D&D 5E Trail and error item identifying

howandwhy99

Adventurer
There are all kinds of methods and I don't begrudge anyone wanting one over the other.

I like trial & error by the players engaging in the exploration of the magic item because... it never has to end.

Detect Magic notices an aura off your newly acquired rapier. It might even give off a relative radiance due to power level but the magic doesn't reveal the weapon's magical abilities. If anything, Identify does that. But I don't care for that spell so much (though not so much that I would deny it) Identify is like True Seeing. It ends the mystery. "What else can this sword do? Let's try it on a fire elemental" By removing the unknown and the possibility of learning something new we are dispensing with the mystery and thereby the magic.

Here's an anecdote from Diaglo's OD&D game. [sblock]We found a mug affixed to a shield that was being used as the standard for a gnoll tribe. They had named themselves after it, the "Raging Beer Swillers" or something or other. When we were safely in a town next, our wizard-type checked all of our accumulated loot for magic. The stein radiated an aura, so we tested it. Immediately we thought it was a "Mug of Everfull Beer" as we called out words for a command word. Beer just happened to be the first one the person holding it tried. But when we asked for more beer nothing happened, so we assumed it worked only 1/day.

A few sessions later one of us tried asking for a nice ale instead. And... lo and behold we received ale. The next day we asked for water and received water. Wow! This wasn't just an ever-full mug of beer. This kicked ass. So we began to try weird stuff and it began to happen that some of what we asked for did not appear. Later when we checked our packs for water one of us was low. We surmised that there must be a range limitation and that the container was actually summoning what we called for.

I don't know when we finally decided to use the item as a weapon, but I do remember we called for the "eye juice" of Lavinia, an horrible, ongoing villianess we tussled with a few times and lost a PC against. Calling for her vitreous humour (as it's called) we determined how far the summoning distance was (about 100 miles by our estimates from overland travel speeds and our overland map we made - we could really be wrong on this one). We also learned a lot about how the inner fluids of monsters worked by calling for different portions of those as well. Blood, of course, but also phlegm, black and yellow biles.

We laughed our asses off about blinding Lavinia until we realized that we did it multiple times (the mug only filled about a 1/2" each time) and she must be close to a cleric who could restore her or cast a powerful cure spell. After we figured that out we made it a regiment. We blinded that she-beast daily... or at least as often as we remembered too. Things get hectic when you're adventuring.

Then one time, completely out of the blue, we called for "Lavinia's eye juice" and nothing happened. However, moments later guess who shows up via teleport? Major boss battle on our home turf. Exciting and ultimately short (a few rounds), but we actually killed Lavinia because we pissed her off enough by using a magic item that had no immediate revealing as to how useful it could be. Our playing with it made it fun, sometimes boring, but always holding the promise of something new and useful for the creative minded.
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nightwalker450

First Post
My plan is for all items (except possibly wonderous items) to require attunement. And it won't always be 10 minutes. Some will take a few minutes, some hours, some days. During that time you would have to actually use the item. Many would require some event to come to pass to awaken the item as well.

If the item is random loot, than it should take some time to figure out what it is. If on the other hand you are gifted the item, well hopefully the person giving it to you will be able to tell you. Or if it was an item used by an enemy, you might want to question them about it, or look more through his belongings to see if there's any hints towards the item.

Once the item attunes, then its secrets will be revealed (but even then maybe only a small portion). Identify then would help in providing hints towards attunement, and general purpose of the item. I'd exclude attunement from wonderous items, since many are more utility in function.
 

Here's an anecdote from Diaglo's OD&D game. [sblock]We found a mug affixed to a shield that was being used as the standard for a gnoll tribe. They had named themselves after it, the "Raging Beer Swillers" or something or other. When we were safely in a town next, our wizard-type checked all of our accumulated loot for magic. The stein radiated an aura, so we tested it. Immediately we thought it was a "Mug of Everfull Beer" as we called out words for a command word. Beer just happened to be the first one the person holding it tried. But when we asked for more beer nothing happened, so we assumed it worked only 1/day.

A few sessions later one of us tried asking for a nice ale instead. And... lo and behold we received ale. The next day we asked for water and received water. Wow! This wasn't just an ever-full mug of beer. This kicked ass. So we began to try weird stuff and it began to happen that some of what we asked for did not appear. Later when we checked our packs for water one of us was low. We surmised that there must be a range limitation and that the container was actually summoning what we called for.

I don't know when we finally decided to use the item as a weapon, but I do remember we called for the "eye juice" of Lavinia, an horrible, ongoing villianess we tussled with a few times and lost a PC against. Calling for her vitreous humour (as it's called) we determined how far the summoning distance was (about 100 miles by our estimates from overland travel speeds and our overland map we made - we could really be wrong on this one). We also learned a lot about how the inner fluids of monsters worked by calling for different portions of those as well. Blood, of course, but also phlegm, black and yellow biles.

We laughed our asses off about blinding Lavinia until we realized that we did it multiple times (the mug only filled about a 1/2" each time) and she must be close to a cleric who could restore her or cast a powerful cure spell. After we figured that out we made it a regiment. We blinded that she-beast daily... or at least as often as we remembered too. Things get hectic when you're adventuring.

Then one time, completely out of the blue, we called for "Lavinia's eye juice" and nothing happened. However, moments later guess who shows up via teleport? Major boss battle on our home turf. Exciting and ultimately short (a few rounds), but we actually killed Lavinia because we pissed her off enough by using a magic item that had no immediate revealing as to how useful it could be. Our playing with it made it fun, sometimes boring, but always holding the promise of something new and useful for the creative minded.
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That's really cool.

For, like, one item in a campaign.

If we have to go through that for every item, though? Ech.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
That's really cool.

For, like, one item in a campaign.

If we have to go through that for every item, though? Ech.

No. And and the first thing I'm saying there is you or anyone else doesn't have to include magic item exploration like I do or at all.

In fact, if every magic item was as interesting as the Everfull Mug of Beer, it would be like every combat averaging 15 rounds or something. Sometimes there's just not that much to it. Sometimes there is. Sometimes you figure everything out very fast, even if it is a complex item or well matched combat. Sometimes you may never do so. I like that variety. Like combat, a conclusive success is not assured.
 

GreyICE

Banned
Banned
Yes, that's the gist of it. But it would be good to have a solution that steers back to fun and genre-relevence, as opposed to player/PC punishment.

As a DM, I guess I don't enjoy "we've found some treasure, now let's do chicken impressions" in the same way as I don't enjoy "lets pause the game for a 15 minute discussion of WoW and Monty Python". Both are fun things to pass the time, but neither are really playing the game I want to play.

Magic items with a little mystery are good for me. So is simply allowing game mechanic or automatic identification (in 4E I just give players the item cards after a Short Rest).

5E seems to like the mystery idea by default, which is cool. It was definitely a fun thing to do in the first few years of play. However, as a jaded player/DM of over 30 years, I'll forgo the mystery element if there's a good chance of it turning to farce.

The question from the OP could be phrased as - what approaches are there, other than the slightly ridiculous example in the playtest document, to keep some genre mystery around magic items, and still allow for serendipitous discovery of item powers?

Hmm.

My suggestion is to utilize the attunement process. When an item is initially given to the players, it has a power.

As it grows more and more attuned to the player, the players might discover new powers, or it may even gain new powers at is exposed to more of the player's experience and personality.

You could use a random chart, or just make DM fiat the rule.

That should preserve a lot of the mystery and wonder of magic items, without the sheer annoyance of "Okay, I swing my sword, I roll a 17, do I hit? Did I hit because it's a magic sword or the creature's AC is 17 or less?"
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
And what are the positives, exactly?

The players start to act more like how the DM wants, rather than in ways that they ENJOY?

This does not seem like a win.
This is getting pretty abstract, but acting however you like is kind of boring, at least it is to me. I can do that on my own time, I don't need a game or other players for that.

The advantage of the DM making judgement calls is that it's a very powerful and flexible way to handle unusual situations.

Anyway I like experimenting for magic items, and I think new players (I'm assuming D&D Next will have attract at least some new players) will enjoy it, so I like that it's presented as the default. I wouldn't mind a note saying that if you and your players would find it tedious, you can agree to remove that method from the game.
 

GreyICE

Banned
Banned
This is getting pretty abstract, but acting however you like is kind of boring, at least it is to me. I can do that on my own time, I don't need a game or other players for that.

The advantage of the DM making judgement calls is that it's a very powerful and flexible way to handle unusual situations.

Anyway I like experimenting for magic items, and I think new players (I'm assuming D&D Next will have attract at least some new players) will enjoy it, so I like that it's presented as the default. I wouldn't mind a note saying that if you and your players would find it tedious, you can agree to remove that method from the game.

But your judgment calls are as boring as "works" and "doesn't work?"

Why not "works" and "does something interesting and useful to the party that might also come with some risks?" Why not combine the two? "Works WITH a little something extra?" Works for me.

This entire idea that the DM exists to say "Yes you may" and "no you may not" does not seem like a solid set of judgment calls. I could get a computer to do that for me. "No, the quest designers didn't think of that solution, there's no dialogue option for it, it doesn't work."
 

ComradeGnull

First Post
I think trial and error working or not working in a campaign has a lot to do with the type of campaign:

In a sandboxy, dungeon crawl, open-ended campaign trial and error identification is fantastic. It gives PCs a reason to travel to another location to buy scrolls, spell components, or consult a sage. It gives them an opportunity to use utility spells that aren't often memorized because they don't typically become useful in combat situations. It provides some utility for things like the Bardic Knowledge ability, Ancient History skill/proficiencies, and leaves the door open for things like cursed items.

In a narrative, plot driven campaign, random identification is a pain in the ass because (due to ticking clocks and other plot mechanics) parties can rarely take the time to break off what they are doing and go ID something and probably don't want to wait until the 'end of the adventure' to get it ID'd (given that in real-world time, the end of the adventure might be weeks or months away). In a sandbox game, players have flexibility to pick when and where they want to branch out and go visit somewhere else, or if they want to spend an extra day camping out so the Wizard can prep Identify. In a plot driven campaign, that isn't going to work very well.

In an old school rules game where the power band between one level and the next is low and magic items aren't part of progression, hanging onto a potentially magical item but not yet ID'ing it is no hinderance at all. In a game like 4e where you need to acquire class-appropriate items in order to keep pace with the power curve, an unidentified magic weapon or armor is a handicap rather than a boon.

The solution: Decide what type of game you are playing, and base magic item identification on that. If you have an open-ended sandbox campaign where 'let's take a fieldtrip to visit Blugnor, the Sage of Wimplethurl' would be a nice jumping off point for a couple sessions of play, do it. If you're playing a narrative campaign where there are only hours to spare to rescue Princess Poor Life Choices from the Beige Beast of the Taupe Hills, or a 4e-style game where the expectation is that an 18th level Fighter has magic weapons, magic armor, and magic dentures appropriate to his level, let players identify magic items by just casting Detect Magic or by staring at them while humming or a ritual anyone can perform, or whatever.
 

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