The Gnomish Mines is a branch of the main dungeon, usually used by adventurers to gain experience and useful tools. It branches off at dungeon level 2, 3 or 4 and goes downwards from there. Typically, with the exception of the Minetown and the end of the mines, all the levels are simple caverns containing 7 G gnomes, 2 h dwarves, a G gnome lord, 2 random G gnomes and one random h humanoid. They will have 6 random traps, one tool, and 3 random gems or piles of gems and 3 random objects. Typically, any random h will be lawful and any random G will be neutral. Those filler levels have a 50% chance each of being dark.
The Mines consist of eight or nine levels in total, including the special levels of Minetown and Mines' End.
The Gnomish Mines are eligible to leave bones. An exception in the top level in those games where the branch to the Mines is on level 2, because depth 3 is too shallow to leave bones. Regardless, all levels can load bones.
The mines are rich in tools, loot, and other resources, but also very dangerous to the unprepared. It is easy to get in over your head in this environment of traps and large open spaces. (Try hitting a trap door, another trap door, and then a polymorph trap in quick succession. Now you're a newt surrounded by an angry mob, unable to move and armor on the floor.) The mines can set you well on the way to success, but you have to learn how to move cautiously, and be willing to back off and try again later rather than press on to a glorious death.
The following tips are geared towards the newer player, who is apt to have the most trouble in the mines, and will apply more to human, orcish, and elven characters than to dwarves and gnomes.
Some general pointers will help make your biggest problem in Minetown where to put all your loot:
- Make judicious use of Elbereth. New players are most likely to run into trouble in the mines, and new players often haven't really absorbed the power of the E-Word. Mine denizens will generally respect Elbereth and avoid attacking you hand-to-hand. You still have to worry about missiles and spells, but Elbereth can be a lifesaver none the less. Read the article on this carefully--engraving with fingers is fast but not durable, engraving with blades, when done correctly, is semi-permanent but slow. Use the ":" command to inspect your handiwork without eroding the letters.
- Use stairs to control the crowds. You will tend to get swarmed as you enter each new level. Stay close to the upstairs--stay on the upstairs if you can--and run upstairs to heal if you are in trouble. And of course you can engrave Elbereth on the stairs.
- Keep your pet nearby. Your pet is a tremendous resource in the early game in general, and in the mines, even more so. Your pet is very possibly stronger in a fight than you are right now, is willing to attack peaceful monsters (which means you get their stuff), and is absolutely invaluable for curse-testing the weapons and armor you pick up. If you are separated from your pet, for example by a trap door, make getting back to it a priority. You may very well find a leash in the mines--use it.
- Avoid traps. The mines are loaded with them, and they can just ruin your game. Watch where other creatures walk (including your pet) and try to limit your travels to those squares only. If you are not starving, search before stepping on uncertain squares. You can even engrave with your fingers to mark out safe passages through the levels if you are weak and one good arrow trap could mean the end.
- Be careful of gray stones. This applies everywhere, of course, but such stones are more common in the mines. Kick any gray stone before picking it up, or else you might get a load stone, which can be a real pain.
Conceptually, it can be helpful to divide the Mines into four stages. When you mount an expedition into the mines, understand your objective and act accordingly.
- The first stage is an initial reconnaissance of the first level. You will be greeted by a pack of gnomes and probably a dwarf or two, most of whom will be carrying gear that you want. The point of this short sortie is not to clear out the first level, but to score a few quick kills and grab some loot (including yummy corpses if you need the food and are of an appropriate race to eat them). Depending on how hard the fight is, you can escape back into the main dungeon and use your pet to curse-test your new possessions. A typical recon of the mines can net you a helmet, boots, a supply of daggers or other missiles, and, if you are lucky, such items as a mithril coat or pickaxe. The haul may make you sufficiently strong to attempt further explorations of the mines.
- The second stage is the upper mines as far as Minetown. These levels can vary a great deal in difficulty, so you have to watch your stats and not get overwhelmed. Levels may be dark, which makes them considerably tougher, so that should affect your calculations as well. Clear out levels methodically, avoiding traps and accumulating loot. You will have more armor and weapons than you can carry, but you will want to consolidate them in piles as you go down, partly to keep new monsters from using them, and partly to sell to the shopkeepers in Minetown if you are short on cash. Keep using your pet to check loot, and trade up on weapons and armor as you go.
- The third stage is Minetown itself. Minetown has its own rules and regulations, and you should be prepared for it by studying up. The hostile monsters here are not particularly harder than in the upper mines, and traps are fewer, but the town watch is a complicating factor, particularly with respect to your pet. For whatever reason, pets have a habit of overestimating their abilities and attacking the watch, then getting themselves killed--and this is probably a big loss for you at this stage. So you may want to leash your pet, shut it in a room, or even leave it on the level above (but be careful about letting it go feral). You probably do not want to tangle with the watch yourself. The watch captain is strong and the penalties for murder may be unappealing to you. Once you've cleared out the hostiles, Minetown is a godsend for the weary explorer, with a guaranteed temple for testing items and buying protection, shops for buying, selling and price-identifying items, lockable rooms for protecting stashes, and other resources such as fountains. Minetown may be your "base camp" for further explorations for a long time to come. If you are going to be moving into Minetown for a while, read up on stashes and take the time to set up a good one, perhaps buying a container in the shops, or even lugging one down from the main dungeon.
- The fourth stage is the lower mines, all the way to Mines' End, and it is much more dangerous to most players than the upper mines. The reason is traps, which start to get particularly nasty. Polymorph traps can turn you into a weak monster or a gnome into a minotaur. Trap doors can cut you off from your pet and your escape path. Even if you swept through Minetown without much trouble, you may want to leave the lower mines until you have magic resistance, and poison resistance is really a must-have. You may want to wear "junk" armor if you are not magic-resistant, so that those polymorph traps can't destroy your only mithril and your best cloak.
As you explore the mines, remember that a mines level is often substantially harder than a level of the main dungeon. A typical gambit is to go to the first level of the mines and grab a dwarvish mithril-coat from somebody there, then go down to the Oracle and level up along the way, then go back to the mines and continue to the end. Weak characters might prefer to do Sokoban before going deeper in the mines.
In SLASH'EM, gnome and dwarf characters entering the Mines will find that the normally peaceful gnomes and dwarves have been transformed into hostile undead, with only a few survivors. When a map is generated when the player's race is gnomish and dwarvish, the respective NPCs are replaced with different monsters. Gnome players will find that gnome NPCs will become gnome zombies, gnomish wizards will become orc shamans, gnome lords will become gnome mummies, and gnome kings become ogres. Dwarven players have a similar formula, but the zombies and mummies will be of the dwarven variety, and dwarf kings will be replaced with war orcs.
- This h can occasionally be a mind flayer, even if it's out of depth.