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In regards to bypassing damage immunity to attacks not made by magic weapon, what are considered magical attacks besides spells/spell-like ability and magical weapon attacks?

Are summoned monsters considered magical? What about bite/claw from dragons and high CR creatures or legendary creatures?

In the old AD&D, there was a rule that said that attacks from monsters of 4D+4 hit dice or higher are considered magical in regards to hitting creatures like werewolves. I also remember reading years ago that attacks from creatures from other planes and attacks from creatures immune to non-magical attacks are also magical. But I can find no such rule in 5e. Does this mean that werewolves fighting in wolf form cannot hurt each other, and that a typical CR9 fire giant has no chance to defeat a CR2 wererat? How about the bite of the Tarrasque?

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marked as duplicate by Adam, Oblivious Sage, Miniman dnd-5e Mar 21 '17 at 0:06

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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In 5e, monster physical attacks are only considered magical if a part of the stat block says they are. For example, Angels all have an ability called Angelic Weapons, which makes their physical attacks magical. Several others simply have an ability called Magical Weapons, which confers magic to the creatures weapons without any additional boons. A few specific examples to look at are Clay Golems, Empyreans, and Pit Fiends.

Several monsters have these abilities, but many do not and it's important to not assume that they do just by virtue of them being powerful. Ancient wyrms, despite being old and very powerful, do not have any ability that confers magic to their claws or bite attacks. Nor does the Tarrasque.

It should be noted that one should not default assume that this was an oversight and hand out the Magic Weapons ability to high CR monsters. There are a lot of player skills whose value is substantially diminished when they are attacked by a creature using magic weapons, including, but not limited to Potions of Invulnerability, the Heavy Armor Master feat, and Stone Skin. All of these are damage mitigation effects and make encounters with things like a dragon a lot more survivable, but that survival ratio nose dives once the dragon's at-will abilities can just punch right through those sorts of defenses.

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In 5e magical damage is not a properly defined term. In the books generally only bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage is explicitly called out to be magical or not, for other types this distinction usually does not exist. Sage Advice confirmed that spells deal magical damage too. If you look at stat boxes, you will see that it is specified like this in most of the cases:

Immunities Bludgeoning, Piercing, And Slashing Damage From Nonmagical Weapons

Any attack or ability that uses an "exotic" type bypasses this. If a creature deals magical damage with a "normal" attack it is always explicitly stated.

Immunity or resistance to other damage types is usually yes or no, there is no "magical only" middle ground.

However some exceptions exist that do not adhere to these guidelines. Those are individual cases and they might need a GM ruling.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Immunity or resistance to other damage types is always yes or no, there is no "magical only" middle ground." That's not a rule though. Currently there's no middle ground, but it could change in the future. There's already a stat block that comes very close - Archmage resists all spell damage, so they resist the damage from Fire Bolt but not a torch. I'd change the wording of "...only bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage can be magical" to be more accurate. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Mar 22 '17 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Doval You are right that it is an unwritten rule. However the Archmage resists the damage 'from spells', which is not the same as 'magical damage', a phrasing explicitly used in other cases. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Mar 22 '17 at 11:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I get that, but answers on Stack Exchange should stand the test of time. The damage of a spell is always magical, so it's not true that only bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage can be magical. A book could come out in the future where that distinction matters. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Mar 22 '17 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ It turns out the Gaseous Form spell grants resistance to non-magical damage. Please edit the first sentence to clarify that the magical/nonmagical distinction usually only matters for those damage types. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Mar 27 '17 at 4:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Doval Edited. I wanted to cite "specific beats general", but to me it seems there are no explicit general rules about this at all. Quite sloppy. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Mar 27 '17 at 9:09

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