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In NetHack, your character's starting race can be one of: human, dwarf, elf, gnome or orc. All roles can choose to be human, whereas the other races are restricted to only some of the roles. Your race affects your starting and maximum attributes, the belligerency of monsters, and the safety of sacrificing particular races. Your starting race will also affect what constitutes cannibalism, as well as what creatures can be safely genocided.

Polymorphing into an elven, dwarvish, etc. monster will not affect the above. However, your god will never gift you an artifact that attacks your current form.

Humans can be any alignment (subject to your chosen role allowing that alignment), but for the others, your race indirectly determines your alignment: dwarves are always lawful, gnomes are always neutral, and elves and orcs are always chaotic.

In general, dwarves are strong, elves and gnomes are smart, orcs are poison resistant, and humans are good all-rounders.

Racial intrinsics

Race intrinsics Notes
Dwarves none Double digging speed
Elves sleep resistance at level 4 Multishot bonus for elven arrows from elven bows
Gnomes none Can use uncursed touchstones as blessed. Multishot bonus for crossbow bolts
Humans none No infravision
Orcs poison resistance at level 1 Cannibalism is ok. Multishot bonus for orcish arrows from orcish bows

Maximum attributes

Your race limits your inherent attributes. Equipped magic items (such as gauntlets of dexterity) ignore these limits.

Race Strength Dexterity Constitution Intelligence Wisdom Charisma
Human 18/** 18 18 18 18 18
Elf 18 18 16 20 20 18
Dwarf 18/** 20 20 16 16 16
Gnome 18/50 18 18 19 18 18
Orc 18/50 18 18 16 16 16

Reference: role.c, line 405.

Strategy comparisons



  • Have the highest average attribute maximums.


  • The only race that doesn't have infravision, making the mines much more dangerous.
  • The Mines may present a challenge. The gnomes will hate you because you're human, and the dwarves will hate you if you're not lawful.
  • Many later monsters are human, which cannot be sacrificed (unless you are chaotic) or eaten (unless you are a caveperson). The latter matters mostly for the nurse healing effect.



  • Elves will always be generated peaceful. They tend to spawn in groups, can use dangerous offensive items, and ignore invisibility and Elbereth. Having them be peaceful removes this threat.
  • You gain sleep resistance at level 4.
  • The highest Intelligence and Wisdom of all races. Spellcasters can forgo a helm of brilliance for the higher maximum AC of an elven leather helm.
  • Infravision.
  • Starts with an instrument. Tooled horns and drums are useful to scare monsters, and tonal instruments can be used to dig for victory.


  • Can only be chaotic, making the Mines difficult.
  • Very low strength and constitution, to the point where levitation or gauntlets of power are required to reach the maximum possible carrying capacity.



  • Excellent physical stats. Dwarves can clear the encumbrance cap with no problem, and are well suited to sturdy fighter roles.
  • Infravision.
  • Gnomes and dwarves in the Mines are always generated peaceful, relieving some of the problems of that branch.


  • Low Intelligence and Wisdom. This makes spellcasting all but impossible; thankfully it is not important for any of the dwarvish roles.
  • Cannot blessed-genocide h to kill off mind flayers and master mind flayers. Instead, two uncursed scrolls are required.
  • Gaining experience in the Mines can be difficult because so many monsters will be peaceful.



  • Gnomes and dwarves in the Mines are always generated peaceful, the same as for dwarves.
  • Higher Intelligence than humans, although only average wisdom.
  • Good strength and average constitution. They can hit the encumbrance cap without aid.
  • You can use uncursed touchstones as if they are blessed. If you find an early touchstone and a shop that will buy gems, this can get you a lot of gold early on.
  • Infravision.


  • Can only be neutral, so you cannot murder or sacrifice gnome corpses without heavy consequences.
  • As it is with dwarves, gaining experience in the Mines can be a challenge.



  • Orcs start with poison resistance, preventing certain YASDs and allowing you to eat more types of monsters, such as kobolds.
  • No cannibalism penalty, so you can eat anyone with impunity! You can even eat cats and dogs!
  • Good strength and average constitution. They can hit the encumbrance cap without aid.
  • Infravision.
  • Since they are always chaotic, and orcs are plentiful in the early and mid games, it is easy to convert any altar via sacrificing your own race.


  • Orcish weapons and armor provide lower damage and AC than other racial variants.
  • Low Intelligence and Wisdom makes spellcasting very difficult. A helm of brilliance will be essential if you wish to cast spells reliably.
  • Can only be chaotic, making the mines difficult.


The guidebook offers the following advice about the starting races:

Dwarves are smaller than humans or elves, but are stocky and solid individuals. Dwarves' most notable trait is their great expertise in mining and metalwork. Dwarvish armor is said to be second in quality not even to the mithril armor of the Elves.

Elves are agile, quick, and perceptive; very little of what goes on will escape an Elf. The quality of Elven craftsmanship often gives them an advantage in arms and armor.

Gnomes are smaller than but generally similar to dwarves. Gnomes are known to be expert miners, and it is known that a secret underground mine complex built by this race exists within the Mazes of Menace, filled with both riches and danger.

Humans are by far the most common race of the surface world, and are thus the norm by which other races are often compared. Although they have no special abilities, they can succeed in any role.

Orcs are a cruel and barbaric race that hate every living thing (including other orcs). Above all others, Orcs hate Elves with a passion unequalled, and will go out of their way to kill one at any opportunity. The armor and weapons fashioned by the Orcs are typically of inferior quality.



SLASH'EM has new races, as well as changes to allowed alignments and statistics of original races. New races are:


dNetHack adds the following new races:

  • Clockwork automaton – unliving constructs that may upgrades themselves.
  • Drow – Dark Elves, with special racial equipment and powers.
  • Half-dragon – powerful, but slow human hybrids with a randomized breath weapon.
  • Incantifier – expert spellcasters that eat only magic.
  • Vampire – powerful undead that start with flying and regeneration, but must feed on blood to sate their increased hunger.


Main article: SlashTHEM races

In addition to including all of the races in SLASH'EM, SlashTHEM adds 9 new races, including playable ogres and giants.

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It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.6.0. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-360}} tag to the current version's tag or {{noversion}} as appropriate.