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Athames are almost completely identical to daggers, even using the dagger weapon skill. However, athames are exceptionally suited for engraving. Any non-cursed athame will not dull from engraving, (although any athame that has an enchantment of -3 or lower is too dull to engrave with, regardless of blessed/uncursed/cursed status) and athames engrave at up to 19 letters per turn rather than 1 letter per turn. They are useful for writing messages and Elbereth.
Athames are rarer than daggers, as they are never randomly generated. However, the first gift that a wizard receives from his/her god is always Magicbane, a neutrally-aligned artifact athame, and master liches and arch liches have a chance of being generated with an athame. For master liches, the chance is 6/91 (about 6.6%); for arch liches it is 2/9 (about 22.2%). In addition, there's a 1/260 chance of an arch-lich-dropped athame being the Magicbane. Newt, prisoner in the wizard quest end, often carries one. Finally, prior to 3.3.0, wizards started out with athames.