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 probably 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 you 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 midgame

In the middle phase of the game, survival is less of a pressure and the game is about completing an ascension kit. The distinction between early game and midgame isn't clear. Depending on who is defining it, the transition point may be reaching Sokoban and Minetown, collecting the Sokoban prize, or the point at which you no longer fear team a. The floors between the Quest portal and the Castle are almost certainly midgame territory.

Midgame threats

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. They are also covetous, giving them the ability to teleport back and forth between you and the upstairs where they will heal. They 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. Player monsters in particular may spawn with Vorpal Blade if it hasn't been generated yet, and can use that to kill you instantly with a 5% chance.