If anything ever boggled my mind in role playing, then it is the term "soak", as in "soaking damage". Soaking brings pictures of wet clothes to mind, as making stuff wet is what the word is in fact used for. And it just has that annoying itchy sound to it. So, in short, here are my questions:

  • When was the term "Soaking damage" coined?
  • Why was it in fact called "soaking"?

I hope my question makes sense...

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Soaking damage doesn't mean to avoid it, but rather to (usually deliberately) take the damage; often in order to either protect allies or to gain a benefit. For example, standing or jumping in the way of a projectile/spell to take the hit instead of your squishier mage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doc
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


That's interesting, as being a non-native English speaker I always assumed it was one of the accepted meanings. So as every time I realize one of these things, let's check the Wiktionary entry for soak:


soak (third-person singular simple present soaks, present participle soaking, simple past and past participle soaked)

  1. (transitive) To allow (especially a liquid) to be absorbed; to take in, receive. (usually + up)

    I soaked up all the knowledge I could at university.

So yes, even though it is not the most often used meaning, "to soak" can be used for "to absorb", and not only for liquids. So "soaking damage" for "receiving damage and absorbing it" is not a pure invention, it is accepted - though unusual - English language.



"Soaking damage" first became common after Vampire: The Masquerade used the terms "soak roll" and "soak dice" in regard to the dice pool used to reduce incoming damage. As an opposed roll, the dice would "soak up" the incoming damage, and the character would take what was left.


1962 Avalon Hill's Waterloo game

Soaking off was a term used when resolving combat during the play of the Avalon Hill game Waterloo. If you had a stack of units in a battle, or two stacks, you could assign some units to "soak off" a sacrificial attack (and likely be destroyed/removed from play) so that the rest of your units would more likely be successful in their attack against the rest of the enemy units.

It was a gamification of the military principle of "economy of force / mass at the point of decision."

That term seems to have migrated into RPGs. No surprise, given D&D's emergence (as the first RPG) out of the wargamer hobby.

Similarly, a sponge soaks up water/liquid when one is trying to dry up a wet surface, so to "soak" and to "absorb" mean roughly the same thing.

While I first learned this term in 1971, when I learned how to play Waterloo from a friend, the game was published in 1962.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You win the internet! \$\endgroup\$
    – user47897
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkTO The necromancy badge was enough reward for me. 8^D \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 20:28
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast It is a nice one, yes. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 9:43


Four years before publishing Vampire: the Masquerade, Mark Rein-Hagen released Ars Magica, which also used a Damage vs. Soak mechanic, in which the attacker generated a Damage total, from which the defender's Soak total was subtracted and the remainder (if any) was then used to determine the actual effects on the defender.


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