How It Works

This document describes how Angband actually works at a high level. Individual sections referenced from the TOC are marked with anchors in square brackets to make grepping for them easier.

The Game

As you probably know if you’re reading this, Angband is a roguelike game set in a high-fantasy universe. The game world is made up of levels, numbered from zero (“the town”) to some maximum depth. Levels are increasingly dangerous the deeper they are into the dungeon. Levels are filled with monsters, traps, and objects. Monsters move and act on their own, traps react to creatures entering their square, and objects are inert unless used by a creature. The objective of the game is to find Morgoth at depth 100 and kill him.

Data Structures

There are three important top-level data structures in Angband: the ‘chunk’, the player, and the static data tables.

The Chunk

A chunk represents an area of dungeon, and contains everything inside it; this includes any monsters, objects, or traps inside the bounds of that chunk. A chunk also keeps a map of the terrain in its area. For unpleasant historical reasons, all monsters/objects/traps in a chunk are stored in arrays and usually referred to by index; each square of a chunk knows the indexes (if any) of monsters/objects/traps contained in it. A chunk also stores AI pathfinding data for its contained area. All data in the ‘current’ chunk is lost when leaving the level.

The Player

The player is a global object containing information about, well, the player. All the information in the player is level-independent. This structure contains stats, any current effects, hunger status, sex/race/class, the player’s inventory, and a grab-bag of other information. Although there is a global player object, many functions instead take a player object explicitly to make them easier to test.

The Static Data

Angband’s static data - player and monster races, object types, artifacts, et cetera - is loaded from the gamedata Files. Once loaded, this data is stored in global tables, sometimes referred to as the ‘info arrays’. These arrays are generally declared in the header files of the code that uses them most, but they are mostly initialized by the edit-file code. The sizes of these arrays are stored in a ‘maxima’ structure, called z_info.

The Z Layer

The lowest-level code in Angband is the “Z” layer, which provides platform-independent abstractions and generic data structures. Currently, the Z layer provides:


Densely-packed bit flag arrays




Debugging annotations


Dice expressions


Mathematical expressions


File I/O


String formatting


Rich messages


Message buffering -lis


String interning








Wrapped text


Basic types


Random utility macros


malloc() wrappers

Code in the Z layer may not depend on files outside the Z layer.

Key Abstractions

Certain game-specific abstractions are important and widely used in Angband to glue the UI code to the game engine. These are the command queue, which sends player commands to the game engine, and events, which indicate to the UI that the state of the game changed.

The command queue





Angband uses three types of files for storing data: gamedata files, which contain the game’s static data, pref files, which contain UI settings, and save files, which contain the state of a game in progress.

Gamedata Files

Gamedata files use a line-oriented format where fields are separated by colons. The parser for this format is in parser.h. These files are mostly loaded at initialization time (see init.c - init_angband) and used to fill in the static data arrays (see The Static Data).

Pref Files



Currently, a savefile is a series of concatenated blocks. Each block has a name describing what type it is and a version tag. The version tag allows for old savefiles to be loaded, although the load/save code will only write new savefiles. Numbers in savefiles are stored in little-endian byte order and strings are stored null-terminated.

Control Flow

The flow of control through Angband is complicated and can be very non-obvious due to overuse of global variables as special-behavior hooks. That said, this section gives a high-level overview of the control flow of a game session.


Execution begins in main.c, which runs frontend-independent initialization code, then continues in the appropriate main-*.c file for the current frontend. After the game engine is initialized, the player is loaded (or generated) and gameplay begins.

main.c and main-*.c

main.c’s main() is the entry point for Angband execution except on Windows, where main-win.c’s WinMain() is used, on Nintendo DS, where a special main() in main-nds.c is used, and on OS X where main-cocoa.m’s main() is used. The main() function is responsible for dropping permissions if Angband is running setuid, parsing command line arguments, then finding a frontend to use and initializing it. Once main() finds a frontend, it sets up signal handlers, sets up the display, and calls init.c - init_angband, which loads all the gamedata files and initializes other static data used by the game.

init.c - init_angband

The init_angband() function in init.c is responsible for loading and setting up static data needed by the game engine. Inside init.c, there is a list of ‘init modules’ that have startup-time static data they need to initialize, these are registered in an array of module pointers in init.c, and init_angband() calls their initialization hooks before doing any other work. Finally it sets up the RNG.

ui-init.c - textui_init

The textui_init() function then loads the top-level pref file (see pref files), initializes the command queue (see the command queue), and configures subwindows.

ui-prefs.c - process_pref_file

The process_pref_file() function in ui-prefs.c is responsible for loading user pref files, which can live at multiple paths. User preference files override default preference files. See pref files for more details.

ui-game.c - play_game

This function calls start_game() to load a saved game if there is a valid save (see savefiles) or birth a new character if not. It then asks for a command from the player, and then runs the game main loop (see game-world.c - the game main loop), over and over until the character dies or the player quits


Once the simulation is set up, the game main loop in ui-game.c - play_game is responsible for stepping the simulation.

game-world.c - the game main loop

The main loop of the game, run_game_loop() is repeatedly called inside play_game(). Each iteration of the main loop is one “turn” in Angband parlance, or one step of the simulator. During each turn:

  • All monsters with more energy than the player act

  • The player acts

  • All other monsters act

  • The UI updates

  • The world acts

  • End-of-turn housekeeping is done

mon-move.c - process_monsters()

In Angband, creatures act in order of “energy”, which roughly determines how many actions they can take per step through the simulation. The process_monsters() function in mon-move.c is responsible for walking through the list of all monsters in the current chunk (see the chunk) and having each monster act by calling process_monster(), which implements the highest level AI for monsters.

game-world.c - process_player()

The process_player() function allows the player to act repeatedly until they do something that uses energy. Commands like looking around or inscribing items do not use energy; movement, attacking, casting spells, using items, and so on do. The rule of thumb is that a command that does not alter game engine state does not use energy, because it does not represent an action the character in the simulation is doing. The guts of the process_player() function are actually handled by process_command() in cmd-core.c, which looks up commands in the game_cmds table in that file.

Keeping the UI up to date

Four related horribly-named functions in player-calcs.h are responsible for keeping the UI in sync with the simulated character’s state:


which deals with pack combining and dropping ignored items;


which recalculates derived bonuses, AI data, vision, seen monsters, and other things based on the flags in player->upkeep->update;


which signals the UI to redraw changed sections of the game state;


which calls update_stuff() and redraw_stuff() if needed.

These functions are called during every game loop, after the player and all monsters have acted.

game-world.c - process_world()

The process_world() function only runs every 10 turns. It is responsible for the day/night transition in town, restocking the stores, generating new creatures over time, dealing poison/cut damage, applying hunger, regeneration, ticking down timed effects, consuming light fuel, and applying a litany of spell effects that happen ‘at random’ from the player’s point of view.

Dungeon Generation

prepare_next_level() in generate.c controls the process of generating or loading a level. To signal that run_game_loop() in game-world.c should call prepare_next_level(), game logic calls dungeon_change_level() in player-util.c to set the necessary data in the player structure. When a level change happens by traversing a staircase, some other data in the player structure is set to indicate what should be done to connect stairs. That doesn’t happen in dungeon_change_level() and is instead set directly, currently in do_cmd_go_up() and do_cmd_go_down() in cmd-cave.c.

With the default for non-persistent levels, loading only happens when returning to the town or when returning from a single combat arena. The code and global data for handling stored levels is in gen-chunk.c.

When a new level is needed, prepare_next_level() calls cave_generate(), also in generate.c. That initializes a global bit of state, a dun_data structure called dun declared in generate.h, for passing a lot of the details needed when generating a level. It then selects a level profile via choose_profile() in generate.c. The level profile controls the layout of the level. The available level profiles are those listed in list-dun-profiles.h and several aspects of each profile are configured at runtime from the contents of lib/gamedata/dungeon_profile.txt. With a profile selected, cave_generate() uses the profile’s builder function pointer to attempt to layout the new level. Those function pointers are initialized when list-dun-profiles.h is included in generate.c. The level layout functions all have names with the name of the profile followed by _gen, classic_gen() for classic levels as an example. Those functions are defined in gen-cave.c.

Three of the level layout functions, classic_gen(), modified_gen(), and moria_gen() follow the same basic procedure. They divide the level into a grid of rectangular blocks where, in general, each block can only contain one room though a room could occupy many blocks. They then try to randomly place rooms in those blocks until some criteria is met. Room selection is configurable from lib/gamedata/dungeon_profile.txt and uses the predefined room types listed in list-rooms.h. When building a room, those level layout functions use the convenience function, room_build() from gen-room.c. That, in turn, calls the appropriate function to build the type of room chosen. The names of the room building functions have build_ followed by the name of the room type, build_simple() for instance. Those functions are defined in gen-room.c. Once the rooms are built, there’s an initial pass to connect them with corridors. That happens in gen-cave.c’s do_traditional_tunneling(). A second pass, to try and ensure connectedness though vault areas can disrupt that, is then done with ensure_connectedness(). At that point, most other features (mineral veins, staircases, objects, and monsters) are added. Some features will have already been added through some of the types of rooms.

The other layout functions are more of a grab bag. They are all in gen-cave.c. Many of them have portions that are caverns or labyrinths. Those are generated using cavern_chunk() or labyrinth_chunk(), respectively, in gen-cave.c.

Monster AI



The stats generation code aims to make it easy to analyze object generation, monster generation, and other Angband processes suitable for Monte Carlo simulation. The stats pseudo-visual module will repeatedly create a character, walk her down the dungeon, and, for each dungeon level, kill the monsters there and dump information about the monsters and objects. The end result is a SQLite3 database, written to the stats subdirectory of Angband’s user directory. A similar procedure is used by the S debugging command. It will generate a text file summarizing the monsters and objects generated. That output may be more accessible, since one doesn’t have to deal with the structure of the database, but the database stores finer-grained classifications of the objects and monsters.