A speed ascension is a type of informal conduct, taking one of two forms: lowest turn-count, or shortest real time elapsed. Short ascensions tend to be low turn-count ascensions too. This article does not reflect the state of the art. The best learning tools are Maud's ttyrecs on NAO.
How fast is fast?
First ascensions vary greatly in turn-count, most of them falling between 50,000 and 100,000 turns. A careful, well-spoiled player can ascend in under 50,000 turns in most roles, and ascensions below 30,000 are not uncommon. Anything below 20,000 probably counts as a speed ascension. On NAO, 1% of all winning player accounts have an ascension below 10450 turns, and 10% have one below 24450. No ascension is possible in less than 2000 turns in vanilla NetHack, since this is the minimum number of turns it takes for a character's alignment record to reach 20, a requirement for entering the Quest.
Real-time speed records are very hard to determine, since vanilla NetHack does not track real time elapsed. The usual method is to time the ttyrec of the game with a utility such as timettyrec. The xlogfile patch also tracks the real time elapsed in a game.
Certain roles are better than others at the very fastest ascensions, though any role can be ascended relatively quickly. Good spellcasting ability and being able to get the Eye of the Aethiopica are both very handy in a turncount speedrun, making wizards and neutral monks the two roles that have pushed speed ascensions the furthest. For a realtime speedrun, dwarven valkyrie is preferred for being the strongest role overall.
General speed strategy
Risk management is very different from normal games. In normal play, you avoid only death. But in speed games, delay is as bad as death. The challenge is how pervasive any good player's risk management habits are.
- Don't be a pack rat.
- Don't fully explore every level.
- Become very fast as soon as possible.
- Avoid monsters rather than fighting them.
- Avoid being encumbered to any degree.
- Make extensive use of digging and level teleportation.
- Get as many scrolls as you can. You will write boatloads of charging scrolls.
Specific speed tactics
- Move diagonally.
- Kick down doors if you arrive diagonally (be careful in Minetown!)
- Wear a ring of conflict.
- Wear a ring of regeneration while polymorphed into a strong fighter form (master mind flayer, minotaur, jabberwock, titan,...).
- Wish for the Eye of the Aethiopica.
- Use jumping and a helm of opposite alignment to reduce time spent on the Astral Plane.
- Controlled polymorph self into a xorn to phase through the Castle walls.
- Controlled polymorph self into a master mind flayer and use #monster to wake the Wizard of Yendor from outside his tower, or use a drum of earthquake. At the very least, levelport within his tower.
- After retrieving the Amulet of Yendor, convert to chaotic to minimize the effects of the mysterious force.
Assume a chaotic elven wizard, game-time speed run.
Every game is a bit different because you have to make do with what scarce resources you find. Player skill and creativity will open up more options, so you can scrape by on less. Not all of these suggestions will match your game - if you follow all of them, you will be too slow. Usually, obtaining scrolls limits how fast your no-bones, polyself-based speed runs can be.
- Shops, on your way down to the Castle, are the best source of scrolls and general resources. Telepathy is the best way to detect them since it lets you eliminate junk stores, nurses, and priests. If you lack ESP, it is definitely worth writing a spellbook of detect monsters. You can kill a shopkeeper to identify healing potions and for the money, but watch your alignment record.
- The graveyards in the Valley and the vampire niches in Vlad's Tower are the second best sources. Beware the Valley takes some 600 turns of pure fighting. (You can skip it by phasing or level teleporting.)
- A light source will reveal more loot while digging to the Castle.
- Object detection, unholy water, and a rare wish make fountain dipping marginally worthwhile. Object detection is important if you cannot xorn into the Castle because you usually can sprint once over the courtyard, but not always again. Or it can detect shops for you.
- Wands of digging come from minotaurs. You might want controlled teleportation and the sleep spell to harvest them.
- A few items can be found in the big room, the Castle stores, Orcus-town, Minetown, the quest locate and end levels. Quaff spare object detection here.
Scrolls and marker charges
- Protect scrolls from fire damage. If you don’t find a bag, drop a few tools on your polypiling heap. It’s worth putting lightweight tools on autopickup exceptions, but lugging the large boxes in the Valley of the Dead more than a few steps generally is too slow.
- Polypile spellbooks instead of writing (all of) them. Good sources are shops, containers during the long dig and in the Valley, and the priest of Moloch, but not the Oracle statues. You may have to write identify and sleep first, for the other items you polypile and kill the priest. As a rule of thumb, you want confuse monster, magic mapping, identify, healing, sleep, haste self, remove curse, detect monsters, jumping. Either press on to Juiblex or carry some water to blank and write the last missing books.
- Read very few identify scrolls – use-identify those rare things that really cannot wait until you get the spell. Often, pricing is enough to know what you want to keep beyond mere polyfodder: All $300 rings plus $200 for regeneration and teleportation, $150 potions for object detection, real gems, …
- Before reverse genociding wraith, level up by fighting in places you visit anyway. The drawbridge, mines dwellers, Keystone Kops, and the Valley graveyards are good places. Level 11 seems to be the maximum reasonable.
- Level up for a large power pool before reading confused charging. Most likely, you will have to level up anyway for the quest and teleport control.
- Keep your Luck up so you can reliably levelport with confused scrolls, among other things. Reverse genocided unicorns are the means of choice. Unless you can already get that done in the shop robbing phase, a good place is between the castle trapdoors and chambers. They are easy to corner in the chambers, and you can later throw a gem in passing at those that fall into the Valley. You could also sacrifice the copious vampire bats in the quest, but unicorns in the Valley are faster.
- Zap digging down instead of levelporting short distances (if diggable). This way, you also create the bribable demons between the Valley and Vlad’s stairs, and you can eat the tengu in the wizard quest if necessary. If you have the time for a detour to the candle shop, digging to the quest portal allows you to check for stores you missed the first time. However, levelporting is faster.
- Genocide dragons only once you’re facing one without reflection.
- Gold detection for the portals can be replaced with detect unseen, but that slows your game.
- TODO: typical number of scrolls needed. Fire damage, unsuccessful writes, revgeno, charging wands and markers, recharging power, trap detection.
Charges of polymorph
One wand can last an entire speed run if you recharge it. This includes emptying it once for polypiling.
- Hit and run, and retreat tactically to avoid getting surrounded or walking into attacks. That way, your monster form hit points last longer.
- A ring of regeneration and a healing spell both raise your abysmal polymorphed healing rate. You need at least one, and both are worth polypiling for.
- A ring of polymorph can morph you into utility forms a couple of times if you plan ahead. You still need a wand for combat and polypiling.
- Polypile large piles, in one zap down, after maximizing your Luck to cut down on golem creation. A bag of holding only matters for how much polyfodder you can carry until you have to zap. (Polypile when you have enough fodder, don’t wait until you are in the perfect place. Although stores and the Valley altar are good spots.)
- Teleport by reading a cursed spellbook. Write detect monsters, light, sleep, or knock with a cursed magic marker after you have learned all the spells you need.
- The robe from the priest of Moloch will let you cast magic mapping without first grinding up divination to skilled. When you do grind, identify polypiling results.
- Walk down stairs if nearby so you won’t have to magic map the next level.
- After the Invocation, instead of mapping what you levelported past, you can chase a lich up. Kick it when it’s in low health. The Sanctum and the Fake Wizard's Towers often have a few. However, don’t let it on a series of non-teleport levels, such as Rodney’s Tower or the Valley.
- Collect eggs to confuse yourself with, especially before you learn confuse monster. Have a "waiting task" ready, though.
- Retrieve the Eye of the Aethiopica early. But ideally you have completed everything else when the quest unlocks.
- You could start-scum for things you would otherwise wish for, but it isn’t clear if this is a good idea. Perhaps combinations that let you locate and rob shops quickly are better, such as digging and charging, teleport control and teleportation, etc.
- Engrave with your wand of wishing because it might get cursed and explode if zapped, and keep track of your Luck.
- Polypile, obviously. Primarily spellbooks and rings, but also junk wands (for cancellation, digging, and death), mundane tools (for a sack and some essentials), magic armor (for speed boots, jumping boots, opposite alignment), amulets (reflection).
- Postpone wishes until you really need them – you might find what you need, or come up with a different solution. Few things have more impact on the ascension than wished-for, cursed potions of gain level.
- Candles from mine town, provided you can dig, teleport, level teleport, and have the scrolls to spare. In contrast, going there in the early game means trading some 800 turns for not much more than the 18% chance of a magic lamp, which is hard to bless.
- Neferet the Green will wander off her throne if you say no when asked if you really want to attack her.
- Bring a stoning corpse to the Astral Plane. The Castle army has gloves.
Generally, you care about gain level, unholy and holy water, various healing potions, and (above the Castle) object detection. Potions are not precious, and very heavy. They are still worth quaff-testing, though. You can make plain water for mobile or emergency scroll blanking, using moats, your unihorn, or random alchemy.
Avoid eating corpses because it is slow. On the ascension run, you might want to carry a few food rations for self-teleport. (Autopickup will provide plenty during the Castle fight.) In emergencies, you can polyself into a master mind flayer to gain nutrition.
Since most games that have a low turncount are usually also fast, many of the above strategies also apply to realtime speedruns. However, since turns to castle completion is no longer an issue, dwarven valkyrie is an easy pick, as we want the strongest role possible to minimize the effect of movement inaccuracies on our survivability.
The early game will be spent looking for a pick-axe and a way to clear the castle, which can be anything from a polyself kit, levitation and reflection, conflict, or a tonal instrument. Consider completing Sokoban if you find yourself lacking. The Sokoban prize will likely be useful to you, and the four rings and wands have a chance at helping you with the castle problem. Sokoban does use up a large chunk of time, but ascending in under two hours is still possible with Sokoban complete.
The advice on spellcasting above will not apply. Valkyries will need to formally identify scrolls they need to write.
Keep in mind that Medusa's Island gives you a chance at both reflection and levitation. Pick up a towel or blindfold, and if possible, map the level below Medusa after to reduce your chances of running into a minotaur on your way to the staircase.
Once the castle is cleared, you can start making wishes. It is not advised to use a polyself kit in realtime speedruns in lieu of levitation or proper armor simply because it's easy to make deadly misinputs with a bite or tentacle attack on a cockatrice or the Riders, or run out of polyform health at an inappropriate time. Invest in your character's survival first with magic resistance, a ring of conflict, a source of levitation, and scrolls of genocide before considering time savers like a ring of teleport control or scrolls of magic mapping. Keep in mind that cursed potions of gain level are less important in Gehennom because travel between stairs is very fast, but the helm of opposite alignment is worth a wish if you have one, as it mitigates the effect of the force as well as saves time finding the correct altar on the Astral Plane.
- An 8683-turn ascension by marvin: RGRN post
- A 6480-turn ascension by Rast: RGRN post
- A 5456-turn ascension by theta: RGRN post
- A 2391-turn bones-free ascension by Maud: NAO dumplog, ttyrec
- A 2251-turn bones-free ascension by Maud: NAO dumplog, ttyrec part1 part2 part3
- A 2135-turn ascension by Maud: NAO dumplog
- A 2130-turn ascension by SpeedyCat7: reddit post NAO dumplog
- A 235-turn AceHack ascension by nht: reddit post dumplog ttyrec
- A 4841-turn bones-free UnNetHack ascension by nht: reddit post dumplog
- A 1015-turn bones-free set seed UnNetHack ascension by nht: dumplog ttyrec part1 part2 Notes
- A 2:48:30 ascension by Eidolos: RGRN post
- A 1:16 ascension by Sayo: NEU dumplog
- A 1:03 ascension by Sayo: NEU dumplog ttyrec