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This article is about the unit of in-game time. For the #turn command, see Turn undead.

In NetHack, the turn counter is displayed in the bottom right corner, provided that the time option is turned on. You start on turn one, and as a rule everything you do increments the counter. You may occasionally get a "free" turn if you are very fast, due to the speed system.

Most operations relating to the user interface do not consume turns: checking your inventory (including seeing what's inside a container), changing the options, using the far look command, accessing the encyclopedia, using #enhance, saving and restoring, and checking the message buffer (ctrl + p) are all free. Quivering projectiles (Q) is also free.

Using the look command (:) is usually free, but will consume one turn if you are blind. You also get one free application of a stethoscope per turn, and use up a turn if you apply it again consecutively.

Game length

The term game length usually refers to the number of turns taken to ascend (or meet some other fate). The turns, or time, taken is highly dependent on your style of play. You may be able to ascend comfortably in 40,000 turns, or you may struggle to gather an ascension kit before 80,000 turns.

Any ascension under 30,000 is widely considered fast, and anything under 20,000 turns is very fast. A small handful of players are able to ascend in under 15,000, while the world record is a mere 2135 turns. As of June 2024, the longest game on record at nethack.alt.org is a 49M turn game by fstd with a score over 20 billion.[1]

Histogram showing frequency distribution of final turn counts (game length) of a sample of top ascensions on NAO, taken 18 October 2022.
Distribution of game lengths in vanilla NetHack 3.6.2-3.6.6 on NAO

It is always possible to quit or escape in one turn, but it is also actually possible to die in one turn (for example, by immediately stepping onto a trap in the first room). This results in the message "Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 zorkmids."

A 1-turn ascension is possible in wizard mode.


The turn counter is a long integer, so its maximum value is 2,147,483,647 on 32-bit platforms (and a little over 9 quintillion (9,223,372,036,854,775,808) on 64-bit platforms). There is little danger of this overflowing, even in excruciatingly long extinctionist games.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

For games running over 100000 turns, prayer timeout increases by 1 every 100 turns, so prayer will eventually fail and you will starve to death. This was implemented to prevent denial-of-service attacks against public servers.

If a game runs over one billion turns, it ends immediately in an escape:

The dungeon capitulates.