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I'm a bit of a hardcore guy in the game realm. I like doing the hardest challenges before I even play the game regularly. I'd like to undergo the atheist conduct, but food seems to be a problem in the earlier levels. I've recently found ways to stay alive up to some other levels, but I don't feel like I have a foolproof strategy yet. Do you have any tips?

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If you cannot find enough regular food, you can eat corpses. Here is a comprehensive list of corpses that has positive bonus effects, and corpses that should not be eaten:

https://nethackwiki.com/wiki/Corpse#Corpses_that_are_beneficial_in_a_way

Aside from the corpses mentioned in the lists, there are plenty of corpses that doesn't have any effect at all when they are eaten.

On the earlier levels, you will probably run into plenty of jackals. These corpses can be safely eaten, given that you eat them shortly after they were killed. If you wait too long, eating the corpse can make you nauseous, it can even be fatal.

You can also use a tinning kit, or an ice box, which allows the corpses to be eaten later.

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    I'd go so far as to say that, whether playing atheist or not, corpses should be your primary source of nutrition. Save those food rations (and the few corpses that don't rot) for when you really need them. Sep 8 '15 at 20:58
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If you're having trouble finding enough food, consider playing a Healer:

  • Healers start out with poison resistance (as do barbarians and orcs), which means you can eat just about any (fresh) corpses safely. (Bats will still stun you, yellow molds and violet fungi will make you hallucinate, and eating your own race is still a bad idea, though.)

  • You also start out with the spell stone to flesh, which can be used to turn boulders into huge chunks of meat (and rocks into meatballs). As soon as you can cast this spell reliably (around XL 3 or so), you'll never have fear starvation again. (But beware — eating anything else while still satiated from a huge chunk of meat risks overeating and choking to death!)

The downside to healers is that they're kind of wimpy, especially early on. (Once you complete the quest and get the Staff of Aesculapius, melee fighting becomes a valid option.) Focus on ranged weapons and spells, use the E-word liberally, and hide behind your pet dog or cat whenever something scary shows up. Remember that meatballs count as treats for carnivorous pets, and can also be used to tame any wild dogs or cats that show up.

Also, regardless of which class / race you play, Magnilex's advice to eat corpses is sound. In fact, a sensible food strategy is to eat corpses first (since they're only safe to eat when fresh) and save any non-rotting food items for times when corpses are scarce. Of course, eventually you'll have to balance the survival benefit of lugging around a huge pile of food against its weight and (if you don't have a bag) the number of inventory slots used. Remember that you can always stash your extra food, and carry only enough to make sure you can get back to your closest stash if you need to.

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There are a number of ways to deal with hunger, for now here are some I've found useful at times.

  1. ring of slow digestion is indispensable for elves and Conducts(foodless, atheist, pacifist)
  2. most scrolls and potions of detection have some use (even gold detection; see #6 below)
  3. Create monster scrolls and wands are obviously useful for all (vegan/vegetarian may take some patience)
  4. candles are edible, but not that filling
  5. quaffing/dipping can sometimes conjure monsters (as can kicking sinks)
  6. polymorph self into junk eater and dine on all the relevant items/ an extra benefit of polymorph is that you can revert to your original form if you die (as long as it's not starvation or the other non-survivable deaths)
  7. Unihorn allows you to eat rotten/poison/hallucinogenic and cure self
  8. eat the -itis (nymphs, leps, tengu, chameleons, etc) especially if you have the corresponding ring of control
  9. Reverse genocide for easy expensive lunch
  10. levelport for luckout
  11. prayer
  12. lifesaving amulet
  13. magic traps can be triggered for possible monsters (risky, but...)
  14. Refrain from killing everything on every level (I try to leave lichens and such for just such a situation)

There's probably more, but not much.

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    Also, if you can polymorph yourself into a monster that doesn't eat (lich, barrow wight, see wiki for more) then you can play undeterred, collect a stash, and change back later.
    – slowball16
    Oct 24 '15 at 0:05
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Also, there are a number of places where food is all-but-guaranteed if you can get to them. Sokoban is usually easy enough to get to in the early game (dig or run through the Oracle level to find on Oracle +1). Minetown and Min's End are a bit farther, but if lawful a/o dwarf or gnome it's not that difficult to dig or run--mapping is useful esp. when running the mines. Barracks, thronerooms, and zoos are random but if found... Finally, if you can get to Ludios or the Castle, food will become an issue of burden from then on.

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