Thursday, February 16, 2023

Hack: Another new beginning

I've made a few more Hack runs, and thought I'd post about my most successful run yet in some detail. Before I do that, though I thought I'd share some data - a chart I made of the shop screen at the start of the game:

Key Name Price Weight / unit Notes
a Splint mail 80 400 6 AC
b Chain mail 75 300 5 AC
c Scale mail 45 400 4 AC
d Ring mail 30 250 3 AC
e Leather armor 5 150 2 AC
f Shield 10 50 2 AC, becomes battered with use
g Sling 1 15
h Sling bullets x30 1 1
i Bow 15 60
j Arrows x12 1 2
k Crossbow 20 50
l Crossbow bolts x10 1 2
m Darts x4 1 5
n Dagger 2 10
o Hand axe 1 50
p Mace 8 100
q Flail 3 150
r Long sword 15 60
s Spear 3 50
t Two-handed sword 30 250 Inaccurate if using shield
u Tinderbox 1 2 Lights oil and torches
v Lantern 7 60 2 oil flasks fills, worth 3500 turns of light filled
w Torches x20 1 25 Worth 1050 turns of light each
x Flask of oil 1 15 Can be lit and thrown like moltov cocktails
y Mirror 10 5
z Cross 2 5
A Food ration 1 40
B Random food 5 2-10 Spinach boosts strength
C Random potion 18 25
D Random scroll 36 25
E Random staff 75 30
F Random ring 100 2

You need light to get anywhere in Hack. You're blind in tunnels without it. You're blind in dark rooms without it. You don't want to be blind in a Roguelike! There are two options for light - torches and lanterns, and both require a tinderbox. Neither requires a spare hand.

You can't beat the torches for cost efficiency. 1 gold for a 20 pack is insane - I haven't yet needed that much. At 25hg (hectograms are not the official weight unit, but make sense to me) per torch and an initial carrying capacity of 850hg, you're going to have to drop most of them, but you can always go back and pick them up as needed.

The lantern is more weight efficient - a full lantern weighs no more than an empty one, and a full lantern plus a spare oil flask weighs 75hg, the same as three torches, while providing 4550 turns of light compared to 3150. But it's hard to ignore the massive cost difference.

I haven't savescummed yet, but I have begun startscumming, because forcing myself to roll with runs doomed by having a cursed weapon was getting tiresome. Don't start with enough gold? Just leave the shop, turn right around and leave the dungeon alive, and try again. Begin with a cursed sword or crossbow welded to your hand? Leave and try again. You could even startscum to ensure that you begin with a useful random item or an enchanted piece of armor, but I haven't.

This run started me with 170gp, which I spent on the following gear:

  • Splint armor
  • Shield
  • Crossbow
  • 40 bolts
  • Longsword
  • Tinderbox
  • 20 torches
  • 3 food rations
  • Random scroll



The scroll turned out to be a somewhat pointless spell of gold detection, which can be of some use in revealing hidden room locations, but wasn't needed this time, and I had to drop all but 3 of my torches to travel unencumbered.

The only points of interest on this level were a monster generating trap, which I used to reach level x, and a trap which caused a boulder to bonk me on the head doing surprisingly little damage.

Highlights from level 2:

  • A scroll in the first room turned out to be a scroll of identify. This was a waste since I wasn't carrying anything unidentified at the time.
  • I found a strength potion which increased my carrying capacity to 975hg. With it, I went back to level 1 and picked up as much stuff as I could carry.
  • Two new scrolls were found - a blank one, and one which when read declared "you feel like someone is helping you," but to no obvious effect. It did not vanish when read.
  • Greg's Gem Store, which paid me well over a thousand GP for my blank scroll, hundreds more for the mysterious helping scroll, and hundreds more for various bits gathered including a few gems.
  • A pickpocket pinched a big chunk of my gold and vanished, but I'm pretty sure I found him skulking about later as I beat it back out of him.
  • A room "painted in strange colors" informed me "you feel strangely happy" as I left it.



Level 3:

  • A yellow light monster blinds you for about 25 turns when struck.
  • I found a scroll of enchant weapon.
  • Paralyzing hurkles and evil eyes thankfully do little to no damage, but can be deadly if something stronger is in the room.
  • Acid blobs corrode your gear when you exchange blows. Better to outrun them and shoot them with projectiles.
  • Arrow-shooting orcs aren't much of a threat, and drop bows and arrows which can be sold for cash if you found a store.
  • Between the bows and arrows and the rest of the saleable junk I found on level 3, Greg on level 2 actually ran out of cash!


Nothing interesting happened on level 4.

Level 5's big highlight was the random shop, finally offering me a place to unload more junk and put some of that gold to use.

I bought:

  • A lantern and some oil
  • Plate armor
  • Two surprisingly cheap potions of gain strength, which brought me up to 17 and a carrying capacity of 1225hg.
  • Several rations, as I was starting to run low.
  • An assortment of scrolls and potions which I tested for various effects, none of them permanently useful.
    • A scroll of magic mapping, with multiple uses and resellable for a profit.
    • A very nasty potion of blindness! This one compelled me to flee to higher grounds until the effect subsided.
    • A potion that froze me in place for one turn
    • A scroll that temporarily turned my hands blue, for some unknown effect.
    • A scroll of monster detection was the most obviously useful of these things.
    • A scroll that erupted into flames when read.
  • A steel wand with a bouncing magic missile effect
  • A strange jade ring and copper wand, whose effects I couldn't determine.


 Level 6:

  • Quivering blobs reproduce, and quickly! But they seemed weak individually, and the big crowds were worth some decent experience.
  • Giant ants return from Rogue to sap your strength. Mercifully, the effect is temporary in Hack.
  • Queevolts hit you with an armor-bypassing (I assume) electric shock attack.
  • Grabbers can eat you whole, doing digestion damage each round until you cut your way out or die.
  • Robbers will steal your stuff and vanish. Sometimes you can catch them elsewhere and get it back, sometimes you won't. But if you kill them first, they tend to drop valuables like gems.
  • Stalactoids fall from the ceiling and do some major damage if they hit! After that they're much less harmful.
  • Fog clouds are just difficult to hit and do non-negligible damage in return, but one-on-one will eventually fall


Another random shop was found here, where I bought:

  • Another potion of gain strength, increasing my capacity to 1350hg.
  • A potion of sense objects
  • Two expensive scrolls of identify, which I used to determine I had a wand of cancellation - still  not sure what that does - and a cursed ring of monster creation. Oops!
  • A scroll that let me recharge my staffs
  • A poisoned potion
  • A potion that made my objects momentarily glow

Alas, this run came to a sudden end when I opened a door and a grabber directly behind it swallowed me before I could even see it.


On one hand, I am learning more about how things work with each death, but on the other hand, a run can last an hour or two and only teach me a few data points. And I'm really not sure how I could have avoided this last one - is there a better way out of a grabber's stomach than flailing around and hoping it dies first? The risk of dying and losing everything doesn't make me want to experiment with random actions like, say, dropping a poison vial or dead lizard in its guts, which might not do anything at all when I already know fighting could work. Experience farming on level 5 doesn't really appeal either when you have all of these acid blobs roaming around.

At this point, I'm prepared to savescum a little. Levels 1-5 feel "solved" to me, and I don't want to have to keep repeating them each time I fail on level 6, so next time I play, I'm backing up a save before descending to 6.


  1. I had a copy of Hack that I played quite a bit in the mid-80s... mainly I remember dying a good bit! CRPG Addict ascended after playing NetHack for something like 270 hours... so... I think I'll have to pass until I retire in another 15-20 years! Great game though.

  2. "And I'm really not sure how I could have avoided this last one - is there a better way out of a grabber's stomach than flailing around and hoping it dies first?"

    (ROT13 to avoid spoilers.)

    Looking at the source code it looks like mnccvat n jnaq bs qvttvat should do the trick. Perhaps gryrcbegvat bhg bs vgf fgbznpu is possible too?

    1. Where did you find the source code?

      Would be nice if the game spawned a jnaq bs qvttvat; I haven't seen that even once yet. Or more than one fpebyy bs gryrcbegngvba; I've seen no more than one of those per game (and I typically consume that first one to find out what it is!).

    2. I looked at and hoped the Hack sources there would be close enough. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't.

    3. ...though looking for strings in the DOS version, I don't see the relevant message for the first trick, so maybe it was added later. Oh well.

    4. Apparently, the Fenlason and Brouwer versions of Hack are a lot more different than I imagined.


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