How to win at nethack: Magicbane

Basically the only thing you need to win at Nethack is Magicbane, the swiss army dagger. The rest will follow. I’ll tell you how to get it, what it does for you, and how to exploit its advantages.

How to get it:

Be a wizard. You have to be a wizard because wizards automatically get Magicbane first when sacrificing corpses at altars.

If you bring a corpse to an altar (they’re underscores), or if you’re standing on an altar while there’s a corpse on it, you can #offer the corpse. That occasionally makes good things happen, one of which is your god gives you an artifact weapon. If you’re a wizard, the first one he gives you is Magicbane. Basically you just want to find an altar and sacrifice corpses at it until your god says “Use my gift wisely.” That means he gave you Magicbane. There are some issues with that. Here they are, along with their solutions:

  • The alter has to be the correct alignment. You’re an elf wizard, if you’re doing it right. That means you’re chaotic, so your god is Anhur. The altar won’t give you Magicbane unless it’s an Anhur altar.  You can convert any altar into an Anhur altar by sacrificing corpses at it, so still all you have to do is sacrifice corpses.
  • Your god won’t give you anything unless your alignment is high enough.  Your alignment goes up every time you sacrifice a corpse, so still, just sacrifice corpses.
  • You won’t get anything until you’re at least level 4.   You can get there pretty quickly just by killing monsters, which you’re doing anyway. So still, just kill and sacrifice them. Their sacrifice is still increasing your alignment even though it can’t get you your dagger.
  • It takes a long time for the monsters to spawn.  Just wait for them. If you get hungry, DO NOT eat the corpses. Instead, just keep sacrificing them. If you get weak from hunger, #pray. Your god will fill your stomach. When you do, your god goes into pout mode, from which he won’t give you magicbane or let you pray again. Fortunately, that wears off in like 80 turns, and you can get it to wear off faster by – you guessed it – sacrificing corpses.  Waiting for a long time has only one other side effect; you forget how to cast your spells after 20k turns.  Don’t worry – you can read the spellbooks 3 times to refresh your memory.  This whole process rarely takes that long, anyway.
  • If you hold down “.” to wait for monsters, they fly in and kill you while your character is still obeying your command to wait over and over.  Press “n”, then a number (I use 999), then “.” – this will do 999 “rest” commands in a row, but it will stop if you see a new monster (or anything else happens.) It’s the safe way to hang around until a monster shows up.
  • The level with the altar may be full of twisty passages, and the monsters that spawn here can’t find their way to the altar.  Go down into the dwarven mines until you get a pick-axe or a broad pick. Lug it back to the altar and drop it on the thing. This will tell you if the pick is cursed. If it’s not, wield it. You can now dig tunnels that the stupid AI pathfinding can use to go straight at the altar.
  • If you get to the dwarven mine town, there’s always an altar there. Unfortunately, 2/3 of the time it’s not an Anhur altar. Bad things happen if you try to convert it. Find another altar. Trying to convert an altar when there’s a priest there will make the priest angry, and priests are really badass.

Also, don’t sacrifice the corpses of elves, humans, black unicorns, or pets. Various bad things happen when you do. Also don’t sacrifice the first floating eye corpse you find – you want to eat it. It does a good thing.

What can Magicbane do for you?

Oh man!  So manythings.

  • It’s a dagger, which you, as a wizard, can become expert in.  Just use it. When you see “you feel more confident in your weapon abilities,” use the #enhance command to get better.
  • When you hit monsters with it, it will often nail them with a status ailment, like stunning, confusion, or fear. It also does some extra damage when it does this.  Don’t enchant it past +2. That decreases its chances of screwing with enemies. Other than that, just enjoy the show.
  • It can (E)nscribe “Elbereth” in one turn with 100% reliability, without wearing down the weapon. Be an Elbereth slut. Use it all the time. The only monsters that will attack you when you’re standing on Elbereth are elves and humans, and those are all passive by default. Elbereth it up and everyone runs for the hills. If you attack or cast spells from an Elbereth square, it’ll wear Elbereth off after a couple turns, but there’s nothing stopping you from re-inscribing it. Also, it exercises your wisdom when you enscribe “Elbereth” exactly (with the capitol E). So do it a lot. There’s no downside.
  • It gives you the best intrinsic in the game, magic resistance, while you’re wielding it.  You already had magic resistance from your cloak of magic resistance. That means you can swap out your cloak for another one if you find it. The cloaks you want are Robe, which makes you better at casting spells, and Cloak of Protection, which gives you better armor class. You could also go with a cloak of invisibility for a while, but the first time you find a wand of Make Invisible, you should just zap yourself with that to make yourself permanently invisible. This means you can never switch to another weapon if you want to keep magic resistance, but you never should anyway.
  • It absorbs 95% of curses.  That only means the curses put on you by monsters that cast them at you, and curses that happen automatically intermittently when you have the amulet of yendor. It doesn’t save you from items that are already cursed. There’s really nothing to do differently other than maybe be less afraid of monsters with cursing attacks, but those rarely succeed anyway. This is super helpful once you have the amulet, though, and there’s no other way in the game to get this curse protection.

3 Responses to How to win at nethack: Magicbane

  1. […] section assumes you’re a wizard with a book of identify. For more general guidelines, read the wishing […]

  2. charlieb says:

    I believe that you can cast spells on an Elbereth square without rubbing it out if you have levitation from a ring or boots or something. That could be very handy.

    • joblivious says:

      That’s true; Elbereth lasts forever under the following conditions:
      -You are flying (polymorphed into a Vampire Lord or other flying creature)
      -You are levitating (wearing a ring or boots of levitation
      -The Elbereth was enscribed with a wand of lightning or fire
      Note that in the first two cases, it can even be written into the dust with your fingers.

      Also, standing on a scroll of Scare Monster has the same effect, and won’t wear out. These scrolls often turn to dust when you pick them up, so save them for a special occasion.

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