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You just picked up a magic item.

  1. If it's attunable, can you attune to it without having spent a short rest (or an Identify spell) to learn its properties? Thus requiring only one short rest.

  2. If it is usable without attunement and command word, like a Wand of Magic Missiles, can you use it?

  3. If it is usable without attunement but requires a command word, is it enough if you saw an enemy or ally use it once?

If any of the above questions is answered with no:

  1. Is it enough if an ally of yours knows the properties of the magic item and tells you about it to be able to use/attune to it? How long does this process take? I imagine if it took you 1 hour to identify the properties, it might take some time to explain them to others, right?
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am reminded of the original Diablo, which allowed you to wear unidentified items, but you wouldn’t actually get any of their magical properties if you did. Cue people using unidentified Gotterdammerung Great Helms, which had the best AC in the game but eliminated all of your resistances if identified. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 21 '17 at 19:13
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The short answer: yes, you must have identified a magic item before you can attune to that item.


To address your questions directly:

1. If it's attunable, can you attune to it without having spent a short rest to learn its properties? Thus requiring only one short rest.

No. You can't attune to a magic item if you don't understand it's properties, especially if you don't know that it requires attunement. The rules specifically require that the short rest used to attune be a different short rest than the short rest used to identify its properties:

Attuning to an item requires a creature to spend a short rest focused on only that item while being in physical contact with it (this can’t be the same short rest used to learn the item’s properties).

5e SRD, Magic Item Attunement

Emphasis mine.

The DMG also has this to say about identifying magic items (paraphrasing):

If a player has just found a magic item and can’t cast the identify spell, they must spend a short rest to determine what the magic item is. Potions are an exception, just a little taste of the potion is enough to tell you what the potion does.

Since we know that the same short rest can't be used to both identify and and attune to an item, and we don't know that an item requires attunement until after it has been identified, it stands to reason that you can't attune or otherwise use an unidentified item.

2. If it is usable without attunement and command word, like a Wand of Magic Missiles, can you use it?

My gut says not until you know its properties and how it works (which you probably don't if you just picked it up). If you have seen such an object before then it's possible you already know what it is and how to use it, and in you haven't seen such an object before your DM may allow you to experiment with the object; he might also not. This is all squarely in the realm of "ask your DM how this works." Expect table variation.

3. If it is usable without attunement but requires a command word, is it enough if you saw an enemy or ally use it once?

Maybe. This really depends on your DM. I might say yes, but I also might make it blow up in your face, depending on your character's knowledge of the item and his familiarity with magic and magic items. In all cases, expect results to vary from table to table.

4. Is it enough if an ally of yours knows the properties of the magic item and tells you about it to be able to use/attune to it? How long does this process take? I imagine if it took you 1 hour to identify the properties, it might take some time to explain them to others, right?

This is also situational. If it's a complex magic item with many functions it's less likely to be explained easily. On the other hand, if it's a wand of magic missile and I know how to use it ("Direct pointy end at target, wave emphatically") then I should probably be able to explain that pretty succinctly to my fellow party members. I would say to this also, expect table variation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @1. It only says that you are not able to identify and attune in the same short rest. There is no requirement or predefined order. \$\endgroup\$ – Thyzer Feb 21 '17 at 16:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I get a sword that does +1 damage but didn't require attunement, but didn't identify it, according to your point 2, I can even swing the sword as a normal sword. This is clearly false because otherwise no one would fall for cured items. You should still be able to swing the +1 sword, and it would do the extra +1. As a DM I would make it do the extra damage, but not tell the player. Also, in the case of point 4, Identify is one of the examples in the Spellcasting Services of the PHB on page 159. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Feb 21 '17 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ "useable item" is not a term of art, it is a distinction you are adding that isn't in the rules -- unless I'm missing something. A +1 sword and a wand of Magic Missile is only different in that the wand does spell casting action to activate instead of an attack action. I don't see a difference, per RAW, beyond that. Anyone can press the button on an immovable rod, right? Why wouldn't anyone be able to just pick up a wand and cast without knowing what was going to happen. I see nothing in rules stating you need to know what the wand does, and you provide no citation. Re:curses you're right. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Feb 21 '17 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ You address 2 and 3, but you still haven't addressed 4 and how it interacts with Spellcasting Service section. The fact the rules say you can pay to identify an item would imply telling someone what it does does indeed work RAW/RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Feb 21 '17 at 21:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @J.A.Streich, in this context a "usable item" is something that requires the "Use a Magic Item" Action (DMG page 141). \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Feb 21 '17 at 21:19
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Identifying a magic item isn't a kind of mysterious action, it is just learning its properties. You definitely can identify an item faster than 1 hour, but the exact time is up to the DM. If someone told you about the item, it also counts.

See DMG page 136:

Sometimes a magic item carries a clue to its properties. The command word to activate a ring might be etched in tiny letters inside it, or a feathered design might suggest that it's a ring of feather falling.
Wearing or experimenting with an item can also offer hints about its properties. For example, if a character puts on a ring off jumping, you could say, "Your steps fee strangely springy." Perhaps the character then jumps up and down to see what happens. You then say the character jumps unexpectedly high.

So if you just picked up Wand of Magic Missiles but you know what it is, you can use it.

If you spend an hour (a short rest) it you reveal its properties guaranteedly. But it is also up to the DM:

If you prefer magic items to have a greater mystique, consider removing the ability to identify the properties of a magic item during a short rest, and require the identify spell, experimentation, or both to reveal what a magic item does.

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Does activating the item require the user to do something special?

• Yes

You can't activate its effects unless you know how to use the item.

To learn how to use it you need to do one of:

  • Spend a short rest focusing on the item. This takes 60 minutes (unless resting rules have been changed). [SRD v5.1 page 206] [DM's Basic Rules v0.5, page 58]
  • Cast identify on the item. This takes 1 minute. [Basic Rules v0.3, page 94]
  • Get instruction from someone who already knows how to use it. Depending on how many properties the item has and how complicated the procedure to activate them, this might take a few seconds or many minutes. Depending on the activation method, observation of someone using the item might be sufficient. [Not mentioned in the rulebooks, but seems obvious to me]

E.g. Most wands, ring of evasion, bag of tricks, stone of controlling earth elementals.

• No

You gain the effects from simply using the item as normal (depending on attunement, see below).

E.g. Weapons, shields, armour, cloak of elvenkind, gauntlets of ogre power, ring of free action.

• Both

If an item has passive abilities and has abilities that require actions then you only gain the passive ones (depending on attunement, see below).

E.g. If you are using a staff of striking without identifying it then you will have the +3 attack and damage bonuses but you won't be able to expend charges.

Using a non-attuned item

You only gain the non-magical benefits. You can use a magical sword, but it will not give any attack or damage bonus, and will not count as magical for the purposes of bypassing resistence. You can use a magical shield, but it will only give +2 AC. You can wear a robe of stars but you won't get a saving throw bonus or be able to cast magic missile. [SRD v5.1 page 206]

Using an attuned item without identifying it

This is not explicitly mentioned in the books. The SRD says that the attunement short rest cannot be the same rest that identified the item, but says nothing about the order of the two rests.

I think both "you can't attune to an unidentified item" and "you can attune to an unidentified item but you will only gain the passive abilities" are fair.

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