15 Tips for Playing NetHack
NetHack: a freeware roguelike with intense difficulty, amazing attention-to-detail, and the game that coined the phrase "The Dev-Team thinks of everything". Winning, or "ascending", is extremely difficult for both veteran players and beginners, as a single mistake can cause the player to die a stupid, foreseeable death. The following tips are written to aid players in avoiding Yet Another Stupid Death.
1. EXCALIBUR IS YOUR FRIEND
If you are playing a Lawful character, pick up a (preferably uncursed) long sword, and begin searching for Excalibur as soon as you reach level five (the minimum requirement). To obtain this artifact weapon, stand on top of a fountain and use the #dip command with the long sword. Don't worry about the sword becoming rusted or corroded - when it successfully becomes Excalibur (16.67% or 1/6 chance), all rust and corrosion will be repaired, and Excalibur itself will become rustproof. Excalibur is a powerful weapon which confers resistance to level-draining and grants automatic searching, but in exchange allows every monster to find you, regardless of whether or not it has eyes. Also, as an artifact weapon, it resists cursed scrolls of enchant weapon.
2. AVOID NYMPHS AND LEPRECHAUNS
Occasionally, you may encounter either some form of nymph (wood, mountain, etc.) or a leprechaun. If it is peaceful, attacking it is generally a bad idea, as leprechauns will steal a large amount of money from you, and nymphs a random item from you, before teleporting away. As they can also use stairs, you may never encounter that same creature again, thus permanently losing whatever was stolen. If you can kill them reliably in one hit, however, you could make an incredible amount of money from Leprechaun Halls. Also, do not attempt to drop money or items on the floor - leprechauns can steal gold coins from a space away, even if it's the space you're standing on! If facing leprechauns, put all the money you have into a container - they cannot steal contained coins.
3. ELBERETH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE
A feature which some players ignore is the #engrave command. It allows you to use your fingers, a wand, a weapon, a ring, or some other objects to write a message on the ground. Writing the word "Elbereth" will cause certain monsters (those who "respect" Elbereth) to avoid that square - so, by standing on it, you are safe from (most) melee attacks. However, learn (preferably not the hard way) which creatures respect Elbereth, and those which don't, or you may find yourself on the receiving end of Yet Another Stupid Death.
4. TESTING WANDS
Wands, like most items in NetHack, are generated with a random appearance in each session. There are several ways to identify one: the most useful is a scroll of Identify, which not only reveals the identity of the item, but it's BUC (Blessed/Uncursed/Cursed) status and its remaining charges. However, without one, an easy way to identify an unknown wand is to #engrave with one. First, however, engrave "Elbereth" without the wand, so that not only do you have a safe spot in case the wand renders you helpless, but so that certain other wands can be identified. Sometimes, the wand will be automatically identified by this method, sometimes you will get a clue towards the wand's function, and sometimes nothing will happen. If you get a message that the message disappears, exercise extreme caution. The wand could either be a wand of teleportation, a wand of invisibility, or a wand of cancellation. A wand of cancellation, if placed into a bag of holding, will destroy all of the contents and probably kill the player.
5. UNFRIENDLY HORSE
If you choose Knight as your class, a simple mistake is to attempt to #mount your pet pony immediately. There is a very high probability of failing to mount the pony, and taking up to 20 hit points of damage. As a level one, your character would have considerably less than 20 hit points. Therefore, do not attempt to #mount your pony until you have at least 21 hit points.
6. STONING SOLUTIONS
Stoning is the name of the process of petrification which can occur in NetHack, usually from either Medusa or a variation of cockatrice. In some cases, stoning is instantly fatal, but sometimes you have three turns to save yourself - a delayed instadeath. To save yourself from the slow version of stoning, there are several methods: #pray, eat certain corpses (lizards are generally the easiest to obtain), quaff a potion of acid, cast Stone to Flesh on yourself, polymorphing into a stoning-resistant creature (i.e. gargoyle) or, as a last resort, wearing an amulet of life saving.
7. SOKOBAN BRANCH
On the level immediately below that of the Oracle, you will find an additional staircase leading up to Sokoban, four levels based around a block-pushing (or in this case, boulder-pushing) game, with either a bag of holding or an amulet of reflection at the end. Because in Sokoban it is extremely easy to make an irreparable mistake, use a guide to complete the levels, and beware of mimics disguising themselves as boulders, and of monsters becoming trapped behind boulders in the corridor stretches. Also, performing any action which could be recognised as 'cheating' (i.e. destroying/creating boulders, levitating over pits, squeezing around boulders) will incur a permanent -1 Luck penalty for each offence.
8. STUPID WISHES
A common first thought for a beginner obtaining a wish is to wish for more wishes - specifically, a wand of wishing or a magic lamp. Don't. The wishes will always fail, giving you a regular oil lamp or a cancelled (unusable) wand of wishing (though there is a miniscule chance of obtaining a wand of wishing with one charge remaining). Also, do not attempt to wish for any of the Invocation items, your artifact reward, or the Amulet of Yendor - they will all fail.
9. FIRST WISH
The first thing you should wish for with a wand of wishing is "2 blessed scrolls of charging". This will allow you to fully recharge the wand once, with one scroll spare (you can only recharge a wand of wishing once, unlike every other wand in the game). In ideal circumstances (a wand of wishing with 3 charges, or 0:3), wishing for the two scrolls, using the next two wishes for your needs, then recharging the wand once, using the three remaining wishes, and 'wresting' a final wish from the wand, nets you a total gain of six wishes out of a wand with only three charges.
10. ZOMBIE CORPSES
For most creatures, when you kill them, they will leave an edible corpse. However, exercise common sense over which corpses are safe to eat, and which are not. For example, zombie corpses (of any description) are always decayed and dangerous to eat. Eating poisonous insects' corpses may poison you (and poison may be instantly fatal). A lesser-known danger is eating the corpses of dogs or cats - it will cause all creatures to become more aggressive towards you, and may anger your god.
11. SPOTTING MIMICS
In shops, it is likely that there will be at least one mimic. Sometimes, they are ridiculously obvious - a suit of armour in a food shop, for example, or a staircase in any shop at all. Also, if you are using the graphical version, chests with the lid slightly ajar with red eyes looking out are mimics - an easy way to distinguish them from regular chests.
12. GENOCIDAL DWARVES
If you obtain a blessed scroll of genocide, which allows you to kill every member of a certain class of creatures, be careful if you intend to select mind flayers. If your character is a dwarf, this can lead to YASD, as mind flayers and dwarves share the same class symbol: h. This is not obvious to the player, as the character shows up as the regular player symbol, but dwarven characters are treated as both @andh.
13. ANNOYING AUTOPICKUP
Turn it off by using the @ command. It is inconvenient and can cause problems if your character picks up cursed items, walks through a shop, or happens to step on a cursed loadstone.
14. WINNERS DON'T SAVE-SCUM
"Save-scumming" is the term used for keeping backups of character files, in case your character dies, essentially giving you a "continue". However, it is seen as cheating by most players, as the chance of permanent death forces players to be more strategic, instead of blindly rushing to their doom.
15. DYING IS FUN
NetHack is a very difficult game, especially for beginners. Expect to die in every game, as even things like system shocks and instant-death poison could happen at any point.
Read these tips, learn from your mistakes, and keep trying to ascend!