Protection racket

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The protection racket is the strategy of reaching the temple in Minetown at a low experience level with lots of gold and purchasing a large amount of divine protection. There is disagreement among strong players as to its effectiveness; supporters claim that it makes the game much easier if successful due to the lower AC it provides, while others claim that despite the increased risk involved, it does not markedly raise the chances of a particular character if successful. As of NetHack 3.6.0, the protection racket is even riskier as there is a 1/8 chance of Minetown not having any shops or a priest.


Use of your starting pet is essential, as killing monsters yourself will soon raise your level, and not killing them will result in your swift death. Healers are widely considered best for this task, as the healing spell can be used to keep your pet alive while they do the fighting and the stethoscope lets you know when your pet needs your help. Two more advantages of Healers are the large amount of gold they start with, and their starting potions that can increase their maximum HP without levelling up. Gnomish Healers have an extra advantage: more of the monsters in the mines will be peaceful.

The stairs to the Gnomish Mines can be found on dungeon level 2, 3, or 4. On dungeon level 1, take the down staircase as soon as you find it. If you make it to dungeon level 5 without finding the mines, you've gone too far and must go back. Pacifists might want to go get the Sokoban food - they often lack the alignment to reliably pray. 

To avoid death by pits, gas spores and the like, you might want to gain 1-2 levels before entering the mines and then level drain yourself in the minetown temple. How many depends on your means, e. g. prayer if you do not mind your god's anger, the spell or reverse-genociding wraith.

Race and Role

A user has suggested improving this page or section as follows:

"Someone with practical experience needs to review the following for balance. I think it leaves the impression the protection racket is easy for any role. Some advantages (knights jumping but starving, wizards pawning starting equipment versus credit cloning, arcs starting vs. anybody finding a pick-axe) are vastly exaggerated."

Arguably, being a gnome makes the mines easier, but being a human makes you capable of carrying more junk to make credit cloning easier. Being encumbered is almost always a big mistake, but more so when doing the protection racket. You are playing a near-pacifist, so you'll have a hard time finding food. If you are encumbered, you are making the problem worse. You can usually get to Minetown with the required credit without eating anything at all, just praying when you are weak. (Kill one wimpy monster to get the necessary alignment.) But if you ever get encumbered, the praying timeout won't match the hunger timeout.

Speed is also a key intrinsic for survival for your way to mine town.

Most roles have specific advantages at the protection racket, and all of them are perfectly capable of achieving it. The classic protection racket character is a gnomish healer, let's see how it compares to a:

  • Archaeologist:
    • Fast. Easy escape, remember: for now you are almost a pacifist
    • Stealth. Easy to avoid monsters
    • Touchstone and sack. Ridiculously easy credit cloning.
    • Pick-axe. Can dig to vaults for money and holes in the floor of the mines to get to Minetown easier.
    • Starts with some food.
    • Chances of starting with a lamp, which makes the mines much easier.
  • Knight:
    • Starts with a pony and plenty of treats for it (carrots and apples). This means that credit cloning is easier. Horses are also stronger than cats and dogs, allowing them to protect you better. The downside to this, of course, is that if your pet maxes out its level after becoming a warhorse, it will think it is a match for shopkeepers and attack them on sight (hint: it isn't), so you need to make sure you've done all the credit cloning you need to before allowing it to level much as a warhorse.
    • Herbivorous pet. The food problem won't be much of a hassle, because your pet will let you eat most corpses. In fact, your pet will be the one with a food problem, though this shouldn't be a factor until after the protection racket is over (if your pet gets hungry and you have found no vegetarian food, you can always give it an apple--just watch out for the "confused from hunger" message, or you could get killed by your own pet!)
    • Can jump, which is a good way to escape (and starve).
    • Can ride their pet to gain effective speed and prevent it from picking up unwanted items (remember, you lose apport every time a pet picks up & drops an item). There is a possibility that you will slip and fall, taking significant damage; however, the damage is lethal only 25% of the time if you are at full health at level 1 (Knights start with 16 max HP).
    • Starts with a pretty good set of armor. Also, starts with a lance.
  • Monk:
    • Fast.
    • Decent initial set of armor.
    • Starts with some food.
    • His initial spells (either healing, protection or sleep) are very useful for a pacifist.
    • Chances of starting with a lamp, which makes the mines much easier.
  • Wizard:
    • His initial cloak of magic resistance nullifies the most dangerous Mine's traps, which is a common way of dying or losing your pet.
    • The rest of his initial inventory may be of some help for either credit cloning or survival while not killing monsters.
    • May have the charm monster spell, which helps a lot in fights.

Surviving the Mines

The mines can be very hard for a low level character for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that the mine residents can often kill a level 1 character in a couple of hits and there are lots of them. This problem is made worse because the mines are frequently dark, making the monsters difficult to avoid and the stairs hard to find. There are several things one can do to make the chances of survival greater.

  • Get as many pets as you can and learn how to keep them with you. Not only will they be able to kill monsters more easily, but having more targets to attack increases the chances that enemies will attack them instead of you. Also, it's good to have a backup in case one pet falls into a trapdoor or is killed by another trap.
  • If you have 15 or fewer max hit points, consider praying with 5 or fewer points left to increase your max HP by up to 5. Do this before quaffing any potions of healing, which will raise your HP even more.
  • Choosing a race with infravision will help you avoid monsters even when in dark levels. Gnomes are the best choice since the mine residents are more likely to be peaceful as well. If you do not have infravision, you might want to dig past the dark mines levels: Dig two squares of corridor into the rock where you arrive, displace your pet into the dead-end you created so it will stay adjacent, engrave enough Elbereths, and dig down.
  • Remember that if it is a choice between gaining a level and dying, kill the monster. Paying for only 5 or 6 points of protection at level 2 will still save you a lot of protection money down the road and help a lot as well.
  • Some players recommend becoming level 3 before entering the mines to avoid death by traps and give you a hit point cushion.

Determine how much gold you need

Divine protection costs 400 gold per experience level, offering more than this will not give more protection (up to 600 gold will give you the protection, any more and you get none), so you should make individual donations of 400*XL. If you have no divine protection, a single donation will buy you 2 to 4 points (it's random). After that, each donation will buy you 1 point until you have 9 protection points, after which you only have a 1-in-protection chance of gaining another point for every donation, up to a maximum of 20 protection points.

This means that if you make it to the temple at level 1, you'll need to donate 400 gold between six and eight times to acquire the maximum easily obtainable amount of protection. In other words, you'll ideally want to have about 3,200 gold when you get to the temple.

To donate the gold for protection, #chat with the priest. He will ask you how much gold you want to donate.

Level Gold Required per donation Level Gold Required per donation
1 400 16 6400
2 800 17 6800
3 1200 18 7200
4 1600 19 7600
5 2000 20 8000
6 2400 21 8400
7 2800 22 8800
8 3200 23 9200
9 3600 24 9600
10 4000 25 10000
11 4400 26 10400
12 4800 27 10800
13 5200 28 11200
14 5600 29 11600
15 6000 30 12000

How Many Times will I need to Donate?

The first 9 points of protection are guaranteed if you can afford eight donations. The subsequent ten points are progressively more difficult to obtain. The table lists the minimum number of donations required to have a given probability of at least a given protection.

Protection Confidence level
# Donations needed
25% 50% 95% 99%
02 1 1 1 1
03 1 1 2 2
04 1 2 3 3
05 2 3 4 4
06 3 4 5 5
07 4 5 6 6
08 5 6 7 7
09 6 7 8 8
10 10 13 33 47
11 17 23 51 67
12 25 34 68 88
13 34 46 86 109
14 45 59 106 131
15 56 72 126 154
16 69 87 147 179
17 82 103 169 204
18 97 120 193 231
19 112 138 217 258
20 128 156 243 288

Getting the gold

There are many ways to get the gold you need:

  • Start as a healer or a tourist. Healers start with a large amount of gold (1,001 to 2,000 at random), and tourists with some (1 to 1000 at random) as well, which can be donated to the Minetown priest.
  • Credit clone. That might not be a viable option if you don't have enough food for yourself and your pet (although there is usually a delicatessen in Minetown), and some might consider it cheating.
  • Sell junk to shopkeepers. This requires extensive knowledge of item values since you don't want to carry 20 items to a shop just to find out they are only worth 1 gold each. Finding a bag of holding will help you carry more junk to sell.
  • Sell valuable gems. An archeologist will always start off with a touchstone and can use an uncursed one as blessed, making it trivial to find and identify all the valuable gems and leave behind any unvaluable ones.
  • Polymorph your pet into something strong enough to kill shopkeepers, then clear out the Minetown shops. This is dangerous for several reasons: you risk killing the priest, leaving you with no way to donate; you risk losing your pet and therefore your source of income; and you risk killing Izchak.

What to do after

  • Use that protection you just spent all that time and money on and get some levels.
  • It might be a good idea to make your way back to the top of the dungeon and explore the rooms you haven't been in yet. At this point you might be low on food. Now that you can start killing stuff, hope for some lichen.
  • Sokoban is also a good choice as the next step, if you haven't done it already.
  • Take the racket to its logical extreme and go for a pacifist ascension.

No matter what you choose to do, the extra AC you got from protection will be a big help in keeping you alive through the rest of the game.

Other information

For characters other than Healers and dwarven Archeologists, the chances of surviving the protection racket are slim, and hence it is a metastrategy. Some classes have a comparatively good chance, such as Knights due to their horse's ability to kill the mines' denizens (and not stop to eat each corpse), their ability to jump, and having lots of starting armor, but even so, it is still difficult. Conversely, it is arguable that the protection racket is actually the best strategy for gnomish Healers.

To settle the perennial argument whether the protection racket is a viable strategy, Derek Ray posed the protection racket efficiency challenge. It has generated much discussion, but no convincing, pure-PR ascension streak.

Examining over 1,000 protection racket games, Codehappy found that the ascension rate after a successful, non-pacifist protection racket run was about the same as the overall ascension rate for any character obtaining an armor class of -2 or better. This result holds even when comparing against Healers that do not use the opening, instead of all classes. Since a successful protection racket should result in armor class better than -2, the conclusion is that the protection racket yields lower ascension chances than a standard opening, and is probably sub-optimal play.


In SLASH'EM, it is also possible for Rogues to attempt the racket, due to the significant boost in their starting gold, giving them more gold in the beginning than even Healers. Unfortunately, most of the inhabitants of the Mines have also been replaced with far more hostile undead, making the strategy far more difficult for all dwarves and gnomes, and Healers in particular.