My first NetHack ascension was a dwarven archeologist, after a couple hundred false starts. My second was a caveman who stumbled upon archeologist #217’s bones file, complete with some artifact weapons, a bag of holding and a charged wand of wishing. I don’t even want to think about how I lost that run, but I did, and my caveman reaped the rewards.
(Instead of generating new levels, NetHack sometimes saves the level one of your previous heroes died on. This is called a bones file. You have to deal with whatever killed the first hero, but if you manage it, you get to claim all that hero’s possessions. Quite handy if a strong hero died on an early level doing something completely stupid and avoidable.)
So that was years ago, and now I’m back on the NetHack horse. I like to play the same class until I win, and so after a thousand games priest is still only the third role I’ve tried. The early game is much different than the arcs I’m used to; no pick-axe, no friendlies in the mines, no worries about whether that iron skullcap is cursed.
There have been lots of YASDs. But this failed run… I really should have ascended it. I’m beating myself up over it.
(YASD = Yet Another Stupid Death. This is a NetHack term for when you die when you shouldn’t have, because you were stupid. It is the most common type of NetHack death.)
The early game was a breeze. Mines showed up on DL3, Sokoban on DL6. Tons of food and spellbooks showed up early, including Healing, Force Bolt, Protection and Haste Self. Lucked into some elven boots and a few pieces of +1 armor without breaking a sweat. Resistances included poison, fire and cold before DL3. Found my blindfold and floating eye corpse within ten minutes of one another. I had a horse, a large dog, and three large cats, plus a magic whistle to keep them all in line.
There were a few little tasks I wanted to take care of before delving down beneath the Oracle. I had to get some things blessed, write a few scrolls (started with a 0:98 magic marker, how lucky is that?), maybe enchant my armor a little. All the materials were in my DL2 stash. But first, a quick jaunt to Mine’s End to get my luckstone. There were some complications along the way (such as a level teleport trap sandwiched in between two unbreakable walls), but I managed it, and was on my way back up when the air elemental spawned.
I knew not to take this air elemental lightly. I lost an archeologist to one, once, on the Plane of Air. I summoned all my pets, put up my Haste and Protection, and lobbed a few magic missiles at it. It was, unfortunately, only a matter of time before it engulfed me. Bam! Went from my full 63 HP to about 20 in one attack.
Things were not good. I had nothing with which to kill the E in a single move, and my only escape item was in my bag. I hadn’t blessed it yet, see, and had to stash my scrolls there so as not to wander around Burdened. I could cast Healing, but that only allowed me to tread water. Eventually I would be out of Pw and get pummeled to death.
I hadn’t prayed yet, and I hadn’t done anything to piss Mars off, so I felt pretty safe. I’d get my free heal, dig out my scroll, then teleport away and give myself enough breathing room to hit the upstairs. I’d have to abandon my pets, but tripe rations are plentiful and there are always more little dogs.
“You feel Mars is well-pleased! Your mace looks good as new!”
“You are pummeled by debris! You ar pummeled by debris! The air elemental expells you. The air elemental engulfs you! You are pummeled by debris! You die…”
“Do you want your possessions identified?”
So Brick. What did we learn?
Don’t put off the boring maintenance tasks to go dungeon delving. When it’s time to bless your stuff, bless your stuff. If my bag of holding had been blessed, my escape item would have been ready in one round. If I’d gone back and written my scrolls, I’d have gone into the mines with improved AC and HP. If I’d blessed those last two spellbooks, well, who knows what spells I might have had at my disposal? Teleport Away would have been handy…
But most importantly: do not take Mine’s End lightly. There’s nasty shit down there.
A week later…
I almost lost a really, really good priest run. Narrowly escaping a YASD is almost as invigorating as ascending, so here’s the story.
This priest was not a charmed character. She started with crap spells and no magic marker, and had to fight tooth and nail for every single advantage she had. Still, I played carefully, trained up a warhorse, scraped out advantages where I could. Sokoban didn’t have a bag of holding for me, so I was living out of stashes everywhere. Once the tooth-and-nail portion of the early game was over I took the calculated risk of poking fountans and thrones for wishes. Thus did I get some grey dragon scale mail and a magic marker, with which I wrote my identify and magic mapping spells plus enough enchant weapon to get my unicorn horn up to +6.
With 90% of an ascension kit, but no bag of holding, I decided to just gun for the castle and the wand of wishing there. I literally only needed a couple items to win the game. I had no way to cross the water on Medusa’s level, but I figured I’d at least clear out what I could. You never know what will show up.
I carelessly took one step off the upstairs without first taking stock of my surroundings, causing the nearby titan to summon a ton of monsters, including a minotaur and a master mind flayer, plus an umber hulk standing up on the upstairs, who promptly hit and confused me.
I knew I was pretty royally boned, so I burned Elbereth with my wand of fire. (That Air Elemental death reminded me to always keep an escape item in my hands, no matter how close to Burdened I was.) Except I was confused, so I engraved Elber|th instead. D’oh!
(“Elbereth” is a secret word you can write, carve or burn into the ground. If you’re standing on a square where Elbereth is engraved, most monsters in the game will ignore you. It’s useful both as a last ditch effort to turn the tables of a losing battle, and as a pre-emptive measure against particularly difficult monsters.)
I couldn’t retreat upstairs because umber hulks are tough and it would take me more than two hits to kill it. I couldn’t engrave properly because I was confused. I couldn’t even cure my confusion because the umber hulk (in addition to every other monster around) would get a free hit on me, thereby re-confusing me. I was either going to get pummeled to death by that minotaur or have my brains sucked out by that master mind flayer.
The titan was still at the back of the room, happily zapping his wand of death at me. I already had reflection (bagless Sokoban), so he couldn’t kill me with this. In fact, the death rays were randomly slaughtering monsters standing behind me, which wasn’t precisely helpful, but it was better than nothing. When a killer bee behind me died, opening up a square to move to, I figured I could do worse than step there and hope something got in between me and the umber hulk. If I could get my confusion healed in one move, I could engrave Elbereth on the next, which would cure the mind flayer problem. Minotaurs don’t respect Elbereth, but I was confident I would fair better against HP loss than having my brain sucked.
So I moved, and the umber hulk moved with me. Well, crap.
“There are many objects here.”
“You see here a wand of digging.”
I zapped the wand of digging downward, thereby escaping the whole damn mess. YASD averted! I found the upstairs and killed Medusa, and there happened to be a pair of levitation boots sitting there, neatly solving the problem of how the hell to get back. Lots of time to lick my wounds and the solution to one of my most pressing problems. Neat!
As often happens, though, I just avoided one YASD so I could stride boldly into the next. The narrow escape, coupled with the lucky find and a few floors of breezy exploration left me overconfident about my abilities to return to Medusa’s place and clear out the titan’s room. I opened the door (without using telepathy to check the other side, why do you ask?) and the purple h was waiting for me and my delicious, suckable brains.
But that’s no problem; I was levitating. I could just zoom out over the water and then lob magic missiles at it until it died! Oh, wait, what? Mind flayers can fly? Well, I’m not confused this time, so I’ll just engrave… ah, yes. I’m over water. Of course.
“You feel your last thought slip away…”
“Do you want your possessiosn identified?”
In double plus ungood news, Medusa never leaves bones files. That’s an ascension kit no future priest will unearth.
So Brick. What did we learn?
I had a blessed scroll of genocide up in one of my stashes. I cannot for the life of me figure out why I didn’t pre-emptively kill mind flayers. I practically begged for this YASD.
Also, if you get clear of Medusa and the way back is dangerous, for the love of god just push on to the castle and get that wand of wishing. There are literally an infinite number of ways I could have avoided dying brainlessness, if I hadn’t already been brainless.