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Major Roguelike
Developer The NetHack DevTeam
Theme Fantasy, Dungeon crawl
Influences Hack
Released 1987
Updated 8 December 2015
Licensing Open Source[1]
P. Language C
Platforms Amiga, Atari, Linux, Mac, Windows/Msdos, OS/2, Windows CE, BeOS, VMS [2]
Interface ASCII, Keyboard, Graphical tiles
Game Length 8+ hours
(According to, fastest ascension was in 1:03:33)
Official site of NetHack

NetHack is a major roguelike in which the player must fight their way down through the Dungeons of Doom, and then the underworld (Gehennom), retrieve the Amulet of Yendor, fight their way back up to surface, and give the Amulet to their god. It is the most popular of all Hacklike games, and quite possibly the most popular of all roguelike games.

NetHack underwent active development for nearly 15 years. However, it went on a long hiatus after the release of v3.4.3 in December 2003 which proved to be remarkably stable and was enjoyed by the community for almost a decade. NetHack was not much updated during this time leading some independent developers to create forks to continue where the DevTeam left off. Many of these forks are still active.

But in December 2015, the DevTeam released a new version 3.6.0. Although the release itself added little content (besides minor tweaks and incorporating community patches), it indicated the beginning of active development after more than a decade. They also migrated their internal source repository to Git with plans of providing a "current maintenance version" in the future. There are also new plans to migrate their defect-tracking to Bugzilla[3].


Notable features of NetHack include:

  • The dungeon levels are persistent, so there is a finite supply of dungeon features (shops, altars, fountains, sinks, thrones, etc.), and if a particular level is difficult you must find a way to deal with it or circumvent it. However, monsters continue to spawn periodically even after a level has been fully explored and will often drop random items when killed, in addition to whatever inventory they receive.
  • Monsters can use the items that you use, so if a lowly kobold finds that Wand of Death before you do, you're in trouble.
  • There are lots of curious monsters and items, which can interact in numerous ways for surprising (and sometimes humorous) results.
  • There is no ready supply of Scrolls of Identify, and you start out not even knowing which scroll is the Scroll of Identify, so you have to develop tactics for identifying all of the items that you collect. A wide variety of mechanisms are available for this.
  • The game will keep track for you various "conducts", so that if you're challenging yourself with various restrictions you can be sure that you haven't accidentally violated any of them. Various challenges include pacifist (never killing a monster yourself), illiterate (never reading scrolls or spellbooks), and even foodless (surviving without ever eating any food).

Plot overview

WARNING: This section contains "Plot" spoilers (as opposed to spoilers about tactics, items, or monsters).

Dungeons of Doom

You start out on dungeon level 1 of the Dungeons of Doom with a pet kitten or little dog (or pony, for knights). Most classes start out with no food, some monsters leave poisonous corpses, and your pet kitten or dog will eat anything that's non-vegetarian (ponies, naturally, eat only vegan food) if it can get to it before you do; this means that newbies often die of starvation.

Gnomish Mines

A few levels below the first level there is a branch in the dungeons, leading to the Gnomish Mines. The Gnomish Mines consist of irregularly shaped open spaces instead of rooms, with random walls, and twisting passages; they are inhabited mainly by gnomes and dwarves. Halfway to the bottom of the mines is Minetown, which has shops and a temple with a priest and an altar. At the bottom of the mines is a special level called Mine's End, which can be one of several presets. Each contains a guaranteed luckstone, as well as some other gems.

The Oracle

Some levels down from the Mines branch is the Oracle, who will give you minor hints for a small fee, and big hints for a large fee. The first time the player purchases each type of consultation, they recieve a good amount of Experience Points. Talking to the Oracle is meant to be one of the main ways to learn about the game, but in practice players will usually just read spoilers.


On the level below the Oracle is a branch leading to the Sokoban levels. On each level is a series of open pits, and to get over and past the pits you have to push boulders into them, thus filling them up. The boulders are set in a pattern, and you have to move them in a particular sequence or the boulders will become stuck. At the end of the final level, there is a guaranteed item, with a 1/2 chance of being an Amulet of Reflection and a 1/2 chance of being a Bag of Holding. Additionally, each level contains one random ring, one random wand, and lots of food.

Home Quest

Six or seven levels past the Oracle is a portal which will take you back to your homeland, where your mentor/leader will set you the task of killing a Quest Nemesis; the nemesis and the nature of the quest is different for each character class. However, each nemesis guards the Bell of Opening in addition to the nominal object of the quest.

Medusa's Island

A ways below the Home Quest portal level is a special level with Medusa.


One or more maze levels often follows Medusa's Island. Every maze that exists will contain a minotaur.


Several levels below the Medusa level, or even directly below, is the Castle level. The castle is filled with monsters and soldiers, and holds the only non-magical way to descend into the underworld. It also contains a guaranteed Wand of Wishing.

Underworld (Gehennom)

The underworld is a series of mazes, interspersed with special levels which are the homes to various demon lords.

Valley of the Dead

A trapdoor in the Castle leads to the Valley of the Dead. This level contains graveyards, a temple of Moloch, and the entrance to the underworld proper.

Vlad's Tower

A branch from the underworld leads to Vlad's Tower, a series of small levels, at the top of which is Vlad the Impaler. He holds the Candelabrum of Invocation.

The Wizard's Tower

The tower of the Wizard of Yendor is not a dungeon branch, but rather is embedded in the center of three underworld levels. The outer walls of the tower are impassable, and the tower can't be entered via teleportation, so it must be entered via a special entrance. The Wizard holds the Book of the Dead, and will come back to life at semi-random intervals if you kill him.

The Sanctum of Moloch

Once at the very bottom of the underworld, you must perform a special action with Bell, Book and Candle which will open the entrance to the Sanctum of Moloch. The High Priest of Moloch has the Amulet of Yendor, and you must kill him in order to retrieve it.

The escape from the dungeons

Once you have the Amulet, you must go back up through all the levels of the underworld and the Dungeons of Doom, and then take the up-staircase on level 1.

The elemental planes

After leaving level 1, you will have to pass through the four elemental planes. Each plane has a portal which leads to the next one, and the last plane has a portal to the Astral Plane.

The Astral Plane

On the Astral Plane are three different altars to three different gods of your character's pantheon. You must find your god's altar and sacrifice the Amulet there. At this point, you are elevated to a demigod and win the game.


Current Variants

  • dnethack - experimental variant, introduces huge amounts of new content
  • DynaHack - moderately experimental variant, originally based on NitroHack and UnNetHack, plus additional changes
  • NAO - public server variant (, conservative about gameplay and save compatibility, but its interface improvements have been very influential on other variants; the main developer has now joined the Dev Team
  • NetHack 4 - based on NitroHack and AceHack; conservative about gameplay changes; emphasizes codebase improvements and UI; one of the developers has now joined the Dev Team
  • NetHack Fourk - moderate variant, based on NetHack 4; focused on balance adjustments
  • UnNetHack - moderate variant, with both interface and gameplay changes; influenced by SporkHack
  • Slash'EM Extended and Slash'THEM - highly experimental variants based on Slash'EM; these are even more outrageous than Slash'EM itself; of the two, Slash'THEM is slightly more conservative.

Historical Variants

  • AllegroHack
  • GnomeHack
  • GruntHack - includes numerous bug fixes and greatly enhanced AI but has a reputation for being somewhat harsh; e.g., monsters sometimes get to the Castle wand of wishing first and use the wishes against you
  • HackLite (version 2)
  • Hacknet - multiplayer
  • HackNet - multiplayer
  • Interhack - multiplayer
  • Interhack - a UI wrapper for the game
  • Lethe patch - eventually incorporated into several variants
  • Nethack Brass - notable for being a Japanese variant, Brass included a number of (mostly minor) changes
  • NetHack-De - German translation
  • Nethack Plus
  • Nethack++
  • NetHack: The Next Generation
  • NitroHack - separated the game engine from the UI, allowing for an in-game replay interface, inventory sidebar, and other UI enhancements; but its save system was unstable
  • SLASH - early variant
  • SLASH'EM - an important long-running and popular variant based on SLASH and the Wizard Patch; a number of Slash'EM features were merged into NetHack itself; Slash'EM is very much a kitchen-sink variant: its developers included any idea they had that seemed interesting or sounded cool, largely without concern for balance implications; among other things it includes assault rifles, light sabres, and food that tries to kill you
  • SporkHack - historically important because it started the current wave of active variant development; the maintainer eventually stopped development of Spork and moved on to work on UnNetHack before eventually joining the Dev Team.

Handheld versions

There are several handheld ports of NetHack at various levels of completeness or stability:

NetHack for iOS (Apple iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)

NetHack for Android-powered devices

NetHack for the Nintendo DS

Note, all ports described below run directly on the hardware, and do not require DSLinux.

There are at least two known ports of NetHack to the Nintendo DS. The first, ported by Stuart Pernsteiner (aka "Wosret"), entitled NetHack for the Nintendo DS, is a fairly traditional port of NetHack to the Nintendo DS. The game makes extensive use of subpixel fonts in order to render the full Nethack screen on a single DS display. For control, the game provides an on-screen keyboard, as well as a flexible keybinding system. Because the site which hosted it is now dead, the below link points to an archived version.

The second, ported by Brett Kosinski, entited NetHackDS, was built using Stuart's work as a base, while taking a very different approach to user interface and control. This port makes more extensive use of both screens, using the upper screen for status and informational messages, while rendering the game map to the lower display, and using the touchscreen and joypad for movement, menu item selection, and so forth. Meanwhile, the on-screen keyboard is used only when absolutely necessary (eg, item naming, wishing, etc). Additionally, unlike NetHack for the Nintendo DS, this port makes use of unscaled text/graphics, instead making use of a viewport which renders only a subset of the level on the bottom screen.

For more information on how to run homebrew games on your DS, see Wikipedia:Nintendo DS homebrew.

NetHack for Psion

1998, updated 2004, Duncan Booth.

NetHack for the PSP

VirtuaMUnstaz, IveGotThePawa, 2006. Visit the official webpage and scroll down for screenshots.

This port was discussed in a podcast.

NetHack for Symbian

2004, Petteri Kangaslampi. This is partly based on NetHack for Psion. The game's webpage says, "The port is currently in progress, and while the game itself is fully playable, many problems may still remain."

NetHack for Windows CE

NetHack for Sharp Zaurus

External links