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 is critical; you need to gather all the resources you can, and you don't want to miss the stairs to the Gnomish mines.
    • Obviously, altars are an extremely important find, but see the altar section below about how to handle them.
    • Dilapidated armories are another important 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. You can get some great silver/crystal weapons or armor, as it doesn't erode. If you find crystal plate mail, consider ditching the rest of your armor to carry it. A silver saber can also be a useful early-game weapon, or even just to hang on to.
  • 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 target your pet in preference to you.
  • 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 and droven characters.
    • Weak roles will be unable to kill dwarves unless they have gained several levels.
    • The large numbers weapon-wielding enemies can overwhelm and kill the starting pet. Unless you exercise extreme caution and excellent pet management, your starting pet will probably die at this point.
      • Exception: Troubadours that can play the lullaby song can clean out the mines with little risk to their pet.
      • Exception: 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, assuming that the above notes don't apply.
    • Note that, 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. 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.
  • Also as in vanilla, dwarves drop good armor when killed, so you can probably make your AC negative at this point.
  • Also as in vanilla, you want to obtain a digging implement (pick or dwarvish mattock) at this point.

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. Kiting is a viable strategy to deal with them.
    • Therefore, it is a good idea to have some sort of escape item handy before attempting to convert a cross-aligned altar.
    • Once you have a digging implement and have explored a few levels below the level with the altar, you can pre-dig few holes to escape through if things go south. Once the altar is converted, you can plug any holes you dug by digging boulders out of the surrounding rock.

Sokoban

  • As in vanilla, the next stop (or first stop, if the mines are too dangerous) should probably be 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.

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: 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
  • 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 abundant on the first level of the Law Quest. Hang out there until you have both of these intrinsics.

Chaos Quest: Altar and Energy Resistances

There are two easily accessed altars on the Chaos Quest, if the RNG was not kind enough to provide one in the upper dungeon. The Chaos Quest also allows teleport, so you can use your teleportitis/teleport control combo to skip the dangerous upper stories. As long as you are strong enough to kill the four fiends (not a given for weak roles, but quite easy for roles like barbarians), you will be able to get their corresponding energy resistances from the Crystals at the end of the Quest. Do not kill the second Garland at the end of the quest; if you don't have Magic and elemental resistances, you aren't strong enough to fight Chaos. He's generated asleep, so you can likely just ignore him. Make sure you've got a pick/wand of striking to break the crystals out out

Alignment Keys

While you're at the Chaos Quest, try to find the Second Key of Chaos, which is hidden in the Earth Temple. You only need 3 keys total, and that's one of the less dangerous ones. The First Key of Chaos is very well hidden, but retrieving it would be useful. Remember, you only need 3 keys. You can attempt to get more (or all nine!), but only three are essential.

Get Magic Resistance

At this point, if the RNG still hasn't provided you with MR, you will need to claim one of the guaranteed sources of magic resistance. Unfortunately, they are all well-guarded.

The Quest: Defeat the Quest Nemesis

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

Law Quest: Get Cloak from the Tower

Once you have your energy resistances, sprint past Axus in the Law Quest. However, not all roles will easily be able to get past him, so this is only an option for some. He has a passive paralysis gaze, in addition to a level-draining touch. A unihorn will be useful to cure stunning brought on by either him or his entourage. He's on the upstairs, so you'll need to kill him to get by. If you do, make sure to grab the Key while you're there.

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?

Also, 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.

Chaos Quest: Defeat Chaos

Once you have defeated Chaos, you will be able to pick up the Black Crystal, which grants slotless MR. Unfortunately, Chaos himself is a powerful spellcaster, although many of his spells are elemental in nature, and therefore blocked by energy resistances. He can summon high-level chaotic & and cast destroy armor, so beware. One strategy is to use a Scroll of Antimagic to gain temporary MR while fighting him. However, this prevents you from casting spells of your own, so not all roles will be able to do this. Antimagic scrolls occur randomly in the dungeon, and several antimagic scrolls can be found after defeating Vlad in the Windowless Tower.

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

The Neutral Quest can help with this, as spell golems are more abundant there and drop random scrolls, and there is a guaranteed magic marker.

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 early neutral quest is pretty simple. Vampire characters may need to watch out for the Argentum (silver) Golems, but the rest of the monsters (primarily centaurs and golems) are a non-issue. Watch out for spell golems, who cast spells.

However, it spikes in difficulty massively when you get the the beginning of the Gulf of N'kai. 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

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, and the key is not located too close to Cthulhu, then it's absolutely worth grabbing. It grants fast energy regen, in addition to tele and poly control, automatic searching, and branchporting abilities.

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".

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. 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.

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).