Standard strategy (dNetHack)

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This page is designed as a supplement to the Standard strategy page for vanilla NetHack. It suggests a path through the game that works well for many roles. You may also wish to consult the role difficulty chart.

The Upper Dungeon

  • Thorough exploration of the first dungeon levels can be very helpful - early special rooms are useful, and you don't want to miss the stairs to the Gnomish mines.
    • Obviously, altars are an extremely useful find, but see the altar section below about how to handle them safely.
    • Dilapidated armories are another helpful find. Rust monsters and brown puddings are only dangerous to your armor, so if you find one you should probably strip out of any armor that would be at risk and punch the monsters to death. Any armor out of non-rustable materials like silver, mithril, crystal or metal can be particularly helpful. Especially look out for crystal plate mail, mithril armor, or uneroded gauntlets - which could be orihalcyon gauntlets.
    • If you can hear 'scraping in the distance', there is a magic item vault with either a juggernaut or an id juggernaut on the level. You won't be able to deal with them yet, but they're slow and relatively easy to lure away from the vault if you come back later. You'll need a pick to enter the vault though, and it's recommended to have enough HP to survive an attack routine or two.
  • Roles that are weak in the early game will need to exercise caution and good pet management during this phase. Try to fight newts, grid bugs, and lichens yourself, and enlist your pet's aid for anything tougher. If both you and your pet are next to the same monster, the monster will prefer to target your pet instead of yourself.
  • Pets become full after eating several corpses, so starvation should not be as big a threat in dNetHack as it is in vanilla.

The Gnomish Mines

  • Gnomes and dwarves spawn in large numbers in the mines.
    • This abundance of iron-weapon-wielding foes makes the mines very dangerous to elven, droven, and yuki-onna characters.
    • Weak roles may struggle to kill dwarves safely. However, for roles that don't start with a good starting weapon, dwarvish short swords are relatively good early-on.
    • Large swarms of stronger enemies like dwarves may overwhelm and kill the starting pet. Try to pick them off one by one.
      • Troubadours that can play the lullaby song can clean out the mines much easier.
      • If dwarves are peaceful to you, whether due to alignment or race, you can let your pet kill a few dwarves with little risk.
  • As in vanilla, Minetown is a good early goal. Check the tool shop especially, since it can have candles of invocation as well as magic lamps or magic markers. Izchak will not sell any however.
    • For a price, shopkeepers can identify items for you. They can also be used to price id items for you, just as in vanilla. If you can informally ID a valuable gem, maybe with a touchstone, you can pay a shopkeeper to identify it. It will cost you up to 750 gold, but if it's valuable enough you can resell the gem for a profit. This can be done with your Mine's End haul of gems if you've managed to informally identify any for a large amount of gold and credit. Remember that only general stores purchase gems.
      • In dNetHack, "brilliant blue" gems are "magicite", a valuable gem worth 9999 gold (base selling price). No worthless glass shares this appearance, and it is well-worth spending 750 gold to identify it in a shop.
  • Remember that dwarves drop good armor when killed, so you can probably get some reasonable AC and DR at this point. Look for leather dwarvish cloaks in particular, or mithril dwarvish iron helms for the slight weight decrease and erodeproofing.
  • Like in vanilla, you will definitely want to obtain a digging implement (pick or dwarvish mattock) at this point. Mithril or bone picks or mattocks are extremely light - a mithril mattock is 40 wt, compared to the 60 of an normal iron pick.

Dealing with a Cross-aligned Altar

  • Gods are much quicker to send in minions in dNetHack. This is a fairly common cause of YASD for new players.
    • Minions are roughly level-appropriate, however they can still be tougher than random monsters. Early minions include chaotic crocodiles and lawful Justice Archons, which are very slow, so kiting can be useful. But it's possible to get monsters as strong as water or fire elementals early, or nymphs of various kinds, which can pose a massive threat. Try to do any altar conversion at under experience level 3, where you will almost never get any minions.
    • It's a good idea to have some sort of escape item handy before attempting to convert a cross-aligned altar. If the altar is near enough to the stairs it's likely not worth it though, unless you plan on not coming back to that level for a while.
    • Once you have a digging implement and have explored a few levels below the level with the altar, you can pre-dig a few holes to escape through if things go south. Once the altar is converted, if you care enough you can plug any holes you dug by digging boulders out of the surrounding rock.

Sokoban

  • Like vanilla, the next stop (or first stop, if the mines are too dangerous) is often Sokoban.
  • The Sokoban scrolls of Earth can be extremely important items. Enough so that it is probably best to leave at least one safely in Sokoban, where it won't be destroyed by unlucky fire/water attacks etc.
  • The boulders are replaced with "massive stone crates", which drop food when pushed into the holes, so you can't grab a couple food rations and keep exploring the main dungeon as easily as before.
  • Sokoban uses the standard 3.4.3 levels, so it's possible to tell if you have "bagoban" or "reflectoban" once you reach the final level.
  • Reflection overall is less useful than in vanilla, but can be more important in the midgame if you do not have a source of magic resistance yet. A bag of holding is a must-have, can also be found relatively often without clearing Sokoban if it's not needed yet.

Threading the Midgame Needle

At this point, things get really hairy. If you got lucky with random loot, you may already have magic resistance, reflection, and a decent set of other resistances. If not, you are now at the part of the game where spellcasters and elemental enemies become increasingly common, but you are still wide open to their attacks.

Dealing with an early Big Room

If you are even more unlucky, you are now blocked from descending farther into the dungeon by the Big Room level.

  • Strategy A: Use a Scroll of Earth from Sokoban to control line-of-sight and protect your flanks. Be careful not to block your escape. Either use a blessed scroll, have a pickaxe handy to break the center boulder, or leave your whole inventory on the level above so that you can squeeze back onto the center square after pushing aside one boulder. Make sure you don't use a cursed scroll of earth.
  • Strategy B: Sprint and pray (and sprint). Any successful prayer in dNetHack scares all monsters on the level. If you can see the next staircase, and can pray successfully, you can use your prayer to scare all the monsters then sprint to the staircase. For maximum safety, wait as long as you safely can before you pray. Remember that since the level is not clear then you're blocked from coming back up until you can deal with it.
  • Don't get surrounded on the upstair. It might sound like a good idea, but every time you go down the staircase you'll get hit up to eight times.

Law Quest: Get teleportitis and teleport control

Tengu are are possible spawns in the first section of the Law Quest, with the first cavernous level being the most likely. If you have the food and patience, it's almost always worthwhile to hang out there until you have both intrinsics. This allows you to safely clear large portions of the neutral and chaos quests, as well as your own quest.

Chaos Quest: Snag the loot

There are three possible Chaos Quest branches.

The Temple of Chaos

The Temple of Chaos ("chaos1") is the original chaos branch, and has artifacts that grant slotless extrinsic fire resistance, cold resistance, shock resistance, half physical damage, and magic resistance. It also has a runesword on the first level that has a chance to become Stormbringer. However, it can be exceedingly difficult without resistances - to collect each artifact you must kill a unique themed Fiend. They have large health pools (800+) and hit hard. Defeating each fiend will allow you to pick up the elemental crystals located at the beginning of the quest. Overall, it is probably the worst Chaos quest for a weak player in the mid-game, since there's really no loot you can grab easily.

This branch has two easily accessed altars, if the RNG was not kind enough to provide one in the upper dungeon. It also allows teleporting on all levels, so you can use your teleportitis/teleport control combo to skip many of the levels (notably, Lich & Kary's levels cannot be skipped due to the downstair locations). The second alignment key is located somewhere on Lich, the Fiend of Earth's level, and the third one is dropped from Chaos.

Mithardir

Mithardir ("chaos2") is the second possible branch. It is primarily a desert, followed by a series of catacombs (very tight room and corridor levels). The main loot are consumables with temporary effects called syllables, and the Words of Creation. The words provide slotless flying, waterproofing, and regeneration for all pets. Overall, this quest is mediocre for the average midgame player, since there's no guaranteed sources of magic resistance or the like.

However, the first level has many shops on it. They're special kinds of shop only found on this level, and can include useful items like amulets, armor, and weapons. You can also find "living masks" ("gilled jellyfish" when unidentified), face-slot items that grant magical breathing when worn. If you're lucky, you'll find an artifact weapon or an amulet of reflection/nullify magic that can help you keep moving forward.

Mordor

Mordor ("chaos3") is the third and final possible branch. It is a forest, followed by some dark garrison levels, followed by some dark cavernous levels and finally a tower-like borehole. It is by far the best possible chaos branch for an otherwise stuck midgame player. The forest levels have plenty of rings on them, which can be very useful ones like teleport control or teleport, free action, conflict, sustain ability, and more. Shelob's lair has an assortment completely random items, and will almost always have at least something useful. The main enemies for most of it are elves, mordor orcs, and Coure Eladrin.

The biggest threats in this branch are the Nazgul on the fortress levels, and the Angband orcs on the borehole section. This effectively locks Lungorthin and his artifacts away for now, until you can come back at a much higher level and clear it. Unfortunately, this means you have no guaranteed magic resistance available - but if you're lucky you'll find a solution to that in Shelob's lair.

Lastly, there is a guaranteed lawful altar on the ford level at the end of the forest section. The guardian is a ford guardian, effectively a grove guardian with minor spellcasting. You can expect Noviere Eladrin and the like on attempted conversions, so it's quite possibly very safe to use.

Get Magic Resistance

There are a couple of options for obtaining magic resistance.

The Quest: Defeat the Quest Nemesis

Most Quests contain a Magic Resistance item, either the quest object itself grants magic resistance, or there is some other source of magic resistance nearby. Quest difficulty varies greatly from role to role.

The Chaos Quest: Early loot

If you have the Mordor quest, it's worth clearing up to Shelob's lair to see if you can snag a source of magic resistance from there. Alternatively, you may be able to find a wand of death or similar item that could help you clear the quest.

If you have the Mithardir quest, you should check the shops on the first level, and possibly the first Word of Power (flying can be helpful for some quests, like the Healer quest or the Bard quest).

Law Quest: Get Cloak from the Tower

If you have shock resistance, it's possible to sprint past Axus in the Law Quest - however, you'll likely get drained a couple levels. If you have drain resistance and shock resistance you should be fine. Note that Axus has a passive paralysis attack similarly to floating eyes or other autons but that lasts for much longer, so be careful not to attack him in melee. Sleep resistance may be necessary for getting through the quinions, and a unihorn will be useful to cure stunning brought on by either Axus or his entourage.

If you do kill him, make sure to grab the First Key of Law off his corpse while you're there. Beware, as he will resurrect after a few turns, and any attempt to destroy his corpse will result in his immediate resurrection instead.

For lawful characters, none of this matters as all of the autons should be peaceful if you haven't been sinning.

The Tulani Eladrin at the end of the Tower of Law have cloaks of MR, but you need to be strong enough to kill them, and they are quite tough. They cast elemental spells. Beware them releasing the other Eladrin, you may be able to fight a Tulani, but how about two of them plus a couple other kinds?

There are lots of soldiers in the upper Law Quest, so unless you have reflection you will also be risking sudden death from a wand of death. If you go for the tower and are lawful, it's almost always a good idea to grab the Rod of Seven Parts.

Special Levels

dNetHack adds the Lost Tomb, the Sea, and the Temple of Moloch as single level branches. The downstairs are located anywhere from the Oracle to the Castle, so you may be able to find one early.

The Lost Tomb has a collection of scrolls, spellbooks, and potions mostly, and can provide you with some useful ones occasionally. You may be able to find a scroll of genocide to use reverse genocide with here.

The Temple of Moloch is quite hard to clear properly, but can be trivialized with careful controlled teleportation. You can teleport straight into the locked back room, and remain safe, if you know where to teleport to. This may or may not be useful but it's worth checking if possible. If you don't have controlled teleportation this is not at all recommended - you'll likely be wiped out in a heartbeat by one of the hostile priests of Moloch.

The Sea is the last resort solution, but a reasonable chance at a wish via magic lamp can certainly help you acquire magic resistance. If you have the Sunless Sea or the Sunken City variants, you may have to be very careful - the sharks or deep ones respectively may be too strong for you. The Peanut Island and Paradise Island variants are much easier compared. You'll need a way of either crossing water or lowering a drawbridge intact for the former, and a means of blessed magic mapping for the latter.

Go Deep

Alternatively, you can try to push down the dungeon in pursuit of more loot, with the Castle wand as a backup plan. Use telepathy to scout for hard monsters, and a digging implement to bypass tough rooms.

Dig for Victory

On the other hand, you can make the Castle wand the primary plan instead of the backup plan, and use your digging implement to skip most of the dungeon. See the Digging for victory article for more advice.

Scrounge for Wishes

Quaff every fountain until it dries up, sit on every throne until it disappears, quaff all smoky potions, search high and low for magic lamps. A way of removing curses is useful, if not essential for this.

Reverse Genocide Grey Dragons

There is a guaranteed magic marker in the early part of the Lost Cities, and if you can snag a magic marker you may be able to write one. You're likely better off finding a scroll from somewhere else though, unless you're a Wizard with good odds of writing an unknown scroll.

The Neutral Quest

The Neutral Quest may be the hardest of all the alignment quests. If you don't need the Silver Key, then you can probably get by with only the keys from the Lawful/Chaotic quests.

The Upper Neutral Quest (Outlands rings)

This region is quite variable in difficulty. The basic levels consist of mines-style forests, populated largely by neutral quadrupeds and centaurs. However, neutral spiritual beings (Rilmani and Kamerel) can also generate here. Vampire characters will also need to watch out for Argentum (silver) golems.

It is a good idea to have some form of monster detection before venturing into these levels, so that dangerous monsters can be avoided, and interesting features can be more quickly found. Therefore, it is typically dangerous to enter the Neutral Quest as soon as it is found. However, powerful artifacts can ocasionally be found in the upper quest, so it is a good idea to explore it eventually.

The Lower Neutral Quest (the Lost Cities)

The Neutral Quest spikes in difficulty massively when you get the the beginning of the Lethe Waterway. Lovecraftian monsters start appearing, ranging from the tricky nightgaunts (paralyzing and armor stealing tickle attack) to the deadly edderkops (practically undodgeable poisonous shadow attack, and ranged web-spawning shadow bolts).

Deep and deeper ones may also appear. They are roughly equivalent to the Yendorian army (soldiers and co.), but more difficult. They can swim, and will get stronger the more are slain. They appear in groups, sometimes with a stronger deeper one nearby. Deepest ones are very rare, but a highly formidable threat.

Shoggoths may appear, but this is rare. If one is spotted, your best choice is likely to flee immediately. They are very different from Slash'em shoggoths, with an armor and head sucking attack, in addition to the strong acid touch/passive attacks.

Alhoons

These are powerful monsters, equivalent to master liches. However, being a form of undead mind flayer, they also have the brain-eating int-draining tentacle attack. For the most part, they're identical to master liches. One of these is found on the second level of the Gulf of N'kai, and the second at the temple complex in R'lyeh. They each guard a key of neutrality, the first and second respectively.

Priests of the Unknown God

These monsters are technically hostile, but don't move and can't attack. You can remove artifacts from the game (with the exception of the Anachronaut and Binder quest artifacts, and the Silver Key) by hitting them with it. They will "tug gently" on the artifact, and if you let go it will be removed from the game (along with the priest). If the artifact was a gift, you will anger the god who gave it.

The Temple Complex (R'lyeh)

This area contains the second Alhoon, 2 priests of the unknown god, The Silver Key, and the Great Cthulhu. All of these are scattered around the temple altars, of which there are three. If you make it this far then the Silver Key is absolutely worth grabbing. It grants fast energy regen, in addition to teleport and polymorph control, automatic searching, and branchporting abilities. Even if the Key is placed next to Cthulhu, it can still be recovered as long as the player is careful.

Cthulhu poses his own dangers, see his article for more info. In essence: he will revive infinitely, has a 400 damage melee attack, and merely seeing him drains 1d10 points of wisdom, which can't be recovered with a potion/spell of restore ability. Luckily, he is generated asleep and is very slow, but confronting him is generally a unwise choice. He can always be sensed from a distance as an "unknown creature causing you dread".

Exiting the Neutral Quest

The Neutral Quest is very deep, and levelports will be restricted to 1 level up or down unless the Silver Key is held in open inventory. Because of this, players typically don't venture into the Lost Cities until they are ready to go all the way to R'lyeh. Once the Silver Key is obtained, it is common to immediately invoke it to branchport out of the quest, especially if Cthulhu is awake.

Gehennom: The Abyss and Hells

3 Alignment keys are needed to unlock the doors at the end of the Valley of the Dead. You will have no use for the others (and they're un-baggable), and it's probably best to ditch them. Keeping one co-aligned one for the purposes of unlocking things is possible, but a plain skeleton key will work.

You will go through at least 6 unique demons to get to the vibrating square. These are divided into 6 levels, in the listed order. Each level is chosen from a random list of maps, which is the lair of the listed demon(s). Nessus is always the same map, but the location of the staircase is randomized.

For the vast majority of the demons, you will need practically a full ascension kit. In addition, it may be a good idea to bring an extra set of armor. Dagon in particular can shred your armor, and so can the Elder Priest. If you don't have 20+ cursed potions of gain level, or entirely clear every single level before exiting, you'll need something to get back up with in case anything destroys your armor.

Abyss 1

  • Baphomet is very similar to Yeenoghu. He is not forced, but difficult to avoid.
  • Yeenoghu is the same as vanilla, with a confusion gaze, paralysis claw, and magic missile spell. He is not forced and almost entirely optional.
  • Juiblex has his acid and sickness-based attacks, in addition to a sliming touch. In dNetHack, he will only take 10% of his current health from a wand of digging. He is not forced, but difficult to avoid.
  • Zuggtmoy is similar to Juiblex (minus the engulfing), with a sickness counterattack and corrosion/decaying claws. She is hard to avoid, but not entirely forced.
  • Pale Night is entirely optional, and it's best to leave it that way. It casts strong spells comparable to an arch-lich, and attacking it in melee is a death sentence. It has a reflexive seduction attack, that will likely disintegrate the player's armor and weapons and has a high chance of killing them.

Upper Hell

  • Bael is pretty easy to kill, specializing in melee fire damage. He is entirely optional. His artifact weapon grants extra fire damage and a chance of a fiery explosion on hit.
  • Dispater is a dangerous spellcaster, who can turn the character to stone. Outside of this, he is pretty standard as far as spellcasting monsters go. His artifact weapon gives an extra 1d8 physical to his attacks, and can be used by the player to knock back and tame enemies. Dispater is forced.
  • Mammon is highly dangerous to unprepared characters. His breath attack turns the player and their inventory to gold, which can be cured (in the player's case) with a lizard corpse/acid as standard stoning. His weapon steals items from the target. He also has a wrap attack can can drown the character, if he uses it over the swamp in his lair. He is forced.
  • Fierna and Belial appear together. Fierna does fire damage, and Belial causes clerical spells and has a strong melee. They are both optional. Belial has a strong seduction attack, which he uses against female characters. Even with max int and cha, characters only have about a 1/4-1/3 chance of passing it, and they can take strong damage even if they do.
  • The Chromatic Dragon can appear as the demon of the upper hell sometimes. Her lair is identical to the end level of the Caveman Quest, save the quest artifact. She will drop the Chromatic Dragon scales when killed, which is a nice piece of dragon scale armor.

Abyss 2

  • Orcus is the same as vanilla, but his wand of death is now an artifact. It is basically a standard wand of death, but can be recharged infinitely, never broken or wrested, and gives a free zap at zero charges, if the invocation timer is good. Like vanilla, he is forced.
  • Graz'zt and Malcanthet are very similar, but don't appear together. They each begin with a seduction attempt, Graz'zt against females and Malcanthet against males. If the character passes, they will grant boons. Graz'zt may grant wishes or genocide monsters, and Malcanthet may give increases to AC or damage. Failure is rewarded with harmful equipment or reductions in ability scores. However, they may attack characters of the same gender as them out of spite.
  • The Avatar of Lolth casts summon spiders often, but is more dangerous due to the intrinsic stealing attack it possesses. She prefers to cast spells to melee combat.

Lower Hell

  • Verier and the Liliths appear together, and are optional. Verier is quite simple: he's very slow and has status-effect inflicting claws. However, hurting him causes demons to spawn, and killing him causes a horde to spawn. Daughter Lilith has a electrical trident and theft attack, which can deprieve the character of critical resources. Mother Lilith has a seduction attack similar to Belial, but she uses it against male characters. Finally, Crone Lilith is a powerful spellcaster. They are all optional.
  • Baalzebub has a stunning gaze, and attacks with a silvered fire and electricity blasting long sword. He is forced.
  • Mephistopheles and Baalphegor are a fire and ice team, who are pretty easy to kill if a player has both resistances. Be wary of the ancients of death and ancients of ice on their level, who are powerful in their own right. They are both optional.

Brine Flats (Abyss 3)

  • Dagon is highly dangerous. He has powerful armor shredding attacks, a wrap attack, and a confusing and hallucination inducing gaze. In addition to his high HP, this can destroy important parts of your ascension kit. It's a good idea to have backups of your armor.
  • Demogorgon is by far the most dangerous monster in dNetHack. Most of the standard Demogorgon strategy applies, including the part in big bold capital letters saying "Avoid at all costs." For unknown reasons, he received a buff in dNetHack, and now has armor-shredding claws, which kill you instantly if you are not wearing armor. He has a paralysis and life-draining gaze, a theft attack, and spellcasting abilities. If you see him, you absolutely must blind yourself within a single turn. Otherwise, you're guaranteed to get stun-locked by him. The best option is to sneak through his level, and if you run into him unexpectedly, flee the level immediately. Make sure he is not next to you when you leave, otherwise he'll come with you. He is very fast, so this may be quite hard.
  • Lamashtu is intermediate in power between Dagon and Demogorgon. She has a vampiric bite attack, a touch attack that teleports your armor off your body, a second touch attack that teleports you to a random square on the level, and casts two spells per turn (including illness-inducing filth spells). Should you survive a battle with her, remember to recover your armor (which will be scattered randomly around the level, as a result of having been teleported off your body). As with Demogorgon, the safest course of action is to sneak through her level. However, greater care must be taken, as her level's design makes it easier to be spotted.

Nessus

Nessus is always one level above the vibrating square. It's comprised of 5 rooms, with one in the center and four on the outside. Each room has powerful monsters in them, and three of them (the center and two random other ones) have extra bosses.

The downstair is located in one of the five rooms. Depending on which one, a fight with one of the three bosses may be forced. Daemon and Glasya are in two random outer rooms, and Asmodeus is in the center.

Glasya has an intrinsic stealing ability, in addition to powerful acid attacks. She is fast, and best killed at range. Luckily, she doesn't teleport to meet you. Daemon is much more powerful, being a combination of a death knight and arch-lich. His silver saber deals an extra 1d99 damage against dwarves, humans, and elves, and silver damage vs vampires.

Asmodeus is incredibly powerful, unlike his vanilla iteration. He can quickly kill you if you lack either fire or cold resistance, and if you're not standing on a burned pentagram ward (which limits his damage to around 1/9 of it otherwise). See the main article on him for more details, but it comes down to:

  • Avoid him. He's only forced in 1/5 of games, do anything possible to avoid him.
  • Bribe him if at all possible. He'll always ask for anywhere from 9000 to 9999 gold, no matter how much you have. Make sure Excalibur or The Rod of Seven Parts is not going to anger him.
  • Make sure you have burned a pentagram ward. Similar to Verier, Asmodeus's blood forms demons as he is hurt. As he takes more and more damage, stronger demon types begin to form, starting with manes and working up to Pit Fiends. If the character is standing on a burned pentagram ward, these are not an immediate threat, though the spellcasting pit fiends can be troublesome.
  • His listed AC is -99. Every time you attempt to hit him, a random number between -9 and -99 is chosen for his AC. This means a high portion of attacks against him will miss. In addition, his spell casting list includes Cure Self, so you need to deal at least 10d8 damage every 9 turns or so, to deal lasting damage.

The Elder Priest

The last challenge is the Elder Priest. He has a paralysis gaze, tentacle attacks that will destroy your armor, in addition to clerical spellcasting and quest artifact/invocation items/amulet theft. It's best to kill him with ranged attacks, mainly because of the tentacle attacks. He is always generated with a cloak of magic resistance, which means a wand of death will not work. He is sleep and stoning resistant, though he is not disintegration resistant. Be warned that he will revive after a couple turns, so grabbing the amulet and quaffing a cursed potion of gain level is a good idea.

The Endgame

This is mostly the same as the vanilla endgame. Just remember that the Plane of Water will contain deep(er,est) ones, and the dNetHack Archons are changed slightly. Don't be slowed in the Plane of Air, or the Archons may rapidly finish you off with their silver arrows. Binders and Anachronauts have their own endgame tweaks (or large changes in the Anachronaut case).