In 5e, is there any way to detect that a magic item is cursed?

The DMG (p. 139) says about cursed items:

Most methods of identifying items, including the identify spell, fail to reveal such a curse, although lore might hint at it. A curse should be a surprise to the item's user when the curse's effects are revealed.

It says "most methods" but then does not go on to describe which methods, if any, do reveal the curse on a cursed item. 5e doesn't seem to have an equivalent of analyze dweomer from earlier editions (which would reveal a curse on an item). I suppose a wish spell would do it.

Is there anything less powerful than wish that either (a) clearly does reveal the curse on a cursed item, or (b) that you rule in your game as a spell (or other method) that reveals the curse on a cursed item?

Although the quote says a curse should be a surprise, it does not say that a curse "must" always be a surprise. In the context of the first sentence which only says that "most" methods don't reveal the curse, that seems to still leave room for the curse occasionally not being a surprise if an unusual method is used that does reveal it.

What does "lore might hint at it" mean in practice? Does this mean that identify might identify an item by name, and that name might be something someone knows something about, if they make a relevant Arcana or History check? Or that just by the item's appearance, someone might recognize it as a famous cursed item? Something else?


5 Answers 5


I don't recall anything in the existing manuals that allows a "simple" way to detect curses. I believe they were trying to make curses more interesting to play. So, from the rules view there is no easy way to know if an item is cursed except by trial an error (It adds drama!).

An easy way out would be to house rule a curse-detecting clause to a spell (identify, for example), in the sense that it would detect the negative effect of using the item.

Other ways are to hint it to player. Lore, like you said, is a good approach. Legends, rumors, hystorical records could point to a certain object being cursed. Maybe there's a warning in the item's resting place or the PC sense something "not right" when they touch it.

The fact is that by allowing to easily detect a curse it cuts off a bit the point of it being cursed. Curses are meant to be narrative devices. If you want to avoid the hassle you can always reduce the "curse" to negative traits or flaw like the DMG suggest in the artifact section.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “If you want to avoid the hassle…” Just not using cursed items is also an option. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2015 at 1:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you detect that someone is cursed by a magic item with a Perception check or an Insight check or just with common sense logic? If so, would paying a hireling or having a pet or familiar Attune and/or use the item to "test it for curses" be a method of detecting whether or not any given magic item is cursed? \$\endgroup\$
    – xsithos
    Jun 10, 2018 at 16:19

There are three cleric spells that might work: Augury (2nd level) Divination (4th level) Commune (5th level)

All three are rituals, so you don't even have to burn a spell slot.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! You can take the tour as an introduction to the site and check the help center if you need further guidance. This answer is good but it could be even better by detailing how each of these spells can be used to detect a curse. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – Sdjz
    Jul 4, 2019 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I expect your diety might get a bit annoyed if you're constantly bothering it with "is this item cursed?" "okay how about this one?" \$\endgroup\$
    – csauve
    Mar 1, 2020 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @csauve - Which could be a good hook for the DM; a particularly petulant deity could just go ahead and curse one of the magic items, for instance making it so that a character attuned to the item is unable to speak. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57505
    Jun 3, 2020 at 9:03

Identify wouldn't, as written in DMG, but as another commenter wrote, the lore might hint at it.
That's where "Legend Lore" comes into play.
By casting this, I give players strong hints on that it is. For all but the mightiest ones, because if an item is legendarily powerful, so are their methods of preventing to be revealed it is.
But with legend lore, I always give a hint.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Legend Lore says: "If the thing you named isn't of legendary importance, you gain no information." So RAW, it shouldn't help with a run-of-the-mill cursed +2 dagger. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2021 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course, but I didnt encounter so many "run-of-the-mill cursed +2 daggers" that are cursed, because who in hell would do that? Also, its a 5th level spell and even a wizard gets his first 5th level spell at his Level 9. Also, it consumes \$\endgroup\$
    – mpathy
    Jul 14, 2021 at 18:47

For the less moral parties you can always resort to human experimentation on random victims to discover if an item is cursed or not.

The rules state that you cannot stop attuning an item that is cursed without a remove curse spell. As such force a random peasant to attune your suspected item, then force them to un-attune them. If they are incapable of doing so it proves the item is cursed. You can then do further testing to find what the specifics of the curse are

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    \$\begingroup\$ It does explicitly address the question. The question is can you detect if an item is cursed and this answer gives you a perfectly accurate method of detecting if an item is cursed. The only cost is your morality \$\endgroup\$
    – Vlad Long
    Aug 8, 2020 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, that edit makes it clearer what the answer's trying to say. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 9, 2020 at 7:14

Here's what I ruled at first:

During an identification, you may use an Intelligence check to find out about the items property, lore and history.

This Intelligence check would be against a DC based on the item rarity. However, considering that most legendary artefact are almost unique and, well, legendary, the DC would have been hardest on common and uncommon items than on leg. or unique items.

My system has been based on the "Setting a DC" section from the DM screen, where a common or uncommon item has a DC check of 20, a rare or very rare has a DC 15 and a legendary one has a DC 10.

I found it logical that characters, as they get mightier, become better at finding curses on items, based on their experience, especially about known objects of local or global lore. It is, however, no longer true.

I realised that this way of thinking led to a decrease in the difficulty of finding curses, whereas characters get mightier and thus have higher stats and better abilities, leading to a quasi non-existent challenge for high tier of play regarding curses. I've realised the challenge of finding a curse in a magical object, or non-magical for that matter, was intended to stay to same, no matter what level of play you are at.

Thus, I've since changed my decision and are now going for the raw comprehension of it. To quote from the DMG: "Most methods of identifying items, including the identify spell, fail to reveal such a curse, although the lore might hint at it."

If an item has lore about it, and my characters know that this lore exists (via my ability to give it to them), then they might find about it. If they use the spell legend lore or if they use an Intelligence (History) or Intelligence (Arcana) check against a DC I choose from the "Setting a DC" section from the DM screen, then I'll give them more or less information about the object and its properties, be they good or bad.

I've used this method several times now and it has worked well.

Anyway, the remove curse spell is only level 3, available for Cleric, Paladin, Warlock, Wizard - which are, let's say it, the main classes any party would be formed from or be part of. This makes it accessible via almost every tier of play, apart from very low-level tier. And at this point, I would probably go for some sort of sub-quest for my players to find a way to get their hands on a remove curse scroll or a wizard able to cast it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jul 4, 2019 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ "common or uncommon item has a DC check of 20, a rare or very rare has a DC 15 and a legendary one has a DC 10" --- I think you have those DCs backwards \$\endgroup\$
    – csauve
    Mar 1, 2020 at 7:24

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