Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Important Note: Spoilers are easily accessible via the wiki and IRC, but there is always the difference between knowing of something and experiencing it for the first time - even so, in the spirit of being as new-player friendly as possible, spoiler tags are used on this page. The NetHack community defines "spoilers" as not just including plotline spoilers, but gameplay-related ones as well. The plot itself usually has far less direct impact on the game than its various mechanics, so if you wish to experience as much of the challenge as possible, read with caution and mind the spoiler tags and links.

Much of the following information about the setting and its inhabitants is rooted in information directly taken from the Guideboook included with each copy of NetHack. For actual characters encountered during the game, see the character subpage.

Character Roles

While not "true" characters in and of themselves, many of the available roles for the player character have traits and features that remain consistent across playthroughs, such as a specific pantheon of gods (with the exception of the Priest, who can serve any of the pantheons at random) and a unique set of abilities.


Archeologists understand dungeons pretty well; this enables them to move quickly and sneak up on the local nasties. They start equipped with the tools for a proper scientific expedition.
Tropes exhibited by Archeologists include:
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Complete with pick-axe, bullwhip and Indy-style fedora.
  • Aztec Mythology: Their pantheon consists of Quetzalcoatl, Camaxtli, and Huhetotl. Their quest nemesis is actually a demon serving Huhetotl.
  • Character Alignment: Archeologists can be lawful or neutral.
  • Dual-Wielding: Archeologists can only attain Basic in two-weapon combat skill, but dual-wielding arcs can be carried by a solid choice of artifact weapons such as the Brands; lawful Archeologists also have access to Grayswandir and Excalibur.
  • Fragile Speedster/Weak but Skilled: While they tend to start with low strength and aren't exactly the most combat-ready class at the beginning, their starting intrinsic speed and stealth lends themselves a lot to hit-and-run tactics that can carry them a long way, and their starting tinning kit makes it easier to safely procure food and other intrinsics. The dwarvish mattock can be a solid 'proper' weapon for them.
  • Genius Bruiser: The Archaeologist's starting stats slant towards wisdom and intelligence, fitting this archetype - this doesn't preclude them from becoming adept physical combatants, though their weapon selection is limited; the effort required to excel in melee combat will vary depending on alignment and how the rest of their starting attribute points are allotted.
  • Grave Robbing: Archaeologists are penalized for doing this.
  • Mayincatec: The theme of their pantheon and quest.
  • Mummies: Plenty of them appear on the quest.
  • Spider Sense: Archaeologists gain the searching intrinsic at XL 10, which can be handy for spotting traps and hidden monsters.
  • Temple of Doom: Their Quest takes them through a set of abandoned temples, with the last floor being the domain of a demon serving Huhetotl.
  • Whip It Good: One of their starting weapons is a +2 bullwhip.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Invoked - their quest branch's monster generation is heavily skewed towards all sorts of snakes.


Barbarians are warriors out of the hinterland, hardened to battle. They begin their quests with naught but uncommon strength, a trusty hauberk, and a great two-handed sword.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes exhibited by Barbarians include:
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Barbarians start the game with this, increasing the availability of early options for food.
  • An Axe to Grind: Barbarians start the game with either a standard one-handed axe or a double-handed, double-headed battle-axe. Cleaver is an artifact battle-axe that serves as their first sacrifice gift.
  • Barbarian Hero
  • Blade of Fearsome Size: One of the Barbarian's two starting loadouts pairs the standard axe with a two-handed sword.
  • Character Alignment: Barbarians can be chaotic or neutral.
  • Conan the Barbarian: The core inspiration for the entire role and their quest, right down to their pantheon including Crom as the neutral god; Set servers as the chaotic god, though his encyclopedia entry returns a quote about the Egyptian Set. Thoth Amon, a powerful sorcerer and high priest of Set, is the Barbarian quest nemesis, and guards The Heart of Ahriman.
  • Dual-Wielding: Barbarians can only reach Basic in two-weapon combat, but this is more than easily compensated for with a one-handed artifact weapon in the primary slot - they can still deal sufficient damage with high enough skill level in popular primary weapons such as the Brands and Stormbringer, combined with their natural physical strength.
  • Dumb Muscle: Subverted. Barbarians are very much this archetype, excelling in all physical stats while starting with low mental stats and a high spellcasting penalty, but have the same ability to raise intelligence and wisdom like other player characters - and smart play isn't role-exclusive in the slightest.
  • Hindu Mythology/Zoroastrianism: Mitra, the lawful Barbarian god, is based on Mithra, who originated as an Indian deity - Zoroaster portrayed Mithra as an attendant to Ahura Mazda and an enemy to Angra Mainyu (or rather, Ahriman).
  • Master Swordsman: One of three roles that can reach Skilled or better in 5 of the 6 sword-based skill classes.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to the many Conan references, the barbarian's default starting pet is a little dog named Idefix.
  • Unskilled but Strong: Shares this archetype with a few other roles, particularly the Valkyrie - both are heavily combat-focused classes that have heavy spellcasting penalties, but can easily get by on stellar armor and weapons, and the Barbarian also has the additional boon of starting with intrinsic poison resistance.
  • Useless Useful Spell: Their special spell "haste self" mostly qualifies as this, due to their lack of spellcasting prowess. Speed boots and potions of speed can work to replace the spell's function without worrying about spellcasting penalties; however, a late-game barbarian that has magic resistance covered through other means can take a chance at wearing a robe and doing some light spellcasting - stacking multiple uses of haste self with jumping boots is a viable method for speeding your way through the last level. You'll have to drop the Amulet before casting to conserve magic power, though, as well as making sure you're not too burdened and able to see where you're jumping.


Cavemen and Cavewomen start with exceptional strength but, unfortunately, with neolithic weapons.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes exhibited by Cavefolk include:
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: The role is a mixture of this and some other tropes of indigenous peoples, with the quest guardians even being called neanderthals.
  • Carry a Big Stick: The club is one of their starting weapons, and their quest artifact is a mace known as the Sceptre of Might. Cavefolk can attain Expert skill in both.
  • Difficult but Awesome: Cavefolk are considered a "harder" version of melee-focused roles like the Valkyrie and Barbarian, as all are combat-oriented roles with harsh spell-casting penalties in exchange for starting with high physical stats. Unlike these roles, however, Cavefolk do not have as high a guaranteed minimum for those stats, and cannot use most edged weapons without receiving them as sacrifice gifts; their starting club and leather armor are also lackluster. Fortunately, the Mines are relatively safe for most of them[1] to gather weapons and armor with - the aklys is a stellar weapon that can pull double duty as ranged and melee weapon for most of the game.
    • Magikarp Power: Those that make it to the late game have more choices in food due to their lack of cannibalism penalties, and The Sceptre of Might is also considered one of the best artifacts in the game for its cross-aligned damage bonuses and ability to invoke conflict. Multishot spears at Expert skill can do absurd amounts of damage, and Cavefolk can freely prioritize wearing the best armor due to not worrying about spellcasting.
  • Dumb Muscle: Cavemen fit the archetype similar to the Barbarian - their high spellcasting penalty ensures most Cavefolk players won't bother, but unlike Barbarians they have a better chance of starting with decent mental stats in comparison. They also have the same capacity for intelligence as other player characters.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Cavefolk can eat monsters of the same race as them with no penalty. Among other things, this makes items such as tins of nurse meat far more beneficial for human Cavefolk compared to other roles.
  • Mesopotamian Mythology: Their pantheon consists of Anu, Ishtar and Anshar. Their quest nemesis, the Chromatic Dragon, is a Dungeons & Dragons monster that would take on the personal name of Tiamat - the primordial sea deity of their creation myth - as of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Noble Savage: Cavefolk can be lawful or neutral, and many of their role's aspects are drawn from this (e.g. Shaman Karnov, the quest leader).
  • Shout-Out: Their default pet is a little dog named "Slasher"; looking up the name in the in-game encyclopedia returns an excerpt from Conan the Barbarian.
  • Spider Sense: Cavefolk gain the warning intrinsic at XL 15.
  • Suffer the Slings: Cavefolk start the game with a sling and a set of rocks and flint stones as their alternate weapon.
  • Useless Useful Spell: Practically any spell in their hands, but a 'special' mention goes to their special spell - dig. It's a high-level matter spell, and there's relatively few matter spells to even train with; the spellcasting penalties also means that only particularly skillful or gimmicky Cavefolk characters even try spellcasting to begin with, and the spell's function is superseded by more plentiful items such as the wand of digging.


Healers are wise in medicine and apothecary. They know the herbs and simples that can restore vitality, ease pain, anesthetize, and neutralize poisons; and with their instruments, they can divine a being's state of health or sickness. Their medical practice earns them quite reasonable amounts of money, with which they enter the dungeon.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes exhibited by Healers include:
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Healers always start with poison resistance, likely due to immunizing themselves.
  • Character Alignment: Healers are exclusively neutral.
  • Combat Medic: Can serve as this with some luck in finding armor and early weapons. Staves, knives and unicorn horns in particular (often used to cure Standard Status Ailments) can be trained to Expert.
  • Classical Mythology: Healers are styled after classical-era doctors and surgeons (e.g. humour theory is still in practice according to their quest guardians, and their starting weapon is a scalpel). Their pantheon consists of Athena, Hermes and Poseidon, with the giant-sized Cyclops serving as the quest nemesis guarding the Staff of Aesculapius.[2] The Cyclops always starts with a wand of lightning on his square, referencing the one-eyed creatures' early role in forging Zeus's thunderbolts.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Healers excel at healing spells, but are restricted in all other spell classes and tend to lack any real offensive options in the beginning. Downplayed somewhat in that it doesn't cut them off from casting them completely, merely restricting the amount of benefits they can expect from any level 3 or higher spells - thankfully, "lesser" spells such as the level 2 Magic Missile are still plenty powerful in their hands.
  • Deadly Doctor: A high-level Healer can be quite fearsome, especially with their quest artifact, The Staff of Aesculapius.
  • Enemy Scan: The rare stethoscope can be used for this, and the Healer is the only role that starts with one.
  • Healing Factor/Regenerating Health: Carrying the Staff of Aesculapius provides regeneration similar to the ring without the drawback of increased hunger, and can be invoked to restore half your maximum HP and cure certain Standard Status Effects.
  • Healing Hands: By design - Healers always start knowing the spells of healing and extra healing, as well as stone-to-flesh (which can un-petrify stoned monsters and animate statues).
  • Instant Sedation: Healers start with a wand of sleep.
  • Knife Nut: Healers can reach Expert skill in knives, and can throw multiple knives at once.
  • Life Drain/Level Drain: The Staff of Aesculapius can deal additional damage by draining levels and health from foes to heal its user.
  • The Medic
  • Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate: Vaguely implied by the fact that they're always Neutral.
  • Pacifist Run: The Healer is most easily played as such, as they can provide support to a powerful pet that does most of the legwork while they gain levels and augment their defenses through other means, such as potions and scavenged armor.
  • Simple Staff: Healers can reach Expert skill in staves, and it serves as the base item for their quest artifact, the Staff of Aesculapius.
  • Spider Sense: Healers gain the warning intrinsic at XL 15.
  • Squishy Wizard: Average Healers aren't physically strong by most measures, but their spellcasting abilities can carry them and their pets a long way.
  • Useless Useful Spell: Cure sickness, their special spell... which only cures sickness (and also sliming). It's also Boring but Practical, since the spell is the only such means that can be made 100% reliable: even blessed unicorn horns may fail occasionally, and the special spell and "emergency spell" bonuses allows for a lot of leniency in terms of armor choices when casting it. You'll also likely prefer using this to setting yourself on fire when getting rid of slime.
  • Weak but Skilled: Healers start with little in the way of armor, food, and weapons, but with care and diligence can still make it a few levels - enough to reliably cast the stone-to-flesh spell, which can easily solve any food-related problems for most of the game. Their starting cash and stethoscope can be used to sniff out or purchase solid armor and weapons, and their healing abilities and items allow them to reliably stay alive and support their pets well (especially for protection rackets and/or Pacifist Runs).


Knights are distinguished from the common skirmisher by their devotion to the ideals of chivalry and by the surpassing excellence of their armor.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes exhibited by Knights include:

  • Amplifier Artifact: The Magic Mirror of Merlin is the Knight quest artifact, and gives double damage to some spells cast by Knights in addition to its other benefits.
  • Blade on a Stick: Knights start with a lance and can gain Expert proficiency in polearms.
  • Celtic Mythology: Their pantheon consists of Lugh, Brigid and Manannan Mac Lir.
  • Chess Motifs: Knight have a special intrinsic jumping ability that lets them move like actual chess knights, though it costs some nutrition and moves in a 'line' to that square - so you must ensure your jumping path isn't obstructed.
  • The Code: Knights are exclusively Lawful and expected to adhere to an in-game code of chivalry, which penalizes them in particular for overeating, stealing, using poisoned weapons, and attacking immobilized or fleeing foes.
  • Cool Horse: The Knight always starts with a saddled pony, and their starting apples and carrots are primarily meant for the steed - horses are vegetarian, and thus gain more nutrition from them. Raising them to a warhorse can be difficult with the relative lack of horse-friendly food, but is well worth it for a pet that can be hasted to a 32-speed mount (compare with 20 speed for an unmounted player wearing speed boots).
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The rank title of Knight is awarded to the role at Rank 5 (XL 14-17).
  • Dual-Wielding: Knight are one of five roles that can attain Skilled level or better in twoweaponing.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Knights can attain Expert in bare-handed combat.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Averted.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Knights start with a long sword and best fit the heroic archetype.
  • King Arthur: Serves as the quest leader, with the home level outright being Camelot Castle and the locate level being the Isle of Glass. Merlin lends his name to the Knight quest artifact.
  • Knight Errant in Shining Armor
  • Lightning Bruiser: Combining their lance with the speed of their mount allows Knights to joust and pound several enemies to death, potentially before they can actually get a hit in.
  • Magic Knight: Knights are capable of becoming adept spellcasters, especially once they find casting-friendly armor. The Magic Mirror of Merlin also provides magic resistance, and grants double spell damage exclusively to Knights.
  • Magic Mirror: Serves as their quest artifact, and provides magic resistance, telepathy, and Knight-exclusive double spell damage.
  • Master Swordsman: One of three roles that can reach Skilled or better in 5 of the 6 sword-based skill classes.
  • Mounted Combat: The Knight excels most at this among the playable roles per Lightning Bruiser above: they are the only role that can attain Expert level in riding, and they can also mount steeds without decreasing their tameness. This makes the Knight the best (if not only) choice to successfully tame and ride a ki-rin.
  • The Paladin: Knights draw heavily from this archetype - they can only be Lawful humans, are expected to follow a moral code to maintain their alignment, and their quest monster is the quasit, a chaotic, imp-like demon that tempts mortals who summon it to acts of depravity, according to Dungeons & Dragons. To top it off, Paladin is the rank title for reaching experience level 30. Their most ideal forms of offense are especially effective against demons and undead, such as...
    • Turn Undead: In special role ability and special spell form!
  • Psychic Radar: The Magic Mirror of Merlin gives ESP to whoever carries it.
  • Religion Is Magic: Has access to the same special #turn prayer as the Priest.


Monks are ascetics, who by rigorous practice of physical and mental disciplines have become capable of fighting as effectively without weapons as with. They wear no armor but make up for it with increased mobility.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes exhibited by Monks include:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Monks are unusual in that they gain a majority of their intrinsics through leveling, such as poison resistance at XL 3. This is meant as something of a parallel to the techniques that they would obtain at those levels in SLASH'EM, which could be used to temporarily gain the intrinsics. It also makes up for their intended vegetarian diet, which limits sources of intrinsics to food such as globs and jelly corpses.
  • All Monks Know Kung Fu: These Monks excel at it far more than any other role.
  • Arrogant Kung Fu Guy: Master Kaen, though due to circumstances surrounding the role's addition to the game, he's more than capable of justifying his arrogance.
  • Bare-Fisted Warrior Monk: The Monk is geared towards fighting unarmed, and gets the most damage out of fighting with their bare (or more often gloved) hands among the available roles. They also get a +1 multishot bonus when throwing shuriken. It's less powerful than was intended, though - the role is ported directly from SLASH'EM, where robes work differently, the Monk also had access to special techniques and the quest was balanced with those techniques in mind. The result is the quest nemesis Master Kaen gaining a reputation as That One Boss.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Monk role was imported from SLASH'EM.
  • Character Alignment: Monks can be any alignment.
  • Chinese Mythology: Their pantheon consists of Shan Lai Ching, Chih Sung-tzu and Huan Ti.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Of a sort - in addition to acquiring many intrinsics through gaining levels (and starting with a good few already), Monks are solid spellcasters and actually exercise wisdom by going hungry. Their quest artifact, the Eyes of the Overworld, also gives them 'astral vision'.
  • Kung Fu Wizard: The Monk plays as this, blending physical proficiency in bare-handed combat with casting ability similar to Wizards.
  • Self-Imposed Challenge: The Monk is the most friendly role by design for several conducts - their diet is 'naturally' vegetarian (eating meat incurs a -1 alignment penalty), their proficiency in martial arts is conducive towards weaponless conduct (which only counts actual, wielded weapons), and they can even be used for "foodless" runs (evoking the image of an ascetic surviving only on prayer). The intrinsics they gain by leveling up are usually resistances that would be more easily gained by eating meaty corpses.
  • Simple Staff: One of the few weapons they can actually take skill levels in.
  • Spider Sense: Monks gain warning at XL 7 and searching at XL 9. The former also doubles as an Enemy-Detecting Radar.
  • Useless Useful Spell: The spell of restore ability, their special spell, is also their crowning gift and can restore lowered stats... but so can potions of restore ability and unicorn horns, for absolutely no cost in magic power. And unlike the potion, the spell can't restore lost levels.
  • Veganism and Vegetarianism: The Monk's standards for alignment record actively punish breaking vegetarian conduct, though it's not particularly harsh.


Priests and Priestesses are clerics militant, crusaders advancing the cause of righteousness with arms, armor, and arts thaumaturgic. Their ability to commune with deities via prayer occasionally extricates them from peril, but can also put them in it.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • Aura Vision: Priests have the innate ability to recognize if an item is cursed or blessed.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Priests start the game with a mace. The aklys is also a prime choice of weapon that doubled as a ranged attack, and priests can attain Expert in both clubs and maces.
  • Character Alignment: Priests can be any alignment.
  • Church Militant: Of the "blunt weapons" kind, per the Guidebook quote - all edged weapon skills are initially restricted, but in return, the Priest can obtain skilled or better in the classes of several bashing weapon such as the club, mace and quarterstaff.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The rank title of Priest is given to this role at Rank 4 (XL 10-13).
  • Drop the Hammer: One of three roles that can attain Expert in hammer.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Priests start with holy water for blessing items (blessed items do some extra damage to undead and demons), and garlic that can be set down to ward off undead, naturally including vampires.
  • Religion Is Magic: Especially true of this role.
  • Spider Sense: Priests gain the warning intrinsic at XL 15.
  • Turn Undead: In special role ability and spell form!


Rangers are most at home in the woods, and some say slightly out of place in a dungeon. They are, however, experts in archery as well as tracking and stealthy movement.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Rangers can be chaotic, and based on some details of the quest, the player character's fellow rangers aren't keen on this "civilization" thing.
  • The Archer: The primary role for mastery of bows. Their quest artifact, the Longbow of Diana, can even create arrows for them.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: Subverted - Rangers start with a bow and dagger, and their skill proficiencies are geared heavily towards these and other projectile weapons, with the short sword being the only weapon (minus artifact gifts) that lets them fit this trope.
  • Classical Mythology: The Ranger pantheon consists of Mercury, Venus and Mars, and their quest artifact is the Longbow of Diana (with Diana being the Roman analogue to Artemis). The Ranger's default pet is a little dog named Sirius for Orion's hunting dog - their quest leader is the Orion, and the quest nemesis is Scorpius from the Just-So Story concerning both constellations' origins. Orion can even swim much like in the folklore - though this is almost impossible to witness in person, due particularly to the Quest branch's lack of water.
  • Fish Out of Water: Implied by their guidebook description in particular.
  • Flechette Storm: Rangers can do reach expert skill in 7 different types of projectile weapon, allowing them to do this - they also gain a multishot bonus for projectiles that aren't daggers.
  • Forest Ranger: The archetypal... archer... that hails from a dwelling in the woods.
  • Hunt the Wumpus: The locate level of their quest is an homage to this.
  • Scary Scorpions: They feature prominently in the Ranger's Quest branch, and their quest nemesis is a more powerful one with a disease-inducing sting named Scorpius.
  • Spider Sense: Rangers start with the searching intrinsic, in line with their tracking abilities.
  • Spiritual Successor: Introduced in 3.3.0 as one to the now-defunct Elf role, with their quest in particular being adapted from the Elf's quest and further refined during 3.3.1.


Rogues are agile and stealthy thieves, with knowledge of locks, traps, and poisons. Their advantage lies in surprise, which they employ to great advantage.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • Back Stab: The role's unique skill, which increases damage against fleeing foes based on your level. It does not work when Dual-Wielding, however.
  • Character Alignment: Rogues are always Chaotic.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Gains the Rogue rank title at Rank 3 (XL 6-9).
  • Dual-Wielding: Short swords are among the better offhand weapons for this purpose, and the rogue can attain Expert skill with twoweaponing in general and short swords in particular.
  • Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser: Their pantheon is derived from the stories' universe (consisting of Issek, Mog and Kos), and their quest leader is none other than... The Master of Thieves!? Fitting, considering Terry Pratchett was at least partly inspired by Fritz Lieber.
  • Flechette Storm: Capable of dealing absurd "storm" damage with knives, darts, and especially their trademark daggers (which grant Rogues a +1 multishot bonus for throwning).
  • Fragile Speedster: Subverted in that they don't gain intrinsic speed by level-up, but start with a combination of high dexterity and low AC (and often HP), and must use their stealth skills to survive and outwit foes until they can find better armor.
  • Knife Nut: They start with a plentiful stack of daggers, and can attain Expert in both daggers and knives.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Rogues that can train up the exceptional strength befitting a thug - and combine it with the above projectile-throwing abilities and a solid stack of (preferably enchanted) daggers - can turn anyone within line-of-sight into a makeshift knife rack.
  • Master of Unlocking: While any role can make use of lock picks and Skeleton Keys, Rogues actually start with a lock pick and get a bonus when using it, to the point of being faster at (un)locking chests and doors than any other role with high enough dexterity - which is naturally one of their best initial stats. They also have their quest artifact, the Master Key of Thievery, which defuses traps while unlocking with it.
  • Master Swordsman: One of three roles that can reach Skilled or better in 5 of the 6 sword-based skill classes.
  • Skeleton Key: While Rogues prefer lockpicks, they're not too bad with these, either. Their quest artifact is the Master Key of Thievery, a stealth aid that can not only defuse traps on locked objects, but also warns of nearby monsters.
  • Spider Sense: Rogues gain the searching intrinsic at XL 10, helping them better spot traps among other things. The Master Key of Theivery can also detect traps and warns of nearby monsters, on top of finding and defusing chest traps.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the defunct Ninja role, particularly in terms of being a stealth-focused row with the ability to Back Stab.
  • Token Evil Teammate/Villain Protagonist:
    • As a role, the Rogue is the closest NetHack has to either trope, given that Rogues are thieves by trade. It's particularly apparent with the Rogue's quest leader - where others are leaders of a people in dire need of their quest artifact, your leader (the Master of Thieves, similar to how he is depicted in Discworld) is implied to be a frightening figure that you owe dues, and sends you to steal the quest artifact from its current owner as a means of paying them off. His "encouragements" consist of various threats on your life to get you to stop dilly-dallying - and if you're too low-level to even qualify for the quest, he explicitly threatens to kill you (though you can re-enter as normal like any other role). The Master of Thieves also has the same exact skillset as he does when serving as the Tourist quest nemesis.
    • The quest nemesis drives this home further, with their "maledictions" being offers to strike a better deal and allow the player to be the Master Key's guardian and otherwise expressing regret at having to kill you. Once you complete the quest, your leader also makes you an offer to rule the world alongside him. The dialogue you get when throwing the quest artifact to your leader suggests he would attempt to swap it for a mundane dupe, but your alertness causes him to chicken out.
  • Video Game Stealing: Of a sort. Rogues always start the game with a sack, which can be used for theft via credit cloning and stashing unpaid items for a pet to carry outside of the store (where they "legally" become yours). They don't have an actual theft attack, though, being more of a thug or robber that wouldn't be out of place in Discworld. Unusually, they're also the only chaotic-compatible role to not get an alignment bonus for directly stealing from shops. What, you want a medal for doin' yer job?


Samurai are the elite warriors of feudal Nippon. They are lightly armored and quick, and wear the dai-sho, two swords of the deadliest keenness.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: Starts with a katana, short sword, and a bamboo set of bow and arrows.
  • Blade of Fearsome Size: The Tsurugi of Muramasa, the Samurai quest artifact, is a large two-handed tsurugi that can literally cleave small-enough foes in two.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Samurai were the prime class of choice for zen players due to their inherent melee strength, especially prior to the release of 3.6.0 making 'zen' an available setting in the options (and thus applicable to any role). They are also one of the few roles that can start with a blindfold.
  • Dual-Wielding: Both their starting weapons are stellar twoweaponing material, particularly the katana - and Samurai are one of two roles that can attain Expert level in two-weaponing, with the other being the Rogue.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: When playing as a Samurai, the game refers to certain items by Japanese names of varying accuracy, but otherwise treats them the same. The role itself is styled after the stereotypical samurai's honorable service to his lord and country (hence their being Lawful-exclusive humans). The Quest in particular is full of this.
  • Grave Robbing: Samurai are penalized for this.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Samurai start without one, though naturally they'll want to find one before diving into the depths of the dungeon proper.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Samurai always start with a katana and washizaki (the role's name for a short sword), and the katana is an excellent twoweapon choice for the offhand. The Tsurugi of Muramasa can bisect smaller monsters and seriously damage larger ones.
  • Japanese Mythology: Their pantheon naturally consists of Amaterasu Omikami, Raijin and Susanowo.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: All samurai start with a katana (otherwise called a samurai sword), and their first sacrifice gift is the artifact katana Snickersnee. Samurai wielding katana can also break enemy weapons with it.
  • Master Swordsman: Along with being one of five roles that can reach Skilled or better in 4 of the 6 sword-based skill classes, Samurai are capable of reaching Expert skill level in three of them.
  • Ninja: The only ninjas in the game are found on the Samurai quest. It's also one of the role's rank titles, earned at Rank 3 (XL 6-9).
  • Ronin: Averted with the role's quest storyline, which sees you returning to your homeland and lord to aid them. The Samurai's experience level titles uses "Ronin" for Rank 2 (XL 3-5).
  • Shout-Out: Their default pet is a little dog namced Hachi, and their first sacrifice gift is Snickersnee from The Mikado.
  • Stock Ninja Weaponry: Samurai can reach Skilled level or better in washizaki, tanto, nunchaku, and shuriken (i.e. short swords, knives, flails and... shuriken).
  • Unskilled but Strong: Downplayed. Similar to Valkyries, Samurai are strong melee fighters with good starting physical stats and the same base spellcasting penalty. Unlike the Valkyrie, they also start with body armor, a viable means of ranged attack in the yumi and bamboo arrows (or ya), intrinsic speed, and a superior weapon in the katana. The Valkyrie only starts with an admittedly-solid small shield, and must train daggers or other weapons and gain levels to obtain intrinsic speed and open up their ranged options - which in fairness isn't all too difficult.


Tourists start out with lots of gold (suitable for shopping with), a credit card, lots of food, some maps, and an expensive camera. Most monsters don't like being photographed.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Tourists can get this naturally... at XL 20. The mass majority of Tourists will have found a corpse to provide the intrinsic by that point.
  • Big Eater: Implied by the usually-high amount of starting food.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: Tourists always start the game with an expensive camera for this purpose.
  • Character Alignment: Tourists are always neutral.
  • Discworld: The entire basis of the role, complete with their pantheon featuring Blind Io, The Lady and Offler, Twoflower acting as the quest leader, and the quest nemesis being the Master of Thieves.
  • Dual-Wielding: One of five roles that can attain Skilled level or better in twoweaponing.
  • Flechette Storm: Tourists can achieve Expert skill in darts and daggers.
  • Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: They even start with an actual Hawaiian shirt, which is best kept for potential bonus AC.
  • Jack of All Trades: Able to attain Basic skill or better in every form of weapon save for clubs.
  • Lethal Joke Character: The Tourist starts with no armor besides the 0-AC Hawaiian shirt on their backs, and their strength tends to be lackluster. Their only means of starting offense is a stack of throwing darts, and their other items aren't much use in the way of combat beyond some healing potions. But Tourists also start with a fair amount of gold, and if they can safely make it to a shop, they can easily buy their way into a solid kit - their natural high Charisma can offset shops overcharging them, and being a Jack of All Trades they can get quite a lot out of almost any weapon. Their starting kits also include a flashy camera that can be used to deter and blind attackers, and a pile of food combined with decent constitution stats that'll keep them from going hungry for quite a while, which all leads to...
    • Magikarp Power: Surviving long enough to reach their quest gives them the benefit of several in-branch shops and a relative Breather Boss in their quest nemesis - the Master of Thieves can be felled by as little as a poisoned stack of darts (like say, the ones you started with). The Tourist quest artifact is among the best in the game for neutral characters, and is effectively an infinite-use blessed scroll of charging in their hands - one that also grants magic resistance, telepathy, and halved damage from enemy spells simply via carrying it. On paper, this means that most wands have double or triple the duration, +4 or +5 rings are easy to create, and most chargeable tools get infinite uses. The Tourist's skill tree allows them to attain Skilled level or better in many weapon classes associated with the more powerful artifacts as well. Knowing the scroll of magic mapping from the beginning makes them trivial to write and use for traversing Gehennom, and their starting shirt can easily be enchanted for a lightweight source of high AC.
  • Psychic Radar: The Tourist quest artifact provides telepathy.
  • Spider Sense: Tourists gain the searching intrinsic at XL 10.


Valkyries are hardy warrior women. Their upbringing in the harsh Northlands makes them strong, inures them to extremes of cold, and instills in them stealth and cunning.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • An Ice Person/Kill It with Ice: Valkyries start with innate cold resistance and can walk over icy terrain without slipping. The cone of cold is their special spell.
  • Character Alignment: Valkyries can be Lawful or Neutral.
  • Drop the Hammer: One of three roles that can attain Expert in hammer. Mjollnir is their first sacrifice gift, and only Valkyries can use Mjollnir as a Thor-style ranged weapon. You'll need gauntlets of power to do so, though.
  • Dual-Wielding: The Valkyrie is one of five roles that can attain Skilled level or better in two-weaponing, and start with a stellar weapon candidate in their +1 long sword, which can be turned into Excalibur as soon as they reach XL 5.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Valkyries start with a long sword.
  • Master Swordsman: One of five roles that can reach Skilled or better in 4 of the 6 sword-based skill classes.
  • Norse Mythology: The Norn is the Valkyrie quest leader, their nemesis is Lord Surtur, and the pantheon consists of Tyr, Odin and Loki. Their first sacrifice gift is always Mjollnir, and their quest artifact is the Orb of Fate which is personally signed by Odin.
  • One-Gender Role: Valkyries always start the game as women.
  • Unskilled but Strong: The Valkyrie is one of four roles that fit the archetype to a degree - they have a high spell-casting penalty, but have more than formidable physical stats to make up for it; lawful Valkyries in particular have an easy time with the Gnomish Mines, and their starting long sword is a solid weapon that can give access to the powerful Excalibur. A dwarven valkyrie is the preferred choice of casual beginners and speedrunners alike, and both Excalibur and Mjollnir are each enough to bring them through the rest of the game once they've procured some armor.
  • Warp Whistle: The Orb of Fate can be invoked to levelport (i.e. teleport between different floors).


Wizards start out with a knowledge of magic, a selection of magical items, and a particular affinity for dweomercraft. Although seemingly weak and easy to overcome at first sight, an experienced Wizard is a deadly foe.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
  • Anti-Magic: Wizards start with a cloak of magic resistance, which is a valuable defense against spells and rays (though less so for the latter than reflection), and their first sacrifice gift is Magicbane, which can stun monsters it hits and even cancel them while absorbing magical energy. The Eye of the Aethiopica, the Wizard quest artifact, further halves any damage from the spells that do manage to get through.
  • Character Alignment: Wizards can be neutral or chaotic.
  • Spider Sense/Enemy-Detecting Radar: Wizards get warning at XL 15.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Rank 8 (XL 26-28) title for this role is... Wizard.
  • Egyptian Mythology: Their pantheon consists of Ptah, Thoth, and Anhur. The name of their quest leader, Neferet the Green, may be a reference to Nefertiti, an Egyptian queen of the 18th dynasty; it may also refer to Nofret (also sometimes called Neferet or Nefert), an Egyptian princess from the 4th dynasty, or 'Nfr-t', a transliteration of the hieroglyphs meaning "beautiful woman".
  • Magic Missile: Their special spell, and easily the most damaging spell in the game in their hands.
  • Psychic Radar: The Eye of the Aethiopica is an artifact amulet of ESP.
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: The starting cloak of magic resistance acts as the former, though you can still find a "proper" robe. The latter appears as a "cornuthaum", and the Wizard is the only role to benefit from wearing one.
  • Simple Staff: Wizards start with one.
  • Skill Gate Characters/Weak but Skilled: Wizards have one of the lowest starting AC among roles and tend to start with very low strength; even after gaining a few levels, players must be mindful of how they manage their high magic power due to its slow regeneration. Those that have the cunning to work around their low combat prowess, poor physical stats and lack of casting-friendly armor in the early game can gain access to destructively powerful magic and breeze through many of the later segments in comparison.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Their quest has a couple of these. The quest leader, Neferet the Green - and the quest leader in previous versions, the Wizard of Balance - serve as heroic examples, while the quest nemesis is a sorcerer simply known as The Dark One (implied to be the Dark One, Sauron).
  • Squishy Wizard: Naturally. Wizards lack armor outside of their 1-AC cloak and tend to start with lower strength rolls, but often get high intelligence in return (which is their primary spellcasting stat) and start with force bolt plus a second spell at random. This is especially true of elven wizards, who have lower strength and constitution caps.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Wizards gain access to at-will teleportation at XL 8, where all other roles get it at XL 12. They also get the ability to control their teleports at XL 17.
  • Warp Whistle: The Eye of the Aethiopica can be invoked to teleport between dungeon branches.

Character Alignment

Often, Lawful is taken as good and Chaotic as evil, but legal and ethical do not always coincide. Your alignment influences how other monsters react toward you. Monsters of a like alignment are more likely to be non-aggressive, while those of an opposing alignment are more likely to be seriously offended at your presence.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack

The game allows player characters to be one of three alignments: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. There is no good/neutral/evil axis as such - the game instead tracks players' "alignment record", which in essence is an indicator of one's standing with their respective god. This is because NetHack is based on earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons prior to their addition of the "good-evil" axis; at this time, it was common for players to interpret lawful as "good" and chaotic as "evil" as indicated by the quote above, and other roguelikes such as Ancient Domains of Mystery still run with this interpretation.

In practice, the alignments in NetHack function more as a barometer of Order Versus Chaos: Monsters also have alignment ratings that determine certain things, such as the type of nasties an Enemy Summoner can produce and which monsters can potentially generate as peaceful towards you. The latter point can prove especially important in gameplay despite - or usually because of - (Nearly) Everything Trying to Kill You. Positive values indicate a lawful monster, while negative values are used for chaotic ones, and neutral monsters have a rating of 0; this also means that some monsters are more strongly lawful or chaotic than others. The most unambiguously evil characters by the standard of alignment rating tend to be "unaligned", which applies to the Wizard of Yendor and Moloch's priests. Since the game is built around randomization - with the Excuse Plot among the only fixed elements - the rest can very much be a matter of perspective Depending on the Player.

Artifact weapons are also given alignments as well, determining which ones a given character can use and receive; they can also be "non-aligned", meaning that characters of any alignment can be gifted one and safely wield them without a blasting. For artifacts that serve as quest objectives and sacrifice gifts, their alignment will be adjusted to match that of the recipient if necessary.

While the gods themselves and their pantheons are fairly interchangeable in terms of gameplay, each alignment has their own expected code of conduct from the player, albeit a fairly loose one. Humans can be of any alignment, while the other playable species are exclusive to one of the three, restricting the amount of role-race-alignment combos possible.


The lawful alignment produces as close to traditional fantasy hero stock as you'll get, and most lawful-compatible roles often have an accompanying set of stringent standards that reflect this. Despite this, lawful characters are still capable of a surprising amount of tricks that aren't out-of-bounds for their gods.

Player character dwarves are exclusively lawful. Roles that can be played as lawful include Archeologists, Barbarians, Cavemen, Knights, Monks, Priests, Samurai, and Valkyries.

Tropes associated with the lawful alignment include:
  • Excalibur: King Arthur's trademark weapon is most at home in lawful hands. Only lawful characters can dip a long sword to transform it into Excalibur, and it is also a lawful crowning gift.
  • Good Feels Good: Lawful characters get alignment bonuses for healing peaceful or tame monsters, as well as rescuing monsters from traps.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Just because you're a lawful character doesn't mean you can't play a little underhanded still; it's subverted in that you do still get penalized for certain actions. For NPCs, lawful monsters such as dwarves will gladly take the fight to you unless you're also lawful - some of the more dangerous nasties such as titans and golden nagas are lawful.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Most of the sacrifice gifts that lawful player characters are eligible for are long swords. Only lawful characters can create Excalibur by dipping, and receiving a long sword as a sacrifice gift means that any of the roles can competently wield it in theory. Crowning while lawful and wielding a non-artifact long sword will also turn it into Excalibur.
  • Holy Burns Evil:
    • Many of the artifacts that are most effective against mostly-chaotic monsters (e.g. Demonbane, Grayswandir, the Sceptre of Might) are lawful.
    • Inverted with lawful player characters themselves, who take damage if they quaff unholy water and restore HP if they quaff holy water.
  • Lawful Good/Lawful Neutral: Generally where the player character will fall.
  • Lawful Evil: Certain demons are rated as lawful in terms of monster alignment - these are analogues to the devils of Dungeons and Dragons, where they are considered distinct from the chaotic demons.
  • Light Is Good:
    • Angelic monsters (represented by the 'A' glyph) are lawful and act as minions of lawful gods, with the exception of randomly generated Angels that serve another alignment's god; Angels serving your particular god can also be "renegade" and hostile towards you.
    • Sacrifices from lawful characters disappear in flashes of light instead of a burst of flame, serving as an unintentional Bowdlerisation of sorts.
    • Sunsword is a lawful long sword that doubles as a light source and deals bonus damage against undead, and Demonbane is a lawful-aligned Long Sword of Major Demon-Slaying - both can be generated in the hands of an angelic being.
  • Light is Not Good: Archons are infamously difficult foes to face if you encounter them as hostile; though still possible if you're lawful, it's far less likely to happen.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: All dwarves in the game are lawful.
  • Silver Bullet: Grayswandir is a lawful silver saber.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Lawful alignment record standards tend to encourage this, e.g., helping monsters out of pit traps and healing peaceful monsters and/or pets.


The neutral alignment is often associated with animals and 'natural' elements. Neutral players are still expected to be generally decent people, but are not held to standards as strict as those of lawful players and can play a little dirtier.

Player character gnomes are exclusively neutral. Roles that can be played as neutral include Archeologists, Barbarians, Cavemen, Healers, Monks, Priests, Rangers, Tourists, Valkyries, and Wizards.

Tropes associated with the neutral alignment include:
  • Anti-Magic: Magicbane is an artifact athame (a type of ritual dagger) that is neutral-aligned by default and can absorb and resist item-cursing effects. It also has various "magic-absorbing" effects when used against foes, with one of the more desirable ones being cancellation; many players tend to keep it enchanted at +2 for this reason.[3]
  • Elemental Embodiment: The elemental class of monsters (which includes the invisible stalker, a species of air elemental) are all neutral. Elementals also serve as minions for neutral gods.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Downplayed. Domestic animals have a chance of generating peaceful for a neutral player character, making them easier to tame. Elementals - forces of nature that include the dangerous air elemental - may also generate as peaceful.
  • Neutral Good: Neutral alignment standards lean towards this.
  • True Neutral:
    • Many animals and animal-like monsters, particularly several domesticated ones, are considered neutral in this sense. They have a chance of generating peaceful for a neutral player character, and hostile domestic animals are stated by the guidebook to only attack out of hunger - throwing them a type of food that they don't normally eat (e.g. throwing vegetables at dogs and cats, or throwing food rations at horses) will pacify them, while throwing them food matching their diet will tame them. As far as other animals, they're territorial and thus generally hostile towards you regardless of alignment.
    • The Horsemen of the Apocalypse encountered on the Astral Plane, who may also be considered Elemental Embodiments, are likely neutral-aligned in this sense as well.


The chaotic alignment is as close to "evil" as a player can get in the base game, but is ultimately not portrayed as such - at least not explicitly. They have the most relaxed standards for player characters of the alignments, but a chaotic player is still expected to not act out - at least not to the point where it starts causing problems.

Player character orcs and elves are exclusively chaotic. Roles that can be played as chaotic include Barbarians, Monks, Priests, Rangers, Rogues, and Wizards.

Tropes associated with the chaotic alignment include:
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Chaotic players and monsters exhibit some characteristics consistent with this (e.g. the effects of drinking holy and unholy water, rules on same-species sacrifice).
  • Chaotic Good/Chaotic Neutral: Chaotic players are usually on this end of the alignment spectrum.
    • The watchmen commonly encountered in most versions of Minetown serve as law enforcement for the area, but are rated as chaotic by the monster alignment system. The reason for this is because they're treated as mercenaries by the game's code, which suggests they were hired; in mechanical terms, it determines how their starting gear is generated and makes them susceptible to bribery, which provides a handy out if you get on their bad side. Beware of a Bribe Backfire, though!
  • Chaotic Evil: Many demons fit this bill, as do several undead.
  • Elric of Melnibone: The portrayal of elves as chaotic draws partly from this series by Michael Moorcock. More pertinently, Stormbringer is the chaotic crowning gift.
  • Even Chaotics Have Standards: Chaotic characters have the loosest set of alignment standards, but are still expected to behave - even if only out of sheer pragmatism (e.g. they don't get penalized for murder, but can still lose a lot of alignment from indiscriminately killing peaceful monsters). The chaotic gods and many of their servants also still oppose the Wizard of Yendor and Moloch on principle.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Downplayed. Chaotic characters that heal other monsters actually lose an alignment point for it, unless they're a Healer somehow.
  • Evil Feels Good: In addition to qualities like healing slightly from drinking unholy water, chaotic player characters are the only ones allowed (if not encouraged!) to perform same-race sacrifice, and gain alignment and possibly even Luck from it. Doing so on a chaotic altar can even summon peaceful demons, including Yeenoghu and Juiblex!
  • Exclusively Evil: Averted, due to the player character potentially being chaotic, and also due to the Order Versus Chaos underpinning of the alignment system; as mentioned before, "unaligned" monsters are most likely to fit that bill, and alignment undergirds other monsters' interactions with you more than anything resembling a morality system. Other chaotic monsters such as orcs and elves may generate as peaceful towards you depending on your starting species.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Gehennom (including the Valley of the Dead) is this. It fits many of the hallmarks, and monster generation there is heavily skewed towards demons and chaotic monsters. Pre-3.1, this section of the dungeon was literally called Hell.
  • Holy Hurts Chaos: All forms of undead, all werecreatures and many demons have a chaotic monster alignment, and many still retain their traditional "holy-aligned" weaknesses (e.g. demons and undead take bonus damage from blessed weapons, and all demons, werecreatures and vampires are weak to silver). Chaotic characters take damage if they quaff holy water, and restore HP if they quaff unholy water.
  • Human Sacrifice: Only chaotic player characters can sacrifice members of their own species without penalty, and even gain quite a few bonuses for it.
  • Necromancy: In accordance with the above, chaotic players casting Turn Undead can pacify them. In their hands, the blessed Book of the Dead can even tame them.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The mass majority of demons are rated as chaotic, and they serve as minions to chaotic gods (and the unaligned Moloch); they take extra damage from blessed and silver weapons, and are immune to fire, poison, and death magic. One such minion acts as a quest nemeses, while another quest nemesis demon serves the unaligned Moloch.
  • Our Elves Are Better: All elves in the game are chaotic, and elves may generate as peaceful towards chaotic players that aren't orcs.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: All orcish monsters are chaotic, and may only generate as peaceful towards orc player characters.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: All were-creatures are rated as chaotic.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Rogue comes the closest to this out of the playable chaotic roles, being a trained thief and enforcer with a rather vicious quest master.


In NetHack, "unaligned" as a character alignment is only attributed to Moloch, his priests and the Wizard of Yendor - this marks the three of them as unambiguously Chaotic Evil in practice, since almost all unaligned entities actually present in the game serve as antagonists. The other three "unaligned" gods - Marduk, Arioch and Elbereth - are simply not given an alignment since they either do not figure in the game's mechanics or, in Elbereth's case, are only present in name.

Tropes associated with unaligned monsters include:
  • Exclusively Evil:
    • Moloch is the enemy of all three alignments' gods, and doesn't seem to care much for anyone - except arguably his servants. Offering the Amulet of Yendor on any of Moloch's altars in NetHack 3.6.0 and later will cause him to simply accept the offer and then kill you anyway. The only exception among Moloch and the Wizard's servants is the priest of Moloch in the Valley of the Dead, who functions like any other peaceful 'aligned' priest. Moloch's high priest is the same at first; once you step foot in their temple, they immediately turn hostile and do their best to end your journey.
    • The Wizard of Yendor himself is an antagonist to the player no matter their alignment, though he seems to have no trouble with Moloch or his servants while making his home in Gehennom.

Playable Races

Beyond matters of alignment discussed above, the five playable races also have their own distinct and exclusive traits.


Dwarves are smaller than humans or elves, but are stocky and solid individuals. Dwarves' most notable trait is their great expertise in mining and metalwork. Dwarvish armor is said to be second in quality not even to the mithril armor of the Elves.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes applied to the dwarves of NetHack include:
  • Fast Tunnelling: Player dwarves are faster diggers compared to the other playable species, and NPC dwarves will tunnel quickly and busily through the dungeon if they have a pick-axe or mattock.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: All dwarves are of lawful alignment, and their armor is typically the best quality out of the main five species, with dwarvish weapons and armor having the highest base damage potential and AC.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Cram - dwarves gain extra nutrition from eating cram rations.
  • Unskilled but Strong: Dwarves have the lowest caps for intelligence, wisdom and charisma (all at 16), but have the most superb physical stats,with Dexterity and Constitution capping at 20, and Strength capping at 18/** (equivalent to 21). This makes them most ideal for fighters, as well as other play-styles and roles that aren't too worried about casting. A dwarven valkyrie is a common choice for beginners, especially since the role already has a sizable casting penalty; it also grants them a far larger HP pool from the higher constitution.
  • Weapon of Choice: NPC dwarves will frequently generate with dwarvish armor and weapons, along with digging tools such as the pick-axe and mattock.


Elves are agile, quick, and perceptive; very little of what goes on will escape an Elf. The quality of Elven craftsmanship often gives them an advantage in arms and armor.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes applied to the elves of NetHack include:
  • The Fair Folk: In the archived Usenet newsgroup FAQ, Dylan O'Donnell notes that this is one of the many likely rationales for why all elves in the game are rated chaotic-aligned by the code, citing examples such as Michael Moorcock's Melnibonians and Steven Brust's Dragaerians, as well as Sir Terry Pratchett's handling of elves in Lords and Ladies. That said, they do share a "Tolkienian" hatred of orcs, who are also chaotic - and the feeling's mutual.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Elven craftsman ship is second only to dwarves; while elven armor and weapons don't provide as much base AC and damage, they can be enchanted to a higher "safe" threshold than any other type of armor. They are also primarily made of wood, rendering them immune to rust (but susceptible to rotting and burning) - this may be a note taken from Dungeons & Dragons, which had a material known as "ironwood".
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Elves get the most nutrition out of lembas wafer.
  • Weak but Skilled: Elves have the lowest strength and constitution caps of all playable species (18 and 16 respectively), but have the highest intelligence and wisdom caps among them (both 20), making them most ideal for casting-heavy play styles and roles.
  • Weapon of Choice: Player elves will start with elven variants of their role's weapons where possible. Elven NPCs will also carry similar gear


Gnomes are smaller than but generally similar to dwarves. Gnomes are known to be expert miners, and it is known that a secret underground mine complex built by this race exists within the Mazes of Menace, filled with both riches and danger.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes applied to the gnomes of NetHack include:
  • Jack of All Stats: Gnomes have a middling strength cap of 18/50 (which maps to 20 out of 25, shared with orcs), but all their other stats cap at 18 - except for intelligence, which caps at 19 instead. They are quite adept at making the most of neutral-aligned roles.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: Well, not all that weird, at least by NetHack standards. Many types of gnome are often found in the Gnomish Mines - they are always neutral and will only generate as peaceful towards fellow player gnomes and dwarves. They're also the "odd race out" in terms of having race-specific armor, though they do have a weapon or two (see Weapon of Choice below).
  • Weapon of Choice:
    • Crossbows are this for gnomes - gnomish Rangers will start with a crossbow and bolts instead of a normal bow and arrows, and gain a multishot bonus when firing bolts. Players will likely first find crossbows in the hands of NPC gnomes as well.
    • The aklys became associated with gnomes almost by accident, as they are generally the main type of monster that generates with one. The reason is that it is one of many weapons that can be generated on any monster that doesn't have the "strong" attribute and can use a weapon, but has not yet received one during monster creation. Gnomes are a part of that subgroup - they are also spawned in large numbers particularly in the Gnomish Mines, and are the first such monster most players will encounter. The association is strong enough that the aklys is considered the only acceptable weapon for "racial" ascensions using gnomes.


Humans are by far the most common race of the surface world, and are thus the norm by which other races are often compared. Although they have no special abilities, they can succeed in any role.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes applied to the humans of NetHack include:

  • Fish Out of Water: The encyclopedia entries consider humans to be an unusual sight in the Dungeons of Doom.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Subverted. Like all non-orcish player characters, humans are penalized heavily for engaging in cannibalism - unless they're Cavemen, who are exempted from such penalties. In practice, this mostly comes into play with killing nurses and tinning their corpses for later; some players prefer being a live cannibal to a dead duck.
  • Jack of All Stats/Jack of All Trades: Humans have the highest average attribute caps of the five playable races, and can play as any alignment allowed by their selected role, with adequate quality of starting weapons. Among the few objective drawbacks are lower dexterity and constitution caps compared to dwarves, and lower intelligence and wisdom caps than gnomes and elves; they also lack racial bonuses for many weapons and do not have infravision, making dark areas more hazardous for them unless they have a light source.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Humans can eat the corpses of practically anything or anyone they want within reason, as long as it isn't human. As mentioned above, the Caveman role lacks even that caveat.


Orcs are a cruel and barbaric race that hate every living thing (including other orcs). Above all others, Orcs hate Elves with a passion unequalled, and will go out of their way to kill one at any opportunity. The armor and weapons fashioned by the Orcs are typically of inferior quality.
—A Guide to the Mazes of Menace: Guidebook for NetHack
Tropes applied to the orcs of NetHack include:

!#?&* elf kibble!

  • Unskilled but Strong:
    • Orcs aren't all that powerful a species for players compared to the others, with lower strength caps than humans and dwarves (but thankfully not elves) and the lowest mental stats of the playable species. Orcish weapons and armor are of the poorest quality among "racial" items as well. However, they're still plenty strong physically - and more importantly, their intrinsic Acquired Poison Immunity, starting food items, and ability to freely eat or sacrifice their own species can provide a vital boon for those who may have trouble in the early game, especially shoring up some of the weaknesses of roles such as Rogues and Wizards.
    • Orcish Wizards in particular have to use a helm of brilliance to get near the ceilings of Wizards from other player races. On the flipside, 16 Int is still more than sufficient enough for them to throw their casting power around; their physical stats make a notoriously rough early game more bearable, and they won't need a helm of brilliance to make the most of the role's late-game power.
  • Weapon of Choice: Player orcs will always start with orcish variants of their role's weapons where possible. NPC orcs are often generated with orcish armor and weapons, as well as scimitars.

Back to NetHack
  1. Specifically, Cavemen that aren't neutral and human.
  2. Aesculapius was the god of medicine in ancient Greece, and his staff (with a single snake wrapped around it) is still widely used as a symbol of medicine today.
  3. The average chances of scaring and cancellation drop off if Magicbane is enchanted to +3 or more, per calculations on its wiki page.