a wand of digging to update your semi-permanent Elbereth. Hence slow Elbereths are very unsuitable for combat situations.

A funny wrinkle in the engraving rules means that an ordinary +0 weapon will not be able to engrave the entire word "Elbereth" at one go—you will only get as far as "Elberet" before the weapon reaches -3 and is too dull for engraving. It will work, however, if you engrave first "Elb" (for minus one to the weapon), then add "ereth" to the current engraving (for an additional minus two).

Elbereth and levitation

If you levitate over an Elbereth, the word will take longer than normal to degrade as long as you are levitating over the square, providing an advantage while fighting off large numbers of monsters. Note, however, that during an emergency, it is usually preferable to burn a permanent Elbereth using a wand, assuming that you have enough wand charges to spare.


A key insight for new players is that Elbereth can be pre-engraved on retreat squares long before the character gets into trouble. Players may pause to engrave a durable form of Elbereth at various choke points in hallways (or just off them), near stairs, etc. Cautious players may leave a trail of Elbereth-engraved squares leading back to stairs, so that they are never far from safety. Elbereth should not be viewed as only a last resort when the character is down to 1 HP!

Another good use of Elbereth, especially when surrounded, is to engrave it on the floor and wait for your HP to recover. Once you've recovered sufficiently, scuff the engraving and resume attacking. When monsters realize that you are no longer protected, engrave it again. This tactic can be very useful for level grinding.

If you engrave the word as "ElBereth", there's a 1 in 32 chance that when it degrades, it will degrade to "Elbereth", which will still protect you. This won't exercise wisdom, but has a small chance of saving your life in some desperate situations. Capitalizing other letters is not helpful, as only the capital letter B has a chance of degrading to its lowercase counterpart.


Before NetHack 3.6.0, the game may be compiled without Elbereth (option name ELBERETH). The #version command will tell whether NetHack was compiled with or without the ELBERETH feature. Since 3.6.0 Elbereth is always included.

Also, Elbereth was effectual even when you weren't on it so long as there was at least one object on said Elbereth square—similar to the current behavior of a scroll of scare monster. Because of this, a common technique used in many applications—commonly to herd monsters—would be to create a large number of Elbereth squares with a gold piece on them. In addition, if Elbereth was present anywhere in the engraving (e.g. "EngberethElberethElbcrelh"), it would still constitute a valid Elbereth square, making engraving Elbereth multiple times and then fighting monsters a valid strategy.

Before 3.6.0, one method of engraving multiple Elbereths was to engrave between 10 and 19 characters per game turn with a fast method, or 1 character per game turn with a slow method. This takes the whole turn to finish, and was not effective until the turn is over, so monsters typically get an attack during that time (unless you are on a free turn due to being fast or very fast). And, while doing this, any existing engraving is obscured, so any Elbereths that you have already written are ineffective during this turn.

If you engrave multiple characters with a slow method, or more than 19 characters with a fast method, it takes more than 1 turn. Throughout these turns the engraving offers no protection and you are 'helpless': unlike reading a spellbook or eating a food ration, you won't be interrupted if something attacks you. No monster will respect Elbereth until your entire engraving is finished.

Before 3.6.0, a special case prevented Elbereth engraved onto a headstone from working.[11] This was done specifically to prevent players from naming themselves "Elbereth" and making a permanently engraved Elbereth square when they die. This special case is no longer necessary, because Elbereth needs to be the only text in the engraving, though it is still present in the code.

Additionally, Elbereth was effectual in Gehennom and the Endgame.

In 3.6.0, Elbereth would not necessarily erode while attacking, but each time a monster flees from Elbereth, there is a chance that 1 character will be eroded on the square with the Elbereth engraving.[12] This applies even for engravings that would otherwise be permanent, such as those burned by a wand of fire or an engraving you are levitating over. The chance of a character being eroded in this way is 100% for an engraving in dust, 126 for a semipermanent engraving, and 152 for permanent.[13] This is in addition to the normal chance of erosion for any engraving.



In SLASH'EM, a lit lightsaber can be used to burn Elbereth into the floor, as if using a wand of fire or lightning.

NetHack brass

Avoid engraving Elbereth with wands in NetHack brass. While vanilla uses 1 wand charge per engraving, NetHack brass can consume extra charges. An engraving with a wand of fire, for example, costs the usual 1 charge engraving with a wand, an extra 1 charge because the wand is a wand of fire, plus 1 charge for each letter engraved. To burn Elbereth successfully, you would need 10 charges in your wand of fire; you probably do not have them.


In SporkHack, Elbereth doesn't always work. On weaker monsters, it works most of the time, but especially against higher-level monsters it's no longer perfect protection. That said, it works often enough that it's almost certainly worth using everywhere that it's worth using in vanilla or SLASH'EM.


In UnNetHack, "Elbereth" will appear in your status line while you are standing on an active Elbereth engraving, unless you are blind. UnNetHack specifically tracks the number of times you completed an engraving of Elbereth in your conducts, including if you have never engraved or used Elbereth at all.

"Elbereth" can be automatically written on your current square using using ctrl + e - if you are wielding a known non-cursed athame, you will engrave using that weapon, and will write it in the dust with your fingers otherwise.

As of version 4.0.0, minotaurs respect Elbereth, while the following additional monsters will no longer respect Elbereth:[14]


In AceHack, the word "Elbereth" has no special meaning, but a heptagram is an incredibly similar concept, a shape that can be engraved on the ground that repels monsters. It is identical to an Elbereth in vanilla NetHack, except that it does not exercise wisdom when engraved. Because it is a shape rather than a word, it cannot be engraved directly using the normal methods; instead, after pressing E and choosing an item or fingers to engrave with, a heptagram is drawn by pressing h. Also, a heptagram can be quickly dust-engraved by pressing .; this is the usual way to draw heptagrams in AceHack.

NetHack 4

NetHack 4, like UnNetHack, allows Elbereth to be written in the dust with your fingers with ctrl + e, but doesn't make use of a wielded athame.

NetHack 4 also tracks the number of times Elbereth is engraved, but unlike UnNetHack, only counts the number of times the complete "Elbereth" is attempted, so partial engravings like "Elb", "ere" and "th" aren't caught, nor are completions of parts of "Elbereth" on the floor already.

Elbereth can be disabled entirely in a game of NetHack 4 by setting the 'elbereth' birth option to 'false' before starting a new character.


Main article: Elbereth (dNetHack)

dNetHack and notdNetHack favor the use of wards as a primary engraving defense, which the character can learn from spellbooks and other sources. Elbereth is still present in both variants, with different effects for elven and non-elven characters, and can be used in addition to wards: a single square may contain both a ward and an engraving. See the article linked at the top of the section for more information.

Lolth's name serves a similar function for most drow as Elbereth does for elves.


FIQHack has two Elbereth changes ported from vanilla 3.6.x:

  • Elbereth no longer works just because there is an object on the same square.
  • Attacking while standing on Elbereth will cause it to vanish.



In EvilHack, Elbereth cannot be engraved until your character gains knowledge of the name from another source. With the exception of bones, Elbereth can be learned from the following sources:


In Hack'EM, Elbereth must be learned from one of the above sources as in EvilHack, and can occur via the additional sources below:

  • Elven and hobbit characters start with knowledge of Elbereth.
  • A lawful character that is crowned will be taught Elbereth if they have not learned of it already.

Conflict negates Elbereth, and orcs cannot learn or use it even if they are polymorphed.

Encyclopedia entry

... Even as they stepped over the threshold a single clear
voice rose in song.

        A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
        silivren penna miriel
        o menel aglar elenath!
        Na-chaered palan-diriel
        o galadhremmin ennorath,
        Fanuilos, le linnathon
        nef aear, si nef aearon!

Frodo halted for a moment, looking back. Elrond was in his
chair and the fire was on his face like summer-light upon the
trees. Near him sat the Lady Arwen. [...]
He stood still enchanted, while the sweet syllables of the
elvish song fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody.
"It is a song to Elbereth," said Bilbo. "They will sing that,
and other songs of the Blessed Realm, many times tonight.
Come on!"

[ The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien ]

See also


  1. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 240
  2. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 134
  3. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 136: mtmp->data == &mons[PM_ANGEL] covers angels and is_lminion(mtmp) covers monsters with the M2_MINION flag (is_minion) that are of lawful alignment ((mon)->data->maligntyp >= A_COALIGNED) with the possible exception of angels (see mondata.h, line 22). As all angelic beings in vanilla and most variants are lawful and have the M2_MINION flag (or are angels), this condition is equivalent to "any capital A" (or mtmp->data->mlet == S_ANGEL).
  4. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 137
  5. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 137
  6. src/monmove.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 175: onscary checks for S_HUMAN rather than the "human" monster attribute
  7. mondata.h, line 84, monst.c, line 1603
  8. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 134
  9. monmove.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 135
  10. engrave.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 999
  11. sengr_at in engrave.c: Function used to check for Elbereths
  12. src/monmove.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 309
  13. wipe_engr_at in src/engrave.c in NetHack 3.6.0
  14. src/monmove.c in UnNetHack revision 1406, line 146

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

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.6.1. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-361}} tag to the current version's tag or {{noversion}} as appropriate.