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The illiterate conduct means going without reading, writing or engraving during the game. The main effect of this is the lack of reading scrolls, no engraving Elbereth to protect yourself, and spellcasters being unable to learn from spellbooks.

Rules of conduct

Literate actions

The following all break illiterate conduct.

  • Reading scrolls, spellbooks, T-shirts, and fortune cookies; scrolls even if blind. This includes scrolls of mail, though this is bug C343-320.
  • Eating fortune cookies unless blind.
  • Writing a scroll or a spellbook.
  • Engraving anything other than "x" or "X". Note that the "x" does not have to be a new engraving -- adding one "x" at a time to an existing engraving is allowed. Note that engraving more than one "x" at a time - for instance "xx" -- is not allowed.

Accepted actions

The following are all accepted, and do not break conduct:


In SLASH'EM, random engravings and headstones are not automatically read when the player walks over the square, as in Vanilla. It is necessary to use r. to read these engravings - and doing so will violate illiterate conduct. Additionally, the game will ask players who eat a fortune cookie if they want to read the fortune, meaning illiterate players can safely eat them by declining to do so.



A scroll of scare monster can be used in place of Elbereth by standing on top of the scroll. In fact, this is the only type of scroll that is ordinarily useful in an illiterate game. If you don't want to destroy the first one you find, you can price-ID scrolls inside a container, and test which 100zm scroll un-blesses when you pick it up.

Similar (but not identical) effects can be obtained by applying a mirror, an expensive camera, a leather drum, a tooled horn, or their depleted magical counterparts. Drums and horns are particularly useful. But keep in mind scaring tools work best in an open area, where a monster can actually flee without retracing its last step. (In a corridor, there is a 75% chance that it will get stuck between you and the spot it came from -- and continue attacking you.[1][2])

Monsters reading scrolls

Scrolls of create monster, teleportation, and earth can be given to monsters to be read. For example, if you want a random monster, give an intelligent monster a scroll of create monster. The monster must usually be near death before it will read teleportation or create monster because that counts as a defensive action.[3]

If you need boulders in Sokoban or for a fort, give a monster a scroll of earth. Reading earth qualifies as a "ranged" attack that is only used if you are adjacent. So you might have to give the scroll and a metal helmet to an "intelligent" monster and patiently let it hit on you.[4] Scaring or injuring the monster does not make it read earth faster. It can take quite some time, so have the means to heal yourself.

Object identification

You will not be able to use scrolls of identify or spellbooks of identify (unless you are lucky enough to start with the spell as a Wizard). Formal identification is only possible (sometimes) by sitting on a throne. The use of indirect identification is crucial in an illiterate game. Enlightenment is very helpful for identifying rings and amulets.

Item enchantment

Without scrolls, there is no way to enchant or erodeproof weapons or armor items. It is also not possible to create DSM from dragon scales or a crysknife from a worm tooth. Enchanted erodeproof items can nevertheless be obtained by wishing for them, or sometimes (if you're lucky) from a bones level. Erodeproof artifact weapons can be obtained by sacrificing or crowning. Weapon erosion (only) can be fixed using a potion of oil or (sometimes) through prayer, but this will not make the weapon erodeproof. Grease can also help provide a temporary block against erosion.

One way to lower armor class without armor enchantment is to obtain intrinsic protection. Half physical damage can also help make up for a poor armor class. Similarly, lack of weapon enchantment can be offset by increase damage, high strength, or a weapon with high base damage (such as Mjollnir).

If you have a stethoscope, you can check a monster's armor class and infer the total enchantment of its armor. That saves you pet-testing and trying on what you find on its corpse.

Recharging wands

The only way to recharge wands (e.g. the wand of wishing from the Castle) without reading a scroll is to obtain the Platinum Yendorian Express Card.


A limited number of genocides can sometimes be obtained by sitting on a throne. Reverse genocide is not possible, but some alternatives exist: wish for a figurine, or (if you only care about an item obtained by killing a certain type of monster, e.g. cockatrice corpse) wish for the item directly.

Trap detection

To detect traps such as the endgame portals without reading a scroll of gold detection, apply a crystal ball. Inside some vortex other than a dust vortex could be a safe place. Especially in the mines, two leashed pets can alert you to the traps.

Book of the Dead loophole

The Book of the Dead can be used as defense against liches and other undead.

Stone to flesh

A statue trap will stone to flesh the topmost statue on its square when you activate it. If you need a petrified pet restored, you can throw its statue on the trap before triggering it.


Shopkeeper services and the black market make illiterate conduct somewhat less of a challenge in SLASH'EM. Shopkeepers can identify, enchant, rustproof, charge, or uncurse items for you. One-Eyed Sam is guaranteed to have identify and uncursing, and it is possible for any player to build up huge amounts of credit in his shop through credit cloning with a hostile baby dragon and a wand of undead turning. Additionally, brave players can try to kill Sam to get a well-enchanted set of ascension kit armor, including GDSM. He does not resist poison, so a boulder fort combined with thrown poisoned missiles (remember, in SLASH'EM daggers can be poisoned) at good skill will eventually bring him down.

Accidental loss of conduct

  • If you must eat a fortune cookie, do it blind, so you don't read the message.
  • Turn off the mail option, lest someone decide to have a chat with you. (You don't have to do this on NAO, where bug C343-320 is fixed.)

Illiteracy is difficult: Only 1.6% of all winning accounts on NAO have an illiterate ascension.


This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.0.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.4.3. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-343}} tag to {{nethack-360}} or {{noversion}} as appropriate.