Attunement in DnD 5e – How It Really Works

Last Updated on October 25, 2023

So, you’ve forked over a small fortune for a new magic sword or, more likely, pulled a mysterious (and probably cursed) item from a monster’s treasure hoard. 

While I’m sure you’re eager to spark up that +5 Holy Avenger and get to slaying, many magical items in Dungeons & Dragons 5e first require your character to attune to them before unlocking their powers. 

What is attunement, exactly? How does it work? How do you un-attune (detune? Cancel attunement? Off! Power down! Oh I don’t know, I guess I’ll just keep it) from a magic item?

What Is Attunement?  

Some magic items in D&D 5e require a creature to form a bond with them before their properties can be used. This bond is called attunement. 

Some items have prerequisites for attunement, meaning only characters of a certain class, race, or alignment can form a working bond with them.

For example, a holy sword might only consent to being wielded by a paladin or a cleric. 

Most of these prerequisites are quite broad.

If the prerequisite for attuning to a magic item is to be a spellcaster, for example, a creature qualifies if it can cast at least one spell using its traits or features (magic items that let them cast spells don’t count).

It doesn’t have to belong to a spellcasting class; a race with innate spellcasting like the High Elf or Tiefling would be fine, as would a character with the Magic Initiate feat. 

If you use a magical item you are not attuned to, you only gain its nonmagical benefits, unless the item’s description states otherwise.

For example, a magic shield that requires attunement provides the benefits of a normal shield to a creature not attuned to it but none of its magical properties.

How Do I Attune to a Magic Item? 

In simplest terms, the attunement process requires a creature to spend a short rest focused on only that item while being in physical contact with it. 

This process can take many forms and is usually tailored to the item itself.

A player character attuning to a new magic sword would probably spend their short rest practicing with it, cutting at the air, getting used to its balance and weight.

A character with a new pair of Boots of Levitation will probably spend their short rest dangling upside down, yelling, and bumping into walls.

It’s worth noting that the short rest can’t be the same one used to figure out what the magic item actually does. You also can’t spend the short rest, uh, resting.

This means you don’t gain the healing benefits of the rest, recover spell slots, or refresh any of your other abilities; you have to maintain your focus entirely on the item. 

Identifying Magic Items in the Bad Old Days 

The process of figuring out what a magic item actually does has been made radically easier since the early days of D&D.

Back in the 1970s, an adventurer who found a magic sword or a glowing orb at the bottom of a dungeon had three options:

  1. Take it to the nearest high-level wizard, who would spend several weeks (and a great deal of the PC’s gold) figuring out what it did with only a marginal chance of success.
  2. Just grab it, start swinging, and see what happens.
  3. Give it to some feckless hireling to play around with, hide behind the nearest sturdy tree, and hope for the best. (This was by far the most-popular option.)
You Find a Cursed Idol
© Wizards of the Coast by Sidharth Chaturvedi

Attunement? What’s attunement? Go poke it with this stick, there’s a good lad. 

In 5e, merely “handling a magic item is enough to give a character a sense that something is extraordinary about the item.” 

Then, the fastest way to figure out what the giant helmet covered in skulls does is to cast the identify spell.

However, if you have an hour to spare, simply spending a short rest studying a magic item is enough to uncover its properties. If the short rest is interrupted, however, the attunement process fails.

Otherwise, by the end of the rest, the wielder gains an intuitive understanding of how to activate any magical properties of the item, including any necessary command words. They are now considered to be attuned. 

Multiple Attunements, Doubling Up, and Ending Attunement 

First, a magic item can only be attuned to one creature at a time, and a creature can only attune to three magic items at once. 

Trying to attune to a fourth magical item fails automatically, which means you have to end one of your existing attunements first. 

A creature’s attunement to a magic item ends if the creature no longer satisfies the prerequisites for attunement (their alignment, race, or class changes, for example), if the item has been more than 100 feet away from its wielder for at least 24 hours, if the creature dies, or if another creature attunes to the item. 

A creature can also voluntarily end its attunement to a magic item by spending another short rest focused on the item.

The exception to these rules is if the item is cursed, in which case getting rid of it isn’t quite so easy. 

You also can’t attune to more than one of the same type of item at once. A wizard can’t wear three rings of protection, for example.

However, the dungeon master should make rulings in context here. A character should definitely be allowed to attune to two +1 magic swords at once, for example. 

Can I Attune to More Than Three Items? 

The only way to beat the hard-and-fast limit on the number of item attunements your character is allowed is to play an artificer.

Artificers get an extra attunement slot at 10th, 14th, and 18th levels for a total of six possible items. 

Do All Magic Items Require Attunement? 

Some magical items (usually of the more mundane sort) don’t need attuning to.

You just pick them up and you’re good to go, assuming the item’s function is obvious.

Otherwise, you’ll still need to spend some time casting identify, staring at it to uncover its mysteries, or letting Jeremy the torchbearer stand 100 feet away pointing it at things and shouting “alacababrazam?!” over and over. 

That’s pretty much everything you need to know about attunement, folks.

It’s a simple mechanic designed to stop adventurers from becoming walking arsenals of magical weapons (if you’re a cynic) or maybe just a good way to stop players from getting overwhelmed.

Looks like you put on one boot of striding and springing and one boot of levitation this morning. I’m going to need you to roll me… some kind of saving throw to walk across this room. 

Hopefully it helped.

Happy adventuring. 

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