In many games there is an approach that you can't use item that hasn't been identified. And usualy you can't identify it by just using it. While this approach simplifies a lot of things it just doesn't feel right to me. It doesn't make sense that I can't equip an armor or sword because I don't know if it has any magical features.

I was thinking about some kind of "identification by use" system but I can't figure out a natural way to do it. What if I drink a potion that boosts my "Speech" skill for a period of time? Should my character instantaneously know that its skill have increased? Should it know the exact value? Or should I increase the skill behind the scenes but leave the displayed value intact and just give some subtle hint ("You suddenly (...)")?

What about weapons and armors? It wouldn't make sense to know anything about it just by equipping it. One approach would be that attacking a target could update weapon's min and max damage basing on damage dealt but then it greatly depends on target's defense and resistances (I'm not sure if that's a bad thing though).

Of course there are conventional ways like identification scrolls and I do have them but I was hoping for some alternative (not a replacement though, you probably can't know everything about every object only by using it).

Has anyone ever thought about it and can share some insight?

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you would like to see how a classic game handles this problem, have a spin through Nethack. In that game, pretty much everything you pick up is unknown, and can be identified to the player through observing its effects (or id scrolls). Sometimes putting on something causes your character to "feel" something. If you ate rotten food, your character might say "that didn't taste very good", or "I am feeling kind of sick". Watching other monsters use items is also a good way to know what it is. For example, if another monster puts on a ring of invisibility, you know the ring on that monster! \$\endgroup\$
    – kurtzbot
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's an interesting thing to think about really. I would personally categorize items with identifiability. There are common items (weapons/armor) which you know what it is immediately, but if it has some enchantment you won't know about it (maybe it will still be applied to you but there will be no feedback because it's not a known thing) and there are ambiguous items (potions) which you can't use because you don't know how it works. Like you could drink a random potion, but it might be a poison for weapons. Just make common items usable (with no buff/ability feedback) and ambiguous items not. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kurtzbot yes, direction roguelikes took in that field is probably the most similar to what I'd like to achieve. I don't remember how it's handled in nethack but I think in adom you know the exact effects of potions and damage of weapons just by using them, right? I'd like to make someting a but more complex than that \$\endgroup\$
    – kasztelan
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 7:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenjaminDangerJohnson I don't think it would make sense to limit using potions only to known ones... If it's weapon poison the player will be poisoned and probably die. He'll (hopefuly) know better next time. Also if the bonus on equipped item is passive I think it should apply to player no matter if the item is ID or not \$\endgroup\$
    – kasztelan
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 7:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough, you could allow players to use unidentified consumables in multiple ways (maybe accidently throw a healing potion at the enemy or something). I think I might have explained using unidentified items wrong. What I mean is you still apply the bonus (so maybe + 10 strength or something) but you don't show it to the user. That way they gain the benefits without know what it is. Some might be more obviously like if a ring made you invisible but others would be more subtle and would force players to "research" (or however you identify items). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


Your hint at a "find the min and max progressively though use" is a great start!

Having an item's stats get rolled on pickup (or however you plan to generate stats for items), but separating that from what the player sees when inspecting an item could create very intriguing gameplay mechanics.

You could have a "learning" system, where from the get-go, the displayed weapon properties are blank. After dealing a blow to an enemy a random value D from the damage range is generated. This makes the displayed property of MinDamage and MaxDamage = D. After striking again, a new D is generated and compared to the MinDamage and MaxDamage. If D > MaxDamage, then MaxDamage = D.

And so on. This would be fascinating to play with, especially if things that you don't perceive as a character (things like, borrowing from Diablo 3, Magic Find) are never displayed on an item unless an ID scroll is used. Through normal means, though, you would slowly start to find out more and more about a particular weapon/armor/trinket.

A feature like this would work better in a slower-paced hack-n-slash, where you can actively track your knowledge of an item between short fights. If you fought hundreds of mobs before checking, however, you will basically know the full extent of the obvious properties of an item.

I'm a junkie for stats and I love the idea of "learning" in a game. This is a neat idea.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The game is not h&s, the battles are going to be turn based (similar to fallout 1,2). For now I have all items predefined but the game is still on very early stage of development and I'll definitely have some kind of random stat modifiers later. Getting a weapon, etc with blank properties and progressively learn more about it is exactly what I had in mind and what I'll probably implement. The devil is in the details though - if the shield gives protection from fire do I have the protection even if I don't know about it? Or do I have to learn (ID the item) how to use it? \$\endgroup\$
    – kasztelan
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 7:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Having something like fire protection should always be present, along with negative buffs (ie curses). You KNOWING about the protection from fire should come from actually coming in contact with something that applies fire damage to the character. I can imagine players having veritable "laboratories" where they put on new items and walk through a gauntlet of various damage source. \$\endgroup\$
    – SWPhantom
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 17:35

First you should identify the purpose of the ID system. It servers a two core functions.

  1. Paces the game. By forcing players to go back to town to ID things, or pick up ID items, gameplay is paced. Especially in dungeon crawler types, where the ID system is popular, without any forced break, gameplay quickly becomes monotonous. It also prevents breaking sprees to look at your gear. Instead you are encouraged to ID and evaluate it all at once.
  2. Money sink. Many games, especially online games, need money sinks to help balance the economy.

Other than that, there is no big game mechanics reasons other than, "everyone else has it." If you don't think an ID system fits in your game, then don' put one. Simple as that.

You mentioned ID by use. You could have some sort of unlock or level system. As your character uses a weapon/armor more then your character could "learn" its secrets and unlocks its power. This basically gives items you find an experience/level system.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Some times you also just need to make a game "gamey" as I like to call it. We focus a lot on immersive gameplay and whatnot but some times you just need to break the immersion with gamey elements that only makes sense in a game setting. But if you need a way to make it less gamey you can always say that "Why would you equip something you don't know what is? It could kill you, or turn you into a bunny for all you know." \$\endgroup\$
    – OmniOwl
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 22:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ In my case the purpose is to make the game feel more realistic and by that I mean that it only makes sense that you should be able to use everything without any artificial limitations. As for your last paragraph it could make sense but the question now is: if the sword has normal physical damage and fire damage (because it's a flame sword and it looks like flames) should fire damage only apply after identification? \$\endgroup\$
    – kasztelan
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 7:16

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