They are great! If you haven't tried variants, you might be surprised how easy most of them are to play; they don't require a whole new skillset. In fact, many of them are less frustrating to play than Vanilla, because they give you a yes/no prompt before allowing you to do something foolish.
Here are some fun things you can try if you want to sample a variant!
- did you forget something? well then, press ctrl + c to watch a replay of your most recent actions... WITHOUT LEAVING THE GAME! or, press ctrl + f to search for objects on the floor (or glyphs/features). it searches the whole dungeon for that thing you lost! Dungeonwide search is, as far as i know, completely unique to FIQhack, and extremely helpful.
- as you play, you'll start to notice that the UI is trying to help you, instead of getting in your way. select an item from your inventory to see every possible way you can interact with that item!
- try a monk! thanks to FIQhack's power regen formulas, you can actually use your starting spells regularly!
- Also fun: play a gnome tourist, and try to do the protection racket. Much more fun than doing the racket as a healer! And you'll be pleasantly surprised what a tourist can see in the shops.
- most variants change game balance quite a bit. UN likes to stick pretty closely to vanilla's "balance" (as much as nethack can claim to be any kind of balanced - perhaps "difficulty level" is a more accurate term).
- As such, you can play UN pretty much the same way you'd play vanilla, but you'll find more varied terrain, more useable artifact gifts, and some neat little QoL features tucked here and there in the game.
- While you can't use early wishes (if you get early wishes) to wish for a standard DSM, you'll find that the Black market (UnNetHack) is very well stocked and can supply several of the things you might otherwise have wished for.
- valkyries have intrinsic flying. very convenient, very cool, very fun.
- a sylph healer starts with a magic harp. if you were to say, use a fountain or a smoky potion to wish for a PYEC, then you can get a nice little army of pals to fight for ya!
- Fourk has some of the UI features from fiqhack, including the in-game replay.
- A dwarf anachrononaut can gun down a shopkeeper with just their starting machine gun. Go have fun in minetown! Generally, any anachrononaut will start the game with something fun and powerful: drow have vicious unarmed strikes and some magical powers (press ctrl + f), incantifiers have a lightsaber, elves have reflection, etc...
- If you play other races and roles, especially binders you might have other kinds of supernatural powers, press ctrl + g to check, and ctrl + w to draw a ward. (Wards replace Elbereth in DNH)
- a dragonmaster's starting pet can usually take out most shopkeepers by itself, especially shopkeepers that spawn in early Dungeon floors.
- you can not only play the ever-popular vampires and convicts, but there's some really neat original ideas: angels, infernals, cartomancers, and dancers! And merfolk are just solid, they stand well alongside normal races but have their own nice twists. more info here: Roles_and_races_(SpliceHack)
- note that right now, changelings and lycanthropes are pretty painful to play, but they have big changes coming in the 0.8.0 release.
If you think you have to "master" vanilla first, you're missing out! Suggestion: after you get 1 vanilla win, win 1 game in each variant you're interested in, instead of forcing yourself to win every single vanilla role first. (Due to ascension kit requirements, all vanilla roles play extremely similar anyways!)