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There are many items that can produce effects similar to magic, from fire damage to poison damage, and there are also many objects that are elemental in the process of casting spells such as spell foci or spellbooks. This often causes people to wonder, if such items count as magic items.

However, special rules apply for magic items: they can be detected by detect magic, they cannot be activated by the Use an Object action, if they are weapons they can overcome resistance to non-magical weapons, etc.

Because of this, is important to understand by which criteria we can separate items that could potentially be considered magic items but are not from items that are actual magic items. What is a method to test this?

When does an object count as a magic item?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this an actual question that needs solving, or is it just asking just to ask? \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Mar 20 at 6:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It’s common that questions discuss what of these items are magical or not in various contexts, most recently with the question about Alchemical Fire. Instead if reiterating lengthy explanations in each answer why healing potion is the exception every time I think it is useful to settle the question. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20 at 7:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov the first question that needs to be answered in order to determine if an ability is magical asks "is it a magic item?". The two top rated answers to that question quote that exact question to answer the querent of that question. I really fail to see how it is a duplicate question as a result. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Mar 20 at 12:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov yes, but if the only way to determine if something is a magic item is to first ask is it magical...then the first question "is it a magic item?" is a red herring as you have to ask the follow on question anyway. The fact they have "is it a magic item?" as a separate question means it should be answerable on its own without reference to the other questions listed. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Mar 20 at 12:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even your answer seems to discount the need for this question. "So whenever something is magical, like a magic item, the rules must and will tell us explicitly about it. If they do not, then we must assume that item is normal." So if it's magic, it says it's magic. Where is the question that needs to be answered? \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Mar 20 at 20:59

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Does its description or something else in the rules say it’s magical?

The Sage Advice Compendium provides helpful insight into determining if a particular feature is magical:

  • Is it a magic item?
  • Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
  • Is it a spell attack?
  • Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?
  • Does its description say it’s magical?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, the feature is magical.

Now, this first item in this list is “is it a magic item?”, and obviously this isn’t helpful if we aren’t sure our item is a magic item. However, the rest of the questions here can help us determine if an item is magical. In particular, the last one: “does its description say it’s magical?

While many magic item descriptions don’t actually explicitly state “this item is magical”, they don’t have to, because the rules will tell us they are magic some other way. For example, the Dungeon Master’s Guide includes a chapter full of magic items. At the beginning of this list, we see:

Magic items are presented in alphabetical order. A magic item’s description gives the item’s name, its category, its rarity, and its magical properties.

Published adventures typically have appendices of magic items unique to the adventure, and in these cases, usually you have to read the section header, since it will just start listing the items. For example, we see at the end of Hoard of the Dragon Queen:

Appendix C: Magic Items

So if an item appears on a list like the one in the DMG or in a appendix labeled “Magic Items”, it is a magic item.

But sometimes the actual item description does have the answer for us. For example, this question observes that D&D Beyond has what appears to be both magical and mundane versions of healing potions. This phenomenon is a result of healing potions appearing on the Adventuring Equipment table in the Player’s Handbook, where every other item is mundane. In my answer to that question, I observe:

Potion of healing (all rarities) is found in the magic items chapter of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and potions are explicitly described as magic items.

We also find a common potion of healing described in the equipment section of the Player's Handbook:

A character who drinks the magical red fluid in this vial regains 2d4 + 2 hit points. Drinking or administering a potion takes an action.

A potion of healing is a magical red fluid.

In the case of the healing potion, the description itself tells us that it is a magical red fluid - a magic item. But when an item description does not itself say it is magical, check the sourcebook that item appears in: does it appear in a chapter or section entitled Magic Items?

This should cover all the magic items in the game, but the other questions from the SAC list may also be helpful if you aren’t sure. If after reviewing all the questions in the SAC bulleted list you still aren’t sure an item is magical, then you should defer to your DM’s judgment. But like I said, reviewing the SAC questions and checking the item’s sourcebook should reliably provide the answer.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I thought about how to make it explicit that listing items under the magic Item header defines them as magic items (other than the JC tweet of that context matters), and this does answer does accomplish it. Good job, and thank you for posting this answer. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may also be worth noting that the names of magic items are almost always written in italics (except when they are formatted as headers or something, e.g. within an appendix listing magic items). For instance, even when they appear in the "Other Adventuring Gear" section of the physical Player's Handbook (p. 150), the text "Potion of healing" is italicized. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 6 at 0:34
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Only items that say so are magic items

An item only is a magic item when the rules say so. When do they say so? Either if or if is explicitly described as magical, or it is listed as a magic item in the Dungeon Masters Guide, or another published source (like Xanathar's Guide to Everything or Tasha's Cauldron of Everything).

These are the only two ways the rules tell us an item is magical:

Either the item's description says it is magic. This is simple.

Or, it is listed in a section or list of magic items. Context matters, as Jeremey Crawford explains in this tweet. Not every item must repeat explictly that it is a magic item, if it is listed in a section that enumerates magic items. Thomas' answer gives explicit quotations for the DMG and other published lists.

Any items that do not fullfil one of these two criteria are not magic items, because the rules do not say they are, even if they are relevant to the process of casting spells or if they cause unusal effects. Neither of these properties is sufficient to make an item a magic item. If they were, the rules would need to tell us so which they do not.

There are no secret rules. If an item does not somehow say it is magical, it is not. This accepted principle is explained here in detail with multiple references.

Would it be reasonable to expect the rules to state that an item is not a magic item when it is not? No: there is an infinite number of thing that are not. Would they also need to confirm that a magic item is not a creature, is not a spirit, is not a substance, is not a spell, is not an ability, is not a hoovercraft? And that each of these things is not one of the others? Of course not. So, while we might want to see a more explicit defintion of what makes a magic item a magic item in the rules, such a definition is not included. Instead they tell us explicitly when an item is magical.

Adventuring gear table

There is a table of adventuring gear on page 150 of the PHB, that lists nearly entirely mundane items. The only magic item on the table is the potion of healing. All others are mundane. If you find an item on this table, other than potion of healing, you have a shortcut to know it is a mundane item.

Potion of healing. The healing potion is a magic item. It is both listed in the DMG as a magic item, and its description explicitly describes it as a "magical red fluid". It is also the only single item in the table that is using italics font. (All other italics use if for group headings, such as Ammunition, or Holy Symbols.

Holy Water: Holy Water is created by a ceremony and has special effects on undead, but it is not described itself as magical, nor is it listed as a magic item in the DMG. It therefore is a mundane item.

Spellbook: Normal Spellbooks as given on the equipment list are likewise mundane items. There are magic spellbooks like the Arcane Grimoire from Tasha's, but the normal one isn't.

Spell Casting Foci: Spell casting foci, whether arcane or druidic are likewise not magical. There are many items like wands, staffs or rods in the DMG that are magic items, but the normal ones are not.

Healer's Kit: the salves in the healer's kit are not described as magical. This is also mentioned explicitly in the Sage Advise compendium: "using a nonmagical item, such as a healer’s kit".

Special substances: these include Acid, Antitoxin, Alchemist's Fire, and Basic Poison. While their chemical composition has effects that are similar to those of spells, they are all mundane in nature. None of them are described as magical, and none of them are listed in the DMG as magic items.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is probably correct, but you don’t actually provide any rules support for the assertion that an item is only magical if it’s description says it’s magical. Right now, it’s just an assertion. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20 at 12:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Thomas, if you have any more direct evidence than the “no secret rules” principle, please go ahead and submit an answer, I’ll be happy to upvote it \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ These days I’m leaning toward “no secret rules” being a not-so-helpful response, generally speaking. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ The only way this question can really be useful is if it can be answered by actual rules, designer post, official guidelines etc. If it can't it borders on primarily opinion based, and if it can it should not be answered without these. Your opinion is sound, but it's no less or more valuable than anyone's else. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Mar 20 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi @Mołot I think this is a fair criticism, and Thomas has been better able in his answer to provide quotations for support. I will not repeat them in mine and will refer to him to include them. Still, people often overlook the simple answer that for something to be a magic item it must say so. Unfortunately (at least as far as I can tell), there is no explicit statement that an item is not a magic item unless it says it is magical in the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 20 at 23:19

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