Linley's Dungeon Crawl

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Linley's Dungeon Crawl (often called Dungeon Crawl or simply Crawl) is a roguelike game in a fantasy setting. Though NetHack has inspired many features of Crawl, the two games are very different.

We find few users who frequently play both NetHack and Crawl, so it is difficult to compare the two games. However, Crawl is said to be more difficult than NetHack in general. See [1].


The creator, Linley Henzell, made slight changes to the NetHack General Public License to create the "Crawl General Public License", thus Crawl is free software. Crawl does not contain any source code from NetHack.

Linley Henzell created Crawl in 1995 and continued to improve the game until 1999. After that, Linley Henzell allowed a group of contributors to develop new versions of Crawl. Development stalled in 2003 with the release of Crawl 4.0.0 beta 26. The last developer, Brent Ross, proceeded to produce versions of Crawl 4.1 alpha until 2005.

A variant called Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup has displaced the original game (somewhat analogous to how NetHack displaced Hack). This variant integrates various bug fixes, interface improvements, statistical tweaks, and new dungeon branches. Most Crawl players now play Stone Soup.


Crawl and NetHack seem very similar in some ways.

  • The goal in both games is to retrieve the MacGuffin from the dungeon. NetHack players seek the Amulet of Yendor, while Crawl players want the Orb of Zot. To open the way to the MacGuffin, the player must perform the invocation ritual in NetHack or must collect runes of Zot in Crawl. Then one must return upward, carrying the MacGuffin out of the dungeon.
  • Crawl and NetHack both use persistent levels, although Crawl has two significant areas with non-persistent levels (the Abyss and Pandemonium). You may take stairs to revisit levels. Strategic use of the stairs will help the survival of the player.
  • Crawl and NetHack both feature a similar fantasy settings. Expect to find elves, dwarves, orcs, kobolds and such in both games. Both games have magic items like scrolls, potions, rings and amulets.
  • Crawl and NetHack both allow you to attack monsters with melee attacks (by walking into them), ranged attacks (by shooting or throwing something at them), or magic (by zapping something at them).
  • Crawl and NetHack both have traps. Step on the wrong square, and it might drop a dart on you or teleport you, for example.
  • Crawl and NetHack players may starve to death unless they eat corpses.
  • Crawl and NetHack both have bones levels, although they are sharply different in nature: NetHack bones save the entire level, including monsters and items, and a weak ghost, while Crawl bones do not save the level layout, monsters, or items, but contain a player ghost that has powers similar to the deceased character, and can easily kill a character in the shallow dungeon levels.
  • Crawl and NetHack both have various dungeon branches. Both NetHack and Stone Soup read the descriptions of special levels from data files, but while NetHack also reads branch information from data files, Stone Soup's branch definitions are hardcoded into the executable. Crawl before Stone Soup also hardcoded special level layouts into the game binary.

Differences in gameplayEdit

Players who try both games will immediately notice these obvious differences about the dungeon.

  • Crawl does not start you with a pet!
  • Crawl generates larger dungeon levels than NetHack. In Crawl, the @ remains in the center of the map while the dungeon scrolls around the adventurer.
  • While NetHack starts out with distinct, separate rectangular rooms connected with corridors, Crawl starts out with more complex level designs, such as adjacent rooms, parallel corridors, pillars, and multiple staircases to the same level.

Crawl characters have better vision, too. If you give enough attention to the first dungeon branch in both games, you will notice the difference between NetHack's dark corridors and Crawl's lit corridors. If you play Stone Soup, your characters will see very well around corners, because of the Permissive Field of View. Vision in Stone Soup is symmetric, so if you can see the monster then the monster can see you. But Crawl limits the radius of vision; a Crawl player may be unable to see monsters on the other side of a large room, but NetHack players always see as far as possible in lit areas.

However, Crawl has subtle differences from NetHack that seriously affect how one plays the game. This presentation of the differences may be overly general, not to apply in all situations, so beware.

  • Crawl encourages the use of unidentified magic items, while NetHack discourages their use. Yes, Crawl includes a few scrolls and potions with bad effects, like the potion that slows you, but most items are good. Crawl players can deal with using unidentified items; quick discovery of the scroll of phasing and the potion of healing will help Crawl characters survive the early game. NetHack players often must avoid trying unidentified items; NetHack has the potion of paralysis, scroll of destroy armor, scroll of punishment and especially that scroll of amnesia. NetHack players, to survive, must develop other tactics of identification.
  • Crawl encourages the player to advance downward quickly, while NetHack players may linger on upper levels. Crawl players who fail to go down, will find themselves short on resources and with few monsters to fight. NetHack players like to linger to regenerate or to sacrifice at an altar, and may encounter several battles even when traveling up through the dungeon. Of course, players of both games will travel up to escape monsters or to visit their stashes.
  • NetHack restricts shooting to eight directions. It is a tradition that will not disappear; it enhances strategy greatly by allowing monsters (especially those annoying unicorns) to be out of your line of fire. Crawl has a targeting system that allows you to shoot arbitrarily nearby targets within your field of view, plus all of the extra controls that such a system requires. Stone Soup's symmetric vision allows you and monsters to trade shots around corners.
  • NetHack has containers. While Crawl players are dropping items on the ground, NetHack players like to place them in chests. In general, NetHack seems to have more complex object interactions than Crawl; the bag of holding is useful for carrying all those miscellaneous things (musical instruments, magic markers, spare unicorn horn, water-walking boots, junk scrolls to blank later, junk potions to dilute later, huge piles of food, collection of valuable gems) that an adventurer wants to exploit. (In compensation, Crawl has an elaborate "stash" system that tracks the location of all objects ever dropped or even seen on the ground, allowing you to return to their locations quickly.)
  • NetHack seems to give more emphasis to arbitrary uses for objects than Crawl. For example, NetHack lets you wield or throw any object. Some Crawl weapons are throwable but some are not.
  • Characters and monsters in Crawl are more vulnerable. For example, even a well armored mountain dwarf fighter may find 1/3 of his hitpoints knocked off by a (comparatively) measly ogre. In addition, elemental resistances are obscure to obtain, requiring mutations or extrinsic sources, and have three levels, the last of which still not providing complete protection. On the other hand, monsters tend to have resistances less often as well, and weapons do more damage as compared to NetHack.
  • The game hinges less on finding a few particular items. There is no armor that provides a property like reflection, and most the useful extrinsics on armor are generated randomly, so nothing is guaranteed. On the other hand, the game lacks instakills such as "The poison was deadly..." and the touch of death, making such resistances as magic and poison harder to obtain but also less necessary. Also, artifacts are nice but not necessary; the +0, +0 mace you might start with can be upgraded, with the right combination of scrolls, to a +7, +7 mace of crushing, a respectable weapon even against harder monsters, although you might eventually want something better.
  • The class system in Crawl is more malleable than Nethack. In Crawl, class only determines the religious alignment, stats, and equipment your character begins with. Nethack is different as your starting class will determine which skills you can become proficient at, your innate resistances, which artifacts you can gain easiest access to, and many other features of your character. As the game progresses, your starting class becomes significantly less important in crawl. With Nethack, it will shape your character build almost entirely.
  • The religion system is more developed in Crawl. Various gods have very different feels and provide different perks. Advanced strategy often hinges around changing religions to get better buffs for a particular dungeon branch.

Differences in interface and documentationEdit

NetHack has many user interfaces. Crawl only has a tty interface (that employs ASCII and runs inside a DOS box or Unix terminal), though there are Crawl variants (including the Stone Soup variant) that employ tiles.

Crawl's tty user interface is better than that of NetHack. NetHack's problem is its old source code and its desire to remain compatible with old Hack and NetHack versions. The default values of some options follow this desire. So color defaults to false, and msg_window defaults to 's' single rather than 'f' full, because older versions had no color and displayed only single previous messages. (At least menustyle defaults to 'f' full instead of 't' traditional. Traditional menus are that primitive type being familiar to Hack players.)

But perhaps NetHack's tty view is better than Crawl's, because an 80x24 window is large enough to show the entire map of a NetHack level.

Crawl's manual is better organised than the NetHack Guidebook. Crawl's manual, a text file, keeps the less important material in appendixes, and shuns long alphabetic lists by presenting things in groups. A separate text file describes the options. Meanwhile, NetHack's Guidebook uses troff or TeX formatting, so that the DevTeam may create pretty PostScript and HTML versions of the Guidebook, not only plain text files.

Differences of developmentEdit

The development of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is quite open; the developers use a Git repository that provides public read access, they chat on a public mailing list, and they seek new contributors. This is quite typical both around SourceForge and with many other free, open source software projects.

Contrast NetHack's DevTeam, which employs seclusion and secrecy (even concealing bug fixes before the next release) in a manner that may reverse some of the effect of the source code being public and thus spoiling everything. This style of development more resembles a commercial video game than a free game that has spawned many variants.

External linksEdit

Crawl links:

External references:

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