I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Damage types (D&D 5e)

5e has thirteen damage types: acid, bludgeoning, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, piercing, poison, psychic, radiant, slashing, and thunder.

One could argue we don't need damage types at all - a monster that is susceptible to fire will obviously take more damage form a 5d6 fireball, so "5d6 fire damage" fireball is redundant.

The distinction is useful if you have a magic mace that deals, say, additional 1d6 fire damage, or a spell like meteor swarm, which deals bludgeoning AND fire damage. In this cases, a susceptible creature would take double damage form the fire, but NOT from the bludgeoning damage.

But even in these cases, I think I would ok with a less "realistic" and more "cinematic" version: the (fire-susceptible) scarecrow would be easily destroyed by a flaming sword, etc., despite the fact that a flaming sword would do a terrible job at destroying a scarecrow in real life.

In any case, I would like to keep damage types if only to make things clear and avoid questions such as "does the meteor swarm causes double damage to this monster?".

However, there are three damage types that bother me:

Bludgeoning. Blunt force attacks—hammers, falling, constriction, and the like—deal bludgeoning damage.

Force. Force is pure magical energy focused into a damaging form. Most effects that deal force damage are spells, including magic missile and spiritual weapon.

Thunder. A concussive burst of sound, such as the effect of the Thunderwave spell, deals thunder damage.

These three are so similar in my mind that they could all be described as "bludgeoning". I assume most people picture the impact of a magic missile to be akin to an invisible rock. Likewise, the impact of a "spiritual mace" would be the similar to a regular mace (even if stronger).

And "thunder" damage is specially weird. It deals "concussive" damage - like a mace, but more diffuse I'd guess - but this damage is caused by a burst of sound. Maybe the distinction would make  sense in real life, but in 5e thunder damage doesn't hurt your eardrums, and even a grenade does not cause thunder damage. In addition, people might find the thunder/lighting separation confusing (here is one example). "Sonic" damage might be a better choice.

As for monsters... there are not many monsters that are susceptible or resistant to bludgeoning or force. Some creatures are resistant to thunder damage, but most of these are ALSO resistant to bludgeoning for non-magical weapons. There are some flavorful choices - storm giants being immune to thunder and lighting, for example - but also weird distinctions, like skeletons being especially susceptible to maces but not thunderwave, "spiritual maces" or grenades.

Other than that, damage types don't really DO anything. There is no difference in criticals, types of armor (unless magical), and so on. You are not on fire after receiving too much fire damage, and you're not even poisoned if you take poison damage.

In short, if you NEED to use damage types, you could probably fold thunder and force into bludgeoning, making the game simpler and losing very little in the process.

Alternatively, you could USE damage types to do things (for example, making bludgeoning better against heavy armor), but that would make the game more complex.

The "middle ground" of "we have many damage types, but they rarely DO anything" seems like a bad choice for me.

UPDATE (10/10/2019): I released a book (5e Manual of Arms: Weapons) that, among other things, tries to differentiate between bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage - see below!


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  1. This sounds like it could be interesting if different types of armor blocked different damage types.
    Mail: BAD: bludgeoning, lightning, piercing
    Mail: GOOD: slashing

    For example. It'd end up being too complicated (like Harnmaster) but I like the concept.

    1. Yes, that would be a great idea. I tried something similar here:


      Ultimately, it might be too fiddly, but if 3e did, I bet 5e could do it too.

    2. That existed in the very early forms of D&D and chainmail combat, as optional rules in 2nd Ed AD&D, if you want to track it all.

    3. The homebrew system taken off of David Hargrave's Arduin had this. My dad, who got me into the game, drafted a spreadsheet of weapons on the left and AC's across the top. You picked your weapon and scanned across to the AC you were facing. I'm still using a similar system and currently have some homebrew weapon cards which have the scores needed to hit ACs written on the back. I'm not saying all the numbers are justified, but it adds nice variety to what people choose as weapons.


      That link SHOULD connect you to the cards. Please keep in mind that, as everything I do is, this is a work in progress.

  2. Would it work to combine Acid and Poison together, since they are usually paired in life for most things we are concerned about. Poisons that are just that, I would have do CON, Max Health, and/or Hit Dice damage instead. Maybe pure poison damage is rolled against HP max, while your regular combat "corrosive" damage is against regular HP.

    This brings the list down to:

    bludgeoning, cold, corrosive, fire, lightning, necrotic, piercing, psychic, radiant, and slashing.

    Lore Explanation: This gives 7 "physical" types and 3 non physical types of damage. Radiant is Ark of the Covenant style damage, necrotic is standard spiritual degradation, and psychic is trying to make your brain ooze out your ears. Radiant, Psychic, and Negative damage correspond to the three large divisions of the Outer Planes: Upper, Astral, and Lower Planes. The other 7 arise from elemental interactions of the Inner Planes.

    1. I like the idea of combining Acid and Poison. There might be some corner cases, but in general I think it is a good idea. Also, like the analogy with planes; makes me think of celestial/fiends(&undead)/aberrations for radiant/necrotic/psychich.

    2. Well here's the thing about making Acid and Poison "Corrosive" damage, its really not the same. Acidity melts immediately and works on the fact that something's properties are acidic which indeed makes it corrosive. Poison on the other hand works differently, poison has a certain chemical reaction which will be triggered by certain environments which will in turn cause the damage. D&D doesn't handle this great but with a little home brewing you can design unique poisons that require ingredients and condition under which it will take effect to do a unique type of poisonous attack. Meanwhile acid all you can do is splash it on someone and see how much damage it does. My opinion is that Poison and Acid damage make sense as different types if you want to base yourself on realism but if its just an annoying damage type you are sick on not having resistance to because you have one and not the other then yeah go ahead because with regular d&d a lot of damage types are just interchangeable since they almost all take place instantaneously rather than over time or something that would make learning poison worth it.

    3. That is true that acid and poison could be seperated to do different things, then it would be worth it. As it currently stands, you don't lose much from the combination of the effects.

      I could get behind poisons dealing purely stat damage, as well as one that inflicts a level of exhaustion. Maybe 1d4 per quality of dose up to 6d4 stat damage (1/4,096 to drop a raging barbarian in str damage, high end exhaustion poison is a Save or Die). You would probably have to change the stat damage recovery rules with this method though.

      In any case, if I were to overhaul poisons jn this fashion, I would want to bring ig "in line" with effects achievable by potions, which caps at 3rd level. In this case, I would allow for poisons and herbalism to scale beyond "liquid spell slots", but with a robust enough system to be reasonably useable.

    4. If it seems like I am bouncing back and forth on this concept from earlier discussions, it's because the main thing I get from this discussions is that poison is currently a boring mechanic.

  3. That works well. The Astral Planes/Far Realms are one and the same. One is just literal nightmare fuel.

  4. Idea for Corrosive damage: It targets Maximum Hit Points or Hit Dice, and maybe a fail save deals a level of Exhaustion.

    Granted, I am a fan of the idea of all natural healing coming from Hit Dice, so if you want to bounce back from a fight with poison, well you are down personal reserves to recover.

    My initial musing is that you have 7 tiers of poison: The first 6 are take 1-6 d6 Max HP damage, and lose 1-6 Hit Dice when getting hit by the poison. A critical hit gives a second save or take 1-6 levels of Exhaustion in the following round. This makes Rank (VI) poisons the ones where even the 20th level Paladin cannot help you if you are too far away. Rank (VII) is your classic Save or Die poison that is equivalent to the Monk's Quivering Palm.

    For scale, I would make your Ancient Green/Black Dragons have Rank (III) corrosive breath, with maybe a "dying breath" once off of a Rank (VI) cloud that can wipe out those that have slain them.

  5. I like Sean Boyd's suggestion to combine acid & poison into a single damage type.

    As officially described, force does sound like bludgeoning. I guess my instinct would be to combine it with psychic, though.

    I also agree that "thunder" should just be sonic. I want bard spells to shatter crystal golems.

    1. Let us see... Force is basic "magic missile " to me, but psychic damage in general seems to target the mind... Could work, I guess, make if we turned MM into bludgeoning - spiritual weapon could be psychic.

      I LOVE the idea of sonic damage shattering a crystal golem... It is not something that is currently in 5e, I think. Thunder damage does seem to shatter earth golems, which isn't that great IMO, unless War picks had the same effect...

      Maybe 5e should have gone the more complex - and interesting IMO - route of just saying some types of damage are better against creatures without blood and internal organs, etc.

    2. They also could have re-written the Monster stat blocks to not wipe out fun options like this. It's easier to track in a stat block IMO than on a weapon description.

    3. I completely agree! Monster stat blocks are a bit boring in 5e, IMO.

  6. And why doesn’t magic missile do piercing damage?

    1. I think the original idea of "Force" damage is that it was a damage type that couldn't be resisted easily.

      Personally, I would make Magic Missile and Eldritch Blast specifically "Untyped" damage, as it's arcane magic that seeks out the weaknesses of it's targets and does damage. So it can be resisted if you have blanket resistance (Bear Barbarian with a blessing of Psychic Resistance for example), but Immunity only arises if one is permanently immune to damage, in which case I would give the Eldritch Blast a "cannot lock" error feedback to the caster, while the Magic Missiles collide and interfere with each other and wink out of existence.

    2. I think untyped creates more issues than having a type.

  7. Heya! So I've been thinking about this damage type stuff for a while.

    Force damage is a weird concept, and has kind of varied in definition throughout the editions in which it has occurred. In 5e (ever inclusive of past editions' ideas!), it has snowballed up a few different identities which seem pretty fundamentally different.

    * It's the "raw magic" damage type, dealt by things like magic missiles and eldritch blasts, where it's not really clear what kind of physiological harm is actually being done.
    * It's the "force fields and kinetic blasts" damage type, which you might suffer when smacked by Bigby's hand or a spiritual weapon. Green lantern stuff, really.
    * Finally, it's a catch-all for any damage that's pretty much not resisted by anybody. For example: disintegration effects.

    I kind of feel like raw magic damage might just be called "arcane damage", and the kinetic energy stuff seems to very clearly be bludgeoning. And, like you've said, thunder damage usually seems like bludgeoning, too. (A case might be made for distinguishing between "pressure wave" sonic attacks and "vibratory" sonic attacks, but I'm not sure D&D is the right game for those distinctions.)

    While we're at it, I'm not really a huge fan of radiant and necrotic damage, both because they're kind of ill-defined (being more thematic concepts than descriptors of physiological harm), and because they're (usually) wedded to D&D's "objectively real" moral paradigm (although 4e did an interesting thing by connecting radiant damage to star pact warlocks).

    Anyway, I'm really into the idea of making damage types matter as more than just keywords to trigger other mechanics. And, in order to keep damage type rider effects from being overwhelmingly powerful or adding too much mechanical overhead, I think the thing to do is to tie them to relatively rare events, like critical hits. Maybe crits that cause fire damage cause the target to burn for additional damage on subsequent rounds unless they spend an action to extinguish themself. Maybe bludgeoning crits daze a target, making it Incapacitated for a single round. Poison damage crits, naturally, could cause the Poisoned condition (Con save ends, probably). And so on.

    Another fun way to add meaning to damage types is what happens when you hit 0 HP. Maybe only bludgeoning damage gives the attacker the option to render a target unconscious rather than dead. Maybe arcane damage (if that's a thing, 'cause I think it should be) gets you a roll on some table of random magical effects, potentially petrifying or exploding or mutating its victims. Acid and fire damage probably make somebody a lot harder to resurrect.

    Apologies for the huge comment! Like I said, I've been thinking about this stuff a bit.

    1. I picture necrotic damage as magically-induced tissue necrosis, personally. I usually fluff necrotic injuries as patches of dead tissue, black lines along veins, etc.

      Or it's losing something essential to bodily function, like blood. Vampire bites deal necrotic damage.

    2. no need to apologise, i will give this to dms when i get to use homebrew stuff more. i actually had a homebrew alchemy class thats kinda like plague knight, and the proc of the special ability for each type for the bombs go off on a crit, exept for force, force goes off HP [its basically disintegrate]

  8. Think of Radiant and Necrotic as Holy vs. Unholy damage. The former is Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones or Old Testemant, tske your pick), while Necrotic is essentially a spiritual wilting beyond what plagues can do.

    I think crit and 0 HP ideas work well. Although I would probably allow for meelee attacks to take damage reduction to change damage types to bludgeoning and deal non lethal damage.

  9. I'm not totally sure where to start. Damage types are important, particularly in spells that might not have a given damage type in their name, or might otherwise be misleading. A Fireball PROBABLY does fire damage, but the name is just the name, not a descriptor of its traits.

    As for things like Force, Bludgeoning, and Thunder damage, I could see some legitimacy in bundling them into one damage type. But out of all of them, that's about it. And even then, Force is meant less to be about physical impact, and more about raw magic power that has no "type".

    Part of the problem is actually not in the damage types, but in the inconsistent categorization of spells in the game, and the absurd amount of overlap in what various spells do. There's really no distinctiveness at all.

    A good solution for this would be to make certain Schools/Domains of magic do exclusively certain damage types, and cause exclusively certain conditions/effects...and that there is NEVER overlap of any kind between them. That would functionally eliminate the problem altogether...and, with some rearranging of class spell lists, would make each spellcasting class entirely unique and distinct from all others. It would even make specialist wizards unique from one another for a change.

    It would also solve a lot of the problems of damage types being identical, as they could be consistently and exclusively combined with specific conditions or effects that both thematically and mechanically compliment one another.

    What you described is just a few symptoms...not the causal problem.

  10. Thunder, bludgeoning, and force ARE different. Not only in how purely distinct they are, but they're important based on the type of enemy you are fighting. Bludgeoning is physical, thunder is nonphysical. This is Important because of enemy resistances. Having enemies susceptible to one should NOT be susceptible to all of them. Then you have Force damage: nearly everything is susceptible to it. It is also the type of damage you receive when, say, Dimension door messes up. You phase into a wall and the spell fails. You wouldn't call that thunder damage would you? Or bludgeoning? No.

    1. Well, interesting thoughts. I would say thunder is physical - "a concussive burst of sound". If you phase into a wall, this is also "physical" damage (although this is fantasy physics...). But maybe force works as a good catch-all damage for "spell damage that doesn't sit well in other categories".

  11. I always envisioned Thunder as being sound. Not concussive; rumbling. Depending on application, vibrations can be healing but also extremely disruptive. Thunder isn't a concussive, physical blow like bludgeoning, or an intangible concussive blow, like Force. It is a deep shaking that breaks a thing all around its body--which is why it damages things like Golems.

    1. I like this! It makes sense. I like to justify keeping the damage types as separate as possible so as to give enemies specific weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I like it!

  12. If you want to cut it way down, you can mostly do it by process:

    Decaying (Acid, Necrotic) — ages, tears tissue apart

    Shattering (bludgeoning, thunder, most force) — shockwaves.

    Disease (psychic, poison, decease) — affects only living things

    Penetrating (cold, slashing, penetrating) — ruptures soft tissue

    Burning (lightning, radiant, fire) — energetic damage

    1. That makes sense, I like it. Only caveat is psychic - it is "mental" damage and affects ghosts, for example.

  13. I totally disagree that Force in it's description makes sense to combine with any other damage type. What about pure magic, says concussive? I think we get caught on the RL physics forces and forget that Force isn't that at all.

  14. Love the way you write and I learn a lot with your post but I got a say you got a little lost in some points. Like in your 3rd sentence you contradict your argument on your 2nd sentence. Also you must have not have seen many real scarecrows because a flaming sword would do an amazing job against it. Maybe an arrow wouldn't be that great or a rapier if you used it like in D&D (piercing) but once again even a rapier would do a good job in real life. And again when you mentioned "...weird distinctions, like in skeletons...", It is only weird cause you put them (bludgeoning, thunder & force) in the same sack previously, since skeletons are just bone it makes sense they are "susceptible" to bludgeoning but not to thunder there is nothing more than a "loud noise" or force couse it's a magic effect that can (like you said) look a lot like bludgeoning damage, but not always.
    Still, thank you so much for your post i really appreciated and it was very useful.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! You make some good points. Since it is hard to be sure about what "force" or even "thunder" damage, most of this is speculation; I do think of a "force mace" as something that feels solid and blunt, so it should damage skeletons like maces, but it could be some spiritual weapon, etc. Depends on the DM's interpretation, I'd say.

  15. Sorry if I'm restating anything, I tried to read all the comments but I'm super tired and might have glossed over a couple of them. I think one of the oft overlooked purposes of the differing damage types, past just what they do in terms of game mechanics, is world building. It's for the DM and the players to paint a more vivid picture of what the players/monsters are experiencing. When the DM describes the effects of thunder wave on a character, it would be different than if they were hit by a mace. Same with acid/poison. I.E.: I got bit by a poisonous spider, and it made me lethargic and feeling sick until I vomited out the poison at a later time, but had it been an acid attack, the damage would have been presented as melting flesh or something like that. Idk, like mentioned above, I don't think some of the damage types are all that important to the actual damage dealt. It's just a cool thing to add a little flavor to a campaign.

  16. There are so many damage types simply so that resistances and immunities to those damage types don't imbalance the game mechanics -- or if they do, it's less of a retcon to bring them back into line. There are also interpretations that can vary. For example, thunder damage can be heard at a considerable distance, and a battle using thunder damage will be more likely to draw hostiles from nearby areas. This is not true of bludgeoning or force damage. Finally, some of it is thematic, such as Storm sorcerers getting enhanced abilities with lightning and thunder -- but NOT the other types of damage you have chosen to group together with those.

    In short, I think this element of the game is just fine the way it is. It's not as deeply considered as some of the others, but it's also not seriously broken, so I just leave well enough alone.

  17. Force damage is more like pure energy carried by magic: "Force is pure magical energy focused into a damaging form.", and thus would be more similar to fire carrying energy through heat and radiant carrying it through light. It isn't really accurate to combine force with bludgeoning. So force is pretty distinct from all the other damage types. Creatures with resistance or immunity to force almost always have magical defenses while bludgeoning and thunder resistances usually correspond to physical defenses.

    And the fact that thunder damage is carried through a fluid rather than a solid also causes a difference in what might lead to a resistance. A creature with a thick hide might resist bruising, but thunder damage will bypass that hide reaching the delicate ears eyes and interiors of the creature.

  18. I'm pretty sure "thunder" damage is meant to be the damage caused by a shockwave. The sound in real life thunder is caused by explosive expansion of the air. When a spell does "thunder" damage, I typically explain it as an explosive shockwave of air that hits the target like a blunt force. It's essentially like hitting a wall. That's why it's similar to bludgeoning.

  19. Today’s lesson is on “force” damage. Did you know that force damage (ie magical damage from spells like magic missile or eldritch blast) can’t target objects? It’s new to me but here’s why:

    "Force" damage has nothing to do with kinetic force -- which is split, in this context, between Bludgeoning and Thunder damage -- but rather raw mystical energy. It is primarily effective against creatures vs objects/base materials because it targets/affects the animating force of the creature, a quality which "objects" lack. Force spells generally *do only* affect creatures, affecting objects only when the spell in question says it does, as is the case with Disintegrate -- but Magic Missile, Eldritch Blast, Spiritual Weapon, and others all only affect creatures, and often with some mechanical perk as well (MM always hits, barring Shield; EB, unlike Firebolt, et al, can target multiple creatures as it scales; SW is a BA attack each round; etc...).

    1. Interesting stuff! Where is this from? I'm guessing from the spells themselves; magic missile can only target creatures, while fire bolts (for example) can target creatures and objects. Great catch!

      OTOH, acid splash only affects creatures...

      This is what I've got from the objects section in the SRD: "Objects and Damage Types: Objects are immune to poison and psychic damage."

      So, maybe this is an aspect of some force spells, not force damage in general - as you've mentioned, disintegrate can destroy objects. Or a weird mix of the two things.