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In NetHack, the most popular of Hacklike games, you must fight your way down through the Dungeons of Doom, and then the underworld (Gehennom), retrieve the Amulet of Yendor, fight your way back up to surface, and give the Amulet to your god. Notable features of NetHack include:

  • The dungeon levels are persistant, so there is a finite supply of monsters and items, and if a particular level is difficult you must find a way to deal with it or circumvent it.
  • 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 little details and quirks in the game, which can interact in numerous ways for surprising and 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.
  • 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 (all monsters are killed by pets), 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 if it can get to it before you do; this means that newbies often die of starvation.

Gnomish Mines

Several levels below the first level there is a branch in the dungeons, leading to the Gnomish Mines. The Gnomish Mines consist of open spaces, some random walls, and twisting passages; they are inhabited mainly by gnomes and dwarves. Halfway to the bottom of the mines in Mining Town, which has shops and a temple with priest and altar. At the bottom of the mines is a special level, which can be one of several types.

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.


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, whith a 1/2 chance of being an Amulet of Reflection and a 1/2 chance of being a being a Bag of Holding. Additionally, each level contains one random ring, one random wand, and lots of food.

Home Quest

Around dungeon level 14 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.


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


Several levels below the Medusa level, or even directly below, is the Castle level. The castle is filled with monsters and soldiers, and you must gain access in order 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.

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.

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 Sanctum of Moloch

Once at the very bottom of the underworld, you must perform a special action 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 at it. At this point, you are elevated to a demigod and win the game.