This question is prompted by parts of How much damage can the Guardian of Faith spell deal?, If someone casts Vampiric Touch on a creature with necrotic absorption, does the caster take damage?, and this answer.

I am hoping for a more conclusive understanding of whether, within the mechanics of 5e, there is a difference between damage taken by a creature and damage dealt to a creature.

Is there a difference between any of the following aside from phrasing:

  • Gaspar took 8 points of damage from Joan's attack
  • Gaspar was dealt 8 points of damage by Joan
  • Joan's attack against Gaspar dealt 8 points of damage

Or rather is there a difference between "A creature hit by your attack takes 1d8 points of damage" and "Your attack deals 1d8 damage to the creature it hits"?


The rules themselves do not address this issue clearly, but the Sage Advice Compendium does... sort of

The following Q&A can be found in the Sage Advice Compendium:

Q. When a creature successfully saves against guardian of faith and takes 10 radiant damage, how much damage does that count against the total amount of damage the spell can deal? Is it 20 because that’s how much it dealt or 10 because that’s how much the target took?

A. It dealt 10 damage to the creature, so 10 is subtracted from the total.

Now, looking at the guardian of faith spell, it states:

[...] The creature takes 20 radiant damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The guardian vanishes when it has dealt a total of 60 damage [...]

And from this, we conclude almost everything we need.

Part of the question assumes that the target took 10 damage and that the attack dealt 20 damage:

Is it 20 because that’s how much it dealt or 10 because that’s how much the target took?

Meanwhile, the answer simply states that the guardian dealt 10 damage, meaning it did not deal 20 damage. It similarly never refutes the claim that the target actually took 10 damage, so we can assume this too to be the case.

And so, the guardian dealt 10 damage and the target took 10 damage, despite the halving that occurred. From these we can conclude that damage taken and damage dealt are equivalent quantities.

And yet, of course, there are problems

There are answers that argue these quantities must be different for certain features to make sense, and they are correct:

Resistance and then vulnerability are applied after all other modifiers to damage. For example, a creature has resistance to bludgeoning damage and is hit by an attack that deals 25 bludgeoning damage. The creature is also within a magical aura that reduces all damage by 5. The 25 damage is first reduced by 5 and then halved, so the creature takes 10 damage.

Whenever the golem is subjected to acid damage, it takes no damage and instead regains a number of hit points equal to the acid damage dealt.

From the first quote, one would note that it literally says the attack deals 25 damage and the target takes 10 damage. And from the second quote, if these were the same quantity then the Golem taking no damage would mean that no damage was dealt which means it would always regain zero hit points, which makes no sense. Thus, a non-zero amount of acid damage must have been dealt which is different from the damage the Golem takes.

I really have no way to argue against these claims other than that the books use Standard English and English is weird sometimes. I can find no way to reconcile "these quantities are always the same" with making that first quote and that feature ever making sense. You can treat them as separate quantities when needed, but the SAC treats that as the same quantity (at least in the case of guardian of faith).

I think my best argument for these quantities being the same thing is that if they were supposed to be different, that would have been explicitly stated, it wouldn't have been loosely alluded to in a few rules scattered throughout the books that only occasionally made use of the distinction that otherwise never came up.

And then the SAC makes it all more complicated...

There is another Q&A in the Sage Advice Compendium that that states:

Q. How does Arcane Ward interact with temporary hit points and damage resistance that an abjurer might have?

A. An Arcane Ward is not an extension of the wizard who creates it. It is a magical effect with its own hit points. Any temporary hit points, immunities, or resistances that the wizard has don’t apply to the ward.

The ward takes damage first. Any leftover damage is taken by the wizard and goes through the following game elements in order: (1) any relevant damage immunity, (2) any relevant damage resistance, (3) any temporary hit points, and (4) real hit points.

Now let's also look at the text of the Arcane Ward feature:

[...] Whenever you take damage, the ward takes the damage instead. [...]

Notably, this happens when you take damage, and from the SAC Q&A we can see that damage taken must be calculated before resistance is applied. But then what would we call the damage that happens after resistances are applied? Yeah... it's a mess and I do not believe the various features throughout these games were written with a level of precision that allows one to meaningfully analyze these terms in their entirety.

There just are edge cases and problems that arise under either interpretation (different quantities, or the same quantity), and resolving them is... unclear. I suppose, at the end of the day, the best you can do is ask your GM.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. I didn't add anything else, but if I will that is the better place. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Mar 26 at 0:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I’d argue that the combination of viewpoints here is a result of poor choices in wording and attempts to interpret them by RAF. The acid damage interaction with golems in particular could have been worded better (something along the lines ‘The golem is immune to acid damage. When this immunity prevents damage, the golem is healed for a number of hit points equal to the amount of damage prevented.’). The designers themselves seem to have not been paying proper attention when dealing with this stuff... \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ By the way you found one of the cases where sage advice directly contradicts the raw which states that first resistances and such are calculated and then you take damage, thus that is when the ward triggers. remember, sage advice is not raw, its advice and rullings \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 12:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dimitris And that of course assumes that it isn't an exceptional case where they are applied and are then unapplied. Similar to how absorb elements requires you to take damage but also changes how much damage you take or how shield requires you to be hit but also changes whether you were hit. I also will stand by the SAC, even if it does seem at odds with itself. Rule interpretation is a mess, especially when the rules themselves are a mess \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Mar 26 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DimitrisTz What do you mean it contradicts RAW? That ruling on Arcane Ward completely matches the rule for Resistance -- "Resistance [is] applied after all other modifiers to damage." First you subtract the ward, then apply any resistance or immunity. All this really proves is that nobody at WotC uses 'take' and 'deal' as having distinct meanings. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 13:40

No, and there doesn't need to be

Any attempt to try to differentiate the two is an effort to try to define words that can be used different ways. Damage taken is the damage of the receiver, damage dealt is the damage of the giver. These two should be the same, though there are probably exceptions. We can analyze words used in assorted rulings, but the basic idea here should be that this isn't a concept addressed in the rules, and there isn't a reason why it should be.

If there is a specific mechanic we need to address we can do that, but trying to parse these particular words serves no purpose and just adds complexity.


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