The base item of an artifact is the type of item that the artifact appears as. When an artifact is unidentified, it will be described as a named variation of its base item, e.g. "a blessed amulet of ESP named The Eye of the Aethiopica".
Artifacts will have all the properties of their base items in addition to any of the artifact's special abilities. If your quest artifact or any other artifact that already exists in your current game would be found in a bones level, the bones artifact will be reverted to its normal base item.
Rare base items
The following base items are not randomly generated on the floor or as death drops in a vanilla game of NetHack:
In addition to bones, athames very infrequently appear in the starting inventory of a master lich, arch-lich or a player monster wizard, making it possible for the player to obtain at least one eventually. The other two are not randomly generated at all, and are generally only found in a bones level during a game where you have already generated their artifacts; these base items can also be obtained by wishing.
Other base items
- silver bell (Bell of Opening)
- candelabrum (Candelabrum of Invocation)
- papyrus spellbook (Book of the Dead)
While not considered artifacts by the game, these "invocation artifacts" function similarly - they are also "one-per-game" objects, but cannot ever be wished for in any form, since they will appear in every game. Attempting a wish for one will instead give the player a more mundane counterpart (i.e. a regular bell, a candle, and a blank spellbook respectively); the items will also revert to these mundane forms when found in a bones file.
Naming base items
Sting and Orcrist are special among artifacts in that they can be created by using the #name or #call command to name their base items. Any elven dagger can be named Sting to create it, while any elven broadsword can be named Orcrist to create it.
Creating Sting and Orcrist early via naming is commonly used to "force" Stormbringer as the first sacrifice gift for a chaotic character, since naming both artifacts only leaves Stormbringer and Grimtooth as the remaining chaotic-aligned artifacts in the sacrifice gift pool; elves are a common choice for players attempting this, as they will never receive Grimtooth as a sacrifice gift. However, the chances of receiving an artifact as a sacrifice gift after the first are decreased, as are your chances of receiving an artifact via wishing. Each weapon also has its own pros and cons with regards to early creation; see the articles on Sting and Orcrist for more information on each.
In NetHack 3.4.3 and earlier versions, naming artifacts could be used to distinguish the identities of certain base items such as luckstones; this is a result of the code to prevent non-artifacts being made into artifacts via naming. Specifically, attempting to give an object an artifact's name, outside of the aforementioned Sting and Orcrist, forces your hand to slip and mis-engrave it—but only if that object is of the same exact item type as the artifact's base item, e.g. naming a gray stone The Heart of Ahriman would only mis-engrave if it was a luckstone. As of NetHack 3.6.0, this is fixed by having any attempt to name an item in the same category fail and force your hand to slip (e.g. any gray stone will now mis-engrave using the above trick).
SporkHack adds a few new base items to go with changes to some of the artifacts:
EvilHack adds several more artifacts, including ones with new base items: