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Are spells that do only bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage considered magical or nonmagical damage? Most especially when considering them for purposes of resistance/immunity against "bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons that aren't silvered".

For example, Thorn Whip I can see two sides:

  1. It is being created by a spell, using a melee spell attack to hit, and the spell damage increases with level. Thus it is magical damage.

  2. The spell description only states piercing damage, and it's the object created by the spell that does the damage rather than the spell directly. Thus it is nonmagical damage.

Similar arguments can be made for other spells (such as Earth Tremor), or portions of other spells (such as the piercing damage of Ice Knife). I'm interested in the rule(s) for this class of spell damage, rather than the specific spells.


[1]: Thorn Whip spell can be found in the Player's Handbook.

[2]: Earth Tremor, and Ice Knife are spells found the Elemental Evil Player's Companion.

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For the purposes of the resistance/immunity example in the original question:

"bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons that aren't silvered"

I think the important part isn't "nonmagical", but rather "weapons". The resistance only applies to specific damage type subcategories of weapon damage. None of the given examples are weapon attacks, so this resistance/immunity to damage from weapons does not apply to the given non-weapon examples regardless of what type of damage is being done.

It's also worth noting that there's currently no such thing as an attack that is both a spell attack and a weapon attack, as noted in answers to a question about how to refer to non-spell attacks.

In addition, the Sage Advice compendium provides the following checklist for determining if something is considered magical (see also: How do I know if an ability is magical?)

If you cast antimagic field, don armor of invulnerability, or use another feature of the game that protects against magical or nonmagical effects, you might ask yourself, “Will this protect me against a dragon’s breath?”

[...]

Determining whether a game feature is magical is straightforward. Ask yourself these questions about the feature:

  • Is it a magic item?
  • Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
  • Is it a spell attack?
  • Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?
  • Does its description say it’s magical?

Since these examples are all spells/spell attacks, they fall cleanly under the umbrella of being magical, and as such are considered magical damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Now you and harlandski have me wondering if spell names are RAW short descriptions or just proper nouns. Because a whip and knife (aka dagger) are weapons. And if they are short descriptions then the spells Thorn Whip and Ice Knife just happen to craft weapons out of non-standard material and mystically manipulate them. Thus the resistances would count for some of my examples. But for a spell like Earth Tremor it wouldn't. Which really muddles things for spells with less obvious weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – Sybeus Apr 10 '15 at 6:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sybeus. The more I think about your question the more complicated it gets. I think there's a danger of taking a too strict RAW approach to D&D 5e, and I might be falling into that trap. I'm still pretty sure ice knife and thorn whip are not magical weapons, so I'll edit my answer accordingly, but I take your point about their names being weapons in themselves. .. \$\endgroup\$ – harlandski Apr 10 '15 at 6:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the clearest way to give an example of how I'm seeing it is to broaden the resistance example: If it said "resistance against damage from weapons", it seems clear to me that the given spell examples would be fine as they aren't explicitly called out as weapons (unlike Alter Self's Natural Weapons option). The extra words added to get it to the example in the original question are all purely restrictive- none of them increase the scope of their resistance compared to a generic weapon resistance, so spells that do slash/bludgeoning/piercing damage should not suddenly be affected. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind Apr 10 '15 at 6:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Spells are spells. They don't involve weapons unless the spell description explicitly states that they do. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 5 '18 at 23:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ And generally spells like Thorn Whip explicitly tell you to make a "spell attack", not a "weapon attack". \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 5 '18 at 23:04
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Play how you like (Rules and Rulings)

In your question you clearly present two possible ways of interpreting the damage from these spell types. In the absence of general rules relating to this I would say both interpretations of the rules are possible rulings.

As the PHB says:

Damage types have no rules of their own (PHB 196)

Similarly there are no general rules for spell damage, so each DM and group has to read and interpret the specific spell and resistance descriptions when they come into play.

As there is no distinction in 5e between flavor text and spell mechanics, there is a broad range of possible interpretations. In this case, the interpretation hinges on one's own answers to the following questions:

  • Do Thorn Whip, Ice Knife and Earth Tremor create weapons, or a naturally damaging phenomenon, or is the damage a magical version of the given damage type?
  • If they do create weapons, are these weapons magical?

Other spells are more specific about the magical nature of their damage (e.g. Magic Missile) or the fact of creating a magic weapon (Alter Self). In the absence of such specificity in the three spells you mention, and of any general rules about spell damage, it is up to DM's discretion or what the group decides.

Personally, I would go for a "low magic" reading of the spells: Thorn Whip and Ice Knife create nonmagical weapons, Earth Tremor causes a natural disaster - emphasis as per the spell wording - meaning that the resistances in question would apply. But this is only my reading of the spells, and 5e D&D is designed to allow for a multiplicity of play styles.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for emphasis on the fact that 5e really encourages roleplay and DM discretion over typical rule lawyering that detracts from games. As a note, the Warlock Pact of the Blade sets a precedence for a created magical weapon to be considered magical, and could be used to support an argument that if magic creates it, it remains magical for the purposes of damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jul 25 '15 at 19:25
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There is not such a term as "magical damage" within the game rules; thus, AFAIK Resistances and Immunities don't ever state the words "magical damage".

For example take "bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage from nonmagical weapons that aren't silvered". This resistance will kick in when the source of damage is of one of the listed types AND is a weapon AND is not magical AND is not silvered. This is an AND logical door, so if even one of the ports is false the whole thing fails.

E.g, imagine a nonmagical weapon that deals fire damage (say, a torch): it will deal full damage, unimpeded by the resistance. Or Thorn Whip, the type is piercing but the source of damage is not a weapon (it's a spell), therefore it bypasses the resistance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Page 197 of PHB section Damage Resistance and Vulnerability talks about nonmagical fire and how resistance to fire damage as well as resistance to all nonmagical damage both apply to it, but only half damage is negated as the resistances do not stack. From this one could conclude there is magical and nonmagical damage for each of the damage types (Acid, Bludgeoning, Cold, Fire, etc). And that magical or nonmagical damage is to be considered with respect to resistances. \$\endgroup\$ – Sybeus Apr 10 '15 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ In Thorn Whip you create a long, vine-like whip covered in thorns that lashes out at your command toward a creature in range. A whip is a weapon. Lashing a whip is how one attack with such a weapon. It's only a very small logic leap to say the spell creates a weapon that attacks the target. And the whip is not stated to be magical in contrast to many other spells that talk about magically imbuing an object or magical weapons outright. Thus it fits your criteria to be affected by the resistance. \$\endgroup\$ – Sybeus Apr 10 '15 at 21:54
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Damage Rolls 2nd Paragraph RAI

  • weapon attacks deal weapon damage (even if it isn't a weapon, i.e. unarmed strike)
  • spell attacks deal spell damage unless explicitly stated otherwise (even if its bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing)

Ice knife and thorn whip do spell piercing damage, not weapon piercing damage, and resistance does not apply unless your DM says otherwise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The second paragraph under Damage Rolls only talks about which dice and modifiers to roll, nothing about damage types. There's literally a whole other section dedicated to Damage Types a few paragraphs afterwards. Thus, how do you logically jump from what type of dice to roll to your conclusion about type of damage above? And Thorn whip explicitly states it creates a weapon (the whip); why are you able to just ignore that in your conclusion? \$\endgroup\$ – Sybeus Aug 21 '17 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ When attacking with a weapon, you add your ability modifier—the same modifier used for the attack roll— to the damage. A spell tells you which dice to roll for damage and whether to add any modifiers. PHB 196 ... command toward a creature in range. Make a melee spell attack against the target. If the attack hits, the creature takes 1d6 piercing damage, and if the creature is ... ...damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6). PHB 282 seems clear to me that paragraph differentiates damage done by spells and weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – Nicholai Bush Aug 22 '17 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also weapon and spell refer to the actual damage roll type, not the damage type. \$\endgroup\$ – Nicholai Bush Aug 22 '17 at 23:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Again you're talking damage rolls only. Resistances are also based on damage type, as described in the Damage Types section: Different attacks, damaging spells, and other harmful effects deal different types of damage. Damage types have no rules of their own, but other rules, such as damage resistance, rely on the types. You've also omitted any reason why a spell cannot create a weapon that does damage. As long as the weapon it creates be nonmagical, which normally the spell will state explicitly that it is magical, and Thorn Whip does not, then it could be affected by the resistance. \$\endgroup\$ – Sybeus Aug 23 '17 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is my answer and I am sticking with it: Weapon Attack -> Weapon Damage, Spell Attack -> Spell Damage Adjudicate your table as you wish. This is simple, RAW interpretation and you would not be the first to tell me I was wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Nicholai Bush Aug 26 '17 at 4:30

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