Holding attack

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A holding attack prevents the player from moving away from a monster. If you try to move away, you waste that turn and get the message "You cannot escape from the <monster>!". The special effects do not apply when attacking another monster. There are three types of holding attacks:

Grabbing attack

The grabbing attack is most famously possessed by owlbears. This is reflected by the messages "<monster> grabs you!" or "You are being crushed.". In the case of rope golems, the message is "You are being choked.". Apart from the inability to move (and extra damage from being crushed) there are no additional ill effects.

The grabbing attack will connect if the monster's previous two attacks both hit, or always if the monster is already holding you. It is impossible for the initial grabbing attack to succeed if you are wearing a non-cursed oilskin cloak or if your outermost item is greased; this is part of the reason why items of armor are largely wished for greased. No damage is done if the initial grabbing attack is deflected by grease. Bear in mind that grease has a 50% chance of disappearing with each grabbing attack it deflects.

The following monsters possess a grabbing attack:

Drowning attack

The drowning attack is a two-move instadeath possessed by some sea monsters, which is deadly even to high level characters. It occurs when the player is held by a monster, and pulled into a moat or pool, effectively causing death by drowning. Uncursed or blessed oilskin cloaks and greased outermost shirt, suit, or cloak will prevent drowning attacks just like they do grabbing attacks, though just as with grabbing attacks, the grease has a 50% chance of disappearing.

Most of the time the monster "brushes against your leg", but there is a 1 in 10 chance that instead the monster "swings itself around you!". Pythons are an exception to this rule, as they possess both a drowning attack and a regular crushing hug. The crushing hug has different success chances than the drowning attack and does not produce the "swings itself around you" message, however the python is still able to drown you regardless of how it is holding you.

Magic cancellation does not protect against the drowning attack, nor does polymorphing into a large monster. Cancelling the monster will prevent the initial holding attack but not the fatal drowning after you have already been grabbed. Having good AC may cause the drowning attack to miss even if you have already been grabbed, but this should never be relied upon. In SLASH'EM, free action gives an additional chance of shaking off the initial grabbing attack based on your luck.

If a monster with a drowning attack grabs you over water and you do not possess magical breathing, you usually have only one turn to escape death by drowning (except if the monster is a kraken, which is very slow and will not get its next attack for at least three turns). On this turn, you can:

  • Engrave Elbereth, if you are on land (couatl ignore Elbereth).
  • Otherwise scare the monster (e.g. mirror, tooled horn, expensive camera)
  • Try to kill the monster in one turn, or put it to sleep (this can be risky unless the method is guaranteed, e.g. magic flute, guaranteed hit with already-wielded potion of sleeping)
  • Teleport it away
  • Teleport, Levelport, or Branchport yourself away. (Of course, don't try to teleport on a level that doesn't allow teleports).
  • Freeze or otherwise alter the terrain the monster is on so that it is no longer liquid water. Sea monsters will release you, even if they move into another adjacent water square. Other monsters will simply deal damage.
  • Put on an amulet of magical breathing or polymorph into a monster that doesn't need to breathe. You will still be held by the attacker.
  • If you are levitating in a controlled fashion over dry land, stop levitating and the monster will become startled, releasing you.[1] Starting levitation will not save you.
  • Read an uncursed or blessed scroll of earth, which will turn all the water around you into land. You will still drown reading a cursed scroll as it only drops a boulder on your own head, and does not interrupt the attack coming from the adjacent square. This does not work on the Plane of Water, and has a 10% chance of failure anywhere else, as the boulder may sink without a trace.
  • Tame it with a scroll of taming or spell of charm monster. Most drowning monsters have no MR, but couatl have a 30% chance of resisting, and of course the spell is dependent on your power and casting success rate.
  • Polymorph into a monster with a grabbing attack, such as an owlbear or an eel. You will be silently released, and the monster will not be able to use its drowning attack in the future[2].

The following monsters possess a drowning attack:

Sticky attack

A sticky attack is a silent holding attack that differs from grabbing attacks and drowning attacks because it is preventable by having high magic cancellation. The large and giant mimics use the sticking attack, and they have the additional property of sticking to you if you stumble upon them while they are mimicking an object. Note that you will still stick to the mimic, even if you use a wand of digging to create a hole underneath you.

The following monsters possess a sticky attack:


In Slash'EM Extended, there is only a 33% chance of a drowning attack being fatal. Also in that variant, even if the player is breathless, amphibious or lucky to not get instakilled, every time the holding monster gets a turn the player's entire inventory will become wet. This will blank scrolls, dilute potions, rust and possibly even destroy every rustprone item, and if it is lethe water, the player's items may be disenchanted or transformed into junk. It is therefore advisable to kill the monster quickly or prevent it from attacking, even as an unbreathing character. Having free action also helps.


This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.0.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.4.3. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-343}} tag to {{nethack-360}} or {{noversion}} as appropriate.