Identify 5E: DnD Spell Guide

Finding magic items mixed in with your loot after a hard-fought battle is one of the best parts of DnD. The excitement of finding something cool or valuable mixed in with the anticipation of discovering what exactly you’ve found – these moments are what motivate many adventurers from all walks of life both in and out of character.

Spending a short rest to figure out what your cool new items do, however, can be incredibly inconvenient. An hour might as well be an eternity when there are still dangerous enemies nearby, and the item you found might even be of great use should you encounter them later in the day.

If only there was a faster way of learning what a magic item is capable of…

DnD 5E Identify Spell Description & Benefits

1st level divination (ritual)

Casting Time: minute
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a pearl worth at least 100 gp and an owl feather)
Duration: Instantaneous

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.

The Player’s Handbook, p.252
DnD 5E Core Books
Identify lets you carry parts of all these books with you in game – without having to carry them or look things up!

Benefit #1: Identify tells you what a magic item does and what it is capable of.

While a 1 minute casting time makes Identify an impractical spell during initiative rounds, it’s perfectly serviceable when your party is making plans or as you’re leaving a section of dungeon you’ve already explored.

Knowing the identity of a magic item also makes determining whether it is useful in the moment a simple matter, and if it does require a short rest to ensure attunement, you at least gain the ability to determine who should attune to it ahead of time.

Benefit #2: Identify is a ritual spell.

If you have a lot of downtime either during a dungeon crawl or on your way back to town, the ability to cast the Identify spell as a ritual is a great way to fast forward through the tedious narrative of testing items out and sifting through cryptic DM hints as to what you might be dealing with.

10 minutes is also faster than the hour needed for a short rest, so it is also a more efficient use of time unless you receive a ton of unknown magic items simultaneously, say from a dragon’s hoard.

Benefit #3: Identify does not consume your pearl when cast.

Spells that consume materials as part of their casting (like Stoneskin) specify when their material components are consumed. Since Identify has no such disclaimer, once you’ve made the 100 gp investment in a pearl (assuming your DM is forcing you to keep close track of your spell components), you can use the Identify spell to your heart’s content.

Benefit #4: Identify can tell you what spells are affecting a creature.

Having taken Identify on every character possible during 5E’s existence, I didn’t actually know it was capable of detecting whether someone has been Polymorphed, placed under a Geas, or targeted by a Hunter’s Mark.

While situations like these aren’t super common, they make for interesting narrative and plot devices for DMs, as PCs who want to verify claims or look further into uncharacteristic behavior from an ally or NPC will almost always have someone in the party who knows this spell.

Identify isn’t infallible, however. There’s one crucial type of information it can’t give you, and this detail is deeply hidden in the 5E rules.

Identify Cannot Detect Curses on Magical Items

“A magic item’s description specifies whether the item is cursed. Most methods of identifying items, including the identify spell, fail to reveal such a curse, although lore might hint at it.”

Dungeon Master’s Guide, p.138-139

This is the most common mistake made by players and DMs interacting with the Identify spell, and it’s an incredibly easy one to make as this distinction isn’t made anywhere in the spell’s description. Such a flaw creates a significant blind spot in the information Identify provides, and there isn’t a lot that can really be done to work around it according to the rules as written.

A curse on all ye who seek to take me treasure for yer own!

Based on how the above verbiage, some DMs will allow you to use a higher level spell like Legend Lore to acquire information about an item’s curses, as many cursed items tend to have more significance than their run of the mill counterparts.

That said, Legend Lore’s details can be as cryptic as the hint regarding its possible application in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, so the amount of helpful information you can glean remains entirely at your DM’s discretion. If they really want cursed items to create issues for your party, odds are you’re going to have to deal with them as they arise.

5E Classes That Can Learn the Identify Spell

  • Artificer
  • Bard
  • Cleric (Forge and Knowledge domains)
  • Fighter (Eldritch Knight, at 3rd, 8th, 14th, or 20th level)
  • Rogue (Arcane Trickster, at 3rd, 8th, 14th, or 20th level)
  • Warlock (Pact of the Tome + Book of Ancient Secrets)
  • Wizard

While Detect Magic and Identify tend to go hand in hand like chocolate and peanut butter, the latter is not a very accessible spell by comparison. This likely stems from the intended scarcity of magic items in 5E, as the designers of the system elected to treat them more like fine art than necessities for survival, per page 135 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Unfortunately, this can create complications for DMs who prefer to run high magic campaign settings, as party compositions will frequently exclude artificers, bards, and wizards in favor of other classes that can fulfill similar roles.

This in turn can lead to extra interruptions of the narrative because the party wants to know what their latest MacGuffin does, which without Identify, can only be done via a short rest. In a worst-case scenario, this even encourages players to abuse the short rest mechanic and places the burden of setting extra boundaries on the DM, which quickly becomes tiresome for both parties.

Fortunately, creative players can still work around this problem by picking up a feat or choosing a specific class archetype to circumvent Identify’s exclusivity. DMs can also elect to bend the rules and expand Identify’s availability via spell lists or magic items, which also provides a simple solution that doesn’t put undue burden on player builds.

Both methods come with pros and cons, but if there’s no other way to consistently access the Identify spell, either can be a lifesaver. It really doesn’t make much sense for a spell that has incredibly common applications for adventurers, priests, researchers, and merchants to be so hard to learn from a worldbuilding perspective.

But, since this is the world we received with 5th edition, let’s take a closer look at who actually should learn this incredibly useful spell.

Which 5E Classes Should Learn or Prepare the Identify Spell?

Artificers, Bards, Knowledge and Forge Domain Clerics, and Wizards

All of these classes and archetypes have access to both the Identify spell via their spell lists and ritual spellcasting. If you’re the only person in the party capable of preparing Identify, simply doing so usually won’t burden your spell slots and is a good way to save the table a lot of headaches when you find something cool.

For those parties who have multiple people capable of casting Identify, only one of you really needs to do so unless your group is prone to splitting the party. One prepared Identify spell is usually sufficient at our tables to convince DMs to fast forward through identifying our magic items, and that’s really the biggest draw of the spell.

Pact of the Tome Warlocks

Pact of the Tome warlocks need to go through the extra step of taking the Book of Ancient Secrets invocation in order to access their ritual spellcasting potential. Since the ability to learn every ritual spell in the game is the primary draw for selecting this specific warlock pact, however, one could easily make the argument that this extra step is more expectation than burden.

TL:DR; If you can cast Identify as a ritual spell, you should probably learn and prepare it.

Characters taking the Ritual Caster feat

Bards and wizards have excellent ritual spell lists that bring a lot of utility to the table. If you’re planning to fill the Identify-shaped void in your party’s prepared spells, this feat is the best way to do so because it also grants access to a lot of other useful spells once you find the means to transcribe them into your ritual book.

5E characters that should always learn or consider the Identify spell:

  • Artificer (except as noted above)
  • Bard
  • Cleric (Forge and Knowledge domains)
  • Warlock (Pact of the Tome + Book of Ancient Secrets)
  • Wizard
  • Characters with the Ritual Caster feat

5E Classes Who Should Never Learn or Prepare the Identify Spell

Arcane Tricksters and Eldritch Knights

I’ll be the first to admit there are worse 1st level spells you could take at 3rd level in these class archetypes. Arcane Tricksters in particular might find Identify useful for quickly assessing what that extremely well-crafted item they found is before deciding whether to tell the party about it.

Unfortunately, you only get 4 spells outside of your normal 2 schools of magic in these archetypes, and there are simply better spells for these more combat-oriented characters to take from the wizard spell list in most cases.

Characters taking the Artificer Initiate, Magic Initiate, or Fey Touched feats

Artificer Initiate doesn’t offer an especially wide selection of spells to begin with due to the small spell list artificers receive. While Identify is a good spell selection here, especially since you can cast it using your spell slots if needed, this feat is usually at its best when an actual Artificer takes it – and even then it’s only an okay feat when compared to other options.

Magic Initiate offers a much wider selection of spells to choose from than Artificer Initiate, but no mater which way you look at it, Identify just isn’t that great when you can only cast it once per day – especially as you reach higher levels where finding multiple magic items mixed in with your loot is common.

Fey Touched gives you the best of both feats, plus extra benefits beyond casting your chosen divination or enchantment spell using your spell slots. But is Identify really better than spells like Hunter’s Mark, Hex, Bane, or Bless? In my experience, the answer is no, unless this is the only way your party will have access to the Identify spell.

5E characters who cannot or should not learn or prepare the Identify Spell:

  • Barbarian
  • Cleric (except Forge and Knowledge domains)
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock (except Pact of the Tome + Book of Ancient Secrets)
  • Characters with the Artificer Initiate, Magic Initiate, or Fey Touched feats

Is the 5E Identify Spell Worth It?

Identify is an absolutely amazing spell – primarily for all the wrong reasons. It’s ability to expedite the process of identifying unknown magic items offers an impressive benefit for parties of adventurers, to the point where not having access to the spell slows down gameplay unnecessarily without adjustments to compensate on the DM’s part.

This would be less of an issue if more spellcasters got access to this spell, but since it’s only available to artificers, bards, and wizards by default, it’s very easy to assemble a party that simply can’t identify magic items without taking a short rest – a process that takes an hour of in-game time that is frequently inconvenient or just plain obnoxious.

Add in that it takes a second short rest to attune to a magic item that requires attunement (i.e., most of them), and most magic items change from a cool toy for the party to play with to narrative land mines that only serve to waste the time of everyone at the table.

Identify isn’t all bad spell design though. The ability to determine what spells are affecting a creature can be incredibly useful in specific situations, and its inability to relay information about possible curses to its caster adds a good foil to an otherwise informative low level spell.

Make sure at least 1 person in the party has access to this ritual spell where possible, and keep an open mind regarding its other applications as both a player and a DM. When used properly, Identify can be a surprisingly useful tool for creating or advancing story details.

Otherwise, it will simply be a bland staple spell you take out of obligation to your teammates. And where’s the fun in that?

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