NetHack: an illustrated guide to the Mazes of Menace

Dion Moult


NetHack is, without a doubt, the greatest game you will ever play.

Inspired by the creative adventures from Dungeons and Dragons, NetHack is a Roguelike game first released in 1987, and still under active development 35 years later. Most people are older than the games they play. For NetHack, it’s the other way around.

NetHack is a high-stakes, carefully executed, heist game. You have been heralded since birth by your god to recover the stolen Amulet of Yendor. The reward: eternal life as a demigod. The consequence of failure: death.

You begin as one of over 10 diverse races and roles. Play as the stereotypical fantasy tropes: a hardy dwarven valkyrie, borne amongst the icy Northlands. Or perhaps an elvish wizard, weak in strength but learned in the mystic arts. Or a ranger, trained in bow and arrow deep within the forests. For a twist, play as bumbling tourist, snapping photos with your expensive camera and oblivious to the carnage that surrounds you. Or maybe one of the secretive samurai, or Shaolin monks, training to become a martial arts grandmaster.

You are piously aligned with one of three possible dieties: the gods of Law, Neutrality, or Chaos. Moloch, our antagonist, has stolen the most powerful artifact of the gods: The Amulet of Yendor. The Amulet has been hidden in the furthest depths of Gehennom. Your journey begins at the entrance of the Dungeons of Doom, an ancient ruins delving deep into the earth.

An entry into the Dungeons of Doom

What makes NetHack stand the test of time is the sheer depth and replayability. Set in an open world, the world is procedurally generated each time you enter, so no two adventures are the same. The locations, distances, objects, descriptions, all change so you will have to relearn how the world works. There is no set path: you may interact with your objects and surroundings in surprising ways that may result in creative solutions to sticky problems. The stories, characters, destinations are drawn from a diverse collection or lore and cultures, combined into a unique experience, rich with references.

Choose a permutation of role, race, and religion, and enter into the unknown.

An elven ranger standing at the entrance of the dungeons
A saddled knight just outside the entrance of the dungeons
An orc barbarian standing at the entrance of the dungeons
A wizard entering the dungeons

The game is divided into four stages: early, middle, late, and end game, presenting you with 4, 6, 8, and 10 milestones respectively.

Early game

The theme of the early game is survival. You are not welcome. Everything is foreign. Which foods are safe to eat, what potions may be quaffed, what incantations may be evoked, are all unknown. The local fauna have a spectrum of different abilities, with one common purpose: to kill you.

Caution is the word of the day. Discretion is the better part of valor. You are new here, and every decision you make with the little resources you have will determine whether you live to see the four landmarks that will prepare you for your journey.

The Gnomish Mines

A branching tunnel out of the dungeons leads to the Gnomish mines. A dimly lit series of caverns have been slowly excavated by the local gnome population. As you venture deeper you will discover the grand underground metropolis of Minetown.

Stocked with shops, temples, and residences, you will find brief refuge and basic supplies.

The streets and shops of minetown, built into the caves of the Gnomish Mines

But perhaps the true jewel of Minetown is far deeper beyond the mines. Hidden at Mine’s End deep underground the town is a luckstone, a nondescript gray stone that brings fortune upon its carrier. Should you find it, it is a token you will likely carry until the very end.

Deep underground, the luckstone lays hidden somewhere within Mine’s End


Outside the order of the Gnomish residence, you will delve deeper into the Dungeons of Doom. One of these dungeons are not like the others. It is inhabited by nagas and snakelike creatures. At its center, an oasis amongst the perils of the dungeon, is Delphi.

The center of Delphi, a peaceful pause amidst the dungeons

Rays of light, trees, and peaceful fountains surround the Oracle, an ancient and wise being as old as the Internet itself. The Oracle speaks in riddles, and will guide you on your quest for the Amulet of Yendor.

The Oracle lives within Delphi and dispenses cryptic wisdom


As you descend further, a side tunnel leads into a ruined tower built into the cliffs of the dungeons. This is the tower of Sokoban, a Japanese relic with a menagerie of dangerous creatures guarding a valuable relic at the uppermost level.

A crumbling tower out the sides of the dungeons guards a valuable relic

However the passages up the tunnel have long since crumbled away and you now face a impasse at every floor. Sokoban conceals a careful mechanism of balanced boulders to cross the chasms. Should you complete this ancient ritual, you may bridge your way across the tower.

Carefully balanced boulders may be used to cross the chasms of Sokoban

At the uppermost level, you will find your prize. It is not known what that prize may be, but it is an object embued with an enchantment to prepare you for the next stage of the game.

The top of Sokoban has an enchanted prize

The Big Room

The Big Room, an homage to Carlsbad Caverns’ largest cave chamber in North America by volume, is the threshold between the early game and mid game.

The Big Room may take many forms

The twisted and narrow passageways of the dungeon give way to a huge cavernous space. An assortment of monsters have made this their territory, and dwelling too long may find yourself surrounded by creatures.

A huge cavern with glowing crystals

Here you will be put to the test of the early stage: can you truly survive in the dungeons of doom? Are you fit to explore further?

A huge cavern with a bioluminescent central column

Mid game

The aim of the mid game is to gather resources. The heist may be performed with a variety of equipment, and it is your job to identify what’s available and combine them with the spoils of the early game to make sure you are suitably equipped for the perils that lay ahead.


As you step into the dungeon, you enter an older, more primitive world. This is Rogue.

The dungeon has no colour, as was the world in 1980

NetHack was first released in 1987. But NetHack didn’t start in 1987, it was a successor to the open-source game Hack in 1984, developed and distributed on Usenet (hence the name NetHack).

Dungeons were simpler back then, with gridded layouts

Hack was itself a clone of the closed source game Rogue, released in 1980 that would soon inspire an entire genre of gaming, which would then inspire many modern games to come.

Take a pause, and break the fourth wall into the history of gaming itself

The dungeons here replicate the original Rogue, without colour, using the same symbols and rules that the original game would play, as a modern tribute to the origins of the dungeons that you now crawl.

An older, more primitive world


Beyond Rogue, you will receive a telepathic message from your ancient leader. Who this leader is will depend on your role, a knight may be approached by King Arthur himself, whereas a healer may be summoned by Hippocrates.

Your quest leader will open a portal to your homeland

Your homeland and your peers are plagued with a problem. Like your leader, the problem differs from role to role and it is your responsibility to discover what evil has befallen.

The portal may be located anywhere in the dungeon, and lead to different places

The Quest is a great journey upon which all seekers of the Amulet must embark. The two adventures have become entwined, and it is said that the nemesis has an ancient artifact within their possession, critical to the success of your mission. This is a small silver bell, its powers yet to be revealed.

The portal leads to another adventure, its fate entwined with your own

Your homeland itself varies from role to role, where the portal takes you, we cannot say.

You must be ready before undertaking the quest

Valkyries are brought back to the bitter cold, snow, and icy mountains. The Shrine of Destiny is found there, where your leader, the Norn, awaits you.

The Shrine of Destiny is found in the snowy mountains

Lord Surtur has taken the Orb of Fate and is unleashing Ragnarok. In places, the snow and ice have been melted into steaming pools of water. Fumaroles and pools of bubbling lava surround your homeland.

Something is very wrong, lava is erupting

A ranger will find themselves in an ancient forest grove. A herd of centaurs are led by Orion, your leader.

An ancient forest grove populated by centaurs

In the caves of wumpus under the camp, Scorpius has stolen the Longbow of Diana.

You must journey beneath the camp to find Scorpius

A monk will return to the Monastery of Chan-Sune and will meet your former teacher, the Grand Master.

The Monastery of Chan-Sune

Despite the peaceful appearances, Earth Elementals are rising and slaying the students. You will travel to the Monastery of the Earth-Lord to fight their leader.

The Eyes of the Overworld bring astral visions to the wearer in the Monstary of the Earth-Lord

Fort Ludios

Deeper in the dungeon past your Quest, you may or may not stumble upon a secret stash of gold, jewels, and treasures.

A cache of treasures may be found hidden in the dungeons

The location of this treasure is unknown. It is one of many hidden vaults containing riches interspersed throughout the dungeons and guarded by otherworldly soldiers.

The vault is hidden and guarded

But this vault is not like the others, for it contains a magic portal to Fort Ludios itself.

Within the vault are not just treasures, but a portal to another realm

Fort Ludios, a fabled land of riches is ruled by King Croesus. It is the Fort Knox of the dungeons, housing gold beyond measure.

Within the vault are not just treasures, but a portal to another realm

Guarded by dragons and the armies of Croesus himself, it offers enough gold to pay for all the spoils in the dungeon, but be warned that your mission to recover the Amulet of Yendor is not earned through money.

Enough money to hang yourself, but money is not the only thing you need

Medusa’s Island

As you descend further, the magical nature of the dungeons reveal that you are not merely going deeper into the world, you are traveling through realms and time. You find yourself at the edge of a swamp, the home of the gorgon Medusa.

You must cross water to reach Medusa, infested with snakes and monsters

Perseus has failed, and it is now your turn. Somewhere across the swamp is her island, where stone crumbles to sand. You must face her and prevail, or be turned to stone.

Caution to all who enter Medusa’s Island

The Castle

Medusa is the guardian of the foolish mortals who seek the Amulet below. Below Medusa, the dungeons are no longer dungeons, the stone itself warps and twists until you find yourself at an ancient citadel, representing the last bastion of mortal resistance against the netherworld.

The castle, a bastion against the netherworld

The castle is barred. The drawbridge is up. The entrance blocked by a moat of vicious sea creatures. The castle will not open, and you shall not enter.

A secret melody may twist the ancient tumblers and gears

Within the castle are armies and supplies to last the centuries. But hidden within are also dragons, hiding in the shadows for the unwary assailant.

Beware, for here be dragons

In the very core of the castle, you will find that the castle is not only guarding the mortal world outside and the dungeons beyond. The castle was built around ancient trapdoors that lead past the mortal realms and into the supernatural. Dragons bar the way, such that the dead do not rise and enter the land of the living.

The dragons guard an ancient trapdoor

The Valley of the Dead

As you fall through the trapdoor, you leave the mortal realm. This is the space between worlds: the Valley of the Dead, and you must cross it.

A barren landscape leading to the afterlife

You are surrounded by tombs. You may read the epitaphs, should they help you in your mission for the Amulet of Yendor. Prepare to enter the late game.

You walk through a quiet graveyard

Late game

You’re alive, and you have resources. The late game is now about deliberate planning and preparation.

You will need to ensure that you have everything you need to steal the Amulet of Yendor. You will have to prepare for the unknown, and have enough tricks up your sleeve to bypass the many obstacles guarding the amulet, and enough ways to escape when the situations grow out of control. You will need remedies for illness, food, methods to detect enchantments, maps, and raw strength.

Asmodeus’ Lair

At the end of the Valley is the entrance of Gehennom. Beware, unspeakable evil and cruelty lies ahead.

The tunnel into Gehennom

Gehennom is filled with fire, smoke, and evil creatures and demons. But perhaps most characteristic is that Gehennom itself is warped into a maze, where you either find the way through, or perish.

The corridors of Gehennom twist and turn into a maze

As you descend, the labrynth changes, some wider, some thinner. Demons guard the passages, forcing you to fight or flee.

The labrynth is never the same

Nestled within the maze is the Lair of Asmodeus. A suave yet unsettling demon prince who may offer you a price for passage. Asmodeus knows you seek the amulet, and such a mission does not pass lightly through his lair.

Asmodeus himself will greet you as you enter Gehennom

Juiblex’s Lair

Deeper still in Gehennom, you will find yourself in a swamp. Crueler and fouler than the waters of Medusa’s island, this is the swamp of Juiblex, the demon lord.

The swamp of Juiblex is covered is slime and formless monsters

Beware where you tread, for Juiblex himself has no form, and may arise from anywhere in the swamp.

A misstep into the swamp may provoke Juiblex

You must make your way through to the other end of the swamp, where you may continue your journey. The air is diseased, and should you fail, you will be engulfed and join the swamp itself.

Try not to get engulfed

Baalzebub’s Lair

Devoted to decay, destruction, demoralization, hysteria and panic, you shall encounter Baalzebub, demon prince of the flies.

Swarms of flies surround Baalzebub’s lair

Baalzebub may also propose a bribe, but the price will be high.

Deep within Baalzebub’s lair, you will find the way ahead

Baalzebub lives within the rotting carcass of a huge fly, hidden within, is the passage through Gehennom.

Deep within his lair, you will find the way ahead


As you leave the maze, you find yourself standing at the edge of a sprawling city: Orcus-Town.

A vast cursed city deep within Gehennom

Orcus-Town is a dark place, with abandoned homes and descecrated temples.

The walls of the dwellings and crumbling

Orcus, the demon prince, rules over the town and may be found deep within.

Deep within Orcus-Town, you will find Orcus

You may also find shady dealers and cursed wares. But be warned, some of these objects may not be as they seem …

Extortionate prices and suspicious goods are commonplace in Orcus-Town

Vlad’s Tower

Rising from the rocks, fire, and smoke of Gehennom is Vlad’s Tower. Vlad, a vampire, one of the most wretched, heinous, and depraved characters has taken up residence in the midst of hell.

A tower, rising from the grounds of Gehennom

Vlad, a covetous character, has many goods stored in his tower. At the top, you will face Vlad himself on his throne.

A charred, ashen tower impervious to the flames of Gehennom

One of the treasures Vlad holds is the Candelabrum of Invocation, a unique candelabrum said to provide enough light to walk you through the elemental planes.

Vlad holds the sacred Candelabrum of Invocation, which you must find

The Wizard’s Tower

You find two small refuges from the heat of Gehennom, a lake amidst the flame and smoke. Rising from both lakes is another tower. This time constructed rather than hewn from the rock.

A lake houses a powerful and mighty wizard, the Wizard of Yendor

One of these towers is abandoned, whereas the other is the home of the legendary Wizard of Yendor himself. Weary of lesser mortals, spurning all human company, the Wizard lives in the depths of the Earth, taking with him the dreadful Book of the Dead. You must find the true residence of the Wizard, and cross the lake.

Two such towers exist, one is abandoned, and the other is the true tower

The Wizard of Yendor

You must ascend the tower, fighting the various creatures that lurk within.

The base of the tower, with chambers filled with evil creatures

Midway up the tower, you will find a contingent of evil creatures, pets of the Wizard of Yendor.

A huge arena of evil creatures await you

At the top, surrounded by a circle of water, you will find the wizard meditating within. You must duel him, but the wizard cannot truly die. You may vanquish his body, but he will always return.

The wizard waits within the central spine of the top floor of the tower

The Vibrating Square

You are ready. The Wizard of Yendor is no more, and it is time for the heist to begin. The Amulet of Yendor resides within the lowermost depths of Gehennom, in Moloch’s Sanctum.

An ancient magical glyph embedded into the ground

However access to the Sanctum is hidden through an ancient enchantment. The Oracle will guide you to the entrance: a mystical square, hidden at the end of Gehennom.

You will find the square at the lowermost depth of Gehennom

The Vibrating Square is hidden. The location may be anywhere and it may look like anything. You may only discover it through standing directly above it. When you do, the ground will vibrate and the square shall reveal itself.

The square is hidden and may only be revealed by standing above

The Vibrating Square is protected with an enchantment. To enter through the square, you must perform an invocation, as revealed by the Oracle.

You must perform the invocation to proceed

End game

Now is the time. You must retrieve the Amulet of Yendor, or die in the attempt.


You now have prepared the three critical items required to enter Moloch’s sanctum: the bell, book, and candle job.

The first is the Silver Bell, from your Quest Nemesis in the mid game. Ringing it will produce a pure sound to announce thee to the sanctum below.

The Silver Bell, from your Quest nemesis

The second is the Candelabrum of Invocation, from Vlad. The light from which will show you the way through the depths past Gehennom itself to the Sanctum of the evil god Moloch.

The Candelabrum of Invocation, coveted by Vlad

The third is the Book of the Dead, from the Wizard of Yendor. The terrible runes when read, will cause the earth to tremble mightily and crumble away, to descend to the Sanctum.

The Book of the Dead, guarded by the Wizard of Yendor

You ring the bell.

A pure sound is heard

You light the candelabrum.

You see past the depths of Gehennom

You recite the book.

The ground crumbles away and you are surrounded by water and towers of flame


There is no more return. You enter Moloch’s Sanctum.

Moloch’s Sanctum is a place of pure evil

This is a place of pure evil, beyond law, neutrality, and chaos. Within is the Temple to Moloch surrounded by flame, where the high priest of Moloch holds the fabled Amulet of Yendor itself.

A temple to Moloch holds the Amulet of Yendor

Fight, and win. Get the amulet!


As with any heist, getting the Amulet is not enough. You must now leave the Dungeons of Doom.

You must leave the sanctum with the amulet

You must rise through the fiery mazes of Gehennom. The magic of the Amulet will inhibit your progress, plunging you further down back into the Sanctum even as you try to climb up.

Even as you rise, the amulet holds you back

You find yourself back at the entrance of the Dungeons of Doom, but you do not see the sky and earth as you entered it. The Amulet’s power is calling your god to you. You rise, and go beyond the planes of life.

The entrance of the Dungeons of Doom is warped, and no longer lead to the land of the living

Plane of Earth

The Amulet transports you to the first of the four elemental planes: The Plane of Earth.

The Plane of Earth is a small network of caves

You are is a small underground chamber. You must dig your way through to other small cavernous pockets within the earth.

You must dig between the caverns

Even as you dig, rubble transforms into raw elemental beings, who are not happy to find a stranger in their plane. But you must dig, for you must find the portal through to the next elemental plane.

Hidden in the earth is a portal to the next elemental plane

Plane of Air

The Plane of Air finds you falling endlessly through empty space. There is no ground, just clouds, storm, lighting, and thunder.

Clouds, storm, lighting, and thunder form the Plane of Air

Walking through the clouds is perilous and filled with air elementals, who surround you as a hurricane does.

Air elementals hide within the clouds waiting to ambush you

Hidden within the clouds, an invisible portal will bring you to the next elemental plane.

Hidden in the clouds is a portal to the next elemental plane

Plane of Fire

Surrounded by flame and lava with flames falling from the sky, you find yourself in the Plane of Fire.

The ground burns in the Plane of Fire

Fire elementals emerge from the ground, scorching their way through to you and leaving a trail of noxious fumes.

Towers of flame erupt

One of these towers of flame is not like the others. One of these is a portal to the next elemental plane.

Hidden in the flame is a portal to the next elemental plane

Plane of Water

You float within a huge air bubble. The Plane of Water is pure water, save for supernatural air bubbles that hint at the treacherous currents that pull you across the plane.

You are encased in a large air bubble floating around infinite water

The bubbles coalesce and split continuously, and you must hop from bubble to bubble plagued by Water Elementals.

Quickly jump from bubble to bubble, lest you drown

One of these bubbles houses an invisible portal, to the final plane.

Hidden in a bubble is a portal to the next elemental plane

The Astral Plane

Beyond the Elemental Planes is the Astral Plane, the plane beyond the physical elements, and the final frontier where beyond lies the gods themselves.

The Astral plane is the final frontier from the physical to the realm of the gods

The astral plane is the home of the angels, the highest priests who serve the gods themselves, and yourself. The incarnations of the adventurer you might have been.

Three chambers await you, one to the left, one straight ahead, and one to the right

None of them are happy to see you. The Amulet of Yendor possesses powers that mere mortals can scarcely comprehend. You are not worthy of it.

Which will you take?

The High Altars

The three chambers hold the antithesis of Moloch’s Temple in the Sanctum. One is the Temple of Law, the other is the Temple of Neutrality, and the final is the Temple of Chaos.

Your pious alignment will guide you to the right temple, but guarding the three temples are the Riders: horsemen of the apocalypse.

The Temple of Law is guarded by Famine, whose very touch causes starvation and crops to wither.

The lawful altar is bathed in white light from above

The Temple of Neutrality is guarded by Pestilence, whose touch causes sickness, disease, and terminal illness.

The neutral altar is a grey void through which you may inspect

The Temple of Chaos is guarded by Death, whose embrace brings death to you.

The chaotic altar is a black puncture through the astral fabric


The fourth horseman is You. You are War.

Your battle is victorious. You stand having travelled through the depths of the Earth and beyond, with your victims claimed by Death. You produce the Amulet of Yendor and call upon your god with your offering.

You are bathed in radiance …

An invisible choir sings, and you are bathed in radiance… “Mortal, thou hast done well!” “In return for thy service, I grant thee the gift of Immortality!” You ascend to the status of Demigod…


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my creative interpretation and illustrated guide to NetHack. All images were generated through the DALL-E AI and attempt to reflect what ASCII and plaintext descriptions allude to as best as possible. You can right click and view any image to see the higher resolution. I’ve done some minor image editing to improve the generated images on occasion.

Images purposely omit all characters and monsters, instead focusing on the environs to preserve some imagination.

Naturally, this is full of spoilers. But if you’re reading down here either your mousewheel is broken or you know that already.

If you haven’t played NetHack before, here’s some screenshots of what playing might look like from my first ascension. This uses a curses interface which makes NetHack relatively modern (though it may not seem like it, if you’ve never played a command line game before). Others may use different interfaces and colours.

The Castle
A maze in Gehennom
Minetown in the Gnomish Mines


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