[RPG] What’s an efficient way to handle magical item identification?



I'm running an Eberron (read: "industrialized magic") campaign under the Pathfinder rule system. They have a (semi-GM) PC who is a warforged artificer, which at their APL of 8 means the party is really good at identifying nearly all magical items I send their way. This issue has come up before, but they're about to encounter a large number of treasure troves, and we have little time to spare. As much fun as it is, we don't have time to experiment to identify each and every magical item.


I could describe the items and let my players decide what they want to identify, but they generally want to know what each and every item is. In that case, they'd need to identify each item, but takes more time than it is often worth.

What's a time-efficient way to handle multiple magical item identification?

  1. I could have them manually identify each and every object with a magical aura. This is slow, but it gives the artificer usefulness and does not give any hints about what is an ordinary magical item vs. a "special" magical item.
  2. I could just tell them what the items are. This is fast, but somewhat nerfs the artificer's abilities.
  3. I could have them automatically identify "ordinary" magical items (perhaps stuff that they would have likely seen in magical shops?), but make them identify new items manually. This seems like the best option, but it requires drawing a line between ordinary and special magical items.
  4. I could have them make a single check to identify everything. That check applies to all items.
  5. Other???

Note about Taking 10 (or 20):

Many people have suggested something about taking 10 to identify items. This made me ask the following question: Can a character take 10 or 20 on a Spellcraft check to identify magical items?

Best Answer

By this level, in Eberron, the whole identify minigame is getting really old. Special items (artifacts, maybe some cursed items) might pose special challenges that are interesting, but random loot isn’t.

Magic Item Compendium to the rescue! This is a 3.5 book, but it’s a great one, well worth using in Pathfinder (and by-and-large, its items don’t really need much in the way of porting). In particular, within its pages you will find the artificer’s monocle, which can be combined either with a check from the artificer’s artificer knowledge class feature or with a casting of detect magic and 5 ranks (2 in PF) in Knowledge (arcana) to identify a magic item as with the identify spell. It costs 1,500 gp, and the identification process takes 1 minute.

So in your Pathfinder game, just allow the warforged artificer to find/buy/acquire/otherwise have such an item. Since it’s a GMPC, you don’t even really need Magic Item Compendium for this: it’s not really necessary to track the GMPC’s wealth or worry about item slots or whatever. This will allow the party to just spend a minute per item to identify all of them. And, of course, your special items that you wan to get more attention, you can always just rule as immune to identify for whatever reason.

I use these all the time, and strongly recommend them to every group. Personally, I find very little of interest in the identify minigame to begin with, but by 8th-level in Eberron it is particularly unnecessary. In fact, if a minute/item is still too slow, I would feel it more than reasonable to consider an 8th-level artificer or spellcaster capable of speeding up the process, and make it a round per item, or a minute to identify a whole pile of items, or whatever.