Rogues are agile and stealthy thieves, with knowledge of locks, traps, and poisons. Their advantage lies in surprise, which they employ to great advantage.
Rogues can be humans or orcs, and are always chaotic. Orcs have a slightly easier early game because of their starting food, poison resistance, infravision, and ability to commit cannibalism or same-race sacrifice with impunity. On the other hand, humans have better health and starting weapons, as well as several advantages that become important later in the game: they have slightly better hit point and energy growth than orcs, and their higher intelligence, wisdom, and charisma caps make spellcasting and consorting with foocubi more reliable.
Orcish monsters are more likely to be generated peaceful for orcish heroes, while elven monsters (which can be a nuisance because they appear fairly early, in groups, and ignore Elbereth) are likely to be generated peaceful for chaotic humans, but will always be hostile to orcs. Human monsters are not available as early for same-race sacrifices, and some of their corpses are harder to procure reliably compared to the groups of hostile orcs that may be generated.
- 1 Starting equipment
- 2 Intrinsics
- 3 Skills
- 4 Special rules
- 5 Strategy
- 6 Rank titles
- 7 Quest
- 8 Variants
- 9 Encyclopedia entry
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- an uncursed +0 short sword (orcish short sword if an orc)
- 6–16 uncursed +0 daggers (orcish daggers if an orc)
- an uncursed +1 leather armor (5% chance of being blessed)
- an uncursed potion of sickness
- an uncursed lock pick
- an uncursed sack
- 20% chance of a blindfold
- for orcs, 2 random food items (each of which has the usual chance of being a stack of 2)
Rogues start with Basic skill in Short sword and Dagger.
Rogues get a +1 bonus to multishot when throwing daggers.
Rogues can gain an additional 1d(XL) "backstab" damage when striking a fleeing monster and not two-weaponing. Elbereth, scrolls of scare monster, leather drums and tooled horns are particularly useful for rogues.
The two top priorities in the early game are finding food and developing your primary attacks, which are weighted differently for humans and orcs. Orcish rogues' starting food items buy them some time to train before they need to start looking for food; once they do need to scavenge for food, they have more options thanks to their poison resistance—which allows them to eat the corpses of poisonous monsters like kobolds safely—and their ability to eat their own kind without an alignment penalty. Human rogues, however, will need to look for nonpoisonous corpses and (better yet) permafood on the first few levels of the dungeons.
Since rogues start with a relatively low strength, it is a good idea to make an early run for Sokoban and push boulders to exercise that attribute. Raising strength not only increases your carrying capacity, but also the damage potential from your thrown daggers due to the bonus it provides; the random food items generated in that branch are also very welcome to a hungry rogue, and both of the two possible prizes can be of great use to them. A bag of holding helps shore up the low carrying capacity of a low-strength Rogue, while an amulet of reflection can protect your inventory and save you from many potentially game-ending wand attack that you may encounter.
A rogue's best attack in the early game is a volley of thrown daggers. Rogues should rely on throwing daggers as much as circumstances and their stock of daggers permit, to raise the dagger skill to Expert before anything else. Having Expert level in the skill, combined with the role's bonus to multishot, allows you to throw up to four daggers at once, and gives each dagger a +2 damage bonus. However, be aware that if one of your daggers kills your target, any remaining daggers you threw may fly past the corpse and anger peaceful monsters behind it. Use the numeric prefix to fire only one dagger at a time when necessary, especially in Minetown.
You may choose to wield one of your daggers in melee as well, instead of your starting short sword, because every bit of dagger training helps. There is little reason to train your short sword skill anyway, since you won't be using it once you get an artifact melee weapon; however, an elven short sword is perfectly serviceable for later twoweaponing. One dagger can be separated from your starting stack for wielding by using the #adjust command with a number prefix to change the letter under which it is stored in your inventory; as of the NetHack 3.6.0 series, it is possible to quiver all but one of a wielded stack of weapons, changing the letter of the second set automatically. You can then #name the two sets differently to prevent them stacking.
To increase your supply of ammunition, collect any daggers you find, but curse-test them before wielding any. Elven daggers are especially desirable—being made of wood, they cannot rust or corrode, so they are good for fighting rust monsters and acidic monsters that would damage iron weapons.
Missiles other than daggers—such as darts, arrows, crossbow bolts, and shuriken—can be poisoned by #dipping them into your starting potion of sickness. One strategy is to #untrap dart traps, which are fairly common in the upper levels of the Dungeons of Doom, and then poison the resulting large stack of darts using the potion. Poisoned weapons do an additional d6 damage to non-resistant monsters, and also have a 10% chance of killing the monster outright, making it ideal for tougher monsters; be aware, however, that intelligent monsters can pick up poisoned weapons and toss them back at you! Magic cancellation does not protect against poisoning from thrown weapons, so obtain poison resistance as soon as possible if you do not have it yet, and use poisoned missiles cautiously until then; orcs start with poison resistance, making this a much less risky option for them.
Rogues can also reach Expert in crossbows, so another possibility is to collect bolts in the Mines and poison them. Unlike darts, bolts require a launcher, but their damage potential is greater (1d4+1/1d6+1 vs 1d3/1d2). Both kinds of missiles have a chance of breaking, which can be reduced by enchanting them; if you plan to use crossbows, do not advance their skill beyond Basic until you have mastered daggers.
Rogues are one of the few roles who can reach Expert in twoweapon combat. They also reach Expert in the knife skill, so they are the role that gets the most effect out of using a crysknife as a secondary weapon.
However, twoweaponing was relatively unpopular with those playing 3.4.3 rogues because (1) rogues cannot reach Expert skill in the better artifact weapons (besides Magicbane, which is cross-aligned) and (2) rogues cannot backstab if they are wielding two weapons at once, sacrificing the bonus damage that was one of the most popular features of the role. Because of this, many players did not train the twoweapon skill at all, reserving the skill points for other skills, and using the free hand to augment their AC with a shield. As of NetHack 3.6.0, backstab damage has been significantly weakened: it now only occurs in single weapon melee and no longer applies to thrown projectiles. So, while useful as an early game tactic, backstab's intermittent damage bonus now pales in comparison to consistent, high-level twoweaponing in the later game.
Twoweaponing can be considered an alternative way to produce major artifact damage with weaker weapons. Ignoring all strength, enchantment and skill bonuses, a single Grayswandir will average 9 and 19.5 damage against non-haters and silver-haters respectively. A crysknife/silver dagger twoweapon will yield approximately 7.75 and 18.25. But with full strength, skill and enchantment available to a rogue, a single-handed Grayswandir will average 30 and 40.5 while the the crysknife/silver dagger twoweapon averages 35.75 and 46.25; the chaotic Grimtooth averages the same damage as a single crysknife for a Rogue without requiring training in a new skill.
A Rogue's starting leather armor is not very good past the early game, and can be traded out for almost any noncursed body armor. Given their restrictions on attack and healing spells, rogues are not likely to rely heavily on magic in the heat of battle for most of the game, so they should not be as concerned about spellcasting failure. They typically start with low strength, however, and encumberment is a serious inconvenience in the early game, so avoid wearing anything you cannot lift without becoming Burdened. Mithril coats are most ideal for the early game, as they are not only high AC (and MC2) but weigh no more than your starting leather armor. Once you are confident in your fighting skills, fight dwarves and hobbits to relieve them of their mail.
Rogues who seek to backstab over twoweaponing in 3.4.3, previous versions and variants based on them lose the least from wearing a shield, since all of their best weapons are one-handed; the shield of reflection is their best option, eliminating the need for an amulet of reflection or SDSM and freeing up the neck and torso slots for other items, but they are unfortunately rare. This is much less true as of 3.6.0 and later versions, where twoweaponing is more preferable.
Rogues are at a disadvantage when it comes to attempting the protection racket, because while their starting sack is handy for shoplifting and credit cloning, the Mines will inevitably be dangerous because dwarves and gnomes alike are hostile to chaotics. Since armor is less disadvantageous for Rogues than for other roles, racking up early protection points is less urgent for them.
Rogues do not start with knowledge of any spells or skill in any spell school, and their starting intelligence (their spellcasting attribute) and spellcasting power are both low, so spellcasting is not likely to be reliable in the early game.
However, once you have a reliable source of food, and a safe place to read, it may be worthwhile to pick up spellbooks and read them so you can recognize useful spellbooks later. Spells in the divination, escape, and matter classes can be trained, while most spells outside of your strong schools can be forgotten and cast to confuse yourself later.
Once you have learned low-level spells in your schools (such as detect monsters and jumping) and have at least 5 power points, you can take advantages of lulls in the action to remove interfering armor and practice casting those spells to train the respective skills after you have reached expert in daggers.
The Rogue quest is infamous as one of the trickiest in NetHack, but the problem is not so much with the nemesis (the Master Assassin is not especially dangerous to a Rogue who has reached the quest branch) as with getting past the various obstacles to reaching him. A successful Rogue will consider the quest's challenges in advance and prepare a means of overcoming each one before embarking on the quest.
The major challenges:
- The home level contains several chameleons. The longer you spend on this level, the greater the chance that one will turn into a master- or arch-lich, warp to you, and cast a spell that ruins your day.
- About 1⁄7 of generated monsters will be nymphs, with the corresponding hazards of losing your weapon and armor and having your wands used against you. Guardian nagas are also quite common, so have either MC3 or a ring of free action to prevent paralysis.
- There are three distinct sections of the goal level: one containing the up stairs, one containing the Nemesis, and one containing neither. Because the three segments are partitioned by non-diggable walls and the level is no-teleport, gaining access to the Master Assassin is non-trivial.
If you don't have magic resistance, try to kill the liches fast, and be ready to engrave Elbereth if one does show up. If you have a ring of protection from shape changers, keep it on until you have hunted down all eight chameleons.
Use your daggers or darts to eliminate the nymphs from a distance, and try to avoid getting surrounded on the locate level. If you have polymorph control, polymorphing into a nymph or succubus will protect you from their theft attacks.
On the goal level, there are a number of ways of reaching the Master Assassin:
- Digging down from the previous level and hopefully landing in the region where the quest nemesis is, waking him, and then getting out of the level by quaffing a cursed potion of gain level or by reading a cursed scroll of teleportation or reading an uncursed scroll of teleportation while confused. Once the Master Assassin is awake, he will warp to the up stairs, and you can meet him there by descending the stairs normally. Be prepared to do this multiple times if you land in the section without the Nemesis.
- Polymorph yourself into a xorn to be able to walk through walls (be sure to remove your cloak and body armor first to avoid destroying them).
- Apply a drum of earthquake; this may wake up the Master Assassin.
- Use the psychic blast of a tame mind flayer (or polyself) to alert the Master Assassin of your presence.
- Quaff a cursed potion of invisibility while standing on the stairs to awaken the Master Assassin who will then teleport to you.
The Rogue quest artifact is the Master Key of Thievery, a very nice artifact which confers the half physical damage, warning, and teleport control extrinsics. It can also be invoked to untrap boxes and doors with 100% success, though this is somewhat useless unless you know the door or chest is trapped, something most players don't bother to check.
Warning is superseded by telepathy, and there are other sources of teleport control, but half physical damage is useful enough that the Master Key a wish target for other roles. It does not grant magic resistance, however, so you should be on the lookout for other sources of this extrinsic (such as a cloak of magic resistance, Magicbane, or certain other quest artifacts).
Once you have a large supply of daggers, you can start using scrolls of enchant weapon to raise their enchantment, which increases not only their damage potential but their accuracy. If you find a ring of increase damage with a positive enchantment, wear it when throwing daggers, as the damage bonus applies to each dagger that hits, so the effect is multiplied. Scrolls of charging can be used to raise the ring's enchantment.
In the midgame, rogues can look for a powerful artifact weapon so they can back up their ranged daggerstorm with a strong melee attack that uses their backstab bonus to full effect. Sacrificing for an artifact weapon is not terribly useful for rogues, since they do not have a guaranteed sacrifice gift in vanilla and they will have to accept one of the chaotic sacrifice gifts—which, with the exception of Stormbringer, are either very weak or of very narrow utility—before they have any hope of getting one of the more useful (and unaligned) Brands.
Two better options are Magicbane and Grayswandir. Magicbane's scare attack frequently causes monsters to flee, and more importantly, it is an athame, so you can reliably engrave Elbereth. Grayswandir is another worthwhile weapon to consider; rogues can reach Skilled in saber, and Grayswandir's double damage applies to backstab damage. Both weapons are cross-aligned for chaotic rogues, so you will never receive them as sacrifice gifts; you will either have to use an early wish, or find one in a bones pile (be sure to curse-test before wielding). Watch out for the (admittedly small) blasting damage.
Rogues can reach Skilled in divination spells and escape spells, as well as the somewhat less useful matter spells, and human rogues can reach a respectable 87% success rate without a robe. You most likely started the game with a mediocre intelligence, so consider collecting any potions you find and performing alchemy to brew up some potions of gain ability. In the absence of useful spells, rogues are better off ignoring spellcasting entirely, though.
Divination spells are worth raising to Skilled once you have at least two skill slots free, since several spells in this class (detect monsters, detect treasure, and identify) have improved effects at this level. Identify can save you a lot of curse-testing, and magic mapping is a boon in Gehennom. Advancing escape spells to Skilled is less important, but can be useful if you want to rely on the jumping spell to reach tiles not accessible with jumping boots, or be able to terminate the levitation spell at will.
If you chose to use a shield instead of twoweaponing, and you haven't found a shield of reflection before reaching Medusa's Island, checking Perseus's statue for one can be especially rewarding for a rogue, provided you are careful not to get stoned by Medusa.
Entering the late game, rogues should continue to refine their primary attacks, enchanting their melee artifact weapon to +5 or +6 and enchanting their missiles as well. Silver daggers are often desirable missile weapons, but are exceedingly rare, and not worth a wish.
If you choose to try twoweaponing despite forfeiting the backstab bonus, good secondary weapon choices for Rogues are crysknives, silver sabers, katanas, and elven broadswords. Crysknives pair well with Magicbane, since you can train both weapon classes to Expert for the lowest to-hit and damage penalty. If you have Grayswandir, Stormbringer, or one of the Brands, you may prefer using secondary weapons from the same classes so you do not have to train a second weapon skill.
Since rogues can use shields of reflection comfortably, they do not need silver dragon scale mail, which decides the GDSM versus SDSM debate in favor of gray dragon scale mail for this role. GDSM supplies the magic resistance that your quest artifact lacks, and frees the neck and cloak slots for other items. Alternately, you may choose SDSM if you have another source of magic resistance and you prefer not to wear a shield.
The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:
- XL 1-2: Footpad
- XL 3-5: Cutpurse
- XL 6-9: Rogue
- XL 10-13: Pilferer
- XL 14-17: Robber
- XL 18-21: Burglar
- XL 22-25: Filcher
- XL 26-29: Magsman/Magswoman
- XL 30: Thief
The Rogue quest sees you fighting the Master Assassin for The Master Key of Thievery. Inspired by the profession you have chosen, there are lots of stealing monsters, traps, shapeshifters and challenges even to access the quest nemesis!
In versions of NetHack prior to 3.6.0 and some variants (including SLASH'EM) based on these versions, rogues could also get backstab damage with thrown weapons for each hit. This was considered unbalancing and removed in 3.6.0. 
I understand the business, I hear it: to have an open ear, a
quick eye, and a nimble hand, is necessary for a cut-purse; a
good nose is requisite also, to smell out work for the other
senses. I see this is the time that the unjust man doth
thrive. <...> The prince himself is about a piece of iniquity,
stealing away from his father with his clog at his heels: if
I thought it were a piece of honesty to acquaint the king
withal, I would not do't: I hold it the more knavery to
conceal it; and therein am I constant to my profession.
William Shakespeare ]