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 or great armor, as it doesn't corrode and thus will be un-eroded. It's likely to be +0 or above too. Crystal plate mail may even be worth ditching the rest of your starting armor, as it lowers your AC massively. A silver saber isn't bad either.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 bellow 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.


  • 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.

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), 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. Instead, bait him out of the central room and use teleport to ditch him.

Alignment Keys

While you're at the Chaos Quest, try to find the Second Key of Chaos, if you can (it's hidden in the Earth Temple). You only need 3 keys total, and that's one of the less dangerous ones. If you can figure out how to get the First Key of Chaos, that's great too.

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 (you will lose a couple of levels doing this unless you also have Drain Resistance). The Tulani at the end have Cloaks of Magic Resistance, but you need to be strong enough to kill them, and they are quite tough. 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 though, so beware. One strategy is to use a Scroll of Antimagic to gain temporary MR while fighting him. However, Antimagic 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 a 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 main 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 smokey potions, search high and low for magic lamps.

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.