The problem with weapon damage resistances.

Why is there no way for characters to learn about monsters? Why is retreating impossible? These are both common in my experience.
Before any direct answers, keep in mind the difference between "X is conceivable but not (currently) supported" and "X is simply impossible." James Gasik very clearly meant the former, given the explicit phrasing "there's no set way," so don't confuse their position for a much, much more strident one.

As for direct answers:

For the former, I find two major inhibiting factors. One, this places certain responsibilities on the DM which I find are often not handled well, especially for inexperienced DMs. That is, for any kind of "the DM needs to inform the players of X" stuff, many DMs struggle, especially since they are (sometimes perversely) resistant to ever just telling their players friggin' anything. It needs to be clear that there is worthwhile knowledge to obtain, and it needs to be reasonably accessible, and many DMs struggle with that (as do game designers of all stripes; it's easy to think a puzzle you wrote is very easy to solve!) Part of this is the paradox of ignorance: you need to know that you don't know something in order to start asking about it. You can't investigate or prepare for something if you don't even know that it's a possibility, and I find a lot of DMs struggle mightily with getting even enough information to the players that they can start asking. It's the stereotypical "you should have asked the one-armed man in the tavern!" "We talked with him, it didn't seem he had anything interesting to say..." "Well you should have asked him about X." "...we had no idea X even existed at that point!" debacle.

The second problem for this "why is there no way for characters to learn" problem is, if there's no current support, the DM has to invent it on the fly. And "the DM has to invent it on the fly" is what leads to tons of janky, inconsistent methods and subsystems floating around. It's why the early-edition DMG was such a nightmarish mishmash of stuff with almost no organization--bursting at the seams with useful tools, but those tools were scattered about like leaves. Gygax was very good at improvising, but very bad at editing and revising. It's not that anything is strictly impossible with D&D, it's that inventing consistent, well-designed, functional systems or group policies is hard and a lot of DMs are simply not very good at doing that.

For the latter: Again, less a matter of "impossible" and more a matter of "impractical" or "mathematically unfeasible." Many of the things that have good resistances can move faster than regular characters can. Especially if any of them are dwarves, halflings, gnomes, etc. The risk of eating an opportunity attack, or still being within range of any ranged attacks, makes retreat often unpalatable at best--and since the only reliable way to try to figure out how to break something's resistance is to try to break it with various things, players will often feel already committed to trying to do something, doubly so if most of the party is melee characters....who are, notably, the most punished by this sort of thing (since melee attackers usually rely on many smaller-size attacks, rather than single big hits, which are usually the domain of magic...and magic has the easiest time breaking through enemy resistance!)
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Quite well put, Ezekiel Raiden. The old school mentality of "retreat if you can't handle it" falls apart when you realize bolting and running isn't really all that well supported. Someone is going to fail to get away, as the old adage goes, you don't need to outrun the thing that wants to kill you, you just need to outrun the slowest party member.

The DM needs to actively switch from combat to a pursuit scene- and that's out of the control of the players unless they can demonstrate they can outpace their pursuer.

Let me also reiterate, a player doesn't know a monster has resistance to their attacks until the DM specifically tells them that it does. They should be describing this to players, but that doesn't always mean they will, or the point will get across adequately.

But melee characters do know that magic weapons work on most creatures with resistance to b/p/s damage, so they can plan around that- even if they can't get a magic weapon, there are spells and abilities to work around that.

Asking them to also carry around a cold iron/silver/adamantine/starmetal/scrith/what have you weapon on the off chance that A) they will encounter a creature that needs that kind of material to hurt it, and B) they will realize not only the creature has resistance and know which of their weapons is the correct one to use requires the DM to make sure the players have that information.

If they don't have it, well...they might not survive their first encounter with the creature to tell the tale.
 

Sulicius

Explorer
Such great points made so far. I also desperately want the fantasy of monstrous vulnerabilities come to life, and I’m looking forward to making a campaign that makes those important. From experience, many additions to the rules I made, or additional game systems just become too much of a hassle in the end, and I get rid of it so we can just play the game.

However, as many pointed out eloquently: this might be more trouble than it’s worth. Either we have to use damage thresholds or we are right back to binary effectiveness. It would bring us right back to where we started, as the power of a monster would be very much dependent on the knowledge and gear of an adventuring party.

I’m getting the sense that the designers went through these options a decade ago, and decided that they would rather “spend the complexity of the system” on other things. They let magic weapons be the solution so they could balance the game easier.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
On the other hand, making the right weapon for the job do a little extra damage, as I do in my games, is just a nice bonus if it comes up. No one is prevented from dealing damage in this case. Personally, I hate the low tier enemies with resistance to nonmagical b/p/s damage the most- magic items are "optional" and you never know when you'll get one, if ever. Sure, there are options, but having been caught in a fight without a magic weapon when none of those options were on the table really bit.

I mean, I was an archer, and my arrows were doing squat, meanwhile, the casters all had elemental damage cantrips that worked fine. It made me really miss being able to buy magic arrows!

I don't mean to say you can't do it the other way, make a creature that requires a specific weapon to slay, but you do need to be careful with that. This would be ideal for legendary creatures any Bard has heard tales of.
 

On the other hand, making the right weapon for the job do a little extra damage, as I do in my games, is just a nice bonus if it comes up. No one is prevented from dealing damage in this case. Personally, I hate the low tier enemies with resistance to nonmagical b/p/s damage the most- magic items are "optional" and you never know when you'll get one, if ever. Sure, there are options, but having been caught in a fight without a magic weapon when none of those options were on the table really bit.

I mean, I was an archer, and my arrows were doing squat, meanwhile, the casters all had elemental damage cantrips that worked fine. It made me really miss being able to buy magic arrows!

I don't mean to say you can't do it the other way, make a creature that requires a specific weapon to slay, but you do need to be careful with that. This would be ideal for legendary creatures any Bard has heard tales of.
That's a good point - resistance to nonmagical weapons is a really boring ability for a monster to have, because it doesn't create interesting choices for anyone.

At least resistance to bludgeoning creates the choice of 'weapon switch or power through' for maul-wielders.

I wonder if you could make the system work with really small shifts - ie resistance and vulnerability only add or subtract five points per hit rather than half. Powering through remains an option but having the right weapon/spell would still feel like a big deal ... maybe.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Oh so like 3e damage reduction? Having DR be a flat amount? I'm not opposed, while resistance is simple, it does have the strange dichotomy of being a bit much for low level heroes, and not a big deal for high level ones, at least, from what I've noticed.

OTOH, some classes will be negatively affected by that more than others. Take 5 damage off of a Fighter, his damage doesn't scale that fast, he mainly does damage through many attacks. If he attacks three times for 1d8+8 and you take 5 damage off each hit, then he loses 15 damage.

A Rogue, on the other hand, isn't going to miss 5 damage nearly as much at that level, when he's rolling 7d6+6.

You will probably see Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master go up in value in such a system.
 

Undrave

Hero
For the latter: Again, less a matter of "impossible" and more a matter of "impractical" or "mathematically unfeasible." Many of the things that have good resistances can move faster than regular characters can. Especially if any of them are dwarves, halflings, gnomes, etc. The risk of eating an opportunity attack, or still being within range of any ranged attacks, makes retreat often unpalatable at best--and since the only reliable way to try to figure out how to break something's resistance is to try to break it with various things, players will often feel already committed to trying to do something, doubly so if most of the party is melee characters....who are, notably, the most punished by this sort of thing (since melee attackers usually rely on many smaller-size attacks, rather than single big hits, which are usually the domain of magic...and magic has the easiest time breaking through enemy resistance!)

However, as many pointed out eloquently: this might be more trouble than it’s worth. Either we have to use damage thresholds or we are right back to binary effectiveness.

On the other hand, making the right weapon for the job do a little extra damage, as I do in my games, is just a nice bonus if it comes up. No one is prevented from dealing damage in this case. Personally, I hate the low tier enemies with resistance to nonmagical b/p/s damage the most- magic items are "optional" and you never know when you'll get one, if ever. Sure, there are options, but having been caught in a fight without a magic weapon when none of those options were on the table really bit.

Okay... What if... we flipped the damage threshold system and instead have a 'max' damage if the resistance isn't broken? This would make multiple smaller attack more viable, while a simple blowout spell would be more punished? I think it would be an easier way to conceptualize damage resistance without making it an absolute slog where if you roll poorly you don't do any damage at all.

It might be a little too 'gamey' for some but I think it would be interesting on, at least, a couple monsters.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Okay... What if... we flipped the damage threshold system and instead have a 'max' damage if the resistance isn't broken? This would make multiple smaller attack more viable, while a simple blowout spell would be more punished? I think it would be an easier way to conceptualize damage resistance without making it an absolute slog where if you roll poorly you don't do any damage at all.

It might be a little too 'gamey' for some but I think it would be interesting on, at least, a couple monsters.
I think the end usability of such a system is low. A computer would handle it fine, but it seems more complex and counterintuitive than it should be to implement at the table. Resistance, from an intuitability standpoint, should protect the target from minor attacks, not major ones. A mechanic like this is always going to be fighting that in the players' brains.
 

Okay... What if... we flipped the damage threshold system and instead have a 'max' damage if the resistance isn't broken? This would make multiple smaller attack more viable, while a simple blowout spell would be more punished? I think it would be an easier way to conceptualize damage resistance without making it an absolute slog where if you roll poorly you don't do any damage at all.

It might be a little too 'gamey' for some but I think it would be interesting on, at least, a couple monsters.
That's certainly a novel solution. I actually kind of like it from a cinematic perspective: many movies or stories have opponents that can be whittled down by a death of a thousand cuts, but who can't be taken out with a single mighty blow.

So yeah, I'd be pretty cool with that.
 

Ayeffkay

Villager
OTOH, some classes will be negatively affected by that more than others. Take 5 damage off of a Fighter, his damage doesn't scale that fast, he mainly does damage through many attacks. If he attacks three times for 1d8+8 and you take 5 damage off each hit, then he loses 15 damage.

A Rogue, on the other hand, isn't going to miss 5 damage nearly as much at that level, when he's rolling 7d6+6.
I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes it's ok for one character to shine in a given challenge, instead of all the characters shining all the time. Sometimes the fighter can grapple the enemy while the rogue can dance in, hit hard, disengage, and get out, leaving only the big can of hit points in range to hit back. Sometimes there are hoards of low hp skeletons, and rather than nuking one of them into dust each round, it's more effective for the rogue to dodge and soak up opportunity attacks while the fighter wades in with a maul.

Sometimes your party only has one magical weapon and the party has to find ways of helping even though they can't damage the creature. Sometimes the rogue has to pick up the fallen paladin's silver long sword, stand over his frenemy's body, and get an unlikely KB without sneak attack, and then rub it in his holier-than-thou face for the rest of the campaign.

Challenges presented by the DM are there to be overcome - game design needs to remember this, and enable the DM to create interesting challenges. Not cater to the lowest common denominator of "10% of DMs will use werewolves when their players have no silver/magic weapons" x "10% of players will be frustrated and quit if an attack ever does half damage."
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
As long as guidance is provided to new DM's on what all this means, that's probably fine. In my area, the number of available DM's is tragically low, and most of the ones that exist are the ones who have been gaming for longer than RPG's have existed (or so it seems).

We need more new DM's, and understanding details like this and their ramifications will help them get better at their craft.
 

On retreating: I like and still use that in AD&D the heroes could throw out gold or food (depending on how smart the monster was) to aid in running away.
 

Undrave

Hero
I think the end usability of such a system is low. A computer would handle it fine, but it seems more complex and counterintuitive than it should be to implement at the table. Resistance, from an intuitability standpoint, should protect the target from minor attacks, not major ones. A mechanic like this is always going to be fighting that in the players' brains.
I mean, this would be a special case for like... spellcasters or something.

Like a magical kinetic field that reacts to the force acting against it in equal mesure. It lets bad guys pick up objects, or BREATH, but stops arrows and energy blasts. The faster and more agressive your attack, the more the field protects... So if you knick them with a poisoned blade you might fell them easily, or throw a vial of poisonous gas at their feet when they can't run away, or, at great risk, you could approach and grapple them and trap them in a painful submission lock, or maybe you can startle them with a psionic attack, disabling the shield and now your allies can go to town.

That's certainly a novel solution. I actually kind of like it from a cinematic perspective: many movies or stories have opponents that can be whittled down by a death of a thousand cuts, but who can't be taken out with a single mighty blow.

So yeah, I'd be pretty cool with that.

I think there's room in the game for all sorts of ways for monsters to mitigate damage, and all sorts of ways for player to negate that damage reduction. The more elaborate ones should be limited to set piece encounters, obviously.

Here's another one: creature that take double damage when prone because their soft underbelly is exposed! That would mean the burly Barbarian could flip the creature on its side and make it a cakewalk but it's something you'd need some kind of skill check to know.

Similarly, maybe certain monsters have a built in called-shot mechanic where you can take disadvantage on a (preferably only melee) attack in hopes of stricking a specific part and inflicting more damage than normal?
 

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