A wishless character is a character who ascends without using any wishes. The main challenge in such a game is to assemble a complete ascension kit, or enough parts thereof, without the benefit of wishing for any items that one may lack.
In a typical game, a character will always have access to at least five wishes from the wand of wishing located in the castle. In a wishless game, the character voluntarily avoids using wishes and thus needs to obtain the corresponding items some other way. What follows is a description of some techniques that one can use in the absence of a wish. Note that it is rare for a wishless character to accomplish all of the goals outlined below. Part of the challenge of playing a wishless character is to ascend successfully despite missing one or two components that a typical, non-wishless character would possess.
11.5% of all winning players on NAO have a wishless ascension, and 72.5% artifact-wishless.
Most items in an ascension kit can be obtained one way or another via polypiling. In the absence of wishes, polypiling is even more useful than usual, and it is a good technique to employ for those who are not simultaneously attempting the never polymorph an object conduct.
The problem with polypiling is that it requires either a wand of polymorph, or a spellbook of polymorph and a spellcasting character. Neither item is easy to obtain without wishes. The spellbook is slightly easier to obtain, since spellbooks can sometimes be granted to you as a gift while praying to your god. Wizards with good Luck have a high chance of successfully writing a spellbook of polymorph, provided they have a sufficiently-charged magic marker.
One of the most common targets for a wish is gray dragon scale mail or some other item granting magic resistance. With no wishes, magic resistance must be obtained some other way. One way of course is to kill a gray dragon and hope that it leaves behind gray dragon scales. A character can increase their chances of success by reverse genociding gray dragons, or using a method of turn undead to revive and kill a gray dragon repeatedly until it leaves scales. Another good method to spawn dragons is confused throne looting.
Another easy way to get magic resistance is to play a character that starts with magic resistance or whose quest artifact provides magic resistance. Wizards start with a cloak of magic resistance and can easily get Magicbane from an altar. Archaeologists, Cavemen, Knights, Monks, Tourists, and Wizards have quest artifacts which provide magic resistance. In most cases, it is not recommended for characters to rely on their quest artifact as their sole source of magic resistance, because quest artifacts can be stolen by the Wizard of Yendor. However, wishless characters in general have fewer options than non-wishless characters, and oftentimes must resort to such suboptimal play.
A cloak of magic resistance is arguably the most desirable source of magic resistance, but it is difficult to obtain for characters other than Wizards, even with polypiling, because it is the rarest of the randomly occurring cloaks. Aside from bones piles of Wizard characters, the best source of cloaks of magic resistance is aligned priests, which are guaranteed to be present in Minetown and the Valley of the Dead. You can use a wand of probing to detect whether or not a priest has a cloak of magic resistance; doing so will not anger the priest. Priests without a cloak of magic resistance will have some other good cloak instead, and may be worth killing anyway for their cloak.
Bag of holding
A bag of holding can be found half of the time in Sokoban. If one does not find a bag of holding in Sokoban, it can be difficult to get one. One option is to polypile magical tools such as unicorn horns and hope that one of them turns into a bag of holding.
Many wishless ascensions never result in the character finding a bag of holding. In this situation, a character must incur the extra inventory management challenge associated with ascending using a sack.
An amulet of reflection is available half of the time in Sokoban. Alternatively, Perseus's statue sometimes contains a shield of reflection. Other common sources of shields of reflection are Angels and Aleaxes. Silver dragon scale mail is another possible option. Like gray dragon scale mail, it can be obtained by reverse genociding silver dragons or using turn undead on a silver dragon.
A character without reflection faces three major hazards: disintegration blasts from black dragons, wand of death zaps (if you also lack magic resistance) and lightning attacks which can explode wands and rings in the character's main inventory. If reflection cannot be obtained, it is recommended to minimize the number of wands and rings in your main inventory, and keep ample supplies of spare wands and rings available in your bag. Players getting a single genocide from a throne might consider genociding black dragons, but if you have a scroll, it is better used to reverse genocide silver dragons.
Having some form of levitation is desirable in the End Game. Perseus's statue sometimes contains levitation boots. If no other means of levitation is available, a blessed potion of levitation lasts for at least 250 turns, and potions of levitation are common enough that one can usually assemble a large stack of them by the end of the game. One blessed potion is more than enough to carry you through the Endgame if you don't procrastinate, and the water walking boots in Vlad's Tower take care of everything before that.
How to kill the Wizard
Most characters kill the Wizard of Yendor using death rays from wands of death, and recharge the wands enough times to ascend. A wishless character cannot wish for magic markers, and thus may have a hard time getting enough scrolls of charging to recharge wands. For this reason, it is common for wishless characters to polymorph into a cockatrice and lay a large number of cockatrice eggs for use as stoning weapons against the Wizard of Yendor.
Cockatrice eggs are also useful against Orcus, to kill him before he uses up any charges from the wand of death that he always carries. If you are low on wand of death charges, use cockatrice eggs to kill the Wizard of Yendor, and save the wands of death for use against the Riders.
Accidental loss of conduct
It is nearly impossible to accidentally lose the wishless conduct in NetHack 3.4.3. If the game bestows an unwanted wish (for example, from quaffing a smoky potion), you can answer nothing, nil, or none in order to avoid using a wish.