Looking through a list of roguelikes to sink my teeth into I've narrowed down my choices to Nethack and Crawl. The problem is that I'm not experienced with roguelikes so I don't know what to expect in terms of difficulty, and I want to choose the one that is easier to get into and beat.

So how steep are Nethack and Crawl's learning curves? Is one game more feasible to beat than the other, starting as a beginner? I'm more concerned about learning game mechanics than the UI.

What I've heard so far about differences between the two:

  • Crawl is less in-depth so the different ways to die are less surprising. Yet Another Stupid Death originated from Nethack, so I fear for my wellbeing.

  • A death in Nethack is usually because of stupidity and not bad luck. Crawl's random number generator can turn a sheep into a killing machine, meaning I may need both luck and experience.

If any of the two points above are incorrect please say so.

  • Did someone vote to close this?
    – Sadly Not
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 18:16
  • 1
    Yes, someone did. As "subjective and argumentative", probably because actual difficulty level is rather in the eye of the beholder. There are mechanical differences between them that will make the experience more or less forgiving, but whether it is "easier" in one or the other can vary a lot between players, because that is less about the game and more how the player handles it.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 20:25
  • 2
    If you are inexperienced in Roguelikes, you will find both games extremely difficult. I will echo badp's comment regarding Crawl - especially the Stone Soup variant, which has a ton of options that makes it easier and more fun to play from a UI perspective.
    – au revoir
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:11
  • @Grace Any changes you can recommend or does it stand fine?
    – Sadly Not
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:47

3 Answers 3


Crawl Stone Soup is generally regarded to be harder than Nethack. The resistances are harder to acquire (eating corpses won't grant them) and, although each level is much larger than Nethack's, monster regeneration is much slower — once you've killed all that there was to kill, the level will remain mostly empty for a long while and you'll have to move on.

Crawl, however, is much more "ergonomic", with all kinds of fancy features like autoexplore or "search for items matching this regexp". It also features a richer religion system, a richer randart system, more interesting (and dangerous) dungeon features, a superior tiled interface and a tutorial. It features less complex item interaction, however: no dipping or scratching or applying or wiping; only wearable items can be cursed (IIRC) and there's no "blessed" status at all; throwing potions at monsters is ineffective; etc.

If you want to give Crawl a try, go for a Spriggan Enchanter, train stabbing and stealth and learn Ensorcelled hibernation and Confusion. That's good enough to explore a few branches of the dungeons — once you realize you heave really few hitpoints and they ain't regenerating quickly either (I mean, you're no troll).

  • Being ergonomic is a plus, I'll give crawl a try if I don't see any support for Nethack here.
    – Sadly Not
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 18:23
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    @thethinman Oh, you'll find plenty of support for Nethack here, I just described some reasons why one'd want to try Crawl instead.
    – badp
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 18:25
  • 2
    I believe Troll Berserkers are one of the easier ways to start with Crawl. The ability to berserk gets you through any early dungeon surprises, while being a Troll removes the need for careful food management.
    – au revoir
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:13
  • @Jason I played that combo too. Trolls need to balance between eating a lot to keep their lightning fast metabolism going and sacrificing corpses to gain piety, so it's challenging in a different way. That said, I got farther with SpEn's than everything else and they're the most commonly suggested newbie combo on ##crawl (well, at least they were for versions 0.6-0.7).
    – badp
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:18
  • @badp - you can pray while fighting, so that your kills give you piety, but point taken. My personal best was with a Mountain Dwarf Berserker - like the Troll, but you don't have the regeneration sapping your food supply.
    – au revoir
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:23

I prefer crawl over Nethack, but this is mostly based off of personal preference. Still, my reasons for liking crawl are as follows:

  1. Crawl gives more prominence to race than to class(Which I prefer).
  2. You gain skills through usage, which I find to be more naturalistic.
  3. The Dungeon Levels are larger and make use of more varied structures.
  4. The game is not a troll. I've died a lot on Nethack because of stupidity.

The interfaces between the two roguelikes are somewhat different, but it is easy to transfer between the two if you're familiar with one of them.

Having said that, I would still recommend Nethack to more inexperienced players, and here's why:

  1. Scumming. Nethack has a much higher tolerance for monster farming, where you stay on the upper levels and just kill and kill and kill. Doing this is a great way to get familiar with the game, and so I recommend it to newbies. At the same time, this feature in Nethack detracts a bit from the game once you've gotten experience. But once you've gotten a good handle on Nethack, you'll find that Crawl Stone Soup offers its own charms.

Good Luck. :D


Going back to your original question, I agree with Jason Berkan; both games are steep learning curves. Nethack is a harder game but I would recommend it temporarily to a beginner. This is because you can treat the early levels as being very simple. This would prepare you for other for other roguelikes which have more complex UI. Unlike in crawl's early game there will be relatively few commands to worry about. When you've spent about 4 hours on Nethack you would enjoy the Charms of Crawl.

  • Welcome to the Arqade family! I'll edit your question a bit to look better.
    – ave
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 20:31

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