Monday, March 23, 2015

Old Schooling 5th Edition's Identify Spell

Identifying magical items is one of the areas of play where the game does not meet the fiction.  In part, this is do to magical items becoming frequent commodities and tools and not the singular plot points of fiction.  Yet some of us do have stories of the first time we found a wand, pressing the button, or quizzing the Dungeon Master on the properties of the newly found sword we were swinging about.

A spell that gratuitously reveals all the mystery removes those moments from play.  On the other hand, spending 30 minutes of play deciphering that +1 dagger isn't fun for anyone else at the table, least of all the sole player and DM at that moment.  In 1st edition, the Identify spell was nearly unplayable by the book.  It needed to be cast within a certain time frame of acquiring the item so that the debilitating effects could be dangerous, and the 100gp cost was also meant to be significant, at least to the 1st level caster that had access to it.

The 1st Edition Identify is a wall of text that today makes me squint and day dream, but here were the highlights:
  1. The item must be examined within 1 hour per level of the caster.
  2. The caster only has a 15+5/level % chance of discovering at most the caster level number of properties.
  3. The caster temporarily loses 8 points of constitution, which are regained at 1 per hour of rest.

That's a far cry from the ease with which one discerns the properties of magical items in today's editions.

Erol Otus, making your games cool since 197someone will tell me

5th edition conveniently categories items according to tiers of rarity - from Common to Legendary.  This may be a means of preserving the mystery of discovering a magical item when the item is meaningful to the character.  So try on my 5E Identify spell to "see if it fits":

The 1e Identify was also QUITE clear that the magic-user would have to wear the item, and be the target of any ill effects...


1st-level divination (ritual)
Casting Time:  1 minute
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a pearl worth at least 100gp and an owl feather)
Duration: Instantaneous

Very Rare

You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell.
If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object and your caster level is less than required for its rarity tier, you must make a saving throw with your spell casting attribute of DC 15 plus the difference in caster level required.  If you fail the saving throw you learn no properties of the item and you gain the difference in rarity tiers in exhaustion levels.

If you succeed on the saving throw or have a caster level equal to or greater than the rarity tier of the item, you may learn its properties.  Each property requires an arcana skill check with your spell casting attribute of DC 10 plus the difference in caster level required to identify the property.  A failure still informs you something of the property according to the whim of the Dungeon Master.  This may be the command word, the school of the spell that produces the property, an image or a riddle.

If you instead touch a creature throughout the casting, you learn what spells, if any, are currently affecting it.

Casting Identify upon an item consumes the pearl.

From the 1st Edition DMG - this is by Tom Wham, correct?