A Beginner's Guide to D&D Damage Types, Photo Sketch of Medieval Weapons

D&D Damage Types & How They Work

The damage types in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition can be a bit confusing as to why they’re important.

They don’t really have rules on their own. But, they become important in specific combat scenarios. This post covers everything a starting D&D 5e player or Dungeon Master needs to know about damage types.

Let’s start with explaining what D&D damage types are.

D&D Damage Types Explained

D&D Damage Types, Photo Sketch of a Mage Casting a Spell
There are 13 D&D damage types that describe how a creature harms another

Damage types in D&D 5e explain how an attack or other effect damages a creature or target.

Honestly, the concept is as simple as that. D&D damage types are the types of damage an attack, ability, trap, or obstacle may do.

Page 196 of the Player’s Handbook explains damage types.

"Different attacks, damaging spells, and other harmful effects deal different types of damage. Damage types have no rules of their own, but other rules, such as damage resistance, rely on the types."

DnD Beyond: Basic Rules – Combat (Damage Types)

On their own, damage types don’t do anything special. For example, five points of slashing damage and five points of fire damage do the same thing mechanically; they deal five points of damage. But, some abilities and mechanics (like resistances, which I’ll also get to in a bit) use damage types.

Also, if you’re a Dungeon Master, knowing the damage types helps you flavor your monsters, traps, and environments.

Damage types in 5e fall into two general categories: non-magical and magical. The distinction gets a bit nebulous at times. So, these are general guides.

Non-Magical Damage Types

Non-magical damage applies almost exclusively to mundane weapons. As such, this is sometimes called weapon damage. These include bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. But, it also refers to non-magical elemental effects as well.

Usually, when a player or DM refers to non-magical damage, they mean mundane weapon damage. That is, damage resulting from an attack made with an unenchanted, non-magical weapon. Which is pretty much all basic weapons in D&D.

Swords, bows, axes, clubs, and any number of other basic weapons deal non-magical weapon damage.

But, non-magical damage includes natural elemental effects and fall damage as well.

Now, I will admit, this kind of depends on your DM. Some DMs might include elemental damage as magical. But, as it stands, things like a campfire, a lightning strike during a storm, or even the breath weapon attacks of D&D’s dragons don’t deal magical damage.

This is because of the advice found in the Sage Advice Compendium that outlines whether an effect is magical or not:

  • Is it a magic item?
  • Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
  • Is it a spell attack?
  • Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?
  • Does its description say it’s magical?
Source: Sage Advice Compendium (Page 18 as of writing this post)

If you answer "yes" to any of those criteria, the damage is magical.

Let’s look at an example; a lava pit.

  • Is a lava pit a magic item? – No
  • Is the lava pit a spell? – No
  • Is the lava pit a spell attack? – No
  • Is the lava pit fueled by the use of spell slots? – No
  • Does the lava pit’s description say it’s magical? – No

So, a lava pit deals non-magical fire damage (albeit, a lot of it).

Magical Damage Types

With all this talk about what isn’t magical, let’s switch gears and look at what magical damage is.

Magical damage types include damage done from magical sources. Spell attacks and attacks made with enchanted weapons deal magical damage.

The criteria above also works for determining whether an effect deals magical damage.

Usually, magical damage refers to damage done by spells and their effects. But, it also applies to attacks made with enchanted weapons. For example, even a basic +1 longsword counts as a magical weapon. As such, it deals magical slashing damage as opposed to non-magical compared with an unenchanted counterpart.

 

With these broad distinctions out of the way, let’s look at the main reasons for understanding damage types; vulnerabilities, resistances, and immunities.

Damage Type Vulnerabilities, Resistances, & Immunities

Photo Sketch of Two Knights Fighting Each Other
Damage types only really have an effect in D&D 5e in relation to vulnerabilities, resistances, & immunities

Some creatures interact in special ways with the many damage types in D&D 5e. These interactions come in the form of a vulnerability, resistance, or immunity to certain damage types.

You’ll use damage types almost exclusively in determining how much damage an attack, spell, or other effect does.

Usually, everything deals damage on a one-to-one basis (five points of slashing equals five points of fire). But, when a creature has a vulnerability, resistance, or immunity to a damage type, then you’ll calculate damage at a different rate.

For monsters and creatures, these come in the form of innate traits. For players, your race or class, like the dragonborn or Barbarian, might come with a damage resistance. Finally, some spells, such as absorb elements, grant resistance for a duration.

Here’s how each of these traits work.

Vulnerability
A creature with a vulnerability to a damage type takes double the amount of damage from that type. For example, skeletons in 5e have a vulnerability to bludgeoning damage. If you rolled a total of five bludgeoning damage from an attack, a skeleton takes 10 damage instead.
Resistance
A creature with a resistance to a damage type takes half the amount of damage from that type. For example, ghosts in 5e resist fire damage. If you dealt eight damage with the firebolt cantrip, the ghost only takes four damage despite being from a magical source.
Immunity
A creature with an immunity to a damage type takes no damage from that type. For example, a solar has an immunity to poison damage. So, if you hit with the poison spray cantrip, the solar takes no damage at all despite being from a magical source.

So, when you’re taking damage, remember if you have a resistance to that damage. And, if you’re dealing damage, pay attention if your DM says something along the lines of "it takes less damage than you’d expect."

The 13 Damage Types in D&D 5e

Photo Sketch of a Mage Conjuring a Lightning Bolt
Each of the 13 D&D damage types have a different theme to fit the creature

There are 13 damage types in D&D 5e.

  1. Acid
  2. Bludgeoning
  3. Cold
  4. Fire
  5. Force
  6. Lightning
  7. Necrotic
  8. Piercing
  9. Poison
  10. Psychic
  11. Radiant
  12. Slashing
  13. Thunder

Each damage type comes with its own flavor and theme. And, each one results from different sources…kind of. I’ll be honest, a lot of these either come from weapon and spell attacks.

1. Acid

Photo Sketch of an Acid Vial

Corrosive damage that dissolves organic and/or inorganic matter.

Example acid damage sources:

  • A black dragon’s breath weapon attack
  • A gelatinous cube’s Pseudopod attack
  • A chemical vat in an alchemist’s lab

2. Bludgeoning

Photo Sketch of a Sledgehammer

Damage done from blunt weapons like clubs and hammers. Also includes falling and constricting.

Example bludgeoning damage sources:

  • Hitting a creature with a greatclub
  • Falling from a 20 foot cliff
  • a giant constrictor snake’s Constrict attack

3. Cold

Photo Sketch of a Snowflake

Subzero temperatures and magical effects that freeze the flesh of creatures.

Example cold damage sources:

  • The cone of cold spell
  • A silver dragon’s breath weapon attack
  • Entering the waters of a far-northern, tundra lake

4. Fire

Photo Sketch of a Bonfire

Searing heat and rampaging flames that burn creatures and objects.

Example fire damage sources:

  • The fireball spell
  • A red dragon’s breath weapon attack
  • Tripping into a campfire in the middle of the night

5. Force

Photo Sketch of a Starburst

Pure magical energy focused into a single point to deal damage. This damage type results almost exclusively from spells but might come from other magical effects.

Example force damage sources:

  • The magic missle spell
  • The spiritual weapon spell
  • Attempting entry to a magically sealed area

6. Lightning

Photo Sketch of a Lightning Strike

Raw electrical energy that shocks a creature’s bodily functions.

Example lightning damage sources:

  • The lightning bolt spell
  • A blue dragon’s breath weapon attack
  • ?Getting struck by lightning during a storm

7. Necrotic

Photo Sketch of a Skull Dissolving

Corrupting and withering damage that breaks apart living creatures and inanimate objects alike.

Example necrotic damage sources:

  • The chill touch spell
  • Touching a cursed object in a necromancer’s tomb
  • A mummy’s rotting fist attack

8. Piercing

Photo Sketch of a Spear

Damage done from sharpened points that pierces through flesh.

Example piercing damage sources:

  • Hitting a creature with a rapier
  • A tiger’s bite attack
  • Falling into a spike trap

9. Poison

Photo Sketch of a Wine Glass

Damage that results from contaminated food and water or from venomous creatures.

Example poison damage sources:

  • The poison spray spell
  • A green dragon’s breath weapon attack
  • Ingesting a potion of poison

10. Psychic

Photo Sketch of a Mental Energy Emanating from a Person

Psychic damage affects the minds of living creatures, wracking them in immense pain originating from their skull.

Example psychic damage sources:

  • The vicious mockery cantrip
  • A succubus’ Draining Kiss action
  • Witnessing something so alien your player character’s mind can’t handle it

11. Radiant

Photo Sketch of Light Coming Through Clouds

Holy and blinding light that burns the flesh and very soul of creatures.

Example acid damage sources:

  • The sacred flame cantrip
  • A deva’s Mace attack
  • Trespassing onto a divinely protected and warded land

12. Slashing

Photo Sketch of a Saber

Sharpened blades and claws that rend flesh and cut through objects deal slashing damage.

Example acid damage sources:

  • Hitting with a longsword attack
  • The brown bear’s Claws attack
  • A spinning blade trap that ejects from a wall

13. Thunder

Photo Sketch of a Firework Exploding

Booming, resounding, and echoing sound waves that shatter eardrums and shake the earth.

Example acid damage sources:

  • The thunderwave spell
  • The resounding, rhythmic pounding of a magical generator
  • The outer portion of a large explosion

D&D 5e Damage Types FAQ

Photo Sketch of a Viking Axe

What is the Best Damage Type in D&D 5e?

Force damage is arguably the best damage type in D&D 5e.

According to this post on Giant in the Playground, no creatures resist force damage and only one has an immunity against it. This makes it the least mitigated damage type.

That said, only 12 things deal force damage according to the post. So, you have limited options.

How Many Damage Types Are There?

There are 13 damage types in D&D 5e.

What Damage Type is Wind in 5e?

Wind doesn’t have a damage type in 5e. It’s usually not strong enough to actually deal damage.

That said, you could use bludgeoning damage as a stand-in for non-magical damage from a strong enough wind.

Is Force Damage Bludgeoning?

Force damage is not bludgeoning in D&D 5e. Force damage is its own damage type that represents pure magical energy in a damaging form.

What is the Difference Between Acid & Poison Damage?

The difference between the acid and poison damage types is one represents corrosiveness and the other toxicity. Acid damage corrodes physical matter like flesh or stone while poison deals damage based on its toxicity.

 

Summary of D&D Damage Types

That about covers everything concerning the D&D damage types.

Overall, the 13 damage types don’t do anything on their own. Rather, they’re important when a creature has a vulnerability, resistance, or immunity to a specific type of damage. That said, Dungeon Masters may use damage types when determining traps or environmental hazards to fit the theme of their campaign.

How do you use damage types in you game? Do you follow the rules as written and they only come into play for resistances and such? Or, have you added additional rules for them? Leave a comment below with your experiences.

2 thoughts on “D&D Damage Types & How They Work”

  1. Along with “swords, bows, axes, clubs, and any number of other basic weapons”, non-magical weapons include bite, claw, and tail attacks. This is important when considering damage reduction provided by Heavy Armor Master.

    1. That’s true. I guess I just bundle natural weapons in with “other basic weapons.” But, I suppose that’s not inherently obvious to newer players, is it? Thanks for this!

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