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Watchmen and watch captains are the peacekeepers of Minetown. They are always generated peaceful, but can become hostile through a number of player actions.

There is no difference in AI between watchmen and watch captains, but watch captains have a higher base level and hit over twice as hard. A watchman can grow up into a watch captain. If you chat with a peaceful watchman they may say such things as "My feet hurt, I've been on them all day!", "The food's not fit for Orcs!", and "What lousy pay we're getting here!"


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 ("Halt! You are under arrest!"). This message is somewhat deceiving, as the last thing a player should do in this situation is halt—the best thing for a low-level character to do is to run away from Minetown and come back later.

  • Locking or unlocking doors. The watch will not object if you finish (un)locking the door in one turn; this is more likely to happen with a skeleton key for all roles except Rogues.
  • Attacking a peaceful watchman. (Killing a watchman indirectly via pet or drowning in an overflowing fountain is fine.) Killing a watchman in a single hit (e.g. with a wand of death) will not anger any watchmen.
  • Attacking a peaceful shopkeeper.
  • Attacking any peaceful monster in sight of the watchman.[1]
  • Killing the priest.
  • Cutting down or kicking trees.
  • Destroying fountains (from use or otherwise).
  • Stealing from shops.
  • Digging through walls or doors.
  • Kicking down doors.
  • Improvising with a bugle.

You will receive one warning before angering the Watch for kicking down or unlocking doors. Digging through walls or doors with a pickaxe will receive a warning, but using a spell or wand will cause them to become hostile immediately (as it cannot be interrupted). You will usually receive a warning before a fountain dries up, either from a watchman or from the fountain's flow "reducing to a trickle." 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.

Attempting to unlock a trapped door will give no warning, and getting warned will 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. Worse still, the developers actually left a note in the code noting the problem.[2][3]

Some of these actions will not anger a watchman as long as he isn't in eyesight. Namely, breaking doors, chopping down trees, and digging through walls (though note that shop walls can't be dug through) will not anger the watchman if he isn't in sight. And he must see you doing it to be angry, seeing the effects and then the player near the scene of the crime will have no effect. Note that fountain quaffing (and it drying up) and attacking priests/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.

Recovering from angering the watch

If you anger the watch as a low-level character, you are probably best off running.

However, if you're strong enough to handle them but just don't want to kill them and commit murder, pacifying shopkeepers by paying them off will also pacify any watchmen, whether or not your original offense was stealing. So you can try stealing something inexpensive (such as a gold piece) from a shop, then paying for it when the angry shopkeeper comes after you.

A scroll of taming or spell of charm monster will also pacify watchmen. Watchmen have 0 MR; watch captains have 15.

Killing watchmen

Attacking a peaceful watchman or a shopkeeper with a spell or wand does not anger all the guards, only the target of the attack. The watchmen are quite easy to kill (even easier than shopkeepers), and they have some potentially useful items in their inventory (in particular, watch captains have a 50% chance of a silver saber, and all watchmen are likely to have gloves), although they often have a cursed item, so take the regular precautions first.

The watch captains are much harder to kill, but not as hard as shopkeepers, so avoid doing anything that will anger all the watchmen.

It can be bad to kill watchmen to sacrifice them, even if you are a chaotic non-human: angering and killing them gives you a huge alignment hit because it counts as murder. Early in the game, when you typically reach Minetown, your alignment record cap is low, and a single murder will likely make it negative, preventing you from praying safely, and making it impossible to convert altars without making the game unwinnable, among other effects. It would be wise to offer at the altar with sacrifices until you are sure your alignment is positive, or use a stethoscope or other means to check your alignment.

Encyclopedia entry

See the encyclopedia entry for human.