Identification

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Identification is considered by some to be the heart of NetHack. Most items in the game start unidentified, and are described only by their appearance. There are many methods of identifying them.

Mechanics of identification[edit]

NetHack gives three 'levels' of identification:

Auto-identification[edit]

Also known as formal identification, auto-identification causes an item to be called by its proper name, overriding their appearance and anything you may have called the item.

Identification with a prompt[edit]

In some cases, you will be prompted to say what you want to call an item that you have just used. This can occur, for example, if you are hit by a potion thrown by a monster in circumstances that will not auto-identify it. Potions used by monsters giving unusual effects will also do this, such as a cursed potion of gain level. Dropping rings down sinks sometimes yields such a prompt too.

Identification with no prompt[edit]

In some cases, the effect of an action will unambiguously identify it to a fully spoiled player, however NetHack declines to auto-identify it. This happens in most cases when engraving with wands, and when an item's price uniquely identifies it. In these cases, and any ambiguous cases that reduce the possibilities, you will have to use #name to call the item an appropriate name.

Sometimes, a certain action will use up an item in one case, and retain it in another. In these cases, you should call the item by the name of the item that would disappear, then rename it afterwards if it is still available. A common situation for this is throwing gems to unicorns; the unicorn will "gratefully" accept valuable gems and "graciously" accept glass. #naming the gem to distinguish one or the other first means you will know when you next find one. If the unicorn only graciously accepts the gem, simply call it glass instead. Various cases of #dipping items into potions fall into this category too.

Straightforward identification[edit]

None of these methods are based on the item's behavior, all are universal, and all result in formal identification by the game engine (don't require naming).

Initial knowledge[edit]

Items that you start with are automatically identified for you. This is particularly useful for wizards, who will have 2 spellbooks, 3 scrolls, 2 rings and 1 wand identified from the beginning. In addition, depending on your role you may have some knowledge in weapons and armors. Also, if you start with an oil lamp, the potion of oil will be identified for you.

Magical identification[edit]

Scroll of identify[edit]

When reading a scroll of identify, you will be allowed to ID one or more of your possessions depending on the scroll's beatitude. The odds are:

Beatitude 1 item 2 items 3 items 4 items everything
Blessed 1/5* 1/5 1/5 1/5 1/5
Uncursed 21/25 1/25 1/25 1/25 1/25
Cursed always never never never never
*If your luck is positive, you will identify 2 items instead of one.

Spell of identify[edit]

Main article: Spellbook of identify

Casting this divination spell has the same effect as reading a blessed scroll of identify, except that positive luck will not increase the number of identified items from 1 to 2.

Sitting on a throne[edit]

One of the possible throne effects is the same as that of reading a blessed scroll of identify.

Touchstone[edit]

Main article: Touchstone

A blessed touchstone will formally identify all valuable gems, worthless glass, and other gray stones rubbed on it. A gnome or archaeologist may also use an uncursed touchstone for formal identification. This is as good as the identify scroll or spell, except that it doesn't reveal the BUC status of the gem or stone.

Selling in shops[edit]

Selling or buying an item in a shop will cause the shopkeeper to tell you the appearance of the item. If the appearance is unique and not randomized, e.g. for many types of armor and weapons, he will identify the item class for you. This is probably only useful in zen conduct games (also: wand of probing, potion of object detection).

Indirect identification[edit]

These methods require some knowledge (acquired from spoilers or experience), often lack universality, and don't always result in formal identification of an item as they sometimes give ambiguous information.

Price identification[edit]

Main article: Price identification

Although the price a shopkeeper charges is based on your charisma and slightly randomized, it is still helpful to some extent, but the main approach is to price id using the selling price. This is very effective in categorizing rings, potions and wands for further identification using other means. (even more so when direct identification is not possible, e.g. early games and illiterate games)

The simplest and most common application of price identification is identification of the scroll of identify (the cheapest of the scrolls).

Weight identification[edit]

The weight of an unknown object is not nearly as useful as its price, but it can provide additional clues. This goes especially for cursed equipment you don't want to wear. In some cases such as levitation boots, it is unique within a price group. Another example is a gray stone in a box, which might be a loadstone.

One practical way of weight testing is to pick up just enough rocks and gold not to be burdened, pick up the object, and count the rocks and gold you need to drop to un-burden you. The spreadsheet File:Nh inventory weight.ods can count up your inventory weight.

Behavior identification[edit]

Passive identification[edit]

This refers to discovering the properties of an item in a way that does not auto-identify the item. For example, zapping an unidentified wand of cancellation at a dragon and hearing it cough; You know that it is a wand of cancellation, but the game will still give the randomized appearance as the identity of the wand.

The opposite is called formal identification.

Identification by using[edit]

Rings, potions, scrolls, and especially armor can be ID-ed this way. Some items are identified instantly when you wear/quaff/put them on. Many potions do this, as well as some rings and armor (boots of speed, elven cloak etc.) Some require a little time before you notice (e.g. ring of slow digestion) Some are identified when some special thing occurs (rings of different resistances, amulet of reflection, amulet of magical breathing) You can also use enlightenment to identify intrinsic-providing items.

Always remember to take the utmost care when use-identifying things. Check its beatitude using a pet or altar. Check potions using a unihorn (although some players just quaff and heal themselves, since dipping a unihorn into an unID'ed potion that turns out to be polymorph will polymorph that unihorn into a random tool). Don't read unidentified scrolls when confused or when wearing a precious piece of armor.

Things that can be easily identified this way are:

Identification by monster use[edit]

Humanoid monsters will use certain items; this can be helpful in identification.

They are sometimes created wearing an amulet of life saving which will auto-identify when it resurrects them.

They will quaff beneficial potions (healing, extra healing, full healing, speed, invisibility, gain level, polymorph) and throw harmful potions (acid, blindness, confusion, sleeping, paralysis). Generally potions will auto-identify when quaffed or thrown by monsters, but the potion of confusion is an exception. This is because thrown booze has the same effect - however monsters do not throw booze.

They will read scrolls of create monster, earth, fire, and teleportation. If a scroll read by a monster has no visible effect, it was most likely create monster, and the new monsters were out of your visual range.

They will zap you with attack wands, and will zap themselves with wands of polymorph, speed monster, make invisible or teleportation. This can help distinguish the wands of cancellation, make invisible and teleportation, which cannot be told apart by engraving.

Identifying Scrolls[edit]

This section is intended to make it easy to identify scrolls by the message(s) received after reading them, and without risking your Excalibur. This section is an adjunct to the The NetHack Object Identification Spoiler and a summarization of the Scroll spoiler.

It is best to have identified the B/U/C status of each scroll before beginning this process, and only identify blessed or uncursed scrolls. Also, don't be confused, blind or hallucinating. Be sure to identify the "scroll of identify" early by its price. That way you can have lots of stuff in your inventory. Otherwise, use the techniques below.

Beware of the scroll of amnesia. There is no defense against the possibility of losing up to 25% of your discoveries. Early in the game, this may not be a serious problem as you will not have discovered very much, but think about whether you have the spellbooks handy for any spells you would mind losing. Later on, it is wise to use price identification to check whether unidentified scrolls could be amnesia. A scroll of amnesia costs ten times as much as a scroll of identify.

There are precautions you should take to minimise the risk of other bad scroll effects. Do not stand next to a pet or peaceful monster in case the scroll you are testing is fire or earth. Also make sure that all your flammable items are kept safe from the scroll of fire (either put them in a bag or drop them two squares away from you). As a cursed scroll of enchant armor will curse the piece of armor that it disenchants, you may want to remove all your armor. If the scroll you are testing is not cursed, you can wear a helmet that you don't care about, to protect you from the boulder which the scroll of earth will drop on your head, and to ensure that destroy armor and enchant armor are auto-identified. A cursed scroll of enchant weapon does not curse your weapon, and it's a good idea to wield a weapon that you don't care about when testing cursed scrolls.

Another approach is to read scrolls while confused, because this generally reduces the effect of bad scrolls (but only do this if you are sure it is not a scroll of genocide, since confused uncursed genocide is an instadeath). For example, scroll of punishment won't attach the ball and chain if you are confused. Take a look at the Scroll spoiler for exactly what happens (especially, the messages) when you read while confused.

Optionally, you could try to ensure that food, a potion, gold, and a trap are all present on the level, so that the scrolls of food detection and gold detection can be more readily identified. The potion and trap are only needed if you are testing cursed scrolls.

Some scrolls always identify themselves when read, some identify themselves under the right conditions, and some never identify themselves. If your character is a beginner (roughly, below XP level 6 for wizards and 7 for everyone else), then several scrolls have a possibility of giving the message "You have a strange feeling for a moment, then it passes." If your character is not a beginner, then it will be possible to distinguish all scrolls by the messages and effects obtained by reading them.

  • These scrolls always auto-identify:
    • amnesia, blank paper, charging, earth, fire, genocide, identify, magic mapping, punishment, stinking cloud
  • These scrolls almost always auto-identify:
    • create monster (if the new monsters are seen), gold detection (if not cursed and gold on level), light (if not blind), teleportation (if blessed or you are teleported sufficiently far from your old position)
  • These scrolls auto-identify under the right circumstances:
    • destroy armor (if wearing armor), enchant armor (if wearing armor), enchant weapon (if not cursed and wielding a weapon), food detection (if food on level)
  • These scrolls never auto-identify:
    • confuse monster, remove curse, scare monster, taming


Read the scroll and get the following result. Unless otherwise stated, it is assumed that the scroll is not cursed and that you are not a beginner, blind, confused, or hallucinating.

Scroll Effect Message
Amnesia you forget a bunch of stuff (like traps, the map, discoveries, etc.) either ""Who was that Maud person anyway?" or "Thinking of Maud you forget everything else."
Blank paper not used up "This scroll seems to be blank."
Charging Select an item for charging "Your <ring> spins clockwise for a moment.", or "Your <item> glows (blue|white) for a moment."
Confuse monster You will confuse the next (or more) monster you hit. (blessed) "Your <hands> glow a brilliant red." or "Your <hands> begin to glow red."
Create monster Creates 1 to 17 monsters around you. none
Destroy armor If not wearing armor it abuses your strength and constitution. (not wearing armor) "You have a strange feeling for a moment, then it passes." (beginner) or "Your skin itches." (non-beginner) or a message describing exactly how your armor was destroyed.
Earth creates boulders, confused, creates 2-6 rocks around and/or on you "The ceiling rumbles (above|around) you."
Enchant armor if not wearing armor, exercises (abuses if cursed) strength and constitution. otherwise, removes curse (or blesses), increases enchantment on armor, changes dragon scales to dragon scale mail, or vaporizes armor (if it's too enchanted) (not wearing armor) "Your skin glows then fades." or "Your <armor> glows silver for a moment." or (over-enchanted) "Your <armor> suddenly vibrates unexpectedly." or "Your <armor> violently glows silver for while, then evaporates."
Enchant weapon if not wielding a weapon, exercises (abuses if cursed) dexterity. otherwise uncurses a weapon, makes a worm tooth into a crysknife, increases enchantment, or it evaporates (if over-enchanted). If you are confused: (rust|fire)proofs your weapon or repairs it. (no weapon) "Your <hands> (twitch|itch)." or (over-enchanted) "Your weapon violently glows blue for a while and then evaporates.", or "Your <weapon> glows blue for a moment.", or (added or removed proofing) "Your <weapon> is covered by a (shimmering golden shield|mottled purple glow)!" or (repaired) "Your<weapon> looks as good as new!"
Fire causes damage to yourself and surrounding monsters, B(3-5), U(2-3), C(1-2), slime is burned away "The scroll erupts in a tower of flame." or (confused) "The scroll catches fire and you burn your <hands>." or (confused and fire-resistant) "Oh, look, what a pretty fire in your <hands>."
Food detection detect food or potions (confused or cursed). if blessed it gives you the Food Appraisal intrinsic. (blessed) "Your <nose> twitches then starts to tingle.", or "Your nose tingles and you smell (food|something)." or "Your nose twitches."
Genocide destroy an entire class of monsters (blessed), a single species (uncursed), creates monsters (cursed), your own role (confused and uncursed) "What (class of) monster do you want to genocide?" or (confused and uncursed) "Wiped out all <role>"
Gold detection detects gold, gold objects (blessed), or gold golems. If confused, detects traps (except vibrating square). "You feel very greedy, and sense gold." or (confused)"You feel entrapped."
Identify identify items from your inventory, or nothing if you are confused "This is an identify scroll."
Light lights area around you, unless the scroll is cursed, or you are: confused, in an animal, a whirly monster, swallowed.If the scroll is cursed, causes darkness. "A lit field surrounds you!"
Magic mapping reveals the level, including secret doors (blessed) "A map coalesces in your mind!" or (non-mappable level) "Your mind is filled with crazy lines!"
Punishment chained to a heavy iron ball and chain, or nothing (confused or blessed) "You are being punished for your misbehavior!" or (confused or blessed) "You feel guilty."
Remove curse removes curses or punishment (blessed) "You feel like someone is helping you." or (confused) "You feel like you need some help."
Scare monster similar to engraving Elbereth, only one to be affecting by simply picking up or dropping (read it, blessed or uncursed, monster affected) "You hear maniacal laughter close by." or (no creature affected) "You hear maniacal laughter in the distance." or(pick up)"The scroll turns to dust as you pick it up."
Stinking cloud creates a poisonous gas cloud around a square you choose (great if you're poison-resistant). You can discharge it harmlessly by choosing a square a long way away. "You have found a scroll of stinking cloud!" and (no effect) "You smell rotten eggs."
Taming tames (or angers, if cursed) monsters that are directly next to you (or within 11x11 sqare area, if confused). Also calms shopkeepers. possibly no message, or (cursed) "<Monster> gets angry!" Note: this scroll is identified by elimination, as the only scroll with no message or visible effect.
Teleportation teleports you to another square on the level (or another level, if cursed or confused), possibly of your choosing (if blessed or you have control teleport intrinsic) possibly no message, or (non-teleport level) "A mysterious force prevents you from teleporting!", or (carrying the Amulet of Yendor) "You feel disoriented for a moment."

When bad scrolls do good:

Scroll Conditions Effect Message
Destroy armor, cursed confused, wearing armor Makes one random worn piece of armor (rust|fire)proof (but does not repair existing damage). "Your <armor> glows purple for a moment."
Fire surrounded by slime, or inside a monster The slime is burned away or causes damage to the monster. none

Wand engrave identification[edit]

To do the identification, engrave something in the dust and then try to engrave something else with the wand on the same square. Nine wands can be unambiguously identified. The rest will give ambiguous results. Unlike the scroll or spell, the number of charges will not be revealed, except that you know you've just spent one. A wand with zero charges will have no effect, possibly misleadingly, so do not use this method with wands in bones piles.

Dropping a ring into the sink[edit]

This technique is useful when you have multiple rings of the same type or when you are desperately looking for a ring of slow digestion.

Death-drop identification[edit]

Some monsters are more likely to possess certain items. E.g. nymphs are often generated with a potion of object detection, and elves with an elven cloak and elven boots.

Artifact naming bug[edit]

Main article: Naming artifacts

If you have an item, and there is an artifact that is the same item type as that item, you cannot #name the item (answer 'y' at the prompt) with the name of the artifact (unless it is a #name-created artifact such as Sting) -- your hand will slip. This can be used to identify certain items. Most notably, a helm of brilliance cannot be named "The Mitre of Holiness", a luckstone cannot be named "The Heart of Ahriman", and an amulet of ESP cannot be named "The Eye of the Aethiopica". If you try naming an unidentified helm, gray stone, or amulet accordingly, and your hand slips, you know what you have -- otherwise you know one thing you don't have. This works whether or not you include "The" for items whose names begin with that.

This trick is even more useful in SLASH'EM where many more item types have associated artifacts, including bags of holding ("The Wallet of Perseus"), speed boots ("Whisperfeet"), gauntlets of dexterity ("The Gauntlets of Defense"), helms of telepathy ("The Crown of Saint Edward"), and cloaks of displacement ("Deluder").

This bug is fixed in the NAO version of NetHack and in many variants.

Some people consider it cheating to make use of this bug.

Cheat[edit]

A very easy way to identify all your items : save the game, copy the save file, paste it, then reenter the game, and quit. When it asks you if you want your possessions identified, press y. Note the items you have. Then rename the copy with the same name as the initial, and you'll have your game as if nothing happened. Same things for attributes.

This is (obviously) considered cheating and is frowned upon.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]