Soldier ants, jackals and wands: Top ways to die in Nethack.
I stumbled into a game of Nethack earlier this week, after a long hiatus, and darn it if the rogue-like didn't hand me my hat. The dungeon crawler includes a critter called the "cockatrice" (also the "chickatrice") that turns you to stone if you touch it. With this being a proper rogue-like, with perma-death and all, this would normally mean giving these malevolent chickens a wide berth, or hurling pointy objects at them until they died. Players of some exposure to the game know, however, that if you manage to kill a 'trice, you can wield it while wearing gloves, and wave the corpse, like a rubber chicken, at your enemies and turn them to stone.
My bright idea – always a bad sign in a piece of software that's been in semi-continuous development since 1987 – was to swing a two-handed sword at a chickatrice that had itself stumbled over a sleeping gas trap and fallen asleep. Consequently, it roused itself, prodded poor Standish the Bandit and solidified him from marrow to epidermis.
No death-chicken wand to be had, just another YASD ("Yet Another Stupid Death").
Nethack's appeal lies in its emergent qualities. Earlier in the playthrough, I nearly succumbed to another rookie mistake, of attacking a floating eye at melee range. Frozen by the eye's gaze, Standish was defenseless to whatever threats wandered into range, and darn it if a band of orcs didn't take the opportunity to pay a visit. Luckily, the eye had parked itself in a hallway, effectively barricading Standish into a room, which was great, until a rock piercer slithered out of the ceiling beside the eye and began bashing at my humble barbarian. His pet, a cat named Bagel, created something of a distraction, but the downward spiral to death wore on inexorably until the frustrated orcs began to hurl daggers in Standish's direction, missed, struck the eye, killed it and freed the barbarian with only five hit points left – enough to stagger in the opposite direction and swill a healing potion.
For players of not much skill, such as myself, brushes with extermination provide perhaps too much of the game's excitement. And other endings are deadly dull. The most popular public Nethack server, at alt.org/nethack, allows you to pull statistics on some 3 million games that have been played through the portal, including the top causes of death.
There's also a master compendium of pet names chosen by players, from "A Bloodhound named Balrog" to "zukes."
Nethack is, of course, available for free from here.