Role difficulty

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Role difficulty is the general difficulty of being able to successfully ascend with the various roles. It has been demonstrated that every role is ascendable, but opinions vary as to which roles are the easiest and hardest to ascend.

Starting difficulty versus ascension difficulty

Usually when people talk about role difficulty they are mainly referring to the beginning of the game. This is because the early game is by far the hardest part of the game, to the point where you could argue that starting difficulty is the only factor that matters.

However some roles have advantages over other roles in the late game in spite of being at a disadvantage in the early game.

For example, barbarians do better in the early game. They start with poison resistance, which allows them to eat poisonous monster corpses and protects against instadeath from poisoned arrows and spikes, common causes of death for early-game players. However, tourists have a number of late-game advantages over barbarians. Their quest artifact is vastly more useful than the barbarian's, because of blessed charging on-demand, and they eventually get a good enough weapon and armor to match a barbarian's.

Starting advantages

  • High Strength and Constitution
  • Good starting equipment
  • Access to good ranged attacks (especially daggers)
  • Good starting intrinsics (especially poison resistance and speed)
  • Access to strong artifact earlygame

Ascension advantages

  • Good quest artifact
  • High maximum statistics (determined by race)
  • Good acquired intrinsics (for example wizards gain warning and teleport control at high levels)
  • Access to useful weapon and magic skills
  • Good artifacts available by sacrificing
  • Starting with highly enchanted or hard to find equipment
  • Chaotic alignment (and to a lesser extent, neutral), to reduce backsliding in Gehennom

Roles' difficulty levels

Most agree that (dwarven) valkyries are the strongest roles, due to the strong physical combat options presented by the role from the very beginning (arguably minimizing the amount of strategy necessary). Lawful valkyries have the advantage of some easy access to early artifacts (Excalibur), an easy quest with an excellent quest artifact (the Orb of Fate) plus intrinsic cold resistance. Some people recommend beginners try barbarians because they start with poison resistance and can eat whatever corpses they like; however this can generally be found out quickly and valkyries are probably better early game.

Samurai start the game with powerful physical combat capabilities (both melee and missile), but have fewer advantages as the game enters the middle phase. In particular, their quest is riskier than either the Valkyrie's or Barbarian's. The luck of the draw (finding a longsword to dip for Excalibur or an altar for sacrifices) has a big impact on how easy it is to manage this phase of the game.

Wizards are usually fairly easy due to their good starting equipment (for this reason, wizards are often start scummed) and powerful late game (thanks to e.g. magic missile and finger of death, as well as their quest artifact, the Eye of the Aethiopica, which grants energy regeneration and branchporting). They also have potential to cast spells with no hunger penalty, and easy access to Magicbane. Those that attempt to play them as physical combat characters will find them difficult until the obtaining of Magicbane, where their melee combat skill rivals even a valkyrie, due to the ability to Elbereth at will.

The priest's innate ability to detect the BUC status of an item sounds like a tremendous advantage, but they are restricted in all edged weapons and cannot advance any ranged weapons past basic, meaning their weapon choice is hard early on, and are generally considered a hard role.

The knight's codes of conduct can be cumbersome, though the penalty for breaking them (1 point of alignment) is minor, unless you are roleplaying or playing a pacifist. Due to access to Excalibur in the early game and the fact that they get very strong (>100 damage) magic missiles, they are perhaps the strongest late-game characters.

Rangers and rogues can either be difficult or easy, depending on how capable one is of making use of their powerful ranged weapons (especially in the early game).

Cavemen can be considered a more difficult version of samurai. Lawful cavemen are restricted in Excalibur but the artifact is strong enough that this does not matter.

Barbarians can be strong due to their starting poison resistance and strong weapon, but have a bad race choice (human/orc), and a non-peaceful Gnomish Mines which may lead to the odd attack wand from a gnome killing your promising early character.

Monks are a unique role whose early game is relatively easy compared to its tricky midgame, mostly due to Master Kaen and armor and weapon penalties.

Healers start with poison resistance, and are the role best-equipped to attempt the Protection racket, which can give them a good defensive boost early in the game. Some argue that the protection racket is the best strategy for healers, and if you succeed the game becomes easier.

Archeologists have the advantages of starting with speed and stealth, and have early access to a good weapon -- the dwarvish mattock. Starting with a pick-axe (for digging out vaults or gems embedded in rock) and the ability to formally identify precious gems with their starting touchstone, they are also well-suited for buying protection early.

The tourist's greatest early-game advantage is their starting stack of +2 darts, which are good ranged weapons for the early game and can be poisoned; their expensive camera is also useful for evading non-Elbereth respecting monsters. Tourists enjoy a lot of advantages in the endgame, which make them arguably one of the stronger roles--they can use nearly any weapon effectively, start with a Hawaiian shirt, which can be enchanted for extra AC later in the game, and their quest artifact, the Platinum Yendorian Express Card, is one of the best artifacts in the game.

Role difficulty statistics

NetHack players widely disagree about which roles are easiest or hardest. In order to provide an attempt at objective statistics, the following table lists win rates on, as of December 11, 2011, for games which would form a streak of 3 or more if won (and thus, it can be assumed that the player was likely trying to win).

Role Wins Losses Total Win rate (%)
Valkyrie 147 88 235 62.55
Barbarian 119 76 195 61.02
Samurai 110 94 204 53.92
Archeologist 93 91 184 50.54
Caveman 98 102 200 49.00
Monk 96 100 196 48.97
Ranger 100 108 208 48.07
Knight 81 90 171 47.36
Healer 96 115 211 45.49
Priest 88 116 204 43.13
Wizard 153 206 359 42.61
Rogue 87 121 208 41.82
Tourist 85 137 222 38.28

The selection criteria of this data evaluation is debatable, though, and specifically one entry (the Archeologist) seems extremely misplaced in this ranking. A newer evaluation based on data from 2014-10-24 and based on a different statistical approach can be found at [1] for comparison.

Role categories

Many players mentally group roles into categories based on typical style of play.

Valkyries, Barbarians, and Samurai specialize in close-quarters combat and rely on strong armor and powerful weapons. This style of play tends to be easier for less experienced players. Knights also fit into this category, but can be much more effective using a very different style based on their ability to #ride their starting pony. Cave(wo)men are essentially weaker versions of Barbarians. An Archeologist who finds a dwarvish mattock and some decent armor can do pretty well as a melee fighter.

Roles that specialize in spellcasting include Wizards, Priests, Monks, and Healers. Using spells effectively adds a new dimension to game strategy, requiring the player to keep track of available Power and to understand the advantages and limitations of the specific spells available, which raises the difficulty level for new players. However, the tremendous power of many spells (as well as other advantages of these roles, such as the Priest's ability to BUC-identify) can be very useful.

Rogues, Rangers, and Tourists are best suited to focusing on ranged weapons, at least in the early game. Success often depends on patience and cunning, as well as an understanding of the power of Elbereth.

See also

External links