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If burning hands is used to set a bush on fire is the damage caused by the burning bush still considered magical damage? What penalties would apply if so?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The part about "penalties" in your qestion isn't being addressed, what do you mean penalties? Penalties to hit? to damage? What kind of penalties are you imagining? \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Nov 10, 2017 at 3:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you are asking if the burning bush would still deal 3d6 fire damage, like the spell that caused it? \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Nov 10, 2017 at 3:40

2 Answers 2

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There is a distinction between magical and nonmagical fire damage.

First, it is explicitly stated in the rules on damage resistance (emphasis mine):

Multiple instances of resistance or vulnerability that affect the same damage type count as only one instance. For example, if a creature has resistance to fire damage as well as resistance to all nonmagical damage, the damage of a nonmagical fire is reduced by half against the creature, not reduced by three-quarters.

Second, it shows up practically in several places. Consider the Armor of Invulnerability:

You have resistance to nonmagical damage while you wear this armor.

While wearing this armor, you would have resistance to fire damage from something like a house fire, but would not have resistance to fire damage from something like a firebolt spell. There is a distinction to be made, as made necessary by this armor, and it is going to be up to the DM what constitutes magical and non magical sources of fire damage. Additionally, the spell gaseous form grants resistance to "nonmagical damage".

This answer goes into greater detail, establishing further a distinction between magical and nonmagical sources of damage.

What about our burning bush?

I will initially say this is up to the DM, because it isn't spelled out clearly, but I will make a case that our bush is probably not burning with magical fire.

To get there we have to ask the question, "What is magical?" This question was asked of Jeremy Crawford often enough that it was answered in some detail in the Sage Advice Compendium. The SAC gives the following definition of magical:

the concentrated magical energy that is contained in a magic item or channeled to create a spell or other focused magical effect.

SAC goes in to give this guidance for determining if something is magical:

Determining whether a game feature is magical is straightforward. Ask yourself these questions about the feature:

  • 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?

So finally, in the case of our burning bush, I make the case that the fire there is no longer "the concentrated magical energy that is contained in a magic item or channeled to create a spell or other focused magical effect", but rather magical fire just lit the bush on fire that is now burning. After all, the fire on the bush is sourced from the bush itself once the burning hands effect is ended.

So we conclude: fire damage from the bush is non magical.

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There is no distinction between "regular" fire damage and "magical" fire damage

PHB 196 states,

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. The damage types follow, with examples to help a DM assign a damage type to a new effect. ... Fire. Red dragons breathe fire, and many spells conjure flames to deal fire damage.

Both magical fire spells, such as Fireball, and non-magical sources of fire damage, such as a steam vent, deal fire damage. For example, here's the text for a nonmagical steam vent (OoTA 151):

A hot steam vent erupts beneath a random party member, who must succeed on a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw or take 7 (2d6) fire damage.

And the text for Fire Bolt (PHB 242):

On a hit, the target takes 1d10 fire damage.

See how they're the same? Thus, if a creature has resistance to fire damage, they would have resistance to fire damage from any source, magical or not.

There might be some confusion because certain monsters in the MM are immune to damage from nonmagical weapons. However, the wording is specific that it's bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage: (MM 48, demilich)

Damage Immunities necrotic, poison, psychic; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons

Hence, if you somehow had a flaming, nonmagical sword that dealt fire damage, the demilich would be immune to the slashing damage but not to the fire damage.

If you're designing something for homebrew purposes, then you're going to have to write your own rules that draw a distinction between magic and nonmagic sources.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It certainly used to the case that (eg) "Ring of Fire Protection" made you immune to non-magical fire, and take half damage from magical fire. This appears not to be the case in 5e (but may be what the OP was thinking of.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 10:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ The control flames cantrip from the Elemental Evil Player's Companion only controls "nonmagical flame", so there is some distinction, though it might be only this one spell. PDF link \$\endgroup\$
    – Josh Clark
    Nov 10, 2017 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshClark 5th-level spell Immolation (same source, or Xanathar's) says These magical flames can’t be extinguished by nonmagical means. Frost brand, a magical sword from the basic rules, says you can extinguish all non-magical flames within 30 feet of you. There are some other examples. As far as I can see, none of these related to damage, but there still is the question of whether when something is lit on fire by Burning Hands if that continuing fire can be affected by these things. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 10, 2017 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ See this answer for a detailed rebuttal of this answer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2020 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1, This answer sounds very reasonable, however, there are multiple discussions and a detailed Sage Advice dedicated to providing guidance on whether a source of damage is magical or not. As a result, the underlying premise of this answer is flawed. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6, 2020 at 14:25

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