Reexamining & Revising Damage Resistance in 5e

Sorry it has been a while, but life has been a bit wild. During the last few months I have taken to reconsidering a few elements of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. While I have listed and explained the house rules we use in my home game, these have evolved a bit and some have fallen out of favor (specifically injury rules which got cumbersome, scope “I Need Healing!” by Sean van Terra for some more nuanced injury rules).

Now that my group has hit higher levels, they are 12th currently, some things are starting to bubble up again that we take issue with. In addition having written “Wolf Lord of Yol,” I noticed a similar issue and mitigated it there a bit. The issue is Damage Resistances and Damage Immunities.

Part of our issue came up when Damage Resistance and Concentration checks interact. A specific instance was when our (secret) tiefling got hit by a firebolt from an enemy that rolled a 3 on damage. The tiefling, even only taking 1 damage after damage reduction, had to roll a concentration check. They failed and lost a major spell. We quickly remedied this with the following rule that some folks (including Hannah Rose!) dug.

Simple solution and effective. Honestly, everyone at my table is happy with it and it has never been specifically overpowered.

Before moving out, let’s examine the text for Damage Resistance and Vulnerability on page 197 of the Player’s Handbook and in the Basic Rules.

If a creature or an object has resistance to a damage type, damage of that type is halved against it. If a creature or an object has vulnerability to a damage type, damage of that type is doubled against it.

Very straight forward. Either halve the damage or double it. Here is not my issue with resistance. My issue is with how it is implemented for huge swathes of monsters. But I will focus on a creature that exemplifies my issue while calling back to how 3.5 handled it and how 5e can potentially manage things in a similar way despite new scaling.

The first monster is the classic werewolf. Its damage immunities read:

Damage Immunities Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks that aren’t Silvered

Fighting one of these using pitchforks, swords, maces, and any mundane object or even claws will result in no effects, unless the object is made of silver or coated in it. However it seems any magical weapon or effect will affect the werewolf without issue. 1st level wizard with firebolt, no problem. Have a +1 longsword, werewolf is good as dead.

The issue is that any magic is as good as silver versus the werewolf. To me, that takes away an element that makes werewolves special. It is an all or nothing type situation. If one goes back to 3.5, the damage resistance that werewolves had was 10/silver, meaning they took 10 less damage from everything unless it was silver. This meant that even a +1 sword was not as effective as a silver sword.

We addressed this in “Wolf Lord of Yol” with the stat block of the Wolf Lord:
Clipboard01As you can see unless silver is used, the Wolf Lord has some level of resistance against the damage. These tiers of damage resistance reward players that go out of their way to find and exploit vulnerabilities instead of saying “well you have a +1 sword, so you overcome everything.”

So what is the answer? A classic way would be to tier up magic weapons. So a weapon with a +1 can overcome some monsters’ resistances/immunities, then a higher level monster, say a Balor, would require a +2. The issue with this is that 5e does not have all its higher level magic weapons with +1, +2, or even +3s. For example, Frost Brand does not have ANY bonuses to hit so this approach would make a very rare magic item less effective against a monster of a certain caliber than an uncommon magic item like a +1 longsword.

Frost Brand

But there is the solution and it is a simple one: use the hierarchy of rarity of magic items to determine overcoming resistances.

There are common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and legendary magic items (with artifacts being an entire league of their own). That means there are five tiers to work with. However for our needs, I think four it appropriate and makes it easy to dismiss common magic items that readily accessible to many.

With these tiers what way can it be compared to a monster without retrofitting every single creature in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition? Well what about using proficiency bonus as a guideline. +2 proficiency bonus creature, no change. +3, consider an uncommon item to overcome. +4, rare. +5, very rare. +6, legendary. The alternative is CR ranges. Honestly either would work.

Stone Golem

Putting this into play, lets look at golems, specifically the three most popular: flesh, stone, and iron. All golems damage immunity falters to adamantine; this should not change. But having the same +1 longsword being able to cut through all of them seems a bit off for such a resource intensive creation. Implementing the proficiency bonus based change to resistance/immunity this would mean that a +1 longsword (an uncommon magic item) would overcome the immunity of a flesh golem, but not a stone or iron golem since their proficiency bonus is higher that +3. Utilizing flame tongue (a rare magic item), it would overcome the flesh and stone golems immunity, but not the iron; whereas frost brand would over come them all due to being very rare.

Back to the Balor, it would require a legendary magic weapon to overcome its resistances due to its +6 proficiency bonus using this rule set. But for such a high ranking demon, this makes sense.

The issue though it how this affects a lower creature like the werewolf. Versus a basic werewolf, sure play it rules as written (RAW). But when one sets up a larger, more experienced and dangerous werewolf then its CR goes up and inevitably its proficiency bonus. Eventually it will have immunities to +1 longswords, but still be open to a silvered longsword vanquishing it quickly.

I am not sure how well this would work in practice. One effect is that it makes up-casting magic weapon very helpful, in that making a sword a +2 could up its rarity equivalency (this may be a term), ergo enable it to overcome higher CR creatures. At the same time, if a transmuter wizard awesome against werewolves, as they could turn a mundane wooden staff into silver. Sweet at any level.

Tell me what you think about my proposals on Twitter over @OnlyPlayWizards. Any tweaks or changes you think could make this work better?