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This question was triggered by a question with respect to punching with Ogre Gauntlets and counting the unarmed attack as a magical attack for purposes of bypassing immunity.

Basically, it goes like this: If you have a weapon with a certain magical effect, let's say the minor property unbreakable (can not be broken, requires special means) or temperate (no harm in temperatures between -20 to 120 F), it can bypass the immunity of something like a Werewolf because it is magical instead of mundane. This goes for any minor property because those properties are under the Magic Items portion of the DMG on pg.143.

How does this differ from a pair of gauntlets with the exact same effect being used as an improvised weapon (emphasis added for clarity) from dealing damage in the same manner to the same Werewolf? Or something that's clearly not a weapon like a Shield of Missile Snaring being used to bash an opponent?

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The Quick Answer: Check the item’s type and description

There are two ways to know if a magic item counts as a magic weapon:

  1. It is a magic item of the type weapon
  2. Its ability to attack as a magic item is specified in the description.

Magic Items of Type: Weapon

From Sage Advice Compendium 2016 reads:

Every magic weapon can bypass resistances and immunities to damage from nonmagical attacks, but only certain magic weapons are more accurate and damaging than their non- magical counterparts.

That is, the mechanic from some earlier editions, where a magic item needed a particular bonus to damage a creature, is gone. Now, you just have to confirm whether an item is a magic weapon.

The type appears immediately below the name of the magic item in the block. (See Magic Item Categories, DMG p. 139) Swords, bows, and other weapons appearing in the weapons table of the Player’s Handbook are typically magic weapons.

Usually, but not always, the weapon will also be specifically called out as “this magic sword” or “this magic weapon.” (Oathbow is an example where the magic weapon is referred to simply as “this weapon.”)

Other Items that can be wielded as magic weapons

If the item's description specifies so, the item can be used to attack as a magic item. For example, the Staff of Power (DMG, page 203) can.

This staff can be wielded as a magic quarterstaff...

Some Enchanted Weapons are NOT magic weapons

In your example of a sword that has a magical effect, this may or may not be a magic weapon. If the item is from published Wizard's material, check the above criteria.

If it’s an custom item invented by your DM then you just need to ask (or if you are the DM, just decide). It would be fine to have “wondrous item” that happens to be a weapon. For example, a non-magic axe might have a magic handle (fashioned from wood of the rubber tree plant) that allows it to be changed into a hand axe, battle axe, or halberd.

Magic Items as Improvised Weapons

A magic item that is used as an improvised weapon, such as a wand being used as a club, functions no differently than any other improvised weapon as far as dealing damage. They are magic items but not magic weapons.

An item's Magic Item Resilience (DMG, p.141) may make an otherwise-delicate item usable as an improvised weapon.

(Regarding the specific example of Gauntlets of Ogre Power, I have to say, worn gauntlets don't feel like an improvised weapon to me, and I would use the unarmed attack rules, maybe making ruling to give a +1 to damage if I felt generous. Wearing gloves is not very improvisational. Gauntlets that are taken off and used to slap might be.)

Spells on Weapons

One final note, there are spells that can be cast on weapons that do not turn them into magic weapons for damage immunity considerations. Continual Flame (PH, p. 227) is an example.

If a spell makes a weapon a magic weapon, it says so. See Magic Weapon, PH p. 257.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've selected this answer because of the section you've titled: Some Enchanted Weapons are NOT magic weapons. I think that's probably the best way to distinguish the effect. I'm going to be adding Enchanted as a keyword to certain items rather than Magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 26 '16 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be fine to have “wondrous item” that happens to be a weapon. - Note that "wondrous item" is the classification used for magic items that don't fall into other categories (e.g. weapon, armor, ring, etc.). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 10 at 9:55
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Only magical weapons bypass immunities. Any other item—mundane or magical—does not qualify. Even if it's a magical shield or magical gauntlets. Even if they are being used as improvised weapons, they are still not classified as weapons; thus do not bypass the immunities. The exception to this is when the item specifically states it can be used as weapon; for example: Demon Armor allows the users unarmed strikes to be calculated with a +1 to attack and damage rolls, count as magical, and has a damage die of 1d8.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not asking about gauntlets of ogre power, that was just the example. I'm asking about how to differentiate between similar or identical magic effects on various items and specifically how it bypasses immunity. For instance, you can shield slam with a magic shield for damage. Wouldn't that count? If so, why wouldn't magic gauntlets? Especially since I didn't say it was an unarmed attack, I said it was an improvised weapon (1d4 by rules). \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 25 '16 at 1:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand your point about it's raw state. I'm just pointing out that improvised weapons take something that is not normally considered a weapon (such as a table top, chair, broom, ale mug, bowl, etc) and allow you to use it as one. Gauntlets you are wearing can certainly qualify, as could a helmet, a breastplate you aren't physically wearing, etc. How would immunity differentiate between the magic for damage purposes? \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 25 '16 at 2:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Question change to hopefully better answer your query, @LinoFrankCiaralli. \$\endgroup\$ – Christopher Jun 25 '16 at 2:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lino think of it this way: the magic on the item isn't designed to do harm, and so isn't designed to bypass those defences. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Jun 25 '16 at 6:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've added an extra sentence to make the absolute sentence preceding it more accurate. If you don't like it, you can remove it, but there are cases where it's definitely not a weapon but allowed to function as one. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 26 '16 at 20:47

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