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D&D General The Original Reason for Spell Components: Balancing Bad Jokes


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Parmandur

Book-Friend
Both the goldfish swallowing fad and Cleopatra's pearl dissolved in wine have origins in "eating weird things to win a bet". Why that relates to Identify in particular, I don't get.
It wouldn't surprise me if it turns out to be sime deep cuts from pulp fantasy that tickled Gygax's fancy.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Still on the swallowing a goldfish thing...
It occurs to me: isn't there an old wives' tale that eating fish makes you smarter? I vaguely recall being told as a kid. (Google's not proving terribly helpful right now, though.)
I also wonder if whatever Gygax was thinking shares an origin with the babel fish in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I understand the babel/babble play, but... why a fish?
 



Richards

Legend
Might be from Lovecraft/Merritt, both of whom referenced certain vibrations that could open portals to other realms. It was kind of a psuedo-science thing in the 1920s.
That was a plot point in the movie Phantasm, but it came out in 1979 so it and D&D's plane shift spell would likely both be basing the concept on the same earlier beliefs.

Johnathan
 

Richards

Legend
Also, one of the books in Mongoose Publishing's Encyclopaedia Arcane line dealt with material components and it used the term "mythic resonance" to describe the puns Gary liked to sprinkle into his spells. I always thought that was a cool approach to make some logical sense of his nonsense.

Johnathan
 

Milieu

Explorer
Water breathing: the material component of the spell is a short reed or piece of straw.
A snorkel.

Enchanted Weapon: The material components of this spell are powdered lime and carbon.
Whitewash.

Fumble: The material component for this spell is a dab of solidified milk fat.
Butterfingers.

Airy water: The material component of the spell is a small handful of alkaline or bromine salts.
Mixing alkaline salts and water gives you carbonated water. (Not sure about the bromine.)

Part Water: Except as shown above, and also that the material components for this spell are two small sheets of crystal or glass, this spell is the same as the sixth level cleric spell
When the magic user casts it, it's an illusion using glass to hold back the water.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I genuinely don't know, and I've puzzled over that one for a LONG time.

To begin with, Identify as a whole is one of the most FUBAR spells in all of 1e; seriously, it's like Gygax finished it, and was like... naw, let's make it even MOAR GYGAX.

It's got everything.

Dense, nearly impenetrable verbiage? Check!
Does it take forever and then some to cast? You betcha! (ONE TURN!)
Does it have a labyrinthine number of conditions? I can't even count them all!
Does casting this first level spell lead to terrible things happening, up to and including the death of the caster? YOU DON'T SAY!
Does it have the possibility of destroying the object that you actually want to identify? Why not????
Do you need to spend a ton of money just to cast this useless spell? SURE!

Heck, let's just humiliate the caster by making them do some gross stuff with material components, too! THUS SPAKETH THE GYGAX.

For the record-

The material components of this spell are a pearl (of at least 100 g.p. value) and an owl feather steeped in wine, with the infusion drunk and a live miniature carp swallowed whole prior to spell casting.


So, here's what I've got. Owls are wise. Okay.
The pearl in wine bit? That's from Cleopatra. Sure.
Miniature carp? Eh .... got me.
I'm fairly certain that @DammitVictor has the right of this one; a miniature carp is essentially another way to describe a goldfish, and this seems to harken back to the goldfish swallowing craze of the late 1930s. Why it's associated with identifying magic items I'm not sure, but I suspect it might have something to do with it supposedly having begun at Harvard, i.e. the "best" college...so presumably it's an implication about being smart (enough to figure out what the magic item does)?
 

Autumnal

Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
I've always wondered about the tuning fork of the Plane Shift spell. I assume it's meant to evoke tuning to the specific frequency of the desired plane of existence, but I can't figure out what real world reference that might come from. Was there some New Age-y thing going on at the time, or some big physics story that hit mainstream news? Seems like it should be obvious, but I'm at a loss.
Flash comic books of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I believe. The Flash did a lot of bopping mg around to exotic dimensions and later to parallel universes with super-speed vibrations. Anything with an air of resonances about it could show up in such stories, very much including tuning forks.
 

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