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Some published modules in D&D 5e have NPCs that can act as magic item vendors, e.g.

Xendros

from Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

If a player character buys a magic item from such an NPC, I presume it is logical that the NPC knows about the nature of the wares they're selling.
Would this also mean that the item is already identified and thus does not require the character to spend a short rest to find out about the item's properties?

Additionally, if an item is not what the NPC thinks it is, or they omit information from the characters, is there a rule to make characters feel that something is "off" about their recently acquired thingamajig (unknown additional powers, curses, etc.)?

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2 Answers 2

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They only think they know what the item's function is

The DMG's rules on identifying a magic item (p. 136) point out that the characters will know whether something is a magic item to begin with just by handling it. It then specifies three ways for them to learn what a magic item does:

  • Casting the identify spell
  • Focus on the item while in physical contact during a short rest
  • Experimenting or examining the item for clues (like command words)

The third point covers ways to discern properties without needing to spend a short rest or a spell. Here is the example given:

Wearing or experimenting with an item can also offer hints about its properties. For example, if a character puts on a ring of jumping, you could say, “Your steps feel strangely springy.” Perhaps the character then jumps up and down to see what happens. You then say the character jumps unexpectedly high.

This description makes it clear that you can try to understand what an item does based on information you have about it, but you will only know once you confirm that it works that way by trying to use it that way.

If a vendor told them the command word, or told them the function of an item that does not require attunement, and they believe him, they may think it works like that. There is nothing in the description that says they would feel anything if the item worked differently from what the vendor told them. To confirm or refute how it works, they would need to activate or use it to see if it behaves as he told them.

If it was a consumable item, then of course trying so could mean using up the item. In the case of potions, they could confirm what they have with just a little taste instead (as stated in another part of the same section of the DMG). For a spell scroll, a character who has the spell on their spell list can read it. But for other kinds of consumable magic items, they might end up using what they think is a dust of disappearance, only to discover it actually was a dust of sneezing and choking. The way to avoid this would be to spend a short rest or cast the identify spell to actually know what the item does.

PS: If the item requires attunement before it can be used, they will need to spend a short rest or cast identify before they can attune to it – as they cannot try it out to confirm what it does beforehand, and they need to know (not think they know) what it does to attune.

And if the item is cursed (like a potion of poison), then there is typically no way, not even with identify, to find out what it does beforehand.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can't you also just flat out use it or attune to it? If someone hands you a wand and says this is a wand of magic missile, can't you just shoot (someone) with it? If they hand you winged boots and say these boots let you fly, can't you just attune to them and away you go? In those cases are any of the 3 methods necessary? Or maybe that's out of the scope of this question and answer. Or maybe that's bullet 3. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 24, 2022 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack: I was not sure about that part, myself. So check out the question/answer I linked, which is quite heaviy upvoted, and states that you first have to identify before you can attune. There is also language in the DMG that you cannot attune in the same short rest that you use to learn about what it does. What if the vendor told you the truth, would it be possible to attune? I think not, based on the linked answer and my reading of the other options. But I think it would be an OK DM ruling to let them try and attune to the boots regardless. In town, a short rest rarely matters. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2022 at 15:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, you literally linked to the question I just asked you in the comments, good job! If only I had bothered to read that linked question.... \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 24, 2022 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think the "can you attune" if told exactly and truthfully what it does is entirely clear from the books and there is some room for interpretation, but it is also tangential to the question here (which is about identifying). \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2022 at 15:42
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Identifying is optional

You can simply use – or, if attunement is required, attune to – an unidentified item. You are not required to have any clue what it does to be able to use it. Of course, invalid command words won't work, or may cause the item to do something different from what you expect it to do.

About curses

You cannot magically know an item is cursed by simply identifying it over a short rest (or casting identify on it). Curses are not easily visible or detectable, so you have to find other methods to test if an item is cursed or hope the seller was trustworthy enough.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You should edit your answer to support it by citing relevant rules or other evidence. As is, the answer just asserts certain things to be true without providing any support for those claims. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Feb 24, 2022 at 18:04

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