Your experience level in NetHack is a measure of the overall power of your hero and progress of your adventure. As you gain experience, you become better at both fighting and magic, but more difficult monsters are generated.
You start at level 1 and can reach a maximum level of 30. Monsters also have an experience level defined, but it can only be seen with a wand of probing, stethoscope, or Magicbane. These will also show your own level unless you are polymorphed. In that case, you could work backward from spell failure rates.
Gaining an experience level will have a number of effects on gameplay:
- Increases your maximum hit points
- Increases your maximum energy
- Increases your skill slots by one
- You may gain intrinsics, based on your role and experience level.
- Increases your chance of hitting in combat
- Increases your chance of successfully learning spells from spellbooks
- Decreases your spell failure rates
- Increases damage done by certain spells (e.g. magic missile)
- Increases difficulty of monsters generated
- Changes your rank, based on your role (and possibly gender)
- Increases your chance of converting an altar
- Increases your chance of successfully playing certain musical instruments
- Lawful characters at level 5 or higher can obtain Excalibur by dipping a long sword in a fountain.
- Characters at level 12 or higher can teleport at will if they have teleportitis.
- Characters at level 14 or higher can attempt the quest.
Your experience level has no direct effect on your attributes.
There are several ways to gain an experience level, ranging from obvious to somewhat obscure:
- Experience points (mostly from killing monsters)
- Quaffing a blessed or uncursed potion of gain level
- Eating a wraith corpse
- Chance from incubus or succubus encounter
- Chance when polymorphing into your own race
- Chance of regaining a lost level when praying successfully at a coaligned altar
- Regaining a lost level when quaffing a potion of full healing. Up to half of your lost levels can be regained this way.
- Regaining a lost level when quaffing a potion of restore ability. All of your lost levels can be regained this way; all at once if the potion is blessed.
You may never gain more than one experience level at a time; killing a water demon at XP1:0 will only put you on 2:39, not 4:148 as might be expected. (You can, however, gain multiple experience levels in a single turn, as for example when a beginner character manages to destroy many creatures at once with an exploding gas spore.)
If you are already at level 30, experience points will not raise your level. Except for polymorph, effects which instantly increase your level can still increase maximum HP and energy at level 30.
The following effects can decrease your experience level:
- Level drain attacks
- Chance from foocubus encounter
- Chance when receiving a god's anger from incorrect prayer or sacrifice
- Chance when polymorphing into your own race
Drain resistance protects against all these except polymorph.
Having a level drained puts you a single experience point below the threshold of the level you just lost. If you gain any experience at all, you will regain a lost level, but only one level can be restored in this way. A noncursed potion of restore ability or blessed potion of full healing can be used to restore multiple levels. Full healing is inferior to restore ability, because it will only restore up to half of the levels that were lost. Regardless, care should be taken when fighting level drainers, particularly in graveyards where there are many around.
When losing a level, your HP and maximum HP are both decreased down to the level they were when you attained that earlier level, to a minimum of one. Energy and maximum energy work similarly, down to a minimum of zero. Being drained below experience level one is deadly, although an amulet of life saving can rescue you, leaving you at level one with no experience.
There are several uses for intentionally lowering your level; these are typically referred to as "drain for gain". Watch out for outdated strategy advice regarding this, though; several drain-for-gain exploits were removed in NetHack 3.6.
Experience points required per level
The following graphs show the amount of XP required for each level in vanilla, SLASH'EM, and dNetHack.
- Welcome to experience level <x>.
- You gained a level.
- Aloha level <x>.
- You lost a level as a Tourist.
- Sayonara level <x>.
- You lost a level as a Samurai.
- Farvel level <x>.
- You lost a level as a Valkyrie.
- Fare thee well level <x>.
- You lost a level as a Knight.
- Goodbye level <x>.
- You lost a level as any other role.
Monsters also have experience levels, but they are largely a function of their maximum hit points. When a monster (usually a pet) kills another monster, it gains a few maximum hit points. Unlike the player, monsters do not gain current hit points when their max HP increases. Some monsters can grow up into more mature monsters by gaining experience levels.
Getting zapped with the drain life spell or a wand of draining drains an experience level. Using draw blood to make a potion of vampire blood also drains a level, but you are put at the minimum experience for the new level; killing a monster won't get the level back.
In SLASH'EM, a character usually gains enough experience to reach XL 30 naturally without farming. This advantage is slightly balanced by the higher experience requirement at low levels; most early characters will be about one level lower than their vanilla counterparts.
In FIQHack, the EXP formula was replaced and it is generally much easier to gain new levels after level 10.
Level-draining melee attacks are no longer blocked by MC, each successful attack will drain a full level.
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