How do you deal with: “What type of damage is that?”

I don’t know about you, but feel like in combat, I’m constantly asking “what kind of damage is that?” or reminding my GM about the type of damage my character just did. In 3rd edition, there were a few spells and magic items that did some sort of typed damage, and a good number of bad guys had resistances but most damage, especially from weapons, was untyped. This was probably an improvement over 2nd edition’s +2 vs goblins swords. Then you could have a sword that does fire damage and its good against monsters vulnerable to fire, in a pretty standard way.

In 4e, it feels like almost every power has some kind of type keyword associated with it: acid, poison, necrotic, thunder, radiant, psychic, etc. My 6th level character doesn’t have a single attack that isn’t typed (other than basic weapon). In addition my character has several typed defenses. This means that damage type matters a lot more often than it used to. This is cool in the sense that it can really help develop a flavor of character. E.g. you’re a Paladin specialized in fire attacks or your some kind of thundering warlock, etc. It also makes some things like poison and necromancy fall into the same rules set as other types of attacks, simplifying the combat model.

This is all well and good, but I feel it takes away constantly having to remind everybody about the damage types. It certainly breaks me out of the moment. Maybe I do it way more than is necessary, but as a player I’m looking for any advantage I can get.

Unfortunately for this post, I don’t have a lot of advice on this matter.  But, there is a purpose to my rant.  Now that I have a good number of people following, I feel like I can ask the community: “how do you deal with typed damage?” Are there tricks to keep its relevancy but not have it be so interrupting in the moment?

The best suggestion I can think of is using some kind of color-coded marker on the miniatures indicating defenses or vulnerabilities. That way the attacking player can know at a glance whether or not the damage type will matter and only have to mention it when it makes sense, instead of mentioning it all the time.  The color-coding can also go on initiative tracker or board, so otherwise be present at the table. I suppose too that we could come up with euphemisms for each damage type. For example, if I hit a ghoul with a radiant strike, I could say “the light of the heavens shines through the end of my staff, piercing the ghoul’s skin in 40 shimmering points around the bruise” instead of “I strike for 40 points of radiant damage.” But I feel silly doing that every attack.

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6 thoughts on “How do you deal with: “What type of damage is that?”

  1. I actually always give fluff then give brief crunch.

    “A brilliant flash of light leaps from his fingertips and sears your flesh. Take 10 radiant damage, 3 lightning damage.”

    Or when it comes to the other “stumper” bloodied:

    “You deliver a nasty blow, and the ghoul screams out in pain as bones crack. He’s now bloodied.”

    And in very savvy groups I’ll request players do likewise. In groups with beginners, I’ll just ask what kind of damage.

  2. I’m afraid that this is going to sound more negative than I intend. I’m trying to work it through my head, so please bear with me. The main issue I see is that the players and their characters don’t necessarily know what the vulnerabilities and immunities for the npcs are. Also, a number of them have the ability to change their immunities during the course of an encounter. So even if we put up the ones that the characters know about, there is no guarantee that they continue to be relevant.

    I’m not sure there is an easy answer, although I like Keith’s suggestion. We could also try a solution where I put some sort of marker on an initiative board when the characters learn of an immunity or vulnerability or for specific monsters that the characters have fought enough to know instinctively. To be honest, for the latter, it would be great if there was a player in the group who kept track of that information since I often have a million and one things I’m trying to juggle in my brain. This won’t negate the need to express damage types since some of them can still change the vulnerabilities and the characters might not yet know the vulnerability or immunity.

    I put the CombatPad on my xmas list to my parents. It has a magnetic core so if I get it, that could help with these sorts of markings.

  3. @Keith, thanks, that helps put in perspective for me. I feel silly giving that kind of description in every round, but maybe either I can get over it or everyone else around the table can play along too.

    That would help with some of @sarahdarkmagic’s concerns about keeping defenses secret. I think that having a player take care of combat tracking is a good idea too. We used to do this, and I don’t know why we stopped. There’s a lot more downtime for a single player than the gm in a round.

    I had been thinking of bringing my laptop with an init tracker program. Cheap projectors on ebay are still a little more than I’d like to spend, but maybe a large monitor (or minotaur)…

  4. I thought of another possibility. The GM could have a list of the power keywords for each player. If there is a chance that the keyword will matter, the GM could then ask the player to clarify if there are any keywords attached to the particular power used. Obviously this will tell the players that one of their keywords might matter, but it preserves a bit of the mystery and puzzle of some monster types. On the other hand, it requires a bit of trust between players and GM. Also, except in the cases of variable resistance types, you probably don’t need to repeat it after the first time you use a power with a particular keyword unless the GM doesn’t tell you when your attack seems to cause more or less damage than normal.

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