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You are the player or adventurer and NetHack is a one-player game. The bones levels can provide a kind of a limited interaction with other (former) players.

Your character or hero is represented by the @ symbol. There are also other characters represented by an @, such as your quest leader and the oracle. If the showrace option is turned on, your symbol will instead be that of your race.

The player has hit points, power (to cast spells), six basic attributes, an alignment, and experience. The player also has a purse (to hold gold) and a pack (to hold the other items in the inventory).

The player usually starts a game with a pet which is intended to help them, especially in the early stages of the game.

Role, race and alignment

The player character can be any one of the archeologist, barbarian, cave[wo]man, healer, knight, monk, priest[ess], ranger, rogue, samurai, tourist, valkyrie, or wizard roles. They each have varying difficulties, strengths, weaknesses, quests and starting items.

The player can also choose from the five races: human, elf, dwarf, gnome, or orc, and the three alignments: lawful, neutral or chaotic. The available races and alignments are dependent on the role one picks.

One should bear in mind that the choice of role (and to a lesser extent, race and alignment) has a dramatic effect on the style of play. Although in the late game, the characters can be played almost the same way (with a few exceptions), during the early game it is crucial that one utilizes the varying abilities of each of the roles and/or races. For example, running up and bashing a monster as a wizard would likely result in YASD, and reading unidentified spellbooks as a valkyrie or samurai could lead to paralysis and death by a newt.

The following table lists all possible combinations:

Arc Bar Cav Hea Kni Mon Pri Ran Rog Sam Tou Val Wiz
Human L N     N C L N     N   L     L N C L N C   N C     C L       N   L N     N C Human
Elf     C     C     C Elf
Dwarf L     L     L     Dwarf
Gnome   N     N     N     N     N   Gnome
Orc     C     C     C     C Orc
Arc Bar Cav Hea Kni Mon Pri Ran Rog Sam Tou Val Wiz

There are 38 unique combinations of race/role/alignment, and 28 unique combinations of race/role. Human is the most versatile role with 23 possible combinations of race/role alignment, while other races are much more limited: only three for Elf and Dwarf, four for Orc, and five for Gnome. Note that non-humans have fixed alignments: lawful for Dwarves, neutral for Gnome, and chaotic for Elves and Orcs.

While there is no role that is open to all races, Ranger and Wizard are the most accessible, as every race but Dwarf can play them. Four classes (Knight, Monk, Samurai, and Tourist) are limited to humans only. There are slightly more neutral combinations (15) than chaotic (13) or lawful (10).

Some players set one one factor, such as race, in their Options file as a constant and then let the game randomly select a role. For example, playing as a random Dwarf allows you to focus on a small subset of roles (archaeologist, caveman, and valkyrie), with a common alignment and some environmental factors (such as expected reception in the mines) constant. The same can be done for Elf, Gnome, or Orc.

Special names

Your name is up to you, but some special names have a few minor effects on the game:

Name Effect


You can truthfully claim your name is one of these to a vault guard (lying carries a -1 alignment penalty if lawful). On the other hand, if you have already killed Croesus, you must lie to avoid angering a vault guard.
Maud A scroll of amnesia will give a slightly different message
wizard If the debug mode flag (-D) is set, this name will put the player in Wizard mode. It has no effect on regular gameplay otherwise.

Shopkeepers in bones files remember the name of the character that angered them. If you have the same name, they'll be angry at you, too.

"Elbereth" on headstones is ignored precisely to deal with the case of a player naming themselves such.[1]

Character or Hero vs. You or Player

In most contexts, the terms adventurer, character, hero, player and you may be used interchangeably. There are subtle differences however; when a distinction is required, character and hero refer to the in-game alter-ego, while player and you refer to the real-world person playing the game. Thus a new player is a real world person who has not played NetHack much yet, while all active players start new characters at regular intervals. The term adventurer is more neutral in this regard, and should be avoided where a distinction is to be made.


  1. sengr_at in engrave.c: Function used to check for Elbereths

This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.0.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.4.3. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-343}} tag to {{nethack-360}} or {{noversion}} as appropriate.