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This page reviews some common mistakes by new players and describes how to avoid them.

Avoid dodgy tactics: do not savescum.[edit]

Once your character dies, you should start a new character in a new game.

Savescumming is the practice of making backup copies of your save files and restoring them when you die. This goes behind the back of the game (which always deletes save files after loading them), thus NetHack players universally regard savescumming as cheating. No one will be at all impressed if you ascend by savescumming, especially not if you try to pretend that it was a genuine ascension. Often mistakes are made earlier in the game and do not affect you until later, for this reason save scumming often results in repeating the same death on the same doomed character.

Some people savescum in order to learn the game. This is harmless provided that you do not boast about savescummed games as if they were genuine and that you play on a single-user machine (and anyway, file permissions prevent you from savescumming on a multi-user machine). However, savescumming will clutter up the high score table with scores obtained by cheating. Thus the better option is to use the game's explore mode: a feature that lets your character come back to life after you die. ("Okay, so you don't die.") Start the game from the command line as "nethack -X" or press [X] to change any existing game into an explore mode game. (Using nethack -X also gives you a free wand with three wishes.) NetHack does not put scores from explore mode on the high score list.

Proper games can still teach you more about NetHack than any games that use savescumming or explore mode. When you can refuse to die, or save your game before a difficult encounter and restore it if you get killed, it is tempting to just keep trying the same strategy until you happen to survive, rather than thinking about ways to improve your chances.

As it is, you should not need to copy save files to protect against your computer crashing:

  • If you just send SIGTERM to NetHack, or hangup its terminal, or close its window, then NetHack will save your game.
  • If your computer crashes, NetHack will not save your game, but it will keep information about the dungeon and your character that NetHack saves during games. NetHack's "recover" command can restore such crashed games, usually to the last point where you changed dungeon levels.

Avoid dodgy tactics: do not reroll.[edit]

When you start a new character, some parts of the starting statistics and inventory will be random. In traditional tabletop roleplaying games, these random parts were determined by dice, thus we call this rolling a new character.

Rerolling (also known in NetHack as startscumming) means that if you don't like the stats or items which your character starts with, you immediately quit and restart NetHack, thus generating another character. This is a legitimate part of some other games, even roguelike games; for example both Angband and Omega include a feature allowing you to reroll your character. However, players of NetHack tend to consider this to be abusive.

It is possible to reroll, even on multiuser machines, and also on public users that have explore mode disabled. However, rerolling is an ineffective way to learn the game. The ability to keep weak characters alive and to make do with the equipment you find is an important part of being a skilled NetHacker. This is not Angband, where you start in a town that can give you identified supplies as long as you have money; in NetHack you have to be able to handle playing the game when you lack certain items or your stats are low.

Suggestion: try to ascend each character.[edit]

Many new players, if not savescumming or rerolling, will deliberately play in a risky manner during the early game. These players do not lose much if their beginning character dies. For example, some players might drink from fountains hoping for a grateful water demon to grant them a wish, even though there is an 80% chance that any water demon they get will be hostile and will kill them. This is not as bad as savescumming or rerolling, but many NetHackers still frown upon it; they feel that you should try your best to ascend each character. Also, when you play this way you miss out on the valuable experience of struggling to keep a marginally viable character alive for as long as possible.

Do not attack peaceful monsters.[edit]

Some monsters are peaceful. If you look at them (with the [;] command, for example), the description will include the word "peaceful", for example a "peaceful dwarf lord". If you try to attack a peaceful monster in melee, you will be asked to confirm your attempt to attack: the best answer is [n] for no.

There are two reasons to avoid attacking peaceful monsters:

  1. The gods disapprove of killing peacefuls, and will exact an alignment penalty. There are more severe penalties for killing your own race (unless you are chaotic): a human player killing a human, an elf player killing an elf, a dwarf player killing a dwarf, or an orc player killing any o including orcs, goblins and hobgoblins. There are also more severe penalties for killing a unicorn of your own alignment. More details of the penalties for killing peaceful monsters can be found on this page of myths and facts about NetHack.
    • However, there is no penalty for allowing pets to attack peaceful monsters, and you can even heal your pets as they do this; monsters may attack the pets but will not retaliate against you for your pets' actions.
  2. Many peaceful monsters are much stronger than you. In particular, tangling with a priest or shopkeeper is likely to lead to your death. (You can still use a stethoscope to check how strong a monster is.)

(If you ever play the variant called SLASH'EM, note that your gods will still blame you if you cast a spell of flame sphere or freeze sphere and the resulting sphere attacks a peaceful monster, even if you polymorph the sphere into another monster. See Eva Myers' spoiler on tame monsters in NetHack and Slash'EM.)

Only pray when you have reason. Praying can bother your god.[edit]

The NetHack Guidebook does not describe the effects of the #pray command, and some newbies feel that they "ought" to pray on a regular basis in order to keep in touch with their god. In fact, prayer in NetHack is always pestering the gods for help, never praising or thanking them. Hence your god does not mind in the least if you never pray, but does object if you pray too often. Once you get a negative response to a prayer, you will almost always be unable to pray until you have placated the angry deity with a suitable sacrifice.

However, prayer can save your life in an emergency. Just remember that your god's definition of an emergency may not be the same as yours. Wounds are not an emergency until you are either at 5 HP or less or at 1/7 max HP or less, and hunger is not an emergency until you are weak from hunger. Matthew Lahut's praying spoiler gives much more detail about prayer.

If your god is very satisfied with you, your god might give you a reward, which is another form of help. If it is not an emergency, then first sacrifice a corpse on your god's altar to determine whether it is safe to pray. "You have a hopeful feeling" means that it is not safe and you should sacrifice more corpses or wait more game turns. "You have a feeling of reconciliation" means that it is now safe to pray. If there is no bad message, than it was already safe to pray and remains so.

Eat only fresh corpses.[edit]

Most corpses are safe to eat when fresh, though some are poisonous (see the section on Food later in this guide to learn what is good and bad). Old corpses, though, will make you fatally ill (and have no nutritional value either). There are a few ways to cure this deadly food poisoning, but it's best to avoid it, by not eating anything that you did not kill yourself or see die. Never eat zombies or mummies; they are created by magically animating an old and rotting corpse, and such undead corpses are never safe to eat.

Should you eat an old corpse, it causes food poisoning, and "FoodPois" will appear on the status line. (This is a different form of poison than if you eat a poisonous corpse, such as a kobold corpse.) This is an emergency. Since almost nothing else will work, you might need to #pray, but if you have a way to cure sickness (with the spell or potion, or by [a]pplying an uncursed or blessed unicorn horn), then use it. Once you have food poisoning, immediately try to cure it, because you only have a few turns to live, and that unicorn horn might not function the first few times.

Do not eat while satiated.[edit]

If you eat while satiated, there is a risk of choking over your food and immediately dying. Eating once you have reached the point of satiety at which the game tells you "you're having a hard time getting all of it down" is particularly dangerous. Experienced players may be able to tell when they can safely eat despite being satiated, but it is safest for novices not to try it. So, if you want that resistance from a monster corpse, but you are satiated, you might choke and die if you try to eat it. The wearing of an amulet of magical breathing will eliminate the risk of choking, and a tinning kit or an ice box will keep food fresh for later.

(As long as you are not satiated when you start eating, you should always be permitted to finish your meal. However, owing to a bug this may not apply if you save the game in the middle of a meal. At least one character has died from this.)