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Moats, pools and swamps, }, are bodies of water.

Entering a water square without any precautions risks water damage to your items ("You sink like a rock!"). If there is a floor tile next to the water (with no monster on it), you will try to climb out safely[1]; otherwise you can drown. If your encumbrance status is at least stressed, you will automatically drop some of your gear into the water to lose enough weight to be able to climb out and avoid drowning.[2] However, you might not be able to drop worn armor or a cursed loadstone in time to avoid drowning.[3]

Water can be found at Fort Ludios, the Castle, the Wizard of Yendor's room, Juiblex's and Medusa's level, and after digging down on a fountain. See below for a complete list.

Many sea monsters live in water areas. They will try to grab you and drown you. To avoid this, you should detect and evade the relatively slow eels, or wear an oilskin cloak or greased armor. If you can detect the sea monsters from afar, you may kill them with some missiles or polearms. In case this is not an option, you should always have some escape items in your inventory.

Destroying water[edit]

Boil it away[edit]

Water can be evaporated with a wand of fire, fire horn, potion of oil, or the fireball spell. You can also polyself into or exploit nearby red dragons and red nagas whose breath attacks can evaporate water. Only water in pools can be evaporated: see below.

Some water evaporates.
Something evaporated a water tile.

Freeze it solid[edit]

Water can be frozen into ice with a wand of cold, frost horn, or the cone of cold spell. You can also polyself into or exploit nearby silver and white dragons and winter wolves whose breath attacks can freeze water. Beware of red nagas and red dragons which can melt the ice.

The Amulet of Yendor and invocation items will appear on top of the newly-created ice. For other items, dig a pit in the resulting ice to retrieve the objects. Beware the pit filling back up from adjoining non-frozen water - see the "moat vs pool" section.

The water freezes.
Something froze a water tile.

Fill it in[edit]

Use a boulder to fill up the tile, making it solid ground. This has a 90% chance of success, and always consumes the boulder.

Just as when the water freezes, the amulet and invocation items float, while others will need to be dug out.

You push the boulder into the water.
You pushed a boulder onto a water tile.
Now you can cross it!
The water tile was filled in.
It sinks without a trace!
The water tile was not filled in. This happens 10% of the time.
There is a large splash as the boulder fills the water.
A boulder generated by scroll of earth or thrown landed directly on a water tile and filled it in.
There is a large splash as the boulder falls into the water. It sinks without a trace!
As above, but the boulder failed to fill in the water tile.

Getting across water[edit]

Water squares can be passed in several ways. These include (roughly in order of usefulness and desirability):

  • Levitate over the water.
  • Wear water walking boots and walk over them.
  • Jump over the water. There need to be closely spaced islands for this method to work (this is the case, for example, on Medusa's Island.
  • Teleport to the other side of the water. This is only occasionally helpful, as most bodies of water are on no-teleport levels.
  • Fill in the water using boulders, perhaps from a scroll of earth.
  • Freeze the water using a wand of cold, the cone of cold spell, or some other means such as a breath attack. Be aware that fire can melt the ice and drown you if you're walking on it
  • Evaporate the water with a wand of fire, the fireball spell, or some other means such as a breath attack. This only works with pools (see "Pool vs. moat vs. water" below).
  • Wear an amulet of magical breathing and walk through the water (your objects will become wet).
  • Saddle and ride a flying or levitating pet. There are no ridable amphibious or floating monsters. A ridable breathless monster would just drown you, if one existed.
  • Polymorph into a flying, levitating, floating, amphibious, or breathless monster.
  • Get punished, pick up your iron ball and throw it over the water, having the ball pull you along. Be careful where the ball lands: if it lands in the water it will pull you down and drown you!
  • Step into the water and hope to climb back up on the correct side (your objects will become wet). You can repeat this process as many times as necessary, but you can only cross a one-tile-wide water barrier this way (this works for the Castle's moat if you have no other means of getting across).

Retrieving items[edit]

Items that have fallen into a pool or moat do not disappear, rather they remain at the bottom. They can be retrieved in one of several ways:

If you use any other method to get above the water and try to pick things up you will fail. ("You cannot dive into the water to pick things up." , or "You can't even see the bottom, let alone pick up something." if breathless and flying/levitating/floating.) This is a generic message and does not reveal if the square actually contains items to retrieve.

Pool vs. moat vs. water[edit]

From the point of view of the source code, there are three types of watery terrain; "WATER" terrain is found only on the Plane of Water, and cannot be altered directly by the player. All other watery terrain is either "POOL" or "MOAT".

Note that NetHack does not necessarily report "MOAT" as "moat"; it may be described as "swamp" (Juiblex's Swamp), "water" (Medusa's Island) or "moat" (any other level)[5].

In most respects, the terrain types "POOL" and "MOAT" behave identically. They cannot be distinguished easily by the hero. However, moats are considered to have considerably more water in them than pools. Their behaviour differs in the following respects:

  • Pools can be evaporated with rays or explosions of fire. Moats cannot.[6]
  • You need three adjacent pools to have a chance of having a pit you dig filled with water. You only require a single adjacent moat square.[7]
  • Pools have a 1/10 chance of containing a kelp frond, while moat squares have a 1/30 chance of containing one.[8]
  • Moat squares are considered contiguous with adjacent moat squares for the purposes of dragging a heavy iron ball. Pools are not.[9]
  • When you die from drowning, moats are reported as "moat"s unless you are on the Medusa's Island level. Otherwise, you drowned in a "pool of water". This means that the MOAT terrain of Juiblex's swamp counts as a "moat" for this death message.[10][11]
  • Water under a drawbridge is always a moat.[12]
  • In wizard mode, you can only wish for pools, not moats (or water).

The easiest way to distinguish the type of water you are dealing with is by where it is:

Encyclopaedia entry[edit]

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.

[ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor
           Coleridge ]


  1. trap.c, line 2902
  2. trap.c, line 2930
  3. trap.c, line 2772
  4. hack.c, line 1858
  5. mkmaze.c, line 1147
  6. zap.c, line 3576
  7. dig.c, line 443
  8. mklev.c, line 850
  9. ball.c, line 564
  10. mhitu.c, line 1233
  11. trap.c, line 2947
  12. dbridge.c, line 171
  13. fountain.c, line 104
  14. mkroom.c, line 446
  15. mklev.c, line 1467