Identify – Are you doing it wrong?

I cast Identify
I cast Identify!

If you are like me, and possibly many other 1E / OSRIC gamers, you are using the Identify spell completely wrong! Part of my expectations for the spell came from my Commodore 64 days where most information regarding a magic item could be gleaned by either casting the spell when convenient, or paying a wizard school to cast it for you. Once cast *POOF* we knew all there was to know about our new magic item.

It turns out I have been handling this spell ALL wrong for many years now. Part of this may also be due to lazy DMing which also becomes a factor for many playing the game with magic items. First, let’s take a look at what the spell actually DOES in first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.


Identify (Divination)

  • Level: 1
  • Components: VSM
  • Range: 0
  • Casting time: 1 turn
  • Duration: 1 Segment/level
  • Saving Throw: None
  • Area affect: 80 sq feet/level

Explanation/Desc (edited): When an Identify is cast, one item may be touched and handled by the magic user in order to possibly find whatever dweomer it possess. The item MUST be held or worn as would be normal for any such object. Note that any consequences of this use of the item fall fully upon the magic user, although any saving throws are still the privilege of the magic user. For each segment that the spell is in force, it is 15% + 5% per level of the magic user that ONE property of the object touched can become known. Possibly that the item has no properties and is merely a ruse (Nystul’s magic aura or magic mouth being detected).

Each time a property can be known, the DM will secretly roll to see if the magic user made their saving throw vs magic. If the save is successful, the property is know; if it is 1 point short, a false power is revealed; and if it is lower than 1 under the required score, no information is gained.

The item will never reveal it’s exact pluses to hit or damage bonuses or penalties. Although it will reveal that it has few or many of such rewards. If it has charges, it will never reveal how many, but will give information that is +/- 25% of actual.

The item to be identified must be examined by the magic user within one hour per level of experience of the examiner after it has been discovered, or all readable impressions have been blended into the party that has possessed it.

After casting the spell, the magic user loses 8 points of Constitution. They must rest for 6 turns per 1 point to regain. If the caster falls below a 3 Constitution, they fall unconscious and will not regain consciousness until fully healed 24 hours later.

Spell components are a pearl of at least 100 GP value, an owl feather steeped in wine. With the infusion drunk and a LIVE miniature carp swallowed whole prior to spell casting. (Crushing and infusing a luckstone gains +25% And +4 on saves)

Ok first off – Wow!

The magic user has to put their life on the line. They may become cursed by a foul item since they need to don it as intended. They will take an 8 point con hit, and only have a 15% + 5% / level /segment handled chance of identifying one aspect of the item, which even still – is not completely clear.
What’s more, it didn’t stick in my memory that one had to swallow a live carp before casting! Who has a live carp in their pocket in a dungeon?

OSRIC is a little more forgiving. In the OSRIC rules the DM May opt, for convenience, to relay the pluses of to-hit and damage. They also did away with the live carp, keeping only the 100 gp pearl. The results are no more reliable though, and the loss of 8 con is still a challenge. OSRIC also let’s the wizard get away without dropping unconscious for 24 hours at 3 CON.

As a DM and a player, I have been allowing this spell to be WAY too powerful. Even with an identify, the mysticism of an item remains in tact. I like that idea…. the book keeping sounds like a nightmare.

The problems as I see it, is how to handle magic items. Not knowing the details of an item truly places a burden on the DM. The player’s do not have access to the exact pluses or penalties of their magic items, armor, weapons, rods, staves, wands…. They know little of any mechanic information. Now it is up to the DM to have a list of all magic items the party has and how they affect all of their rolls.

When a player says, ” I am using my magic armor and this magic sword, with this magic ring….. I roll a 12 – I hit AC 5″

The DM now has to reference all the magic items on the list, do the math for the character and find out that they actually hit AC3 (Or whatever). Then when the monster attacks, he rolls a 15 and hits AC 5… but wait, that’s a ring of protection +1, chain +2…. so the character doesn’t even know their actual AC when asked by the DM. This could potentially create a mess! The DM will need to have a completely different set of stats for each character different from the character’s sheet. It also forces the DM into far more adjustments to add to the already heavy job of DMing. Personally, I would have no interest in trying to maintain this chaos of a higher level party who have no information on their own equipment. Their character sheets become completely inaccurate!

It’s no wonder this spell got house-ruled so many times! Do all you DMs keep player character notes and adjustments behind the screens or do you let the players know what their equipment is?

Here at Fail Squad Games, we don’t want to complain, we want to seek a solution. So here is what will be making an appearance at future games.

Advanced Identify (Divination)

  • Level: 3
  • Components: VSM
  • Range: 0
  • Casting time: 1 turn
  • Duration: 1 Segment/level
  • Saving Throw: None
  • Area affect: 80 sq feet/level

The material component is 3 pearls of at least 300 GP value total, an owl feather or eye steeped in 8 oz of wine and drank. The same handling requirements are in place putting the caster at risk, however they save at +2 vs ill effects. A similar, but weaker constitution hit applies (-6). The same 15% +5% /level / segment chance applies. The PLAYER rolls the save vs magic. A successful save reveals one specific about the item, a failed save reveals nothing. Time remains of the essence as the original spell (1 hr per level of discovery)
The specific mechanics of an item aren’t known to characters, but players WILL be given this information. Meaning, that when one character talks to another, they cannot relay, “This is a +2” but can relay it has benefits.

Do you have another solution or alternative that you use at your table for identifying magic items? Post them in the comments

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