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Starting Guide for Beginners

Tommi Gustafsson edited this page Feb 1, 2020 · 106 revisions

GnollHack, like NetHack, is a dungeon-exploration role-playing-game, where you descend to the bottom of the dungeon, gathering items, experience, and new skills while doing so. Your goal is to complete the main quest — to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor from the sanctuary of Moloch and return it to your god. On the way, you will meet many dangerous monsters, such as the Medusa whose mere gaze will turn you to stone, traps, and puzzles, until you have achieved your goal.

Death in GnollHack is permanent, and once dead, you will need to start the game again. However, you can activate an exploration mode by 'Alt-e', which allows you to continue playing after dying.


GnollHack features the same classes as NetHack. They are often called roles.

Melee Classes

  • Barbarian: A strong melee warrior, who starts with poison resistance.
  • Caveman: A strong melee warrior that uses basic weapons, such as clubs and slings. He can practice cannibalism without divine punishment.
  • Knight: A heavily armored warrior, who is able to ride on his horse and use a lance for jousting his enemies. The knight also follows a special conduct of honor, which prevents him from attacking fleeing enemies and eating food when satisfied.
  • Valkyrie: A strong female melee warrior, who starts with cold resistance and stealth.

Ranged Classes

  • Ranger: A lightly armored archer, who is adept at ranged combat, searching, and disarming traps.

Melee and Ranged Classes

  • Rogue: A lightly armored and cunning thug. The rogue is skilled at both melee and ranged combat as well as using poison and disarming traps. He can also backstab fleeing monsters for extra damage.
  • Samurai: A strong melee warrior, who is also adept at ranged combat. While playing as a samurai, some item names show up in Japanese.

Spell-Casting Classes

  • Healer: A lightly equipped physician, who starts with lots of money, healing spells, healing items, and a wand of sleep.
  • Priest: An armored zealot, who is skilled in clerical and healing spells. A chaotic priest is also skilled in necromancy, while a neutral or lawful priest practices abjuration spells. A priest can also tell an item's blessed/uncursed/cursed status on inspection.
  • Wizard: A mighty spell-caster, who is proficient in arcane and enchantment spells. The wizard starts with a considerable amount of magic items and spells and can become expert in more magic schools than any other class.

Miscellaneous Classes

  • Archaeologist: A lightly armored and lightly equipped explorer, who starts with a pick-axe and a touchstone. The archaeologist is often considered as one of the most difficult roles to play with.
  • Monk: A fighter skilled in martial arts and movement spells. The monk cannot wear a body armor or a shield and is restricted to vegetarian food. However, he gains a considerable amount of resistances and special abilities just by leveling up, and his bare-handed fighting skills and martial art kicks are nothing to sneer at.
  • Tourist: A lightly equipped wanderer, who starts with darts, a golf bat, and an expensive camera. The tourist is usually considered as one of the harder classes to play with.


GnollHack features 5 races:

  • Human
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Gnoll
  • Orc


The human race has no special abilities but can be of any class and any alignment. Their attribute maximums are as follows:

  • Strength: 18/100
  • Dexterity: 18
  • Constitution: 18
  • Intelligence: 18
  • Wisdom: 18
  • Charisma: 18


Dwarves are always lawful and they restricted to the following classes:

  • Archaeologist
  • Caveman
  • Valkyrie

Dwarves have infravision and their attribute maximums are as follows:

  • Strength: 18/100
  • Dexterity: 20 (+2 Dexterity)
  • Constitution: 20 (+2 Constitution)
  • Intelligence: 16 (-2 Intelligence)
  • Wisdom: 16 (-2 Wisdom)
  • Charisma: 16 (-2 Charisma)

Most dwarves that you encounter on your quest are peaceful to you.


Elves are always chaotic and they are restricted to the following classes:

  • Priest
  • Ranger
  • Wizard

Elves have infravision and their attribute maximums are as follows:

  • Strength: 18
  • Dexterity: 18
  • Constitution: 16 (-2 to Constitution)
  • Intelligence: 20 (+2 to Intelligence)
  • Wisdom: 20 (+2 to Wisdom)
  • Charisma: 18

Most elves that you encounter on your quest are peaceful to you.


Gnolls can be neutral and chaotic and they are restricted to the following classes:

  • Barbarian
  • Caveman
  • Healer
  • Priest
  • Rogue
  • Ranger

Gnolls can smell rotten food, gain triple amount of nutrition from tripe rations, and their attribute maximums are as follows:

  • Strength: 18/100
  • Dexterity: 19 (+1 to Dexterity)
  • Constitution: 19 (+1 to Constitution)
  • Intelligence: 16 (-2 to Intelligence)
  • Wisdom: 16 (-2 to Wisdom)
  • Charisma: 16 (-2 to Charisma)

Gnolls are also immune to lycanthropy. Also, most dwarves and gnolls that you encounter on your quest are peaceful to you.


Orcs are always chaotic and have poison resistance and infravision. They can also practice cannibalism without a punishment. They can be of the following classes:

  • Barbarian
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Wizard

Their attribute maximums are as follows:

  • Strength: 18/50
  • Dexterity: 18
  • Constitution: 18
  • Intelligence: 16 (-2 to Intelligence)
  • Wisdom: 16 (-2 to Wisdom)
  • Charisma: 16 (-2 to Charisma)

Most orcs that you encounter on your quest are peaceful to you.


GnollHack, like NetHack, has 3 alignments to choose from, even though all alignments are not available to all classes and all races:

  • Lawful
  • Neutral
  • Chaotic


  • You are not allowed to commit a murder of a peaceful human, such as guards.
  • You are not allowed to use poisoned weapons.
  • Some other actions, such as genociding monsters, bring you penalty.
  • Angelic beings and many lawful monsters, such as dwarves and titans, are peaceful to you.


  • You are not allowed to commit a murder of a peaceful human, such as guards.
  • Some neutral monsters, such as gnomes and some animals, are peaceful to you.


  • You mostly do not suffer penalty for commiting "evil" actions.
  • Some chaotic monsters, such as orcs, may be peaceful to you.

Basic Commands

  • Save: Alt-s
  • Quit: Alt-q
  • What is: /
  • Help: ?
  • Commands menu: Alt-c
  • Next message: Enter
  • Previous messages: Ctrl-p
  • Search: s (finds traps and secret doors at a 1/6 or so chance; can be repeated multiple times)
  • Open a door: o
  • Close a door: c
  • Kick: k (useful for breaking doors, breaking locks in chests, and for martial arts kicking as a monk)
  • Options: O
  • Chat: C
  • Go down stairs: >
  • Go up stairs: <
  • Repeat an action multiple times: n + (number) + (command) (e.g. n + 20 + s to search 20 times)
  • Wait: . (period)

Basic Movement

You normally use the number pad for movement.

If your keyboard lacks a number pad, you can use the arrow keys for movement and the following keys for diagonal movement:

  • 1: Southwest
  • 3: Southeast
  • 7: Northwest
  • 9: Northeast

Item Basics

  • Use 'i' to check your inventory
  • Use 'w' to wield weapons
  • Use 'W' to wear armors
  • Use 'T' or 'Alt-t' to take off armor
  • Use 'P' to put on items, such as rings
  • Use 'R' to remove items, such as rings
  • Use ',' (comma) to pick up items
  • Use 'd' or 'D' to drop items
  • Use 'Alt-x' to check item stats
  • Use 'x' to change between readied weapon/armor sets
  • Use 'l' (lowercase L) to open a container
  • Use 'a' to apply an item
  • Use 'r' to read a scroll or a spellbook
  • Use 'z' to zap a wand
  • Use 'q' to quaff a potion
  • Use 'p' to buy items at a shop

Wearing armor gives you Armor Class (AC), which makes it more difficult for monsters to hit you. Lower AC is better. Wearing armor also gives you Magic Cancellation (MC), which gives you a chance to resist special attacks of a monster, such as lycanthropy or level draining. MC does nothing against spells. Magic Resistance, which you can gain from some items, gives you immunity to many spells, though.

Item Identification

Items in GnollHack and NetHack can be blessed, uncursed, or cursed. If you wield a cursed weapon or put on a cursed armor, ring, or other wearable item, they stick to you and you cannot remove them. Items can have also many negative effects. Therefore, it is often best that you identify items before you use them.

  • You can check if an item is cursed by dropping it on the ground and seeing if your pet steps on it. Pets do not step over cursed items and if they do, the game will tell that they do it "reluctantly".
  • You can also drop items on an altar. This will immediately identify the item's blessed/uncursed/cursed status. A black flash means cursed, no flash means uncursed, a white flash means blessed.
  • If you find a scroll of identify, you can read it to identify one or more items. Even a cursed scroll will do.
  • Shopkeepers will identify items for a fee.
  • Oracle will identify items for a fee.
  • You can use a wand of identify to identify several items.
  • Experienced players identify items in a shop based on their price. For example, a scroll of identify has a very low price in a shop. Its base price is $20, and the sell price is often about 1/2 of that, so if you are selling a scroll for about $10, means that it is a scroll of identify, because no other scroll is so cheap. Similarly, if you find a scroll that costs about $20 in a shop, it is most likely a scroll of identify.
  • You can apply an uncursed or blessed touchstone (one of the gray stones) on a gem to identify it.


Melee Combat

If you try to move to a square occupied by a monster, you will attack it with your melee weapon.

Ranged Combat with a Launcher, e.g. a Bow

You can fire missiles in GnollHack to 8 basic directions. You need to wield a launcher to fire appropriate missiles. For example, you need a bow to fire arrows, a crossbow to fire bolts, and a sling to fire sling stones. Fired missiles have a range that is based on the launcher. You can check this range by examining the launcher with 'Alt-x'. One square is 5'×5'.

  • If your ranged weapon is not readied, press 'x' to change weapon sets and then use 'w' to wield your ranged weapon.
  • It is usually best to keep your melee weapon in one set and your ranged weapon in the second set and change between them by using 'x'. This will not cost you a turn.
  • Use 'Q' to put your arrows or bolts into a quiver.
  • Use 'f' to fire a missile from your quiver.
  • You get to-hit penalties depending on the range that you fire the missile.
  • You cannot hit monsters in melee range with a ranged weapon. There is a to-hit penalty of up to -20 for doing that.

Ranged Combat with Throwing Weapons

You can throw items in GnollHack to 8 basic directions. The throwing distance of an item is listed with its examine information (Alt-x). One square is 5'×5'.

  • Use 't' to throw a throwing weapon in your inventory.
  • You get to-hit penalties depending on the distance you throw the weapon.
  • You cannot hit monsters in melee range with a throwing weapon. There is a to-hit penalty of up to -20 for doing that.


Polearms are a rare class of weapons that can hit 2 squares away from the player character. Although rarely used, they can be really valuable in some special encounters.

  • You can apply 'a' a polearm to hit with it two squares away.
  • This is a safe way to kill some monsters that have dangerous melee attacks, such as sea creatures.


In GnollHack as well as in NetHack, you become hungry over time. You should eat the corpses of the monsters you slay, unless you are a monk, who is vegetarian. However, some corpses are not safe to eat.

Most corpses become rotten very fast, which means that you should eat them immediately after you have killed the monsters. If you eat a rotten or tainted corpse, you will become deathly sick and die within a few turns. If this happens, you can pray to your god (Alt-p) to heal you.

  • Eating normal animals, such as jackals and sewer rats is safe.
  • Some creatures are poisonous to eat, such as kobolds. You need to have poison resistance to eat them.
  • Eating bats will make you stunned, so don't do that.
  • Some corpses are acidic. You can eat them, but you lose a few hit points for doing so.
  • Some corpses give you attribute points and resistances, when you eat them. This the best way to gain resistances in the game.
  • Do not eat cockatrice corpses or touch them without gloves. It will instantly petrify you.
  • Do not eat zombie or mummy corpses — they are rotten.
  • Wraith corpses can be eaten, though. They will give you an experience level.
  • Do not eat when you are overly satisfied. It might choke and kill you.
  • Some mushrooms can be eaten, others are poisonous.
  • Fruits are good vegetarian food and some of them give you attribute points.
  • Eating a floating eye or a panther cap will give you a blind telepathy. (If you are blind, you will see sentient monsters.)
  • Eating a lizard corpse heals you from petrification. Lizard corpses also do not rot over time and weigh very little.
  • You should not eat the members of your own race unless you are a caveman or an orc, who can practice cannibalism.
  • Do not eat leprechauns or other teleporting monsters. It will give you teleportiis. Nymphs are an exception to this in GnollHack.
  • Do not eat shapeshifters like chameleons. It will make you polymorph.
  • Your pet needs also food. You can check its hunger status with '/'.

Spell Basics

Spells in GnollHack work differently than in NetHack. Most spells require a material component to prepare. You must first mix the spells using 'X', which gives you a number of castings for that spell. Then, you can cast the spells in a normal way by using 'Z'.

Each spell has a chance to succeed or to fail. This depends on several factors, such as your experience level, the level of the spell, your skill level in the appropriate spell school, your intelligence, wisdom, and charisma, as well as on the armor you are wearing.

  • Use 'r' to read spellbooks
  • Use 'X' to mix (prepare) spells
  • Use 'Z' to cast prepared spells
  • Use 'Alt-z' to check what exactly the spells do and to manage them
  • Each spell belongs to a spell school
  • Use 'S' to increase skill levels in a spell school, when you have enough training. This will consume one or more skill slots, increase your chance to cast spells in that school by 80%, and reduces their mana cost by a little.
  • Casting a spell consumes mana
  • Mana regenerates over time
  • A spell can also have a cooldown, which needs to pass before you can cast the spell again.
  • You do not forget spells over time.
  • Remember that wearing heavy armor will make spell casting more difficult. You can check armor's spell casting penalty by using 'Alt-x'.

Some spells allow you to choose a direction. You can use the same keys as for movement, and additionally you can use '.' to target yourself.

Skill Basics

You gain 1 skill slot every experience level you get. You can spend the skill slots in available skills, which you can find by pressing 'S'. However, you cannot spend skill slots in skills that have not had enough training. Therefore, you need to train the skills before you can level them up. You train weapon skills by successfully hitting with an appropriate weapon, and you train magic skills by successfully casting appropriate spells. When your training in a skill exceeds a certain level, you can level it up, granted that you have enough unspent skill slots. Leveling up skills costs the following (except for Martial Arts):

  • Unskilled → Basic: 1 skill slot
  • Basic → Skilled: 2 skill slots
  • Skilled → Expert: 3 skill slots

Weapon skills give you bonuses to hit and bonuses to damage.

Magic school skills give you +80% bonus per skill level to cast appropriate spells and also reduce their mana cost a bit.

A green "Skill" text will appear in the status bar, when you can spend skill slots.


You can use 'Alt-p' to pray in GnollHack. If you pray in an emergency situation and your god is pleased with you, you will be saved from the situation. You should remember to do so, whenever you have lycanthropy, petrification, low hit points, you are deathly sick, and so on.

It is not always safe to pray. Usually, there is a delay, called prayer timeout, which must pass before you can pray safely. Usually, the first safe time to pray is turn 301, and whenever you pray, you need to wait 50–1000 turns until you can do so again.


Altars are extremely useful in GnollHack. They can belong to any alignment. There is always an altar of your alignment in the starting room on the dungeon level 1.

Identifying Blessed/Uncursed/Cursed status of Items

Regardless of the alignment of the altar, you can use them to identify the blessed/uncursed/cursed status of items by dropping items on them.

Sacrificing Monsters

If an altar is of the same alignment as you, you can additionally use the altar to sacrifice monsters to your god by using 'Alt-o' (offer). If the sacrifice is of adequately high level and is not rotten, it can have a number of beneficial effects:

  • It can increase your luck
  • You can be gifted an artifact weapon by your god

Sacrificing is the best way to get artifacts in the early game. Also, having a wand of create monster is greatly useful, when you want to create monsters to sacrifice for your god.

Converting an Altar

If an altar is of wrong alignment, you can try to convert it to your god by sacrificing creatures upon it. The chance to convert an altar depends on your experience level, being 50% at level 4 and about 70–85% at high levels.

Praying at an Altar

If you drop uncursed potions of water upon an altar of your alignment and pray, they will be converted to holy water. You can dip items (Alt-d) into holy water to make uncursed items blessed and to remove the curse of cursed items.

You can also pray on an altar to receive some favor from your God, such as to get a spellbook.

You can’t perform that action at this time.