Preferred Key Controls

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Following a discussion on RGRD, I am attempting to collate a list of preferred keyboard controls for RL games.


When it comes to movement keys, there are two main camps of preference: the ViKeys supporters and the NumPad supporters.

The arguments for ViKeys are:

  • They are familiar to users of Vi(m) (a text editor with many fervent supporters)
  • You don't need a num-pad to use them
  • (any other reasons?)

Counting against vi-keys are:

  • They won't work on some keyboard layouts (Dvorak for example (incidentally, how many people actually use Dvorak?))
  • They reduce the number of keys available for other functions
  • They introduce the possibility of pressing 'y' or 'n' in accidental response to a prompt.
  • To non-vi-users they are not obvious.
  • Not so easy for left-handers?

Arguments for NumPad are:

  • They have a layout that matches the movement directions - they are obvious
  • You don't lose any letter keys on the keyboard (unless using a laptop keyboard)

Arguments against:

  • They take away a lot more keys when on a laptop in NumPad mode


A general RL theme in terms of keyboard controls is the use of mnemonic bindings, for example: 'q' - quaff (drink something) 'w' - wear/wield (make use of a weapon or piece of armour) 'e' - eat

Due to the freedom of action many RLs provide, one can easily run out of letters. For example 'd' might have been drink, but usually it is drop, and what about dance or drag, etc?

There are several solutions that have been employed by various RLs.

  • Using key modifiers such as (most often) Shift or Alt, Ctrl, Meta, Super, Hyper, etc.
  • A method used in Nethack is extended command mode '#' which lets the user enter further keys to spell out the action required, for less used commands like #dip, #jump and #loot.
  • Action menus - used more in RLs on more limited platforms, such as mobile devices and handheld game consoles.

See this list of keys used in the major RLs compiled by Ray Dillinger.

Survey Results

So far:

c close (1)
d drop (2)
e equipment (1)
E eat (1)
f target (2) and f again to fire (1)
g get (1)
i inventory (2)
l look (3)
o open (2) and again to close (1)
q quaff (2)
r read (2)
R rest till interrupted or healed/magicked up (1)
u use (1)
U special use (1)
x exchange (1) , examine (2)
z zap (2)
numpad 0 reload (1)
12345 quick weapon switch or tactics (1)
numpad 5 pickup (1)
. rest (2)
, pickup (2)
? help (2)
/ look (1)
tab next target (1)
enter action (1)
<> up down stairs (2)
@ character screen (1)
ctrl x exit (1)