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 force the game to include the "uncursed" descriptor by setting !implicit_uncursed in your options.)

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

Strategy

Early game

Weapons

One 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.

Instead of daggers, Priest's best ranged option early game is the aklys, which they can pick up in the mines and can advance to up to Expert. Skill and enchantment investments on the aklys can be useful for the entire game.

The starting +1 mace is slightly better than a +0 long sword at Basic skill against small monsters. It is much less effective against large monsters, but these typically appear later. Like any character, a Priest will want to sacrifice for an artifact weapon as soon as possible.

Armor

Metallic armor and shields are 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. You will want to switch to non-metallic armor with a good AC as it becomes available.

Spellcasting

A priest starts with a robe which aids spellcasting, and can use their potions of holy water to bless spellbooks they find, thus gaining more spells. However, they may have better uses for holy water.

A priest should focus on melee combat because most of their starting spells aren't useful in a fight. However, they are very capable of casting low-level spells such as sleep and force bolt.

The most useful combat spells that a priest can start with are protection and healing. Utility spells, especially identify can also give a priest a significant advantage once they are able to cast them.

General

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

  • They can identify which weapons, armor, and rings are safe to equip even if they have lost their pet. Another character who cannot pet-test must drag everything to an altar.
  • They can more easily get the more useful blessed effects of scrolls such as identify, genocide, enchant armor, and enchant weapon.
  • They can remove curses with holy water or by blessing scrolls of remove curse.
  • They can get an early wish if they find a magic lamp; they may wish to go to Mine Town early to see if there is one to buy.
  • Priests find it more easy to get a benefit from bones files.

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 useful things for a priest to have.

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

Atheist conduct

Priests are well suited to the atheist conduct, because they need not use altars to ascertain beatitude.

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

Using #turn will break atheist conduct, as will using #chat on a priest (monster).

Mid game

Objectives

The quest has mostly weaker zombies and only a few strong monsters, and the large number of graveyards contain many boxes full of items. There is more treasure on this quest than any other. Drain resistance or at least magic cancellation of 3 is useful to prevent level drain from wraiths and vampires. 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. In version 3.6.0 and later, you can get corpses by kicking the trees on the home level to summon killer bees.

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.

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).

Skill slots are not in short supply because a Priest has few weapon skills, and may gain many levels from wraith corpses in the quest. Advancing divinations to Skilled enhances the effects of spells like detect monsters, detect treasure, and identify, but advancing the school to Expert only improves spell failure rates.

Late game

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 to increase your level).

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