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An example of a feature where this sort of thing matters is the Optional Favored Foe feature for the Ranger from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything (emphasis mine):

[...] The first time on each of your turns that you hit the favored enemy and deal damage to it, including when you mark it, you can increase that damage by 1d4. [...]

This clearly means that if you hit with an attack that never deals damage, you would not trigger Favored Foe, but what happens if you hit with an attack that can deal damage but that damage was reduced to zero by either damage reduction, resistance, immunity or some other sort of feature; have you still dealt damage?


This question is different from the following:

As Constitution saving throws result from a creature taking damage, not from a creature dealing damage.

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No, taking or dealing 0 damage never counts as taking or dealing damage.

If you deal 0 damage, you have not dealt damage. Dealing damage is a binary state, you either have or you have not, there is no in-between, there are no partial successes, you don't get a medal for showing up. RAW, everything is pass/fail, and there are no rules in 5e that make exceptions otherwise. When you make an attack roll, you either hit, or you miss. When you save vs a spell, you either succeed, or you fail. When you roll a skill check, you pass, or you don't. Damage is no different. From a language standpoint, "I dealt 0 damage" and "I did not deal damage" are the same statement. From a mathematic standpoint, "0" is a null value, and represents something that doesn't exist.

Consider this analogy: I hand you a check for $0.00. Have I given you any money? I gave you a check, yes. But that check is a representative of zero dollars. In other words, you didn't get any money.

Consider also: Hitting with an attack and dealing damage with it are separate events, not the same event. There are abilities that trigger on a hit, such as certain monsters that automatically grapple you when they hit with an attack. They don't care about damage dealt, they care about whether the attack has hit. Abilities that care about damage dealt don't care if an attack was a hit or miss, they only care about damage dealt.


For those that argue "there isn't a damage minimum", you are flatly incorrect. According to the Basic Rules, under Damage Rolls

With a penalty, it is possible to deal 0 damage, but never negative damage.

This means that 0 is in fact the damage minimum, because the only numbers less than 0 are negative, and by the rules, damage cannot be negative.

Further, the game does not, in any text rules or otherwise, differentiate between dealing 0 damage because you missed, or dealing 0 damage because the target was immune, or dealing 0 damage because the attacker is just really weak, or dealing 0 damage for any other reason. It doesn't differentiate, because there is no difference. Zero is always equal to Zero. Both sentences "you didn't deal any damage" and "you dealt 0 damage" are grammatically correct, and completely interchangeable. They represent the same event, that is to say, they represent that damage did not happen. The fact that one phrase was used over the other is not sufficient evidence to claim that a contradiction exists.

How do we know that this is the case though? How can we be so sure that "dealing 0 damage" is the same as "not dealing damage"?. Two reasons. The first is that There are no hidden rules. There is not a rule that exists that differentiates "not dealing damage" and "dealing 0 damage" and "dealing no damage". Secondly, when ever any word has not been given an explicit definition or rules text by the game, such as Invisibility or Stunned, the we use its Plain English meaning. And in Plain English, 0 means that there is nothing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Dec 17 '20 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fun fact: once comments have been moved to chat, we can't do that again. If there is a chat room attached to a post, please use that rather than the comments for discussions, or making tangential points about parrots, databases or mathematics. (Deleted comments can be retrieved for that room if requested.) \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Dec 18 '20 at 18:18
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RAW, yes it does.

The rules for damage say:

With a penalty, it is possible to deal 0 damage, but never negative damage.

This is pretty straightforward, and reconfirmed in the Sage Advice Compendium:

Can damage be reduced to 0 by resistance or another form of damage reduction? There is no damage minimum in the rules, so it is possible to deal 0 damage with an attack, a spell, or another effect.

Alternatively, this weirdness could have been avoided by saying something like:

With a penalty, damage can be eliminated, but never negative.

This would clearly communicate that with a penalty, damage is eliminated instead of creating this "0 damage is still damage" oddity.

RAF, probably not.

Probably isn't going to be fun for the wizard when they reduce the damage from an incoming attack to 0 and then fail a concentration save. See the high scoring answers here: Does dealing 0 damage to a concentrating spellcaster require a saving throw?

I'd rule that dealing 0 damage is mechanically equivalent to not dealing damage, even though the rules appear to make a distinction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Dec 17 '20 at 21:16
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I would make a distinction between (a) damage that is reduced to 0, and (b) damage that is rounded to 0.

If the target is immune to the damage, then it does not count as dealing damage.

If the damage is reduced by penalties to 0, I would also not count that as dealing damage, e.g. a person with a Str of 8, and thus a -1 penalty, stabbing with a dagger and rolling a 1 results in no damage. Or stabbing someone who has the Heavy Armor Master feat for less than 3 hp of damage, which then gets reduced to 0. In these cases, the rider damage (e.g. optional Favored Foe feature, or poison on the dagger) does not occur.

If, OTOH, the damage dealt is 1, but resistance cuts it in half, and it then rounds to 0, there still would be a scratch, even if it is not significant enough to count as a full hp of damage, and I would let the damage rider occur.

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Frame challenge:

Is there a reason you already subtract protection when understanding if you dealt damage?

It is less explicit in D&D compared to other game systems, but the flow can be understood roughly as:

  • you: roll to hit target
  • you: roll and establish damage dealt
  • target: making saving throws where appropriate
  • target: subtract any protection from the damage dealt
  • target: subtract remaining damage from hitpoints
  • target: apply any effects of damage

if you understand the mechanics like that, then you would add your d4 after doing damage, but before any protection is subtracted.

Could step 2 above result in no damage and thus not trigger the effect? Possible. You could be suffering from some effect that reduces your damage, or the weapon does something like 1d6-2 damage and you roll low, etc.

I'm not a big D&D person, so this probably isn't anywhere in RAW - but most game systems make a difference between the damage you deal (or cause, or inflict) and the damage actually suffered (or received or taken). Protection applies to the second, but not to the first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is pretty clean, if you are looking for rules that support the ruling look at rpg.stackexchange.com/a/166534/44723 where I argue something slightly different, but some of these rules should apply and support your argument as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Dec 20 '20 at 18:18
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Why no?

"Dealing 0 damage" and "Not dealing damage" will produce the same output: there will be no HP loss.

Why yes?

"Deling 0 damage" and "Not dealing damage" means not the exact same! Let me tell my opinion. In programming having value 0 is very different from having null. One is a number the other is void. If we accept, that is a truth not only in the programming world, but overall, than we can see the difference. If we wanna implement that, to the DnD world: a successful attack with 0 damage is different from a missing attack.

What would I do?

I would definitely speak with my GM (or if I am the DM I would collaborate with all of my players) about this problem, and search a house rule for that, because the books doesn't really tell the exact solution for this problem.

Summary

It depends on, how you interpret the wording "dealing 0 damage". If you understand, that you deal damage but it's value is 0, than you can increase the damage, but if you think "dealing 0 damage" is the exact same with "not dealing damage" or "dealing no damage", than you can not increase the damage, which in this case not exist.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Dec 18 '20 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ My issue with this answer is that it is reliant upon an interpretation of programming language, which is not "plain english". Which is pretty well established as the standard barring a defined game term. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Dec 18 '20 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ In plain english there is still a difference between dealing some damage which could be a number 0 or greater, or not dealing damage. Programming I just called for explanation. \$\endgroup\$ – Camorri Dec 18 '20 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical D&D uses natural language not "plain" language (there is a big difference between those two) \$\endgroup\$ – illustro yesterday
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Not enough information.

Just considering the summary of: "Does something count as “dealing damage” if its damage is reduced to zero?"

Arguments for both sides have been presented already. And I fully agree with the specific reasons given by Thomas Markov especially.

So in your case I need more info because this GM would decide for flavor.

Examples:

  • If the cause is due to immunity (i.e. you hit, but that hit is fire damage and the target is a fire elemental), then no damage
  • You hit a giant with an arrow but that giant's unusually thick hide reduces damage to 0 this GM would still let you roll the d4. And effectively count it as "true" damage because it's fun flavor wise. A player specifically made the character to be good against giants and I want to reward that type of specialization.

Or generally, I want to reward good decision making not punish bad luck/rolls. That's what I see as "fun" in this context.

I want my players creatively use their brains. Not punish them for bad rolls.

So in the giant's case I let the player deal damage even though he might not be able to by RAW. But in the fire elemental's case, the player should have expected it not to work.

But ultimately it boils down to the expectations of the group. Hence the importance of session 0.

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