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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 not randomly generated, instead appearing in set locations; they are generated peaceful (with exceptions listed below).

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 have two watch captains. Two watchmen will also be generated in the anterooms of the Archaeologist quest home level; two watchmen also sit outside the gates of the Tourist quest home level, and a third hostile watchman can be found in the goal level. A watchman can grow up into a watch captain.

As they are considered mercenaries, they follow the special rules for monster starting inventory detailed in that article.

Angering the watch

While watchmen are usually 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 pick-axe.
  • 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.


While antagonizing the watch is neither necessary nor recommended, there are cases where a player may want to prevent accidentally angering them, or else find a way to snag any desirable items they hold without risking their alignment. Avoiding conflict with the watch can also be difficult while fighting other monsters - a misaimed dagger, stray wand shot, or being stunned by a gnomish wizard can easily land you in serious hot water.

Getting the watch out of your way

If the watchmen are constantly getting in your way, or else simply stand between you and something you plan to try, there are several relatively safe means to get them out of your hair:

  • 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, where you can shake them off and return to Minetown.
  • Get a pet to kill them. A large cat or large dog can kill watchmen fairly easily, and a horse or warhorse even more so. Watch captains are more dangerous, but can still be beaten if you assist the pet with healing spells.

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; this is especially useful if multiple watchmen are after you. 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. Be mindful that bribing watchmen will always fail to pacify 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 offenses.

Fighting watchmen

Watchmen and watch captains are slightly slower than an unburdened player at normal speed, and share similar movement patterns between each other. Watch captains have a higher base level, hit roughly three times as hard, and generally have much better AC, armor and weapons than a standard watchman. The rank-and-file watchmen are relatively easy to kill unless you are low-level, and their inventory is likely to have good filler items such as gloves to complete a set of armor. The watch captains are much harder to kill, and have a 50% chance each of carrying a silver saber or a long sword.

As previously mentioned, if playing a low-level character that has angered the watch, the best thing to do is to run away from Minetown and come back later. If you are fighting off a group of watchmen, the stairs can be used to your advantage - they will pursue you if adjacent, which can be used to isolate them from the others and deal with them one by one. It is also wise to avoid doing anything that will anger all the watchmen and have them surround you.

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 major demon or 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. Alternately, said pets can also be used to kill off the watchmen and procure their armor and weapons without any risk to yourself or your alignment/Luck.


Directly killing watchmen to sacrifice them is not recommended, even if you are a chaotic non-human - angering and killing them results in a huge alignment hit, independent of any additional 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. It is best to let your pet (particularly a non-carnivorous one) handle the job in these cases; if you are chaotic and lack a pet, but are still intent on sacrificing watchmen, it is wise to follow those up with other sacrifices to ensure your alignment is positive afterward, and confirm it through means such as a stethoscope.


Watchmen were introduced in NetHack 3.1.0, along with the branches of the dungeon they appear in.


"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.


Convict patch

In the Convict role patch and variants that incorporate, watchmen will immediately turn hostile and attack a player Convict on sight.


In SLASH'EM, the Mall has four watchmen and three watch captains in the area.

The home level of the Yeoman quest branch also has three watch captains and four watchmen, as well as a watchman corpse named Talbot Edwards.


In UnNetHack, the Town branch also has its own watch patrolling the area.


In EvilHack, the watch is now composed of various racial monsters, as with all mercenaries.


In xNetHack, the watch captain will always have a key, allowing them to open any locked door.

Encyclopedia entry

See the encyclopedia entry for human.