The 13 Damage Types, Ranked

Highlights

  • Some damage types in Dungeons & Dragons are more effective and have more enemies vulnerable to them.
  • Fire damage is hit or miss, with many creatures immune but also many vulnerable to it.
  • Magical bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage is the most reliable and effective in the game.

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There are many different damage types in Dungeons & Dragons, but which ones are the best? Honestly, it depends on who or what you’re fighting. But if we take a closer look at the Monster Manual, it’s obvious that some damage types are more effective. Moreover, there is a larger amount of enemies vulnerable to certain types of damage. Taking this into account, it can be said that, generally speaking, there is a hierarchy of damage types that are more reliably effective.

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For example, poison damage can easily be identified as the weakest of all damage types in regards to immunity. An astounding 96 creatures in the Monster Manual have immunity to poison. That’s more than twice as many creatures who are immune compared to the next worst type. Only monsters from the Monster Manual were accounted for in the making of this list, so be wary of fluctuation from monsters located elsewhere, such as Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and many other modules and supplemental materials.

Updated November 29, 2023 by Chris Stomberg: With the release of new sourcebooks featuring additional dastardly villains, it’s well past time to revisit this list. That being said, the standing of each damage type remains relatively unchanged. What is more important to consider is the kind of campaign you’re playing in and the monsters that are featured in it. For example, psychic may be one of the best damage types, but it’s quite useless against a colony of mind flayers.

13 Fire

All In All, Fire Damage Is Very Hit Or Miss

Fireball by Xavier Ribiero
Fireball by Xavier Ribiero

While fireball is irreplaceable, 40 creatures in the Monster Manual have immunity to fire damage. On top of that, another 37 are resistant. However, 9 creatures are vulnerable to it, which is the highest number of vulnerable creatures for any damage type. So fire takes second place in creatures immune and first place in creatures vulnerable. Either your enemies burn away in a blaze of searing flesh or they fear your firebolt no more than a flicked booger, but don’t let this discourage you from hurling fireballs at every chance you get.

12 Slashing

A Favorite Among Players

A woman stands in a forest with a crimson sword resting on her plate armour
Vorpal Sword (Variant) MtG Art by Alessandra Pisano

This is the damage type dealt by most enemies and players at lower levels. The first weapon most characters have, depending on their class, is often a non-magical slashing weapon. A Fighter, for example, is one of the most commonly played classes, and more often than not, it’s a sword or axe that they pick up at level one.

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It’s also not especially effective, which is one of the challenges characters have to deal with as they start out. There are only 17 creatures immune to non-magical weapon damage, but a staggering 60 are resistant. Some creatures are immune to slashing damage of any type, which you’ll learn if your DM has a certain sense of humor.

11 Piercing

The Rogue’s Favorite

trident shaped with sea shells and fins
Trident of Fish Command via Wizards of the Coast 

Characters that can use weapons like spears, tridents, or arrows will be dealing with piercing damage. In some ways, this is better than slashing. An advantage here is that most of the more exciting and dramatic weapons deal piercing damage with all of the impaling, puncturing, and throwing involved. Weapons like spears have definite advantages in that they are equally valuable as both ranged and melee weapons, and the classes that use them are often some of the most versatile available.

10 Bludgeoning

Especially Good Against Skeletons

Mace of Disruption
Mace of Disruption via Wizards of the Coast

Certain classes can only use bludgeoning weapons from the very start, and these are often supporting or healing classes but even that depends on the exact character build. Undead creatures like skeletons and other “breakable” creatures are often vulnerable to bludgeoning damage because, of course, stabbing or slashing them obviously won’t help. This doesn’t just apply to maces but any weapon that has a dull edge, including staves and hockey sticks, so that tree trunk your Barbarian picks up counts.

9 Cold

Cone Of Cold Is One The Greats

A white scaled dragon unleashes a cold breath on numerous figures at a mountaintop
White Dragon by Billy Christian

Wielding fire and ice may be a cool fantasy cliché, but if those are your only options you’re going to run into threats that resist you. There are 20 creatures in the monster manual with immunity to cold, and another 46 with resistance.

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Thankfully, 4 creatures are vulnerable. One thing about fire or cold-resistant monsters is that many of them share both resistances. So if your fire spells aren’t working, the next best bet definitely isn’t cold.

8 Lightning

Why Not Swap Out A Fireball For A Lightning Bolt?

A blue dragon attacking a human in a plateau
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle Cover Art By Ilse Gort

It’s a shame that the only force lightning-like spell in the game, Witch Bolt, is so lackluster. If it wasn’t, a lot more players would make use of the lightning damage type because it’s a lot more reliable in comparison to fire and cold. 35 creatures have resistance to lightning damage and 10 are immune. None are vulnerable. The first great lightning damage option, Lightning bolt, doesn’t become available until you gain access to third level spells.

Demons are often resistant to fire, cold, and lightning damage.

7 Acid

Difficult To Wield, But Effective

black dragon spewing acid all over its victims while it flies overhead in a swamp
Black Dragon by Mark Zug

The only spells that give you access to acid damage are the cantrip Acid Splash, which deals a meager 1d6 damage, the first level spell chromatic orb, and the second level spell Melf’s Acid Arrow. Despite its disappointing damage, it is possible to hit two creatures with Acid Splash if you can maneuver them within 5 feet of each other.

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With such a limited amount of options, it’s no wonder acid damage is often overlooked. However, it is one of the more reliable damage types. Only 18 creatures have resistance to it, though 15 are immune. None are vulnerable.

6 Thunder

What’s The Difference Between Thunder And Lightning?

Orc and adventurers party cast lightning bolt from card
Sudden Insight by Dan Scott 

Thunder, on the other hand, is a damage type present at many tables. With cantrip options like Thunderclap and booming blade as well as spells including Thunderwave, thunderous smite, shatter, and thunder step, players are presented with many solid choices that deal thunder damage. And the best part is the damage type is incredibly reliable. 14 creatures have resistance, 2 are immune, and there’s even one who is vulnerable.

Though they are similar in definition, thunder outclasses lightning in almost every way.

5 Necrotic

It’s Good To Be Bad

Dungeons & Dragons lich summoning undead
Dungeon Master’s Guide Key Art by Tyler Jacobson

Necrotic damage is common among characters of a more sinister alignment. Though it may be at the price of your character’s soul, evil-aligned characters are rewarded with a very reliable damage type. 11 creatures are resistant to necrotic damage and another 11 are immune. It’s pretty obvious which creatures have resistance to necrotic, almost all of them are undead, which further serves to make necrotic damage dependable in that it will function as expected.

Some DMs have worlds where necromancy spells are viewed as evil. Ask your DM about the world’s general perception of necromancy to avoid a nasty surprise.

4 Psychic

Powerful, But Weak On Damage

Left: A mindflayer grappling a human, RIght: A Githzerai monk floating
Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar by Alexander Mokhov and Githzerai Monk by Dan Scott

Like acid damage, psychic damage is seldom seen. The spells that do deal psychic damage are often more utility-based. Their primary function is not to eliminate a threat but weaken or confuse it. Low-level access options include the cantrip vicious mockery as well as first-level spells wrathful smite and dissonant whispers. There is also mind spike which is a notable and underused second-level spell from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything that deals 3d8 psychic damage on a failed save. One creature is resistant, 10 are immune, and one is vulnerable.

3 Radiant

The Favorite Of Clerics And Paladins

Collage image of golden light glowing out of a human cleric's hand and a dragonborn wielding shield and radiant magic sword in DND

While evil characters are rewarded with the very reliable necrotic damage type, good characters receive a superior boon through access to radiant damage. Primarily paladins and clerics are capable of using radiant spells with options like the cantrip sacred flame and Xanathar’s word of radiance, as well as the spells guiding bolt, divine favor, branding smite, and blinding smite.

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There are four creatures in the monster manual resistant to radiant damage, and a couple of them are more likely to be your allies than your enemies. No creatures are immune to radiant damage and one is vulnerable.

2 Force

Eldritch Blast Is Just That Good

Dragon Of Icespire Peak Cover Art By Greg Rutkowski
Dragon Of Icespire Peak Cover Art By Greg Rutkowski

May the force be with you. When it comes to the most effective damage types, the Jedi order was onto something. The most obvious implication of force being so reliable is its presence on the warlock’s eldritch blast. It’s almost a shame that warlocks who go without this cantrip end up hindering their character’s damage potential. A spiritual weapon, magic missile, and Xanathar’s Zephyr Strike are some other household names that deal force damage.

No creature in the monster manual is resistant to force damage, one is immune, and none are vulnerable. As if there wasn’t enough reason already to always roll eldritch blast on a warlock, force damage is without a doubt the second-best way to deal damage.

1 Magical Bludgeoning, Slashing, and Piercing

There’s No Such Thing As Too Many Magic Weapons

Zariel flying in the sky of Avernus reaching for a magic blade
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus Cover Art By Tyler Jacobson

Part of the reason magical weapons are so good is that they avoid the immunities and resistances that a large number of creatures have against nonmagical damage. Depending on what kind of game you’re playing in, these are either incredibly common or incredibly rare. As you can see by the difference in ranking between normal bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing and magical, a martial character equipped with one of these items is many times more effective.

In all of the monster manual, there is but one creature who is resistant to magical weapons. None are immune or vulnerable. Magic weapons provide the most reliable damage type in the game, bar none. So the next time you think every player at the table needs a magic weapon, take an extra moment to consider how it may affect the difficulty of your game.

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