ASCII Your Heart Out - Classic Rogue-Likes


It seems like everyday, there’s a new Rogue-like game coming out. But it’s easy to forget just how big and how surprisingly diverse the “Classic Rogue-like” genre is! While the MUD and text adventures seem to have dwindled, countless ASCII adventures are still made to this day. Let’s talk about them!

Let me clarify what is meant by a “classic rogue-like”. This is not a thread to berate modern “Rogue-lites”, which are frequently wonderful, but rather a thread to celebrate the strange and complex origins from which they sprung. Classic Rogue-likes are a very specific field and their foundation is still debated even today. I mainly would like to indicate towards certain prototypes: Rogue, NetHack, Angband, Dungeon Crawl, and the like! There’s a lot of qualities that define these games, but for the sake of the discussion, I think the most important ones are as follows: Turn-based, randomly generated, and permadeath.

What’s your favorite classic Rogue-likes?

What do you like about classic Rogue-likes

What got you into classic Rogue-likes?

Recommend a Rogue-like, and tell us why you love it!

For me, personally, I am by no means an expert on these games. I am just recently learning about them and find them strangely enchanting. My personal favorite is Caves of Qud (one of the few payed Rogue-likes), and it is the game I’ve spent the most time with by a landslide. (I’m partially makng this thread so I can learn more about them!) I’ve always wanted to get into NetHack but it’s never clicked, and I liked what I played of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. Dwarf Fortress fascinates me infinitely but I haven’t put in the time; I ought to. I’m hoping to keep exploring the genre! The biggest obstacle for me so far is a general disinterest in Fantasy.

7DRL 2018 is ongoing as of this post going up, and as always is filled with neat entries!

Never played one of these games? That’s fine! Interested? There are lots of them to choose! Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup and Brogue are frequently considered a good starting points if you want something more accessible, if I understand correctly. This page has a good list of games if you’re looking for a specific genre or feeling, though be warned they are predominantly fantasy. There are also some more accessible games as far as aesthetics go: ADOM has a graphical version, for example.

Games for Waypoint 101

I’d describe myself as ‘Rogue-curious’. Having enjoyed a lot of games with rogue like elements the last few years I’ve always wanted to try a legit ASCII rougue like. This thread and few recommendations might be the push I need to make the plunge!


I have been playing roguelikes almost as long as i have been playing video games. My first was Dungeon of Doom on my friend’s Mac Plus. I neve made any real progress on that game but I was fascinated. It had all of the basic roguelike elements, but with icons instead of ASCII.

Flash forward a few years and I played a ton of the Macintosh ports of UMoria (which was the game that Angband and its infinite variants spawned from), A.D.O.M., and the daddy of them all (after Rogue itself), Nethack. A.D.OM. was the first roguelike I ever beat. It feels kind of janky these days but it had a lot of interesting ideas, like a persistent overworld map and a detailed skill system.

Nethack was my white whale for many years. I was determined to beat it without spoilers, and would pick it up periodically and then set it back down in frustration. A few years ago, I threw up my hands and spoiled the crap out of myself, and finally beat it with a Dwarven Valkyrie. I haven’t played it since, and I don’t have much desire to. These days it feels like a collection of influential ideas more than a game I’d necessarily recommend. Play it, but don’t feel bad if you bounce off it, hard.

These days, my recommendation for a starter roguelike is Brogue. It’s got a lot of interesting systems without the class/race and character development complexity that can make roguelikes daunting. It’s also relatively short while offering extended play for advanced players (collecting extra lumenstones).

My favorite roguelike of all time is Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. I played it off and on since it was Linley’s Dungeon Crawl and followed it as it was adopted by the community and morphed into DCSS. I spent many years being really mediocre at it, and then a couple of years back I decided to go for the community’s “greaterplayer” achievement (one win with every species and every background). Taking the game seriously and slowing down taught me a ton about the game, and I eventually managed it. It’s not a coincidence that I haven’t played it since. :slight_smile:

Another game I’d like to call out is the original Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer. Originally for the SNES, it got an excellent port to the Nintendo DS. It looks like a SNES-era JRPG, but the gameplay is pure roguelike. I know there is also an english translation patch for the Japanese ROM floating around if emulation is your thing.

…apparently i have some thoughts on roguelikes. :expressionless:


(I would contest that “text adventures seem to have dwindled”! The IFComp gets a ton of entries every year – last year there were 78 entrants – and a fair subset of them are still classic parser-based games. IFDB lists over 2000 “modern” parser games written in Inform alone :stuck_out_tongue: [INTERLOPER OUT])


Fair point! I was actually trying out The Gostak earlier. Truthfully, I just wanted to list one other thing other than MUDs and couldn’t think of anything else :wink:

@murphy_slaw Really great contributions though! I need to try out Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. I’ve heard a lot of things about Shiren but never tried it out. I should pop open an emulator! That’s interesting about NetHack, though. I always think specifically compared to ADOM. Do you think that ADOM is work going back to and trying to get into compared to NetHack?


ADOM’s interface is friendlier than NetHack (or was last time I played either of them). NetHack used up all the standard ASCII characters for commands years ago, so some commands are multi-character strings, and it’s based on how late they were added, not how common they are.

In my experience, ADOM is more about building a super-tanky character with huge damage output while NetHack is more about collecting intrinsic resistances and emergency items. NetHack has much less stat inflation than ADOM. The NetHack learning curve is spent learning how to safely gain the required resistances and avoid the (unfortunately large) set of insta-deaths. ADOM’s level diversity is a bit better than NetHack and many people (myself included) find the levels from Gennehom to the ascension to be death traps if you don’t know what you’re doing and dull if you do.

I came to prefer DCSS to either of them because the verb set is reduced and the amount of weird edge cases and interface cruft is much smaller. Most of the charm of NetHack is all the weird interactions (the devs thought of everything!) but the amount of that stuff that comes up in optimal play is pretty small. The best things about DCSS are the amount of variety in the procedually generated content (levels and artifacts especially) and the diversity of the backgrounds and species. Many combos play so differently than each other that it has been described as a collection of different roguelike games with a common set of base mechanics.

Brogue goes even further with interface simplification and item set size and focuses mostly on systemic interactions (unlike much of nethack which is hand-coded exceptions for specific interactions). This makes it easier to pick up and play but still leaves a lot of room to develop skill.

Shiren is closer to Rogue itself than any other game I’ve mentioned (which makes sense because Rogue was the game that Chunsoft took their inspiration from). Small set of items and enemies, relatively small levels, A game about optimal resource use rather than finding abusable strategies in a complex system. It’s not as punishing as Rogue itself, though.

I also recommend that folks play Rogue itself! I never had the patience to stick with it but it’s amazing to see how many things the devs got right so near the dawn of the videogame age, There’s a reason it has spawned a genre and entire families of games


For anyone reading this and wanting to try NetHack: I definitely recommend playing a variant before playing “vanilla,” UnNetHack in particular makes a lot of improvements that will help new (and experienced) players without changing too much. Also don’t worry about spoiling yourself, surprise and mystery is part of the fun, but not if it turns into frustration (the wiki is here, look when your curious but it’s not a novel).

Probably my absolute favorite variant is dNetHack because of its binder class, which has low stats and (I think) no skills, but lets you bind spirits to yourself that add a ton of variety to the gameplay (wiki page). There’s also a lot of other changes in it that affect every class and create more interesting interactions from basically every system in the game.

UnNetHack and dNetHack and a bunch of other variants that sound really cool but I haven’t explored as much are all hosted on if you don’t want to compile them yourself.


I’m a huge fan of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (and linley’s crawl before that). The learning curve is still steep, but not Nethack or Dwarf Fortress steep. The class system shares some good aspects with the souls series – each introduces you to a different kind of build and playstyle, but ultimately doesn’t wall you in. The levelling system is elder scrollsy, where skills are improved through use.


Oh hell yeah. Extremely my jam. So I typically work with “traditional” vs. “modern” distinctions when it comes to roguelikes, with traditional serving as shorthand for the “canonical” games from the Berlin Interpretation (i.e., Angband, Nethack, and so on). Modern roguelikes are, for me, largely games that have been released as commercial products. (The moment one starts charging money for their death maze game is usually when they also leverage other design considerations to reduce the punitive nature of their death mechanics or at least have a real, material reason to take into consideration things like accessibility.)

What’s your favorite classic Rogue-likes?
Growing up, Nethack was this impossible, endless maze. I learned how to read and use a computer while I played it. Every time I played, I found out a new thing (mostly a new thing that could kill me). But I also learned fascinating rituals, like dropping things in hallways to see if my pet walks over them. If they do, the item isn’t cursed.

(By extension, playing MUDs in high school forced me to default to homerow typing and get fucking fast at it)

I love ADOM and Angband, but they were latecomers, long after I decided to study roguelikes and had been playing them for years.

What do you like about classic Rogue-likes
There’s a feeling that you’re learning a new language. A new system of signs, a new way of thinking. One of my favourite academic essays is “The Use of ASCII Graphics in Roguelikes: Aesthetic Nostalgia and Semiotic Difference” by Mark Johnson (dev for Ultima Ratio Regum and frequent host of Roguelike Radio). One of my favourite points he makes in that is that learning the glyphs and signs of a given ASCII roguelike does not really prepare you to understand another ASCII-based roguelike. You can certainly carry some lessons between games, but the language is at best a very different dialect, and at most a completely different language altogether.

I like the problem of permadeath. I like that is conjures extremely interesting conundrums for developers and players to solve. I think in a lot of cases we do play games as a way to retreat from the knowledge of our own mortality and permadeath complicates that practice.

What got you into classic Rogue-likes?
They were just there when I started using computers. Also, and this might sound a bit mercenary, but when it came time to do research and write about games, there wasn’t a lot of academic activity around roguelikes.

Recommend a Rogue-like, and tell us why you love it!
For my money, Caves of Qud and Cogmind are two extremely fascinating case studies of traditional roguelike principles being released as commercial projects. CoQ’s worldbuilding is almost unparalleled and the developers have a range of ways to help soften the learning curve if you’d rather explore instead of experiment with finding a viable build. Cogmind is just utterly gorgeous and its modular approach to character creation and almost explicit emphasis on stealth in most cases makes for a fabulous experience.

I’ll cosign Brogue while we’re at it because that game is fantastic.

And finally, but maybe most importantly, I want to recommend Shiren the Wanderer to everyone in this thread. I banged my head against Nethack for over a decade but it wasn’t until I played Shiren that I really gathered what was being asked of me. The semi-recent release on Vita has some great art direction and it took on the kind of ritual, daily play that some folks use Spelunky for. In that vein (assuming you don’t have a Vita but maybe have a 3DS): Etrian Mystery Dungeon does some phenomenal work with Shiren’s formula but also adds roving boss monsters and uh, base building? One of these days I’ll write something that unpacks all the cool shit going on in Etrian Mystery Dungeon, but I’m pretty sure there’s also a demo in the eshop if you want to try before you buy.


That essay is super fascinating. This gets at one of the reason I love the aesthetics of these games, and even when they’re not ASCII, the little symbols are often vague enough to instill a similar feeling. I was actually just checking out URR, so I’m gonna dig into this essay! (I’ve never played a MUD but I ought to.)

As I’ve been exploring these games, another quality of “language-learning” is the aspect of interacting with the systems, I think. So many games handle fundamental acts differently. Learning the new key commands and how the game uses systems has this similar feeling of developing a working understanding of the game, which then leads to personal creation.

Related, if anyone is interested in the commercial Caves of Qud and COGMIND, you can find POLYBOT-7, which is an offshoot of the latter, and a very out of date Beta with ASCII of the former. I haven’t picked up COGMIND, but I’ve been loving POLYBOT-7 and so intend to buy it sometime.

I tried Shiren on an emulator the other day, and had a lot of fun with it! With the conversation so far, I’m definitely going to put a little more time into Brogue and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. I might come back to Nethack in the future after I get my bearings in the genre. I love sampling these games but usually don’t dip far in, which may cause me to miss some stuff.


If anyone has any reccomends for iOS ascii “classic” roguelikes, id appreciate it. So far I’ve tried Brogue, and it’s good, but the interface is still awkward for me.

Contributing to the thread, in my pc days I loved Sword of the Stars: The Pit. Sci fi, but very much in the tradition of roguelikes. There’s a little bit of carry over between runs, I believe you only keep the blueprints and recipes you’ve collected from previous games. Only beaten it once! On easy!


I downloaded Brogue this evening and I am having a blast!

I aimed an unidentified staff at a goblin conjurer, a fire ball flew across the room, killing it in one hit. Unfortunately some foliage caught fire followed by me. I managed to run into some water to put out the fire. The potion I drank hoping to heal me, opened up a pit beneath my feet and I fell to my death on the floor below!

And then there was the run I tripped balls after running into a toad… brilliant!


Wanted to test Brogue now cuz the thread got me in the mood. The game window is bigger than my screen. I can’t even access the options, if there are any. Lol.


There’s a way to reduce the screen size in Brogue. I think it’s mentioned in the readme file. It might be as simple as - and +


Also, speaking of the few commercial rogue-likes, has anyone here played Haque? It’s available on here.


Rogue was one of the first videogames I ever played! Since then, I spent a lot of time in SLASH’EM which is Nethack with a bunch of stuff thrown in, almost too much. I never got any good at it because it was so dense but it was fun. Unfortunately, it burned me out on classic roguelikes but i have also, after that, spent some time in TOME and in Dredmore, both of which are fun.


Downloaded Pathos this weekend after a search for iOS roguelikes. It’s not bad, the touchscreen interface works for me. There’s an option to switch between ascii, pixel, or a goofier graphic style.

(it’s free)


HAQUE (alongside Unexplored and Cinco Paus) is one of my favourite roguelikes to come out in recent memory. I love the boss rush emphasis and the art design.


Cool! I’ve definitely been meaning to swipe it up one of these days.

Speaking of Michael Brough, I’d be really curious to hear what the Rogue-like veterans like @RobotParking and @murphy_slaw think of his work and the “Broughlike” :slight_smile:

For me personally, I think his design approach is really fascinating. Reducing play space to encourage play is really unique


Although I’ve tried for years to beat it, I think I’m done with Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Dark Days Ahead is also on the retire list because I stopped getting really into it back in 2013 or so and it hasn’t changed significantly. I need a new roguelike, a classic one.

I’ve been giving TomE the occasional poke but it’s not quite what I’m looking for in a roguelike although that doesn’t mean I don’t like it for other reasons.