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In our latest session a question came up. The initial statement [PHB pg 256] says to;

"Describe an object that is familiar to you."

The spell description goes on to state that known to you (not familiar to you) is defined as seen within 30 feet.

The discrepancy comes up in the phrase;

"Alternatively, the spell can locate the nearest object of a particular kind, such as a certain kind of apparel, jewelry, furniture, tool, or weapon."

We are trying to decide if an item that we have never seen, but is described to us (it is a gem that does X and has been in X location for a couple of hundred years) is enough to qualify as a "particular kind" of if that is too vague?

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You could search for the nearest "gem"

Without being familiar with the gem, you cannot search specifically for the individual gem. The best you could do is a "type" of gem. The spell provides comparable examples:

such as a certain kind of apparel, jewelry, furniture, tool, or weapon.

...the generic version of the object you mention is a "gem". You could look for a specific kind of gem (like ruby or sapphire), but that is the most specific you can get.

What exactly a "kind" of any generic object is will be up to the GM, but this GM would allow selection based on traditional classifications, color, standardized sizes, standardized values, etc, but only one categorization. Basically, my criteria would be "can you sort a pile of these objects into these kinds?"

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    \$\begingroup\$ We also ruled that the type needs to be based on directly observable criteria, e.g. a golden sword, but not on other properties that need spells to ascertain, e.g. a magic sword. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 31, 2022 at 10:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin You don't actually need any spell in order to ascertain that a magic item is, in fact, magical, or at the very least, "extraordinary," whatever that means. You don't need one in order to know exactly what a magic item does either. Pg. 136 of the DMG: "Handling a magic item is enough to give a character a sense that something is extraordinary about the item. A character can focus on one magic item during a short rest, while being in physical contact with the item. At the end of the rest, the character learns the item’s properties, as well as how to use them." \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31, 2023 at 16:50
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You could construe a sufficiently detailed description as being familiar with

Lacking a specific definition in the rules, we default to the vernacular definition of familiar. In this case, the definition that specifically addresses the use of "familiar with" is:

: having personal or intimate knowledge —used with with

familiar with the facts of the case

The example of being "familiar with facts of the case" does not require someone to have personally experienced them, but to have adequate knowledge or been sufficiently briefed on the facts.

It would be reasonable to assume that a first hand account that includes intimate details would be sufficient to consider familiarity with an object.

Lacking specific details sufficient to be familiar may be enough to find the kind of object.

The spell affords the use of a kind of object. Describing the kind of object requires fewer details. E.g. describing a breed of dog requires less specificity than describing an individual dog of that breed.

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