Priest

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This article is about the role. For the monster, see aligned priest.

Priest (priestess if female) is one of the roles in NetHack, capable of playing any alignment as a human, or restricted to chaotic as an elf. A priest's religion is chosen randomly from the pantheons of the other roles. A human priest is therefore capable of representing any of the gods in the game (who send mortals after the amulet, that is). According to the guidebook:

              Priests and Priestesses are clerics militant, crusaders  ad-
         vancing  the  cause  of  righteousness with arms, armor, and arts
         thaumaturgic.  Their ability to commune with deities  via  prayer
         occasionally extricates them from peril, but can also put them in
         it.

Starting Equipment

Priests start with the following items:

Intrinsics

Priests gain the following intrinsics at these experience levels:[1]

Skills

Priest skills
Max Skills
Basic
Skilled
Expert

Priests start with Basic skill in Mace and Clerical spells. The spellcasting skill is always Clerical, no matter what spellbooks a character starts with, because the initial spellcasting skills are hardcoded in the function skill_init in weapon.c and are independent of the starting inventory.

Special Rules

One distinct advantage enjoyed by the clergy is the ability to ascertain beatitude independently of their pets. Priests automatically see the beatitude of all objects. If no BUC is shown, that means uncursed. You can get "uncursed" back with the showbuc option patch.

Priests can #turn undead, which can be helpful in their quest, but should do so carefully.

Strategy

Early game

Objectives

You should try to get to Minetown as soon as you think you can survive the upper Mines. Once there, look for a magic lamp and try for a wish. Dragon scale mail, either gray or silver, is a great choice, but certain artifacts may also be worthwhile; an early wish might be your only reliable chance to wish for an artifact. The Mines are also a great source of armor; upgrade yours whenever possible.

Whether you try to go to Mines' End or Sokoban now is up to you. Getting the luckstone and blessing it will allow you to incur one or two Luck penalties in Sokoban. It will also make sacrificing more worthwhile, because luck you gain from it will not time out. On the other hand, Sokoban has better items overall, and is more attractive if you haven't found a bag of holding anywhere in the Mines yet.

Weapons

The main disadvantage of the Priest is the weapon skill set. Priests cannot gain skill in any edged weapons, and can only reach basic skill in ranged weapons. Combined with lack of attack spell-casting skills, this makes it hard for priests to find a good way to kill monsters.

If you happen across a stack of blessed daggers or darts, consider picking them up to use on monsters with passive attacks like floating eyes and blue jellies.

The mace you get in the beginning works fine in the early game. Its +1 bonus makes it slightly better than a +0 long sword at Basic skill against small monsters. It is much less effective against large monsters, but most of these don't start appearing until after dungeon level 10 or so, at which point you should be looking for an artifact weapon.

As soon as possible, find a coaligned altar and sacrifice until you get an artifact weapon. You may not get exactly what you want, but most sacrifice gifts will still be better than the starting mace. You can continue sacrificing in the hopes of getting a better gift if you want, but don't run out of food trying to do so. If you haven't found an altar anywhere, keep exploring downwards in the main dungeon until you reach the quest portal level, and consider using one or two blessed scrolls of enchant weapon to improve your mace in the meantime.

Whatever gift you get first will usually be enough of an improvement over your mace to use for a while. The exceptions are Sting and Orcrist; chaotic priests should name these artifacts before sacrificing in order to guarantee that Stormbringer will be their first sacrifice gift.

If you get an early wish and insist on spending it on a weapon, the only ones really worth wishing for are ones you can't get through other means: the Staff of Aesculapius for neutral priests, Mjollnir for chaotic priests, and the Sceptre of Might for lawful priests. All of these artifacts can be advanced to Expert. (Note that only chaotic priests should wish for Mjollnir, because neutrals can get it via sacrifice and lawfuls have better options.)

Armor

Metallic armor and shields are probably worth wearing to get your AC down; your starting spells don't generally need to be cast quickly, so when you do need to cast them you can find a quiet spot and disrobe. However, you will eventually want to start switching out for non-metallic armor as it becomes available.

Spellcasting

There are several things a Priest can start out with that can give them an advantage:

  • A very high strength, possibly even 18, or a combination of good high physical stats. This nearly places them in the fighter class of characters, and a Priest with such stats can eschew spellcasting for a while.
  • A spellbook of identify. Along with the starting robe, this makes the game much easier because you can identify important items from the beginning.
  • A spellbook of remove curse, which solves the whole problem of dealing with cursed items.
  • A spellbook of create monster. With a supply of food, it becomes easy to sacrifice for gifts and luck at an altar.

A good way to spend your starting holy water set is to bless any spellbook you find and learn new spells (unless you've got the identify spell, which makes it easy to sort out spells you don't need). But it is a good idea to keep at least one holy water in reserve for manufacturing more holy water.

General

Many players consider the Priest role to be very weak. However, expert play can make them easy to ascend for experienced players who know their way around objects in Nethack.

Priests' ability to tell the beatitude of items and their starting holy water gives them many advantages in the early game:

  • They can identify which weapons, armor, and rings are safe to equip without having to drag everything to an altar. Try on every noncursed piece of equipment; you can find highly enchanted armor such as +5 orcish helms this way. You may even get something like speed boots or a +4 ring of gain strength, which will make your early game much easier.
  • They can easily get the more useful blessed effects of scrolls such as identify, genocide, enchant armor and enchant weapon.
  • Removing curses is very easy because holy water becomes a common item, limited only by the number of dilutable potions. Additionally, scrolls of remove curse can easily be blessed, and casting remove curse is not difficult for a Priest.
  • They are the best at getting an early wish from a magic lamp, which will dramatically increase your chance of ascending. As soon as you have identified a magic lamp, you can (and should) bless and rub it.
  • Because it is so simple to remove the curses on items, Priests are absolute masters of the bones file. They are able to use items from a bones pile immediately, and eschew the effects of cursed items. It is far easier to ascend a Priest in an environment with many bones files (such as a public server, or a folder you've been using with many deaths on it) rather than a fresh install of Nethack.

Consider stashing at least one of your starting potions of holy water as early as possible, to keep from losing it to cold/fire/lightning attacks. As long as you have one potion, you can make more at will.

If you manage to get an early wish, dragon scale mail is generally more useful than a weapon, because AC and non-metallic body armor are important things for a priest to have. Even artifact non-weapons tend to be more useful wishes in the long run, since you can always sacrifice for artifact weapons.

You should #turn undead only if you are absolutely certain that there are no non-undead monsters nearby.

Atheist conduct

Priests are well suited to the Atheist conduct, regardless of how contradictory this may seem. For those that need a logical explanation for this, consider that the Priest(ess) believes that they have been given all the powers that they need by their deity, and it would be an affront to ask for further favours.

Lycanthropy can be dealt with using your starting wolfsbane. Removing curses is easy with the starting holy water.

Using #turn will break atheist conduct! So will using #chat to a priest under any circumstances.

Mid game

Objectives

You should go on the quest as soon as possible. The majority of the monsters are weaker zombies and the large number of graveyards contain many boxes full of items. There is more treasure on this quest than any other. The biggest danger is level drain from the high number of wraiths and vampires; drain resistance or at least magic cancellation of 3 are highly recommended. If you aren't level 14 yet but you have a means of creating monsters, you can gain levels by creating wraiths on the home level and luring them back through the portal.

The unaligned altar can be converted and used for sacrificing, but monster generation is low and most generated monsters are undead and cannot be sacrificed. Even if you have a means of creating monsters, this altar is a poor choice; even converting the Minetown altar is a better option.

Some priests that get to the Castle will be strong enough to face the monsters in direct combat, or use the passtune to crush more difficult monsters with the drawbridge. Another option is to enter the Castle by levitating around to the back and entering that way, allowing difficult monsters to advance and drop through the trap doors to the Valley of the Dead, while killing the easier ones.

Weapons

Priests can become skilled in polearm; it may be worth training this skill against large, slow monsters (like mumakil), whom you can outrun as they close to attack range, and sea monsters, who cannot hit you if you are not next to the water.

Spellcasting

Polypiling may be useful in the midgame, should you get a spellbook of polymorph or a wand of polymorph, to get more useful spellbooks that you haven't found yet.

Except for attack spells, Priests are decent spell-casters. They can advance to expert in clerical, divination and healing, but are restricted in other classes. Note that their spellcasting prowess is based on Wisdom, not Intelligence (but the odds of learning a new spell still depend on Intelligence).

You should not have any problems giving skill slots to spells, as you don't learn many weapon skills and can advance them quickly in the quest thanks to all the wraith corpses. Hence you can advance spell-casting skill slots as soon as possible. If you must decide between schools, clerical spells should take precedence, since those are the spells most useful to you.

As always, don't advance divination spells to Expert, since there are no benefits except for reduced failure rates. However, you should usually train divination spells to Skilled as soon as possible, to enhance the effects of spells like detect monsters, detect treasure, and identify.

Late game

Weapons

At this point you should be able, if you wish, to sacrifice until you get several more artifacts and replace an unwanted weapon. An artifact that does double damage against most monsters, such as Grayswandir or Frost Brand, is the best. You will not be dealing as much damage as other roles, but it will be enough to make it through Gehennom and the Planes.

Spellcasting

You can learn simple attack spells (like force bolt or drain life) and cast them with 0% failure rate, especially with the Mitre of Holiness. Magic missile is especially useful at high levels, as its damage scales up with your level (and, due to the wraiths in the quest, it is easy, if a little tedious, to increase your level to deal more damage).

Rank titles

The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:

  • XL 1-2: Aspirant
  • XL 3-5: Acolyte
  • XL 6-9: Adept
  • XL 10-13: Priest/Priestess
  • XL 14-17: Curate
  • XL 18-21: Canon/Canoness
  • XL 22-25: Lama
  • XL 26-29: Patriarch/Matriarch
  • XL 30: High Priest/High Priestess

Quest

Main article: Priest quest

Nalzok, the Priest quest nemesis, is quite tough, but he respects Elbereth and the scroll of scare monster. The quest is rather boring, but extremely profitable. All the levels contain several graveyards with wraiths and chests full of goodies. The Locate level may also contain several sleeping foocubi, which you should not disturb until you are able to utilize them without the risk of negative effects. Given all the graveyards and sleeping monsters, some source of stealth is advisable before attempting this quest.

The quest artifact is The Mitre of Holiness. While even an ordinary helm of brilliance is a great thing, the mitre additionally allows you to regain your power, gives fire resistance and halves damage from the undead and most demons. However, unlike many quest artifacts, it doesn't confer magic resistance, so you have to get that from a different source.

Variants

SLASH'EM

In SLASH'EM, Priests can be doppelgangers, drow, elves, hobbits, or humans.

Starting equipment

Skills

Priest spell skills are different than in Vanilla. Also of note, they can become skilled in long sword.

Priest skills
Max Skills
Basic
Skilled
Expert

Techniques

Level Technique
1 Turn undead
1 Blessing


Strategy

In SLASH'EM priests get the Disrupter (Mace) as their first sacrifice gift, which is very useful in their quest as it grants +5 to hit and +30 to damage against the undead. It is not terribly useful as a main weapon, but makes a good secondary weapon to use against liches and vampire mages. Make sure to enchant it to be able to hit undead with enchantment resistance!

Lawful priests can try to use the Skullcrusher (Club) that can be gotten by sacrifice. If you are good at unmounted polearm tactics, the Reaper (Halberd) can be another option. The previously-good wish, the Sceptre of Might, is a much weaker weapon in SLASH'EM. It now does a flat +3 to hit and +5 to damage against cross-aligned, instead of double damage.

Neutral priests do not get any new options, and should go for Mjollnir (now a Heavy Hammer) or the Staff of Aesculapius (still a Staff).

Chaotic priests can use the Bat from Hell (Club) which can by gotten by sacrifice. They can also use the Plague bow or the Hellfire crossbow, both may be obtained through sacrifice. All the arrows shot by the Plague are poisoned and all bolts shot by the Hellfire explode dealing fire damage.

Encyclopedia entry

[...] For the two priests were talking exactly like priests,
piously, with learning and leisure, about the most aerial
enigmas of theology. The little Essex priest spoke the more
simply, with his round face turned to the strengthening stars;
the other talked with his head bowed, as if he were not even
worthy to look at them. But no more innocently clerical
conversation could have been heard in any white Italian cloister
or black Spanish cathedral. The first he heard was the tail of
one of Father Brown's sentences, which ended: "... what they
really meant in the Middle Ages by the heavens being
incorruptible." The taller priest nodded his bowed head and
said: "Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason;
but who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that
there may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is
utterly unreasonable?"

[ The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton ]

References