One of the five basic character stats in Heimdall is “Runelore”. This more or less means magic ability, which is to say, the ability to cast spells from scrolls. But it also means the ability to simply read runes. When you find a scroll, it’s described simply as “Scroll” in your inventory until you have a character examine it, and that character’s Runelore ability determines whether they can read it, identifying the scroll and changing its name in your inventory, or whether you just get shown a string of pixelly, low-res runes.
However, even the rune string can ultimately be used to identify the scroll, because the strings are consistent within scroll types, just like the randomized nonsense names in Nethack. Even better: a little observation reveals that the runes are just a substitution cipher. If you show a bunch of scrolls to a low-runelore character before identifying them, you can recover the alphabet pretty efficiently. Even just looking at the ciphertext and treating it like a cryptogram yields good results in my experience.
There are, however, runes that are immune to this sort of analysis. I’ve found scrolls that show a single “rune of power” and have no idea what to do with them. Attempting to cast them as spells like the other scrolls does nothing — perhaps they’re quest tokens? Some charms, similarly bearing a single rune each, are even more inscrutable, because I don’t even know what verb to apply to them. (The inventory interface somewhat unnecessarily provides distinct buttons for “Use”, “Use spell”, “Eat/Drink”, “Give”, and various other actions, even though I have yet to find an item that can be used in more than one way. In most cases, picking the wrong verb provides no feedback at all, not even an error dialog.) Perhaps charms are active just by being in your inventory. But if so, I haven’t figured out what their effects are.
And in some cases, at least, it really is a matter of figuring things out through careful observation. The one sort of single-rune item I’ve got down is the potions. I really underestimated those at first, thinking they would be like the potions familiar from other RPGs, providing replenishment or temporary buffs. But no, potions in this game grant permanent stat increases. Thus, potions are major finds, and rare. Sometimes a single potion is the ultimate reward for making it all the way through a dungeon.
The rarity of potions means that I can’t give them to all of my characters. But that’s okay, because there’s one guy who clearly deserves them the most: Heimdall himself, the god-hero, the game’s central character. Most characters have some kind of focus to their abilities, but Heimdall is the all-rounder, and not one of those almost-as-good-as-the-specialists sorts, but the Robin-Hood-like figure who’s better at everything than all of his underlings. As such, it seems a waste to boost anyone else’s stats. If I give Heimdall a potion that raises his Runelore stat, it improves my party’s ability to cast spells; if I give it to my wizard, the only result is that he can cast spells almost as well as Heimdall. And yeah, Heimdall’s stats depend on your performance in the three minigames back at the beginning, so it’s possible to have a Heimdall who isn’t as powerful as this. But remember, those minigames also govern which other characters are available to you, so it seems likely that the designers have it set up so that you never get characters better than Heimdall in any respect. So I have all these highly skilled specialists on my boat, but unless there’s a bit that actually requires a warrior or a druid or whatever, all I ever do with them is make them carry Heimdall’s stuff. I can only hope that they get invited to Valhalla at the end, even though they haven’t proven their valor on the field of battle, because they really deserve something nice for putting up with all this.