Hipsters & Dragons

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The Harder They Fall: Revising Falling Damage for 5e

So I was thinking about falling damage recently, and specifically about how little danger falling represents to characters of a certain level, no matter how high the drop.

The rules given on p.183 of the Player’s Handbook simply state that a character 1d6 bludgeoning damage for every 10 feet it falls, to a maximum of 20d6 (which is an average of 70 damage).

He’ll be fine….

If we refresh our memories on the rules for dying, they state that a character dies outright when reduced to 0 hit points AND the excess damage is equal to or greater than its maximum hit points.

…if you’ve got a measly 35 hit points you have a great chance of surviving ANY fall in the game.

In other words, even if you’ve got a measly 35 hit points you have a great chance of surviving ANY fall in the game. While if you’ve got as many as 50 HP you’re almost immune from instant death by cliff jump, as you’d need to receive 100 damage to die outright (from a maximum of 20d6)… at least if you were on full HP when you took your tumble. Once you get much above 70 hit points, you would be unlikely to even fall unconscious when plummeting 1,000 feet from the sky, and mechanically there’s nothing to stop you standing up and acting in your next round.

Yes, simple rules, elegance, 5e, blah blah blah blah…

Not for me amigos… I’m gonna fix this for my campaign, and I think the game will be better for it. Battling on a cliff edge or rope bridge should be a nerve wracking, even terrifying, affair… as should riding a griffon or dragon, or even taking too many chances with the fly spell (which requires concentration remember!). Meanwhile, players that push a giant over a bluff expect to kill it… not deliver a mild bruising… so the rules work both ways.

Damage Cap, Based on Terminal Velocity

Conveniently for D&D players, a falling human reaches terminal velocity after about 6 seconds (at least according to this gentleman…), i.e. one round, falling about 580 feet in the process.

Now that we know this, we have a better scientific measurement of at which height we should cap the damage, and we also know how far someone falls in one round of combat (always useful! Not least if a raging barbarian spills off a cliff… see FAQs below).

For my game, I will simplify things a bit by capping falling damage at 50d6 (i.e. at 500 feet, instead of at 200 feet in RAW). And btw, if you don’t fancy rolling them, just roll 10 and times by 5…

I would rather fall from the bottom of the Eiffel Tower than the top! (Source: US Gov.).

Now 50d6 is still only 175 hit points of damage on average, while nothing has changed about surviving a 100 foot fall… which should be way more deadly than taking 35 hit points of damage on average. If we consider that each storey in a building is usually about 10 feet high, that’s falling off a 10 floor block of flats!

Hipster’s ‘Hard Fall’ Rule

Ok so this is my proposal…

From falls of 30 feet and above I will force players to test their luck, and make their choice of a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or a DC 20 Dexterity saving throw – let’s call this a Hard Fall saving throw! If they pass their Hard Fall save they take damage as normal. If they fail they take max. damage from every die… i.e. a 100 foot fall does 60 damage, no rolling required.

I like this because it starts to reflect the real danger of a fall, but still giving the characters a more than decent chance to pull off the old ‘fall from an aeroplane and survive’ story, that feels fitting in a heroic setting.

(Want to make it even more deadly… if they fail their save by 5, then first double and then max. the dice!).

Seeing Stars…

D&D is pretty immersion breaking when it comes to being able to act normally under testing circumstances… and I’m ok with that most of the time. It’s just more fun that way. But with a big fall I’d be tempted to insert some kind of ‘you’re f*cked’ effect that stops PCs plummeting 200 feet off a cliff, crunching into the ground, and then teleporting back into combat, or whatever, on the following turn.

I will rule that a PC who fails their Hard Fall save, but survives, is stunned for a number of rounds equal to the amount they failed their save by.

Meanwhile I’m definitely getting the Lingering Injuries table for anyone who was reduced to 0 hit points by the fall, as per the rules on p.272 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Rather than roll, I might just hand out the ‘Internal Injury’ result.

DMs in my group also tend to hand out a level or two of exhaustion when a PC is reduced to zero hit points.

A More RAW Solution

Incidentally, there is an optional rule on p.273 of the DMG called Massive Damage that forces people to make a DC 15 Con save when taking damage of over half their hit point maximum, to avoid some nasty effects. Doesn’t quite do everything I want, but a quick and easy hack if you want to make falls more dangerous using strictly the Rules As Written.

Rolling With a Fall

What about the old tuck and roll on a small drop? There are a few things more satisfying than doing a bit of fantasy parkour in your D&D session… as far as I’m aware (please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong!), there are no special rules for breaking a fall with an acrobatic tumble…

Leaning towards the heroic side of the game, I’m going to rule that if you succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check you can half the damage of a 10 foot fall, DC 15 to half the damage of a 20 foot fall, DC 20 to half the damage of a 30 foot fall, DC 25 to half the damage of a 40 foot fall and DC 30 to half the damage of 50 foot fall.

What’s more, if you pass your Acrobatics check there’s no need to make the Hard Fall save (which would usually be required from 30 feet upwards).

I will add the caveat that you have to be in control of the jump… if someone pushes you, and you fall some 30 feet off the roof of a three storey building, then you can make the same check but at disadvantage.

(Want your PCs to feel more badass… if they pass their Acrobatic check by 5 they take no damage!).

Fall HeightDamageAcrobatics DCHard Fall save?
10 feet1d610No
20 feet2d615No
30 feet3d620Yes
40 feet4d625Yes
50 feet5d630Yes
60 feet6d6Not possibleYes
200 feet20d6Not possibleYes
500 feet50d6Not possibleYes

Falling FAQs

Q: Do monsters that are immune to bludgeoning damage take fall damage?
A: Yes, because they are only immune / resistant to bludgeoning damage from non-magical weapons, not from other sources.

Q: Does a barbarian half damage if they take falling damage while raging?
A: Yes, as a barbarian is resistant to bludgeoning damage. However, if the fall is more than about 500 feet, their rage will have ended by virtue of not having made an attack or taken damage in the round during which they were solely falling. So for falls of 500 feet or more I would rule that rage has given way to fear and they take full damage.

Final Note

Remember the point of these revised rules is to put the fear of the gods back into your high level PCs… not for them to feel cheated when they die unexpectedly. Therefore be sure to communicate to your players beforehand if you intend in testing out these revisions…

Now Your Turn…

Ever been frustrated by falling damage? How have you handled it in your game? As always, comments below please… will do my best to respond!

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12 Comments

  1. Michael

    Not one for lovers of simplicity but if you like a touch more realism or get a thrill from narrowly escaping death then I’m all for this one.

  2. Struck

    One thing to consider is that this problem isn’t unique to fall damage. Getting hit with a warhammer from another character with a 20 in strength only does a max of 17 damage, yet characters can stay conscious afterwards with a measly 18 hitpoints.

    It’s too cumbersome to fix every aspect of weapons and damage, but a simple solution could be to cap/limit HP for both heroes and baddies. This would also fix the problem of overly long battles, which is a frequent problem for some DMs.

    • duncan

      I see your point, but in combat you can rationalise this quite easily. When the fighter with the warhammer hits a commoner he smacks them in the head and crushes their skull, but when he goes to hit the NPC swashbuckler (66 hit points, from Volo’s Guide to Monsters) and succeeds, the swashbuckler’s EXPERIENCE means that, what would be a deadly blow for average joe, is just a painful one for a savvy swordsman whose skill enables him to deflect or dodge the brunt of the damage.

      This kind of logic is how many players, and I believe the designers themselves, justify the rise of hit points with experience. If HP literally just equal life force, then that wouldn’t really change, but it equals many things. “Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck,” states the Player’s Handbook.

      Falling for me is a bit of special case because there are very few things you can do to mitigate the damage of the fall (so mental durability and being experienced in combat don’t really help!), and the fact that falling damage is rather weak made me want to bring in a new rule.

      • Struck

        Gotcha, and well put. There’s no narratively creative way to suspend our disbelief regarding something one can do to mitigate a free fall.

        With the increased threat that gravity now offers to your adventurers, there are other balance concerns to address with magically inclined PCs (as if wizards weren’t powerful enough). Maybe Feather Fall and Fly should become level 2 and 4 spells. Alternatively, maybe your warrior PCs can find some sort of cool ‘Attack on Titan’ style grappling device.

  3. ZadfTheRogue88

    thank yuo for rules my table love them! only afew extra dices and tables to roll and look at, super easy to learm, my dm loved them and the playes like as wel! thanks you my friend

  4. Enagonius

    What do you think about the original idea (not published in the original game by an editor mistake) of fall damage by Gary Gygax? A character takes 1d6 per 10 feet fallen CUMULATIVELY; so 1d6 for 10′, 3d6 for 20′, 6d6 for 30 feet and so on.

    I was thinking about using that as default fall damage; and allowing for a check (probably based on your Acrobatics DC, and using Athletics as well because DEX is already to overpowered and STR need some love) to roll RAW fall damage when in control of the fall.

    Basically, Gygax damage when you fall and 5e damage when you jump (if you manage to pass the check).

    That would make things more lethal, which is fine to me — I’m just worried it might be too lethal.

    I wish I had a way to introduce the “fell from plane (dragon) but survived” by making it possible but not too likely. Perhaps by allowing the check to differentiate both damages — but that would override the difference I designed between falling and jumping.

    It also reduces complexity over your method (which I really liked, but I’m not sure I want to put two possible types of check on falling).

    What do you think?

    • duncan

      Hi Enagonius

      Thanks for the comment. The Gygax method makes a lot of sense! I would like to see a table though, I don’t really want to have try to calculate what 100 feet of falling damage would be on the fly… I guess it would go

      10 ft – 1d6 (3.5 hp)
      20 ft – 3d6 (10.5 hp)
      30 ft – 6d6 (21 hp)
      40 ft – 10d6 (35 hp)
      50 ft – 15d6 (52.5)
      60 ft – 21d6 (73.5)
      70 ft – 28d6 (98)
      80 ft – 36d6 (126)
      90 ft – 45d6 (157.5)
      100 ft – 55d6 (192.5)

      Now I can see the damage, I can also see that it’s quite a leap (pun intended) between 1st edition and 5e on a 100 foot fall… 192.5 hp on average vs. 35 on average.

      Also what happens when someone falls 230 feet… that’s a 15 minute break to calculate the damage! So you’d probably have write the table out in full and have it handy if you did go with the original G.

      I have some thoughts on what you say here: “Basically, Gygax damage when you fall and 5e damage when you jump (if you manage to pass the check).”

      The problem is that once you get much over 30, 40 or maybe 50 feet (which is already really high… stand on top of a 3-5 floor building and look down!), then I don’t think jumping vs. falling makes much difference. Certainly not the massive difference you’re proposing in your rules there…

      Overall there’s no super tidy way to do it, it seems – I’m not even a huge fan of my own solutions!

      One advice I could give, if you can’t find a fixed solution that works for you in multiple scenarios, is simply to stress to players [both out of game ‘hey guys, I’m going to be ad libbing some more dangerous falling rules in this adventure’… and in game ‘you sidestep the minotaur’s axe, and the rope bridge sways beneath your feet… a glimpse down tells you that falling into the gorge would mean almost certain death’] that falling is going to be more dangerous in your campaign and then ad lib a ruling appropriate as per the occasion. That’s probably what Jeremy Crawford would want πŸ™‚

      Final thought: I guess the fall from the plane/dragon could be a DC 30 checkpoint on a saving throw or ability check. And if they roll a natural 20 you give them another d10 to roll. (Or it’s rolling a 1 on each of their damage dice… improbable but so is surviving such a fall).

      • Coen

        Change it to “Gygax damage on a fall. If you leap, the first 30′ are 1d6 each, then the Gygax-damage resumes?

  5. Coen

    IMC, I went with 5e’s KISS style, but upped the damage die to d10. No other adjustments, because my players are currently in love with 5e’s simplicity.

    However… I exercise my right as GM to make bad falls actually “bad”, with effects ranging from being dazed/stunned to Lingering Injuries (usually broken bones and an inability to regain some or all HD with rest). The players are actually more comfortable with that than to think I might actually be following a set of complicated rules! (Go figure…) They were all appalled when one player completely did the textbook “The castle wall’s only 35′ high? I jump down and chase the badguy crossing the drawbridge. What? It’s only 3d6, I’m a 5th level Fighter!”

    To balance things though, I do allow basically what you suggested, and semi-stolen from 4e: Make an Acrobatics check for your landing, and reduce the damage taken by half your check if you jumped intentionally; if you fell, you reduce it only by your Proficiency bonus. You cannot take less than minimum damage. So Joe Fighter leaps off the 35′ wall, he takes 4d10 (22) minus 1d20/2, or about 11 damage. Sally Rogue does the same thing, she reduces the effect by (1d20+6)/2, or about 9 damage. Jack Sorcerer gets thrown off the castle, he takes 22 damage (not proficient in Acrobatics, poor guy). They all dropped more than 30′, they get a side effect from the fall, based on a CON check.

  6. Tom

    Nice.
    My homebrew version is based on Gravity acceleration is roughly 30’ per second per second so:
    For every 30’ they fall the dice increase a die step:
    Up to 30’ 1d6 per 10’
    40 to 60’ 1d8 per 10’
    70’ to 90’ 1d10 per 10’
    100 to 120’ 1d12 per 10’
    Above 120’ 1d20 per 10’ maxing out at 20 dice (terminal velocity/nod to the rules).

    So the max is 20d20 for falling 200’+

    A character can make an acrobatics check to reduce the number of dice rolled, regardless of dice. I had set the base DC at 15 to knock off one dice and an extra one per 5 thereafter but 10 would be fine as well – maybe it’s 10 if they jumped intentionally or can react easily but 15 if they are caught by surprise.

    So a character falling say 110’ feet looks like taking 11d12 but if they make the acrobatics roll by 3 success levels they only take 8d12.

    • duncan

      Hi Tom

      I like that, possibly more than I like my own solutions…

      Having a flat Acrobatics check in some ways doesn’t make sense over a certain height, but for ease of use your rule works well as the reduction is meaningful on a low fall, but less so on a big fall anyway.

      I guess the only thing the DM needs to remember, when implementing this is that the die goes up every 30 feet. Or just have a small table handy on their DM screen.

      Thanks for the input to the conversation!

      d

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