I am making a list of how my wizard would cast spells, specifically using the components supplied. Sometimes this is pretty obviously a joke which I can play upon, but sometimes the components don't really make any sense (to me at least).

Identify (D&D 5e) specifically calls for a 100gp pearl, and an owl feather. My understanding is that previous editions had the same components, albeit the pearl was consumed. I can't see what this is meant to represent, and designer intent is off topic, but I am aware that there are multiple novelisations of various D&D realms; none of which I have read.

In these novelisations, or any other official sources (including sources which were once official and no longer are, cannon, comment or otherwise), is there a description of someone casting Identify using the components?

I don't care if it is forgotten realms or any other setting, don't care the age of the information or what edition it was originally intended for, nor do I care if it is divine magic, arcane magic or any other source - as long as a pearl and owl feather are involved. I am mostly interested in the ritual casting of the spell, but the quick casting using the components is also of interest as I can extrapolate a ritual from that, and bonus points for both!


2 Answers 2


Yes, there was a description in the AD&D 1e PHB.

The spell caster had to ingest a pearl, an owl feather steeped in wine, and a live carp. 😆

It is worth noting that identify was a very complicated spell (pure Gygaxian-style fun) that could only identify one item at a time. The D&D 5e version of the spell is a lot less complicated, and much less risky to the caster.

Whether or not you want to incorporate the old school mechanical features into your 5e game is up to you - I am guessing that you don't. This older version of the spell set up a magic user to be afflicted by any curse that is on the item - the 5e version usually afflicts the curse after attunement. I removed the Gygaxian consequences elements since you are not going for a change in mechanics for 5e.

The item in question must be held or worn as would be normal for any such obiect, 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.
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.
The material components of this spell are a pearl (of at least 100 g.p. value) and an owl feather steeped in wine, with the infusion drunk and a live miniature carp swallowed whole prior to spell casting.
(PHB AD&D 1e, p. 66-67)

@GmJoe kindly pointed out that in the 2e AD&D PHB (AD&D was very closely related to AD&D 1e)

That the caster must spend the eight hours prior to casting identify ritually purifying the items to be identified of extraneous magical auras that might interfere with the spell.

That might be worth adding into your identify regimen.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I love the idea that the reason the pearl isn't destroyed is because with inflation pearls are more expensive and 100gp is now only a tiny pearl which is now able to be swallowed whole and retrieved the next bowel movement \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jan 14, 2021 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is now my justification for the creation of the mage hand and prestidigitation spells \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jan 14, 2021 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that later descriptions still keep the pearl, wine, and owl feather involved, though the casting process differs (ISTR that in 3.5e, you crush the pearl, stir it into the wine with the owl feather, and then drink the concoction, with the silver goblet used for the wine being the reusable part). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 14, 2021 at 22:05

If you count Critical Role

Wildemount, the setting of Critical Role: Campaign 2, is now an officialy published campaign setting for D&D 5e thanks to Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, and the events of Campaign 2 are Wildemount canon.

In Episode 8 of Campaign 2, "The Gates of Zadash", Caleb Widogast casts identify for the first time. After having found a ring with an inset pearl, Caleb casts identify on a magic ring that the party had found. Liam O'Brien narrates1:

I’m going to find a corner table in the ruckus. I will take the ring with the pearl, and I hold it right here [Liam holds his hand up to his forehead, as if pressing the pearl into his head]. I pull out the other ring and I look at it and I begin to focus and study the different angles of it and hope that I have a pearl of enough value to make things happen [Liam briefly acts out studying the ring in his other hand from different angles].

Liam makes no mention of the owl feather in this scene, and having checked through transcripts of the first 44 episodes of Campaign 2, this is the only time Liam actually describes Caleb casting identify in those episodes.

1 Timestamped Youtube Link

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am giving you an upvote for this, because it is a really good answer to the question, but makes me wish I had said 'not that pearl holding thing Caleb does' as part of the question (lesson learned for next time). Fwiw I am pretty sure he does the same thing again in multiple later episodes, but skips over most of the description beyond holding the pearl up (the cast generally do descriptions in full once or twice, and then revert to quick versions, or stop descriptions altogether, which is what I am looking to do with my spells). \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jan 14, 2021 at 16:05

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