Ward (dNetHack)

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The ward system in dNetHack replaces and expands on the protective powers of Elbereth in vanilla NetHack. Wards are based primarily on character knowledge, rather than player knowledge. They are divided into two main types: engraved wards and magical staves.

The effects of all wards are summarized in this PDF.

Engraved wards

These are the primary type of ward. They are inscribed on the ground, and follow many of the standard rules for engraving.

Learning wards

Wards are learned from spellbooks, scrolls, magic rings, gods, and (sometimes) the ground. Troubadours start the game knowing all the basic wards (Circle of Acheron, Hamsa, Elder Sign, Elder Elemental Eye, Sign of the Scion Queen, Cartouche of the Cat Lord, and Wings of Garuda). Wizards will also start the game knowing all, if any, wards contained on their starting spellbooks.


All spellbooks contain mystic energy corresponding to the spell they teach; this is why they fade after being read too many times. The energy is held in the book by magical wards on the inside covers, and sometimes these wards incorporate symbols that can be used to directly ward off monsters. The symbol used is not dependent on the type of spellbook; two spellbooks of fireball, for instance, may be warded by two different wards. To study a spellbook's ward, press r to bring up the read prompt, select the desired spellbook, and choose s, study ward. Studying a ward is much like reading a spellbook; however, the character receives a +10 (+50%) bonus to their reading skill, making failures much less likely. If the character does fail to safely study the ward, the book is treated as one level lower when determining the consequences.

Characters who begin the game with spellbooks also begin the game knowing the wards contained within. Unlike randomly generated spellbooks, spellbooks owned by starting characters are guaranteed to contain useful wards.


Scrolls of [ward] (e.g. scroll of pentagram, scroll of elder sign) will teach the character the appropriate ward when read, as well as engrave the ward on the ground under the character.


Many types of rings are eligible to be generated with decorative engravings. 33% of eligible rings are generated with engravings; of these, 1/4 are engraved with functional wards. Engraved rings can be read using r, or via the apply menu (a, choose ., 'self' when prompted for a direction).

Engraved rings can be used to directly ward off adjacent monsters by applying a them in the monsters direction.


A character may also learn wards by finding an intact copy engraved on the ground. Outside of bones files, this is only important in one or two cases. Zapping a wand of polymorph at a drawing may also generate a random ward, albeit with low probability.


Finally, a character may be granted knowledge of wards by their god, as a sign of divine favor.

Using wards

Drawing wards

If your character knows any of these warding signs, you will be asked if you wish to engrave a warding sign whenever you engrave. You may also press ctrl + w to directly engrave a warding sign, skipping the initial prompt.

Each square can contain up to one type of ward in addition to a normal text engraving. Wards and engravings may be engraved by different methods (ie, you can have a burned-in ward and a dust-engraved message in the same square). Altering the ward or the text engraving obscures both, making you vulnerable until you finish the alteration.

The amount of time it takes to engrave a ward is dependent on the number of strokes required to draw it. One stroke takes the same time as one character in a text engraving. The number of strokes required to draw a given ward can be learned from the encyclopedia.

Wards can be reinforced up to a limit determined by the type of ward (typically seven). This works much the same way as engraving 'Elbereth' multiple times: if one of the wards gets scuffed, you will still be protected. If you begin drawing a ward on a square already containing a ward, you will be asked if you want to reinforce the existing ward or wipe it out and draw a different ward. Some wards will gain additional powers if reinforced.

Wards are degraded in a slightly different way than text engravings. A ward may be 10% degraded, 25% degraded, or 50% degraded. If you choose to reinforce a ward in a square that contains degraded copies of the ward, you will repair one of the most-complete degraded copies rather than engraving a new ward from scratch.

Presenting rings

You can display the symbol on an engraved ring to an adjacent monster by applying the ring toward the monster. If the ring is cursed, there is a 3/4 chance the engraving will be "fogged over", having no effect.

Icelandic magical staves

Magical staves are a special type of ward that is carved into a piece of wood rather than engraved on the ground. They are learned in the same way that regular wards are learned. Troubadours start knowing the Toustefna and Deprun staves.

Learning staves

Magical staves may be found in spellbooks or already carved on weapons

Dwarf characters

Dwarf characters begin the game knowing all magical staves, and start with a knife (to carve with) and a club (to carve on).


Sometimes a spellbook is warded with a stave rather than a warding sign.


A weapon with a stave carved into it can be read with the read command (r). Such weapons may be found in bones files, wished for, or found randomly in the dungeon.

Using staves

To use a stave, carve it into a wooden weapon and drop the weapon at your feet (though this may seem counter-intuitive, it approximates the historical use of these signs better than just whacking your target with the weapon).

Some staves grant special effects when a carved weapon is wielded.

Carving a stave

To carve a stave, apply any weapon that uses the knife or dagger skills. You will then be prompted to select the stave you wish to carve (or told that you don't know any staves). Next you will be prompted to select a wooden weapon to carve it into (or told that you don't have anything suitable for carving). If you choose to re-carve a weapon that already has a stave, you will chip off the existing stave before carving the new one. This process damages the weapon, and adds a turn to the time required to carve the stave.

List of wards

The following pages list the properties of all the wards and staves. Note that they are spoilers, as these properties may be learned in-game via experimentation and hearing true rumors.

Written wards

Drawn wards

Special cases

Magical staves

Legendary drawn wards

Drawing a seal

Seals are intimately associated with the Binder role, and much less important for everyone else. Drawing seals is done with ctrl + e or the extended command #seal. A square can contain a ward or a seal, but not both.