Ragnar the chaotic orcish ranger joins Dez the archeologist, Grundle the caveman, Rosa the priestess and Big Bertha the valkyrie in the Brickroad pantheon of NetHack demigods. (Yes, I am fanatical about ticking off each and every ascension. They are all of them very special to me.)
Looking over my log file, I see it took me twenty Ragnars to finally ascend one. Most of those landed somewhere on the learning curve of figuring out how to manage the ranger’s missile weapons and finite ammunition supply. One of them was my first ever death by petrification — I killed a monster while blinded, and then stepped onto the square where its corpse fell. Turns out it was a chickatrice, and I wasn’t wearing gloves. Two lessons learned: 1) don’t melee monsters while blinded unless I know what they are, and 2) until I have gloves, use [m] to move while blinded until. (This causes you to take a step without attempting to attack or feel what is laying on the square. For example, a chickatrice corpse.)
But no, mostly it was just getting used to the bow and arrow. Rangers start with two stacks of arrows: one stack of +0 and one stack of +2. There are a lot of arrows in each stack. More arrows, in fact, than I had ever seen in one place on any of my previous characters. But those arrows go fast. Rangers commonly fire more than one arrow per round, which is a good thing, because it’s a fast and effective way to kill monsters without having to melee them. But every arrow fired has a chance of breaking, so the more skirmishes you get into, the fewer shots you have. The +2 arrows break less frequently, but still frequently enough that you can’t afford to miss shots with them. If all your arrows run out, you’ve got nothing to fall back on besides a shitty stupid dagger and whatever melee weapons have showed up in the dungeon. (Which, very early in the game, are usually too shitty to use or too dangerous to try. “The curved sword welds itself to your hand!”)
At first I tried to ignore the bow altogether, let my pet do all the killing, and make do with my dagger. This worked for a while — it was similar to the archeologist and priest’s early game — but once second-tier monsters started showing up I was outclassed. Also, I’m really bad about keeping my pets alive past six or seven floors. And besides, the archeologist and priest both had combat options the ranger didn’t. Sure their early options sucked, but they didn’t have to go into the fray with an orcish dagger in one hand and their dick in the other.
So I slowly learned to embrace the bow. I used the [Q]uiver and [f]ire commands for the first time. I learned to use my supply of +0 arrows first, which would usually skill me up enough to #enhance my bow skill before [Q]uivering the +2 stack. When kobolds and gnomes fired arrows at me, I made sure to pick up their supply. Sometimes I would take a stack from an #untrapped ^. An early potion of sickness became a lucky find. (You can #dip a stack of arrows into a potion of sickness to poison them. Poisoned arrows are immediately fatal some percentage of the time.)
No matter what I did, though, the arrows would run dry long before I had a good melee backup or some cache of escape items. My usual early game of clearing out dungeon floors and paying a visit to Minetown wasn’t accomplishing much but piles of dead, hapless Ragnars.
I had to change my strategy. The earlier I could get escape items, the better. They don’t always show up in the dungeon, or in the Mines, but they do always show up in Sokoban. My plan became to push for Sokoban immediately, forgoing all other dungeon exploration, and stockpile the wands, rings and food found there. Clearing Sokoban usually left me with lots of spare arrows, usually a couple of strong pets, and at least one good Elbereth wand. So armed, I could go back and carefully explore the upper levels, pet-testing armor and getting myself to around -1 AC. Then, it was a matter of pushing downwards until I found an altar, where I could sacrifest until an artifact weapon showed up.
I reached the point where I could consistently get Stormbringer and make a serious dent in the dungeon. Even at that point, though, I realized what a powerful tool my bow was. I already knew what monsters had to be fought from a distance, and what monsters were dangerous enough to soften up a bit before reaching for my sword. I was a little bummed when I found out rangers can’t #twoweapon, but that’s balanced by the expert skill in bow. Eventually I’d have a stack of 60 or 70 blessed poisoned +6 arrows. Taking down a master mind flayer from across the room with two volleys gave me a huge boner.
My early game sorted, I only lost four more Ragnars. Two of these were probably the most stunningly stupid deaths I’d ever suffered in NetHack, and they provide me with a good opportunity to talk about the guts of the game a bit. So buckle in.
When you have an altar aligned to your god, you can #offer a monster corpse in sacrifice. Do this enough times and your god rewards you with an artifact weapon. (Doing this over and over for the expressed purpose of receiving a good weapon is what I mean by “sacrifesting”.) The rules for sacrificing are pretty simple: don’t #offer up any pets, don’t #offer up any corpses that are old and nasty (no mummies or zombies, please), and don’t #offer up your own species.
That last rule has a little bend to it. Chaotic characters, such as Ragnar, can safely #offer their own species. At least, “safely” in this context means “god won’t get mad at you”. In fact, you are rewarded, in a fashion, by having one of the endgame demon princes summoned to your location. This demon prince is so impressed at your cruelty that he regards you as peaceful. As long as you don’t attack him, he is no danger to you. The benefit of this is, that particular demon won’t be generated later in Gehennom. (Not that demon princes are very dangerous opponents by that time, but you know, one less thing.)
It’s usually pretty hard to accidentally attack a peaceful entity, including shopkeepers, priests, guards and the like. If you bump into one, the game asks for confirmation so you don’t totally screw yourself. This is true for peaceful monsters as well, up to and including demon princes. The only exception is when you’re armed with a bloodthirsty blade. In that case, your weapon has a mind of its own, and doesn’t wait for permission to shove itself into whatever friendly you just typo’d into.
The most common artifact weapon received during a chaotic character’s sacrifest is Stormbringer. Stormbringer is a decently powerful broadsword that sucks life from monsters. Also, it is bloodthirsty. And from here even unsophisticated NetHackers can piece together the puzzle. After getting well and truly trounched by an angry Yeenoghu in the middle of Minetown, I had no recourse except to laugh out loud and say, “Well that was fucking retarded. I’ll never make that idiotic mistake again in my NetHack career.”
Bollocked if I didn’t lose the very next Ragnar in the very same way, with the very same Stormbringer, by bumping into the very same angry-ass Yeenoghu.
The next Ragnar, I thought I was going to ascend. He managed to avoid pissing off the peaceful demon princes he summoned, for one. He took the fight all the way down to the deepest depths, got his grubby mitts on the Amulet of Yendor, and made it all the way back to the Astral Plane. The first two altars he checked were of no use to him, and on his way to the third Death came up behind him and killed him twice. This death stung. It was the farthest into the game I’d ever lost a run; the only time I’ve ever died on the Astral Plane. And it was entirely my fault! Death (as in, an actual monster called Death) was only able to catch me because I had forgotten to swing by my Sokoban stash and pick up some spare wands of death and teleportation. If I’d been able to slaughter and/or teleport the mobs of ants and dragons and vampires and such on the Astral Plane, instead of standing on a square futiley swinging Stormbringer around like some moron, Death would have only had time to touch me once or twice. Over 200 HPs, gone in a flash. Twice. Wow.
Lesson learned: you can never, never be over-prepared for the Astral Plane. It doesn’t matter what your AC is, what intrinsics you’re packing or how many HPs you have, the riders mean business. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re meleeing Death, something went wrong somewhere and it’s already too late to fix.
The next Ragnar triggered a boulder trap on the second floor, dying almost immediately. [a]pply trombone.
Yes, the next Ragnar had everything he needed. All the lessons from Ragnars past converged into one beautiful, white-hot point: skill up on the shitty arrows before switching to the good ones… treat Stormbringer with respect… don’t neglect the Sokoban stash. As far as lucky advantages went, this Ragnar only had two, and neither were particularly useful in the early game. For one, he found a cloak of magic resistance very early in the dungeon. (Of course I didn’t actually know I had this until I did my mass-identifying later on, but I probably wouldn’t have worn it anyway. Rangers start with a +2 cloak of displacement, and displacement is more useful than magic resistance in the very early game.) For another, there were a lot of general stores. At least four huge shops got generated above Sokoban, providing me with lots of resources to play with in the mid game.
But in the early game? Forget about it. Lots of counting arrows and frantically managing E-squares. Sokoban had a bag of holding, and the Minetown altar was cross-aligned, which meant I had to push into the scarier parts of the dungeon without reflection, magic resistance (remember, I didn’t know I had it) or a decent melee weapon. I used up most of my food rations taming cats and dogs. I got into the habit of [s]earching before every step, so as not to bumble into a polymorph trap. I was down to [f]iring cursed orcish arrows by the time I finally found an altar to use. And even then, Mars didn’t play nice with me. Instead of Stormbringer, he gifted me with Grimtooth, which was just a souped of version of the +1 dagger I already hated.
I sacrifested some more, and once again, no Stormbringer. Instead I got Frost Brand, a long sword which deals ice damage. Not great, but I had flashbacks to the thousands of turns Dez spent sacrifesting in search of Grayswandir, and decided, “Meh, good enough. At least I won’t piss off Yeenoghu.”
Around this time I got my cloak identified, but I wasn’t that stoked about it. Ideally I decided I’d want gray dragon scale mail, which offers magic resistance in the body armor slot, so I could keep wearing my cloak of displacement instead. Fort Ludios and the Castle both generated gray dragons, but neither dropped scales. Medusa had a polished silver shield, which was good for reflection (I think this is guaranteed, actually). In addition, I’d gotten an early ring of polymorph control and lots of helpful rings had been generated as metallic. This meant I could fill up on intrinsics by transforming into a metal-eating monster and then eating rings. This got me fire and shock resistance, a few spare points of Constitution. (Sadly, no increased damage or teleportation control. And I ate like five of each of them.)
Polypiling the Ludios haul earned me speed boots, a helm of brilliance, and some other knick-knacks. I examined the holes in my ascension kit. All I really needed was AC and gauntlets of power. I hadn’t yet used my wand of wishing.
I decided not to. Usually I like to wear gray or silver scales, gaining magic resistance or reflection, respectively, but I already had both of those from other armor pieces. Displacement is nice, but not critical. Instead, I just enchanted up some orange dragon scales to get my AC topped off. Kind of weird, but why use a wish if you don’t have to?
Gauntlets of power, I decided I could just do without. The extra melee damage would have been nice, but I’d already poly’d up more wands of death and teleportation than I could ever use, and had a huge stack of poisoned +6 arrows besides. I stowed away my wishing wand for an Astral Plane emergency. (Partially-eaten chickatrice corpse, maybe?)
I thought the ranger quest was a lot of fun. I’d been warned against it by a curmudgeonly NetHack dude I know, who said it was boring because it involved lots of walking through corridors fighting centaurs. It turns out, though, that only one floor is like that, and the floor contains lots of trees and iron bars, which are fun symbols you almost never get to see. There’s also a “hunt the wumpus” level partway through, which I thought was cute. (“You fall into a pit! Luckily, it wasn’t bottomless after all.”) At the end you kill some easy-ass scorpion thing and get the Longbow of Diana, which provides telepathy and can be #invoke’d to spit out a stack of arrows.
The ascension run was a hassle thanks to a couple of particularly tenacious arch-liches. It wasn’t until I’d spent fifteen or twenty minutes chasing a purple L through hordes of summoned nasties the entire way across Orcus Town that I realized I hadn’t seen, wished for or written any genocide scrolls. Until now I never appreciated the wisdom in standing on the upstairs to kill a powerful, teleporting, spell-casting monster… probably because I normally wipe them out. Fuck it, I’m already running wishless, I might as well run genocideless too.
I made sure to triple-check my Sokoban stash. This time, the Astral went as smooth as can be. I got lucky and found the altar on my second try, but I was well enough equipped that I could have checked them all twice, if need be. That makes this my first ascension without the [C]all exploit, as well. (I got scolded for using it last time.)
Ranger started out as a hassle, but after learning the ins and outs I started to like the class more and more. The early game was pretty nice because orcs start with poison resistance, which means they’re easier to feed. I wonder how much different an elven ranger’s early game is? (I wouldn’t have lost a Ragnar to a wand of sleep in that case, at least!)
And now, with twenty Ragnars behind me, it’s time to hang NetHack up for a while and move on to other games. I hear DoomRL is pretty damn fun?
Here’s Ragnar’s endgame dump, in case you’re a nerd who likes reading lists of wands and monsters vanquished.