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Vampires and vampire spawn have the Regeneration trait (MM 297-298), but:

If the vampire takes radiant damage or damage from holy water, this trait doesn't function at the start of the vampire's next turn.

Holy water (PHB 151) allows you to make a ranged attack with it as an improvised weapon, and:

If the target is a fiend or undead, it takes 2d6 radiant damage.

What is the point of specifying that vampire regeneration is turned off by radiant damage or holy water if holy water does radiant damage to undead?

Are there vampires that are not undead?

While it may be possible to turn one spell damage type into another, I can't find an example of being able to turn object damage from one type into another (that is, a way of making holy water do non-radiant damage but still being holy water).


Related question: Changing elements for spells

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Seems to be.

So, the first thing that came to mind was: maybe the vampire stops being an Undead when it is in Bat form? But no, it doesn't.

Its statistics, other than its size and speed, are unchanged.

Notably, "Type" is one of the monster statistics, so even in Bat form it remains an Undead.

Are there vampires that are not undead?

Again: not as far as I am aware. All vampires in Curse of Strahd are undead as far as I remember and I don't know of any Vampire that is not undead in published adventures.

I also don't know of any RAW way to change the damage type of Holy Water, unless by some DM fiat on the rules about Damage Improvisation.

I also don't know of any way a Vampire could change its type while remaining a Vampire.

So, yes, within published material, it seems to be a redundant text. However, it may be applicable under some house-rules or under content published in the future.

It may be intentional - to make clear that Holy Water is really, really effective against Vampires - or it may be an oversight from the writers and editors. Either way, no harm done, I believe.


Super edge-case

As discussed in the comments, there is an edge case where this might (very weak might - it still is up to DM interpretation) show up. A Druid player character turned into a Vampire. From the Monster Manual:

The game statistics of a player character transformed into a vampire spawn and then a vampire don't change, except that the character's Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores become 18 if they aren't higher. In addition, the character gains the vampire's damage resistances, darkvision, traits, and actions.

So, a Druid turned into Vampire would still have Wild Shape, from my reading, and would have the Regeneration feature from the vampires.

Then, it could use Wild Shape, which changes the creature type, becoming a Beast (or something else like Elementals for Moon Circle). Wild Shape then states

You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so.

So, now it is up to the DM: is the new form physically capable of the improved regeneration provided by the vampirism? If (big if) the DM accepts that it does, then you now got a Beast with Vampire's Regeneration. Holy Water would not deal radiant damage, but would deal some damage (improvised damage), and would still stop the regeneration. Is this intended? I highly doubt.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I personally think that the "to make clear that Holy Water is really, really effective against Vampires" bit is quite important. When I read radiant damage, I don't immediately think "Ah, yes, holy water then". \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jul 17 '20 at 7:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your answer and the exploration of the edge case, as unlikely as it may be. I think it's also reasonable to think about future additions to the rules that may change. Perhaps a potion brewer subclass that can change damage types of potions and bombs, inluding holly water. Then the Vampire would still be damaged. The flavor reasons for this would be that the blessing remains in the water despite the damage type change. \$\endgroup\$ – Chebi Jul 17 '20 at 15:42
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It is pointless at the moment

As it currently stands, the specification is indeed pointless, unless your DM feels like ruling that a flask of Holy Water can be used as a bludgeoning improvised weapon to deal 1d4 without breaking, and this will somehow stop the vampire from regenerating, which seems extremely unlikely like it was the intended meaning.

As such, this may very well be an oversight, or some sort of future-proofing in case they ever want to make Holy Water that deals a different type of damage, or some kind of feature that changes the damage of Holy Water.

Are there vampires that are not undead?

If there were, they'd have to be fiends or they wouldn't take any significant damage from Holy Water to begin with. And if they're fiends, the mention of radiant damage would still not be needed because they'd be taking radiant damage. If a vampire could somehow become a different type that does not take the Radiant damage (for example by taking classes in Druid) it would take 1d4 damage of a type determined by your DM, and at that point it is up to them if this will still stop the regeneration.

But what if you absolutely want to make it be a useful plot point? Well, there is a way to make Holy Water specifically useful against a vampire, and that would be to give it a custom magical item of sorts, which protects them from radiant damage but not from Holy Water, for example:

Disclaimer: This is not a real item, but a similar item could exist in the future:

Sunshield Necklace, very rare magic item

Requires attunement by a creature with sunlight sensitivity

While wearing this necklace, the wearer is shielded from the harmful effects of the sun and radiant damage. Sunlight sensitivity no longer grants disadvantage on perception checks or attack rolls, and if the wearer would take damage from standing in sunlight, they are no longer harmed by the sun. In addition, when the wearer takes Radiant damage, they can use their reaction to turn the damage into Necrotic damage.

If a vampire was wearing such an item, being hit by Holy Water would not deal Radiant damage, but it would still be damage from Holy Water, so it would still lose its regeneration, which would not happen if it took Radiant damage from a different source.

As such, this may be a useful feature of the vampire in some future work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, a vampire that was not undead would not take DAMAGE from holy water (unless it was a fiend). I hadn't parsed that out correctly. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jul 17 '20 at 7:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt It technically would, it would take 1d4 damage of a type determined by the DM, most likely piercing or slashing to represent glass shattering. But if this would stop a non-undead vampire's regeneration is something that'd be largely up to debate. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jul 17 '20 at 7:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ And if there will be rules about changing holy water damage, it'll be needed, too \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jul 17 '20 at 7:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik "treating the holy water as an improvised weapon." It seems like in that case RAI it is the flask doing damage, not the holy water (and I would use bludgeoning). But I think RAW you are correct, the shattered flask does damage not from the flask, but from the holy water. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jul 17 '20 at 7:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theik By the same argument, your Vampire Hunter just needs to change their name to "Holy Water", and use any weapon they like... \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Jul 17 '20 at 16:20
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The text is redundant. This is most likely due to the developers making changes to exactly how holy water functions during the extensive development process.

In D&D 3.5, holy water hurts undead "almost as if it were acid" and deals "2d4 points of damage" (with no type specified), and if they had similar language in 5th edition's pre-release versions, the text would make sense

That said, there's no harm in mentioning holy water in specific, so it's possible they elected to leave the redundancy in place on purpose, as an aid to players. If a player does not remember that holy water deals radiant damage in specific, they might fail to make the connection to the special effect on vampires, so the extra call-out could help remind people that "Hey, this right here is why holy water works especially well on Dracula."

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Attack with Holy Water as improvised weapon

Using holy water as intended takes an action and makes a ranged (thus DEX) attack.

A martially inclined character might prefer to forgo this 2d6 damage and instead use holy water as an improvised weapon as specified in PHB p.147 to deal 1d4+STR damage as a melee weapon attack. It is up to DM to determine the type of this damage and it might as well be bludgeoning not radiant. *

Using holy water in such a way might be advantageous, because you can use it with numerous class features such as Extra Attack, Divine Smite and Rage, as a bonus action with e.g. War Magic and improve it with feats such as Tavern Brawler.

Catapult

Similarily you could use Catapult spell to deal 3d8 bludgeoning damage by launching holy water


*DM could reasonably rule that bludgeoning someone with a flask of holy water in such a way would be attacking with a flask, not the holy water itself, thus not being applicable to negating vampire regeneration. An enterprising adventurer in response could freeze holy water i.e. with Shape water and use it directly as a bludgeoning implement. In such a case even if the holy ice dealt bludgeoning damage (which is perfectly reasonable) it would still negate vampire regeneration.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for interesting & creative ways to attack with the flask & the holy ice (damage as holy water but possibly not radiant). Most suggestions don't address the central premise of the question, though. If the DM rules that the damage is from the flask, it is neither radiant damage nor holy water & so won't stop regen. If it is damage from the water, it is also radiant and the fact that it is holy water is redundant. The flask is designed to break on impact, so I don't think Extra Attack would be allowed. Yes, you could use it for Divine Smite - but then it would be a double redundancy? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jul 20 '20 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt I would not rule that all damage by holy water(ice) is radiant, because it doesn't make any sense for i.e. block of holy ice on a stick to ignore raging barbarian's resistance to non-magic damage and there is no precedent for the same (improvised) weapon to deal different damage types to different enemies. I agree that Divine smite was a bad exampe, better ones would be Searing Smite and Monk's Stunning Strike. \$\endgroup\$ – SilentAxe Jul 21 '20 at 9:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Personally I like my example of Catapult spell better, because it is clear that the damage type is bludgeoning, but it is not clear that you can use it on water itself. When i happen to have more time, I will look through more spells that might use existing water to deal damage and see if I can find something appropriate. (I know Animate Object and Water Weird deal bludgeoning damage, but the first one has the same counterarguments, and I need to check the wording on second one to see if water weird would still count as being made from holy water) \$\endgroup\$ – SilentAxe Jul 21 '20 at 9:10
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There are 2 cases where this distinction may be necessary:

  • If you have holy water blessed by e.g. a god of fire that does fire damage, or cold from a god of winter, etc.
  • If the vampire manages to get radiant damage immunity through some means, holy water will still work, if it's mixed with some acid, and now does mixed radiant and acid damage(even 1 acid damage is enough) while still being holy water.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not too sure about the second bullet. I also considered it, but then Holy Water would not damage the vampire (as Holy Water is explicit in that when used against an Undead, it deals radiant damage). You may want to explain how the holy water would still be damaging the vampire in the second case. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 17 '20 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, while there are means of obtaining radiant resistance, I don't know of any RAW way to obtain radiant immunity. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jul 17 '20 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint, I've edited the answer, I think that in that case mixing some acid in the water would do the trick and be cool to boot. You might have e.g. lord Xarth the Day Walker, who wears the legendary Radiant immunity granting cock-ring Sparkly and is terrorizing the land, because nothing can stop him and you can't exactly steal a cock-ring, but he hadn't considered that the heroes can mix their vial of acid into their holy water and spell his DOOOOOOOOOOM!!!(obviously facetious scenario off the top of my head, but it works) \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Jul 17 '20 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt, RAW wise, I think that the only way to get radiant immunity would be Wish or Divine Intervention from a cleric of some sufficiently powerful dark god, which is functionally a Wish at DM discretion. \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Jul 17 '20 at 19:27

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