Wednesday 4 October 2023

Macho Mandalf's Greater Identify


The traditional level 1 spell, Identify, has a major limitation not often actually imposed by DMs:

"The item to be identified must be examined by the magic-user within 1 hour per level of experience of the examiner after it has been discovered, or all readable impressions will have been blended into those of the characters who have possessed it since"

Essentially, unless you can cast Identify in the dungeon, or you can return to a town with a magic-user who knows this spell - and the means to pay him to use it - within a few hours, it is of no use. Without Identify, you are left with expensive enquiries to Sages or Bards, or simple trial and error.

This is such a huge mismatch between expectation and reality that I wonder if it is by design, and that Gygax expected player characters to research an improved version of this spell. (I actually did this research last year but forgot to blog it)

Macho Mandalf's Greater Identify (Divination)

Level: 3                                     Components: V, S, M
Range: 0                                    Casting Time: 3 turns
Duration: 3 segments per level Saving Throw: Special
Area of Effect: Once Item

Explanation/Description: When a Greater identify spell is cast, one item may be touched and handled by the magic-user in order that he may possibly find what dweomer it possesses. The item in question must be held or worn as would be normal for any such object, i.e. a bracelet must be placed on the spell caster’s wrist, a helm on his or her head, boots on the feet, a cloak worn, a dagger held, and so on. Note that any consequences of this use of the item fall fully upon the magic-user, although any saving throw normally allowed is still the privilege of the magic-user; and this more powerful spell adds an additional +2 to such rolls. For each segment the spell is in force, it is 30% + 10% per level of the magic-user probable that 1 property of the object touched can become known — possibly that the item has no properties and is merely a ruse (the presence of Nystul’s magic aura or a magic mouth being detected). Each time a property can be known, the referee will secretly roll to see if the magic-user made his or her saving throw versus magic (again with a +2 bonus). If the save was successful, the property is known; if it is 1 point short, a false power will be revealed; and if it is lower than 1 under the required score no information will be gained. 

The item will never reveal its exact plusses to hit or its damage bonuses, although the fact that it has few or many such plusses can be discovered. If it has charges, the object will never reveal the exact number, but it will give information which is +/-10% of actual, i.e. a wand with 40 charges could feel as if it had 36, or 44, or any number in between. The item to be identified must be examined by the magic-user within 1 day per level of experience of the examiner after it has been discovered, or all readable impressions will have been blended into those of the characters who have possessed it since. After casting the spell and determining what can be learned from it, the magic-user loses 6 points of constitution. He or she must rest for 4 turns per 1 point in order to regain them. If the 6 point loss drops the spell caster below a constitution of 3, he or she will fall unconscious, and consciousness will not be regained until full constitution is restored 24 hours later. The material components of this spell are a pearl (of at least 300 g.p. value) and an owl feather steeped in wine, with the infusion drunk and a live large miniature carp swallowed whole prior to spell casting. If a luckstone is powdered and added to the infusion, probability increases 25% and all saving throws are made at +6.

So, what did all this cost?

Dungeon Masters Guide Page 115, Spell Research                                       Greater Identify

For this spell the Minas Mandalf University Library was used for reference, so that all may benefit. 

Duration of research: 3 Week base (minimum 4)

Chance of Success
: 10(base) +18 (Int) +12 (level) -6 (spell level *2) = 34%

Note that according to the DMG formula, adjusting the chance of success upwards is VERY expensive. A domain would need to be at least an order of magnitude more wealthy to consider such spending.

However, when you consider the conditions under which spell research is possible, the cost in time may well be a bigger loss; if you have the money then finishing the spell research ASAP could indeed be worth it.


Base cost 600gp per week.

Weekly variable of 300 to 1200gp for additional materials.

Duration of research: 3 Week base (with a minimum of 4)

After success on the seventh week, the total expenditure ended up at 8700gp. (we'll need to charge a lot of adventurers to recoup the research costs on this one)

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