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How to identify items without getting killed

If I understand correctly, the potions in Nethack are given random colors at the beginning of each game, but the same color is always the same potion.

I've seen an x-colored potion several times by the time I've reached level 9 and it's also the most common potion in my inventory.

Is there a potion that is much more common than other potions? Is there a list that details the probabilities of finding certain potions?

  • 1
    Or, is there a smart way for me to test this potion if I don't have (or don't know if I have) a scroll of identify?
    – Atav32
    Sep 14, 2012 at 19:37
  • 1
    While I don't play Nethack, in DCSS the weak healing potions are more common than the others.
    – SaintWacko
    Sep 14, 2012 at 19:40
  • Can you quaff ID in Nethack? That's the standard way to ID potions in Crawl.
    – au revoir
    Sep 14, 2012 at 19:45
  • 2
    there are many ways to ID potions, this faq is a good resource to use.
    – l I
    Sep 14, 2012 at 19:49
  • 3
    Anybody who spells roguelikes like rougelike is not somebody you should listen to. Don't throw your potions. It is a bad way to wreck your limited supply of potions.
    – Ids
    Sep 15, 2012 at 2:42

1 Answer 1


There are a few potions that are always the same color. Namely potions of water/unholy and holy water. These are all clear. And they are holy/unholy depending on their blessed status. They can be ID'ed by normal altar ID.

There is a table of potion probabilities on the nethack wiki. But probabilities range from around 1% to 7% so it isn't a lot of help.

The best way to determine potion ID is by first dipping a unicorn horn in the potion. This transforms a certain amount of bad potions into harmless ones.

The final thing you can do to ID certain potions is to use a amethyst stone. It turns potions of booze into potions of fruit juice.

Most potions have unique messages when you drink them. You probably want to use spoilers to get the messages.

One more thing, from the wiki:

Smoky and Milky Potions are special. A smoky potion has a chance of containing a djinni, while quaffing a milky potion may release a hostile ghost.

This can be pretty bad if your potions of extra healing are smoky or milky.


Get a unicorn horn, dip the horn in all the potions, drink the ones that do not change to ID them.

  • 1
    There is a lot of stuff I missed btw. Reading the wiki some more details will become clear. Esp which harmful potions are not dip ID able. Blame your next YASD on me ;)
    – Ids
    Sep 14, 2012 at 20:21
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    FYI, nethackwiki.com is a far better resource than the old wikia site, which is riddled with ads that cover the content and which has been largely abandoned by th ecommunity.
    – Wooble
    Sep 17, 2012 at 11:10

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