The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Lessons from Nethack

So, I downloaded the new Nethack (3.6.0) a week ago, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m old enough that I first played Nethack (or possibly one of it’s variants) on the University unix system, before the invention of the WWW. Needless to say, I was terrible, and usually starved to death in a few minutes, or died. I rarely got past level 3.

Of course now, there are entire wikis devoted to nethack. You can watch videos on you tube. Now I’m doing better, my scores have gone from maybe 1,000 to 10,000 and in and lucky case, 35,000. (According to the Nethack Wiki, the odds of a random piece of armor having +5 or better enchantment is 0.0001761%, so getting a +5 of anything is about 2 in a million. Getting a +5 Mithril armor? Priceless).

In some ways I’m cheating by reading the wiki, but I come by my cheating honestly — with hundreds or thousands of games played. But even knowing the odds and whatnot, Nethack games (fast as they are) have a joy.

And that is the Joy of Ignorance.

I may know what all the scroll options are but now, in this game, what does the READ ME scroll do? Identify stuff? Cause a (point blank) fireball? Punish the caster? Remove a curse? And is that particular scroll blessed? Cursed? Does this ring aggravate monsters, or allow me to go without food, or let me control polymorphs? Even if you know all of the code and tricks — and I don’t, still. Stupid Wights — you enter each game woefully ignorant.

That’s something that older RPGs don’t capture. At least, not if the player’s read the player’s guide. But suppose that you just took the monster descriptions and randomized them from what the book said? (Maybe not the basic shape, but the details). That looks like a jaguar …. oh, it’s a rust-monster. Oops. I believe that some of Monte Cook’s new games have the idea that where you come from (jungle, tundra, islands, etc) play a real factor, in that a native can basically walk through the  terrain fearing only monsters, but a non-native will struggle to survive. The idea of implicit knowledge, and the lack thereof.

Board games struggle with this. And that’s fine. Being able to determine the odds, knowing a deck composition, and the like are all valuable skills. But there’s something to be said for having no idea. As much as I mocked the X-Com game, I wanted to like it. I want to have to learn things, in game. I want each game to be different, within a certain framework. And now that I’m playing Nethack again, I’m reminded why no other Dungeon Crawl game seems good.


Written by taogaming

December 15, 2015 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Reviews

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4 Responses

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  1. Your tweet about getting laughed at by A cracked me up. Will download over Xmas to show the kids some old school gaming.

    Also, have you tried Pandemic: Legacy? Risk: L is one of my favorite games, wildly elevating a thematically fun, but strategically thin game. Since I’ve had a similar attitude about Pandemic (admittedly a minority view) I wondered if P:L would be a good game to try. But I’m concerned about if it is a good introduction to the game for the kids as they’ve never played.

    Lou W

    December 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    • Pandemic Legacy — No idea.

      Nethack — I’m definitely getting better. Just broke 40k points, and was doing well until I got choked out by an Owlbear (didn’t notice it among the 20-odd monsters) and then didn’t have any way to deal with it. Actually, now that I think about it, I could have snapped some wand or tried Elbereth in the dust (had digging and teleportation, but was in the final Sokoban room). Probably a 5 hour game. First time I’ve ever actually entered the first quest level (although wasn’t powerful enough to proceed).


      December 17, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      • IIRC, owlbears are not very fast, so you can usually run away from them unless you are encumbered, which is generally to be avoided. Caveat: I haven not played the newest version, or any in a few years, so that may have changed.

        +5 armor is almost never found. It’s made. Via blessed scrolls of enchant armor. Be careful of going above +5. Armor at +4 or higher has a substantial chance of vaporizing if further enchanted.


        December 18, 2015 at 11:07 am

      • You can’t run once you are grappled, and I didn’t know they could do that until I was. Ah well.


        December 18, 2015 at 9:36 pm

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