Any item can be completely identified by reading a scroll of identify. Unfortunately, there won't be enough scrolls for everything you want to identify, so it's helpful to know about other means of identification.
Checking items you have identified
Use the command \ for a list of items already identified. You can also use the command - to toggle the view to items you have not yet identified.
Identifying items in shops
Anything bought from a non-antique shop will automatically be identified. This is especially useful for identifying bad items such as the scroll of immolation, the ring of hunger, or the potion of poison because these will not cost much gold and identifying them this way will prevent you from harming yourself by experimenting with them.
Identifying items through use
If the item is a weapon, armour, ring or amulet, you may want to make sure that you can uncurse it (a scroll of remove curse will always work, and enchant weapon/armour scrolls will uncurse weapons and armour, respectively) before trying to identify it through use. Some weapons and armour appear as shiny, runed, glowing, dyed, embroidered etc., while others are "plain". It's worth noting that while "plain" weapons and armour are never branded, they often have random pluses or minuses: while (0,-1) and the like are common, armour and weapons up to +2 or +3 can be found by testing these items in bulk. Conversely, "marked" items are almost never +0, but can have bonuses or maluses, and they don't necessarily have brands. Many of them will be cursed: any cursed weapon/armour has 1 chance in 3 of being "marked". Even marked weapons are still more likely to be (-1. 0) or (+1, -1) than (+2, +3). More exotic descriptors such as "ancient", "humming", or "distressingly furry" indicate artefacts; even when unidentified, they will appear in white in the inventory listing.
Armour is always fully identified when worn. This includes artefacts. The only risk with wearing un-ID'd non-artefact armour is being stuck with something suboptimal; there are no harmful armour brands other than ponderousness, which is exceedingly rare and not usually generated cursed. Artefact armour can occasionally be nasty: mutagenic radiation, teleportitis, and negative slaying are all possibilities. You should always have a scroll of remove curse handy when trying on artefact armour.
Weapons will reveal any brands (such as "of flaming") when wielded - and all other special properties, too, if it's an artefact. To find their to-hit and to-damage bonuses, however, you need to have some skill with them . If your skill is above a certain a value, which is chosen when the weapon is created, the weapon is in your inventory, and you know that it is not cursed (eg: you have already wielded that weapon), the pluses will be discovered.
Note that weapons of distortion can have dangerous effects if wielded while un-identified or unequipping, such as casting the user into the Abyss. The unique monsters Psyche and Sonja are likely to drop weapons of distortion or chaos, and their weapons will be inscribed with their names.
Before 0.8, this also applied to staves: spellcasters would identify a wielded staff with a chance depending on their matching skills. As of 0.8, staffs all auto-identify on wielding, but can also be cursed.
Some amulets and rings auto-identify but many do not. Amulets are generally safer to identify in this way than rings, since only the amulet of inaccuracy is harmful, and it's rarely cursed.
- The amulet of faith will auto-identify when put on if you are worshipping a god, (or if worn when you join a god) but beware as unequipping it will lower your piety by 1/3.
- The amulet of rage, amulet of the gourmand and amulet of guardian spirit all auto-identify when worn - note that the last can be dangerous for spellcasters, as it will drain all your MP when put on or taken off. Don't put on un-ID'd amulets in combat.
- The amulet of stasis and the amulet of clarity both auto-identify when the player resists the corresponding effects.
- The amulet of warding will auto-identify when an attack from a summoned monster is deterred.
As for rings, they can be more dangerous than amulets, but many will auto-identify for you.
- These rings all auto-identify when put on: ring of levitation, ring of teleportation, ring of invisibility, ring of magical power, ring of regeneration, ring of wizardry, ring of fire, ring of ice and most of the "stat rings": protection, evasion, strength, dexterity, intelligence
- The ring of see invisible may auto-identify if worn when a creature attempts to turn invisible, or if putting it on reveals a hitherto unseen invisible creature.
- The ring of sustain abilities may identify if worn when it protects you from stat drain.
- The ring of teleportation, and the negative versions of "stat rings", are usually cursed.
- The ring of teleport control can be identified by teleporting (including blinking).
- The ring of sustenance and the ring of hunger will auto-identify when your hunger status changes. Ring of hunger is always cursed.
This leaves the following rings to be identified normally:
- The rings of resistance (poison, fire, cold, life protection, and magic protection) These can produce revealing messages when they protect you from something, though it is only unambiguous if you have no other source of the resistance to the resisted element. Usually it is best to simply use an identify scroll on those rings that don't identify through other means; for the resistance rings, though, it is possible to use a safe source of the element to be resisted. Generally a self-targeted low-level spell will do; potions of poison can be used to test for poison resistance, though be sure to have a potion of curing on hand.
- Ring of slaying
If a ring is cursed and does not auto-identify it should be removed with a scroll of remove curse as soon as possible, since there is a very good chance that it's a ring of hunger.
Artefact jewellery will reveal any properties that would auto-identify when worn; for example, a ring with +5 Int and rElec will reveal the Int bonus but not the resistance when worn. As such, you'll often need to use scrolls of identify to fully identify them. Artefact jewellery that is partially identified will be inscribed as such.
Most scrolls, but not all, will auto-identify when read. Reading one of these scrolls will always identify it:
- Scroll of acquirement
- Scroll of blinking
- Scroll of enchant weapon I/enchant weapon II/enchant weapon III (since 0.10.0)
- Scroll of fear (since 0.10.0)
- Scroll of fog
- Scroll of holy word (since 0.10.0)
- Scroll of immolation
- Scroll of magic mapping
- Scroll of noise
- Scroll of random uselessness
- Scroll of silence
- Scroll of summoning (unless in a cramped or crowded place where the monster couldn't be created)
- Scroll of teleportation
- Scroll of torment
- Scroll of vorpalize weapon (since 0.10.0)
- Scroll of vulnerability
Reading one of these scrolls will ask for an item to use it on:
- Scroll of enchant armour (identified if used on a piece of armour and the enchantment succeeds)
- Scroll of identify (identified if used on an unidentified item)
- Scroll of recharging (identified if used on a wand, a rod)
The following scrolls may identify, based on certain conditions:
- Scroll of amnesia (if you have at least one spell memorized)
- Scroll of curse armour (if wearing at least one uncursed piece of armour)
- Scroll of curse jewellery (if wearing at least one piece of uncursed jewellery)
- Scroll of curse weapon (if wielding an uncursed weapon)
- Scroll of remove curse (if you are wearing at least one cursed item)
For best results, be sure that you:
- Are on an unexplored level, standing on stairs leading to a clear level (to retreat on teleportation, noise, or any other harmful scroll, and to make the most out of magic mapping)
- Test the most numerous unknown scrolls you have first (to make it more probable to discover the more common identify, teleportation, remove curse and detect curse scrolls first and to avoid wasting more valuable scrolls)
- Don't have any allies nearby (to not offend them and possibly your deity with fear, immolation, torment, or holy word)
- Wield the best uncursed weapon you have (to identify curse weapon and benefit from weapon enchantment scrolls)
- Are carrying an unidentified piece of armour and an unidentified wand, even if it's just the number of charges (best chance to correctly use identify, enchant armour or recharge). Note that on an unsuccessful reading of one of these scrolls, the game will auto-inscribe the type of scroll with the item it was tested with. This makes it easy to rule out possibilities!
For the brave, be sure that you have a cursed item equipped (to identify remove curse). Not infrequently this may be one that was just cursed by a curse armour/weapon/jewellery scroll, if you are identifying a number of scrolls at once.
Conditions can be adjusted as your knowledge improves. For example, once you've discovered scrolls of remove curse, cursing your weapon with a scroll of curse weapon is no problem at all. Some of the scrolls are very valuable and therefore it is not wasteful to use a scroll of identify on single scrolls that have been single for some time (e.g. vorpalise weapon).
Identifying scrolls is all about balance. On the one hand, you shouldn't waste scrolls of identify out of sheer curiosity, but on the other, it's massively annoying to die on level 3 with several scrolls of teleportation, fear or blinking in your inventory. When read-identifying scrolls, watch out for the following detrimental effects:
- If you worship a good god (Zin, The Shining One or Elyvilon) then a scroll of summoning will create a hostile abomination that can easily kill a low-level character. Scrolls of summoning do not appear on the first few levels, though.
- The scrolls of immolation and torment both cause serious HP damage, though torment is never directly lethal. Scrolls of holy word cause similar damage to undead or demonic characters.
- If you have any allies in sight, reading a scroll of fear, immolation or torment (or holy word, for undead/demonic allies) is liable to cause them to turn on you. On top of that, some gods get angry if you harm your allies.
- Your armour or weapon may become cursed, though scrolls of remove curse are fairly common.
- Scrolls of random uselessness may produce friendly butterflies, which can be troublesome for characters worshiping a god who dislikes the death of allies.
All potions auto-identify when quaffed, but some (for example poison and decay) are seriously harmful. It may be sensible to wait until you have larger potion stacks before trying them, so that you are more likely to discover the potion of curing, which is the most common potion and will cure poisoning and rotting. This also reduces the chance of wasting a potion of cure mutation. The potion of blood is always red, and it will auto identify when it turns into a potion of coagulated blood after a while. Note that wearing an amulet of resist mutation or having poison resistance will not interfere with identifying the corresponding potions, but will protect from their effects.
A second way to identify potions is to witness monsters quaffing them. You'll have to note the effect the potion has on the monster; once you've seen it, the appropriate potion type will be marked as "tried by monster" and it can be inscribed with its identity depending on the effects you saw.
A third way is to use the Fulsome Distillation spell. All potions created by this spell are automatically identified for you, and aside from the potion of water they're all harmful potions too, which may save your life.
Note that potions of porridge are almost always described as a "gluggy white" or "gluggy brown" potion.
Wands usually auto-identify when zapped at a monster which does not resist them, but until you have a fairly high Evocations skill, the only way to determine the number of charges in a wand is to use a scroll of identify.
The best way to identify wands is by zapping at a monster who is at least one square away from you, close to a rock wall, yet without the shot being perpendicular to the wall. This will ensure that if the wand is a fireball you will not be hit by the blast, if the wand is digging it will become identified due to digging the wall, and if the wand is lightning it will not hurt you by bouncing back at you. Wands should be tested on weak monsters in case they are hastened or turned invisible. If the game tells you "nothing happens" and the enemy is uninjured, it's a wand of healing.
Another method is to zap the wands at a section of wall. If this fails attempt to use it on yourself. If the wand is not identified yet it is almost certainly a wand of polymorph other. This can use more charges, but is slightly safer and does not require a monster to be present. In fact, you should make sure that there aren't any nearby monsters, since a wand of confusion or a wand of enslavement will cause you to confuse yourself.