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This wand has the same effect as the spellbook of drain life, and will self-identify if this effect is seen. When engraved with, if there is a pre-existing message, it will erase part, or possibly all, of it. This generally produces the message "The engraving looks different now" which is shared with the wand of polymorph in SLASH'EM; however, reading the message will clearly differentiate between the two, as the wand of polymorph produces random, very recognizable rumors. If the pre-existing engraving is sufficiently short, the wand will instead give a message about the engraving disappearing; to avoid this ambiguity with the other wands that do that, dust-engrave moderately long messages (6 letters is enough) before engrave-testing unidentified wands.
Unfortunately, in SLASH'EM monsters know how to use these wands all too well. The beam cannot be reflected, and magic resistance provides no protection against it. Monsters are content to empty these wands on you, quite possibly killing you from level drain, and at the very least leaving you considerably weaker. They will very preferentially use these wands against you, it seems. If the Guild of Disgruntled Adventurers is generated in your game, expect to see large numbers of player monsters carrying these.
The only protection against these wands is drain resistance. This is a rather obscure property in vanilla nethack that becomes a vital part of an ascension kit in SLASH'EM, mostly due to this wand. It is provided from the following sources:
- Wearing an amulet of drain resistance.
- Wearing deep dragon scales or deep dragon scale mail.
- Wielding Excalibur, Stormbringer, or the Hand of Vecna; note that the Staff of Aesculapius does not protect against life drain in SLASH'EM any longer.
- Having it intrinsically, either from polymorph or being a lycanthrope, vampire, undead slayer or necromancer.
For those who don't mind the potential loss of a level, it is sufficient to have the amulet in open inventory, ready to be replaced when a monster begins attacking with a wand of draining. You will possibly lose two levels in the two turns it takes to remove the current amulet and put the amulet of draining on, but be able to regain one level almost instantly. A very fast monster, such as quickling or fire vampire, with a wand of draining could inflict even more lost levels, although luckily such monsters are relatively rare. The Hand of Vecna provides drain resistance when wielded, although since it is itself a poor weapon, one will have to find another way to kill the draining monster, or wait for it to run out of charges. One might also try carrying Excalibur or Stormbringer as a backup weapon.
Those who do not have a means of protection would be well-advised to pick up and/or stash any wands of draining they find.