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The watchman and watch captain are monsters that appear in NetHack, and are most commonly seen as the peace-keeping Minetown watch. If you #chat with a peaceful watchman, they will complain about their jobs.


Main article: Mercenaries

Watchmen and watch captains are always generated peaceful; they are considered mercenaries, and as such follow the special rules for generation detailed in that article.

Several watchmen and at least one watch captain will be generated in any version of Minetown, with the exception of Orcish Town, where only their corpses will be found; the Bustling Town variant will generate two watch captains. Two watchmen will also be generated in the anterooms of the Archaeologist quest home level. A watchman can grow up into a watch captain.

Angering the watch

While watchmen are always generated peaceful, they can become hostile through a number of player actions. All watchmen and watch captains on the current level will become hostile and try to kill you if you perform any of the following actions:

  • Directly attacking a peaceful watchman, unless the attack kills them in a single hit.
  • Directly attacking a peaceful shopkeeper or stealing from shops.
  • Attacking any peaceful monster in sight of the watchman.[1]
  • Attacking the priest.
  • Cutting down or kicking trees.
  • Destroying or drying up fountains.
  • Digging through walls and razing doors with a wand or spell of digging.
  • Kicking down doors.
  • Improvising with a bugle; as watchmen are mercenaries, this will anger them and any other soldiers present on the level.

The following actions will be interrupted if a watchman sees you, and will result in a warning (with some exceptions), followed by them turning hostile if you continue:

  • Digging through walls or doors with a pickaxe.
  • Dipping into or quaffing from a fountain; this is also signaled by the fountain's flow "reducing to a trickle", even if a watchman is not in sight.
    • However, if you dip for Excalibur and successfully receive it, the fountain will dry up without warning, and the watch will become hostile whether or not they are in sight.
  • Spending multiple turns locking or unlocking doors; however, the watch will not object if the action takes one turn, which is more likely to happen with a skeleton key for non-Rogues. Getting warned will also cause the door to become trapped.
    • This is because NetHack stores the data "the player has been warned about this door" and "this door is booby trapped" in the same piece of memory; the developers made some notes in the code regarding the problem.[2][3]
    • Note that attempting to unlock the door again immediately after will cause them to turn hostile, and unlocking a trapped door will give no warning. However, attempting to #untrap the door instead will not turn the watch hostile even if your attempt sets it off and destroys the door; the watchmen will only check for immediate attempts to pick the lock.

Breaking doors, chopping down trees, and digging through non-shop walls will not anger a watchman if they do not directly witness the act; drying up fountains and attacking priests and shopkeepers will still anger the watch, regardless of whether they are in sight.

Getting the watch out of your way

If you don't want to commit murder but the watchmen are getting in your way, there are several ways to get rid of them:

  • Buy a key from a Minetown shop (if you don't already have one) and use it to lock the watchmen inside some of the empty rooms. They won't see you locking it from inside the door, so as long as there are no other watchmen in sight, this is fairly safe.
  • Lure the watchmen to other levels by having them follow you to an up or down stair. If they are adjacent to you when you use the stairs, they will follow you to the next level, at which point you can lose them in the new level and return to Minetown alone.
  • Get a pet to kill them. A large cat or dog can kill watchmen fairly easily. Watch captains can be more dangerous, but if you have a healing spell or are confident the pet has high hitpoints, it can probably take out the captain too.

Pacifying the watch

If you anger a watchman, you can use a scroll of taming or spell of charm monster, which will pacify watchmen reliably due to their low monster magic resistance (especially if multiple watchmen are after you). However, if this happens as a low-level character, you are probably best off running and coming back later once you can fight them or have a means of pacifying them. As mercenaries, bribing watchmen is possible, but not recommended due to the amount of gold required for it to be reliable in any way; throwing gold at an already peaceful watchman will anger them.

If you can manage it, stealing any (preferably inexpensive) item from a shop and then pacifying the shopkeeper will also pacify any watchmen, regardless of your original offense.

Fighting watchmen

Watchmen and watch captains move at the same speed and share similar movement patterns; watch captains have a higher base level, hit roughly three times as hard, and are likely to have much better AC, armor and weapons than a standard watchman. The watchmen are relatively easy to kill unless you are low-level, and their inventory, while unimpressive, is likely to have some good filler items, such as gloves. The watch captains are much harder to kill, but have a 50% chance of carrying a silver saber. Avoid doing anything that will anger all the watchmen to avoid being surrounded. As previously mentioned, if playing a low-level character, the best to do is to run away from Minetown and come back later.

Pets will often go after the watchmen upon gaining enough levels, and can be used to dispatch them without risking any penalties; however, the watch captain is likely to take out even a high-leveled domestic pet unless they are healed regularly or else polymorphed into a better form (e.g. any dragon). A leash and/or magic whistle is recommended if you wish to stop your lower-leveled pet from constantly attacking watchmen and risking their life.

Killing watchmen to sacrifice them is not recommended, even if you are a chaotic non-human, as angering and killing them gives you a huge alignment hit, independent of any penalties for murder. Early in the game, when you typically reach Minetown, your alignment record cap is low; even without murder penalties, your alignment will take enough of a hit that recovery can be long and tedious at absolute best. If you are intent on doing so, it is wise to sacrifice at the altar until you are sure your alignment is positive, and confirm it through means such as a stethoscope.


"My feet hurt, I've been on them all day!"
"The food's not fit for Orcs!"
"What lousy pay we're getting here!"
You chatted to a peaceful watchman or watch captain.
"Hey, stop picking that lock!"
A watchman saw you taking more than one turn to pick a lock and interrupted you with a warning.
"Halt! You are under arrest!"
You have angered one or more watchmen, and they have turned hostile.

Encyclopedia entry

See the encyclopedia entry for human.


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