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The NetHack Guidebook, formally A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack, documents the basic gameplay and options of the NetHack game. This is the most important documentation included in NetHack itself. Though NetHack also includes help files to describe the map symbols, keyboard controls and options, the Guidebook introduces those things in more detail.

For most players, the Guidebook, or rather a certain portion of it, is a very important read. The Guidebook introduces the various item types, like armor and scrolls. The Guidebook is also the place to learn about Elbereth.

Note that "Mazes of Menace" refers to the entire dungeon, and is no synonym for "Dungeons of Doom" or "Gehennom". "Dungeons of Doom" refers to the dungeon branch where you start the game; "Gehennom" is the dungeon branch that contains the Amulet of Yendor.


If you have NetHack on your computer, then the installation should include a copy of the Guidebook; you can also visit the official website and view an online copy.

When building and installing NetHack from source code, the makefiles typically do not install the Guidebook. Thus, you may find a NetHack installation with no Guidebook. You might also be unaware if your Unix clone distro stashed the Guidebook in /usr/local/share/doc/nethack/Guidebook.txt or some such place.

History of the Guidebook

Eric S. Raymond was the original author of the Guidebook. NetHack 2.2a seems to be the first version to include the Guidebook; the DevTeam extensively edited and updated the Guidebook for later versions. For previous versions, players had to rely on the in-game help, which existed since the very first versions of Hack in the form of a 'long' help and a 'short' help; the long help introduces NetHack as a "Dungeons and Dragons like game", describes the map symbols and introduces the keyboard controls, while the short help only reviews the controls. Unlike the Guidebook, the in-game help does not describe the game's roles and races, nor does it detail the basic purpose of each type of item.

The Guidebook does acknowledge a predecessor document, A Guide to the Dungeons of Doom, the guide for Rogue. Rogue's guide is the 30th paper of the UNIX User's Supplementary Documents on some BSD systems.


The Guidebook consists of twelve chapters. The 3.6.0 Guidebook also contains a preface, dedicating this version of the game to author Terry Pratchett.


The first chapter, "Introduction", sets the mood of the game. Many players only remember the in-game introduction, which proclaims your destiny "heralded from birth" to obtain the Amulet of Yendor for your god. The Guidebook provides a different and lengthier introduction.

Dreams of dungeon exploration enter your sleep, and bring your desire to become an adventurer. "Eventually you can resist the yearning to seek out the fantastic place in your dreams no longer." Then you hear rumours of the lost Amulet of Yendor, that will bring wealth to the one who finds it. "Upon hearing the legends, you immediately realize that there is some profound and undiscovered reason that you are to descend into the caverns and seek out that amulet of which they spoke." You journey for days until you reach the Mazes of Menace, and sleep at the entrance. "In the morning, you gather your gear, eat what may be your last meal outside, and enter the dungeon..."

The Vulture's interface adapts the Guidebook's introduction into an illustrated in-game sequence, with its own background music. This sequence automatically plays after you select a new character in Vulture's.

What is going on here?

The Guidebook uses its second chapter, "What is going on here?", to enumerate the roles and races of NetHack. These are the first of the long lists within the Guidebook. The descriptions only set the mood and provide a few hints, but remain so useful to a new NetHack player. Before the Guidebook, the in-game help did not mention roles.

What do all these things on the screen mean?

The third chapter explains the screen. First, it contrasts NetHack (and other roguelike games) with text adventure games. "Unlike text adventure games that accept commands in pseudo-English sentences and explain the results in words, NetHack commands are all one or two keystrokes and the results are displayed graphically on the screen." It soon becomes apparent that the Guidebook uses the word "graphically" to refer to either ASCII graphics or tiles.

Section 3.1 describes the status line. Unlike the in-game help that only provides a one-paragraph summary of the status line, the Guidebook introduces each element of the status line.

Section 3.1 introduces strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma as the "six basic attributes" of your character. (Thus we often say "attribute", not "ability" or "stat".) It is possible to read this section and not understand the importance of raising these six attributes to high values. The Guidebook does not mention exercise or any other way to increase these attributes, except to say that "magic can also cause attributes to exceed the normal limits".

Players of other games may want to read the Guidebook to learn that "power" is a synonym for "spell points" or "mana", and may want to give their attention to the description of AC: "The lower this number is, the more effective the armor; it is quite possible to have negative armor class."

Section 3.2 mentions the message line; section 3.3 enumerates the various ASCII characters that you may find on the map, and gives a sentence description of each.


The fourth chapter enumerates the commands of the game. This can overwhelm the new player. The chapter provides most commands in alphabetical order, and does not group related commands, except to place help commands and movement commands at the start of the list.

A new player might want to skim or skip the alphabetical part of the list, and go forward to later chapters of Guidebook, which suggest commands for specific situations. For example, section 5.1 which discusses doors, also explains how to use the door commands (c, o, ^D and sometimes a). Note that organizing commands into groups can mislead; if you think that q is the potion command, then you might never try to quaff from a fountain.

There is something important in the description of the "E" command: "Engraving the word 'Elbereth' will cause most monsters to not attack you hand-to-hand (but if you attack, you will rub it out); this is often useful to give yourself a breather."

Unfortunately, the Guidebook's description for some commands remains less verbose than it should be. For example, the description for #turn says only, "Turn undead." It should explain that #turn would scare undead monsters, so that players do not try to use the command to become an undead creature.

To avoid spoilers, the Guidebook does not explain how to #jump, what to #invoke or where to #sit.

Rooms and Corridors

The fifth chapter, "Rooms and Corridors", introduces a few of the basic dungeon features. Section 3.3 already gave the characters for each feature, but did not provide detail.

This chapter is not a spoiler. It does not mention other features such as fountains and thrones. The Guidebook only provides in section 3.3 that { is fountain and \ is throne. It never explains that one may quaff from fountains or sit on thrones.

However the chapter does include a few hints. It makes explicit that one may not travel diagonally through an open door (though many players would soon observe so), discloses the existence of both the Gnomish Mines and Sokoban, and provies a hint about stairs. "However, pets (see below) and some other monsters will follow along if they're close enough when you travel up or down stairs, and occasionally one of these creatures will displace you during the climb. When that occurs, the pet or other monster will arrive on the staircase and you will end up nearby." So if you do not arrive at a staircase, then the staircase must be nearby.

(Actually, that is not always true. If you take the up staircase from the level below the Castle, then you will arrive at the Castle's level, which does not have a down staircase.)

Shops and shopping

Importantly, the fifth chapter explains shops. An encounter with a shop in Hack or NetHack was much less intuitive before the Guidebook added section 5.5 about how to use shops. A clever player might combine two of the hints in "Shop idiosyncracies" to create a shoplifting strategy.

The Guidebook never mentions that pet displacement never works in shops; but the Guidebook never mentions pet displacement.


The sixth chapter opens with another hint, that one may want to #chat with the Oracle of Delphi. It also discusses how to melee monsters, and provides sections about pets, steeds, and ghosts from bones levels.

Examples of what one can learn:

  • Adjacent pets follow you through staircases and pets.
  • You can train pets by throwing food (but the Guidebook does not explain that the food must be a treat, nor does it explain that trained pets bring objects closer to you).
  • When you ride a steed, the steed appears on the map.
  • "Ghosts are hard to kill, but easy to avoid, since they're slow and do little damage."


The seventh chapter is one of the most useful in the Guidebook, especially for those players who never played other "Dungeons and Dragons like games".

Examples of what one can learn:

  • Given to the #name command, a single space removes the name from an object.
  • After you read a scroll, it disappears.
  • The game has a "scroll of identify".
  • An identified wand shows the number of times recharged, then the number of charges.
  • Rings and amulets provide magic when worn.
  • Several commands interact with containers.

Players who became stuck to cursed item might want to read section 7.1, about curses and blessings.


Section 7.2 on weapons refers players to the game of AD&D ("Advanced Dungeons and Dragons"): "Those of you in the audience who are AD&D players, be aware that each weapon which existed in AD&D does roughly the same damage to monsters in NetHack. Some of the more obscure weapons (such as the aklys, lucern hammer, and bec-de-corbin) are defined in an appendix to Unearthed Arcana, an AD&D supplement." The relevant AD&D specifications have now entered The d20 System Reference Document (d20 SRD), which is freely available in many places, for example as The Hypertext d20 SRD. The d20 system is based on edition 3.5 of Dungeons and Dragons.

Only editions 1 and 2 bore the adjective Advanced, and it is presumably one of these editions the Guidebook refers to. Substantial changes have been made to (Advanced) Dungeons and Dragons since then, so any comparison of weapon tables in NetHack and the d20 system is meaningless.

Section 7.2 also contains subsections relating to throwing and shooting, weapon proficiency, and two-weapon combat.


Section 7.3 on armor also refers to AD&D, but the Guidebook lists AC values of most types of body armor, so that players need not consult the AD&D definitions. (Indeed, the modern d20 system now does AC differently from NetHack, so the AC values in d20 do not match the AC values in NetHack. NetHack AC counts down from 10; d20 AC counts up from 10. Ignoring other bonuses, the d20 formula for AC is 10 plus the armor bonus. So a scale mail provides AC 6 in NetHack but AC 14 in d20.)

The authority on weapons and armor in NetHack is not the AD&D spec, but the NetHack source code or a spoiler such as this wiki.


The eighth chapter of the Guidebook documents conducts.

Even for a player who never ascended and who does not intend to follow any conducts, this chapter contains a few subtle hints. "Calling upon your god for help with starvation does not violate any food challenges either." So, gods can help with starvation. You might recall from the chapter 4 that the #pray command does "Pray to the gods for help." You might correctly conclude that prayer may help with starvation.

This section also documents which food qualifies as vegan or vegetarian; this might also help unspoiled players who need food for their vegetarian pet (sections 6.2 and 7.4). It also notes that liquids that provide nutrition do not count against foodless conduct, citing "a physiological need for water" as a justification.


The ninth chapter of the Guidebook is a comprehensive description of all of the game options, and how to set them. Section 9.4 enumerates the customization options in alphabetical order, and does not attempt to group the options into categories (such as options for character generation).

This wiki provides more information about some options, but perhaps the Guidebook is the better source of information for many of them. Most of the below links redirect to a section on our option page, but some (like Autopickup) have their own page.

Sections 9.7 through 9.15 detail further configuration capabilities in Nethack, many of which are new to version 3.6.0. Detailed explanations are provided for regular expressions, autopickup exceptions, message types, menucolors, user sounds, statushilites, modifying the symbols NetHack uses in its display, configuring NetHack for play by the blind, and notes for system administrators.


The tenth chapter of the Guidebook suggests what would lead you to a higher score. "Your score is chiefly based upon how much experience you gained, how much loot you accumulated, how deep you explored, and how the game ended." This chapter argues that you might want to intentionally quit instead of dying, because death causes a 10% penalty to your score.

The quitting to preserve one's score seems not to be a common practice. In nearly all cases, players will try to survive (by Elbereth, by the mercy of Random Number God, or by some other strategy) instead of quitting.

Explore mode

The eleventh chapter of the Guidebook documents explore mode. Also mentioned is debug mode, known as wizard mode, but it is stressed that this is for debugging rather than to give the player god-like powers within the game.


The twelfth and final chapter of the Guidebook contains one paragraph of credits for the Guidebook itself, followed by the game history text (which is the same as the text from the in-game help). The game history is a long list of contributors to NetHack, including the original Hack developers and the persons who did various ports.



SLASH'EM players may access the Guidebook during the game, by pressing [?] and selecting "The SLASH'EM Guidebook." This displays the Guidebook in the pager of your user interface. You may find that this is too inconvenient, especially if you are using the tty interface and cannot scroll upward. You may prefer to use an external page to load the Guidebook.txt file in the playground directory.

SLASH'EM modifies the Guidebook to introduce the new role and race selections and explain the new configurable options and multiple tilesets.

External links