Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Identifying magic items in AD&D 1st edition

My gamers and I were talking about 1st edition AD&D this weekend.

It made me think about magic item identification.

I know how we played it, basically:

- potions could be sipped and you'd find out what they do. If it was bad, that happened to you. If it was good, it was just identified.

- scrolls could be checked out by the appropriate class, and if it was a non-spell scroll the classes that could use it could figure it out. I don't think Read Magic was useful unless a module specifically said you needed it somewhere. No one memorized it, anyway, because it wasn't Magic Missile or Sleep.

- everything else had to be tried out. Once you tried it under some actual conditions (point the wand and try it on a target, use the sword, etc.) it would reveal its full stats. Everyone knew what they were anyway, it was just knowing what this one was, not how they worked in the game. Full detail - the wand has 17 charges, the ring has two wishes, the sword is +4 vs. reptiles even though you only hit an orc with it, etc.

- nobody cast Identify, ever.

- I probably allowed people to find out in town what things did if they didn't want to try them.

But how much of that was correct?

Turns out, I wasn't far off.


"As a general rule they should bear no identifying marks, so that the players must sample from each container in order to determine the nature of the liquid. However, even a small taste should suffice to identify a potion in some way - even if just a slight urge." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 125

I can't find anything about full effects from bad stuff. GURPS does that, I could be remembering backwards. AD&D was my first language but I've spoken GURPS longer.


Turns out, yeah, you do need Read Magic. It's totally clear that's the case, but like I said, we didn't play that way.

"Each scroll is written in its own magical cypher, so to understand what sort of scroll has been found the ability to read magic must be available. Once a scroll is read to determine its contents, a read magic will not be needed at a subsequent time to invoke the magic. Note that even a map will appear magical until the proper spell is used. Reading a scroll to find its contents does not invoke its magic unless it is a specially triggered curse. The latter scroll appears to be a scroll of any sort. It radiates no evil or special aura beyond the magical." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 127

Even maps? Come on, man. That's just being harsh over being logical.


"The ring must be put on and various things tried in order to find what it does. This requires patience on your part, but the game demands it." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 129

Ah, the fun of putting on a ring and asking, am I invisible? Let me jump up and see if it's a ring of flying, let me wish for something and see if I get it, let me try to command your horse and see if it's mammal control. No wonder we skipped ahead to finding out what it does, even though "the game demands it."

Rods, et al

The user isn't necessarily aware of the number of charges. Ah, the fun of using up the last fireball, and the fun of the DM needing to track everything.

That can be fun, I'll admit, but it's also GM workload, which I like to lighten.

Miscellaneous Magic Items

"Use care in revealing information regarding any item found by players. Describe an item only in the most general of terms, viz. wood, metal, cloth, leather, etc. Allow player questions to simulate visual and tactile examination. A cloak appears as a cloth object - only examination will reveal its form and probable nature. Likewise, do not simply blurt out the properties and powers of an item. It must be held, or worn, or whatever; and experiment and experience are the best determinators of magical qualities if some other means is not available (a bard, sage, commune spell, etc.)." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 136

Pretty much, use it and try stuff. But even more harsh! You're not even supposed to say, "You find a cloak." It's, "you find a cloth object." If they examine it you can reveal its form and probably nature. "It's a cloth item with a gather at one end and a hood-like attachment. It's possibly a cloak of some kind." Heh. Cut to my players knifing me when I start saying, "It's a metal object" when they find a sword.

Bard instruments are easily identifiable, maybe, as "Each and every instrument looks exactly alike due to powerful dweomers placed upon them." I wonder if that means they look like each other even though they aren't all the same instrument, or every Mac-Fuirmidh Cittern looks like another.

It never really says how you identify weapons or armor - presumably just as we did, which means put it on and start using it. There is a line about unknown properties, so presumably you conceal anything they can't see until it's revealed.

Of course, there are other ways to identify things, such as the Identify spell. Too bad it's unreliable and it messes you up for hours. I won't even quote the whole thing here. Suffice it to say that you lose 8 CON for using it, recoverable by rest, it only has a % chance of success, curses are even more concealed, you can't identify exact numbers of charges, and you have to make a saving throw-based roll for details on the item. Geez. But hey, if you powder a Luckstone you can get a +25%/+4 on it. Who ever did that? No wonder no one cast it. It's a wall of text that basically says, don't try this at home.

Sages can identify things, maybe (given sufficient time, money, and expertise), and Commune spells have a shot, too.

So I wasn't terribly far off, I was just not messing around with the actual "use it and find out" requiring "play out the using it." Just put on the Ring of Regeneration and start healing when you're hurt, swat the orc with the Axe +1 and find out it's +1, etc. Take your chances that it's a Cursed Berserker sword or a Ring of Delusion. And none of this "cloth object" stuff. Come on, it's a cloak! Tell them it's a cloak! Even if you make them put it on and jump around to see if it's a Cloak of the Manta Ray tell them it's a cloak.

Heh. No wonder I've had to unlearn so much in terms of attitude. I read the DMG young . . .


  1. If we find two potions at the same time, I'm going to insist that the group let me quaff both at once, because the Potion Miscibility table (DMG, p. 119) is simply too fun to not use.

    1. Heh. I need to GURPSify that so we don't get some many "drink down all seven of my buff potions" stuff in game. I know you'll do it anyway, but that's what kind of Druid Quenton is.

    2. The potion miscibility table is possibly the best AD&D table.

    3. It's AD&D in a nutshell. Trying to do something interesting? Roll on a sub-table to see how badly the DM is supposed to punish you. 1% chance of something good, 99% of nothing or something bad.

  2. Read Magic has always struck me as something that should have been a class skill or something for magic-abusers. If the spell is one you can cast, make an Int check to see if you can cast it. If you succeed, you can cast it. If you don't, it's a mishap. If it's a spell you can't cast, nothing happens.

    1. The way I see things with mages, they have higher XP requirements to get to the next level (until 3e gave everyone the same 1,000 XP). Little things to increase survivability at low levels that don't get out of hand at high levels go a ways to keeping a wizard from being a walking one-use-a-day magic item.

    2. Letting Magic-Users read scrolls, spellbooks, etc. with a spell didn't really cause any issues in my games that I can recall.

    3. With a spell? I thought you were letting them do it without a spell.

  3. I think illusionists could figure out their own scrolls without read nagic, or was that read illusory script?

    1. I think that's true, since they lack Read Magic, but I don't know where that is spelled out.

    2. There was a Read Illusionist Magic spell in Unearthed Arcana.


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