How to win at Nethack: Creating a character, a walkthrough

This walkthrough is for people who want to win.  It will tell you how to do a thing which, while not technically cheating, is usually considered an exploit.


The strongest class to play is the wizard, if you’re lucky or exploiting. They start with random magic equipment, and a sometimes that stuff is great. You want to be an elf for the 20 max int. You want to be female, because the only difference between males and females is that females can lay eggs while polymorphed into some forms. (As an aside, you can modify your settings file to automatically generate characters of that type, but I’ll assume you haven’t)

What to do

You want to start with good stuff. You usually won’t. What you’ll do is repeat the following steps:

  • Start a game as a female elf wizard
  • Decide that her starting inventory is unworthy
  • Abandon the character and start over
Possibly a wizard, possibly playing nethack as a wizard

Possibly a wizard, possibly playing nethack as a wizard

How to do it

Memorize the keystrokes that back out of the inventory screen, leave the dungeon and end the game, generate a new female elf wizard, and open her inventory. Don’t feel too bad for your legions of abandoned girl-elves. They were probably going to get murdered by tentacle demons in the dungeon, with a crap inventory like this.  This way, the worst punishment they’ll get for their chronic unpreparedness is a well-deserved facesmack when their elf husbands home to an empty dinner table.

Here are the keystrokes you’ll need on

  • [enter] to exit the inventory
  • < to climb the starting stairs
  • y to confirm
  • q to skip all the summaries about your game
  • 1 to select a new game of nethack
  • p to play
  • n to decline having the game pick your character for you
  • w to pick wizard
  • e for elf
  • f for female
  • [enter][enter] to dismiss any starting messages; “welcome to nethack” followed by the occasional one telling you what loot is on your starting square. On a full moon or a new moon, you’ll need a third [enter] to dismiss a message telling you about the moon. i to open your inventory. So, get used to typing this: [enter]

So, get used to typing this:


The payoff

Once you’re good at that, the cycle for abandoning a character and generating a new one takes about one second.  Note that copying this character sequence to the clipboard and pasting it into your terminal won’t work; the terminal is unresponsive during some parts of the above.  Alternatively, you could write a script to automate this.  If you were to do that, you can set a higher standard for starting equipment.  Either way, you need your standards to be nonzero but still achievable before the heat death of the universe.  Here are my recommendations, based on experience:

Without an automated script:

  • A spellbook of identify
  • An intelligence of at least 18

With an automated script:

  • A spellbook of identify
  • An intelligence of at least 19
  • A ring of slow digestion

And you’re off!  The spell identify is the most powerful spell in the game, if you take into account the difficulty of casting the more high-end spells like Finger of Death and Polymorph.  You can now use it to find out whether that shiny necklace is going to save your life or strangle you to death!  You’ll still have to cast it successfully several times before you can #enhance its success rate up to 100%.  Hey, everything takes practice.


3 Responses to How to win at Nethack: Creating a character, a walkthrough

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

  2. Martin says:

    Identify really isn’t that important. It’s only a time-saver – you can always identify things by saving your game, copying the save file into a different folder, then going back and having your possessions identified when you die. Note them down, then copy the save back into your nethack folder and resume playing, except now you can name all your items.

    • joblivious says:

      This is only possible if you’re hosting the game as well as playing it. If you’re playing it on a remote server, you don’t have access to the filesystem, so you can’t back up your savegame. Also, it’s cheating, but many people also consider recreating characters to be cheating, so I’m not going to make that argument 🙂

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