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 conductEdit

Literate actionsEdit

The following all break illiterate conduct.

  • Reading scrolls, spellbooks, T-shirts, and fortune cookies; scrolls even if blind.
  • 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.

Accepted actionsEdit

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

  • Reading gravestones or engravings - that would be a bit too harsh.
  • Naming or calling items names.
  • Reading the Book of the Dead, which is necessary to ascend.
  • Casting spells you already know at the start of the game (Wizard, Priest)



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 $100 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, or a tooled horn.

Monsters reading scrollsEdit

Certain scrolls 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 usually must be near death before it will read it because that counts as a defensive action.[1]

Likewise, if you need boulders in Sokoban or for a fort, give a monster a scroll of earth. Reading earth qualifies as a "ranged" attack if adjacent, so you might have to be patient or perhaps (?) scare it.[2]

Object identificationEdit

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 enchantmentEdit

Without scrolls, there is no way to enchant or erodeproof weapons or armor items. 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 wandsEdit

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 detectionEdit

To detect traps such as the endgame portals without reading a scroll of gold detection, apply a crystal ball. Inside some vortex could be a safe place if it is possible to apply the ball.

Book of the Dead loopholeEdit

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

Accidental loss of conductEdit

  • If you must eat a fortune cookie, do it blind, so you don't read the message.
  • Turn off the mail option if playing online, lest someone decide to have a chat with you.

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


  1. Muse.c#line1067
  2. Muse.c#line511