Game stages

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Like most games, a character's progress through NetHack can be broken down into several phases.

The early game

The first stage is the early game where survival and sometimes securing food is of supreme importance. For many roles, the starting pet is likely more powerful than the character itself. Securing basic armor and weaponry is a top priority; use your pet to test the BUC of items before you use or wear them. Many new players have trouble finding enough food: when they are weak with hunger they should probably pray for nutrition and save their permafood for when they cannot pray. More experienced players will find they have enough food almost all the time and will want to eat the permafood and conserve their ability to pray. Safe corpses are preferable to both of course. Above all else, take it slow and be careful! The early game is almost definitely the most difficult stage of NetHack.

Early game threats

Ranked roughly in order of danger from most to least.

These monsters require special precautions but are not especially dangerous if handled correctly.

  • The three starting pet types and their stronger forms: u horses, d dogs, and f cats: All of these species are much faster than characters, and have strong attacks. They can be tamed by throwing food they like at them (they will eat it) or pacified by throwing any other type of food. You might consider saving some tripe (for cats and dogs) and produce (for horses), but even a food ration or tin will make them stop killing you. Eggs, melons, and cream pies will usually be destroyed by throwing them, preventing them from taming or pacifying your target. See diet for details. As usual, they respect Elbereth.
  • e floating eye: Floating eyes are very slow and cannot directly damage you. They are still very dangerous, due to their passive attack - should you fight them in melee, you will often be paralyzed for several hundred turns, during which you are a sitting duck. Attack them with ranged weapons or apply a polearm, or simply ignore them. If they leave a corpse, be sure to eat it, as intrinsic telepathy is valuable.
  • m Mimics: the m small mimic, m large mimic, and m giant mimic: Pose as items in shops and kill unsuspecting players. They hit very hard and can grab onto you but move very slowly. Elbereth is very useful against one that grabs you. See the mimic page for more advice.

The mid game

In the middle game survival is less of a pressure and the game is about completing an ascension kit. The distinction between early and mid game isn't clear, with definitions ranging from reaching Sokoban and Minetown, to collecting the Sokoban prize, to the point at which you no longer fear team a. The floors between the Quest portal and Castle are almost certainly midgame territory.

Mid game threats

  • L lich and L demilich: These undead monstrosities are likely to be the first truly threatening spellcasting monsters the player encounters. Normal liches are relatively slow, but have a toolbox of spells allowing them to lower your strength, curse your items, destroy your precious armor, even summon nasties, and high level demiliches can even cast touch of death. Demiliches are also faster. Elbereth can prevent them from touching you or using their worst spells on you, and it is therefore highly recommended. Blessed scrolls of genocide are often used on liches, and has the benefit of also annihilating their stronger cousins, master and arch-liches which cast the same set of spells but are more likely to be high enough level to use the monster dangerous ones, summon nasties and touch of death.
  • h mind flayer and h master mind flayer: These flying abominations are not spellcasters, but instead have the ability to suck your brain. This attack drains your intelligence, and can also cause you to forget object identities and level layouts. If they reduce you to below 3 intelligence, you will die instantly and cannot be saved even with an amulet of life saving. Attack them from range whenever possible; if you must fight them in melee, wear a (preferably greased) helmet and use Elbereth religiously. If they are within one turn's movement of you you should engrave Elbereth with a guaranteed one turn source, e.g. a wand of fire or a magic marker. After they are dead, you can use a unicorn horn to restore your intelligence, but you will not recover lost object identities or level maps. Genocide is also popular here, but beware: if you are a dwarf, blessed-genociding 'h' will instantly kill you.
  • H titan: While normally quite rare, one of the two Medusa's island levels contains a guarenteed titan near the up staircase. They are almost always peaceful to lawful characters, but neutral and chaotic characters are out of luck. They are probably the first monster you will encounter capable of casting Summon nasties, and worse, they are immune to genocide. They respect Elbereth, but be wary as several of their summoned minions ignore it.
  • ; Sea monsters: Two sea monsters in particular, the ; giant eel and the ; electric eel, possess a two-move instant death attack in drowning. The move will fail if you wear a greased or oilskin cloak, however. If you lack either, be adjacent to water as little as possible. Electric eels can also destroy your rings with their electrical attacks - including a worn ring of levitation. They are sometimes genocided, but less commonly than the previous two monster types. Eels and sharks are guaranteed around Medusa's island and in the Castle moat. They will appear in swamps as well, but those are rather rare. ; Krakens, A couatls, and S pythons are also capable of drowning you, but krakens are slow and couatls and pythons rarely near water.
  • c chickatrice and c cockatrice: These monsters are possibly the most detailed monsters in the game; it is important to understand what will and what will not petrify characters. The main article goes into detail, but the gist is that touching a cockatrice, living or dead, in any way, will kill a character instantly. If gloves are worn, they can be touched with your hands, but beware of wielding their corpse - should you fall in a pit or down stairs, you will touch them no matter what you wear. Should you begin to stiffen from their hiss, eat a lizard or acidic corpse or cast stone to flesh, or quaff a potion of acid on yourself posthaste; if no other option is available, pray. With correct precautions, they become less dangerous and more of a powerful weapon. Just beware of leaving them on the floor, in case you walk over it while blinded or have it used against you by an intelligent foe.
  • R rust monster: These monsters can be unbelievably irritating. Both their main attacks and their passive attack will cause metal items to rust, reducing their effectiveness. They will also eat any metal items they find, including good items you may have wanted to obtain. If they are alone, you can simply punch them to death while wearing no metal armor uncovered by a cloak; they can do no physical damage. If not alone, use the almighty E-Word or zap them with wands and spells. A unicorn horn is a good weapon here too.
  • H minotaur: The last new midgame threat. These monsters ignore Elbereth and have very high damage, but they also have very low magic resistance. They are generated by the summon nasties spell and can be created inside any maze. They will not normally appear before late game, but the Castle contains a small piece of maze and there can be up to 3 complete maze levels between Medusa's island and the Castle giving you plenty of chances to meet them early. A minotaur at the Castle is particularly dangerous because the maze is so small; if it appears there you are usually forced to fight it.

The late game

In the late game, survival is almost guaranteed (bar those YASDs that an amulet of life saving could have saved you from), and the goal is to get the Amulet of Yendor and resurface. The late game is generally said to start either when you get the wand of wishing from Castle, or when you beginning exploring Gehennom; the difference being that some players in some roles (e.g. Samurai) do the Quest after the Castle.

Late game threats

  • YASD: There is really no reason to be dying at this point except high conducts.
  • c chickatrice and c cockatrice: A monster wielding a cockatrice corpse is one of the few truly frightening things at this point, and the cockatrice itself presents many possible YASDs
  • L master lich and L arch-lich: These purple Ls will begin appearing frequently in Gehennom. They are stronger than the liches and demiliches and they are covetous giving them the ability to teleport back and forth between you and the upstairs where they will heal. They also have much higher magic resistance and base level, practically guaranteeing that they can cast their full repertoire of spells. They will begin appearing frequently in Gehennom.

The ascension run

Finally, on the run your final death is a (slim) possibility again while racing to ascend. Your character is likely fully equipped and very strong, but there are a few things to worry. This stage of the game begins by recovering the Book of the Dead.

It's worth noting that most players treat "end game" as a synonym for "ascension run", but NetHack itself reserves the title "End Game" for the Elemental Planes and the Astral Plane (though it uses "Elemental Planes" internally for the Astral Plane as well as the other four planes). Most players refer to those as just "the Planes". The terminology is a tad hazy.

Ascension run threats

  • The same warnings about YASDs from the late game apply here, but with a few additional notes.
  • The Riders: & Famine, & Pestilence, & Death: Unique monsters you will meet on the Astral plane. Read up on them.
  • @ Wizard of Yendor: The Wizard will return from the dead an infinite number of times, and will not stop appearing until you reach the Astral plane. Even while dead he will strike out at you.
  • E air elemental: On the Plane of Air, Air Elementals are substantially stronger than in the rest of the game, and can rapidly kill characters with a subpar Armor Class. It can help to have some quick method of defeating or neutralizing them.
  • h mind flayer and h master mind flayer: If you get amnesiaed now you will have to remap the levels you lost with The Wizard of Yendor on your tail.
  • % Cockatrice corpses: These are a common choice on the ascension run, especially on the Astral Plane; as always, be careful with them.
  • The Astral Plane, the last level in the game, is by far the place where most ascension run deaths take place. Move slow and play carefully. Request the help of the players in #nethack if you need it.