An invisible choir sings, and you are bathed in radiance…

First NetHack ascension: Dez, the lawful dwarf archeologist.

Second NetHack ascension: Grundle, the neutral human caveman.

Now Rosa the chaotic elf priestess joins these illustrious ranks. This is her story.

(Warning: There are three spots in this account where NetHack veteran-purists will probably grit their teeth and seeth with rage. I’m a big fan of eking out whatever advantages the game is programmed to allow, whether or not the surrounding community scorns them. Of course, reading that, NetHack veteran-purists will probably be able to guess what what sins I’ve committed!)

(I’m also a big fan of pissing off people who get overly-snobby about how other people play their favorite games. So when I describe my sins, I will do so with delight.)

Priests start the game with some holy water and two random spellbooks. Their major asset is the ability to innately tell which items are cursed, so as to avoid them. Sometimes they start with a magic marker, which enables them to write their own scrolls, but this isn’t actually helpful until the mid-game. ( stashed mine for later, when I’d have some idea what I’d need to do with it.

I’d played a dozen or so priests so far, and my early game kept hinging on what spellbooks I got. Sometimes I would get good stuff like healing, remove curse or (RNG willing) identify. These runs got off to a fantastic start, but having such powerful resources that early in the game led to a lot of really stupid deaths. My better runs (that is, the ones that got down below Sokoban) tended to be the ones which started out with crappy spells, forcing me to play more carefully.

This particular Rosa started with cure sickness and detect food. Pretty much worthless. I think I threw the spellbooks away early to lighten my load and then forgot about them. Detect food came in handy to help #enhance my divination skill early on (in preparation for more useful divination spells like magic mapping and detect treasure), but other than that I had no spellcasting advantage out of the gate.

The early game was slow going. I allowed my pet to eat most of the top few floors, and things got a little too hot and heavy in the Gnomish Mines for my tastes. A winning strategy with several earlier priests was to get a pick-axe and start breaking statues in search of spellbooks. I also usually like to poke my head into Minetown as early as possible, hoping for some useful gear and a co-aligned temple. But there were no usable resources at all in the early dungeon, and I wasn’t going to risk getting bludgeoned by a dwarvish mattock with AC 10.

I did have a large dog and a few tripe rations though, so I decided to push downward and do Sokoban first. That should net a couple useful wands and rings, plus a few level-ups to help with my low HP. Pushing to Sokoban is dangerous because a few tough out-of-depth monsters potentially stand in your way, so I made straight for the downstairs on each level. It was quite a hike. Sokoban didn’t appear until DL10… the absolute lowest I believe it’s able to generate.

A white unicorn showed up on the first level. Too dangerous an enemy to face myself, but my large dog made short work of it. This was the first lucky break I got in the game; eating the corpse provided me with poison resistance, and the unicorn horn was the most effective weapon I’d found that a priest is able to use decently. It’s heavy and two-handed, but you need one anyway (to cure illness etc.) so it was like a breath of fresh air.

I always enjoy solving Sokoban, but the haul was not great. I knew from the floor layout that the final room would contain an amulet of reflection (and my preference is always to get a bag of holding as early as possible), but it didn’t matter because my large dog got killed in the treasure zoo at the end, and fighting my way through wasn’t an option at this stage. I did, however, find wands of speed monster and striking, which dramatically improved my ability to survive the early levels.

So off to Minetown I went. I tamed a couple cats along the way, so the hordes of dwarves and gnomes were not much hassle to me, and I found a pick-axe and some elven mithril to wear. I’d been forgoing elven mithril on previous runs; being metallic, and being worn under my robe, it made spellcasting during combat virtually impossible. (Three turns to remove my robe, remove my armor, then wear my robe before I could reliably cast any spell.) Since I didn’t have any good spells, though, I went ahead and slapped it on. Minetown yeilded a co-aligned alter (score!), a towel, and scrolls of enchant weapon and identify. Now that I’d seen the enchant weapon scroll, I could write my own on blank paper (helpfully donated by a paper golem). That gave me a +4 unicorn horn to hit things with, low enough AC to survive a few combats, and a pick-axe. Things were definitely looking up.

Best of all, I found a gray stone in the mines on my way back up. I tried to name it “The Heart of Ahriman”, but my hand slipped, so it ended up called “ThenHeart of Ahriman” instead. This told me it was a luckstone — an item you usually can’t get until the very bottom of the Mines. I blessed it immediately. (That sound you hear is all the veteran-purists groaning their hearts out. Exploiting the [N]ame command is one of the things that can get you called a cheater in certain circles.)

Now that I was tough enough to handle the combat, and had a pick-axe to knock walls down with, I went back and finished exploring everything above Sokoban. Breaking statues netted me the magic missile and healing spells, two very important resources. Breaking into vaults made me rich. An armor store had a cloak of displacement and boots of speed for sale. I gave the rest of my money to the Minetown priest to improve my AC a bit. Pets came and went. I burned Elbereth on a square in the lowest level of Sokoban and set up a stash there, full of food, unidentified items and assorted random junk. Now that I had healing to back me up, the treasure zoo on the top floor was a cakewalk, and netted me a small fortune in gold as well as my amulet of reflection.

I didn’t see any reason to go to Mine’s End, so I pressed on. A few floors down had a shop with a $300 ring for sale. I put it on and the shopkeeper immediately punched me. I took it off, healed myself, bought the ring, and named it “conflict”. This is one of the most powerful items in the game; it makes monsters within eyeshot target other monsters instead of you. One of my failed earlier runs involved a super-early ring of conflict which made me complacent about facing large groups of monsters at once. I wasn’t going to make that same mistake again.

I continued diving and collecting treasure, setting up little mini-stashes every few floors. A weirdly out-of-depth nurse helped bolster my HP by about fifty points, which was a nice boon. A fortuitous beehive enabled me to max out my Strength*, so I could carry a lot of treasure, but what I really needed was a bag of holding. I was leaving so many useful items behind that I was starting to get antsy about not having what I needed when I needed it. I also had a worrying amount of stuff un-identified, due to not knowing the spell and a curious lack of scrolls. (I could write my own, but using a magic marker on identify scrolls seemed like a waste of resources to me.) I needed to fix both of these problems, and soon.

*(Beehives generate lots of bees, which are easily killed, and also lots of royal jelly. Eating royal jelly gives you a permanent Strength boost. As an elf, this enabled me to get to 18 Strength almost immediately.)

I was too low level for the Quest, and eventually reached Medusa’s Island, where I’d lost a very promising run just a few blog posts prior. I didn’t want to deal with that Titan and his hordes of monsters just yet, so this was the end of the line for now. The next step was to [q]uaff from every fountain in the dungeon looking for wishes, but that didn’t pan out. Usually I’d #sit on every throne, too, but none had been generated. Clearing Fort Ludios always guarantees some awesome armor (dragon scale mail), but not every dungeon gives you access. Mine didn’t.

I had nowhere left to turn but the last few levels of the Mines I hadn’t explored. As luck would have it, there was a bag of holding laying around on the last floor, as well as the dozens of gemstones. I visited every shop I’d seen and sold gems to anyone who wanted them, making me rich again. This bought me a few more points of AC. One such shop had a scroll of identify I’d somehow overlooked earlier. I blessed that, bought up every scroll and potion I could find, spent a couple thousand turns consolidating all my mini-stashes at my Sokoban home base, then picked up everything I could hold and crossed my fingers. There was a 20% chance that my blessed identify scroll would identify everything in my inventory.

And it did. Oh, happy day.

Among the finds were a helm of brilliance and a scroll of genocide. I promptly wrote another genocide scroll, blessed the both of them, and wiped out all h and L. Bye bye mind flayers. Bye bye liches. That alone would smooth the Medusa and Castle levels considerably, since it looked like I’d be doing them without any magic resistance. What I didn’t have was a scroll of enchant armor; I’d never seen one, so I couldn’t write them myself. I had had to replace my elven mithril with studded leather in order to reduce the failure rates on magic missile and healing, and AC was my primary concern.

The battle with the Titan turned out to be anticlimactic. I burned Elbereth on the stairs and just smashed everything I could reach while letting conflict take care of the rest. I had no way to levitate over the water, but one of the trash mobs had dropped a wand of cold, so I used that to build ice bridges to cross. When the wand ran out I used my scrolls of earth (these are guaranteed in Sokoban) to summon boulders, which made a few more steps of land for me. Priests get intrinsic warning at some point, so I was able to keep a close eye on the eels swarming around, and was very careful to never let them hit me.

(I have never lost a run to an eel’s grab/drown attack, to a cockatrice, or to getting zapped with a disintegration or death ray. I’m not proud of much in my NetHack career, but I am proud of that.)

Cold and earth weren’t enough to get me all the way across to Medusa, but that’s no big deal; I just dug a hole in the floor, jumped in, landed on the Castle level, found the stairs up, and came in through her back door. Reflection made Medusa trivial, there were some cursed levitation boots sitting nearby (I think these are guaranteed?), and one of the statues in her courtyard contained a spellbook of identify. Double score!

The Castle was easy as pie thanks to conflict, and I collected my wand of wishing without any trouble. First up, I asked for two blessed scrolls of charging. I got one. Not a big deal; now that I’d seen what they looked like, I could write them myself. Second up: two blessed scrolls of enchant armor. I got both. That emptied the wand, so I recharged it and asked for some gray dragon scale mail, and enchanted it. My AC and magic resistance were finally in order. Then, a ring of free action, so as to avoid any stupid paralysis deaths. Now my wand was totally cashed, but I could zap it repeatedly to get one last wish out of it (which would cause it to crumble to dust).

I had to stop and think. This was the furthest I’d made it with any priest so far. I knew what I really needed was a decent one-handed weapon. Nothing’s worse than going down into Gehennom with a two-handed weapon (like a unicorn horn) and getting it cursed. Getting stuck in a fight with no way to use your hands is pretty much the only way I could see my game ending in the slog through the mazes.

But I didn’t know what kind of weapon I wanted to use. Priests are restricted in pretty much everything good. My only clue was the knowledge that my god would give me an artifact weapon as a gift if I sacrified monster corpses to him, and that I’d be able to skill that weapon up regardless of what it was. Rather than use a wish sub-optimally, I collected all my wands and scrolls of create monster and hiked back up to Minetown. The priest was kind enough to let me turn his house of worship into a slaughterfest.

The winner of the weapon lottery was Stormbringer, a broadsword that steals life energy. Good enough for me. I had a few enchant weapon scrolls left in the stash, so I brought it up to +6 and killed bad guys with it until I skilled it up. I still have no idea what the ideal weapon is for a priest, but Stormbringer was working fine for my purposes.

The next thing I did was think, “wait, why didn’t I charge my wand of wishing?”, write a charging scroll (spending the last of my magic marker), reading it, and causing my wand to explode. “Oh yeah, I did charge it. Duh.” So in the end, the sub-optimal wish wouldn’t have been that bad anyway. D’oh. This was the first really stupid move I made in the run, but it was by no means game-ending. I laughed about it and moved on. I’d never get another wish.

One of the chests in the Valley of the Dead held a magic marker. I used this to write a scroll to charge my empty marker, giving me a lot of scroll-writin’ power. I decided to twink myself out by writing two cursed scrolls of genocide, summoning a bunch of nurses and letting them poke my naked body until my HP was pushing 300. Between that, my life-stealing sword and my dragon scale mail, I knew I could go toe-to-toe with pretty much any monster in the game and win.

I still wasn’t XL14, though, so I couldn’t do my quest. There was a graveyard near the beehive I’d found earlier I was saving for just such an occassion, though. I took off my ring of conflict, woke up a few wraiths, and baited them up the stairs. Then I killed them and ate their horrible corpses, gaining four levels in about six seconds. Problem solved.

The priest quest is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen in this game. It’s just graveyard after graveyard, full of nothing but trash zombies, annoying ghosts, and mummies as far as the eye can see. Tons of wraiths, too, but undead monsters don’t leave corpses on graveyard levels, so I wasn’t able to put them to use. Vampires are potentially dangerous, but my sword blocked their level drain attack, turning them into nothing more than simple melee monsters.

I carted a ton of spellbooks out of there. Most of these I read and then dropped, but one was quite valuable: magic mapping. Then I tripped over my quest nemesis (honestly, I don’t even remember what symbol he was), found my Mitre of Holiness (promptly kicking myself for wasting enchant armor scrolls on the old helm of brilliance I’d now have to stash), pocketed the Bell of Opening and geared myself up for Gehennom.

Actually, this was the beginning of the engame. I had magic mapping, a pick-axe and the Mitre of Holiness. Thus, my Gehennom run was simply “map the level, hack a path to the stairs, and #invoke the Mitre when your Pw gets low”. I didn’t need any more treasure and had no desire to crawl over every square of every maze for no good reason. I bribed the first demon prince, killed the rest, pocketed a wand of death, shoved Vlad’s head up his ass and marked the vibrating square. This whole process took maybe an hour.

One treasure I managed to find in Orcus Town was a wand of polymorph with lots of charges. I had to run back to my Sokoban stash anyway, so I decided to do some polypiling and see what came up. There was literally no rhyme or reason to this; I just put everything I knew I’d need into my bag of holding, then zapped my stash and fished out anything good. I swear every single unicorn horn I’d found in the entire game turned into a magic marker. I had so many magic markers that I literally could not think of any more scrolls to write. I knew I’d need gold detection, so I wrote those. All of my armor was enchanted as high as it would go. I tried reverse-genociding wraiths (for their level-granting corpses), but that failed since I’d apparently extincted them during the Quest. I considered sending in some more nurses, but as helpful as that was it was incredibly boring and I didn’t want to go through it again. I ended up writing a bunch of scrolls of charging and taming just because I could. I had enough cursed teleportation scrolls to warp to my stash and back a dozen times over. What a weird thing to have happen.

The one last thing I really wanted from my polypiling was a shirt of some kind to stick five more points of AC on. Alas, it was not to happen. I did get something like twenty lembas wafers, though, lots of potions of full healing, and pretty much every spellbook in the game (including remove curse, an important one that had eluded me until now). I didn’t even know there was an extra healing spellbook, though I didn’t ever actually cast that one.

The last thing on the checklist was to retrieve my candles and stick them to the Candelabra of Invocation, which I’d got from Vlad. I also had about $30,000 I wanted to donate to my priest, just to see if I could get a few more points of AC. I very deliberately leave the candles I find in Izchak’s shop in Minetown, because that forces me out of Gehennom at the endgame. The errand helps clear my head, take stock of what I really need to bring with me past the point of no return.

I bought the candles from Izchak and gave away all my money. In the end it looked like I was one donation shy of another point of AC. (The equation is 440 x XL. I was XL19, so I needed $8360 for a single point.) Now, I could have gone and scoured the dungeon for layin’-around monies, but I decided to just murder Izchak instead. He was the only shopkeeper still left alive, and his “contribution” gave me just enough to fill the plate once more.

That sound is all the veteran-purists punching their browser windows closed in fits of rage. Killing Izchak is a faux pas of the highest order, an action so morally reprehensible that the punishment is banishment from polite NetHack society. But who cares, I needed a thousand gold and he was standing, like, right there. Polite NetHack society can get bent.

Then I murdered my own priest, got all my money back, and donated that to someone else’s priest much lower in the dungeon. I had made so many donations by this point that it had stopped improving my AC, so I murdered that priest and put all the gold back in my bag so I could ascend with it. Because that’s just how the fuck I roll.

Back down to the bottom of the dungeon, the Wizard of Yendor didn’t so much as put up his dukes against my wand of death. I got my Book of the Dead, headed down to the vibrating square, and did the whole ritual thing. This opens the final floor of the dungeon, which was a simple refresher of the most tedious parts of the priest Quest; lots of graveyards packed with undead. The High Priest of Moloch was waiting for me in his sanctum. I briefly considered looking up whether it was possible to donate to him, but then figured that would be overkill, so I just slaughtered him (and the bees he foolishly summoned) and claimed my very own Amulet of Yendor.

Now for the ascension run. This involves running up all fifty-some floors of the dungeon, getting hassled by monsters the entire way. Teleporting is disabled, magic spells cost more Pw, and your hunger depletes faster. Fortunately I’d used my trusty pick-axe to carve out the shortest path on every single floor, so this ordeal only took a short while. The Wizard of Yendor is supposed to keep reviving himself so he can pick fights with you (and try to steal your shiny new amulet), but this only happened twice on the way up. I ended up only needing four blasts from my wand of death in the whole game.

Back on DL1, I entered the Elemental Planes. The Planes are weird because while no spoiler-laden player should ever have a problem clearing them, they each have their own game twists which can cause frustrating deaths if you’re not paying attention. And if you’re a newbie player high on the adrenaline rush of the ascension run, you won’t be playing carefully. So after stepping onto the Plane of Earth and zapping the Wizard for the last time, I forced myself to close the game down and pick it up with a fresh brain the next day.

When I came back, I chomped down on some lembas wafers (which I’d blessed, so as to avoid rotten food — a lesson I learned from dtsund here in my very own comments) and dug out a scroll of gold detection. I’d long since forgotten my food detection spell, so trying to cast it confused me, and reading from a gold detection scroll while confused pinpoints traps rather than gold. This causes the bright pink portal to the next Plane to appear on the map; it’s then just a simple matter of licking my +4 unicorn horn to undo the confusion, and walking to the portal.

The Plane of Earth is mostly solid rock, but I had so many wands of digging that making my way to the portal was trivial. I think I had something like twenty wands of digging back in the stash. I’d brought five with me, and only needed one. I was seriously overprepared for this.

Next is the Plane of Air, the hardest of the four planes. It’s hard because it’s full of air elementals, who are extremely fast and… well, you can look back a few posts and see how I’d already lost one promising priest to one. The ones on the Plane of Air are even tougher. You can’t even move on this plane unless you’re flying, but I still had Medusa’s levitation boots, so that wasn’t an issue. I had lots of wands of teleportation, too, so every time a troublesome elemental got close I just zapped it off to another part of the level. I was overprepared for this, too; I think I brought four wands, and only needed two.

The Plane of Fire is full of lava lakes, but I still had my boots on, so those wouldn’t be a problem. What was a problem was NetHack’s annoying tendancy to flood the screen with flashy icons and trash messages every time a fire-resistant enemy stepped onto a fire trap. Drowning in messages is a really good way to die, because you can miss a critical message at a weird time and not realize it until the DYWYPI? pops up. I lost an archeologist run to this very thing once, on the Plane of Fire. It’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever had happen in my gaming career.

I was telepathic, though, so wrapping my towel around my head was a good way to keep tabs on where the monsters were without being bombarded by constant messages about how fire wasn’t burning them. I tromped off towards the next portal and entered the last Elemental Plane.

The Plane of Water is tricky because the whole thing moves. Scanning for the portal works the same as the previous planes, but it doesn’t stay put, so you kind of just have to meander around looking for it. There are lots of water creatures here, but they can’t touch you as long as you stay away from the edges of your bubble. (I guess I could have written a last minute genocide scroll to get rid of them, but it didn’t occur to me.) Eventually I drifted into the bubble with the portal and hopped in.

The last level in the game is the Astral Plane, full of incredibly tough monsters and the dreaded Riders. The goal here is to find the correct altar (there’s one for each alignment; I needed the chaotic one) and offer up the Amulet of Yendor to win the game. The obstacle is that each of the three Riders can kill even a seasoned, well-geared endgame player. And only two of them can be hit with wands of death.

So I reached back and pulled out the ol’ Heart of Ahriman exploit again — or, at least, a variation of it. Putting on my towel let me see all the monsters on the level telepathically. Then it was a matter of locating each of the three High Priests, trying to name them something, and having the game identify them for me. That allowed me to walk straight up to the chaotic altar without ever coming within eyeshot of a Rider.

Now all the veteran-purist’s heads are exploding. That’s enough to make some old curmudgeons disqualify my entire ascension. But you know what? I feel good about it. The game lets me do it, and the game is about carving out any and every advantage you possibly can. Skipping two-thirds of the Astral is a no-brainer after the hours of turmoil I’d already been through. And, as an added bonus, I get to give the finger to anyone who doesn’t like it. Screw you, man! I got mine!

The chaotic high priest offered me two bits for an ale, then I #offered up the Amulet and ascended to demigoddesshood. The game asked if I wanted my possessiosn identified, but I declined. I’d already put that spellbook to good use, you see.

Thank you for reading my incredibly long and overly-detailed ascension post. Now, what role is up next…?

8 comments to An invisible choir sings, and you are bathed in radiance…

  • Meditative_Zebra

    M0AR Nethack LP plz!

    The concept rougelikes use is fascinating to me but the games themselves are often too opaque for me to be able to decipher. While I can enjoy straightforward iterations such as Spelunky or Shiren the Wanderer games like NetHack are beyond me. Be our guide and display for us the majesty of this genre, Brickroad!

  • dtsund

    Wizard is the most powerful role, Knight is the most all-round awesome.

    The #name bug isn’t actually held in the contempt you seem to think it is; I think the Interhack interface I showed off for online play actually lets you automatically do that with a single keystroke. On the other hand, the biggest NetHack server,, has the Astral Call bug fixed (and it actually is considered a bug).

    Killing Izchak, from what I’ve heard, is held in different regard in different circles. It seems as though the Usenet group holds it in contempt, but the #nethack IRC room doesn’t really care.

  • dtsund

    …wait, I had Knight and Wizard backward there.

  • Solitayre

    I ascended only once, as a wizard. I swear that run the RNG actually wanted me to win. (the RNG never wants you to win.)

  • anonimous

    You have 2 weeks to start a NetHack LP, or else you’ll be transformed into a gnome forced to play RMS Bros. 1 & 2 for 100 years inside an ice prison with kellogs as your only food source.

    You have been warned.

  • Dixon Hill

    Congrats on the ascension. I find the Heart of Ahriham identify slightly distasteful. Mostly because it’s more of an exploit than a ‘proper’ strategy. Like, your not using the rules of the game world to figure things out, your using a programming problem against it. Not that what you did is a seriously big deal. 1) The luckstone ain’t hard to ID by other means (touchstone, scroll, scraping on a mirror?, there are only 4 stones in the game anyway), 2) Killing Itzack doesn’t bother me, I just rarely kill shopkeepers at all. 3) Doesn’t sound like you would’ve had any trouble wandering the Atral Plane forever.

    Ideal weapon for a Priest would’ve been the Scepter of Might. Sure you would’ve taken a bit of damage every time you equipped it, but 1) it’s not much damage, 2) you rarely take your primary weapon out of your hand.

  • anonimous

    c’mon man… I’m brickoholic and my doctor told me to watch more or your videos… do something!!!!!
    btw, are you gonna do a “how to be as awesome as brickroad” tutorial or stuff like that?

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