Hardcore Strategy

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So you want to ascend Hardcore but would like it to take you less than 2 weeks? This guide covers the basics to help focus your adventuring and is aimed primarily at new ascenders with few or no hardcore permed skills. The softcore speed guide is on the Ascension Strategy page.

RoyalTonberry has written a hardcore walkthrough that is very effective but assumes access to lots of permed skills and Items of the Month. View the discussion thread for the outline here.

Before you ascend

Familiars you should own

As Hardcore ascensions let you keep access to all of your familiars, it only makes sense to get some useful ones before jumping into the gash. The following is a list of basic familiars that are easily obtainable by everyone.

Stat gaining familiars

Stats are the biggest hurdle during ascension, so stat-gaining familiars should be the familiars you use when you don't specifically need anything else. There are three basic familiars:

  • Smiling Rat -- New accounts are guaranteed to get this at the tavern when they start playing, so you should have one already. Gives extra stats at the end of combat equal to the square-root of its weight. Also, the only possible option in a bees hate you run.
  • Blood-Faced Volleyball -- Identical to the smiling rat above if you don't have the rat for some reason.
  • Hovering Sombrero -- Gives extra stats based on its weight and the level of the monster. As stats are more important early on the rat is a better choice most of the time except in the very late levels. You can easily ignore the sombrero.

Item drop familiars

Many quests require that you get item drops from monsters, so you should always use a familiar that improves item drop chances when you need an item to drop. Note that item drop familiars are very powerful and will be the single largest source of item drop modifiers for players without items of the month.

Meat drop familiars

These familiars increase the meat you get at the end of combat. Very useful for The Themthar Hills and affording to buy skills.

Other useful familiars

  • When you really need more MP, the Star Starfish is quite useful to adventure with for a few turns.
  • The Exotic Parrot will give you elemental resistance and is bought from The Black Market for 500,000 meat. Resistance helps in a few areas, including speeding up the Orc Chasm Quest (when using an A-Boo clue or passing the stench test in Lost in the Great Overlook Lodge) and surviving Lord Spookyraven's initial attack. It can also let you gain stats from Daily Dungeon tests.
  • Lil' Barrel Mimic costs next to nothing in the mall and is extremely useful for low skill runs. It'll help to provide increased stats and free consumables that are actually good or awesome quality. For the small cost of 5 adventures (Easily spent in low skill runs), you can get the brass bung spigot, which will help to keep your HP and MP constantly full, allow easy buff usage, and remove the need to change to other familiars to restore those (like the mosquito or the starfish). Only usable until end 2017.

Decisions to make in Valhalla

Perming skills

See Hardcore Skill Analysis.

Astral consumables

For a measly 1 Karma, you can buy a set of turn-generating astral consumables, which is totally worth it. But you can only take one, so which one? Note that the stats and adventures gained by using these scale with your level (levels 1-3 are the same and they stop improving at level 11). For the most part, you should put off using them until level 10 and above for the largest benefit.

  • astral hotdogs, you get three of these and each uses 3 fullness. The hotdogs give the lowest adventure gains but give the largest stats, and eating one straight away after ascending will immediately take you almost all the way to level 3. As such, if you're going to struggle to level up quickly early on (especially true before you have Amphibian Sympathy permed) then taking these and eating a single one straight away can do a lot for reaching important early milestones. Save the other two for later though.
  • astral pilsners, you get 6 of these and each uses 1 drunkenness. The stat gain from these is minor but the adventure gains are huge. Their low drunkenness requirement makes them easy to fit around your regular drinks too.
  • astral energy drinks, you get 3 of these and each uses 8 spleen. If you have no way of gaining adventures from your spleen, then these are the best choice for pure adventure gain as they don't replace anything else. You can usually only eat one per day so you may want to use your first one at level 10 if you're somewhat speedy. Note that Turtle Tamers with no healing skill permed get a lot of use out of Medicinal Herb's medicinal herbs, so you can end up struggling for healing if you take these and aren't careful.

Astral equipment

For 10 Karma you get to start with a piece of equipment, which is also totally worth it, but again you can only take one. Some are also locked during your first ascensions.

  • The astral belt is best for pure speed but only when you have enough skills to reliably handle lots of monster level, which might take a while. It's also locked until you've ascended as each class.
  • The astral shirt is fantastic for an easy and quick ascension, but requires that you've permed Torso Awaregness, which is not high priority.

So assuming you can't or don't want to take one of the above, what else is best? Bear in mind that the level 12 quest and the pirate's cove take up your hat and pants slot, and each class can easily get their Epic Weapon in-run, so equipment that doesn't use these slots have an advantage.

  • For muscle classes, the astral shield is superior to the rest due to the huge survivability boost it provides (+15 damage reduction and HP regen!). The humongous muscle boost will likely let you deal extra damage too.
  • For mysticality classes, the adventure gains from the astral bracer or astral statuette (initially locked) are probably the most useful enchantments for low-skill runs.
  • For moxie classes, pretty much any of the +moxie equipment is very useful, but the astral shorts can't be used in the level 12 quest where the moxie boost is most useful. The item drop improvement from the astral mask is really nice but it is initially locked. The extra weapon damage from the astral longbow or astral pistol is very useful to make plinking more manageable, and despite being two-handed, the extra meat from the longbow is always handy.

Moon sign

There are 9 moon signs but you can group them into 3 main groups depending on the area they unlock, which will be your main consideration, the benefits of each listed below. You will always want to choose a sign that gives you +10% to your mainstat regardless of the other enchantments as it will speed you up by a considerable amount.

  • Friendly Degrassi Knoll is widely regarded as the most useful area. It allows you to easily and cheaply make your meatcar and a meat maid, it lets you smith your Epic Weapon without spending a turn or buying a hammer, you can use the annoyance device straight away but have to buy it first (costs a paltry 300 meat which you can sell a pork gem to get), it lets you bypass needing a bugbear outfit to buy wads of dough and pie tins, it lets you pass one of the tests for Orcish Frat House blueprints easily, and finally you can get easy mushrooms for reagent pasta if you have meat to burn (5,000 for a mushroom plot) and the relevant skills, of course.
  • Little Canadia is widely regarded as the least useful area. The annoyance device is free and instantly accessible and it has a food store that lets you eat food immediately, but basic fruit pies are slightly better. You can also smith jewelry but it's extremely expensive and not all that useful. It takes 3 turns to craft jewelry as a further kick in the balls.
  • The Gnomish Gnomads' Camp requires that you gain access to the desert beach before you can access it, however, it has a booze shop which makes drinking easier for those without cocktail crafting and you can buy some nice passive skills for 5,000 meat. The lack of immediate access to this area is a big blow. Still a worthwhile consideration for very low skill ascensions.

Challenge paths

Some special challenge paths that introduce a new class (Avatar of Boris, Avatar of Jarlsberg, and Zombie Slayer) can be faster and easier than hardcore no-path for players with few permed skills. By doing hardcore ascensions with one of these paths, you can build up skill points for that challenge path class while also earning karma used to perm skills from the six standard classes.

Keep in mind that some of the better astral items in Pet Heaven are unlocked by ascending with normal classes, so you should not neglect them entirely.

Note that strategy for these paths is significantly different from that of no-path; see the strategy pages linked on each challenge path page for more information.

Turn generation

Perhaps the primary concern in a hardcore ascension is how to best generate more turns, as you can't just pull nice consumables from storage. While a meat maid is useful, eating and drinking are where most of your turns are going to come from and you'll want to sort out some sort of regular source of food and booze as soon as possible. In order to both unlock sources and to hit consumption level requirements, leveling up very quickly early on is usually the best option. For now, let's look at where you can get adventures from:

Food

If you have access to pastamastery, then your options are greatly simplified. A tomato from The Haunted Pantry will give you boring spaghetti on your first day, and from level 4 onwards you can get painful penne pasta really easily by buying a jabañero pepper from the hermitage, which will cost 150 meat (or a bit more early on before you can get a trinket from every piece of gum). Pastamancers can bind a Spice Ghost thrall, though this will only be available in-run if Bind Spice Ghost is already permed. This gives them easy access to spices which are used for lo mein. Olive lo mein is very easy and cheap once The Hippy Store is open and those willing to shell out for a mushroom plot can get the better lo mein. Combined with Advanced Saucecrafting for reagent pasta (another good use for the mushroom plot) you can send your adventure gains through the roof as any class.

Without access to pastamastery your options are worse and a bit harder to get.

  • Basic fruit pies are the staple but require fruits from The Hippy Store and pie tins and dough from The Bugbear Bakery or the Degrassi Knoll Bakery and Hardware Store before you can make them regularly. This makes rushing to unlock the island and get a hippy outfit a high priority.
  • White Citadel sells burgers which get better the more of them you eat, the counter for this does not reset on ascension either! Unfortunately, you have to eat a whole bunch before the average adventure gain is better than fruit pies. You also have to complete the quest to unlock White Citadel which opens in the middle of level 6. You'll likely perm pastamastery eventually and stop using this, and you'll want early hippy store access for fruits to make booze anyway, but it can be a nice way to get adventure gains during your first few ascensions if you're willing to put in the preparation. The counter doesn't carry across to Bad Moon though, so it's not really an option there.
  • Enchanted bean burritos. This requires access to wads of dough and an enchanted bean from the Beanbat Chamber which have a 50% base drop rate making it easy to get them in a single turn. The adventure gains are similar to fruit pies but cost one adventure to get the bean. If you happen across any spices (which is unlikely except as a pastamancer), you can easily upgrade them to an Insanely spicy enchanted bean burrito for big adventure gains and a free combat skill! Note that there are other bean burritos, but it's far harder to get the respective beans.
  • The Haunted Kitchen, seriously. So the food is crap but it has a reasonable drop rate, making this a nice way to earn adventures and level up on day 1 if you're really struggling to get anywhere fast. Low skill myst classes want to be here anyway for the shiny butcherknife.
  • Mugcakes and fortune cookies can be bought at any time for 20 or 40 meat, giving 1 adventure for 1 fullness. Only worthwhile as a last resort, as 1 adventure is better than none!
  • Don't forget the Grue egg omelette! You'll need a spooky mushroom though, The Spooky Forest is probably the quickest place to get one if you aren't planning on buying a mushroom plot.
  • Try the Madness Bakery. You can receive decent quality food from just a wad of dough in the noncombat, and after completing the quest, get a size 2 epic quality food in the noncombat using items that likely dropped for you while doing the quest.

Note that at level 12 if you clear the filthworms as a hippy then the new fruits in the hippy store make better pies that give very good adventure gains.

Booze

Once again The Hippy Store is where it's at, this time necessary for the best booze with or without Advanced Cocktailcrafting, as cocktailcrafting just improves upon the basic mixed booze. Unfortunately, you can't buy the other ingredient, base bottles of booze, until you clear the filthworms as a frat during level 12, so getting good booze is always going to require adventuring for ingredients. You can find base booze in the following places:

  • The pirates' cove will get you a ton of rum when doing the quest, so it can be worth using an item-drop familiar during Barrrney's Barrr.
  • Booze Giants in Menagerie Level 3 are the best way to farm up booze bottles, but you have to get the menagerie key and spend turns farming up ingredients, which sucks.
  • Drunk goats are great as you encounter them during level 8 in an area you want item drops anyway, and you can also get milk for milk of magnesium and spare cheese for reagent pasta while you're there.
  • The Fun House is a pretty poor source as there are a lot of other combats, but you might get some when getting a box.
  • A Barroom Brawl is a great early source of booze, some of it even comes pre-mixed! You might want to be here for beer lenses anyway.
  • The Overgrown Lot has plenty of monsters that drop decent quality booze.

If you don't have any base booze, then you can use fermenting powder to make shots, but these are expensive as they cost about 140 meat per drunkenness.

Before unlocking the hippy store, you can use the aforementioned barroom brawl or The Barrel full of Barrels. Note that the barrels are very swingy but somewhat predictable in where the booze appears so it can be an option for day 1. Finally, there's Bart Ender as your last resort option.

General strategy

The following advice doesn't deserve its own section but is still important. Perhaps some of the most important advice.

  • Use a stat gain familiar unless you really really need an item drop, such as for a quest. A meat drop familiar against beefy bodyguard bats and in The Themthar Hills is also worthwhile.
  • Ten-leaf clovers. Don't underestimate how useful these are. The Hermit will have at least one available each day so make sure you collect them. Don't forget that you are guaranteed to get items you don't have from a chewing gum on a string, so don't autosell the starting equipment. Here are some of the best uses:
  • Semi-Rare Adventures are very powerful and are definitely worth getting. See the respective page for more information on what they are. The best semi-rares to get in a low skill run are the Knob Goblin Elite Guard Captain (so you can unlock The Knob Dispensary) and the good food and booze from The Haunted Pantry, Outskirts of Cobb's Knob and The Sleazy Back Alley.
  • Doc Galaktik's Medicine Show will bleed you dry of meat. To save money, unlock The Knob Dispensary for cheaper MP restore (although magical mystery juice is cheaper for mysticality classes they should also do this). If you haven't done the Doc's quest (and it usually isn't worth it), then Doc Galaktik's Ailment Ointment is the cheapest way to buy HP from the Doc.
  • The Market sells very cheap buffing items. Hair spray is by far the most useful giving +15% moxie and it should be used by all classes often. Ben-Gal™ Balm is also useful for muscle classes, giving +15% muscle. The Knob Dispensary sells eyedrops that boost item drops, pet-buffing spray that increases familiar weight and nasal spray that increases meat drops.
  • You will need a lot of meat in early hardcore ascensions. Equipping the Knob Goblin Elite Guard Uniform or Knob Goblin Harem Girl Disguise and adventuring once per day at the Treasury will get you a quick boost. You can also get both and get the meat boost from each, but it's likely not worth it. Don't forget about autoselling unneeded items too, it will generate a surprisingly large amount of meat over the course of the ascension. The pork gems received at the start of your ascension are prime autosell fodder.
  • If you get Beaten Up, you can burn off the effect by completing low-level quests you skipped early on, such as unlocking The Hidden Temple. Spending turns resting is generally a terrible idea if it can be avoided at all.
  • Boosting Monster Level is a great way to earn extra stats from combat, but comes at the expense of making things a whole lot more difficult. It only takes getting Beaten Up once to undo all of the stat gains from boosting monster level, so you are best to err on the side of caution or avoid it completely if you're not sure if you can handle it.
  • By setting your annoyance device to certain numbers against early bosses you can get special equipment to drop. Most of this equipment, especially the ones that give +moxie is some of the best equipment you will get during ascension, so make sure to get them! As a Pastamancer you will need some of these drops to make the Staff of the Soupbone, which is a superb weapon if you're looking for an easy time.
  • When going through The Daily Dungeon to get the keys, if you come across an elemental resistance test and don't have any resistance to hand, just do it anyway and eat the damage. Even if you get Beaten Up, you'll still pass it.

Council quests

There are some decisions you need to make about how to go about some council quests.

  • Level 4 - You need stench resistance to enter guano junction and there are a few choices available.
  • Level 5 - The Knob Goblin Elite Guard Uniform is the best outfit path to choose as you can get it all at once via a semi-rare and it also unlocks the dispensary. Unfortunately, you will also need to buy a Dramatic™ range to cook the knob cake but you'll eventually need one for a grue egg omelette anyway.
  • Level 8 - There are two paths to the Icy Peak. Adventuring in The eXtreme Slope is easier for players with few permanent skills. The eXtreme Cold-Weather Gear obtained there provides all the Cold Resistance needed for the Peak. Taking the shortcut through the Lair of the Ninja Snowmen is faster, but requires +combat modifiers and other sources of +5 cold resistance, assuming the player doesn't obtain the eXtreme Cold-Weather Gear.
  • Level 10 - Some of the giants are very strong, and it can be better to just powerlevel to level 11 first. Many of the monsters in zones unlocked during level 11 are less powerful than the giants and you're likely to need to do some extra leveling to hit level 12 anyway.
  • Level 12 - Which side of the war to fight for largely depends on what skills you have. The hippy side is the most attractive for low skill ascensions and the frat side attractive for high skill ascensions.
    • Sonofa Beach should be avoided if you don't have a few +combat modifiers available.
    • The arena quest can be cheesed by flyering The Guy Made Of Bees but this takes a number of turns to prepare and may not be worth it if you start on the hippy side. If you have access to Entangling noodles, then you can avoid getting hit when using flyers, so saving all of the level 11 bosses, the pyramid, the hole in the sky, junkyard, orchard and sonofa beach for flyering is a great way to spend no extra turns specifically for the flyer quest. As a frat, you will get a +meat buff for the nuns quest.
    • The Junkyard, Orchard, and Nuns are easily doable as all classes. Don't forget to summon the meat demon from the Summoning Chamber and Knob Goblin nasal spray when helping the nuns.
    • The farm takes a while and is only really worth doing if you start as a hippy. Don't forget to use a chaos butterfly and get the shortcut!

Optional stuff

As a general rule, ask yourself the following question before deciding to adventure anywhere. "Does adventuring here work towards completing a council quest or get me something that generates or saves a significant number of turns?" If the answer is no, then stop. Do you really need to be there? Let's take a look at how worthwhile some of the optional things are:

The Pretentious Artist Quest

This is fairly quick and earns a fair amount of meat by trading in rat whiskers. Worth doing in low-skill ascensions as you'll need the early meat.

Meat Maid

Generates 4 turns each day at rollover. If you chose a moon sign that opens up friendly Degrassi Knoll, then the only roadblock is the disembodied brain. The drop rate is pretty poor so use a clover. This is always worth it for low-skill hardcore runs at it will easily generate more turns than the clover costs, and getting it with a clover from the ruins might be worthwhile if you were planning on powerleveling at The Cola-Wars Battlefield. When choosing other moon signs, the meat maid isn't as helpful, as getting a frilly skirt and maiden wig from The Degrassi Knoll Gym may take a few turns.

Chef or Bartender-in-a-Box

If you have Advanced Saucecrafting, Pastamastery or Advanced Cocktailcrafting, then getting a chef and/or bartender in a box can save you a significant number of turns. Perming Inigo's Incantation of Inspiration allows you to forgo obtaining one or possibly both, in this case it might be better to forgo the chef unless you got the chef's hat to drop as A Barroom Brawl drops lots of nice booze while you're there. Without access to any of the major crafting skills, you will only be spending at most 2 turns on cooking, one on a Grue egg omelette and possibly one on a knob cake so it's not worth getting an in-a-box helper. Don't forget you'll need to make your Epic Weapon to get boxes from The "Fun" House, but it's worth it. See the above section for getting a disembodied brain.

Liver/Stomach/Spleen of Steel

Always worth it unless your Hardcore ascensions take you 4 days or less, in which case why are you reading this guide?

The Wizard of Ego Quest

Doing the first part of this quest before you reach level 6 will unlock The Cola-Wars Battlefield which is the best place to powerlevel early on and lets you clover the tower ruins early on for a disembodied brain. Going further and completing the tower ruins part is of questionable worth. If you don't need help leveling up fast before level 5, then the entire quest is probably not worth it.

The Valley of Rof L'm Fao

The valley quest is now optional and unlocks after finishing the Orc Chasm Quest. You may need to venture here to obtain a lowercase N for your wand if you don't have a clover for You Never Know What You're Gonna Find.

White Citadel

Unlocking The White Citadel gets you a lucky rabbit's foot and access to burgers, as well as Cloaca-colas for cheap MP restore. Unfortunately, the quest takes a long time, so doing the full quest is of questionable worth unless you really need the item drop bonus from the rabbit's foot. The Knob Dispensary and fruit pies make the reasons to shop here obsolete.

The Nemesis Questline

If you need boxes, get your Epic Weapon to open The "Fun" House, then stop unless it takes so long to get any boxes you need that you've got enough clownosity you need to fight beezlebozo. With the correct choice of astral gear, you won't need the benefits of your Legendary Epic Weapon or Epic Hat, and the quest line takes a long time and is usually far easier once you've freed the king. Note that if you're only doing it to get the Instant Karma at the very end of the quest chain, then if it's going to take you an extra day, it's only worthwhile in the long run if your time between ascensions is over 18 days.

Powerleveling

Sometimes you need to level up fast, either because you want to unlock stuff fast in the early levels, or because you need more stats to unlock the next council quest. The following section is therefore split into two sections, low-level powerleveling, and high-level powerleveling.

Low-level powerleveling

This section considers how to gain stats fast for getting to level 6 so you can get your steel organ ASAP.

  • Just eat an astral hotdog. It really is worth eating one straight away if you think you may struggle with early leveling (and if you're not sure, the answer is yes you will).
  • A Battlefield is the best place to powerlevel before level 5 but requires doing the first part of The Wizard of Ego quest. It also has the benefit of being made out of only non-combats so you don't need combat rate modifiers and also has the chance of getting an ultra rare! At best with the right choices from the non-combats, you will earn on average 10.6 mainstat per adventure. This place closes when you reach level 6. While unlocking this place you might get a smart skull for an early in-a-box helper or meat maid.
  • Bottle of used blood. If you're willing to spend extra time at The Spooky Forest then going for these is a good choice. The bad news is needing to get the non-combat twice, once to get the wooden stakes and again to trade in vampire hearts. Note that vampire bats in Guano Junction also drop vampire hearts. If you're going to go this route, you should plan on getting the stakes as the first non-combat choice, then concentrate on unlocking the temple and trade in blood at the end. If you need a triffid bounty on day 1, this plan might be a good idea.
  • Gourd potions are generally not worth it. They work best in the very early levels but you'll be skipping them with a hotdog.

High-level powerleveling

Spookyraven Manor is your best bet here. You want to first work on unlocking the ballroom so you can set the non-combat song. Then you will want to adventure according to your class:

Note that the above three zones (gallery, bathroom, ballroom) all have a clover adventure that gives lots of the respective stat and will be the main use of clovers for the later levels.

If you struggle to survive in those zones, then Barrrney's Barrr is a great place for moxie classes. The extra base booze you'll get is a further bonus.

Helpful links

Ascension Strategy
Rankings: HC Skills - HC Familiars - HC IotMs
General: Class selection - Familiar usage - Semi-rares - Clovers
Paths: BHY - Fist - AoB - BI - ZS - AoJ - BIG! - KOLHS - CA2 - AoSP - SS - HR - Picky - Ed - Random
IotMs: Tomes - Faxing - Copying - YR - Garden - Correspondent - Workshed - Tea party - Florist