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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 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 reading this scroll, 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.[3] 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.[4]

The heavy iron ball

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

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".)[5]

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 will usually take 1-9 damage (not uniform, average 5). Otherwise, you will take 1-26 damage (not uniform, average 11) and have a high chance of abusing strength. You will always drop the ball if you had it in your inventory, you may also drop other items, especially ones that are heavy relative to your maximum carrying capacity. (Death messages "dragged downstairs by an iron ball" and "killed by an iron ball collision", the later being more common.)[6]


The iron ball makes a surprisingly good weapon, doing d25 base damage, with an additional d(x*4) damage, where x is the number of times the ball has been made heavier. The downside is the extreme weight - only 20 units short of a loadstone and the same weight as 48 daggers. 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.

Removing the heavy iron ball

Removing the iron ball is enough to end your punishment. There are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Zapping a wand of opening or casting a spell of knock down at the chain
  2. Reading a scroll of remove curse, of any BUC status, while not confused
  3. praying: punishment counts as a minor problem
  4. Have it stolen by a nymph
  5. Have it eaten by a metallivore, such as a rock mole or rust monster
  6. Polymorph into a nymph and remove it using the #monster command
  7. Polymorph into a metallivore and eat the ball away
  8. Polymorph into an amorphous, whirly or non-solid monster and thus slip out of the chain
  9. Ring the blessed Bell of Opening
  10. Crush the ball or chain in a drawbridge

Things That Do Not Work

  1. Dropping, dragging, or throwing the iron ball into lava. The ball will not be visible while in the lava, but moving away will drag it back out.
  2. As of 3.6.0, dropping the ball in a pit and filling the pit with a boulder. You will be tethered to where the ball was buried ("You are chained to the buried ball."). This will also prevent some other methods of punishment-removal from working until the ball is retrieved. This method (as well dropping the ball into water and freezing the water) does work in 3.4.3 and variants based on it.



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, Slash'EM Extended, 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.

Slash'EM Extended

Slash'EM Extended includes the Convict role and runs with the "weaponized ball and chain" idea, adding heavier and higher-damage iron balls and chains, which can be found randomly generated in the dungeon, as well as a wand of punishment that functions like a multiple-use scroll of punishment. The Murderer role, effectively an even more handicapped Convict, also starts out punished.

see also


  1. read.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 1743
  2. read.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 1740
  3. hack.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 408
  4. uhitm.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 318
  5. ballfall in ball.c (damage) and goto_level in do.c line 1210 (trap doors) and dotrap in trap.c line 933 (pits)
  6. drag_down in ball.c (damage and item dropping) and goto_level in do.c lines 1168 (call to drag_down) and 1185 (an extra d3 damage)

This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.0.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.4.3. Information on this page may be out of date.

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