Monday, December 27, 2010

Identifying Magic Items

I'd like to develop a better method of identifying magic items for my players.

Assuming a player doesn't want to test a thing (sword, potion, wand, etc) out in combat, I normally charge them a hefty 100gp or the services of a magic-user or cleric.

I'd like to give players at least some opportunity to occasionally figure things out on their own.

What do you do in your games? Alternatively, have you come across a good method elsewhere?


  1. I think there's a feat in either Complete Mage or Complete Arcane that allows you to discern the properties of magic items with a successful check. Potions have set spellcraft DC to identify (or you could give every potion a specific colour and/or taste to reward note taking, occasionally throwing them off with potions that look/taste similar).

  2. Hello! I'm not a regular reader of your blog, but I was passing through, and since you asked for suggestions...

    Any Mage (or Cleric) in the party could use the Detect Magic spell to "probe" the information out. If there isn't a Mage or Cleric in the party, have scrolls with Detect Magic readable by any class for sale in town. That way, you can set the difficulty to discover information about an item however you like.

    One example would be to say that a mage cannot understand the aura of any spell above a level he could cast; so if an item has a magical effect similar to a 3rd level spell (like a wand of fire balls), the mage would have to be 5th level (or whatever level is needed to cast 3rd level spells) in order to understand the aura. For other items, like weapons or armor, the character would have to be one level higher than the total of the item's effects to decipher the item. A +1 sword would require a 2nd level character, a +2 requires a 3rd level character, etc. A +1 Flame Tongue sword would require a 4th level character to figure it out, if you count the +1, the fire damage, and giving light like a torch each as a separate effect.

    Or, maybe he could understand the whole item at once if he makes an intelligence check of some sort. Roll a d20, add his Intelligence bonus, and see if it is greater than twice the spell level of the magical effect or total of the item's effects. Or greater than the spell level of the effect +5 for a minor item/effect, +7 for a major item/effect, and +10 for an artifact.

    Of course, cursed items shouldn't be found out so easily, so that would be a +10 to the difficulty. Or maybe the base difficulty for detecting the curse on an item is 18. Either way, just don't tell your player the target before they roll, so you can fib about the results as needed. Well, you don't necessarily have to fib. "The room looks trap free to you." will forever be my favorite line from my DM back in high school.

    Or maybe there is no check, but you have them roll a 1d4 or 1d6-1 or something, and the number that comes up is the number of things about the item that they can learn.

    Or maybe you ignore the dice entirely, and have the player figure out a real-world minor puzzle, like an easy "sudoku", or a riddle. If he gets the puzzle done before everyone else is done buying things at the bazaar, then he knows everything about the item; if not, then he only learns a little bit, or nothing.

    Sorry this went on so long. Hope it got you thinking though. Have fun! :)

  3. In Errant, I removed detect magic as a spell and made it so that only the Scholar class could identify magical items as a class ability.

  4. DM-rolled Wisdom checks to tease the information out piece by piece? With a range of wrong answers for failed tests? With intervals between checks (and corrective tests) based on usage (or perhaps game-time study) of the object?

  5. For major magic items, it's a good chance for you to insert some of the Northern Reaches history into the game. Tell them they don't know what the new wand does, but it has the rune "teng" on it.

    Then they can find someone who knows runes, that can tell them they've never seen that rune as a maker's mark before, but he has an index of known spells that includes several by a wizard identified as "teng". His former manse is located several weeks hard travel to the south...