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Is there a rule governing how I should factor in different damage types when a player uses a weapon to damage an object? For example, using a dagger or maul on rope rather than a scimitar, or using a long sword to gouge a hole in a sack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The scope of the title question seems fine, but the body text seems to make it a little too broad - "interact with the environment" is a very general description, and the examples you give don't necessarily involve the environment (i.e. a rope and sack aren't necessarily environmental objects; they can just as easily be held by a character). I'd suggest clarifying the scope and editing the question to have the body of the question match the title. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 6 '18 at 1:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ V2Blast, your comment clarified my own question for me. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – HenryWLee1066 Oct 6 '18 at 2:13
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Yes. See Chapter 8 of the DMG, the section entitled Objects. A partial quote:

When characters need to saw through ropes, shatter a window, or smash a vampire’s coffin, the only hard and fast rule is this: given enough time and the right tools, characters can destroy any destructible object. Use common sense when determining a character’s success at damaging an object. Can a fighter cut through a section of a stone wall with a sword? No, the sword is likely to break before the wall does.

The section then goes on to suggest ways of giving AC and HP to objects, as well as taking into account factors such as size, damage types, and thresholds. Less a hard-and-fast rule and more a collection of guidelines.

You asked, "Can a character use a dagger to cut a rope or only poke holes in it?"

Since the PHB defines the damage done with a dagger as piercing, that is an argument that daggers can't do slashing damage.

The same section of the DMG says:

Objects and Damage Types. Objects are immune to poison and psychic damage. You might decide that some damage types are more effective against a particular object or substance than others. For example, bludgeoning damage works well for smashing things but not for cutting through rope or leather. Paper or cloth objects might be vulnerable to fire and lightning damage. A pick can chip away stone but can’t effectively cut down a tree. As always, use your best judgment.

[Emphasis added]

So while you could argue that daggers only do piercing damage, you could also reasonably note that common definitions of daggers note they have edges.

Wikipedia says:

A dagger is a knife with a very sharp point and one or two sharp edges, typically designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon.

To me that the DMG says things in this section like "use common sense", "use your best judgment", it is entirely reasonable to note that daggers have edges, therefore they can cut ropes.

Furthermore it is reasonable and entirely supported by the DMG to note that a maul isn't going to do much (direct) damage to a rope, while a sword has a pointy tip and can reasonably poke a hole in something, at least with some effort.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the pertinent part of your quote is "the right tools", the question seems focused on "is a dagger the right tool for this particular job?" I don't think your answer addresses the root of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 6 '18 at 1:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I expanded the answer a bit to better address the "right tool" issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Oct 6 '18 at 4:11
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Presently, I use what makes sense in narrative. I rule that a scimitar does normal damage to a rope, but that a rope has resistance to bludgeoning. Similarly, the dagger does half damage.

The half damage isn't so much about the dagger not being able to cut the rope, but rather the scimitar is so much better at it.

But a spear is right out. Because that seems weird.

Unfortunately, I have no support for this other than it makes sense to me and our group accepts it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't worry about the downvotes. Your table didn't know the rule, made a ruling, and moved on. That was the right call and now you've found there's a mechanic for it. That's a win in my book. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 6 '18 at 2:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I have received enough downvotes in real life that I am able to stomach these. ;) The guidance from the DMG was super helpful, and that's why I posted. I appreciate this community. \$\endgroup\$ – HenryWLee1066 Oct 6 '18 at 2:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Seconding NautArch, plus an upvote. You actually did pretty much what the DMG says. I like the rules, but in actual DnD just like in actual life sometimes you gotta roll with what you got and move on, and sort out the bodies and the rules later. And that's what you did. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Oct 6 '18 at 4:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is strange that the end result is that a club is as useful as a dagger. I can't upvote because I disagree with your specific implementation, but your premise about narrative sense is correct. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 8 '18 at 9:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can completely understand why you would use that logic and do not disagree if it will hinder the game play too much to clarify the rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Nytespade Jun 20 at 16:59

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