"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why B/X Is My Favorite #19

Page B47:
"IDENTIFYING MAGIC ITEMS: A character can only identify the exact type of item by testing it (trying on a ring, sipping the potion, etc.)."

B/X doesn't have an Identify spell (which makes a nice gap for a magic-user to research a new spell). Sure a magic-user or cleric can cast Detect Magic but that even just ups the tension and suspense. Should you try the new magical chainmail you found? What does it do? Sure it might be chainmail +3 but it also might be cursed chainmail AC9... a BIG difference!

I think that one of the reasons why magic items have lost the "magic" in recent editions is it is either too easy to identify a magic item without risk or, even worse, players are just told what a magic item does up front.


  1. I'll drink to that. Divination spells really have to be handled carefully to make the game more and not less fun. Legend lore yes, level 1 Identify no.

  2. I hate, hate, hate the way the New Edition does magic items.

  3. I don't think Identify causes so much trouble. Mainly because in my game, you need to choose which areas of spellcasting you'll use, so not everyone has access to Identify. The player with Identify is sometimes not present. Just yesterday in our last game session, the party found a ring and a girdle they thought might be magical, so they started trying them on.

    A secondary consideration is that a cursed item may not show its curse immediately. Perhaps it functions as some other beneficial item for some time, then upon certain conditions (deadly combat, upon the wearer dropping to half HP) the beneficial effects end and the curse begins.

    Some cursed items may have beneficial effects. These items, even though everything may be known about them, are not so easy to handle. You have to decide if the benefit is worth the drawbacks. Those items tend to be very interesting to me.

    An idea I had a while back was to give the M-U the name of the item when he Identified it. He would then have to research what that item did, using his own accumulated library or asking help from someone else. This allows you to have common or rare items, with common items easier to find info about and rare items the reverse. Unique items may have little or no information recorded about them. And it still encourages experimentation.

    The referee should, in any case, be prepared to describe any obvious effects of a magic item. The hint need not be too strong, but it should be obvious in retrospect when the item has been fully identified. But beware players wasting a lot of time experimenting while everyone gets bored with it. And beware the players who hand you a list of experiments to be done upon every item. While clever, and time-saving, this amounts to a poor-man's Identify spell.

    Of course it still doesn't save them from cursed items ...

  4. Ah, legend lore! I remember the days were we had to spend several sessions trying to identify an item. We actually had great fun consulting with sages, searching out obscure texts, and so on.

  5. I had much grumbling in my 3rd ed campaign, and it would have gone away without Identify. Hmmm.

  6. In my game I don't tell players what the powers of an item are during a session without experimentation, but after a session I spill the beans. For practical reasons: I've got a large pool of players and its easy for magic items, treasure, or xp to be forgotten in between sessions. I let them know what's what (if they make it back to town, that is) so we don't lose it.

    One of my co-DMs in the sandbox doesn't do that, and we currently have a missing Rope of Climbing as a result. :)