D&D 5E Hitting ghosts, elementals, and such

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Narratively speaking, how do you handle attacking a ghost or an air elemental with a sword?

Magical weapon or no, you still deal damage to it. And the type of weapon matters.

I am even with the "hp are not all meat" thing, but I still have trouble making sense of this and so do my players.

The best thing I am coming up with is to have some sort of central essence like a glowing orb that can be attacked. On the ghost or elemental's turns it becomes hazy as they pass through things but it needs to manifest to interact with the world.

Better ideas? What do you do?

(Mechanically it works fine of course)
 

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Lucas Yew

Explorer
Your idea's really good.

For me, I'd also like to think that the "willpower" exerted when swinging a weapon to hurt something else deals some kind of "conceptual damage" to the hurt thing. While ghosts are indeed incorporeal, they're still a low level undead, so I'd hand wave it off and treat it as acceptable simulation.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Your idea's really good.

For me, I'd also like to think that the "willpower" exerted when swinging a weapon to hurt something else deals some kind of "conceptual damage" to the hurt thing. While ghosts are indeed incorporeal, they're still a low level undead, so I'd hand wave it off and treat it as acceptable simulation.

Yeah, with a lack of anything better we have been doing the 'hand wave' method. It just isn't satisfying for my players. They don't get it and neither do I.

We understand why the rules work like this so that combats are 'fair' . It still doesn't make sense narratively speaking.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I am even with the "hp are not all meat" thing, but I still have trouble making sense of this and so do my players.

You are not alone. Even with the "hp are not all meat" idea, the point is that "hp damage" is still related to being potentially hurt by the last blow. You can say that all your hp lost except the last one are because you're getting tired or demoralized, but if the last one kills you then it must be physical, or otherwise metaphysical but it needs some reasonable explanation nevertheless. If a weapon is not supposed to affect you, you can't be demoralized by the threat of it, and getting tired doesn't make you vulnerable to something you are immune anyway. Exceptions can always exist, but if they become the norm then they devalue the identity of certain monsters. So if a ghost is supposed to be immaterial, that is the key quality that makes a ghost different to fight. If you can fight it just like any other monster, what's the point of having a ghost in the first place?

That said, I don't have a particular problem with D&D ghosts... IIRC the idea is that they are in fact invulnerable to any material weapon including magic weapons! That's because they are in the ethereal plane. However, if a ghost wants to hurt (or touch) someone in the material plane, they have to somewhat "materialize", and in doing so they are also (partially, thanks to damage resistance) vulnerable to material weapons. Magical weapons are able to hit them better while materialized, bypassing resistance.

Overall I think this is a fairly reasonable design choice. It could have been different and more extreme... ghosts could have been always totally insubstantial and therefore immune to any material weapon. It would be ok (and other monsters might in fact work like this), they would be a tougher opponent which would force the players to find very different ways of fighting them.
 

The way I've always looked at it: all weapons go through the creature, but hits pull part of the creature away in wisps. That way it shows when they've dealt damage, and when the attack was unsuccessful.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Thanks for the replies.

I don't normally describe gore but I think I will start doing it for these sorts.

For example, you stab a Black Pudding with a rapier? Black stuff sprays out from behind it (and toward you for that matter). Stab an Air Elemental? There is an audible woosh as air escapes it.

If players ask about it I will say that they have a nucleus which stores their essence. This is good for extraplanar beings like elementals. For oozes, though amorphous, they still have cells (magical cells) which digest food and enable them to attack and such. Impacting them disrupts those cells' ability to carry out their functions.
 

Ectoplasm. Like Asterix at a fondue.
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Being un-hit-able is what makes ghosts scary. They're already dead, don't rob them of that too.

You might consider removing ghosts from HP-based combat, and put them in problem-solving conflicts instead. So the way to beat the ghost is to correctly write the last line of its epitaph, or put its corpse back in the proper position...
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
Narratively speaking, how do you handle attacking a ghost or an air elemental with a sword?

The way that I handle it is that a ghost has a type of gaseous presence that can be disrupted by physical attacks. I also typically don't allow ghosts to be permanently killed in combat. Killing a ghost in combat removes the threat for a while, but the ghost will return unless you can lay it to rest.

An air elemental is essentially the same thing, only instead of them coming back after a while like my ghosts do, I have them return to the elemental plane of air. I generally assume that elementals are ill at ease in our world, and that they will attempt to return to their own if they can. An elemental that is bound by someone and forced to attack a party will disperse back to its home plane after it is killed.
 

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