Identify: 5e Full User Guide for DMs & Players

One of the most common spells in the history of D&D, Identify is pretty much a given for any Intelligence-based, magic-using character.

It is so common and useful that it has been tagged as a Ritual Spell, which means you can pretty much cast it for free.

Simply put, if Identify is on your spell list, you need to know how to cast it. You’ll kick yourself for not having it should you come across a magic item or potion you don’t know how to use.

In this post, we will give you a complete breakdown of the spell, common questions we get all the time, and new and interesting ways you can use/deceive/exploit this spell to your maximum benefit.

Identify

  • Casting Time: 1 minute
  • Range: Touch       
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • School: Divination
  • Class: Bard, Forge, Knowledge, Wizard, Artificer
  • Level: 1
  • Damage/Effect: Discern all magical properties of a single item
  • Attack/Save: None
  • Components: V, S, M (pearl valuing 100 gp and an owl feather)
  • Ritual/Concentration: Ritual

Spell Description: Identify

Ritual

  • LEVEL: 1st
  • CASTING TIME: 1 Minute Ritual
  • RANGE/AREA: Touch
  • COMPONENTS: V, S, M *
  • DURATION: Instantaneous
  • SCHOOL: Divination
  • ATTACK/SAVE: None
  • DAMAGE/EFFECT: Detection

You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell.

If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object, you learn its properties and how to use them, whether it requires attunement to use, and how many charges it has if any.

You learn whether any spells are affecting the item and what they are. If the item was created by a spell, you learn which spell created it.

If you instead touch a creature throughout the casting, you learn what spells, if any, are currently affecting it.

* – (a pearl worth at least 100 gp and an owl feather)

Spell Tags: DETECTION

Available For: BARD WIZARD ARTIFICER KNOWLEDGE DOMAIN FORGE DOMAIN

Basic Rules , pg. 252

Who Should Cast Identify?

Wizards, Artificers, Bards, and Clerics of the Knowledge and Forge Domains get this spell.

More than simply in mechanical terms, this spell should be cast by any character who is considered to be the knowledgeable magical resource in the party.

Additionally, Arcane Trickster Rogues might want to take this spell so they can better decide what is worth stealing.

Magic items run the gamut between the silly, the useful, and the broken. Most importantly, however, magic items are often the McGuffins of a storyline or plot hook.

Being able to properly identify a magic item in this case can be the difference between succeeding and failing a quest.

Is This a Good Spell for You?

Probably. If you are the “smart one” in the party, then it is up to you to figure out what matters and what doesn’t.

You’ll be the one figuring out the plot hooks and the puzzles and deciding what gear is worth taking and what is not.

Furthermore, if you get a chance to Identify some of what the enemy is hoarding, you can get an idea of what their plan is.

Consider taking this spell in addition to detect magic. A sweeping gaze across a room will tell you which items are magical and which schools of magic are prevalent.

This is how you will discover if your enemy is big into necromancy or summoning demons… other than the presence of undead or demons…

But perhaps the Big Bad is planning a ritual or a ceremony?

You can identify their material components. If the enemy is wearing loads of magic items, you can identify what was the main source of their power and how it could play into larger schemes.

And for downtime? This spell is one of the best. As a ritual, it requires no spell slots, so you could easily get a job at a pawn shop as an Identifier of magic items.

Charge the owner 1 gold per use, and you can make a decent living that way (provided you re-use that costly material component).

When To Use Identify

As often as you can. Seriously, any moment the DM lets you, just tell them you are randomly Identifying whatever is nearby, especially if you have detected magic working.

Use it on every and any random object you come across. If you’re prepared, you can even provide your DM with a very generous randomization chart that they can roll to deal with your persistent Identification habits.

Who knows, you might just end up with a Holy Avenger. Totally random! It’s not like you made the list yourself or anything.

Using Identify as a Ritual Spell

Ritual Spells are unique in that they can be cast without a spell slot. It simply adds 10 minutes to the casting time, which means you will not be casting in combat.

As a ritual spell, Identify takes 11 minutes to cast (1 minute normally + 10-minute ritual).

Therefore, it is a simple matter to cast this spell during a short rest.

Technically, you can’t do a ritual and still benefit from a short rest, but around the gaming table, it is easy to wave your hand and say, “Hey let’s do this too to get some information and then be on our way.”

If you are the DM, you could make a tense situation wherein the character must cast Identify as a ritual during an environmental collapse or an extended combat.

This means, you evil DM, that you can make the other players protect the wizard for 66 rounds of combat as they are completing the ritual.

For your player’s sake, I would start the combat halfway through the ritual, so 33 rounds in.

If a player can cast Hold Person or Dominate Monster, that could eat up the time as well.

Possible situations where this could work are:

  • Only one key out of several will unlock a door. If you use the wrong key, the room collapses into a hell dimension. Allow the wizard to cast Identify on the entire set of keys to find the right one.
  • A magical bomb is about to blow. The wizard must cast Identify to figure out which part of the device is feeding the evocation magic and then “cut that wire.”
  • Three magical floating balls of lightning are randomly striking targets within range. The Wizard must Identify which ball is carrying directions to the other two in order to cast their final dispel magic on the correct one.

Common Questions About Identify

What Is the Difference Between Identify and Detect Magic?

Identify tells all there is to know about one specific item.

Detect Magic gives you a glimpse at all of the magical auras in your field of vision.

Identify tells you the specific magical properties, such as charges left, spells used to create it, power level, and rarity.

Detect Magic only tells you what school of magic is in the creature’s or item’s aura.

Can Identify Tell You What Spell Someone Is Casting?

No. Identify works on items only. It will not allow you to Identify a spell as it is being cast.

To do that, we use a house rule here at the Citadel. To Identify a spell as it is being cast, you must be able to see the somatic components or hear the verbal components during the casting.

Roll an Arcana for Arcane spells, Religion for Divine spells, or Nature for Druid/Ranger spells vs. 10 plus the level of the spell.

You have advantage if it is a spell you know. Success means you identify the spell. This takes a reaction.

Does Identify Work Against Arcanist’s Magical Aura?

Yes. Identify beats the Arcanist’s Magical Aura spell simply because the Magical Aura spell changes the aura of an item. This is why detect magic can be fooled.

Instead, Identify will tell you all of the correct magical abilities of the item as well any spells currently on the item, including Arcanist’s Magic Aura.

Does Identify Reveal Sentient Items?

Technically, yes, according to the Rules As Written. A Sentient Item is a magic item, and Identify tells you all the properties of all magic items.

However, if you want to add a little fun to the game, you could allow a sentient magic item that does not wish to be identified to give a Deception check vs. the player’s Spell Save DC.

If the item wins, it misrepresents its magical ability in any way it chooses.

Does Identify Reveal Curses, Bonuses, or Environmental Magic?

Yes and no.

If the curse/bonus is the direct result of a spell that was cast on the item, Identify will reveal it.

If the environmental magic has given the item any additional abilities, then Identify will reveal those abilities.

However, you can not pick up a clump of dirt and cast Identify in order to get a read on the inherent magical properties of a location. Identify will only tell you what magic can be used with that clump of dirt.

Spoiler: you can’t cast magic missile with it. It has no charges. If you throw it right, you might be able to cast blindness

In short, Identify works on items and nothing else.

Ways To Adapt Identify

We have a little standing rule here at the Black Citadel. If you can adapt a spell to work a little differently, we will let you do it provided you can perform a requisite skill check to make the adjustment.

If you are an Arcane caster, you can make an Arcana check to tweak Identify. If you are a Cleric, you can use Religion.

Here are some ideas on how you and your players could tweak identify to get more utility and role-play out of it:

  • Identify an object as one of historical importance. Learn its time period and culture of origin.
  • Identify any previous enchantments it may have once had but are now defunct.
  • Identify previous owners of the object.
  • Identify previous locations that have housed the object.
  • Identify where an object was made and who made it.
  • Identify where the materials that made the object were sourced
  • Identify if the object is part of a set

Final Thoughts

Identify is an absolutely necessary spell.

It isn’t just about getting your magic items (although it is DEFINITELY about that). Identify is also great for delivering plot information out to your players.

Whether the object is just a way to provide the players with a password or a key or if it is a full on Raiders of the Lost Ark-style McGuffin, Identify will be how you can get your players to advance the plot and make them feel like it was their idea all along.

Because that is what it really means to be a DM.