All the way back in April, I declared that I was fed up with the way magic items are identified in Pathfinder. Furthermore, I said that I was going to fix it. I’ve been lazy, but I’m going to work on not being lazy anymore. So lets get to work. Forgive me if this post is a little more brusk than my writing normally is.
There are two steps to identifying a magical item. The first step is to determine whether the item is magical at all. In some cases this may be obvious, such as in the case of a glowing sword. But not every magical item will be obviously magical. And some items which seem as though they should be magical might not be. A jewel encrusted shield might just be a fragile display piece, good for selling, but not for using. Once it has been determined that an item is magical, the second step is to figure out what the item actually does, and how a character can make the item do that thing. Depending on how the game works, a +1 mace might always be a little more accurate and deal a little more damage, but something less obvious could require some know-how in order to use. Such as an activation word for a wand.
Before I go further, I’d like to review precisely how Pathfinder’s item identification works according to the core rule book. That way we’re clear on where we’re starting from. Relevant parts of the system are described in a number of places. First, from the “Spellcraft” skill description.
“This skill is also used to identify the properties of magic items in your possession through the use of spells such as detect magic and identify.“, “Attempting to ascertain the properties of a magic item takes 3 rounds per item to be identified and you must be able to thoroughly examine the object”, “When using detect magic or Identify to learn the properties of magic items, you can only attempt to ascertain the properties of an individual item once per day. Additional attempts reveal the same result.”, “Identify the properties of a magic item using detect magic: 15 + item’s caster level.”
The spell description for Detect Magiccan be found on page 267 of the PFCRB, but essentially all the spell allows you to do is identify that magic auras are present, and help you determine the school of said aura, and which specific items or persons they are emanating from. The spellcraft skill can then be used as described above (DC 15 + item’s caster level) to determine the item’s specific use and activation word, etc. The spell description for Identify can be found on page 299 of the PFCRB, but it pretty much only says “+10 to spellcraft checks made to identify magic items.”
I don’t like this system because:
- I hate it when spells are neutered so that they can fit within the broken skills system. Identify should not be a +10 to your identification ability.
- I don’t see the point in having a failure chance for identifying magical items. At least not a completely random failure chance. It could be interesting to construct the rules so that players could miss magical items through poor play.
- I’ve recorded game sessions in the past. I like to listen to them and judge what works and what doesn’t as an outside observer. Here’s what the discovery of a magic item sounds like:
ME: You find 100 gold pieces and a sword with a silver blade and a dragon’s head carved into the wooden handle.
Players: Check to see if it’s magical.
Sorcerer/Wizard/Whatever: I roll to see if it’s magical.
[Success]Me: It is a +2 sword.
[Success]Players: Yay! Who needs it?
[Failure]Me: It does not appear to be magical to you.
[Failure]Players: It was a low roll. Lets keep it and try again tomorrow!
This conversation is boring. It is pointless. And it is a waste of everyone’s time.
Here is my proposal for Pathfinder magic item identification. I haven’t playtested this yet, but I’ll implementing it in my game, and hopefully it will be an improvement over the way the system currently works.
Magic Users–Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, etc.–can identify whether an item is or is not magical by focusing on it for about five minutes. Characters who cannot cast spells are unable to do this. If the party does not wish to spend the time necessary to determine whether an item is magical, the spell Detect Magic can be used to immediately identify all magical items within the caster’s field of vision. When using this spell, the items will glow a particular color, corresponding to the school of magic which the item is most strongly associated with. Only the caster is able to see these auras, and they do not provide any more information than the fact that the item is magical, and what school it is associated with.
Each magical item in Pathfinder has a “Caster Level.” If the caster level of an item is equal to or lower than the caster level of a magic user, then that magic user may determine the item’s function and method of activation by studying it for 5 minutes. If the players do not wish to spend this amount of time, or if the items in question are too high level to be identified, then the caster may use the Identify spell. This spell must be cast individually for each item which needs to be identified, but works instantaneously. Also, using the Identify spell, a caster may determine the properties of a magic item up to 3 caster levels above their own.
If no magic user is available, or if an item is too high level to be identified by the party’s magic user, then the party may seek out and consult a sage. Sages are very learned, and often have magical powers of their own to call upon. For a fee (200gp * Item’s Caster Level) the Sage will identify it for the party. It will require at least one week’s worth of time. For particularly powerful magic items, or artifacts, the sage may require additional funds and time, or may be entirely unable to identify the item at all. In that case, the sage would likely know of another sage which the party could consult, and offer them at least a partial refund.
What do you think? I’m open to criticism here.