[RPG] How to identify magic items


Pathfinder seems to have a few varied ways of identifying magic items and their properties, though some are used only with specific types of items.

What is, if any, the default way of identifying such items? What are the specific cases ?

To make this as complete as possible, other methods giving partial information about magic items (knowing it's magic but nothing more) are also welcome.

I will attempt to answer this question myself with what I've found so far but I have no idea if I'm right or have covered everything. Please bring your own answers or edit mine as needed.

Best Answer


  • Scrolls
    • Read Magic spell, automatic
    • Spellcraft check (DC 20 + Spell Level)
    • As with other magic items
  • Potions
    • Perception check (DC 15 + Spell Level)
    • As with other magic items
  • Other Magic Items
    • Identification spell + Spellcraft check (DC 15 + Item Caster Level)

I have doubts for scrolls. See this other question for more information.

Identification Spells

This is the main solution to identify magic items, whichever their type. The appropriate spells are the following: Detect Magic, Identify and Analyze Dweomer.

Detect Magic and Identify require 3 rounds of observation to finally allow:

  • Determining the school of magic of each magical effect using a Knowledge (Arcana) check

Make one check per aura: DC 15 + spell level, or 15 + 1/2 caster level for a nonspell effect.

  • Discovering the magical properties of a magic item using a Spellcraft check

Attempting to ascertain the properties of a magic item takes 3 rounds per item to be identified and you must be able to thoroughly examine the object.

Identify the properties of a magic item using detect magic. Spellcraft DC: 15 + item's caster level

When using detect magic or identify to learn the properties of magic items, you can only attempt to ascertain the properties of an individual item once per day. Additional attempts reveal the same results.

It is important to note that the DC uses the Item Caster Level, even for items, such as potions, that reproduce the effects of regular spells.

The only difference between the two spells is that Identify provides a +10 bonus on the Spellcraft check.

It is unclear to me whether the bonus of Identify can also be applied to the Knowledge (Arcana) check.

Analyze Dweomer

This spell can analyze one magical item per round and even reveals cursed items as well as the number of charges when appropriate. Compared to the other spells, this one allows a Will save for attended items.

It is unclear to me whether it can reveal magically trapped items.

Using identification spells on Scrolls and Potions

It is not yet clear to me whether this is possible or not. I want to say yes to both, but I have reasons to doubt for scrolls. See this other question for more information.

Appraise - Is an Object Magic?

A DC 20 Appraise check determines the value of a common item. If you succeed by 5 or more, you also determine if the item has magic properties, although this success does not grant knowledge of the magic item's abilities.

Try Again: Additional attempts to Appraise an item reveal the same result.

Cursed Items

Identifying Cursed Items: Cursed items are identified like any other magic item with one exception: unless the check made to identify the item exceeds the DC by 10 or more, the curse is not detected.

If the item is known to be cursed, the nature of the curse can be determined using the standard DC to identify the item.

Discovering a magic item is cursed: Spellcraft DC 25 + item's caster level (same roll as identification)

Reminder: Analyze Dweomer does this automatically.

Information Obtained Per Spell

  • Detect Magic & Identify:
    • Item magical properties (what it does)
    • Activation procedure, including Command Word if any (how to use it)
  • Analyze Dweomer :
    • Item magical properties
    • Activation procedure
    • Number of charges, if relevant
    • Cursed items

As per Magic Items

The spells detect magic, identify, and analyze dweomer all reveal command words if the properties of the item are successfully identified.

Potions - Taste ID

Identifying Potions: In addition to the standard methods of identification, PCs can sample from each container they find to attempt to determine the nature of the liquid inside with a Perception check. The DC of this check is equal to 15 + the spell level of the potion (although this DC might be higher for rare or unusual potions).

Per RAW, this seems like a rather potent method: it requires no spell, has a slightly easier DC (uses Spell Level instead of Item Caster Level), has no explicit once-a-day limitation.

I would personally houserule in the once-a-day limitation and prevent use of Take 20 (or consider the potion consumed in the process). Alternately, keep the rule as is but add some risk to the method by having dangerous drinkables (or containers).

Scrolls - Deciphering

See this more focused question