Cavemen and Cavewomen start with exceptional strength but, unfortunately, with neolithic weapons.
Each caveman starts with the following:
The Caveman quest sees you fighting the Chromatic Dragon for The Sceptre of Might. The Sceptre is based on a mace. You might want to corrode-proof this artifact since it is not immune to either water or acid.
The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:
- XL 1-2: Troglodyte
- XL 3-5: Aborigine
- XL 6-9: Wanderer
- XL 10-13: Vagrant
- XL 14-17: Wayfarer
- XL 18-21: Roamer
- XL 22-25: Nomad
- XL 26-29: Rover
- XL 30: Pioneer
Cavemen may be seen as weaker versions of Barbarians. Certainly, they are a more difficult role to play, and more likely to appeal to the player looking for a bit of a challenge. In the gallery of Nethack's warrior-type roles, they have very few comparative advantages.
The starting armor and weapons for cavemen are rather weak. Many choose to drop their flintstones, rocks and sling as soon as they enter the dungeon. However, the sling can be very useful against floating eyes in the early game, and is handy for wearing down and eventually killing powerful opponents that respect Elbereth, or sessile monsters with passive attacks, such as blue jellies. A better course is to keep the sling with you, and as much ammunition as you can without becoming burdened.
Leather armor should be dumped for anything better (hopefully mithril) as soon as possible. Your very poor starting AC can improve substantially if you use your pet to curse-test all the armor you find, and continually swap out worse pieces for better ones. Leather rots, so stay away from puddings while you are wearing your starting suit.
Cavemen are notably limited in their weapon options. If you stumble over a spear (try to get a dwarvish one, but if you can't, soldiers usually carry them), you might want to make it your primary weapon. Cavemen are the only class that can get expert in spears. Later in the game, you may wish to carry a small stack of highly enchanted spears as a distance weapon. Another good option is a mace, which is superior to a club and allows you to train mace skill in anticipation of your quest artifact. If you have access to a co-aligned altar, you may wish to sacrifice for an artifact weapon, as receiving a weapon from your god automatically un-restricts the corresponding skill. You don't really have to worry much about your weapon as long as it kills your quest nemesis, which is the Chromatic Dragon. After that, you get one of the best weapons in the game, The Sceptre of Might.
Heading in to the endgame, you must not rely on the Sceptre of Might as your only melee weapon or your only source of magic resistance, as the Sceptre can be stolen by the Wizard of Yendor. In case this happens, you need to be sure you have a backup weapon (one you would be willing to fight the Wizard with!) and a second source of magic resistance.
Due to the nature of the quest leader, the caveman is guaranteed a co-aligned temple on the first level of the quest area. Sadly, the temple will be effectively unavailable to you until you reach experience level 14, as your quest leader will keep rejecting you and sending you back to the main dungeon if you make a move for the altar.
Since cavemen can only be lawful or neutral, you will suffer consequences of murder, but not cannibalism. One happy consequence of this is that Nurses can be eaten to recover your full HP, and, once you have a tinning kit, their corpses can be tinned, and the tins blessed, for a very effective healing resource.
Once you have reached XL 14 and qualified for the quest, there is little reason to raise your experience level much farther unless you intend to make your Caveman a spellcaster. It only makes the game generate tougher monsters, while providing little benefit to you: hit points can be boosted through alchemy, you don't need a lot of skill slots for spells or additional weapons, and, with a blessed luckstone and high luck from sacrifices (remember the guaranteed temple on your quest), you should be able to hit opponents pretty much all of the time.
Cavemen are, on the whole, abysmal spellcasters. Their stats are poor, their skills are limited, and of course they will be wearing as much metallic armor as they can get their hands on for much of the game. It is hard to imagine a Caveman removing armor to zap an attack spell like Force bolt, and their "special" spell, Dig, is so difficult that most Cavemen probably never cast it, even with the guaranteed spellbook on the Plane of Earth. Perhaps the one useful thing a Caveman can do is find an uncursed, low-level spellbook of any sort early in the game, read it once, wait 20,000 turns to forget it, and then "cast" the spell for on-demand confusion, useful for reading certain scrolls and portal location in the endgame.
Cavemen in Slash'EM have a handful of benefits beyond their Nethack equivalents; most obvious is their natural 2-square vision range, making corridors and places like the Gnomish Mines substantially safer to explore. In addition, they are guaranteed Skullcrusher as their first sacrifice gift, which is a weapon that holds its own well into the late game. Lawful Cavemen will gain a point of alignment for commiting cannibalism, with the message "You honour the dead". Unfortunately, The Sceptre of Might is considerably worse in Slash'EM, and is not recommended as a main weapon unless no other alternatives exist.
The caveman's technique Primal Roar can be a life-saver in early levels; using it temporarily boosts all your nearby pets up a tier in growth (a kitten becomes a housecat, a dog becomes a large dog, etc.). Enterprising Cavemen may find this technique useful in the late game as well, if they happen to find themselves with liches or devas as pets.
Now it was light enough to leave. Moon-Watcher picked up
the shriveled corpse and dragged it after him as he bent
under the low overhang of the cave. Once outside, he
threw the body over his shoulder and stood upright - the
only animal in all this world able to do so.
Among his kind, Moon-Watcher was almost a giant. He was
nearly five feet high, and though badly undernourished
weighed over a hundred pounds. His hairy, muscular body
was halfway between ape and man, but his head was already
much nearer to man than ape. The forehead was low, and
there were ridges over the eye sockets, yet he unmistakably
held in his genes the promise of humanity.