Prayer

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Prayer, invoked with the #pray extended command, is an action used to communicate with the player's god. The purpose of praying is to ask your god for help, and you must not do so too often. The player has a prayer timeout, a counter which is raised when praying, and decrements one turn at a time. Only when this counter reaches zero may the player pray safely again (exceptions exist, see below). Thus prayer is usually reserved for one of a few things: saving the player from almost certain doom, performing some action the player cannot yet do (removing cursed items, getting out of walls, etc.), or creating holy water. For those players who like a challenge, avoiding any interaction with gods, altars and other religious concepts in the game will satisfy the atheist conduct.

Inexperienced players often treat prayer as an escape item reserved for emergencies. However, it is not 100% reliable due to the long maximum prayer timeout, and conventional escape items can drastically reduce the need for emergency prayers.

During the course of a successful prayer, you are protected from all harm (except from psychic blasts by mind flayers, from a poison cloud or from boulder traps). During this protection, the timer for the Wizard's periodic harassment of the player does not advance.

Safe and unsafe prayer

The following conditions make it unsafe to pray. Praying when it is unsafe may end up with the prayer being unsuccessful, with various negative effects.

  • You are polymorphed into an undead creature and are attempting to pray to a non-chaotic god. (Neutrals have a 90% chance of being able to pray anyway.)
  • Your alignment record is negative.
  • Your luck is negative.
  • Your god is still angry at you from an earlier event.
  • Your prayer timeout is not yet zero. (If you are currently suffering from a major problem, it is safe to pray with a timeout as high as 200; if a minor problem, it may be as high as 100.)
  • You are in Gehennom.
  • You are standing on another god's altar, and both your alignment record and your luck are OK.

If you are polymorphed into a demon and are attempting to pray to a non-chaotic god, it is impossible to pray; you merely receive a message "The very idea of praying to a <non-chaotic> god is repugnant to you." and no prayer occurs.[1]

If none of the above apply, it is safe to pray. If you're not sure, enlightenment will tell you whether or not you can safely pray.

Successful prayers

If your prayer is successful, your god may do one or more beneficial things for you. The following algorithm shows what your god decides you are worthy of receiving.

  • If your alignment is at least 14, and you have no major or minor problems, the result is always 5.
  • If your alignment is less than 4, but still positive, the result is always 1.
  • If your alignment is 0, there is a chance based on Luck (!rnl(2)) that the result will be 1, otherwise it is 0.
  • If none of the above apply, the result is generated by 1d(Luck+x), where x is:[2]
    • 4 if you are on a co-aligned altar in a temple with a priest,
    • 3 if you are on a co-aligned altar not in a temple (or the priest is missing), or
    • 2 if you are not on an altar (which also caps the end result of the whole expression at 3).
Lookup number Result
0 nothing
1 Fix one major problem
2 Fix all major problems
3 Fix all major problems or, if you have no major problems, fix one minor problem
4 Fix all major and minor problems
5+ Fix all major and minor problems, then grant a favor

A successful prayer will also give you a hint about your current alignment record, when your god's mood is described:

Feeling Feeling (hallucination) Alignment range
well-pleased pleased as punch 14 or greater
pleased ticklish 4 to 13
satisfied full 0 to 3

Water prayer

Praying while standing on an altar on which there are potions of water will bless or curse these, turning them into holy water or unholy water. Which one you get is dependent on the alignments of you and the altar. If you are standing on a coaligned altar and your prayer is successful, the water will be blessed and you will also receive any other benefits of the prayer. If you are standing on another god's altar, the water will become cursed (unholy). Note that making a water prayer on another god's altar will anger your god (it technically counts as an unsuccessful prayer), so this should be done with extreme caution.

Favors

A favor, also known as a boon or prayer boon, is a special gift given to you by your god as a result of praying while in good standing. If your god decides to grant you a favor, the game chooses a random number x such that 0 <= x < (Luck+6)/2 rounded down[3], and uses the result as follows:-

x Result
0 No favor.
1 Your weapon is uncursed if it is cursed, and blessed if it is uncursed. Any erosion is repaired. It is not made erodeproof. Only weapons and weapon-tools are eligible for this effect.
2 You either regain one lost experience level as though from a blessed potion of full healing, or otherwise gain 5 maximum hitpoints; in both cases your hitpoints are restored to maximum. Any drained strength is restored, and your nutrition is reset to 900 if it's lower than 900. (“You are surrounded by a golden glow.”)
3
  • First time: “Hark, mortal! To enter the castle, thou must play the right tune!” (“Hark, creature! ...” if not human). No effect.
  • Second time: Tune to enter the castle is revealed.
  • Subsequent times, or if the drawbridge has already been opened: Same as effect 2 above.
4 Uncurses all possessions (as blessed scroll of remove curse), except that a worn helm of opposite alignment will not be made uncursed.(“You are surrounded by a light blue aura.”) (“Your <item> softly glows amber.”) If blind (“You feel the power of <deity>.”)
5 You gain one intrinsic, selected in order from (Telepathy, Speed, Stealth). If you already possess all of them, you gain intrinsic protection as from an aligned priest, except without the natural AC limits. (“Thou hast pleased me with thy progress, and thus I grant thee the gift of <intrinsic>! Use it wisely in my name!”)
6 You get a blessed spellbook. (“A spellbook appears at your <feet>!”)

The game will generate a random spellbook according to the usual object generation probabilities, excluding novels. It will then re-roll another random spellbook up to xlvl times if it picks a spell you already have in your spellcasting Z menu, a spell school you are restricted in, or a blank spellbook (unless you're carrying a magic marker or have not yet identified the blank spellbook, in which case you're eligible to receive it).

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

There is a 25% chance that "Divine knowledge of <spell> fills your mind!" and you learn the spell directly without getting a book. Being illiterate does not influence these odds.
7+ If you are Pious, you are crowned. If already crowned or your alignment record is less than 20, same as effect 6 above.

Unsuccessful prayers

Unsuccessful prayers can happen for a variety of reasons, and have a variety of consequences, the most common of which is being smited.

Condition Result
Polymorphed into an undead creature and attempting to pray to a lawful god (or a neutral god, 10% of the time) If lawful, receive "Vile creature, thou durst call upon me?". If neutral, receive "Walk no more, perversion of nature!". Both then receive "You feel like you are falling apart." You return to natural form (even if wearing an amulet of unchanging), take 1d20 damage, and abuse your constitution.[4]
Prayer timeout is too high Your god's anger is incremented by one, you lose 3 luck, and your god smites you.
Alignment or luck is negative, or your god is angry with you Your god smites you.
Standing on a different god's altar and praying for unholy water Your god's anger is incremented by one, you lose 3 luck, your prayer timeout is increased, and your god smites you.
Standing on a different god's altar and praying as normal Your god (may?) become angry and/or smite you. You lose all divine protection.
Praying in Gehennom Your god won't help you and may be angered.[5]

Strategy

Given its ability to fix a wide variety of troubles, prayer is a very helpful tool for escaping a tough situation, but the mechanics of prayer timeout mean that it can't be used twice in quick succession.

The successful prayer algorithm has the following implications:

  • If you have zero alignment and no worse than -2 Luck (e.g. an early pacifist or protection racketeer), there is a 50% chance that praying will fix one major problem (higher with Luck above 2).
  • If your alignment is positive, at least one major problem will be fixed.
  • If you are not on an altar, a favor will be granted only if you have no problems, and have high alignment. At most one minor problem will be fixed.
  • The chance of a minor problem not being fixed is 2/(Luck+2), assuming you have no major problems.

Praying can also play a part in altar farming, but runs the risk of being crowned, which may be considered undesirable since it permanently increases prayer timeout. Dropping or bagging your luckstone will decrease your Luck to at most 10, reducing (but not eliminating) the possibility of crowning.

If you can reduce your Luck to 9 or lower, you are safe from crowning. One portable way to do this is to break a mirror for a -2 Luck penalty. Be careful not to affect your Luck further by sacrificing too much or spending many turns without your luckstone.

If you don't have any reason to keep your alignment record high, you can prefer to lower it instead of Luck for the time of prayer. This allows you to receive all other profits from favors except for crowning, especially getting spellbooks (every time you'd be crowned instead). Sadly, there are only a few reliable ways to lower your alignment record anytime (without altering any other statistics). You can offer 0 zorkmids to a coaligned priest, pray at a cross-aligned altar (with no water on the altar), attack a creature while standing on an engraved Elbereth, or heal your pet as a chaotic non-healer. Monks who know the spell of stone to flesh can eat lots of meatballs. Knights can lower alignment by eating while satiated; meatballs are best for this as well. You can also attack enemies from atop an Elbereth engraving (a weak attack on a sessile monster is recommended to make this method reusable). Don't forget to check your alignment for not being piously aligned with a stethoscope, wand of enlightenment or a wand of probing. Alignment record is increased very easily, so check it before every prayer.

Encyclopedia entry

Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every
prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice
two be not four.

[ Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev ]

References