Members of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Death, Famine, and Pestilence (all &)—appear in NetHack, and are collectively known as the Riders, though the name has existed well before riding was implemented in the game.
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The Riders are some of the most physically damaging enemies in the game, in addition to the special effects each Rider's touch attacks possess, so beware facing them in melee with poor AC. Fortunately, Riders receive only a 10d8 roll for maximum HP, rather than the normal (monlvl)d8. However, note that their HP maximum is preserved upon reviving.
All three Riders can fly, are humanoid, can regenerate themselves, can see invisible creatures, have teleport control, and have a low natural armor class of -5. None of the Riders respect Elbereth, and they also ignore the sanctuary effect given to you by a coaligned priest in their temple. In addition, all Riders can displace other monsters out of their way.
The Riders cannot be stoned and have all elemental resistances and full monster MR. The Riders are not disintegration-resistant, per se, in the way that black dragons are; however, attempting to disintegrate one of them will cause it to re-integrate instantly.
Corpses and revival
Riders come back to life after being killed: after 12 turns, a Rider corpse has a 1⁄3 chance of revival on each turn. Their corpses cannot be polymorphed, and they will instantly revive if you try to pick them up, tin them, push a boulder on their square, etc.
Eating a Rider's corpse kills you instantly; digesting monsters that try to eat a Rider will also instantly die and leave the Rider unharmed, and mind flayers that try to eat a Rider's brain die instantly as well. If you survive with an amulet of life saving, the corpse revives immediately anyway (and your wisdom is abused for good measure). If the corpse can't revive, finishing the meal conveys teleport control.
Teleportation has a special effect on Riders: if they are zapped with a wand of teleportation, there is a 12⁄13 chance of them being teleported to a square adjacent to you. This makes teleporting them or their corpses a very Bad Idea - remember that in the latter case, they will be immediately revived.
Touch attacks and stunning
Each Rider can make two special touch attacks per turn. These are some of the deadliest attacks in NetHack. If they would hit you with both attacks in the same turn, the game converts the second attack into a stunning touch; this has led to misconceptions that the Riders' main attacks specifically cause stunning. The stun effect also prevents you from fighting back effectively, so you'll probably have to use a unicorn horn to clear the status effect and hope you don't get hit with it again on the Rider's next attack. The special touch attacks do nothing against other monsters, however, as there is no case to handle these attack types in this situation—a second successful hit damages and stuns monsters as they would you.
The following information pertains to an upcoming version (3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.
Per this commit to fix issue #594, the Riders' touch attacks can now damage other monsters, depending on various factors:
- Famine's touch attack will not do any damage to inediate monsters.
- Pestilence's attack inflicts disease damage, which fungi and ghouls are unaffected by.
- Death's touch does reduced damage to an undead monster.
The Four Horsemen
Death has a "deadly touch" melee attack, similar but unrelated to the touch of death monster spell; it reduces your maximum HP and can cause instadeath. If you are undead, and Death attacks you, you see the message "Was that the touch of death?" and the attack does ordinary physical damage only. Otherwise, one of the following effects occurs:
|15%||As below if magic resistant; otherwise, no special message.||If you have magic resistance, this effect is the same as the one below. Otherwise, you die.|
|60%||"You feel your life force draining away..."||Does physical damage and reduces maximum hit points.|
|25%||"Lucky for you, it didn't work!"||Does no damage and has no other effect.|
The maximum HP reduction scales with the proportion of your max HP to your experience level. If your max HP is at least 25 times your level or you are polymorphed, all the damage is applied to your max HP. Below that threshold, the reduction scales down; with less than five times your level in max HP, you lose between zero and half the damage in max HP. Your max HP will never be reduced below your level.
Since NetHack 3.6.0, as a tribute to Terry Pratchett, Death speaks in ALL CAPS and without quotation marks, as they do in the Discworld series of novels. Additionally, you will get YAFM if you chat to them while carrying a Terry Pratchett novel.
The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.Death's deadly touch replaces the 15% chance of instadeath with an effect that does 8d6+50 damage and reduces your maximum HP by half of the damage dealt; this also applies to the touch of death monster spell. However, if the resulting damage would reduce your maximum (and thus current) HP to zero, you die immediately (with no maximum HP reduction); this is an important distinction for certain cases such as polyself.
In the game, if you #chat to one of the other Horsemen they ask, "Who do you think you are, War?"; the wording makes the meaning ambiguous, but a comment in the source code clarifies who they are referring to:
/* Riders -- the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ("War" == player) */
Furthermore, attempting to tin the corpse of a Rider gives the message, "Yes... But War does not preserve its enemies..."
The Riders resist most elemental attacks and have regeneration, but have low base HP—you can best kill them with ordinary physical attacks. Famine and Pestilence are both vulnerable to death rays, and all three Riders are vulnerable to magic missiles. In addition, Famine and Pestilence can have their maximum HP lowered if hit with Stormbringer, as that HP value will be preserved upon their inevitable revival—for this same reason, you absolutely want to avoid zapping Death with a death ray, which heals them and increases their maximum HP.
Of the three riders, Pestilence is widely considered to be the most dangerous. Therefore, players often use telepathy to identify which altar is guarded by Pestilence, and then explore the other altars first in hopes of avoiding an encounter with them. Thrown healing potions can damage Pestilence and reduce their maximum hit points, while Pestilence is healed by any potions of sickness they quaff; the first time you kill them, be sure to dispose of their starting supply quickly afterward.
Acid blobs are a good candidate for filling up the Astral Plane to dismiss the Riders, as they can be created en masse with scrolls of create monster while confused. As a fallback method if you lack enough scrolls, reading the cursed Book of the Dead will create lots of graveyard monsters and only partially respect extinction, but some of those monsters can be quite dangerous. The Riders cannot swap positions with a monster located in a square that is ineligible for corpse creation.
Getting rid of Riders permanently
Although the normal way to get the Riders off your back is simply to ascend, there are a few trickier methods.
- The primary way to permanently banish them is to kill them, then fill every square on the level with monsters so that when they revive, there is nowhere for them to go. When you see the message "You feel much less hassled", a Rider corpse has started to decay, and will eventually rot away, provided that you do nothing to disturb it.
- While the level is filled with monsters, you can eat a Rider corpse without it reviving, provided you are wearing an amulet of life saving. (If your meal is interrupted, you will need another amulet.)
- Attempting to pick up or tin a Rider corpse will still fail when there is nowhere for it to revive.
- A hostile gelatinous cube can "eat" their corpse but not digest it, placing it into the cube's inventory. You could then steal it as a nymph. To destroy it, you can repeatedly loot a cursed bag of holding in 0 turns, or a number of other methods. The Rider corpses will give you severe encumbrance problems; if you are completely unable to lift 1450 units, the corpse will drop uselessly to the floor.
- Famine and Pestilence can be tamed with charm monster if they are level-drained first (though they will resist the spell drain life). Death is immune to level drain.
The three Riders first appear in NetHack 3.1.0.
In NetHack 3.4.3 and previous versions, along with some variants based on them, if you polymorph yourself into a green slime, you can turn them to slime—the sliming touch attack is not considered magical. If you want, you can then tame the resulting green slimes. Similarly, a substantial herd of tamed green slimes stands some chance of turning a Rider into a slime, although this is only somewhat less risky.
In NetHack 3.6.0, the Riders are made immune to sliming and polymorph, and become able to displace other monsters.
The t-shirt message referencing War was added in NetHack 3.6.1.
The inability for Riders to displace monsters located on squares that cannot have corpses created on them (such as a closed door) was added in NetHack 3.6.3, in order to ensure that Rider corpses are created when they are killed.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are characters in Revelation, the last book of most common versions of the Christian Bible. The sixth chapter in particular has verses describing them as they appear when the Lamb (representing Jesus) opens six of the seven seals of the Apocalypse—all quotes are cited from the New International Version:
- I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
- Revelation 6:1-2, describing Pestilence—but see below.
- I heard the second living creature say, 'Come!' Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other.
- Revelation 6:3-4, describing War.
- I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, 'A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!'
- Revelation 6:5-6, describing Famine.
- I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.
- Revelation 6:8, describing Death.
- They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
- Revelation 6:8-9
The White Horseman
The White Horseman's identity tends to vary widely with the translation of the passages—they are sometimes given the moniker of Conquest, and other times are identified as Pestilence, with the latter being far more commonplace in allegories and portrayals within contemporary literature and popular media. While the description given in the chapter's first two verses is closer to the idea of Conquest, the phrasing of the verse following their introductions does give some credence to the idea of Pestilence being one of the Horsemen.
That said, it is a matter of debate as to whether this passage refers to the fourth rider only, or to the four riders as a collective—among information cited to support the Conquest interpretation includes the later appearance of Christ mounted on a white horse in Revelation 19; the recurring motifs of the color white representing righteousness and the idea of Christ as conqueror throughout the Bible as a whole; and the literal conquest of the early Christian community by the Roman Empire and/or Parthian forces (associated with both archery and white horses).
Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's 1916 novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, provides an early well-known interpretation of the White Horseman as Pestilence: "The horseman on the white horse was clad in a showy and barbarous attire. ... While his horse continued galloping, he was bending his bow in order to spread pestilence abroad. At his back swung the brass quiver filled with poisoned arrows, containing the germs of all diseases." NetHack is among the works that make use of this latter interpretation, as are other roguelikes such as ToME.
[Pestilence:] And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals,
and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four
beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white
horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given
unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
[War:] And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the
second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another
horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon
to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one
another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
[Famine:] And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the
third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black
horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his
hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say,
A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley
for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
[Death:] And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the
voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and
behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death,
and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over
the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with
hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
- src/makemon.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 994
- src/mon.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1589
- src/mkobj.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1201
- src/mhitm.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 903
- src/eat.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 712
- src/teleport.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1576
- src/teleport.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1432
- Issue #594: Riders' primary attack types do no damage to monsters
- src/mhitm.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1449: Unhandled cases in mhitm.c default to 0 damage
- src/potion.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1429: Healing potions do potion of sickness effects to Pestilence, subject to Pestilence's 100 monster magic resistance. This means that Pestilence needs to be drained below level 6 for the potions to have a few percent chance of affecting Pestilence.
- src/zap.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 392
- src/monst.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 2564
- src/read.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 148
- src/zap.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 606
- revive_mon in src/do.c in NetHack 3.6.1
- src/do.c in NetHack 3.6.6, line 1906
- Ibáñez, Vicente Blasco (1916). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (ch V).