Nutrition is essential for keeping your character alive. Too little and you starve; too much and you choke.
Sources of nutrition
Comestibles are the main source of nutrition. eating increases your nutrition (equivalently, decreases your hunger) by a set amount. For example, a food ration grants 800 units of nutrition. If polymorphed into a metallivore, metal objects can also be eaten for nutrition.
Wraith corpses can be eaten, but provide zero nutrition. It is nevertheless possible to choke on them (see below).
A player starts with 900 nutrition points.
On the status line, your hunger is displayed if you are anything other than "Not hungry". The following table lists the hunger states and the corresponding amount of nutrition remaining.
|2000 or more||Oversatiated[note 1]|
|1000 to 1999||Satiated|
|150 to 999||Not hungry[note 2]|
|50 to 149||Hungry|
|0 to 49||Weak|
|Below minimum||Starved[note 3]|
- "Oversatiated" is commonly used to refer to the state in which choking is guaranteed, but it is not actually a hunger status. This means it will still be displayed as "Satiated".
- This is not displayed.
- This state is displayed when a character has died of starvation.
You can choke if you eat while satiated, and you will not reliably get a warning. If your nutrition is 1500 or more, you may get a warning that you're having a hard time getting the food down. If you continue to eat, you risk choking to death. Sometimes NetHack will give you an option to "Stop eating? (yn) <y>". If you continue to eat, you risk choking. If you select y and eat something else, you will usually immediately choke.
If you consume any food while oversatiated, even a zero-nutrition wraith corpse, you immediately choke.
In precise terms, you choke if and only if you would be oversatiated after the meal and you were already satiated before the meal, or if you eat an amulet of strangulation. Here, "before the meal" refers to before this individual food item, i.e., interruptions do not make a meal unsafe as long as you do not eat something else in between and you do not save and restore the game.
You cannot choke to death if you possess magical breathing - instead you will "stuff yourself, then vomit voluminously", losing 1000 points of nutrition. This also has a 1/20 chance of occurring anyway when you would otherwise choke but do not possess magical breathing. Magical breathing can be gained extrinsically from the amulet, or intrinsically through eating the amulet or polyself into a creature with unbreathing.
While weak, your strength is decreased. While fainted, you are vulnerable to attack as if paralysed. Being satiated abuses dexterity for all classes, and wisdom for Monks only. Being hungry exercises wisdom for Monks. Being "not hungry" exercises constitution.
Occasionally, while hungry you will receive the message "(player class) needs food badly!" (This message always occurs when you become hungry if playing as a Valkyrie or Wizard, or as an Elf.) This is most likely a reference to the series of Gauntlet dungeon crawler arcade games, where food is usually a far more pressing issue since it is a healing item. In the Gauntlet games, the narrator will boom the same message when your player is dying.
Every turn, you lose one point of nutrition, unless you are wearing a ring of slow digestion or are polymorphed into an inediate monster. If you are asleep, there is only a 10% chance this point of nutrition will be lost. Every twenty turns, you lose one point of nutrition for each ring you wear (the turn that this is calculated is different for your left and right hands), unless it is a chargeable ring and is at +0. If you have regeneration that does not come from an artifact, you lose 1 point of nutrition every odd turn. If you are generating conflict and this is not caused by an artifact, you lose a point of nutrition every even turn. If you have intrinsic hunger you will lose 1 point of nutrition every even turn. Every twenty turns, you lose one point of nutrition if you're wearing an amulet. Every twenty turns, you lose one point of nutrition if you're carrying the Amulet of Yendor. Being Stressed or worse incurs a point of nutrition loss every odd-numbered turn. All of these sources stack, so it is possible to burn nutrition at up to 320% of the normal rate. Note that 'turn' refers to game turn, not movement turn. The nutrition is lost as the turn counter advances, not as you move.
Attacking a monster uses the same amount of nutrition you'd consume on a whole turn, in addition to the normal hungering. For this purpose, attempting to move into the same square as a monster counts as an attack, even if, e.g., the monster is a pet which you displace or if you are prompted if you want to attack the monster and decline. The m command never incurs this extra hunger.
Spellcasting without hungerless casting or reduced-hunger casting (both of which are granted only to high-intelligence wizards) incurs a hunger penalty, unless the spell is detect food, which costs 0. The base penalty is ten times the level of the spell you're casting. Spellcasting with the Amulet of Yendor incurs an additional d(spell level * 4) hunger penalty (which is also affected by wizard hunger reduction).
Nutrition and pets
All pets, except for inediate pets, require nutrition to stay alive, though 2-8 times less than the player, depending on its size. Carnivorous and omnivorous pets will generally kill enough monsters on their own to be able to live off the corpses of the monsters they kill. Herbivorous pets have a harder time, since the majority of monsters do not leave vegetarian corpses. However, fruit and vegetable items such as apples, carrots, melons, and so on provide a herbivorous pet with many more turns of nutrition than they provide to you. It is thus optimal to save these items for a herbivorous pet, if you have any, rather than consuming them yourself.
When a pet is running low on nutrition (500 turns after becoming hungry, which affects what they would eat), it may become confused. Pets who run out of nutrition points completely (250 turns after becoming confused) will die if they are on the same dungeon level as you, and otherwise they will go feral. Chatting with a pet often gives a clue about its nutrition level. If a pet is about to starve, and you have no way to feed it, one way to save its life is to abandon the dungeon level and come back later once you have a way of re-taming the pet. This works especially well with domestic animals, which are easy to tame.
If a hungry pet eats, it will first become not hungry (even if food gives zero nutrition, such as a wraith corpse), then receive nutrition (if any).
Starvation is a common cause of death during the early stages of the game. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy caloric intake. This discussion concerns only quantitative aspects of nutrition; for a more sophisticated overview of the relative qualitative advantages of different types of food, see the article on food.
The most basic advice is, of course, to eat. Non-perishable comestibles should be picked up and retained. Monster corpses are perishable, so when a monster dies, eat its corpse immediately if the corpse is safe to eat. Novice players often forget to eat corpses when the opportunity presents itself, and end up dying of starvation as a result. However, don't eat too much, as this may abuse dexterity and there is the risk of choking to death.
If you have a pet, your pet will often eat monster corpses before you have a chance to get to it. To lessen this problem, stand next to the monster while your pet is fighting, and pounce on the corpse afterwards. This works best if you are fast or if you can whistle away your pets. Inediate pets will not cause this problem.
Once you reach either Minetown or Sokoban, you will most likely encounter a lot of food, since these levels tend to be generated with large amounts of food. At this point it becomes possible to subsist on non-corpse food items. Some players prefer to descend quickly to one or the other of these destinations to get the food. Generally speaking, Minetown is easier to reach if you are playing a dwarf or a gnome, and Sokoban is easier otherwise.
If you still lack intrinsics that you'd like to get from eating corpses, try not to have too much nutrition. Since it's dangerous to overeat, you will have to pass up corpses that could have provided intrinsics had you had less nutrition.
In an emergency, if you are not trying to be an atheist, you can pray while weak to restore your nutrition status, provided that it is safe to pray. Since all games start with an initial prayer timeout of 300 turns, this means that, unless you do something out of the ordinary (such as receiving a wish), you can always pray safely after 300 turns. However, prayer is a very useful tool, which you may want to save for other things.
The foodless article describes a number of the more obscure ways of gaining nutrition without consuming food.
- eat.c, line 2329
- eat.c, line 2201
- eat.c, line 2101
- eat.c, line 2188
- eat.c, line 992
- eat.c, line 2089
- eat.c, line 240
- attrib.c, line 324
- gethungry in eat.c
- eat.c, line 2130
- eat.c, line 2140
- hack.c, line 1078
- apply.c, line 1363
- spell.c, line 761
- spell.c, line 762
- spell.c, line 753
- dog_nutrition in dogmove.c
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