This page only covers the general strategy of the game. For specific topics and tactics, see the related pages. The following are good reads for beginners:
- Background and race combinations for beginners
- Character guides
- Escaping from (and avoiding) trouble
- Strategy guides
- Tips and tricks
- Weapon choice
For generic character building strategy see:
You can also check each of the individual Branch pages for more information on a particular part of the dungeon.
As the game starts, you'll find yourself in the Dungeon. The first levels are rather simple, but there are a few notable threats. Uniques (especially Sigmund and Grinder), player ghosts, ogres, and bands of gnolls or orcs all pose a significant threat on the first few levels.
If you do decide to take on a threat, isolate that monster, and use any tricks at your disposal -- ranged weapons, spells, wands, branded throwing weapons. etc. -- but remember, you're under no obligation to kill the monsters now. You get more powerful over the course of the game. The uniques and other "local bullies" don't.
Once you find the Temple, pick a god if you haven't yet (and aren't a demigod). If the particular god you want isn't in the Temple (perhaps your temple was corrupted by Lugonu), you can find it in the main dungeon. If you're looking to convert to one of the more unusual gods (i.e. Lugonu or Jiyva), then you may have to wait until later to convert.
Throughout the game, you will find various portals to optional levels. Many of the portals are timed, so if you wish to enter them at all, you must do so quickly!
Portal levels have different themes, so always look up whichever Portal you've found, and consider whether you're equipped to deal with it. Some of these are obvious; you'll want fire resistance for the Volcano, and cold resistance for the Ice Cave. If the portal plays to your weak points, skip it! Likewise, if the "guards" around the portal are too tough for you, you probably won't survive long in the portal itself.
Before you venture into these portals, be sure you have enough space in your inventory to bring back any loot you find, as you will not be able to re-enter the portal. Once you're in, take stock of the situation, and explore carefully. Keep track of the exit portals (there's always at least one handy), and leave whenever you feel you're outmatched!
Some of the first portals you might see include:
- The Sewer, filled with lots of water, and mostly weak monsters. Watch out for poisonous snakes, and whatever lurks at the end of this portal.
The greatest threat of Lair is often fast moving enemies with poison, since these are the hardest to escape. Therefore, poison resistance is definitely recommended. If your characters lacks poison resistance and defenses in general, you might wish to explore a bit more of the dungeon, or dip into levels 1-3 of Orc.
Other threats include hydrae which can mercilessly tear apart your character with multiple attacks, packs of hard-hitting and hard-to-hit blink frogs, and the occasional herd of extremely powerful elephants or death yaks. You might very occasionally run into a fire-breather, such as a fire drake.
Like all the other branches you'll encounter, the final level of Lair is the hardest. Unless there's a portal there, which would be announced upon you entering the level, you won't lose anything by leaving it for later. Feel free to exit that floor if it's too hard, and come back to it when you're stronger.
The Orcish Mines
Despite the entrance often appearing earlier, the Orcish Mines are tougher than the Lair. Various special types of orcs like warlords, sorcerers, and high priests will standing in your way, and the final floor can have ogre magi and giants.
Levels are often split into multiple paths, with some parts being unreachable unless you use a scroll of magic mapping and dig your way to them. But typically this is a waste, and exploring every staircase is sufficient for finding most of the loot.
You'll find the entrance to the Elven Halls on the lower levels, but don't go in yet, as the elves are much tougher than the orcs.
After you've finished Lair and Orc, make sure to finish the dungeon. You'll find the entrances to the Vaults and the Depths before too long, but you should leave these for later. Once you're done, it's time to begin acquiring the runes of Zot.
The easiest branches in which you can find runes are the Lair branches. You will always have three branches to choose from: The Shoals or the Swamp, Snake Pit or Spider's Nest, and the innumerably more difficult Slime Pits. They're listed below in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest. You might also refer to the Elven Halls section, if all the branches are too hard for you.
All of these branches are made somewhat easier with poison resistance, and it's almost a requirement in Snake Pit and Spider's Nest. If you still haven't found any, you can attempt to skin a swamp dragon for its hide in Swamp, hope for equipment to show up in Shoals, or explore levels 1-2 of the Elven Halls.
Assuming you have poison resistance by now and a way to kill hydras (spells, flaming weapons or non-bladed weapons), the Swamp should be fairly simple. Be careful to only fight from solid ground unless your character does well in shallow water or can fly (if you're surprised while wading through shallow water, retreat to dry land, then turn and fight).
Some of the bigger threats include thorn hunters, simulacra (bring cold resistance if you can), and the Lernaean hydra. But if you can overcome it all, you will eventually find the decaying rune of Zot.
The Shoals are made up of several islands, surrounded by vast amounts of water. A source of flight is very important, as you'll probably need to fight from solid ground or fly to avoid incurring penalties, and shifting tides can confine you to one of the islands. If you don't have any source of flight, you might want to clear the first two levels of the Elven Halls in search of it.
Expect to have to deal with foes such as merfolk bands, various satyrs, and perhaps even the dreadful Witch of the Tides, Ilsiuw. Many of the enemies here use Hexes, so magic resistance is important. Clarity and/or stasis are also useful.
Whatever you do, be very careful when you explore, only autoexploring after you've eliminated most of the threats. Otherwise you will often find yourself trapped in combat, making your chances of collecting the barnacled rune of Zot very slim.
The Snake Pit is populated by hordes of snakes and nagas; Poison damage and constriction are both common, and this level is especially dangerous to spellcasters thanks to mana vipers. In addition to the obvious choice of poison resistance, fire resistance will help with the salamanders, and electricity resistance will help with the shock serpents. A way to nullify Teleport Other is also useful.
If you're well prepared, and take things carefully, it won't take long until you slither across the serpentine rune of Zot.
The Spider's nest has swarms of fast-moving spiders that can quickly inflict severe poisoning, so don't enter without poison resistance unless absolutely necessary. But don't assume poison is all you have to worry about, as many spiders hit about as hard as yaks. Meanwhile, clarity will help with the Tarantellas, and see invisible will help you to deal with ghost moths.
Once you complete the final floor, you'll find the gossamer rune of Zot.
The Slime Pits are much more dangerous than the other branches, and require quite a lot of preparation before you can clear them with any semblance of safety. You shouldn't go here until you've at least completed the other two Lair branches, and even then, you're often better off acquiring your third rune from the Vaults or the Abyss.
Once you feel you're ready to enter the pits, you will need acid resistance and mutation resistance. Also, bring Clarity for the golden eyes if you have it. Make sure to read the royal jelly's page and develop a strategy for dealing with it.
The Elven Halls
Thanks to the wide variety of magic, virtually every resistance will come in handy, but the most important one is magic resistance. If your magic resistance is too low, you could be banished, sending you to the Abyss.
Some people like to complete this branch fairly early, even before finishing any of the Lair Branches. While this isn't impossible by any means, it's very difficult, and shouldn't be tried by inexperienced players.
Once you enter, the most helpful thing you can have is decent AC, EV, and SH. Elemental damage isn't uncommon, but there's a wide variety, so it's best to have wide spread of resistances. Magic resistance is particularly important for Vault sentinels, so if you don't think you can fight an entire floor at once, you'll also want that.
Vaults:5 is exponentially harder than the earlier levels, and often it's best to dip into the Depths before attempting it. Read the V:5 page for a detailed list of the tools and strategies needed to reach that silver rune of Zot.
As you explore the Vaults, you'll eventually find the Crypt, home to all manner of undead. You'll want negative energy resistance (more is always better), and a way to cure or resist rot. Cold resistance can also help.
If you plan on converting to The Shining One later in your game, save this branch until then.
This is one of the most dangerous branches in the game, full of smiting, torment, and death curses. Often the first thing you'll see is a band ofsphinxes that can paralyse and smite you to death, so tread lightly.
Lots of negative energy resistance, sustain abilities, and some way to deal with the rot are all required. Or, you could worship Kikubaaqudgha for that wonderful death curse protection and torment resistance.
The Depths are fairly straightforward. 5 floors of elaborate layouts leading up to the Realm of Zot entrance. Along the way, you'll find entrances to the Abyss, the Vestibule of Hell, and Pandemonium.
Be on the lookout for mutation resistance if you haven't found it already, because it's useful in all of the branches you'll explore from here on out.
The Abyss is the easiest of the branches you'll run across in the Depths. Unsurprisingly, followers of Lugonu will have an easier time here, particularly since they can leave the Abyss whenever they want.
No matter who you follow, though, you absolutely need mutation resistance here. Also, Apportation is great for nabbing that abyssal rune of Zot before you teleport away. You'll also want enough food to keep you from starving, since Abyss has a distinct lack of food, and most characters don't get to leave when they feel like it.
Oddly, despite the constant -cTele, teleportation is often a decent way to escape a dodgy situation. So don't leave all your source of teleport behind!
- Gehenna: Home to fire, hellfire, even more fire, and the obsidian rune of Zot.
- Cocytus: Realm of Ice and Annoying Amounts of Water. You'll find the icy rune of Zot here.
- Tartarus: Full of undead, draining, and dispel undead. Contains the bone rune of Zot.
- Dis: A city where almost everything is made of iron, including the iron rune of Zot.
If you can't clear the Realm of Zot, you probably shouldn't even bother with these places, but if you want all 15 runes you'll have to enter them eventually.
Pandemonium is yet another place you probably shouldn't go to if you only want to win. It contains one rune guarded by a randomly generated panlord, the demonic rune of Zot. The other four are guarded by unique Pan Lords, which you only have one chance to kill or outsmart.
This place requires a ton of preparation, as you'll need to be able to deal with Cerebov, Mnoleg, Lom Lobon, and/or Gloorx Vloq whenever the game throws them at you. Definitely check out the Pandemonium article and the articles on the individual pan lords before you enter!
Realm of Zot
Eventually you will arrive at Zot:5, which contains the infamous Orb Chamber. Read that page for more details on how to not die there. Just know this: You'll probably want a source of Stasis, in case you have to walk through a teleport trap.
Note that even if you want to collect every rune, often it's best to clear out Zot first for the extra experience and items. Just don't pick up the orb!
When you've finished ransacking every place you wish, proceed to Zot:5 and claim the Orb of Zot! To save yourself a bit of distance, consider using Apportation to drag the Orb over to the nearest staircase (though this will take a while and make tons of noise, which is why you should clear out the Orb chamber first).
Be warned that from the time you pick up the Orb, all portals in the dungeon will close, sealing off Hell and the other netherworlds. Furthermore, you will be under -cTele (that is, no teleport control anywhere) from this point on.
To finish the game, simply book it towards D:1. Your priority now is speed: use every method of speeding yourself up available to you, whether it's haste, Swiftness, digging yourself a shortcut, or anything else. Use of any potions, scrolls, or wands that can help you travel more quickly, and don't worry too much about magical contamination; it doesn't matter if you exit the Dungeon as a half-blind, deformed, mutant vegan so long as you've escaped safely.
You can also make use of the game's autotravel feature (Ctrl+G), which will automatically calculate the shortest route to your destination, but this won't automatically use items for you.
Occasionally residents of Pandemonium will appear to block your path, including Pandemonium lords. If you can get around them, do so. If they block your path completely, only fight if you can clear a path within a few turns; otherwise, dig yourself a new path or take another route. Though you'll be under permanent -cTele, you can still make a semi-controlled blink by using a scroll of blinking or Controlled Blink; a random teleport, whether from a scroll or wand, can also get you free of a blockade.
Only stop to heal if you're in danger of dying, and do so on an upwards stairway if possible. Just travel as quickly and efficiently as possible, avoid getting pinned down, and you should escape without too much trouble.