Gnome With the Wand of Death

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In NetHack, intelligent monsters can make use of attack wands; this includes both very weak monsters and very powerful wands. While the most powerful wands cannot generate in the inventories of most early intelligent monsters, there is nothing stopping one from appearing on the ground where any such monster is free to pick it up. In the most extreme case, the Random Number God will dispatch a gnome that came across a wand of death – this proverbial "gnome with the wand of death" represents the classic unfair death.


The wrath of the RNG

The Gnome With the Wand of Death represents an existential threat to a player character that will not have found any means of defense at that point, especially in the Gnomish Mines. This is by no means restricted to gnomes - hobbits, goblins and kobolds are just as capable of picking up what turns out to be a powerful wand and blasting you to death as soon as they get a turn. Even magic resistance is no guarantee of safety, as it does not protect against elemental wands like the wand of cold and wand of lightning.

To lessen the risk of this occurring, pick up any unknown wands you find on the floor and engrave-test them to identify the wands. At worst, you will identify non-threatening wands that can be put to use for other tasks. Intelligent hostile monsters such as foocubi, nymphs, and nurses may still attack you with wands even if their normal attacks would not damage you - nymphs are particularly dangerous and capable of stealing wands from you to zap, especially on non-teleport levels.


The idea of a gnome with a wand of death has been about for some considerable time; the first use of the joke in rgrn appears to have been by Torsten Edelmann in 1996, and it is described as proverbial by 2002.

Dudley's dungeon

In Dudley's dungeon, the Gnome With the Wand of Death is a recurring character that first appears in the strip for May 31, 2005 - here, the gnome aptly demonstrates that the "wand of death" need not be a literal one.