Staircase

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A staircase or stairway is represented by either a < or > character, depending on whether the stairs go up or down. A staircase will take you to another dungeon level above or below you. There are also other means of connecting levels: ladders and portals. While ladders mean no difference in use, portals are a magical connection and may be unusable.

Occurrence

Usually there are two staircases per level: one upstairs and one downstairs. Each staircase is accessible in both directions, except the one leading from the Valley of the Dead to the Castle level: there's no downstairs on the castle level, so do not accidentally block all the trapdoors!

On branching levels, there are additional staircases. These are the entrance level to the Gnomish Mines and to Sokoban with one additional staircase. In Gehennom, there are the levels containing the Wizard's Tower which have one or two additional ladders. The vibrating square is actually a hidden down staircase that can only be revealed by performing the invocation ritual.

The bottom levels of the Gnomish Mines, Gehennom and the Quest as well as the top level of Sokoban only contain one staircase, obviously.

One other staircase is very important, and that's the upstairs from level 1. If you don't possess the Amulet of Yendor and climb up these stairs, you escape from the dungeon and lose the game. If you carry the Amulet, you reach the Elemental Planes and start the Endgame. In both cases, you can't return, and you are warned with the message "Beware, there will be no return!"

Mechanics

You go down on a downstairs using the > or go up on an upstairs using the < command to arrive at another dungeon level. You cannot go down while levitating. If you descend a downstairs while burdened, punished, or fumbling, you always fall down the stairs unless you are also flying. If you fall down, you get a small amount of damage, you are removed from your steed, and will petrify you if you are wielding a trice corpse (as either primary or secondary weapon), but does not otherwise harm your inventory.

Items dropped on the down staircase have a chance of falling down the staircase, as well as potentially "disturbing" items already lying there (and causing them to fall down as well).

Strategy

Trap doors

When you find the downstairs, have a peek immediately. This way, if you fall down a trap door, you can find your way up faster. This can be very helpful in the early game, especially in the cavernous and possibly dark Mines, when you don't want to travel down too fast.

Engraving

Staircases are commonly engraved upon, with either a note to the player reminding them of something of importance on the level, or with Elbereth, which the player can stand upon to safely fight an enemy that teleports to the upstairs during combat.

Note that some monsters can follow you up and down stairs: demons, including demon lords and princes will do so. Even low-level demons like imps and homunculi will do so, and because they are also fast, they can be tricky to escape early on if you are not strong enough to fight them. Ghosts will also do so (although they are rarely very dangerous), as well as some other undead creatures. If you engrave Elbereth on the stairs, they cannot follow you.

If you cannot find a staircase to the next level

  • Try moving (or destroying) a boulder. It may cover a staircase.
  • Try searching. Staircases themselves are never hidden, but the rooms containing them may be behind a secret door or hidden corridor square. The screen is more or less full of rooms on every floor of the dungeon, so if you notice that you haven't uncovered rooms on one side of the screen, try looking for a door that might lead that way.
  • Step on every tile that contains an item. Staircases can be hidden under useless items. It is also a good idea to make sure the up staircase is free of items to ease your return trip. If a tile with more than one, but less than enough to produce the "there are several objects here" message, you don't see the stairs message.
  • Kill those harmless jellies and puddings. Frustratingly, they are sometimes stairs-squatting. (If you must attack one of these monsters, watch your health carefully, as their passive counterattack can often prove fatal to low-level characters.)
  • If all else fails, use a pick-axe, wand of digging, or the dig spell to dig > (downward), creating a hole in the ground. You can then search the next dungeon level for the up staircase. It is usually a good idea to locate the up staircase before proceeding further into the dungeon.

History

In Rogue (the predecessor to NetHack) stairs were represented as % (percent sign). Hack started using < (left angle bracket) and > (right angle bracket), like NetHack normally does. In Rogue, there was always one stairway: down if you had not found the Amulet of Yendor, or up if you had found it. Hack and NetHack introduced an innovation where old levels were saved to disk, allowing you to freely travel up and down. Thus, the Rogue level of NetHack in homage to Rogue contains two percent signs.

Dudley's dungeon

In the webcomic Dudley's dungeon, a theory has been proposed by Dogley, that staircases are wormholes going through the magical void between the levels and can be accessed by visiting level 4.5. For more information on this, see Dogley Dimension.

Encyclopedia entry

Up he went -- very quickly at first -- then more slowly -- then
in a little while even more slowly than that -- and finally,
after many minutes of climbing up the endless stairway, one
weary foot was barely able to follow the other. Milo suddenly
realized that with all his effort he was no closer to the top
than when he began, and not a great deal further from the
bottom. But he struggled on for a while longer, until at last,
completely exhausted, he collapsed onto one of the steps.
"I should have known it," he mumbled, resting his tired legs
and filling his lungs with air. "This is just like the line
that goes on forever, and I'll never get there."
"You wouldn't like it much anyway," someone replied gently.
"Infinity is a dreadfully poor place. They can never manage to
make ends meet."

[ The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster ]


Dr. Ray Stantz: Hey, where do those stairs go?
Dr. Peter Venkman: They go up.

[ Ghostbusters, directed by Ivan Reitman,
          written by Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis ]

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