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You can be punished by your god for a variety of reasons, including praying while your deity is angry or by reading a non-blessed scroll of punishment. A heavy iron ball is attached to you by an iron chain: 0_@. If you are polymorphed into an amorphous, whirly or unsolid creature when you get punished, the ball and chain will appear but fall off immediately.[1]

If punished while already being chained to an iron ball, the ball's weight is increased by 160 (320 if the method of punishment was a cursed scroll of punishment).[2]

Dragging an iron ball one square takes at least 2 turns regardless of enhanced speed. This also inhibits efficient travel, including running in a direction and the travel command. If you do not wish to carry the ball, you are forced to move one square at a time using either the letter or number pad keys.

You cannot swap places with a pet while punished.[3]

The heavy iron ball

0 Heavy iron ball.png
Name heavy iron ball
Appearance heavy iron ball
Base price 10 zm
Weight 480+

Whilst punished, the chain cannot be picked up, but the iron ball can. It is an unusual object which appears in its own section in the inventory.

The ball will follow you everywhere for as long as it is attached.

Falling with an attached iron ball

Falling into a pit, spiked pit, or trap door with an attached ball will cause it to fall in on top of you, dealing 25–31 damage (uniform distribution, average 28), or 3 damage if you are wearing a metallic helm. (Death message "crunched in the head by an iron ball".)[4]

Regardless of your encumbrance, and unless you are flying, you will stumble going down stairs with an iron ball. If you are wielding the ball or carrying the ball and wielding nothing, you have a 5/6 chance of falling forward, causing you to take another 1d6 damage and possibly drop other items, especially heavier ones (but never worn items or cursed loadstones). If the ball is loose or you're wielding something else, you have a 50% chance of the ball smacking into you for 1d20 damage and abusing your strength, followed by a 1/2 (1/6 if the ball smacked you) chance of the ball dragging you downstairs for 1d6 damage, causing you to drop random other items, and abusing your strength (potentially for a second time).

In any case, falling down the stairs because of the ball at all will cause you to always drop the ball if you had it in your inventory and take 1d3 damage. (Death messages from this are "dragged downstairs by an iron ball" for either 1d6 roll, "killed by an iron ball collision" for the 1d20 roll, and "killed by tumbling down a flight of stairs/falling off a ladder" for the 1d3 roll.) [5]


The iron ball makes a surprisingly good weapon, doing 1-25 base damage, which is biased towards higher numbers if the ball has been made heavier.[6] The primary and obvious downside is the extreme weight—an iron ball is only 20 units short of a loadstone. Thus, the ball can be used as a weapon, but you should ditch it as soon as you have something more effective.

The iron ball also gives you a limited ability to jump while it is chained to you. Throwing it will pull you along in that direction for up to 4 squares, but beware using this method to cross water—the ball will travel 5 squares, and if that lands in water, you will be pulled down into the water with it. Throwing in this manner will also let you escape traps.

Also, throwing an iron ball may exercise your strength.[7]

Ending punishment

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

"Wrenching free" of a buried iron ball no longer ends punishment.

Removing the iron ball or breaking open the chain ends your punishment. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Zap a wand of opening or casting a spell of knock down at the chain
  • Read a scroll of remove curse, of any BUC status, while not confused
  • Pray; punishment counts as a minor problem
  • Have it stolen by a nymph while taken into inventory
  • Have it eaten by a metallivore, such as a rock mole or rust monster
  • Polymorph into a nymph and remove it using the #monster command
  • Polymorph into a metallivore and eat the ball away
  • Polymorph into an amorphous, whirly or non-solid monster and thus slip out of the chain
  • Ring the blessed Bell of Opening
  • Crush the ball or chain in a drawbridge
  • Shatter the chain by triggering a land mine explosion
  • Drop the ball in a pit and fill the pit with a boulder. In 3.4.3 and derived variants, this will immediately end punishment. As of 3.6.0, this will instead tether you to a 3×3 square around where the ball was buried. Attempting to move outside this area will use up a turn, but after 20–70 turns of struggling, you will "finally wrench the ball free" and will no longer be punished.[8] It is also possible to bury the ball and walk into a bear trap, which will immediately end punishment.

Dropping, dragging, or throwing the iron ball into lava does not end punishment; the ball will not be visible while in the lava, but moving away will drag it back out.



Punishment can be acquired by drawing the 10 of Trumps (Punishment) when having your fortune read by a gypsy.

Punishment can be removed by using the doppelganger's liquid leap technique.

Convict Patch

The Convict Patch and variants that incorporate it—UnNetHack, DynaHack, dNetHack, and SlashTHEM—make some changes to punishment that can radically alter its significance to gameplay, depending on the variant.

Punishment is one of the distinctive characteristics of life as a Convict: Convicts enter the dungeon chained to a heavy iron ball. As in vanilla, this is a significant mobility handicap that prevents them from displacing their pets, running, or using the travel command, and condemns them to moving at effectively half the usual rate. However, as a sort of compensation, the patch encourages use of the iron ball as a weapon, by treating it as a proper weapon that uses the flail skill. Only Convicts can actually advance the skill with a wielded iron ball, but any role that is unrestricted in flails is able to benefit from the to-hit and damage bonuses that come with Basic or better skill. The Convict quest artifact, the Iron Ball of Liberation, is an artifact heavy iron ball that can be reattached to the user as a side-effect of its invoke ability, and which players may or may not choose to wield after acquiring.

As a result, the Convict patch makes the heavy iron ball, already a high-damage improvised weapon, an even more viable non-artifact weapon choice that compares well with the dwarvish mattock and crysknife. One implication of this is that there is more incentive to train the otherwise little-used flail skill. Another is that punishment is more advantageous—beyond merely giving the player the ability to "jump" by throwing the iron ball—to the extent that players with access to the flail skill and sufficient carrying capacity might actually seek out scrolls of punishment in order to get an iron ball or increase the weight and damage dealt by an existing one. Depending on your circumstances, being punished in variants that include this patch might actually be seen as a reward.


UnNetHack includes the Convict role and its implications for punishment. In addition, the Punisher, a monster that is only naturally generated in the Sheol branch, is named for its ability to cast a monster spell that punishes the player.

See also


  1. read.c in NetHack 3.6.1, line 2355
  2. read.c in NetHack 3.6.1, line 2350
  3. uhitm.c in NetHack 3.6.1, line 339
  4. ballfall in ball.c (damage) and goto_level in do.c (trap doors) and dotrap in trap.c (pits)
  5. drag_down in ball.c (damage and item dropping) and goto_level in do.c (call to drag_down, an extra d3 damage)
  6. src/weapon.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 304: it adds 1d(extra weight/40) to base 1d25 damage, which is then capped at 25
  7. src/dothrow.c in NetHack 3.6.1, line 1674
  8. dig.c in NetHack 3.6.1, line 1825

This page may need to be updated for the current version of NetHack.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.6.1. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-361}} tag to the current version's tag or {{noversion}} as appropriate.