Naming artifacts

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For the method for creating artifacts, see Sting or Orcrist (and in SLASH'EM also Elfrist).

The naming artifacts trick was a bug exploit in NetHack 3.4.3 and earlier versions that let you identify certain item types.

Early versions of NetHack, such as NetHack 3.0.0, kept track of which items are artifacts through their names, allowing a flexible artifact set (i.e., multiple artifacts can be of the same item type) without needing separate fields in the object structure to track artifact status. As a consequence of this mechanic, the game needed to prevent non-artifacts being turned into artifacts via naming them (e.g. naming a long sword "Excalibur" to turn it into Excalibur). So if you tried to name a non-artifact with the name of an artifact of the same base type, the game would prevent you and you will mis-engrave. ("Your hand slips...")

In more recent versions of NetHack, such as NetHack 3.4.3, items used a separate "artifact flag" to identify whether they were artifacts (and which artifact they were), meaning that this mechanic was no longer necessary to prevent inadvertent creation of artifacts, but it remained in the codebase. This made it possible to identify items; for example, naming a helmet "The Mitre of Holiness" would fail if and only if the helmet is a helm of brilliance.

By this exploit, you could identify (or rule out) the following items:

Appearance Item type Artifact name
amulet amulet of ESP The Eye of the Aethiopica
gray stone luckstone The Heart of Ahriman
magic helmet* helm of brilliance The Mitre of Holiness

*: The appearances of magic helmets are: plumed helmet, etched helmet, crested helmet, and visored helmet.

Although this exploit never appeared on the official bug list, it was fixed in NetHack 3.6.0; naming any item in the the appropriate category, if you haven't identified its type, with the appropriate name, will mis-engrave whether or not the item's type is the artifact's base. Thus, attempting to name an unidentified gray stone "The Heart of Ahriman" will fail, regardless of whether it's a luckstone or touchstone, but if you've formally identified it as a touchstone you can name it successfully (and ineffectively).


In SLASH'EM, the artifact naming trick is even more effective due to the many new artifacts.

Appearance Item type Artifact name
bag bag of holding Wallet of Perseus[1]
candle magic candle The Candle of Eternal Flame[2]
amulet amulet of ESP The Eye of the Aethiopica
gray stone luckstone The Heart of Ahriman
magic boots speed boots Whisperfeet
magic cloak cloak of displacement Deluder
magic gloves gauntlets of dexterity Gauntlets of Defense
magic helmet helm of brilliance The Mitre of Holiness
magic helmet helm of telepathy The Crown of Saint Edward
whistle magic whistle The Storm Whistle[3]
amulet amulet of ESP The Medallion of Shifters (defunct Doppelganger quest artifact)
white gem diamond The Arkenstone (defunct Dwarf quest artifact)
ring ring of invisibility The One Ring (defunct Hobbit quest artifact)


The origin of this feature is funny. It originates from nethack 3.0.0, which didn't have an artifact marker on items, but instead checked the name and object base type of an item to determine whether it's an artifact. That is why naming Sting or Orcrist worked, but the game had to forbid naming attempts that would create other artifacts.

In the code, see NetHack_3.0.0/do_name.c#line157 which causes your hand slip if you try – although with a different message. See NetHack_3.0.0/weapon.c#line58 for a call from the weapons code to the spec_abon function that determines the to-hit bonus of an artifact (or line143 or NetHack_3.0.0/mhitu.c#line674 for other similar calls); NetHack_3.0.0/artifact.c#line237 for the definition of spec_abon which calls the function get_artifact to determine whether an item is an artifact; and finally the implementation of get_artifact in line109 which simply compares the base type and name of the item to those in the artifact tables above.


  1. Trivially identifiable in SLASH'EM with the showweight option enabled.
  2. Trivially identifiable by having a light radius of 3, vs. 2 for normal candles.
  3. Easily identified by applying it.