Level: Brd 1, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: S, M
Casting Time: 1 minute
Targets: One touched object
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
Understand object determines the non-magical functions of an object or technological item. The caster must handle or touch the object throughout the casting time and spell duration to gain any knowledge. If the item has more than one function, the spell identifies its most general or most likely use. Casters can gather further information about the item only through additional uses of the spell. Understand object does not reveal magical functions (as identify would), only mechanical operations.
The spell is used most often to help casters understand the nature and use of an object from another technological level (such as a firearm found in a world where such weapons don't normally exist), or to gain some clues to extremely complex gadgets or puzzles.
If used in the latter manner, however, this spell can prove very, very dangerous. Using understand object to figure out how a trapped device operates can be disastrous, as the spell does not distinguish a harmful nonmagical trap from any other gadget! And, since the spell starts with the easiest or most general effect first (and traps are often much easier to trigger than non-trap functions of an item), understand object may just tell you how to kill yourself.
For example, a character might cast the spell on three interlocking rings found on what appears to be the locking mechanism of a box. The first use of the spell tells the caster that the interlocking rings are, indeed, a locking mechanism and they have to be turned in a certain way to cause a needle to spring out of the box (a trap, though the spell doesn't tell the caster that). On a second use of the spell, the caster learns that turning the interlocking rings also can cause the box to open. Since the interlocking rings have no other function, further uses of the spell reveal nothing. If opening the box causes a fire trap to go off in the opener's face, that is not revealed, since fire trap is a magical effect.
But when the spell is used in its most basic way, it can be a boon to adventurers who encounter technological items and strange objects that they have no way of understanding without help. New exotic weapons, high-tech gadgets, and the like are the province of understand object.