Intelligent artifacts are those that have special usage requirements. To safely use them, you must:
- be of the same alignment as the artifact
- be of the same role as the artifact (if it is a quest artifact)
- have non-negative alignment
Otherwise, you will be blasted by the artifact, sustain 4d10 damage (2d10 if you have magic resistance), and abuse your wisdom. The blast occurs when you pick up or wish for the item, and again if you interact with it in any way except to drop it or put it in a container, as well as every time your alignment changes, until you satisfy all the conditions.
If you are of the wrong role, and also fail any of the other conditions above, then a quest artifact outside your main inventory will "evade your grasp", and you will not be able to pick it up or remove it from a container. Emptying a container with #tip will safely deposit the artifact on the floor. If the artifact is in your main inventory, it will be "beyond your control", unequip itself from you, and you won't be able to equip, apply, or invoke it. Any effects the artifact grants while carried will still work.
It is possible to get around the alignment limitation using a helm of opposite alignment. If, for example, you are lawful, but want to carry The Master Key of Thievery, you can wear the helm, switching to chaotic, then acquire the artifact, then uncurse and take off the helm. You won't be able to touch the key, and if you drop it you won't be able to pick it up again. However, the key still provides its special benefits like half physical damage while carried.
List of intelligent artifacts
In SLASH'EM the alignment keys at the end of the alignment quests are also intelligent. Since SLASH'EM's intelligent artifacts blast you for 8d10 damage (6d10 if you have magic resistance), be prepared for some serious HP loss at the end of a cross-aligned quest. This is particularly a concern if you're planning to pick up the quest artifact (most likely to happen with the Hand of Vecna) as well as the key, since these may still blast you for 8d6 damage (6d6 with magic resistance). Be especially careful if you've taken damage on the way there or will take damage on the way back to the portal.