Introduction: I plan to make Nethack Adventures a regular feature which will focus on the adventures and inevitable death of a Nethack character.
Nethack has a tendency to astonish you with unexpected situations and events; sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes engaging, sometimes incredibly frustrating but it's always entertaining. Playing the game usually leads to plenty of "Holy shit! Did that Just happen?" moments that make you want to run out and share them with your fellow gamers. Hopefully every once in a while I'll have time present some entertaining blow by blow recaps.
First, some background.
Let me start by saying that I am a total new jack to Roguelikes. I recently started playing Nethack on my iPhone and have become really enthralled by the game. I'm fascinated by its seemingly boundless mechanics. Using trial and error you have to approach each scenario with a fair bit of deductive reasoning. In effect the game feels like an intricately constructed logic puzzle.
For those of you unfamiliar with Nethack or Roguelikes, they are turn based dungeon crawlers that date all the way back to the era of mainframe computers.
Here is a general definition of roguelikes from Wikipedia: "The roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games characterized by randomization for replayability, permanent death, and turn-based movement. Many early roguelikes featured ASCII graphics. Games are typically dungeon crawls, with many monsters, items, and environmental features. Computer roguelikes usually employ the majority of the keyboard to facilitate interaction with items and the environment. The name of the genre comes from the 1980 game Rogue."
The ASCII graphics and keyboard commands sound like insurmountable barriers, and to be honest both things held me back from playing for a long time. Luckily the iPhone version does a lot to remedy this for new players like me. A lot of the commands are easily accessible from touchscreen menus. After playing it this way for a bit you learn your way around the interface and even typing them in becomes less of a chore. Before you know it you're pretty familiar with the commands and can easily transfer what you learned to the PC version.
As for the ASCII graphics, there are dozens of graphical tile-sets you can use to supplement the game. It seems to be frowned upon by other players to use tiles and a menu based system but I think its an awesome way for people to ease into the game and as you can see by the pics below it's what I use. If you're thinking about giving the game a shot I strongly recommend starting with the iPhone version if you have access to it.
The goal of the game is to reach the bottom of the dungeon (about 50 levels) retrieve an item and fight your way out back to the top. It sounds a lot easier than it sounds, I've been playing the game, a few sessions daily, for about 2 months and have yet to even reach lvl 10.
There is a lot to this game, I have barely scratched the surface myself. But don't worry too much about the details, despite its complexity it is actually pretty easy to pick up and play. I'll explain what I can as we go along, the rest will work itself out.
I'm sort of experimenting with the writing style so bear with me. Some parts of the post will be written from the character's in game perspective, in the style of an ultra cheesy fantasy novel. These sections will be in italics and easy to distinguish. I insist you imagine them being read by this man to get the full effect.
The majority of the post will include details and insight on my encounters. Hopefully it will inspire some of you to also give Nethack a try and share your own tales - at the very least I hope it provides some solid entertainment.
Since I took up so much time with the background I'll begin this post with quick introduction to a new character, cover some of the basics and only quickly go over the first 10 minutes or so of a game. Enjoy...
Issue 1: The Trials of Argento the Gallant Knight
Argento began to descend into the dungeon. But as he took his first few steps downward, he noticed that his pony, Bava was reluctant to follow. He grabbed the tether attached around his companions neck and pulled. "Come on you stubborn.." before he could finish his sentence he felt himself lose his footing and fell awkwardly down the stone staircase. His brand new designer set of armor made clanking sounds as he rolled down to his destination. He got up and saw his suit was dented and scuffed and before he could curse his luck he noticed his pony had finally decided to follow his lead. He swore he could see the resemblence of a grin on the animal's equestrian mug.
He looked around the room and was suddenly overwhelmed by a curious impression that he had been here before. Knowledge of countless lives which had long passed, memories of innumerable deaths, recollections of blood-filled battles and the faces of fearsome malevolent opponents suddenly flooded into his brain. A deluge of horrors! It was the first time he had set foot in this dungeon, yet its halls seethed with familiarity. Despite the strange acquaintance he found within, there were gaps in his recollection. The plotting of its paths remained a mystery to him, he would have to chart his own course. Argento grabbed his weapons, a gleaming steel lance and a freshly sharpened longsword, and strode forth with determination.
Permanent death and randomization are two essential elements of Nethack.
Every single game provides a new randomly generated dungeon, and some other important aspects, such as the color of potions (which makes them harder to identify from game to game), are also randomly assigned. However chaos does not completely reign within the game; there are also some static rules and if you know them and use them to your advantage they can help immensely.
I'll make no bones about it, any player even hardened ones will die often in Nethack. And unlike many modern games, death is always permanent. This means you lose all the items, experience and progression you worked so hard to acquire and are essentially being forced to start again from scratch. I know that sounds like a pain in the ass (and it is!) but don't fret, because all the knowledge you acquired on the way to certain death is extremely valuable. So while your new character may be starting at square one, you as the player retain all the hard earned experience which helps you progress deeper and deeper into the game.
A quick note about Knights and classes: To make things even more complicated each class has their own distinct advantages and drawbacks. As you probably guessed by now, these aren't spelled out for you so each time you play a different class you also have to figure it out on your own by trial and error...or...you can cheat and go to the indispensable resource: Wikihack. This is kind of cheap and I don't like to do it, but for the purpose of this column I'll be using it from time to time to present a better picture of the overall game.
The most important thing on there for the moment is this: "Knights can identify all weapons and non-magical armor from the beginning. They also have a special intrinsic ability to #jump like the knight piece in chess. They are able to #turn undead, and their special spell is turn undead. "
Ok, didn't know any of that, so will keep it in mind. The Knight jump seems especially interesting and might get me out of some heated situations.
Usually the first thing you want to do in a new game is check out what gear has been generated for your character. In the two screenshots below you can see the knight and his pet and the inventory screen. The knight usually starts with more or less the same gear but classes such as wizards and priests start with randomly assigned spell books and scroll.
Ok, almost ready to kick some ass, but before I start I want to rename my pony. So I open up a command menu type 'C', tap my horse and BAM a menu appears so I can rename him to Bava. Renaming your pet is a totally unnecessary action with no consequence but it took me weeks to figure out how to do it so make a damn point to do it everytime.
(Random Factoid: As some of you movie fans probably already guessed the Knight and Pony are named after two of my fave Italian directors, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.)
Argento looks around the room and sees a bag of gold and an open doorway. He looks over at Bava and smiles "HA! I expected to be welcomed by violence, instead I am greeted with gifts, this might not be so bad after all as the denizens of this dungeon recognize that my noble blood inherently makes me sovereign!" Bava grunted, and Argento was almost certain he saw it roll its eyes in a mock condescension. The knight was unfazed as he pocketed the gold and walked towards the doorway.
Turns 1-30 (Sometimes, I will put the specific number of a turn in parentheses within the description below so you can get a sense of how many moves I have taken.)
The opening room welcomes me with a sack full of 8 gold pieces. Cool, I grab the cash and head on my way. As I walk through the corridors I come across a locked door. I kick it down easily (26) and find myself in a room with a sword. I pick it up (30) and since my Knight can identify weapons (as stated in the wiki entry above) and instantly realize it's a katana.
I decide to look it up on WikiHack and get the following information:
"A katana does d10/d12 damage against small/large monsters, with a +1 bonus to hit. When unidentified, it appears as a samurai sword; samurai start with one.
The only differences between katanas and long swords are the +1 bonus to hit and the katana's 1d10 damage vs. small (as opposed to 1d8 for a long sword). Because the katana is the most damaging non-artifact weapon to use the long sword weapon skill, it is often a desirable off-hand weapon for two-weapon combat."
Looks like the katana provides a decent improvement over the longsword I am currently using. But there is another aspect I have to worry about. What if it's cursed?
Cursed items are littered with penalties and drawbacks and what's worse, if you equip a cursed item you are unable to remove it unless you find a way to remove the curse. Needless to say, if it turns out the katana is cursed then it will do a lot to weaken me in the crucial opening areas of the game. I know from past games that I can test to see if an item is cursed by a dipping it into a fountain and seeing if it glows black. I decide to play it safe and wait for my knight to come across a fountain.
A new challenger appears! Turns 52-273
After much exploring and wandering through empty narrow corridors and large barren rooms Argento finally comes across another living creature. He steps into a large room with a staircase leading down into blackness and notices to his surprise a dog faced creature staring at him from a few paces away. The manlike canine creature assumes the posture of sneering suspicion. Argento speaks, "Hail dogman! I, Argento, Knight of law and nobleman of the highest rank am here to command you and any other savages that reside within this domain, I beg of you to recognize your position and bow..." the kobold cuts off the speech and runs towards the knight with viscous barbarity. Quickly Argento draws his sword and thrusts the running beast in the midsection, lifting it off its legs and splitting it in half as its blood sprays all over, coating Argento's face and his shiny suit of armor with spots of deep crimson.
After some exploring, with no encounters to speak of I find my way to the room with the stairs leading to the next level. Even more exciting I find myself face to face with my first opponent. The ';' key is used to identify any object you see on your screen, so I tap the ';' key in the iPhone menu and then tap the beast to identify him, it is revealed to be a kobold. I am certain they are relatively weak, especially for a knight so I decide to engage him in battle. The fight ends relatively quickly as we take a step towards each other and BAM! One shotted! I dispatch him with one hit.
Even though the stairs to the next level are nearby I decide to explore the dungeon a bit more to see if I can acquire any more useful items.
Sitting in the very next room I find a 'Can of Grease.' First time I have ever even seen one of these in the game, I can't even begin to guess what it would be used for. I pick it up (70) and decide to look it up on Wikihack. The first sentence reads:
"A can of grease can be applied to grease any item. This protects them from rust and corrosion and also from grabbing attacks. A mind flayer can not attach its tentacles to a greased helmet, either."
Cool, not sure if it will be that useful but I hold on to it just in case.
The very next room finds me facing a lichen, which I easily dispatch with one swing of my sword (98) and move on. But suddenly things are less quiet and I find myself fighting frequently. First a newt bug(207) who actually manages to hit me for a point of damage before I squash it and a grid bug which I kill quickly (226)
After a bit more exploring I come across a room with a nice shiny new suit of ring-mail laying on the ground and a closed door near the far left.. I decide to pick it up so I can sell it to a merchant later but discover its weight encumbers my character. I'm not entirely sure what being encumbered does besides slow my movements and attack speed but I know it can't be good so I just drop it for now. (256)
Argento grabbed the door handle but found that it was locked as he pulled it. He looked at Bava and warned "Stand back you ugly mule - witness the strength justice bequeaths to a knight of my prowess." Argento took a step back and then rushed towards the door with a mighty kick...and nothing happened. He tried it again and again but the door stood. He wiped the sweat off his brow as Bava let off a loud sardonic "Hee-Haw." For a moment Argento, now nearing the limits of his patience, thought of stabbing his companion in the snout - but he quickly regained his composure when he realized that since beasts do not contain the capacity to mock, what seemed like scornful laughter was only coincidental. He turned towards the door and once again set forth to smash it.
Can you believe I spent 6 turns trying to kick down a door? Argento needs to step up his game. Ridiculous! Finally I succeed and move down a corridor where I come face to face with a gridbug who I kill (316) almost instantly. At this point I realize that Bava is nowhere around, and as I take a few more steps I get the message 'You Hear Some Noises." From experience, I know this means my pet is getting into a scrap and I've lost more than one pet this way in the past, so I head back the way I came to investigate. Almost immediately I bump into him in the room with the unbreakable door. Whew, good to see he's alive.
At this point it seems I explored level one as fully as possible so I head back to the stairs, wait a moment for my pet to catch up and make my way down. (336)
Once below I find myself in a small room with another bag full of 70 gold (341). I pocket the cash and move to the next room where I find a shield. I pick it up (364) and find it doesn't weigh me down. Cool, I can prob sell it for a nice piece of cash when I come across a merchant.
Now what happens next leads to one of those 'oh shit' moments.
I step into a long narrow room and begin to walk towards its far end, and suddenly I am transported to a whole different area. WTF!? A few extra turns seem to have passed without my knowledge and I find myself near a staircase heading downwards to level 3 and discover I am surrounded by 2 grid bugs who attack me relentlessly. My pet is nowhere to be found... so my knight must stand alone and handle the fight himself. He takes one swing and misses; both bugs attack and hit him.
Will Argento survive this battle? Will the mystery of what exactly happened ever be solved? Will he be reunited with his loyal pony Bava?
Stay tuned true believers all the answers will be revealed in the next installment of Nethack adventures.