Friday, February 24, 2023

Hack: Won!

I entered level 21 with 22 strength, good weapons and armor and a backpack full of magic, and most importantly, an anchor save on level 20. This would be the last save I needed.

My possessions:

  • 3 potions of extra healing
  • Potion of restore strength
  • Potion of healing
  • Lantern
  • Mirror
  • Tinderbox
  • Cross
  • 8 flasks of oil
  • 6 food rations
  • +3 bow
  • +4 long sword
  • 20 arrows
  • 2 wands of sleep
  • 2 wands of monster teleport
  • 2 wands of trap detection
  • Wand of light
  • Wand of cold
  • Wand of fire
  • Ring of protection
  • Ring of +2 stealth
  • 3 scrolls of resurrection
  • 3 scrolls of magic mapping
  • 2 scrolls of confuse monster
  • Scroll of light
  • Scroll of gold detection
  • Scroll of remove curse
  • Scroll of teleportation
  • +1 plate armor
  • +0 shield


I knew there was some good stuff in the shops above too, including a wand of slow monster and a wand of polymorph - both types I'd encountered in the late teen levels - but I just couldn't afford them.

Moving forward, I'd ritually use a wand of trap detection every time I entered a new level - it generously reveals all of the level's traps and not just the ones in the room.

I'd somewhat reluctantly also use the wand of light in nearly every room - getting jumped or eaten in the dark was something I wished to avoid, and when it ran out I'd have to deal with it, but I figured my best survival strategy was to use everything I'd got, and hope that more useful things would turn up as I delved deeper.

Enemies I found in the early 20's included:

  • Dragons eat you up close and shoot incinerating bolt from far away. The wand of sleep makes them harmless, but watch your angles - if it misses, it can bounce and potentially hit you!
  • Demons self-replicate, like quivering blobs. Unlike quivering blobs, they'll hurt you individually, and in groups will slaughter you. The wand of Teleport Monster helps split up the crowd, and make its victim a future problem instead of a current one.
  • Floor Fiends are invisible monsters that eat you when you get close, but drop lots of items - possessions of a less lucky adventurer, perhaps - when killed.
  • The Argus is a cowardly creature who will put you to sleep with its magic flute and run. Likely a problem if other creatures are around, though one situation this froze the game.
  • Energars will paralyze you if you touch them, and blast you with lightning if you stay distant. A wand of sleep is your friend, but even then, use arrows, not swords, to kill them.
  • Megaworms eat you, but at this point I can could my way out without taking too much digestion damage.


Ring shop! You will never have enough identify scrolls.

Screw. Energars. One turn ago I had 100% health and didn't see him!

Today I learned that floor fiends can randomly instakill you. Teleportation or luck can save you.

After a few false starts, I ran into a wand of digging, which allowed me to bypass much of the levels. By reading my scrolls of magic mapping, I could dig straight to the next stairs and minimize the risk of death or softlock.

Then, I entered level 26, traditionally the place where you find the Amulet of Yendor, and I read a mapping scroll.

This looks different.

One new type of enemy could be found here - Guards, who have bows and cast magic missile. Individually they were not threatening, and these narrow corridors meant I rarely got exposed to more than one enemy at a time, but each guard still blasted me with several magic missiles before they'd fall, forcing me to rest before proceeding, during which time more enemies certainly spawned, including more guards and sometimes worse things.

One dropped a potion of monster detection, which helped reduce the number of surprises, though it does not reveal monsters that spawn after you drink it.


I scoured every inch of the level, using the wand of digging's remain charges to bypass otherwise unavoidable traps, looking for the amulet. Or stairs going down. Or anything unusual, really. It just didn't seem to be anywhere. I even killed those obnoxious arguses!

And then, after finding and drinking a potion of object detection, and manually inspecting every single heap of junk on the ground, killing who knows how many guards in the meantime, I found a 'sphere of power,' hidden underneath the worthless bow and arrows of the guard who probably dropped it.


And with that object scooped up, I beat a quick retreat to the stairs going up and began my ascent to the surface, through well-charted territory. There was one close call on level 25, where I got caught between a dragon, an energar, and a small horde of demons, and drank a potion of invisibility to slip through, and still caught a blast of dragon flame on my butt running through, but after that, it was a long, straightforward run to the top. Guards continued to spawn a bit aggressively the entire time, but they remained nuisances, not threats.

Finally, I left the dungeon with big points but little fanfare.


I've got to ask, is that it? You can escape the dungeon any time - the stairs work whether you have a sphere of power or not. Even Rogue offered an actual ending - a lame one, but at least one that acknowledged you won. Examination of plaintext strings in the hack.exe binary suggests that, yes, this is it.

GAB rating: Good. It's Rogue with more stuff in it. Bigger mazes, more treasures, and by the endgame, more control, balanced out by scarier monsters. The essence of Rogue, with its finite resources that force you to make do with what you've got and sometimes roll with the punches, and ever-escalating threats that never quite allow you to feel safe is not lost, except in one regard - the food supply, though limited in theory, never came even close to running out.

Hack, even in this early incarnation (though who knows how much Fenlason changed it since its 1984 release), feels fairer than Rogue, but it still puts you at the mercy of an RNG which may or may not ever spawn the tools and powers you need to survive the early stages, or may allow its midgame monsters to land an unlucky stat-crippling blow from which you'll never recover, or in the late game, just instantly kill you with a surprise encounter in the dark. My victory still came from being able to roll the dice until a favorable outcome landed, and even then I still needed some privileged information - I still have no idea how you can reasonably avoid slow death by poisoned potion except by sheer luck of never encountering one. But for what it's worth, I think Rogue, with its more rapid pace, was more fun to replay, while Hack was more satisfying to finish.


  1. "The Argus is a cowardly creature who will put you to sleep with its magic flute and run."

    The name of this creature rang a bell. Argus was a hundred-eyed giant Hera set to guard Io the enchanted heifer Io. Argus made a good watchman, since he never slept with more than 50 of his eyes closed at once. Hermes lulls him to rest with music (or in some stories, bores him to sleep with a shaggy dog story) and kills him to free the cow, and in tribute to his service Hera transplants his eyes to the tail of the peacock.

    I wonder if this game's Argus isn't flipping the script and doing to you what was done to the mythological Argus?

    1. I had pictured something like a satyr out of Fantasia. But yeah, it's probably that.


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