The Silver Key

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(   The Silver Key   File:Universal key.png
Base item universal key
When carried
When applied
  • none
When invoked
Base price 5000 zm
Weight 3

The Silver Key is an artifact that appears in dNetHack, notdNetHack and notnotdNetHack. It is neutral, and its base item is a universal key.


The Silver Key is not randomly generated and cannot be wished for, though it can be left in bones.

The Silver Key is normally generated on the lowest floor of the Neutral Quest, where it is randomly placed within one of the temple complexes in R'lyeh - a Binder will instead encounter The Hand-Mirror of Cthylla in its place.


While carried, The Silver Key confers polymorph control, teleport control and faster energy regeneration, and invoking The Silver Key allows the character to branchport; invoking the Key on any of the altars to Yog-Sothoth in R'lyeh will teach the seal for Yog-Sothoth. Picking up the Silver Key for the first time lifts the restriction on level teleporting within Quest branches that limits the character to one level above or below their current level.

The Silver Key can be used in place of the Bell of Opening to perform the invocation by wielding it while reading the Book of the Dead, and so it is made indestructible and cannot be placed in a container.


Retrieving The Silver Key

The temple complexes of R'lyeh where The Silver Key can be housed are rife with perilous and highly dangerous encounters, even by the already-dangerous standards of the deep Neutral Quest: The Great Cthulhu resides in one of the temple complexes, and the Key may even be placed near him; there are also various highly-dangerous Lovecraftian monsters and other nasties that are scattered around the temple altars, such as shoggoths and star spawn. Players typically do not venture into the Lost Cities until they are ready to go all the way to R'lyeh.

With all this in mind, a character capable of making it to R'lyeh is likely capable of retrieving The Silver Key, and the Key's slotless properties usually make it worth their time to do so: even if the Key is placed next to Cthulhu, it can still be recovered as long as they are cautious, since he can always be sensed from a distance as "an unknown monster causing you dread", regardless of if the character has warning. Merely seeing the Great Cthulhu lowers a character's current and maximum wisdom by 1d10 points, preventing any form of restore ability from repairing the damage - characters should extinguish any light sources, and either remain at least two squares away from him or else blind themselves. Luckily, he is generated asleep and is very slow, making it possible to grab the Key and escape without confronting him. Once The Silver Key is obtained, it is common to immediately invoke it and branchport out of the Neutral Quest, especially if Cthulhu is awake.

Using the Silver Key

The Silver Key's slotless teleport control and polymorph control make teleporting to get around and across the dungeon trivial, also offering a convenient and well-protected means of quick escape in perilous situations, and makes polyself much less of a hassle. Clockwork automaton, incantifier and vampire characters in particular will appreciate slotless teleport control due to their inability to eat corpses, which makes the property annoying at best to procure. Branchporting can also be used to deal with the highly dangerous demon lords and princes encountered in Gehennom.

The Silver Key also offers a means of completing the invocation for characters that have been locked out of their role's Quest.


The Silver Key is derived from a short story of the same name by American writer H.P. Lovecraft, written in 1926 and first published in the January 1929 issue of Weird Tales. "The Silver Key" is a continuation of "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", and is followed by a sequel, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", that was co-written with E. Hoffmann Price. The Silver Key's properties as an artifact are somewhat based on the qualities of the key displayed in the story.

The story features a narrator relating the tale of Randolph Carter, the protagonist and a recurring character in Lovecraft's stories, as he discovers that he is slowly losing his ability to dream of fantastic places and beings as he did in his youth: Randolph believes that his dreams reveal missing truths regarding the purpose of humans and the universe, and finds himself becoming more acclimated to the mundane beliefs of everyday, waking 'real life' as he ages. Still not certain which is "truer", Randolph sets out to determine whether the waking ideas of man are superior to his dreams, passing through several unsatisfying philosophical stances before he eventually becomes discouraged and goes into seclusion.

After some time, Randolph's dreams gradually begin to regain their fantastic qualities, and during one of these dreams, his long-dead grandfather tells him of a silver key in his attic, inscribed with mysterious arabesque symbols - Randolph finds the key there and takes it with him on a visit to his boyhood home in the backwoods of northeastern Massachusetts, where he enters a mysterious cave that he used to play in and is returned to his childhood as a ten-year-old boy, causing his adult self to disappear from his normal time and giving his younger self the ability to glimpse events in the future. The narrator finishes the story with the expectation that he will meet Randolph in one of his own dreams, mentioning a dream-city similar to the one Randolph dreamed of, and desires to look at the key in hopes of seeing the mysteries of the cosmos within its symbols.

Encyclopedia entry

But the key-Carter sent me a photograph of that. Its curious
arabesques were not letters, but seem to have belonged to the
same culture-tradition as the hieroglyphs on the parchment.
Carter always spoke of being on the point of solving the
mystery, though he never gave details. Once he grew almost
poetic about the whole business. That antique Silver Key, he
said, would unlock the successive doors that bar our free
march down the mighty corridors of space and time to the very
Border which no man has crossed since Shaddad with his
terrific genius built and concealed in the sands of Arabia
Petraea the prodigious domes and uncounted minarets of
thousand-pillared Irem.
[ Through the Gates of the Silver Key,
H.P. Lovecraft ]