Identify is a key spell in figuring out what all the magic loot does once the party gets it. It also has expanded purpose in this edition of the game, stretching into figuring out what effects may be impacting a character.
The rules for Identify can be found in the Players Handbook on page 252.
Divination 1st Level
Casting Time: 1 Minute (Ritual)
Components: V, S, M (A pearl worth at least 100 GP and an owl feather)
You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell. If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object, you learn its properties and how to use them, whether it requires attunement to use, and how many charges it has if any. You learn whether any spells are affecting the item and what they are. If the item was created by a spell, you learn which spell created it.
If you instead touch a creature throughout the casting, you learn what spells, if any, are currently affecting it.
The rules for Identify explain the main purpose or use for the spell as learning the properties of a magic item. It also lets you understand any charges the item has remaining and any spells that are affecting it. The spell can also be used to acquire the same information if used on a creature.
How do you Identify?
There are two different methods for identifying items and conditions using Identify. The first is as an instant cast spell. Provided you have the pearl for the material component, you simply touch the item or creature, and you learn the properties for that item and condition for the creature.
The information floods in like an info dump. You learn how to use it, if it requires attunement, and how many charges it has. Slightly less common is finding out spells that are affecting it and which spell created it (if any).
The second method of utilizing Identify is through ritual casting. This involves a much larger and more elaborate setup. Casting as a ritual takes longer (11 minutes) but does not use a spell slot. It does still need the material components and the ability to focus on the task. Ritual casting is most commonly done around a break, short or long when the group has time.
Does Identify consume the Pearl?
Material components are part of casting most spells. Most of the time, a focus is sufficient, but for spells like Identify, a focus cannot be used to replace the pearl worth 100 GP.
The spell will specifically state if the material component is consumed. For example, Revivify requires a diamond worth 300 GP which is consumed when the spell is cast. Identify has no qualifier. Therefore it doesn’t happen.
Identify vs. Short Rest
Attuning to an item takes an hour or the equivalent of a short rest. At this time, the character learns all the same information as the Identify spell would provide. This would lead players to pass on or question the importance of Identify. Especially considering that Identify doesn’t let you know if an item is cursed or not.
The key is the other use for Identify. Using Identify on a creature can reveal some incredibly important information. It can tell you what spells, if any, are affecting the creature. This can be vital for dispelling a charm effect or any type of de-buff such as enfeeblement or blindness.
The other aspect is time. There is a three-item limit to the number of attuned items a character can have. If the character is at the maximum number already then, they would need to un-attune to one item first. This doesn’t take any time; however, if they decide they don’t want the new item, it will take another hour to reattune to it. This results in a two-hour total minimum. Identify as a ritual only takes 11 minutes.
Does Identify Reveal Curses?
The simple answer is no, Identify does not reveal curses. Identify provides the item’s magical properties. Curses are not magical properties; therefore, they do not fall under Identify.
The best possible setup is to use all of the divination spells at your disposal. Detect Magic, Identify, and Legend Lore makes the best team, but other spells and either Religion or Arcana checks might help if you can sell it to the DM.
The shortcomings of Identify are obvious in 5e. It is still one of the most commonly taken spells in the game. It offers a little versatility and more upside than not.
It is also one of the best ways to sort through piles of loot without wasting a day to do it. There are few adventuring groups who will not have Identify prepared by one of the members, and that is for a good reason.