To put things into context:

We just entered the final room of a dungeon and we found some magic items strewn about in the room and some others inside a tomb. Our sorcerer used Detect Magic to know if any of the items was magic, and indeed they were, but we were fearful that they may have any protective enchantment to harm us when we tried to take them, and we couldn't use Identify since we didn't have the materials to do so. We discussed the matter with the DM, and by reading the description on both the Spellcraft ability and Detect Magic, he said that there shouldn't be any way to differentiate both.

Is he right?

P.S.: I know that in the end, what the DM says, goes even if it's not in the rules, I'm just curious if we were proceeding correctly from a technical standpoint.


Your DM is actually wrong, at least according to the rules.

While using Detect Magic, after you concentrate for 3 rounds you can make a Spellcraft check to determine the school of magic associated with the item's powers.

If you exceed the DC of this check by 10 or more, you automatically identify the item.

This makes the DC to identify a magic item with Detect Magic and Spellcraft equal to 25+CL/2, that is a maximum of 35 for non-epic items, which is easily achievable.

Magic Item Compendium (p.217) & Rules Compendium (p.82):

A creature using the detect magic spell can attempt a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + 1/2 the item’s caster level) to determine the school (or schools) of the highest-level spell (or spells) involved in the item’s creation, as well as the strength of the item’s aura (faint to overwhelming, based on its caster level). If the creature exceeds the DC for this check by 10 or more, that creature magically divines the item’s functions, its means of activation, and the number of charges remaining.

A creature can also use Spellcraft to identify potions. The DC is 25, the check takes 1 minute, and it can’t be retried on a failure.


With just detect magic and non-epic Spellcraft, the DM is correct. Detect magic can, at best, tell you what school of magic is involved in the making of an item—but curses and traps can be made from any school of magic, so that doesn’t really help you. This is incorrect—Yopi Lapi’s answer reports a way to identify items with just detect magic and Spellcraft.

Technically, a Spellcraft check of 50 + the item’s caster level functions as identify, but that’s not something you’re likely to be able to pull off. (Remember, natural-20s are not automatic successes on skill checks.)

There is an item in Magic Item Compendium, the artificer’s monocle, which basically allows you to spend an extra minute studying an item with detect magic (or the artificer knowledge abiilty) and get the effects of identify instead, without needing identify’s costly component or any Spellcraft check. At 1,500 gp, it’s a pretty worthwhile item.

Also, cloistered clerics get identify as a 1st-level divine spell—and as a divine spell, identify doesn’t require arcane material components. Since a single level of cloistered cleric can be very useful to a lot of characters, but the spellcasting of a 1st-level cleric isn’t all that impressive (once you are a few levels above that yourself, anyway), it’s common for characters who dip cloistered cleric for the domains to fill their spell slots with identify, just because it’s convenient.

Finally, note that there is an awful, terrible, no-good rule giving identify only a 1% chance to correctly recognize cursed items. I would, quite frankly, have a serious problem with a DM who enforced that rule—I despise the entire “identify minigame,” and cursed items in general, and think this serves no purpose but to troll players, which is something no DM should ever do. I hadn’t even been aware of this line—it is not in any place you would expect to find it, and frankly I kind of wonder if it isn’t superseded by the rules of identify itself that says it does recognize an item, with no stated difficulty with cursed items—but since HeyICanChan pointed it out, in the interest of completeness, I feel compelled to include it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 on the identification minigame. It may be interesting to note that the identify spell changed significantly from 3.0 to 3.5, perhaps indicating a similar consensus at WOTC. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Dec 9 '20 at 18:34

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