I'm using xpilot-ng-sdl 4.7.2 (xpilot-ng-4.7.2-10.fc6). I may be just learning the game, but the learning curve seems too steep. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Include with the package some html documentation that shows each icon and describes what it does. Back when I was a professional programmer, I was told that if a feature isn't documented, it isn't there.
There are a few okay XPilot guides out there, but I don't see any that allow redistribution and modification; maybe the owners of a few of them will re-license them under the GFDL if you ask nicely.
2) The newbie-mode should say more useful things, for instance:
"You just picked up a mine. To drop it, press 'tab'. To throw it, press ']'."
"You just picked up the Wideangle gun. It is already enabled."
3) Online help would be nice, but I'm not sure how it would best be implemented.