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5E Why is there a limit to falling damage?

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In the case of jumping down for no reason, I agree.

However, there is also the case of falling.
This is a distinction I just don't get. Internal setting consistency would tell me it matters not how or why you've gone off the cliff; the fact is that off you've gone and now you're falling whatever distance it is to the bottom.

If you make falling damage too deadly, no player is going to want their character to leap off the cliff onto the back of the dragon as it swoops by. Moreover, it makes fighting monsters that have knockback on a cliff extremely deadly.
Yes, and both of those are good things.

Trying to leap from a clifftop onto the back of a passing dragon is - and should be - extremely high-risk, with failure meaning death.

And what would be the point of knockback if it couldn't be used to push opponents off cliffs or into quicksand or whatever other deadly terrain feature happens to be nearby?

Lastly, it can be used to trivialize flying monsters by simply knocking them from the sky.
How does one do this? Dispel Magic won't help against a creature that can fly naturally (e.g. a dragon or a giant owl). A net might, if you can somehow get one up there and it's strong enough to contain the creature. But other than killing it in flight, what other means are there?

1e has a rule (IMO a very good one) that if a naturally-flying creature is brought down to (1/4?) hit points then it cannot remain aloft and is forced to the ground, but as the creature still controls its descent there's no falling involved.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
This is a distinction I just don't get. Internal setting consistency would tell me it matters not how or why you've gone off the cliff; the fact is that off you've gone and now you're falling whatever distance it is to the bottom.
IMO, it is a matter of meta gaming on the part of the player.

In world, I explain it as luck/fate abandoning those who take it for granted and arrogantly behave as though it makes them invincible. Pride comes before the fall. Which is not at all uncommon in heroic fiction, albeit usually not quite so literally.

How does one do this? Dispel Magic won't help against a creature that can fly naturally (e.g. a dragon or a giant owl). A net might, if you can somehow get one up there and it's strong enough to contain the creature. But other than killing it in flight, what other means are there?
IIRC, knocking a creature prone while in flight is the easiest way to make it fall (obviously, this doesn't apply to creatures that can hover, but there are plenty of high level fliers like dragons that don't hover).
 

This is a proud nail of mine. For a truly deadly fall, I would agree that a simple, 'It looks suicidal' would suffice, meaning that RAW 'This is more than just a fall.' In my game, I may do that and either have the fall do max damage and/or rule that because of the severity of the fall or what you hit at the end, that it's damage that won't be healed without help or magic. You'll be knocked prone and immobilized until healed. That said, IRL in my lifetime, there have been people who survived falls off buildings, mountains, even skydiving, and in a magical fantasy world where something supernatural could intervene, it's certainly plausible. IRL even if you survive, a fall like that means permanent disability at the very least.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
IIRC, knocking a creature prone while in flight is the easiest way to make it fall (obviously, this doesn't apply to creatures that can hover, but there are plenty of high level fliers like dragons that don't hover).
Hadn't thought of 'prone', but then again prone as a condition implies a standing not-prone condition, which in flight is much harder to define. At best I'd say the knocked-prone flier suddenly finds itself in a vertical dive, from which it can pull out if it has enough altitude to work with; though I'd likely be rather reluctant to apply 'prone' to something in flight in the first place.

Another means of bringing down a natural flier is, of course, to paralyse it somehow.
 


Fanaelialae

Legend
Hadn't thought of 'prone', but then again prone as a condition implies a standing not-prone condition, which in flight is much harder to define. At best I'd say the knocked-prone flier suddenly finds itself in a vertical dive, from which it can pull out if it has enough altitude to work with; though I'd likely be rather reluctant to apply 'prone' to something in flight in the first place.

Another means of bringing down a natural flier is, of course, to paralyse it somehow.
PHB pg 191:
If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls, unless it has the ability to hover or it is being held aloft by magic, such as the fly spell.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
PHB pg 191:
If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls, unless it has the ability to hover or it is being held aloft by magic, such as the fly spell.
Just because it's in the RAW doesn't mean it's right. :)

I agree with speed=0 causing a dive and deprivation of movement causing either a free-fall or uncontrolled glide, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how a creature can be knocked prone when in flight, given that standing/prone implies one is already on the ground. (you can't be 'standing' in flight either, again unless you can hover)

And the speed=0=fall RAW completely misses or ignores one factor: the speed (through the air, which is what matters) will no longer equal zero once the creature starts falling, and the creature can thus attempt to pull out of what's become a dive.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
"Prone" is a defined condition in 5E, and not all creatures that fly are immune to having it imposed on them. I think the condition causing flyers to crash has something to do with "a prone creature's only movement option is to crawl" seeming to obviate flight. So, a trip attack can knock a flyer out of the air. Depending on how rigidly you understand "trip attack" it can kinda make sense.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Just because it's in the RAW doesn't mean it's right. :)

I agree with speed=0 causing a dive and deprivation of movement causing either a free-fall or uncontrolled glide, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how a creature can be knocked prone when in flight, given that standing/prone implies one is already on the ground. (you can't be 'standing' in flight either, again unless you can hover)

And the speed=0=fall RAW completely misses or ignores one factor: the speed (through the air, which is what matters) will no longer equal zero once the creature starts falling, and the creature can thus attempt to pull out of what's become a dive.
I see a creature being knocked prone while flying as being sent spinning.

As for speed 0, it doesn't mean a creature can't be moved. It means that the creature can't currently walk/fly/swim.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I see a creature being knocked prone while flying as being sent spinning.

As for speed 0, it doesn't mean a creature can't be moved. It means that the creature can't currently walk/fly/swim.
In natural flight, that means it's stalled.

A stalled flier falls - to begin with. It can, however, then attempt to control its fall into a dive and then pull out of said dive. Even powered aircraft can do this and they're a whole lot less maneuverable than anything with natural flight; some birds can flip a stall into level flight without falling more than a few feet, and even something as big and lumbering as a Roc or Dragon would have a good chance to recover from a stall unless it happens at very low altitude.

The RAW conveniently ignore this bit and strongly imply that a fall caused by speed=0 will continue to the ground regardless of starting altitude.

The 'sent spinning' idea is a good one for prone-in-flight but again can be recovered from - I guess this would equate to a prone-on-the-ground person standing back up - and might not cause all that much loss of altitude, depending on the creature. The difference would be that a flier sent spinning is extremely unlikely to be within range of any opportunity attacks while it "stands up".
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So, was this expectation about falling damage set at start of play... or even anywhere along the way? Have characters been taking falling damage as normal throughout the game?

Because, while the GM is in charge, they do have some responsibility to be consistent. It they haven't set it forth beforehand, to depart from established pattern suddenly isn't really a great move on the GM's part.

Ideally things are set forth up front. Sometimes, though, you don't expect shenanigans like a player turning his barbarian into Wile E. Coyote. A ruling has to be made on the spot for the integrity of the game(my game).

If something unexpected comes up that I think should be changed, but doesn't break the integrity of the game, I just let it be known that a change will be made for the next campaign.
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
Not Conan. Conan's player. This is a metagame issue.
And the important factor that should govern the variance in the behavior of the world relies solely upon Conan's 'heroic intent'? Are we looking for more or less nonsensical character behavior?


It "nerfs" virtually every class, magical or otherwise. Only the Bard, Sorcerer and Wizard have feather fall on their spell list, and isn't smart to include Featherfall in the list of prepared spells. It's so incredibly rarely useful that you'd be gimping yourself by taking it.
HP are a resource which are only expended to survive hazards. Martials have more of these. When the hazard makes that resource worthless, it hurts all classes but the classes that have more of them take the bigger loss. If I have $50 and you have $100 we can use to buy things, when the store refuses to take dollars, we both are at zero, but your missed opportunity was worse.

Separately, at the suggested level of fall lethality, feather fall becomes a spell tax for being able to fly.


I prefer my martial characters to have better super powers than, "I can splat and live!" I prefer heroes.
For example?
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
There you go again.

Stop conflating what your player knows with what your character knows.

Your character knows that falls hurt, and even minor falls can kill. Just like what we know.
And they know that swords hurt, arrows hurt, fire hurts, etc. They also know that neither these things nor falling have killed them yet.

Besides that I don't actually think the metagaming player is the issue. There is some threshold height where you don't even blink at the 'shenanigans'. Can a metagaming barbarian drop 10ft without dying? 20? 50? What's the point where you as the DM step in and say 'stop it, that's ridiculous'. Whatever that limit, it's a DM thing, not a player thing.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
If your goal is to simply make falling deadlier, then sure.

However, IMO, a feature of the existing system is that it isn't particularly deadly, which mirrors much of heroic fiction (even in the gritty stuff, like Joe Abercrombie's books, major characters rarely die from falling).

Obviously, if you want a more lethal system that's fine. However, at least for myself, making falling more deadly would be undesirable since that might discourage heroic actions (and could be used to decimate flying opponents as well). I like the falling rules as they are; I simply have no desire to see players abuse those rules.

While I'm not opposed to heroic actions in general, my general preference is for more "realistic" games. I don't want the hero to necessarily die from such a fall, but I want there to be a chance if they are going to do it, because otherwise it really isn't heroic, is it?

A character with over 120 hp can make such a leap, and the player knows the PC cannot be killed. A short rest or long rest later, and everything is fine again. How is that heroic?

Now, change the system so it could do more damage or SoD or something to there is a chance they could die, then it would be "heroic" maybe IMO.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Just because it's in the RAW doesn't mean it's right. :)

I agree with speed=0 causing a dive and deprivation of movement causing either a free-fall or uncontrolled glide, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how a creature can be knocked prone when in flight, given that standing/prone implies one is already on the ground. (you can't be 'standing' in flight either, again unless you can hover)

What would you say if it read, "if a flying creature suffers an effect that would otherwise knock it prone..."?

It is not insensible to think that the forces applied that knock standing creatures prone will, when applied to flying creatures, cause them to no longer be in controlled flight.

And the speed=0=fall RAW completely misses or ignores one factor: the speed (through the air, which is what matters) will no longer equal zero once the creature starts falling, and the creature can thus attempt to pull out of what's become a dive.

Again, I think that's a language issue - the character's speed is not the absolute value of their velocity in flight. It is their movement rate. Like, "this creature has a fly speed of 30".

There's a point where nitpicking words is less useful than thinking about what they really intend to mean.
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
It seems to me that by this reasoning, many second level characters would believe themselves able to handle stabbing themselves in the heart with a dagger. Even if we assume a crit and max modifier, the most that dagger can do is 13 damage. So once a character has at least 14 HP they can stab themselves in the heart once a day every day and be no worse for wear (let's say they're doing it in town where it's safe rather than while adventuring).

To me, however, that's completely unreasonable. If you get stabbed in the heart you are dead or dying. HP simply help prevent you from getting stabbed in the heart. Not by making your chest impervious to daggers, but rather by allowing you to dodge the attack that would have stabbed a lesser hero through the heart survive.
This is false equivalence, both from a rules perspective and (presumably) from a character perspective.

From a rules perspective, there are no rules for stabbing anything in a particular anywhere, while there are rules for 'a fall from great height'. Weapon damage tables reflect abstracted effectiveness rather than specific effects. In the case of 'I stab myself in the heart' you aren't 'overruling a rules exploit', you are making a ruling where no rule exists.

From a character perspective, by the time the character has the hp to reliably survive max fall damage, they've probably fallen a few times and survived. They may have seen other heroes survive these falls, possibly other even more impressive ones. In contrast, they have (probably) never seen anyone getting stabbed in the heart and survive.

So in one case you're making a ruling that overrides existing rules and may also run contrary to the character's (and the player's) experience of the world.

In the other, you're looking at making a ruling in the absence of rules, and your ruling reasonably reflects that character's experience of the world.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
While I'm not opposed to heroic actions in general, my general preference is for more "realistic" games. I don't want the hero to necessarily die from such a fall, but I want there to be a chance if they are going to do it, because otherwise it really isn't heroic, is it?

A character with over 120 hp can make such a leap, and the player knows the PC cannot be killed. A short rest or long rest later, and everything is fine again. How is that heroic?

Now, change the system so it could do more damage or SoD or something to there is a chance they could die, then it would be "heroic" maybe IMO.
I think that certain kinds of heroism require risk, but it doesn't necessarily need to be risk of immediate death.

My primary objection is that if the risk of death is too significant, the players may never opt to attempt anything heroic because the risk is too great. They'll just play it safe, which is smart but not fun. Conversely, if the risk is too minimal then it may as well not be there at all.

The real tricky bit is that, IMO, the sweet spot will vary from player to player. Conservative playstyles will likely view almost any chance of instant death to be an unnecessary risk, while reckless playstyles may disregard even significant likelihood of death and therefore end up with a revolving door of disposable characters.

That said, I'm not suggesting you do things differently. These are just my own thoughts on the matter.
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
In natural flight, that means it's stalled.

A stalled flier falls - to begin with. It can, however, then attempt to control its fall into a dive and then pull out of said dive. Even powered aircraft can do this and they're a whole lot less maneuverable than anything with natural flight; some birds can flip a stall into level flight without falling more than a few feet, and even something as big and lumbering as a Roc or Dragon would have a good chance to recover from a stall unless it happens at very low altitude.

The RAW conveniently ignore this bit and strongly imply that a fall caused by speed=0 will continue to the ground regardless of starting altitude.

The 'sent spinning' idea is a good one for prone-in-flight but again can be recovered from - I guess this would equate to a prone-on-the-ground person standing back up - and might not cause all that much loss of altitude, depending on the creature. The difference would be that a flier sent spinning is extremely unlikely to be within range of any opportunity attacks while it "stands up".
Reasonably sure what you are describing is RAW related to prone. That said if they start 'diving' lower than 600 ft (1 round of fall distance), they will hit the ground before they get the chance to recover (and potentially take the 'your hp mean nothing' version of fall damage).

Edit: also polymorphing the creature into a cow or something would accomplish a similar function as proning but even more effectively.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
And the important factor that should govern the variance in the behavior of the world relies solely upon Conan's 'heroic intent'? Are we looking for more or less nonsensical character behavior?

Metagaming is bad.

HP are a resource which are only expended to survive hazards. Martials have more of these. When the hazard makes that resource worthless, it hurts all classes but the classes that have more of them take the bigger loss. If I have $50 and you have $100 we can use to buy things, when the store refuses to take dollars, we both are at zero, but your missed opportunity was worse.

This isn't the case, though. The case is that 99 out of 100 stores take your money just fine. The last store just requires that you not deliberately walk yourself off of a 1500 foot cliff. Being useful 99 out of 100 times is hardly worthless.

For example?
Doing lots of damage with a great big sword. Cleaving through enemies like they're stalks of wheat. Things like that. Being a rubber ball isn't at the top of the list of heroic activities for me.
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
Metagaming is bad.
So we're just going with non sequiturs now? Cool.

This isn't the case, though. The case is that 99 out of 100 stores take your money just fine. The last store just requires that you not deliberately walk yourself off of a 1500 foot cliff. Being useful 99 out of 100 times is hardly worthless.
So at what height does your store stop taking hp in payment for deliberate falling? When does it go from woah to Wile Coyote? 10 ft.? 50? 200?. And why is that your limit?

Doing lots of damage with a great big sword. Cleaving through enemies like they're stalks of wheat. Things like that. Being a rubber ball isn't at the top of the list of heroic activities for me.

Oh the stuff that's already in the rules for martials. Truly, you are generous.
 

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