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5E Climbing and falling

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Two things here.

Does the story progress when the DM tells the PC, "you fall and take 5 damage. Roll again?"

Ooooh you have to take advantage of that as a GM to really ham it up. "Oh no! your tired fingers fail you and you slip and begin to fall backwards, desperately clutching the air!!!"

You then take a small pause - this is the clue for the Wizard to jump in and shout "I cast featherfall!!!!"

If this doesn't happen, you continue "you plummet to the earth at high speed - you didn't even have time for a last prayer to your god. You smash into the hard soil and take... " (another pause, to find the dice and for effect). Look at the player gravely, right into the eye. "... nine points of damage".

When I fail a climbing check, it means I stopped climbing because I can't find a decent handhold, not that I fell.
If goblins were shooting arrows at me while I'm climbing, THEN I might fall.

I would want the gap between failing and falling to be fairly robust yeah.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
Just curious: when an adventure presents a DC to climb a wall, how do you adjudicate failure?

Let’s say a PC has ended up at the bottom of a 20-foot deep pit with rough stone/earth walls. The DC to climb out is set at 10.

What happens if the PC fails the check? Are they just stuck at the bottom, unable to climb at all? Or do they make it partway up but not all the way? Or do they make it partway up and then fall?

If you rule that a failure equals a fall, how do you determine how far they’ve made it before they fall?

I have my own methods but I’m curious to know how other DMs handle climbing and potentially falling.

For me, it's all about the fiction. That example feels insufficiently imagined because it doesn't hint at interesting changes that can happen when someone fails to escape the pit. If nothing interesting happens when you fail and it's just "you fall 10 feet, take 1d6, and can try again next round", well... that sort of thing can be OK if the pit is intended to primarily be a threat in a combat / high-octane situation (though even then I'd use it sparingly)... but it's drudgery during slower-paced exploration and IMO not worth inclusion.

A more robustly imagined scenario, however, lends itself to more interesting interpretations of a failed Athletics check to climb out.

For instance, in my last game the PCs encountered a spiked pit trap, where the DC to climb in/out (off-rope) was 10 (as an action), but with rope it was an automatic success (given ~30 seconds). This particular trap included a vacuum effect created by sand-operated counterweights (part of the pressure plate system), so a PC falling back down could be shunted through one of the narrow slats which sand flowed through, trapping them in another more deadly trap - the sand-filling chamber.

This situation was further complicated by the PCs evading mummies using the pit trap to the party's advantage. We did have a PC fall in, but they were dropped unconscious upon hitting the pit's spiked floor. However, if they'd been conscious and attempted to scramble out (without rope), I could have interpreted failure as one of the mummies / mummy corpses collapsing down into the pit and falling on top of them. So that was another twist that I could have used, if the situation warranted.
 

pukunui

Hero
@Quickleaf: I agree. FWIW, I was prepping for my AI + TOA game when I started this thread. Part of the AI adventure reuses the dungeon beneath Tresendar Manor from LMoP. In it, there's a pit trap, and the authors have included a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check to climb out of the pit. Reading that reminded me that I'd wanted to see how other people handle climbing checks and falling.
 

cbwjm

Hero
If you use time as a limiter, you can use a fail check to increase the time taken to get out. This is good especially if there isn't really any penalty for failure.

Consequences matter. If a horde of zombie is approaching and you need to climb something to get out of the way then the zombies are the penalty, otherwise if it isn't that big a climb, then the issue is time. If it is a big climb you might have them fall, though I'd probably penalise with time instead (making slow progress) unless they fail be a significant amount which leads to a fall.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
Ooooh you have to take advantage of that as a GM to really ham it up. "Oh no! your tired fingers fail you and you slip and begin to fall backwards, desperately clutching the air!!!"
Definitely. But if the whole game is on pause until the PC rolls high enough (or the wizard gets a clue), I'd either accelerate it:

"...and take nine damage. What kind of condition are you in when you finally get out of the hole?"
"...and take nine damage. Hey wizard, didn't you avoid stepping under a ladder a few rooms ago?"

or mix it up:

"...and take nine damage. You hear a metallic clank down the corridor."
"...and take nine damage. When your head stops spinning, you notice there's no pool at the bottom - there's a tunnel with a stream running through it."
 

Most healthy adult humans with no climbing experience could climb a 20 feet pit with rough stone walls and hand holds every time they tried.
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 think you need to consider what a "Healthy adult human" and/or an "adult human in good physical health" is.

I don't think its the average American (or European or Asian, or Earthling). Depending upon the Google search and the results you follow, Only 12% to 2.7% of the American adult population is "healthy".

Now, for "adventurers" I agree with you :)

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.

Yea, I think in 5E climbing is often not a risk. It's just difficult movement. Unless the wall is slick, loose or otherwise dangerous, just climb it at half speed. Pretty sure the PHB supports this too. Besides, imo its no fun making checks to climb out of a pit. It's just a waste of time and resources (hit points/healing) and slows the adventuring down. Now, climbing the Cliffs of Insanity... That's nearly an whole session by itself but you gotta come up with all sorts of complications and set backs etc.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Besides, imo its no fun making checks to climb out of a pit. It's just a waste of time and resources (hit points/healing) and slows the adventuring down.
Isn't the whole point of a pit to trap someone or slow them down? If you allow PCs to just climb out all the time, where is the challenge? What then would be the purpose of the pit???

I think for some people this is why exploration isn't as big as it could be. In a game I ran a few weeks ago the PCs had to cross a river. There were small "islands", large enough to stop at, across the way, but because of the current, cold water, etc. it was a very real risk they could be swept away if they didn't swim well. So, I required swim checks, and the excitement built when PCs had to work to help those who were failing. It is a classic scene in a lot of stories when one person is swept downstream and others have to find ways to help them.

Pits, cliffs, rivers, etc. are all natural obstacles to the adventure IMO and should be used to slow things down, using up time and resources.

What the "average adventurer" could do isn't much beyond what the average commoner could do unless they have a much better STR and/or proficiency in Athletics. Many PCs have STR 8-12 unless they are built for it, favoring DEX and CON (understandably) over STR. Many PCs don't take Athletics proficiency unless it is because they plan to grapple a lot or want to actually be good at facing those natural obstacles.

IME, the average modifier your typical PC would have would be in the neighborhood of +4, some much higher, many would be very low however. At that point a DM just has to decide (the purpose of this thread, really) what climbing rules they want to use and that will determine the typical chance of success. There is no right or wrong way at this point, it is all about what you want in your game, etc. I would find a game boring if, when presented with such natural obstacles, we didn't really have to do anything to get by them other than tell the DM "we climb the wall" or "we swim across". But if such challenges don't appeal to your table, that's good for you then I guess.
 

Just curious: when an adventure presents a DC to climb a wall, how do you adjudicate failure?

Let’s say a PC has ended up at the bottom of a 20-foot deep pit with rough stone/earth walls. The DC to climb out is set at 10.

What happens if the PC fails the check? Are they just stuck at the bottom, unable to climb at all? Or do they make it partway up but not all the way? Or do they make it partway up and then fall?

If you rule that a failure equals a fall, how do you determine how far they’ve made it before they fall?

I have my own methods but I’m curious to know how other DMs handle climbing and potentially falling.

For your incidental climbs, by-the-book (I only do this in combat):
  • PCs make a successful Strength (Athletics) check to climb up to half their movement speed in one round.
  • A PC that fails the check makes no progress.
  • A PC that fails the check by 5 or more falls from where they started their turn. At the bottom, this means they take no damage.
  • A PC that takes damage while climbing must make an immediate Strength (Athletics) check. Realistically, this should be a Strength save, but the rules say it's an Athletics check.
The average PC with 30' of movement will climb 15' each round, so a 20' pit will require 2 rounds to scale.

How I actually run incidental climbs out-of-combat:
  • PCs make a single successful Strength (Athletics) check to climb the entire distance (here, 20' but it could be 300' and it'd still be one check).
  • A PC that fails by less than 5 takes two or three times as long to reach the top. Sometimes this matters.
  • A PC that fails by 5 or more falls. They take damage as though they fell halfway (here, 10' for 1d6 damage for a 20' climb, or 150' for 15d6 for a 300' climb). Usually then I skip to the part where the party reaches the top or bottom, about five times longer than it normally takes to climb (if it's the top). I'm almost never going to make characters fall 2 or more times on the same climb. That's a boring story. You took your lumps, let's move on.
  • Average climb DC is 8. Climbing with a rope is DC 5. This means that unless you have someone with negative strength and no athletics proficiency, you won't ever fall if you have a rope. That way you can handwave the whole thing as taking a few minutes.
  • If the PCs tie themselves together or otherwise explain how they're working together to assist each other, they can make a group check. One character (probably the one with the highest Strength (Athletics) bonus) can roll one check with advantage.
I loathe rolling dice multiple times to determine the result of an event. One die is more than enough uncertainty to resolve most things out of combat. The last thing I'm interested in doing is making every PC roll every 15' of a 300' climb. Especially if someone falls. I have no interest in watching 5 people roll 20d20 one at a time hoping they don't roll below a 3 or whatever. I intend climbing to be an obstacle that the PCs can overcome by thinking, planning, and cooperation, not an individual skill challenge. The PCs usually aren't getting XP for it, so I'm not going to make it that difficult.

There have been exceptions, such as when the PCs had to cross a partially collapsed rope bridge in the middle of a heavy storm. In that instance, I am instituting a skill challenge, and the PCs do get XP for completing it, and they do have to roll every round. The DC is also closer to 13, so you need an 8 or better not to fall.
 

Isn't the whole point of a pit to trap someone or slow them down? If you allow PCs to just climb out all the time, where is the challenge? What then would be the purpose of the pit???
Pits don't all have to have the same purpose. It could be flavor. It could be drama, it could be a hazard in the middle of a combat encounter, or it could be a challenging encounter all on it's own. Depending on the pit.

I think for some people this is why exploration isn't as big as it could be. In a game I ran a few weeks ago the PCs had to cross a river. There were small "islands", large enough to stop at, across the way, but because of the current, cold water, etc. it was a very real risk they could be swept away if they didn't swim well. So, I required swim checks, and the excitement built when PCs had to work to help those who were failing. It is a classic scene in a lot of stories when one person is swept downstream and others have to find ways to help them.
See, in this case, like the Cliffs of Insanity I mentioned and you conveniently did not quote, this river is a challenge unto itself. But are you going to do that with every river your players cross? I doubt it, and it would get repetitive and boring if you did.

What the "average adventurer" could do isn't much beyond what the average commoner could do unless they have a much better STR and/or proficiency in Athletics.
In your world that fine. Not how it works in mine. Even though stats might be the same, the average commoner isn't going to have the confidence or ability to climb a wall.

I base this on my real life observations. Ever seen a climbing wall at a fair/carnival? Even with nice big hand holds nicely spaced half of the folks don't make it up without help from the belay, or even at all. But I would never make an "adventurer" roll to see if they succeeded at such a climb. Not heoric!
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Pits don't all have to have the same purpose. It could be flavor. It could be drama, it could be a hazard in the middle of a combat encounter, or it could be a challenging encounter all on it's own. Depending on the pit.
You missed the point. WHY is it a hazard? Because people can fall in, injuring themselves, and possibly become trapped. THAT is the purpose of a pit. Whether you are using it as part of an encounter, a challenge on its own, or just for flavor/narrative, the point is it is there to slow people down, make them react to it, etc. You can hand-wave it if you want, your choice, but it is still there for the flavor because it represents a difficulty.

See, in this case, like the Cliffs of Insanity I mentioned and you conveniently did not quote, this river is a challenge unto itself. But are you going to do that with every river your players cross? I doubt it, and it would get repetitive and boring if you did.
I saw no need to quote it. If my players reach a river, and there is no bridge and the current is strong enough or some other issue, then YES I am going to make them play it out. Why? Because that is part of exploration IMO and keeps the game grounded so when they do do heroic things, they are actually exciting and cool instead of boring and mundane. Basically I run it: if there is a meaningful consequence to failure, then it has to be played out. If it is a relatively easy obstacle, I might only make a single group check. The more people that make it, the faster they did it. Time is also a major factor in our games in exploration due to other factors such as food and water, getting lost (when they have no road or path), foraging, etc. If they need to be somewhere as quick as possible or something, it matters in my games.

In your world that fine. Not how it works in mine. Even though stats might be the same, the average commoner isn't going to have the confidence or ability to climb a wall.

I base this on my real life observations. Ever seen a climbing wall at a fair/carnival? Even with nice big hand holds nicely spaced half of the folks don't make it up without help from the belay, or even at all. But I would never make an "adventurer" roll to see if they succeeded at such a climb. Not heoric!
Nor should the average PC if they are either unskilled at the task (not proficient), lack natural talent or some bit of off-hand training (unexceptional STR), or have some means (magical or otherwise) of helping their chances of success and not falling to their deaths.

Yeah... :rolleyes: I have seen many climbing walls and a lot of people do make it up to the top. But they can do that because they have the safety lines, mats on the floor/ground, etc. It is reasonably safe. But a lot of people also struggle as well because (shocker!) they don't know how to climb (no proficiency) or lack the physical fitness for it (STR).

FWIW those walls would be a DC 5 in my game, so even without a modifier you would have a good chance to make it up without falling. Sure, climbing walls have ratings sometimes for the difficulty so people who actually want a challenge can have one, but even the harder walls would only warrant a DC 10 (maybe 15...) IME doing it.

Finally... "But I would never make an "adventurer" roll to see if they succeeded at such a climb. Not heoric!"

That is the key difference in our game styles. To me, an adventurer is heroic because they succeed against the challenge, not because I hand-wave it away and say, "Dude, you are so heroic your PC just does it, man!" and the challenge doesn't exist for them (even though it would for a commoner).
 

While I read seemingly conflicting ways to DM in this thread, I don’t think they are irreconcilable. What I’ve seen is that...

1) An obstacle meant to test the adventurers isn’t an obstacle if there are no chances of failure (on an ability check).

2) There is no point tracking failures unless there are consequences affecting the characters’ story in significant ways (although the level of significance can vary).

3) There is no point imposing significant consequences if it makes the game needlessly grind to a halt, makes the story regress, or forces the DM to jump through hoops to get the game « back on track »

Now, different DMs are better or more willing to improvise the story after a significant failure. Some excel at « failing forward » in play. Some consider lesser complications as significant consequences. Some put « false obstacles » meant to bring the world to life, but aren’t supposed to hinder the PC much. But beyond those differences, I feel that everyone here plays more or less in accordance to the three points above.
 
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Isn't the whole point of a pit to trap someone or slow them down? If you allow PCs to just climb out all the time, where is the challenge? What then would be the purpose of the pit???

Well yes, they can climb out all the time.

Mate, if you, me and three other people found ourselves with one of us down a 20' pit, the person at the bottom of the pit will get out (presuming they're in good health etc).

The only time I'd call for a check would be if the pit was particularly difficult to get out of (lack of adequate hand holds, no one around to help etc) or if time was of the issue and the PC had to get out fast.

If a PC fell down a pit in the middle of combat, and wanted to get out in a single round, then I'd make it a check.

If they had time and/or people to help them get out, I dont see the need for a check at all in most cases.

Adventurers are exceptional. We're talking people who can easily wrestle and or beat to death with their bare hands Grizzly bears or Saltwater crocodiles or Great White sharks from early T2 (5th level onwards), and at early T3 can do the same against a T-Rex.
 

You missed the point. WHY is it a hazard? Because people can fall in, injuring themselves, and possibly become trapped. THAT is the purpose of a pit.
That's the purpose of your pits. Mine are much more varied depending upon what I need. You missed the point of what I was trying to say. I understand your point, that every pit you do is the same and is a challenge and you use it the same way (maybe?). I don't.

And that's ok.
If my players reach a river, and there is no bridge and the current is strong enough or some other issue, then YES I am going to make them play it out
Exactly my point. IF
if there is a meaningful consequence to failure
Exactly. But I don't make every river my players cross have meaningful consequences of crossing.
Nor should the average PC
That is the key difference in our game styles. To me, an adventurer is heroic because they succeed against the challenge, not because I hand-wave it away and say, "Dude, you are so heroic your PC just does it, man!" and the challenge doesn't exist for them (even though it would for a commoner).
Sometimes I run the game with PCs are just average Joe's no different than anyone else until they grow beyond their mundane start. Sometimes PCs are different from the start. More than just potential, they have destinies and every one can tell they are somehow different. And of course their are other styles as well.

Different styles, all of them good at different times.
 


Then what exactly do your pits do?

Drain resources. Hit points mainly.

Occasionally pose a lethal threat (spikes, long falls, sheer walls etc).

Depends if they're 'setback, dangerous or deadly' pits as per the DMG.

Even a 50' pit is easily climbed out of with a rope which all adventurers have. Unless you're doing something radically different to me, climbing out of a pit using a rope with a wall to brace on is 'DC dont bother rolling, you make it.'
 




Lanefan

Victoria Rules
How I actually run incidental climbs out-of-combat:
  • PCs make a single successful Strength (Athletics) check to climb the entire distance (here, 20' but it could be 300' and it'd still be one check).
  • A PC that fails by less than 5 takes two or three times as long to reach the top. Sometimes this matters.
  • A PC that fails by 5 or more falls. They take damage as though they fell halfway (here, 10' for 1d6 damage for a 20' climb, or 150' for 15d6 for a 300' climb). Usually then I skip to the part where the party reaches the top or bottom, about five times longer than it normally takes to climb (if it's the top). I'm almost never going to make characters fall 2 or more times on the same climb. That's a boring story. You took your lumps, let's move on.
  • Average climb DC is 8. Climbing with a rope is DC 5. This means that unless you have someone with negative strength and no athletics proficiency, you won't ever fall if you have a rope. That way you can handwave the whole thing as taking a few minutes.
  • If the PCs tie themselves together or otherwise explain how they're working together to assist each other, they can make a group check. One character (probably the one with the highest Strength (Athletics) bonus) can roll one check with advantage.
I loathe rolling dice multiple times to determine the result of an event. One die is more than enough uncertainty to resolve most things out of combat. The last thing I'm interested in doing is making every PC roll every 15' of a 300' climb. Especially if someone falls. I have no interest in watching 5 people roll 20d20 one at a time hoping they don't roll below a 3 or whatever. I intend climbing to be an obstacle that the PCs can overcome by thinking, planning, and cooperation, not an individual skill challenge. The PCs usually aren't getting XP for it, so I'm not going to make it that difficult.
Agreed one roll per character but I've no problem at all making them roll again if they fall and try the climb again. And if they fail they fall. If the roll barely succeeds (e.g. if the DC is 8 and the roll adds to 9) then the climb will take longer but the PC will eventually get to the top. In other word, what I do on a narrow success you do on a narrow fail, which makes your system way easier on the PCs.

And once in a while they're all going to fail, meaning they're either stuck at the bottom or have to try something different.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Even a 50' pit is easily climbed out of with a rope which all adventurers have.
True if there's someone at the top to hold said rope or tie it to something sturdy. Not so true if the whole party is at the bottom... :)

...unless said rope has a grappling hook and there's something up topside that it can hook onto...
 

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