I remember reading somewhere — on the Brilliant Gameologist forums, if I recall — that “ongoing damage is a trap.” Now, I’m pretty sure they were referring to ongoing damage in 3e, but it’s given me something to think about at work.

In fact, while working through Barbarian powers — a discussion I will save for another time — I noticed a large number of ongoing damage effects that were largely indistinguishable from one another. To the extent I started to wonder why?

What about ongoing damage makes it so undesirable? I figure at the very least, it’s the equivalent of striker damage, taken at least once — in 4e anyway, saving throws are made at the end of the turn while ongoing damage occurs at the start.

After a spell, I wondered if perhaps ongoing damage shouldn’t be a commonplace effect — not that it’s terribly widespread as it is — but perhaps relegated to a class-specific effect. Basically, an archetype built around ongoing damage.

Ongoing damage is a one-two effect. You drop the ongoing damage on a target, and they take it at the start of their next turn. Now, there’s a lot of potential in compounding that damage if it’s limited to a single archetype.

Ongoing damage represents a unique advantage. Perhaps the character has a conditional bonus — perhaps too powerful if readily available — but only there when an enemy has been “softened up” to a degree.

There are some effects like this in Guild Wars, attacks that have an added effect if the target is already poisoned, bleeding, or burning.

Ongoing damage can also represent a “death by a thousand cuts” strategy, whereby a target takes myriad minor wounds that add up over time. Ongoing damage might not necessarily stack, but its effects are cumulative nonetheless.

The question remains as to which archetype to apply ongoing damage to…