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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?

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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\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 10 '15 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 '18 at 16:19
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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.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    \$\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 at 20:47
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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.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 4 at 21:11
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If "lore might hint at it", casting the spell legend lore as a ritual might probably do the trick.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain a bit more? Has it come up in your games? How did you handle it? How did it go? What relevant text from Legend Lore spell makes this possible. You can improve your answer substantially if it can be applicable to all tables, by citing references. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jan 20 '17 at 9:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer has potential, if the poster is willing to improve it. While the spell says it only works on things of "legendary status" I think I might allow it to work on slightly less notorious items -- it's a 5th level spell with a fairly expensive expended material component, so it seems reasonable to allow one to use it to discover if there is indeed "lore" about the item that might be known to, say, scholars, even if it isn't "legendary" \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jan 21 '17 at 6:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ As PurpleVermont said, this could be the beginning of a good answer - but you need to elaborate on it. Unfortunately, it's so barebones that anyone that edited it to fix this problem would basically be writing their own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 17 at 5:48
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I allow the spell True Seeing to reveal an item is cursed, but not necessarily the details of the curse.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This technically does answer the second question posed, but this answer could be greatly improved with details on how this house rule works for you. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Oct 21 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! You can take the tour as an introduction to the site and check the help center if you need further guidance. Like Pyro said, some additional explanation on why you chose to rule as you do and how it works for you would help this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Mwr247 Oct 21 at 18:46

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