Saturday, November 18, 2023

Hack 1.01: Won!

My final anchor save was at the start of level 25.

Level 25

  • $10,234, AC -5, Str 18/98, Exp 13
  • +2 long sword, +1 bow, +5 splint mail, +3 shield, 30 +0 arrows
  • Ring of poison resistance
  • Ring of +2 increase damage
  • Wand of digging, 2 wands of fire
  • Potion of monster detection, 2 potions of levitation, potion of object detection
  • 2 scrolls of remove curse, scroll of genocide
  • 12 food rations


Attempt 1:

Finally - I killed a demon! Shortly after this feat, a trapdoor dumped me down to level 26, where my luck didn't quite repeat itself - a xan pricked me, forcing me to juggle around my inventory to be combat effective again, and as I did this, two demons spawned on either side of me. I beat them - barely - and the xan, presumably laughing its thorax off, pricked me again and finished me off.

Attempt 2:

A solo demon went down without too much trouble yet again. I decided to press my luck and keep descending without saving or exploring the levels.

On level 26, I found a wand that turned out to be a wand of polymorph! I struggled to find the exit, and wasted a bunch of wand of digging charges looking for it. But eventually I found the stairs - hidden underneath a small pile of gems that I couldn't lift.

On level 27, the maze, I drank my potion of object detection.

Up in the right-hand corner - an amulet! Could it be?

Monster detection showed what I was in for:

No demons - yet anyway.

Sadly, my wand of digging only had one charge, so I had to explore the majority of the maze before finding the amulet. There's a lot of stuff in here too - some of the stuff that occurred:

  • A scroll of enchant armor vaporized my already over-enchanted splint mail. Thankfully, I found some more splint mail soon after, but still, this was a blow.
  • A scroll of enchant weapon finally upgraded my sword a bit.
  • I found a wand of sleep, though for the time being I used my wand of fire to deal with the tougher monsters.
  • A nymph stole my ring of +2 damage.
  • Multiple teleport traps took me in weird directions and I am pretty sure I skipped some of the maze this way. One boulder got teleported this way too.
  • I discovered that with my ring of poison resistance, I could eat poisonous corpses.


Eventually, I made my way to the amulet's location.


Well, damn. What do I do? Polymorphing the boulder didn't work, and I was out of digging charges. Nothing I tried worked, not even stripping down, dropping everything and squeezing through, which the wiki said works in Nethack. So I quit and reloaded back to level 25.

Attempt 3:

The random maze generator was on my side as I quickly descended to the maze on level 27.

Seeing dragons with my potion of monster detection, I genocided them right away, and dealt with a handful of weak monsters as I mapped out enough maze to get to the amulet, and also picked up a normal helmet along the way. Sure enough, it was underneath a boulder again.

This time I was prepared with a mostly full wand of digging. I moved around to the north, dug south, and pushed.

Yes! Except - immediately after taking it, a boulder fell on my head.

Great, but what if I hadn't found one at the last moment?

I made my way back to the surface, using the rest of the charges on the wand of digging to create shortcuts as much as possible - why take chances now? I didn't stop to fight, I didn't bother picking up any valuables from my stash - I just kept going. Nothing particularly noteworthy happened as I climbed up the 27 staircases to freedom.

Nor after it, really.


GAB rating: Above average. This already feels a lot more like a Nethack prototype than Fenlason's Hack, which was basically Rogue with more stuff in it, though the seeds of Nethack's persistent levels and complex gameplay were already planted. Where I reached the end of Fenlason's Hack feeling like I saw just about everything, I finished Brouwer's feeling like I could keep playing for months and still not discover all of its depths.

But Brouwers' Hack, at least at this version, feels unfair. Granted, Rogue wasn't fair, but Rogue was simple enough that you could play fairly quickly and get enjoyment out of launching a new game and seeing how deep you can get before you die. Hack is slower, more complex, and you really don't want to die and start over, which makes it all the more frustrating when you do and feel like there wasn't anything you could have done about it.

Maybe I'm the one being unfair. After all, I openly savescummed - perhaps I just never learned to play properly. Maybe if you don't have that crutch, you learn how to get out of jams or avoid them altogether. That's how Nethack is supposed to work, as I understand it. But Brouwer's Hack just feels disinclined to give you things - I didn't even find a store until I was 19 levels deep - and then you die because you didn't have stuff. Starvation was a big problem early on, putting you at the mercy of the dungeon generator's willingness to spawn edible food and/or nutritious corpses, and throughout the whole run it really felt like so many of Hack's monsters can only be out-muscled or beaten/evaded with very specific magic toys, and if the game spawns something you aren't equipped to fight or flee from, you die. Starvation wasn't nearly as big a problem in Fenlason's where you can buy food, and although combat was unforgiving, Fenlason's Hack was far more generous with strength-boosting and level-boosting opportunities and magic tricks, and magic seemed more effective in general as well (e.g. scrolls of confusion actually worked).

Interestingly, there are a number of features in Fenlason's Hack that did not make their way to Hack 1.01. I should re-iterate that what I played, "hack121," is not completely authentic; Fenlason's original is lost, and we just have it on NetHack Wiki's word that the "hack121" DOS port, which may have been compiled as late as 2001, is as close as we'll get.

  • A shop at the beginning of the game where you can buy starting gear, including cheap food. If nothing else, this greatly eases the initial problem of hunger.
  • Torches and lanterns, which you must keep lit with oil and tinderboxes or be effectively blind, as in Moria.
  • Mirror items for defeating cockatrices
  • Cross items, though I never found out their purpose
  • Commands to view items in the room, to query your weight carried/limit, and hunger levels.
  • Magic detection of monsters/gold/objects persists. In Hack 1.01 the effect goes away as soon as you make a move.
  • Multi-use scrolls.
  • Rooms painted in strange, mood-affecting colors. I could not figure out what gameplay purpose they serve.
  • Rooms with flammable gas traps and rooms with crushing wall traps.
  • A whole assortment of monsters that I never saw any equivalent of in Hack 1.01, like pickpockets, ghosts, floor fiends, guards, arguses, and energars.
  • Non-permanent strength-draining effects
  • An endgame where guards infinispawn after you collect the magic orb until you escape the dungeon or die.


Brouwer's Hack has too many new features to list, but the biggest are class selection, the pet dog, and necrophagia. But that there are so many mutually exclusive features makes me further question just how accurate hack121 is to the original. Were these features removed by Brouwer? Were they added into hack121 later? Maybe Brower's Hack was based on an incomplete build? Or maybe Kneller's DOS port is missing more than he admits? I may never know, but I think I will be revisiting Hack in the years to come.


  1. Congrats! Such a brutal clade of games overall... I can't imagine winning on original hardware! I looked up my Tandy files again from c 1987 and I had the Kneller 1.01 version made from Brouwer's 1.3 version per the Nethack Wiki. I also found the dead adventurer's file... brought back some memories!

  2. That helmet spawn feels like divine intervention.

    1. So I was curious to see what would happen if you didn't have a helmet and I reloaded my save from level 25, made my way back down to the maze, and got the amulet again. This time, no boulder trap! Maybe it was just random? But then, how odd would it be that the only boulder trap I ever saw just happened to generate underneath the amulet of Yendor?

  3. Well done.

    Hard core rogue like games always intrigue me but I doubt I would enjoy them. As a completionist, any game I play for a significant amount of time but don’t finish annoys me. But I do enjoy reading about other people playing, and hopefully finishing them - even using save states.

  4. As someone who has beaten modern NetHack (3.4.3) many times, it's always interesting to see these early proto-versions of it. Modern NetHack, at least in 3.4.3 version you could beat almost every time if you were good enough (top players on the NH server basically ascended almost every char). I wasn't that good, but I was still good enough that I was able to do two ascensions in a row once. It's really interesting to see how these games have evolved from randomly unfair to randomly unfair, but each version has given you more tools to deal with the unfairness. Some things change, some things don't, but somehow it becomes manageable and almost consistently beatable.

    1. I have a question about Nethack that may or may not pertain to early Hack versions as well. What do you do with weapons lying around the dungeon? They're too common to waste precious scrolls of identify on, but finding an enchanted one makes a world of difference to your combat ability. It's sheer dumb luck that I managed to locate a +2 long sword while also having a spare identify scroll (and was basically the only time in the whole run when I had one and didn't have anything magic to use it on instead).

      Also, how in the heavens are you supposed to know about (rot13) "ryorergu" ? It's not cheating, but I don't see how you'd know about it without reading spoilers (and I've read a few since winning).

    2. It's been about 10 years since I've played, so I don't quite remember all my priorities, so I can only talk a bit more generally than what I'd do exactly.

      In early game, identification is one of your critical resources. If you have a plain weapon and a way to un-curse items, you may just want to risk it if you find a potentially better weapon. (Depending on how the game is going, you may want to risk it even without being able to uncurse a potentially cursed weapon.) Same goes for armour.

      (There are also ways to soft-ID curse status of items, allowing for more safe trying of unknown items. Spoilers: Crgf jvyy nibvq jnyxvat bire phefrq vgrzf.)

      Scrolls of identify are one of the most common types of scroll though, so once you get a source of holy water, identification becomes easy. So by late early game, early midgame ID'ing stuff isn't a problem any more. Blessed scrolls of identification can ID your entire inventory (1 in 5 chance, otherwise they ID 1-4 items per scroll).

      (There are also ways to soft-ID useful items without using scrolls of ID. Potions, scrolls, wands and rings can be ID'd in various ways, potentially freeing your scrolls of ID for more useful purposes.)

      So, if the weapon is a upgrade to my current weapon, I would take it and wield it if I can soft-ID it as not cursed. I might carry a few with me if I have room, in hopes of finding a blessed ?oID, but they would be first to be dumped if weight becomes issue.

      I don't know if I would otherwise spend identification resources to ID weapons, unless I didn't need to ID anything else at the moment and the scrolls was still ID'ing stuff.

      There are several "rumours" about Ryorergu which you can get while eating fortune cookies, or randomly read engraved on the floor. But there are few hundred rumours total (including false rumours), so seeing any of these are pretty low odds. But theoretically you can learn them in-game.

      Ryorergu unf dhvgr n erchgngvba nebhaq gurfr cnegf.
      Svrel yrggref zvtug qrgre zbafgref.

      Pretty explicit:
      Sbe n tbbq gvzr ratenir 'Ryorergu'.
      Gurl fnl gung 'Ryorergu' vf bsgra jevggra nobhg.
      Gurl fnl gung ernqvat n fpner zbafgre fpebyy vf gur fnzr nf fnlvat Ryorergu.
      Jul jbhyq nalobql va uvf fnar zvaq ratenir "Ryorergu"?

    3. To be clear, are you saying that you do use scrolls to identify weapons and armor? I'm not sure if this is the rule in Nethack, but in Hack, armor auto-identifies when you equip it, but weapons don't. So I wouldn't know if that dusty long sword seen in the corner of a dungeon room is an upgrade over my +1 mace, even if test-equipping reveals it isn't cursed.

      Crgf jvyy nibvq jnyxvat bire phefrq vgrzf - this seems to be the case in Hack 1.01 too! Wish I knew about that earlier.

      On blessed scrolls, I never found any in Hack. At least not as far as I know - every scroll I read that produced any effect was a normal one. I never saw any cursed scrolls either. Then again, I did have two non-stacking scrolls of remove curse, so maybe one of them was blessed/cursed?

      My fortune cookies, frustratingly, all produced the same message for the whole game. And I don't know what it means.

    4. Oh, oops. I just noticed that I dropped one thought from the opening paragraphs. I meant that since identification is such critical resource, you may want to risk wielding *unknown* weapons and wearing unknown armour without identifying them first.

      In your example case, if you have a +1 mace, I probably wouldn't bother with a random long sword on its own. If I can, I might take it with me and hopefully mass-ID later, but not spend an individual scroll to just ID it. Because it would have to be +2 long sword for it to be appreciably better.

      I don't know the weapon stats for Hack 1.01, but in modern NH, mace does 1d6+1/1d6 damage (most monsters/large monsters) and long sword does 1d8/1d12. The expected average damage from mace and long sword are same (4.5) for most monsters, but the mace is more consistent due to the smaller variance range.

      If I currently had just a mace without plusses, I might choose swap with any non-cursed long sword I find, because it does better damage against large monsters, even if large monsters are rare in early game. And the long sword might be enchanted without me knowing.

      Likewise, the mace or long sword would be upgrades over short swords and spears (except dwarwish ones).

      But there is also the question of which weapon skill you want to exercise. In modern NH you want to consider if you are getting an artifact weapon later (through various means, like crowning, class quest, or wish), in which case you may want to keep within that weapon class as much as possible. So you might want to do sidegrades a well. So if you know you'll be getting Excalibur, then you may want to gravitate towards weapons that use long sword skill. (Though honestly, I'm not really that bothered about the weapon skill. It doesn't take that long to reach proficiency.)

      As for finding "unique" random weapons, there is also another soft-ID trick that you can do to separate the potentially good ones from the regulars. Spoilers: Yvxr jrncbaf pna fgnpx va lbhe vairagbel (va zbqrea AU #nqwhfg pbzznaq vs arprffnel). Fb vs lbh unir ohapu bs ybat fjbeqf gung fgnpx naq bar gung qbrfa'g, gung bar gung qbrfa'g jneenagf nggragvba. Guvf vf nabgure ernfba jul lbh zvtug jnag gb yht ohapu bs gur enaqbz jrncbaf lbh svaq nebhaq vs lbh pna.

      "Then again, I did have two non-stacking scrolls of remove curse, so maybe one of them was blessed/cursed?"

      That seems likely, since I don't know what else would be distinguishing those scrolls. A blessed scroll of remove curse will uncurse every cursed item in your inventory (not just equipped). I don't know if Hack has punishment mechanics, but in modern NH cursed scroll of remove curse will only remove the punishment, not uncurse any items. (Generally you really don't want to read scrolls when they are cursed in NH. With few exceptions where the cursed effect can be used beneficially.)

      "My fortune cookies, frustratingly, all produced the same message for the whole game. And I don't know what it means."

      I don't know why you always got the same fortune either, but you got really rotten luck with it, since "a fading corridor enlightens your insight" is one of the false rumours. It means nothing.


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