Physical Damage 5e: The Best Choices of Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing

Last Updated on January 22, 2023

Whether from the edge of a warrior’s sword, a sudden rockfall, or the barbed spikes of a pit trap, there are plenty of ways to get hurt in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.

All damage that your character suffers and inflicts in 5e can be broken down into the game’s thirteen damage types: Acid, Bludgeoning, Cold, Fire, Force Lightning, Necrotic, Piercing, Poison, Psychic, Radiant, Slashing, and Thunder. 

Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing damage account for three of these damage types, and are often thought of as “physical” damage.

Bludgeoning Damage Icon
Piercing Damage Icon
Slashing Damage Icon

In this guide, we’ll explore why this is something of a misnomer, as well as dive into each of these three damage types in detail – how they are inflicted, and which weapons, feats, and other elements of the game intersect with them. 

What is “Physical Damage”? A Quick, Slightly Unhelpful Introduction 

Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing damage are DnD’s classification of physical sources of damage. Bludgeoning from blunt weapons such as a hammer or club. Piercing from daggers, spears, rapiers and the like. Slashing from swords, axes and similar weapons. These different types of Physical damage have their own characteristics, drawbacks and benefits.

While on the face of it this feels very intuitively correct, it’s actually something of a miscategorization. 

I think this happens for two reasons: 

  • Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing Damage are the damage types inflicted by mundane (and magical) weapons. 
  • Each one involves physical matter impacting a target, rather than a discharge of energy – as with other damage types like lightning or radiant damage. 

However, there’s nothing to say that fire isn’t a physical thing; being burned by a dragon’s breath attack certainly feels physical enough.  In fact, probably the only arguably non-physical damage type in the game is psychic damage. So, physical damage probably won’t do us any good as a descriptor moving forward. 

How about mundane or non-magical damage? 

While it’s true that all non-magical weapons listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide deal either Bludgeoning, Piercing, or Slashing damage, this definition doesn’t hold up either, particularly when you consider the fact that not all sources of elemental damage are magical.

Falling into a pit of lava, getting hit by a flaming arrow, or even being engulfed by a dragon’s breath attack doesn’t actually inflict magical damage. In fact, unless the source of the damage is explicitly a magic item, a spell, spell attack, or otherwise the direct result of sorcery (a glyph of warding, for example), then it’s non-magical damage. 

Also, there are plenty of spells that can inflict Bludgeoning (Maximillian’s Earthen Grasp), Piercing (Thorn Whip), and Slashing (Blade Barrier).  

So, where does that leave Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing damage?

We could call it Weapon Damage, but falling off a cliff or being crushed by rocks also inflict Bludgeoning Damage, scratching yourself to pieces in a bramble patch would inflict Piercing damage, and cutting your hand on a piece of broken glass could definitely be argued to be an instance of Slashing damage. So, that’s out. 

I think maybe Kinetic Damage is as close as I can come to a satisfactory definition. Force Damage might be considered to be kinetic as well, but it involves energy impacting matter rather than matter impacting other matter (which I guess just releases energy into the matter, so yeah) … I think basically it doesn’t matter. 

When taken individually, their definitions are very clear. 

Bludgeoning Damage is caused by blunt force impacts or attacks – hammers, falling from a great height, constriction, and so on. 

Piercing Damage is inflicted when an attack or other impact punctures skin or armor, including spears, spikes, and monsters’ bites.

Slashing Damage happens as the result of a cut with a sharp edge, like a sword, axe, monster’s claws, or scythe. 

Let’s dive into each damage type in more detail. 

Bludgeoning Damage 

Falling from a great height, being struck with the full force of a troll’s club, and being crushed in the vice-like grip of a giant boa constrictor are all examples of Bludgeoning damage. 

This damage type is all about blunt force trauma and crush injuries (I’ve been watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy, ok? Anyone up for a subdural hematoma?) which leave you with deep purple bruises, cracked ribs, and shattered bones. 

Bludgeoning Damage Weapons

There are nine weapons that deal Bludgeoning damage in the Player’s Handbook, none of which are Ranged Martial Weapons. 

Simple Melee Weapons

  • Club. 1d4 bludgeoning, Light 
  • Greatclub. 1d8 bludgeoning, Two-Handed 
  • Light Hammer. 1d4 bludgeoning, Light, Thrown (range 20/60)
  • Mace. 1d6 bludgeoning 
  • Quarterstaff. 1d6 bludgeoning, Versatile (d8)
  • Simple Ranged Weapons 
  • Sling. 1d4 bludgeoning, Ammunition (range 30/120)
  • Martial Melee Weapons 
  • Flail. 1d8 bludgeoning 
  • Maul. 2d6 Bludgeoning, Heavy, two-handed 
  • Warhammer. 1d8 Bludgeoning, Versatile (1d10)

Monsters and Bludgeoning Damage 

Of the three damage types in this guide, Bludgeoning damage is a contender for the “best” or “strongest” thanks to the fact that it’s the only one of the three which creatures (in the Basing Rules and Monster Manual – I’m sure there are edge cases in the approximately five million published adventures, but you’ll have to do that research yourself) are vulnerable to. 

Namely, Skeletons (as well as the Skeletal Minotaur and the Skeletal Warhorse) all take double damage from bludgeoning. 

When it comes to monsters that are resistant or immune to bludgeoning damage, the list is also comfortingly short.

There are plenty of monsters that are resistant or immune to all non-magical (or non-silvered in the case of werewolves) bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage, but if you do have yourself a big magical hammer, there are just a few creatures like swarms and awakened trees that are going to be taking half damage. 

Piercing Damage 

Getting stabbed by a spear, impaled on a pit of spikes, or struck by an arrow are all sources of piercing damage. Piercing damage involves pointy things puncturing other, usually softer, fleshier things, and causing harm as a result.

This damage type tends to focus on precision attacks that either slip between the cracks in armor or punch right through it. 

Piercing Damage Weapons

There are a full sixteen weapons that deal piercing damage in the Player’s Handbook, largely thanks to the fact that nearly all ranged and thrown weapons deal piercing damage.

For the sake of balance, this is probably the reason this is the “Kinetic” damage type the largest number of creatures (10) have resistance to in the Monster Manual. 

Simple Melee Weapons 

  • Dagger. 1d4 piercing, Finesse, iight, thrown (range 20/60)
  • Javelin. 1d6 piercing, Thrown (range 30/120)
  • Spear. 1d6 piering, Thrown (range 20/60), Versatile
  • Simple Ranged Weapons 
  • Crossbow, light. 1d8 piercing, Ammunition (range 80/320), loading, two-handed
  • Dart. 1d4 piercing, Finesse, thrown (range 20/60)
  • Shortbow. 1d6 piercing, Ammunition (range 80/320), two-handed
  • Martial Melee Weapons 
  • Lance. 1d12 piercing, Reach, special
  • Morningstar. 1d8 piercing, – 
  • Pike. 1d10 piercing, Heavy, reach, two-handed
  • Rapier. 1d8 piercing, Finesse 
  • Shortsword. 1d6 piercing, Finesse, light
  • Trident. 1d6 piercing, Thrown (range 20/60), versatile (1d8)
  • War pick. 1d8 piercing, – 
  • Martial Ranged Weapons 
  • Blowgun. 1 piercing, Ammunition (range 25/100), loading
  • Crossbow, hand. 1d6 piercing, Ammunition (range 30/120), light, loading
  • Crossbow, heavy. 1d10 piercing, Ammunition (range 100/400), heavy, loading, two-handed
  • Longbow. 1d8 piercing, Ammunition (range 150/600), heavy, two-handed

Monsters and Piercing Damage 

Setting aside monsters with resistance to all three “Kinetic” damage types, Piercing damage is easily the weakest of the three. This is likely because it’s the damage type most commonly dealt from range.

There are 10 monsters in the Monster Manual with resistance to poison damage, and although there are no monsters (other than the ones that shrug off all non-magical Kinetic damage) with immunity to Piercing damage, no monsters are vulnerable to it either. 

Swarms, awakened plants, and Flame Skulls all have resistance to Piercing damage. 

Slashing Damage 

Any razor-sharp edge can inflict slashing damage, from a spring-loaded scythe built into a trap to an axe or sword. Slashing damage cuts into the skin, drawing blood (assuming the target has blood to spill that is), and can leave wounds ranging from jagged gashes to neat, surgical slices. 

Slashing damage isn’t just dealt by a blade, however. Whips, spells that summon walls of brambles and thorns, and other effects that cut across the skin (as possessed to piercing damage that punctures the target) can cause slashing damage. 

Slashing Damage Weapons

In a reflection of the fact that handling a delicately edged weapon in real life takes a great deal more practice than just stabbing someone with a spear or shooting them with a crossbow, the majority of the slashing weapons in the Player’s Handbook are found in the Melee Martial Weapons section and, while there are a couple of thrown weapons that inflict slashing damage, there are no dedicated ranged weapons that deal slashing damage. 

Simple Melee Weapons 

  • Handaxe. 1d6 slashing, Light, thrown (range 20/60)
  • Sickle. 1d4 slashing, Light
  • Martial Melee Weapons 
  • Battleaxe. 1d8 slashing, Versatile (1d10)
  • Glaive. 1d10 slashing, Heavy, reach, two-handed
  • Greataxe. 1d12 slashing, Heavy, two-handed
  • Greatsword. 2d6 slashing, Heavy, two-handed
  • Halberd. 1d10 slashing, Heavy, reach, two-handed
  • Longsword. 1d8 slashing, Versatile (1d10)
  • Scimitar. 1d6 slashing, Finesse, light
  • Whip. 1d4 slashing, Finesse, reach

Monsters and Slashing Damage 

Slashing damage is the only type of Kinetic damage to which some monsters are immune. There are two, and they’re well worth knowing. 

Both the Black Pudding and Ochre Jelly are nasty oozes in their own right.

However, whenever either of them are subjected to slashing damage, they are not only left unharmed, but they split into two new oozes, dividing the original monster’s hit points between them, but otherwise doubling the threat you face. Top tip for players: see a Black Pudding or an Ochre Jelly? Put that axe away. 

Otherwise, like Bludgeoning and Piercing damage, all Swarms (be they bats, rats, ravens, insects, or something else equally unpleasant) have resistance to slashing damage. 

Feats: Crusher, Piercer and Slasher 

Lastly, let’s take a quick look at three new feats introduced as part of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which help you get the most out of blunt, edged or pointed weapons.

The Crusher Feat represents your character’s skill with blunt weapons, wielding them with the precision and force needed to shatter or dislocate something vital.

Use this feat to bully your way around the battlefield, knocking enemies aside and seizing the advantage after landing a devastating blow. When you take this feat, you gain the following benefits: 

  • Increase your Strength or Constitution by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Once per turn, when you hit a creature with an attack that deals bludgeoning damage, you can move it 5 feet to an unoccupied space, provided the target is no more than one size larger than you.
  • When you score a critical hit that deals bludgeoning damage to a creature, attack rolls against that creature are made with advantage until the start of your next turn.

The Piercer Feat is perfect for any character (a rogue or rapier-wielding bard, for example) who has honed their ability to bring down powerful foes with a single, deadly thrust (minds out of the gutter please, bards), effectively making your crits more powerful. When you take this feat, you gain the following benefits: 

  • Increase your Strength or Dexterity by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Once per turn, when you hit a creature with an attack that deals piercing damage, you can reroll one of the attack’s damage dice, and you must use the new roll.
  • When you score a critical hit that deals piercing damage to a creature, you can roll one additional damage die when determining the extra piercing damage the target takes.

The Slasher Feat is perfect for any character who takes down their enemies with a flurry of blows, spinning like a whirling dervish of death right where the fighting is thickest.

Your skill with edged weapons means you’re more than capable of slicing through an Achilles tendon or an unguarded hamstring while your opponent protects less vital areas, like their face. When you take this feat, you gain the following benefits: 

  • Increase your Strength or Dexterity by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Once per turn when you hit a creature with an attack that deals slashing damage, you can reduce the speed of the target by 10 feet until the start of your next turn.
  • When you score a critical hit that deals slashing damage to a creature, you grievously wound it. Until the start of your next turn, the target has disadvantage on all attack rolls.

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