Identifying Magic Items

I’m a bit confused by exactly how magic items can and should be identified. I realize that a million years ago, this stuff was simple, but long have I grown fat and lazy on the use of the Identify and Analyze spells and now I just can’t quite figure out how it works.

This is what the text says, “Sages and other characters proicient in Magical
Engineering or Loremastery can identify common or famous
magical items simply through their knowledge of such things.
Potions may be identiied by sipping them, or by consulting an
alchemist. Otherwise, an arcane spellcaster of 9th level or greater
can identify a magic item using Magic Research.”

So, a character discovers a magic sword. They swing it around and notice it chops a bit better. Is that enough to tell them it is +1? Does Magical Engineering recognize the runes or whatnot on it to figure it out? “This is the ancient draconic script for ‘pluswhun’.”

Ditto with a suit of armor (though that is easier thanks to the weight…kind of gives it away)? Do you punch them a few times and figure out, huh, this hurts less than it ought to?

Ring of Protection?

Helm of Comprehend Languages? I mean, obviously if you put it on, you would figure it out eventually…but what if you wanted to ID it before you put it on?

Wand/Staff of Anything… how do you get the command word and charges if they aren’t written on it? I assume Magical Engineering and Loremastery are not sufficient (unless that particular wand was used in some famous incident or something).

I know the book mentions that you can take them to a wizard to get them identified… how much does that cost and how long does it take?

My players are the type who have long since learned you never use/wear any item you don’t get identified first, which is fine, but I would like some hard rules on how to do this, how long it takes, and how much it costs.

If I employ a sage at 500gp a month, does that include all the magic items I bring to him for identification? Or is it a single job? If a mage is hired to research it, how long and how much does it cost?

This is what I’ve told my players, specifically regarding a sword they found:

There is a Detect Magic Spell, but there is no ‘Identify’ spell.

If you believe it is magical, there are a few options:

  • Trial and Error (a few swings will not be enough, you’ll have to use it in combat and see if it ‘makes a difference’ (by which I mean - if it’s the +6 sword of your dreams, you’ll only be able to tell if you need a 16 to hit and you roll a normally modified roll of 10). This could take a while, as if you successfully land a blow without any magical bonuses, then it won’t make any difference. Make sense?

  • Find a sage or other wise person with either Magical Engineering or Loremastery proficiencies. Loremastery will give you an idea of the History and Story of the item, but not necessarily what it can do (though it should provide an idea). Magical Engineering can tell you basically what it does, but less or none of the history around it. It also can’t tell you if the item is cursed, tell you the exact +1’s, number of charges, command words, etc…

  • Find a 9th+ level wizard who can do Magical Research to identify it for you. This will take a) money (1000gp) b) time (2 weeks) and c) a dice roll on the aprt of the wizard. Oh, and D) a friendly wizard, of course… :slight_smile:

A sage is fine if it’s a ‘common’ magical item, but you’d need the Wizard to identify it if it’s a rare or unique item. There is said to be a powerful wizard among the luminaries of the Imperial Expedition… but whether you can swing a visit is another matter entirely.

Of course, this all assumes it’s magical :wink:

Ok, thanks for that.

Seems like a lot of book keeping and effort on the GM’s part to hold onto those details in secret for a long time. Don’t you get tired of the PCs saying, my AC is 5, oh, plus that ring and my chain is magic remember?

Same with their swords.

Don’t get me wrong, I like magic to be mysterious (back when I first ran the campaign set in this world, I never told players any magic item details at all). But a) the only dice they rolled were the attack and save d20s and b)I rolled damage and even kept their HP and damage secret…very immersive but a lot of details I had to keep track of.

Just running B2, and a couple of 1st-3rd modules, they’ve come across at least 6 magic weapons, 2 suits of magic armor, a ring of prot, a cloak of prot, and a few random items.

Me keeping track of all those random details seems like a lot of wasted time.

I think I might just let Magical Engineering tell the ‘+’ just based on the amount of enchantment that would have gone into it.

It might turn out that way, but so far they’ve only found one item that might be magical. I might well live to regret it! :smiley:

As James noted:

*Loremastery can identify the general powers of a famous item
*Magical Engineering can identify the general powers of a common item; it cannot reveal number of charges, magical bonus, or curses
*A high-level mage can spend 2 weeks and 1,000gp to identify a magic item through magical research

In addition:
*Alchemy can identify the type of potion

So a few designer's notes...

*One of the prevailing sentiments of many old-school players is their frustration with the mundanity of "just another +1 sword." Some of this perceived mundanity vanishes if you don't immediately tell the players that "it's a +1 sword". Keeping magic items mysterious for as long as possible is, IMO, a good thing.

*For magic weapons and armor specifically, I will identify the specific bonus of the item for the player when it makes the difference in an actual fight. For example, if the extra point means a hit instead of a miss, a kill instead of a wound, etc., then I reveal the plus. This has been a good balance point between "instant reveal" and "never reveal" in my experience.

*As I've said elsewhere, the high cost and time required to identify magic items serves as an obstacle to a trade in magic items by imposing very high transaction costs (the 1,000gp to research, on each side if they are paranoid). I feel a trade in magic items is largely undesirable for ACKS-like games: The magic items should be "out there", in the dungeon, not for sale at the bazaar.  Also, the cost of identifying magic items is a valuable money sink.

It doesn't unbalance the game to identify items in other ways, per se, but it may have wierd implications on the existence of the market for magic items.



Hmmm…ok. Fair enough.

While agree and don’t really want a magic item ‘market’ per se (maybe barring potions and scrolls, since any 5th level caster can make them), I’m not sure I want to try and remember which weapon has what plus, or who has what magic armor.

I’m also a bit surprised for the poor wizards who want to use those wands they find at low levels… it’ll be ages before they can afford to have one identified for use.

How much does it cost to get that wizard to do the identification? obviously it costs more than 1000gp, so what is the cost for their time and effort?

Do you have players running around with wands for several levels before they figure out how to use them?

In a perfect world, I would run this game much as I did my original campaign, with everyone’s stats on cards and me keeping all the mechanical details hidden from them for immersion purposes. But the party is too large with all the hirelings and I don’t think this group has the right temperament for that sort of thing.

And I’m a bit lazy, I’ll admit. :wink: