I'm interested in D&D 5e but I will also accept answers from previous D&D versions as well as similar systems (e.g., Pathfinder 1e/2e).

Janathiel II, famous historian, cartographer, and the Grand Wizard of Whitescar is studying the ancient structures of Ær-Toril known as Rhas.

These are gigantic and ancient structures/areas that cannot possibly have been created by nature. For example, Rhas Nolh is an almost perfect mountain pass that spans more than 100 kilometres, Rhas Aldhaen is an ancient forest that does not age (i.e., each tree is forever the same), etc.

Janathiel II has a theory: All of the Rhas constructs were created approximately during the same time period/era possibly by a technologically/magically advanced civilization.

To test this theory, however, he needs an accurate way of measuring how old an object is. Even worse, this method should be accurate even when counting thousands of years (if not hundreds of thousands).

If Janathiel II was living on Earth during the 21st century he could have used radiocarbon dating, but unfortunately for him, he lives in Ær-Toril.

Is there a spell, magical item, or any other method Janathiel II can use to accurately calculate how long ago an object/construct was created?

I am aware that I can create such a spell or item myself. Before I do that however I am interested in existing approaches, as well, some out of the box thinking.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is Janathiel II an NPC? There are plenty of activities in Forgotten Realms which are not accessible for players, hence, have no respective mechanics. Creating new spells, for instance. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Nov 29 '19 at 13:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Yes, he's an NPC. Specifically, he's a historical figure. The question is hypothetical, i.e., I would like to know if there is a way for someone to do something like this in this setting. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Nov 29 '19 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a DM, you can just add such an item/spell into your world. Nobody says your world has to be restricted with PHB/DMG/whatever. A lot of official adventures has their own spells and items. There is no problem here, unless this item becomes accessible for player characters. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Nov 29 '19 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor You're absolutely right, I edited the question to clarify why I'm asking this. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Nov 29 '19 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ This cannot be [system-agnostic] whilst also being about D&D. I guess you included that tag to represent other related games like Pathfinder, etc, but the [dungeons-and-dragons] tag covers that well enough. In fact, I've asked lore questions about D&D 5e where I also accept answers based on other editions of D&D, and just tag it [dnd-5e], so technically that's the only system tag you need (that and you explicitly stating that you're happy with answers from other editions/related games, as you have done). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 29 '19 at 13:17

Use the Legend Lore spell:

The spell brings to your mind a brief summary of the significant lore about the [person, place, or object] you named. The lore might consist of current tales, forgotten stories, or even secret lore that has never been widely known. If the thing you named isn't of legendary importance, you gain no information.

The more information you already have about the thing, the more precise and detailed the information you receive is. (...)

This solution does not depend on the knowledge possessed by gods or dead sages, like Pierre's answer, but the result might not be detailed enough for your needs, or given in a figurative rather than literal language. Theoretically you could cast this spell repeatedly, building on the knowledge gained on the last attempt, though my GM mind screams to put some kind of limit on that.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah you ninja'd me on the legend lore option ! \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Nov 29 '19 at 13:26

Ask more knowledgeable people

In D&D 5e Janathiel could use the Commune spell to ask the god of his choice who or when the mountain/forest was created. If the god is sufficiently old then Janathiel has his answer !

If there is no suitable god, Janathiel could use the Contact Other Plane spell to

[...] mentally contact [...] the spirit of a long- dead sage [...]

who lived at that time (if there exists one) and ask them.

The advantage of these two spells is that they provide clear answers to your questions. However, if they still don't suffice (maybe the gods are dead and the souls don't linger), then you have another (less reliable) option :

Legend Lore

The spell's description says :

Name or describe a person, place, or object. The spell brings to your mind a brief summary of the significant lore about the thing you named.

The spell goes on to say that the given lore will often be given in an enigmatic language, and that the object of the spell needs to be worthy of legend, but an artificial mountain pass and an unageing forest seem suitably legendary to me.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer! The answer is technically correct however not very applicable to my specific setting (but you couldn't have known that). Specifically, all of the (old) gods are dead and spirits/souls are being "recycled" 9 days after their physical death. So this is correct for most settings out there but not mine! Nice thinking though! \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Nov 29 '19 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah yes I see how that could be a problem. I've edited to add the legend lore option \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Nov 29 '19 at 13:26

I agree with the other answers that Contact Other Plane/Commune and Legend Lore are your best bets in 5e. Yet since you mentioned that you would be ok with answers from earlier editions, I might suggest a 2e spell from the Tome of Magic (page 52):

Know Age (Divination, 1st level priest)

This spell enables the caster to instantly know the age of any single person, creature, or object on which he concentrates. The age is accurate to the nearest year.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice! This is a correct answer for sure. I have to note however that 'Know Age' sounds too OP/accurate. There is so much information you can extract if you know the exact age of anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Nov 29 '19 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Aventinus: Know Age was a spell from the sphere of Time. Not all priests had access to this sphere; if I recall correctly you needed to be a speciality priest of a deity of magic, time, longevity, etc. If you are interested, feel free to ask a question about it and I will try to dig out further details. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Nov 29 '19 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/145086/… \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Nov 29 '19 at 16:44

Ask the trees.

Tree ring dating is a labor-intensive but fairly accurate way to determine the age of objects made of wood. If these ruins contain wood cut from a forest that's still in existence, your scholar could jigsaw-puzzle a complete center-to-edge remnant of a tree, and determine how long ago the tree was cut.

Or if he knows a druid, he could save a lot of steps and just ask the trees directly. The spells to use for this are commune with nature and (a little more invasive, but allowing for more detailed answers) awaken.

This is especially useful for your ageless forest. The tree-ring method won't work there (since the trees aren't actually growing) but will tip off the scholar that these trees didn't grow naturally, and then a sufficiently powerful druid should be able to simply ask the trees how old they are.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "The tree-ring method won't work there" -- presumably because those trees don't add growth rings? I'll note that tree-ring dating is not really that labor intensive with the right tools, and does not require killing a tree. Foresters today use an increment borer, and the tool is simple enough that it easily could be considered available in a D&D fantasy setting. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Duniho Nov 30 '19 at 1:56

If they're a magic item, Identify should work.

The Identify spell says the following:

You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell. If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object, you learn its properties and how to use them

Since it simply states that you learn the properties of the magical item you touch, you should learn its mundane properties like its age as well as any magical properties it possesses.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this use of 'properties' refers to the in-game mechanical properties of an item. In a few places you can see a line of text such as 'This item has the following properties:', followed by the description of the mechanical aspects of that item. The text also talks about using those properties - how do you use age of an object? Plus there's random magical item properties, like those present on some artifacts, eg. dndbeyond.com/magic-items/orb-of-dragonkind \$\endgroup\$ – Mark says Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '19 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very interesting! That is a somewhat correct answer as it applies to a subset of things. I.e., a magically-imbued tree is probably (?) a magic item but a structure made using magic is not a magic item (e.g., the example of Rhas Nolh I mention in the question). \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Nov 29 '19 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Aventinus In the case of a structure created through magic that isn't magical itself, Identify will reveal what spell created it, though it won't reveal anything else. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Nov 29 '19 at 15:21

Other methods in 3rd ed: Psychometry, Object Reading, Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions, and Destiny's Trail.

Psychometry: see who was in an area last, and what they did. This power is sequential, meaning it shows who last was there, and then the person or people before them, but disregards temporal distance. However, you might be hard pressed to find a location or area where the last person in that area was centuries or millennia ago, especially in a wilderness setting. Works better in secret rooms and other closed off locations.

Object Reading: this only works if the object ever had an actual owner. Also, one would only learn about the owner, not the object. However, the information revealed by this could not only help pinpoint the time period, but also provide targeted information for other forms of divination.

Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions: limited to 100 years x manifester levels, and events which would have left a strong emotional impression... such as a celebration at the finish of construction, perhaps? Though wars that took place in or around the place might interfere....

Destiny's Trail: learn about everyone involved with a specific event that you can describe when you are at the location in question, regardless of temporal distance. With this one, you could directly target the construction of the location in question. Though you might just get to see the workers, and not the mastermind architect, depending on where you are standing. Another great power for digging out data useful for subsequent divisions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Gloves of Object Reading. \$\endgroup\$ – Christopher Hostage Nov 30 '19 at 19:54

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