Wand of death

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Name death
Appearance random
Abundance 0.5%
Base price 500 zm
Weight 7
Type ray
Maximum charges 8
Spell finger of death
Monster use May be used offensively by monsters.

A wand of death is a type of wand that appears in Nethack, and is among the most powerful types present.


The wand of death is one of the rarest wands, making up only 0.5% of randomly generated wands.

Orcus is always generated with a wand of death.

Monsters with a difficulty rating of 8 or more that are eligible for an offensive item have a 135 chance of receiving a wand of death.


Zapping the wand of death in any direction fires a ray of death magic, similar to the finger of death, that instantly kills almost any monster it hits in its path, including the player character. As with all ray-type wands, it can rebound, and there is a chance that it will miss.

Death, major demons, nonliving monsters, and monsters with player-type magic resistance or reflection are resistant to death magic and completely unaffected; Death in particular will actually be healed and become stronger. Conversely, Pestilence and Famine are still susceptible.

Zapping a wand of death directly at yourself results in an instadeath, even if you have magic resistance or reflection, unless you are polymorphed into any of the aforementioned unaffected monsters.

Applying the wand will break it, resulting in a standard magical explosion that deals a flat 16 damage for each remaining charge; although referred to as a "death field" in the associated message, magic resistance is not necessary to survive this explosion. See breaking wands for details.


For the guaranteed wand from Orcus, see Orcus#Strategy.

The fabled Gnome With the Wand of Death is one of the major sources of YASD; while an actual GWTWOD is very much an outlier scenario, it represents the much more likely possibility that any intelligent monster may find a wand that could end your game (to speak nothing of a wand of death specifically). It may be ideal to snag whatever wands you see as soon as possible, if only to keep them out of other monsters' hands; if an early wand discovery happens to be a wand of death, it should be saved only for immediate emergencies where the only alternative to not using a precious charge is dying. Be especially careful of rebounds and monsters with reflection if you lack reflection or magic resistance yourself, particularly if you bring one to Sokoban.

Identifying a wand of death is not too difficult: engraving with the wand of death provides the same message as the wand of sleep, but the latter is much more common. Zapping either wand will formally identify it, but beware of bouncing rays: even a sleep ray can prove fatal in the wrong circumstances, to say nothing of a death ray. The wand of death also has a base cost of 500 zm, only shared with the wand of wishing. Identifying one in the possession of a monster is much more difficult for obvious reasons—if you learn that a monster has a wand of death without having been instantly killed by it, beware of bouncing rays and consider using an escape item unless you have reflection or magic resistance.

Having reflection in particular tends to trivialize most of the wand's danger; if the reflected ray kills the user, you can then pick it up to preserve the remaining charges. Pacifists with magic resistance or reflection may sometimes want to give a wand of death to a particularly dangerous monster in order to have them kill themselves with the rebounded/reflected ray—this is one of the pacifistic strategies for dealing with Medusa, though she must be blinded first as killing her via reflection breaks the conduct.

The wand of death is often employed in the late game to kill the Wizard of Yendor, both during the initial meeting and every reappearance after; this is done to minimize the risk of him stealing quest artifacts, especially ones that provide magic resistance. Make sure that @ isn't a summoned Elvenking before taking your shot!


The wand of death appears in Hack 1.21 and Hack for PDP-11, which are based on Jay Fenlason's Hack, and is also included in the initial item list for Hack 1.0.


The bugs on the floor stop moving!
You engraved with a wand of sleep or a wand of death.
You irradiate yourself with pure energy!
You die.
You zapped a wand of death directly at yourself.[1]
The wand shoots an apparently harmless beam at you.
As above, but you are polymorphed into a form immune to death rays.



In SLASH'EM, various monsters have death resistance, which prevents them from dying immediately if hit by the wand, though they will still take damage. This includes a few monsters that would otherwise make enticing targets for a wand of death, such as the minotaur, forcing you to dispose of them through an alternate means.

A wand of death is always generated in the Spider Caves.


In SporkHack, death rays from the wand and other sources will still cause damage and reduce your maximum hit points if you have magic resistance or reflection. If you have both properties, the damage and maximum HP loss are dramatically reduced.


In dNetHack, metroids that are hit by death rays will not only be unaffected, but use the energy to divide or bud - if you are hit by a death ray while polymorphed into a metroid, you are instead healed for 3d10 HP.

The Wand of Orcus is an artifact huge-sized wand of death that Orcus himself always generates with. It uses the mace skill when wielded as a melee weapon and has +1d20 to-hit, and on hit it deals +1d12 damage and drains one level from non-drain resistant targets. The Wand of Orcus is also bloodthirsty, with a base 14 chance of passively attacking adjacent monsters each turn. As a wand, it can be charged indefinitely and cannot be wrested or broken - invoking the Wand allows it to be zapped as a wand of death without consuming a charge.


In SpliceHack, the wand of wonder is capable of replicating the effects of a wand of death.


In EvilHack, wands of death function similarly to SporkHack, and additionally can only be recharged once.

Orcus does not generate with a wand of death, instead using the unique artifact Wand of Orcus (which his guaranteed wand in NetHack represents).


In addition to SLASH'EM details, the Gnome King's Apiary variant of Mines' End has a guaranteed wand of a death in a small 2x2 area that is only accessible by phasing and is guarded by four hostile air elementals.


In Hack'EM, wands of death function as in EvilHack, and the wand of wonder is capable of replicating the effects of a wand of death as in SpliceHack.


  1. src/zap.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 2458: This hard-coded message ("You die.") is different than the standard "You die..."