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5E Climbing and falling


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dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Well yes. Assume an average adult in good health with no specialised training (Str 10) with a movement of 30'.

He has a 25 percent chance of falling on a DC 10 every 15' he travels and a 50/50 chance of getting a further 15' up.

To climb 50' he needs to make 4 such checks without failing 1 or he falls. On average it takes him 8 checks to get those 4 successes and he would fall off rhe wall more often than not in getting those 4 successes.

Compound checks are a bad idea and should be avoided where possible.

A rough hewn wall like a climbing wall at a gym shouldn't be more than DC5. With ropes it shouldnt even be a check af all. An adult himan in good health (Str 10) can climb such a wall every time he tries.
Ok, so we'll go with your +0... Yes, 4 checks.

Rolls 10 or higher (DC 10) and climbs 15 feet. Rolls 5-9 and doesn't make any progress. Rolls 1-4 (only 20%) and he might fall. He then rolls a DC 10 DEX save (let's assume +0 again) and only falls on a 9 or lower (45%). So, the chance of him failing a check and a save is only 9%.

FWIW, the chance of him making 4 checks in a row is 0.55^4 which is 9.15%. That alone is higher than the 6% you claimed before. And that is making 4 checks in a row. He can easily make a couple, fail one without falling, and then continue the climb.

Overall, a person with a +0 modifier has about a 55% chance of falling at some point during this climb, or they have roughly a 45% chance of making it to the top. Those who make the climb will average about 6-7 checks.

(Roughly 17% fall before making it to 15', roughly 17% fall between 15-29', roughly 11% fall between 30-44', and roughly 10% fall while making the last 5' from 45-49'.)

For someone with no STR mod and no proficiency in Athletics, 45% for a 50' climb seems really good to me (in fact, it is probably too high).

For a +4 modifier (maybe a little STR and/or proficiency) and the chance of making this climb leaps to 88%, without ropes, a climber's kit, or anything.

You have to realize we aren't talking about a rock wall at a gym (which people do fall from, even if they know what they're doing... hence the safety ropes, etc.), we are talking about a wall in a natural setting where a hold might not support your weight, a root could pull out, etc.

Compound checks are a bad idea and should be avoided where possible.
As your opinion that is fine. A lot of games use compound checks and IMO they add to the suspense of the situation. So, when warranted I have no issue with them. Since you do, as I said before, I guess it is simply a good thing you don't play at our table. No issue with that, by the way, to each their own.
 

Laurefindel

Adventurer
For DC, I try to keep to the DC guidelines and adjudicate what I consider medium, hard, etc. for an averaged, proficient (human-like) climber, and go from there.

Consequences depend on the context and stakes. Failure can simply means "you make it up to the top but not fast enough to pursue", or "you make no significant progress this round".

Falls are usually a result of a series of failed checks (or a natural 1 for a non-proficient climber), or when the player was warned that a failure could yield critical consequences, but damage can be a good metrics for "how much of your inner resources did you have to spend to get out" in the case of a stuck-down-a-10ft-pit situation.

My experience as a climber tells me however that vertical "roughly hewed stone walls with many handhold" aren't that easy to climb... That 3-5 degree inclination found in natural rock cliffs makes a world of difference...

I'm also of those who think fall damage is under-valued in D&D, if that fits in the equation.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The rules for climbing state:
While climbing or swimming, each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain), unless a creature has a climbing or swimming speed. At the GM’s option, climbing a slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds requires a successful Strength(Athletics) check.”

So, when a module says that climbing a surface requires a DC X Strength (Athletics) check, I assume that it is meant to be slippery or to have few handholds, and that I am meant to use the option to require a successful check.

I think the most natural interpretation of a vertical surface requiring a check to climb is that no progress is made on a failure, but this carries no intrinsic cost or consequence for failure. If there is time pressure, one could always rule that each attempt costs a certain amount of time, or use progress with a setback. On a success, you complete the climb in the amount of time it would take to cover the distance spending two feet of movement per foot of the climb; on a failure, you still complete the climb but it takes significantly more time for you to do so. But what to do if there is no time pressure or other cost or consequence extrinsic to the climb itself?

One option is to rule that on a failure the character climbs some distance, falls, and takes damage, but how do you decide how far the character gets before falling? You could break the climb up into multiple rolls. For example, success might mean you climb the distance you could travel in one turn (spending 2 feet of movement per foot climbed in the turn), while failure means falling from whatever height you were at when you made the check. But that will generally only work for climbs greater than 15 feet. You could judge how far the character climbs based on the result of the roll, with a higher result equating to more distance climbed. But this has the effect of making high rolls undesirable unless they are high enough to beat the DC, since a natural 1 would mean a very short distance climbed before falling while 1 below the DC would mean nearly making it to the top before falling.

My preferred method when there is no time pressure is to have something happen during the climb that the player can respond to. For example, “you’re half way up the cliff when suddenly, a powerful gust of wind blows past. What do you do?” This better conforms to the basic pattern of play, and gives the player clear stakes and an opportunity to describe an action that plays to their character’s strengths.
 
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Saelorn

Hero
Like trying to fly by throwing yourself at the ground - and failing?
Yes, except it actually works.
Really though, if you have a prescribed outcome for whatever the dice turn up, you're wandering away from the role-playing part of RPG.
I don't follow that at all. Role-playing just means you make decisions from the perspective of the character. If the character is capable of observing the consequences of their actions, then making a decision based on those observations is what role-playing is all about.

Just because the world is crazy, and the frail wizard routinely climbs higher than the buff barbarian because the wizard is so bad at climbing, that doesn't prevent anyone from accounting for that observation when they make their plans. If the sky is actually green and it's raining sentient cupcakes, then the in-character thing to do is to acknowledge that.
 

FWIW, the chance of him making 4 checks in a row is 0.55^4 which is 9.15%. That alone is higher than the 6% you claimed before. And that is making 4 checks in a row.

Overall, a person with a +0 modifier has about a 55% chance of falling at some point during this climb,
Maybe you see a 55 percent chance of a an adult human in good physical health falling off a 15m easy climb to be reasonable, but I dont.

I'm not seeing it. For me climbing a rope or a tree is 'auto-pass, no appreciable chance of failure'. Climbing a rough natural stone wall with handholds similar to an indoor climbing wall is DC 5 (at best). Unless time is vital, you can assume that any reasonably fit human can climb out of a 20' pit with rough walls (enough to grab onto) without a check.

I just hate compound skill checks. Id much rather assign a single DC to the entire climb, or worst case scenario (for particularly long climbs) maybe break it down into 2 or 3 sections at worst.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Progress combined with a setback is better in these sorts of instances in my view so we don't get stuck in some kind of loop where the PC turns into an inept buffoon falling on his or her butt for several minutes. So a failed check might mean creating noise while climbing out in which case it's time for another wandering monster check. Alternatively, if the pit is very deep, some equipment or treasure might fall out of their packs and into the pit, creating a new decision point - do we go back down there to get it or just write it off?
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
I just hate compound skill checks.
No worries. You do you. :)

I'm not going to try to convince you otherwise. If our system did only have a 6% chance of success in this climb as you thought, it would be unreasonable, but it is 45%. For someone with no STR mod, no skill in climbing, no gear, etc. I am perfectly happy with that.

I also know from climbing that finding "handholds similar to indoor climbing" is not likely in many places I've climbed. Granted, I am not super experienced at climbing or anything, but I've done a decent amount of outdoor climbing in natural surroundings--and it isn't easy at all IMO.
 


dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
He slipped. I swear the blue thing slipped. Hides the butter behind his back. Psst Gargamel, one butter flatten smurf is ready.
I've heard we taste like blueberries sauce over chicken... Might be one of those weird combinations that are actually tasty--like peanut butter on hot dogs. YUM!!! ;)
 

THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
Climbing checks can be made either during exploration or combat.

My games don't feature all that much exploration. If they did, I'd use climbing checks to determine how long it took to climb the surface, or whether a character lost equipment or hit dice, etc. It would basically be a way of determining resource attrition.

In combat, I use climbable surfaces as an interesting terrain feature to make the encounter more cinematic. For example, in my Dragon Heist game I recently set an encounter in the Shadow Clock, which I lifted from the Skinsaw Murders adventure in the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. Inside the clock tower was a spiral staircase that rose 100 feet to the top of the tower. At two levels inside the tower I placed huge webs spun by giant spiders. PCs who fell off the stairs would land on the webs, becoming prey for the spiders. The primary foes then hacked loose the bells, which ripped huge gaps in the staircase as they plummeted to the ground. The result is that PCs were forced to jump or climb to traverse the gaps. This made the combat on the staircase much more dynamic and unpredictable. And, as I said, falling simply resulted in PCs becoming ensnared in the giant spider's web.

Short version: I don't use climbing checks to determine falling damage or to make fallen PCs feel incompetent.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
On failure, they fall. I'll ask for a d20 roll to give an idea how far up they'd got before things went wrong, where 10-11 is halfway, 15 is 3/4, 20 is right at the top, etc.; and a particularly low roll means they hadn't really left the ground yet.

If they want to keep trying and failing they can, but each try comes at a small but cumulative penalty. Better that they try something different entirely, such as finding another way out or using a grappling hook or whatever.
 

SkidAce

Hero
Supporter
If only there was a way to mathematically allow the person that is better at climbing to have their chances get better and better as they climbed, instead of multiple checks adding chances of failure.

In other words, the best climber's added failure of risk would get lower as they went, while the poor climber may have their risk stay the same or get worse on each check.

Hmmm, beat the DC by "X", auto succeed the next check?
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
If only there was a way to mathematically allow the person that is better at climbing to have their chances get better and better as they climbed, instead of multiple checks adding chances of failure.

In other words, the best climber's added failure of risk would get lower as they went, while the poor climber may have their risk stay the same or get worse on each check.

Hmmm, beat the DC by "X", auto succeed the next check?
How would that make any sense though? The longer a climb (or the longer you are climbing) the more likely you are to fall.

But if you wanted such a system you would have to do something like you can climb a distance equal to your climbing speed x your proficiency bonus.

So, with a speed 30, your climbing speed is 15.

Without proficiency, you make a check every 15 feet.
With proficiency, you make a check at 30 feet (+2), 45 feet (+3), ..., 90 feet (+6).

Thus, for a 60 feet cliff, without proficiency you would make 4 checks, but with a +4 or higher proficiency bonus, you would only make 1 check.
 

SkidAce

Hero
Supporter
How would that make any sense though? The longer a climb (or the longer you are climbing) the more likely you are to fall.

But if you wanted such a system you would have to do something like you can climb a distance equal to your climbing speed x your proficiency bonus.

So, with a speed 30, your climbing speed is 15.

Without proficiency, you make a check every 15 feet.
With proficiency, you make a check at 30 feet (+2), 45 feet (+3), ..., 90 feet (+6).

Thus, for a 60 feet cliff, without proficiency you would make 4 checks, but with a +4 or higher proficiency bonus, you would only make 1 check.
Thanks for the math.

It was just an idle thought, how to retain more checks for longer climbs, but keep a "reasonable" chance of success instead of the more checks eventually you WILL fail, in place of possibly fail.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
I don't follow that at all. Role-playing just means you make decisions from the perspective of the character. If the character is capable of observing the consequences of their actions, then making a decision based on those observations is what role-playing is all about.

Just because the world is crazy, and the frail wizard routinely climbs higher than the buff barbarian because the wizard is so bad at climbing, that doesn't prevent anyone from accounting for that observation when they make their plans. If the sky is actually green and it's raining sentient cupcakes, then the in-character thing to do is to acknowledge that.
The above definition of role-playing includes a raucous game of Monopoly. I wasn't saying that having results on tables (or house rules) doesn't count as role-playing, but it's a step in that direction.

Not sure where the wizard/barbarian example was going, but if "the frail wizard routinely climbs higher than the buff barbarian because the wizard is so bad at climbing," someone has a screw loose, and accounting for observations becomes difficult at that point.
 

I generally only allow a single check to attempt anything, having the roll represent your maximum capability to perform that task. I always use the "if you fall if you fail by 5," so climbing is always a questionable task if it's difficult enough to require a roll. Note that not every climb should require a roll, and just like with jumping, I only require a roll if you don't meet a certain modifier. For example, a 0 modifier should still be able to climb a knotted rope without a roll. With a negative modifier or an unknotted rope, there would be a roll with a DC: 5 (not quite automatic, but still very probable). If you had a negative modifier and an unknotted rope, the DC would become a 10.

In the case of climbing outside of combat, a failed check means that you're stuck partway (usually about halfway). You can either return to the bottom (no check) or find someway to change the situation. The most common method would be that an ally helps you (using the help action or by providing a rope), which will allow a new roll based on the type of help. Other methods could be used, depending on the creativity and abilities of the character, but they usually provide a risk. You could attempt to jump to a new handhold, but failure would be an automatic fall. If you can teleport even a short distance, you would be at a new spot, but I'd require an Int/Athletics check to make sure you would be in a manageable position, with failure resulting in a fall.

In combat, I handling things a bit different due to the other circumstances. The DCs are generally easier, but you have to roll for every movement equivalent. For example, if you have a 30 ft movement, you'd have to make the check after every 15 ft. If you fail, you are stuck, and cannot move without jumping down (probibly leading to prone and falling damage) or spending your action to make another attempt. Admittedly, I seldom use a combat where climbing is necessary, but players like to think outside the box.
 

Saelorn

Hero
The above definition of role-playing includes a raucous game of Monopoly. I wasn't saying that having results on tables (or house rules) doesn't count as role-playing, but it's a step in that direction.
If you decide whether or not to purchase a property, based on the fact that you're a dog (or a thimble), then that absolutely counts as role-playing. Most people don't do that, though, and I'm not even convinced that it's possible to role-play as something without a human-type brain.

"GM adjudication" is not a requirement for playing an RPG, but rather a symptom of a minimalist ruleset. The GM is a necessary weasel, because any number of charts would be insufficient to account for the possibilities available to the players. If it was feasible to create an entire deterministic world, while still respecting player freedom and agency, then that would be ideal.
Not sure where the wizard/barbarian example was going, but if "the frail wizard routinely climbs higher than the buff barbarian because the wizard is so bad at climbing," someone has a screw loose, and accounting for observations becomes difficult at that point.
Someone mentioned it up-thread. If the DC to climb a 50' wall is 25, and a lower roll means you fell from higher up, then the wizard who rolls with penalties will get higher up the wall than the barbarian who has many bonuses (yet fails to hit the DC). In this example, a check result of -4 would mean falling from 49 feet up, while a check result of 24 would mean barely getting off the ground.
 

aco175

Hero
I allow the PCs to fast climb, but this makes the check have disadvantage. This gives the option for some with higher Athletics or if you feel you need to get up the wall or such. Conversely, you can also gain advantage, but now you move at 1/4 speed instead of half. Rogues also have the fast climb ability, but that is situational.
 

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