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-stage instadeath, which is deadly even to high level characters. It occurs when the player is first held by a monster, and then pulled into a moat or pool, effectively causing death by drowning.

The following monsters possess a drowning attack:

At first stage, the monster tries to get hold of you. Even if the attack formally succeeds (that is, passes through your AC), 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.

After the monster got hold on you, next time it's attack succeeds, it will drown you, thus killing you. This may take as little as one turn, but typically takes many turns.

The chance for an attack to succeed depends mainly on your armor class, and on monster's level, and slightly decreased if you are invisible. See Armor class#How it works for more information, and Source:NetHack_3.6.0/src/monst.c for monster data. Note that for krakens, pythons, and couatls, the holding attack succeed if two previous attacks succeeded. Krakens and pythons are slow, so they attack on average once in 3 turns. Still, in 3.6.0., even they are sometimes able to attack after 2 turns from the previous attack, or even at the next turn, albeit very rarely.[1]

The monster would drown you only if it is in, or above, a water.

Drawning kills you, but does not wet your stuff.

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.

Wearing an amulet of magical breathing or polymorphing into swimming monster will prevent all drowning attacks, but not the initial grabbing attack.[2]

Uncursed or blessed oilskin cloaks and greased outermost shirt, suit, or cloak will prevent grabbing attacks, though just as with grabbing attacks, the grease has a 50% chance of disappearing. In case you are grabbed already, it is too late to wear oilskin cloak or greased armor, as this would not release you or prevent you from being drowned.[3]

Amulet of life saving is not as useful as it seems. It would save your life, but you are still grabbed, and will be drowned again next time the attack succeeds.

If a monster with a drowning attack grabs you over water and you do not possess magical breathing, 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.[4] 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[5].


If you can, always have your outmost cloak, body armor, or shirt greased. This protects you against a drowning attack. Grease your cloak (or body armor, if you don't wear a cloak) as soon as you find a can of grease.

If you wear an oilskin cloak, there is no need to grease it.

One way to almost completely protect yourself against the attack is to blessed-genocide all ';' monsters, and also genocide pythons (which are 'S'). Some players do it as soon as possible, others do it on the Water Plane, to make the whole level clean. However, couatls also can drown the player, and cannot be genocided.

When fighting water creatures, you may have a blessed scroll of genocide (or uncursed one if it is a python) in your main inventory, and read it if grabbed. Again, this doesn't help against couatls which are resistant to genocide.

Another good possibility is having a wand of teleportation ready, and teleporting away the monster when grabbed. This works even on no-teleport planes. Electric eels can destroy the wand, but it is probably a risk you should take.

You may also have a noncursed magic flute, which will put all nearby monsters to sleep, or noncursed scroll of taming, albeit couatls have 30% chance to resist.

If you fight from the ground, your additional tools when grabbed are Elbereth (if you are neither levitating nor in Gehennom or Plane of Water), or scroll of scare monster. Also, you can wear non-cursed ring of levitation before the fight and remove it when grabbed. However, electric eels sometimes destroy the ring, especially if you have low magic cancellation.

If you fight at a level where teleportation is permitted, you can use scroll of teleportation, and read it when grabbed, or teleport yourself with a wand of teleportation.

A non-cursed scroll of earth has 10% chance of failure, but works everywhere except the Plane of Water.

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.