Rogues are agile and stealthy thieves, with knowledge of locks, traps, and poisons. Their advantage lies in surprise, which they employ to great advantage.
- 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 gain an additional 1d(XL) "backstab" damage when striking a fleeing monster in melee and not two-weaponing. Elbereth, scrolls of scare monster, leather drums and tooled horns are particularly useful for rogues.
Rogues are eligible for up to two bonuses when disarming floor traps: one bonus applies with a (Xlvl/60) chance, while the other applies if the Rogue is carrying the Master Key of Thievery.
Rogues have double the normal chance of disarming container traps.
(While the guidebook describes Rogues as "thieves," they do not have any inherent ability to steal gold or items from monsters or shops.)
Orcs have an easier early game because of their starting food, poison resistance, infravision, and ability to commit cannibalism or same-race sacrifice with impunity. Orcish daggers are slightly inferior, but it won't take you long to collect a set of generic daggers with which to replace them. On the other hand, humans have better HP growth, as well as several advantages that become important later in the game: they have better energy growth than orcs, and their higher intelligence and charisma caps make spellcasting and consorting with foocubi more reliable. Humans have other means of compensating for the lack of infravision, including warning (e.g. from your quest artifact) if all else fails.
Orcish monsters are more likely to be generated peaceful for orcish heroes, while elven monsters are likely to be generated peaceful for chaotic humans - elves are always hostile to player orcs, and can be a fairly early nuisance to orcish Rogues due to ignoring Elbereth. 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.
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 can 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 carrying capacity, while an amulet of reflection can protect your inventory and save you from many potentially game-ending wand attacks.
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 in order 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 if you plan to 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; 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.
Various non-dagger missile weapons—such as darts, 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 - intelligent monsters can pick up poisoned weapons and toss them back at you, however. As magic cancellation does not protect against poisoning from thrown weapons, human Rogues should obtain the property as soon as they can 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, it is usually worthwhile to avoid advancing their skill beyond Basic until you have mastered daggers. Depending on your early weapon choices, you may find it easier to commit to a specific type of projectile down the line.
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.
In NetHack 3.4.3 and previous versions, twoweaponing was relatively unpopular since rogues cannot reach Expert skill in the better artifact weapons (besides Magicbane, which is cross-aligned) and 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. Backstab damage has been significantly weakened starting with NetHack 3.6.0: it now only occurs in single-weapon melee and no longer applies to thrown projectiles. Backstabbing is still useful as an early game tactic, but its 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, and advance preparation is required to complete it; see the strategy section for details. 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 and makes untrapping more reliable. It can also be invoked to untrap boxes and doors with 100% success -- this useful properly is easy to forget, so keep it in mind.
Warning is somewhat superseded by telepathy, though the properties can complement each other, and there are other sources of teleport control (including tengu meat); half physical damage is useful and rare enough to make the Master Key a wish target for other chaotics on its own. If you have obtained the quest artifact without a source of magic resistance, seeking it out should be your next immediate goal.
Once you have access to holy water and scrolls of enchant weapon, you have a few choices of projectile weapons: daggers, darts, or crossbow bolts, any of which you can advance to Expert. If you have not committed to a projectile at this point, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each as listed below:
- Daggers have multishot and to-hit bonuses and are likely to be at least Skilled if not Expert by this point of the game, though the to-hit bonus may not make as much difference at this stage. Unfortunately, they are the only projectile that cannot be poisoned, and are also fairly heavy at 10 aum per dagger: the weight from a sizeable stack can add up, as many characters can struggle to carry more than 16-20 daggers without help from a bag of holding, and they exhaust quicker when thrown, making retrieval somewhat tricky in some cases. That said, daggers do not require a launcher like crossbow bolts, and also do not "mulch" like darts or bolts can, making them a low-maintenance option for a melee-focused rogue.
- Darts deal slightly less base damage than daggers (at most one point on average, assuming elven daggers against a small target), and also lack a multishot bonus; switching to them from daggers requires six skill slots. Darts also weigh 1⁄10th as much as daggers and do not require a launcher, making encumbrance much easier to manage in comparison. They can easily be obtained in bulk from dart traps and poisoned with your starting potion of sickness for extra damage and the chance of an instakill, although many late-game enemies are poison-resistant. Darts are often the most ideal choice for a ranged-focused game plan - you can often carry more than enough to freely engage certain monsters such as disenchanters or flying monsters like mind flayers that are over a moat, or else flee from potentially-lethal threats, all without losing much ranged capability from eroded, mulched or otherwise-lost darts.
- Crossbow bolts deal slightly more base damage against small targets and substantially more against large ones. However, bolts also require a crossbow, which takes in-game time to switch to - this can prove unwieldly if the crossbow ends up cursed, and is generally incompatible with two-weaponing. Additionally, bolts do not benefit from +3 or higher strength damage bonuses like other projectiles, and have a multishot penalty unless you have at least 18 strength; switching to them from daggers also requires six skill slots. This and the carrying capacity required due to the launcher, as well as their relative rarity compared to darts, generally make bolts the hardest of the projectiles to utilize. With this in mind, bolts weigh 1⁄10th as much as daggers and can be poisoned much like darts, and still generate often in the inventories of G gnomes and C centaurs - losing individual bolts is also not as pressing as leaving daggers behind. The crossbow's enchantment only affects to-hit bonuses, so enchanting the bolts should prove sufficient for Rogues willing to take this route.
- An aklys is the lowest-maintenance weapon, weighing only 15 aum and being almost infinitely reusable. Since it can't be multishot, there's little benefit to advancing club skill beyond Basic, saving five skill slots relative to the projectile weapons. Its damage potential is far less than any of the above options, but a well-enchanted aklys is still sufficient to safely deal with the occasional cockatrice, mimic, or sea monster.
Whichever missiles you choose, bless and rustproof them and raise their enchantment to increase their damage potential and accuracy: the bonus damage from enchantment somewhat flattens out the difference between their base damage. A ring of increase damage with a positive enchantment is a very useful supplement when throwing weapons, with the damage bonus applied to each hit - a scroll of charging or two should raise the ring's enchantment to a suitable level, though beware of exploding the ring!
Rogues can look for a powerful artifact weapon to 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 and the available chaotic artifact gifts are either very weak or of very narrow utility, with the exception of Stormbringer - at least one sacrifice gift is required before they have any hope of getting one of the more useful weapons such as the unaligned Brands.
Two of the better options, Magicbane and Grayswandir, are cross-aligned and must be wished for or found in bones - watch out for the (admittedly small) blasting damage. Magicbane's scare attack frequently causes monsters to flee, and as an athame it uses the dagger skill that Rogues are naturally proficient in and can reliably engrave Elbereth. Grayswandir's double damage applies to backstab damage, and rogues can reach Skilled in saber.
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, however, rogues can easily make do without.
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. There is little reason to advance matter spells far, as Rogues are unlikely to have the spellcasting abilities or power to cast polymorph.
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, 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.
Rogues can use shields of reflection comfortably if they so choose, allowing them to forego silver dragon scale mail in favor of gray dragon scale mail - this 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 ]