How to Identify Magic Items in Pathfinder

The cleric had been adventuring with her party for days, seeking out any magic items she could find. She was especially excited when the group came across a cursed sword that had been lying dormant in an ancient tomb for centuries. 

As soon as she touched the sword, she felt a cold energy wash over her. She knew she had found a powerful magic item, and she was determined to uncover its secrets.

Knowing how to identify magic items is a vital skill in Pathfinder. This article will provide a detailed description of how players can identify magical items. We will also include some examples of famous magic items and what skills are needed to identify them.

Finally, we will give some advice for GMs on how to handle identifying magic items. 

Magical Traits and Identity

The world of Golarion is a magical place full of strange creatures and powerful objects. Some magic items are rare, while others can be found in any major city for a price. 

Not all magic items are benevolent. Some are cursed and contain dangerous magic. If you find a magic item that you’re not familiar with, it’s important that you identify it correctly before equipping or using it. Otherwise, you may end up causing more harm than good.

How to Use Identify Magic

Suppose you stumble upon an unknown source of magic during an adventure. You can try to identify it with the Identify Magic skill if you’re trained in the proper magical tradition, which we discuss below.

Some magic items are easier to identify than others, so you’ll need both time and skill to make an attempt. Identifying magic can have several outcomes depending on your character’s skill level.

Critical Success: With a critical success, you’ll learn the item’s name and its magical properties, including how to activate it. You’ll also know whether or not the item is cursed. If you’re identifying a location, you’ll learn all the magical attributes of that location.

Success: If you succeed, you’ll learn the nature of the item and what it does. You’ll also learn the means of activating it, although you won’t be able to tell if the item is cursed or not without a critical success. If you have the time, you could always try again.

Failure: If you fail, you won’t learn anything about the magic item, and you won’t be able to make another attempt for at least 24 hours.

Critical Failure: In the unfortunate situation that you critically fail your attempt to identify a magic item, then you’ll misidentify it, believing it to be something that it isn’t. Depending on your GM, this can be anything from an inconvenience to an absolute disaster.

Magical Traditions

Correctly identifying a magic item relies on your character’s knowledge of the magical traditions. There are four different magical traditions: arcane, divine, occult, and primal. Each tradition is associated with a list of spells.

Before you can identify a magic item, you need to be trained in the magical tradition associated with the item’s magic.

Magical TraditionSkill
Occult Occultism


If you’re interrupted during your attempt to identify magic, you’ll lose your progress and have to start over. The good news is that you can make multiple attempts. With sufficient training, it shouldn’t be too hard to learn the nature of most magical items or locations.

Identifying Esoteric or Cursed Items

Some items may be impossible to identify. Even the most skilled wizard will have trouble identifying ancient relics, or item’s under the influence of a strong curse.

Using cursed magic items can have dangerous consequences. A cursed sword might strike its wielder with every attack, or a cursed ring might draw the life force from its wearer. In some cases, cursed items can even kill their users. 

GMs should be careful when using cursed items in their games, and players should be aware of the risks associated with using them. 

Types of Magic Items

Pathfinder has many different types of magic items, each with its own set of properties. Common magic items include potions, weapons, and armor, but you’ll find many strange and wondrous items occupying the world of Golarion.

  • Armor: Pathfinder contains magical suits of armor that can protect you from damage and enhance your fighting power.
  • Weapons: Golarion is full of potent and mysterious weapons that will help you overcome even the most dangerous villains.
  • Rings: With the right magic ring, you can take on almost any challenge. Powerful and rare, magic rings can give you extraordinary gifts or take them away.
  • Talismans: These small charms are worn or carried and can be used to unleash momentary surges of power.
  • Staffs: Magic staffs are used to enhance the magical capabilities of spellcasters. A proper magic staff will take you from hedge wizard to archmage in no time!
  • Potions: Magic potions can be a lifesaver in the middle of a fight. However, drinking a mysterious potion with unknown effects can lead to an early grave, so caution is advised.

Staff of Illusion

If you happen across an ornately designed staff with gold inlays, it could be a staff of illusion. This helpful staff can be used to increase your prowess with illusion magic, or it can be sold for a hefty price. 

In order to identify a staff of illusion, you’ll need training in the Arcane or Occult magical traditions.

Flame Tongue

This magic sword is made of brass and features an ornate handle and a blade forged to look like flames. When the sword is drawn, it produces a shimmering light. If you find a sword like this, you can try to identify it using your skills in the Arcane or Primal magical traditions. 

Wand of Slaying

This legendary wand is polished to a mirror finish and is topped with a green gem. Anyone who looks into the wand’s polished surface sees the reflection of a skull. With this wand in your possession, you can cast the finger of death spell once per day.

You’ll need sufficient training in the Divine or Primal magical traditions if you want to identify a wand of slaying with 

Using Detect Magic to Find Magic Items

There are many ways players can find magic items in Pathfinder. You can discover them when exploring dungeons. You can also buy them from shops or receive them as rewards for completing tasks for an NPC. 

Detect magic is a spell that can be used to identify the presence of magic items. When cast, the spell will reveal the type and power of any magic item within range. 

Detecting magic is usually done during exploration mode, where players can take their time to look for magical auras. While detecting magic, you can ignore the presence of your own magical items. You’ll also be fooled by illusion magic that is stronger than your character’s level.

Improving Your Magical Skills

As players level up, they can develop their magical skills in the game. Players who would like to roleplay their magical training can find Pathfinder NPCs to teach them. These NPC trainers can be found in Pathfinder academies or guilds. 

Other options for improving your magical skills include reading spellbooks, researching magical creatures, and studying magical phenomena. Performing these tasks will help you enhance your skills in the various magical traditions.

Identifying Inspiration: Tips for GMs

Alysia and her party had been exploring a dark dungeon, and they were running low on supplies. They had been lucky enough to find a few magic items, but they were looking for more.

Eventually, Alysia’s party came across a small room with a chest in the center. They opened the chest to find a variety of different items. Alysia immediately went to work, trying to identify them.

After spending some time examining the items, Alysia was able to identify three of them: a pair of gloves that increased her speed, a cloak that made her harder to hit, and a ring that granted her the ability to breathe water.

However, she could not identify two of the items: a dagger that seemed to be made of metal but was as light as a feather and a vial of clear liquid.

Identifying magic items can be exciting and challenging, giving players the chance to discover new tools and fantastic devices. But GMs should be careful when it comes to including difficult or impossible to identify items in their games. 

And please be extra cautious before including cursed items in an adventure. There are several reasons why GMs should be careful when including cursed magic items in their games. 

  • Cursed items can be dangerous for players to use. They can cause negative side effects or even kill the player. 
  • Cursed items can be difficult to identify. It may be impossible to tell that an item is cursed until it’s too late. 
  • Curses can be hard to remove. Once a player is cursed, they may need to go on a quest to find a way to remove the curse. And some curses are impossible to remove!

Using cursed items can be a lot of fun, especially for veteran players, but GMs should only include these items in the game if they know the players will enjoy it. Otherwise, your players may feel that you’re being unfair.

Final Thoughts

Identifying Pathfinder magic items can be tricky, but it’s an essential skill for players. The best way to identify magic is with the Identify Magic skill, which requires training in magical traditions. However, it doesn’t always work when curses are involved. 

When it comes to finding magic items to identify, try looking for them with Detect Magic or checking out shops. With a few magic items in your possession, you’ll be able to overcome any challenge Golarion throws your way!