Melting's Manual: Scavenging in HellMOO

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Many HellMOO players never get further than using Scavenge for butchering and the odd craft materials, and a lot of the players who do don't play the game, they just automate it. There's nothing wrong with either of those approaches, but for players who want a little more, there's this guide. This guide is advanced-level; it concerns mechanics that only a tiny minority of players will really need to know, and only a portion of the general playerbase will want to know. It's probably a bit technical and boring, so feel free to skip this guide if it doesn't concern you!


Most of the scavenge skill's mechanics are very straightforward: You roll to cut the hide or break the thing, and if you roll high enough (or stack the roll with high scavenge skill), you get cool stuff. Almost every implementation of scavenge, from your first geocache to the Coventry spoiler, is essentially this same thing over and over. The only exception is the search mechanic, which is more complex and interesting. This guide explains how that works.

Note that this guide is designed to assist from a practical perspective. As the author, I have no idea what the code for scavenge looks like, and if you want to know, I suggest you Google up and maybe turn on corenet. This guide is for people who want to understand scavenging in HellMOO from a gameplay-focused standpoint. Finally, a few years ago, a former player made a very short guide on this topic on an externally hosted website. That guide was good for its time, but this guide is much more comprehensive and explanatory, so this is still worth reading even if you've read that.

Searching: Single Scavs

With about 20+ scavenge total, a basic search on a tile that has a viable loot table will typically pick up one item; this can be called a "single scav". This action has three important consequences, assuming that you don't fail:

  1. The item is added to your inventory (unless you have it scavhated).
  2. The item is removed from the tile's loot table.
  3. The tile's scavenge counter is increased by 1.

The first item on that list should be obvious, the other two less so. Here's a brief overview on all three.

Receiving an item

The simplest problem on the list, this just involves adding one item to your inventory from a single-item scav. What items can be added to your inventory depend on the loot table of the tile that you're scavenging. Which loot tables are assigned to which tiles is another complex topic that deserves its own guide, but for now, note that "can" is not the same as "will". Just because a tile can drop an AI cluster module does not, of course, mean that you will get one when you search it.

Which item you receive from a given tile's table is calculated differently depending on the tile. For some tiles, it's very straightforward, because they only have one or two items; assuming you don't fail the roll, you will 100% get the one item that a tile has, or flip a coin to get one or the other from a table of two. On more complex tiles, different drops have different weightings. This means that rarer items are less likely to drop, which is part of the reason why it's so hard to get rare scavs like fiber meshes.

Loot tables

"Ordinary" scavenge tables
What you see here is the rule; there are exceptions. Some special tiles work differently, but they aren't generally very important (usually it's stuff like quest item tiles).

An ordinary scavenge tile has a set pool of items which can be scavenged from it. An extremely simple version of this is the dead ends in the Subterranean Colony. These tiles make a great example because they only have two items:

  1. Trinitite rock
  2. Pitchblende rock
An illustration of how single-item scavs work with a loot table. (click here for full size)

Using a search with about 20+ scavenge total, you will probably get one or the other; a single-item scav, or "single scav". Which one you get is a coinflip in this case, but if you scavenge the rock of trinitite, then that item is removed from the scavenge table. Neither you nor anyone else can scav a rock of trinitite from that tile until it has been given time to respawn. This goes for your scavenging as well: If you search that same tile again, then assuming that you don't fail the scavenge roll, you are guaranteed to get pitchblende, because that's the only thing left in the item's table.

After you get both the pitchblende and trinitite by these means, the tile won't give you anything else, because it has nothing else to give. This is one of two ways of depleting a tile; after this point, you and everyone else must wait until the tile respawns its bounty. For this reason, if you know that a tile only has one item that you want (say, one pitchblende), and you scavenge that item on your first roll, there is no need to search again unless you also want something else in that tile's table as well; you have no chance of getting your desired item again, because it's removed from the table.

Confusingly, there are some tiles that can drop the same thing more than once. The Crack Mansion, for example, has many tiles that can drop two copies of the same junk item (some dumb book). This means that every time you scavenge in cm and get the book, you remove one of the two identical copies that you could get - remove both, and no more books until the tile respawns. This is here to clog up your scavenge chances and decrease your odds of getting something valuable in the name of balance.

Search counters & search caps

Every tile is limited by its contents, and cannot give more than it has to give (as above), but most tiles have far more than two items in their table. The other way a tile can be depleted is through reaching its "search cap". As the name implies, this is a cap on searches; while a search cap does imply a cap on scavenges as well, conflating the two can be misleading and confusing.

An illustration of how search caps and counters work (click here for full size).

The search cap is a number that decides how much a given tile can be searched. If a tile has a dozen items in its loot table, you will never be able to get all of those items from that tile in one pass; you'll hit the search cap long before you manage that. Every time you succeed a search roll, you add +1 to that tile's search counter. When that counter hits its maximum, you get one more; this last search is a special kind of search, which can be called a "constrained search". These are explained later in the guide, but for now, they look identical to a regular search. Attempting to search after completing a constrained search will give a familiar message about searching too much in the past few minutes, and needing to come back later.

For the vast majority of scavenge tiles in the game, the search cap is three. The discrepancy there might seem odd: If the "cap" is three, why do you get four searches? The answer has to do with constrained searches, which will become clear later in this guide. It's also worth noting that this cap is applied to the tile, not to the scavenger. This means that if you search a tile to its cap, it's not just you that cannot successfully search it until it respawns; nobody can.

Searching: Double Scavs

Starting around 25 total scavenge, using search on a tile that has a viable loot table will begin to produce two results at once. The higher your scavenge skill, the more consistent this becomes. This is displayed with variations on the following messages:

   You find a rock of trinitite hidden away in a corner.
   Oh hey, you found a chunk of pitchblende too.

On the surface, this seems pretty straightforward: More scavenge means twice the loot, hooray! For most players, this is enough, but for players who wish to understand and optimize searching as much as they can, this does not suffice. There are several topics to be covered in detail in this section, relating to double scavs and the slots that they use:

  1. Double scavs and how they use slots (as well as what a slot is).
  2. How and when slots can change on the fly, as well as when they are guaranteed not to do so.
  3. The difference between a regular search and a constrained search.

Double scavs, slots, and slot behavior

The above example is a double scav, and in this example, we can see both slots on display. The top line is:

   You find a rock of trinitite hidden away in a corner.

This can be called the "primary slot". The primary slot is always shown in the first half of a double scav, never the second half. The primary slot will also never appear on a constrained search. The second line is:

   Oh hey, you found a chunk of pitchblende too.

This is the "secondary slot". The secondary slot is always shown in the second half of a double scav. In a constrained search, which produces a single scav, the secondary slot will instead show on the first and only line.

Slot visibility
Note that even if you can't see your secondary slot, that doesn't mean that it's not there. Both slots are always in play, which is easily observed if you have a middling scavenge score. If you do three searches and get a double, a single, and a double, and the single does not use the item that was in the first search's secondary slot, that item will show up again in the secondary slot of your third search (which is a double).

On your first regular search of a tile, the game will assign one item to the primary slot, and one to the secondary slot. The contents of the primary slot will follow the same rules already seen in the single-slot scav section: The item will be presented to your inventory, and will also be removed from the loot pool of that tile. The contents of the secondary slot will also be presented to your inventory, but the item in the secondary slot will not be removed from the tile's loot table. This is part of why high scavenge skill is so good; if the item in the secondary slot is valuable (like pitchblende), then you can squeeze more of that item out of a tile using secondary slots if you get lucky.

On your second search, the game may or may not decide to move your slots around. As best I can tell, the odds of this are just a coin flip. There are two possible results: Either the item in the secondary slot will move to your primary slot, or it will remain in your secondary slot. Once this has been decided, the cycle repeats: The new item in the primary slot, whatever it is, is presented to your inventory and removed from the tile's loot table. If the item in your secondary slot is the same as it was last time, it is simply presented to your inventory again, and is still not removed from the tile's loot table. If it moved into your primary slot, the game picks a new item from the tile's loot table to fill your secondary slot.

As a practical demonstration of why this is important, it's entirely possible to search three times on one tile, and get three copies of something like a clear tamagotchi from a tile that normally only drops one, all because of your high scavenge skill. It also works in tiles with small tables, like the pitchblende/trinitite tiles: If you're lucky, you might get pitchblende in your secondary slot first and squeeze out two pitchblende from one tile. This is, to put it mildly, pretty fuckin' neato. But it gets even better.

Constrained Searches vs. Normal Searches

Constrained searches are inevitable; as previously discussed, you will be guaranteed a constrained search after reaching a tile's scavenge cap. On most tiles, this means three regular searches, then one constrained search at the end.

The bad news is that a constrained search is constrained; it is doomed to only produce one item. The good news is that unlike regular searches, a constrained search is 100% predictable. Barring tiles with special rules, a constrained search will always produce whatever is in your secondary slot at the time. If you reach your search cap and the previous search had junk in the primary slot and a clear tamagotchi in the second, you are guaranteed to get another clear tamagotchi on your fourth, final, constrained search. This means that it's quite possible to get four clear tamagotchis from one tile, which only normally drops one.

Again, if your secondary slot has something valuable in it, this is great. Even if your secondary slot is full of junk, it's still valuable, because it saves you time. If you search three times and find that a junk item is in your secondary slot, there is no need to search a fourth time; you already know what you're going to get, and you can move on to the next tile. Incidentally, this same logic applies to your primary slot. If you are searching for clear tamagotchis on a tile that only drops one, and you get a clear tamagotchi in your primary slot on your first scavenge, there's no point in continuing to search that tile unless there is something else you want in its loot table.

Keeping all of that in your head and mapping it out is difficult, so below is a god-awful visualization of this process.

A "gold standard" depiction of how all the elements come together. This assumes a 100% success rate on getting double-scavs on each search on a regular scavenge tile; real world circumstances may differ considerably, but it's a good place to start (click here for full size)

Searching: Failure

A search fail is pretty straightforward: No slots, no drops, nothing. You get no items at all, your secondary slot is not activated. As well as this, however, your search counter is immmediately set to maximum. You don't even get a constrained search: You must leave it and then come back when the tile has replenished. This happens to everyone, even with big scavenge totals, and it's not that big of a deal. More skill does decrease the chances of this happening quite drastically, however. The only time that this is a real kick in the teeth is when searching for something very specific in an area that's difficult to reach (usually, this means cache boxes or the Radome).

All of the above examples assume no failures. Failure can happen at any time and mess the whole thing up; that's just the nature of the game.

Practical Conclusions

That's a lot of information: How can it be practically used?

  • More scavenge, more better. Higher scavenge totals never stop being a good thing, since they increase your rate of double-scavs, and more double-scavs mean more uses of your secondary slot. It's also a rather cheap skill, so that's nice.
  • Watch your primary slot, that being the first half of your scavenge message on all searches except for your last. Anything that shows up in this slot has been removed from the tile's loot table; compare this to the tile's loot table and what you're looking for at the moment to make decisions on the fly about how you should scavenge.
  • Watch your secondary slot, which is the second half of your scavenge messages, again on all searches except for the last. Whatever's in this tile is not removed from the tile's loot table, meaning that you can get it again.
  • Remember that constrained searches will always use your secondary slot. If you know your next search is a constrained search, and you know what's in your secondary slot, you can make another decision on the fly: Either search again and rejoice at your guaranteed item, or cut your losses, ditch the inevitable junk, and move on.
  • Notice when your slots swap around. It sucks when the clear tamagotchi moves from secondary to primary and is cut from the table, but it's important to notice - again, this can inform your decisions.


This guide goes into detail on a lot of closely-related topics, which can become confusing. For reference, here is a listing of precisely what I mean when I use each of the terms below. This is a quick reference in case you get halfway through the guide and forget what a term means, so if you've skipped to the end of the guide and are confused by this, don't worry; all of the terms are explained in detail in the guide's body. Note also that these terms exist only for the sake of the guide; there is no consensus on what terms mean what in HellMOO, and trying to establish one will only get everyone else in the crab mentality angry, because they didn't think of it themselves.

  • Single scav, or single-item scav. This is when a search produces a single item, which is then added to your inventory or junked by scavhate.
  • Double scav, or double-item scav. This is when a search produces two items. All searches that are not constrained searches and that are performed on a loot table which has at least two items in it have a chance to be double scavs; whether the player gets a single or double depends on their scavenge roll in the search.
  • Fail is when a search ends in disaster. The search produces no items, and its search cap is immediately maxed out.
  • Search refers to the specific action of using search. This must be precisely defined, because it refers to the act of searching, not the results of the search, which can be either a single scav, a double scav, or a fail.
  • Search cap is a property that decides how many times a given tile can be searched; for most tiles in the game, this cap is 3. Once the cap on a tile is reached, it will only allow one constrained search, and will then disallow any further searching until the tile has replenished its allowances. There is no such thing as a "scavenge cap" per se, but functionally, the most scavenge drops one can get from a regular scavenge tile is 7 (three searches that result in double-item scavs, plus one constrained search).
  • Search counter is a number that increases by one every time you search. Once you search enough times for the counter to reach the tile's search cap, the tile's search behavior changes.
  • Constrained search is a search that is doomed to, at most, produce a single scav because of a tile's search cap. A search that can only produce a single scav because of the limits of a tile's loot table and not because of the search cap is not a constrained search, it's just a regular search that only has one item to give. After a constrained search, the tile will always lock out scavenging until it has replenished its allowances. Constrained searches are also notable for being guaranteed to use the secondary slot (see below).
  • Slots, or search slots. There are always two of these: The "primary" slot and the "secondary" slot. Both are always at play, though they are not always visible. During a search, the game will place one item into the primary slot, and one into the secondary. If the search is a single-item scav, then the player will only get the item in the primary slot; during a double-item scav, they will get both. The primary slot and secondary slot behave very differently, and items can hop from the secondary slot to the primary (but never from the primary to the secondary).
  • Presenting an item is what happens when a search roll succeeds in any capacity, and an item is offered to the player's inventory. I use the term "presented" because "added" means that adding to the player's inventory will always succeed, so it's not totally correct. In cases where a player's inventory is too full to pick up an item, or when the player has an item on their scavhate list, the item is "presented" to the player and then rejected, meaning that it's not "added" to their inventory at all.