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5E Why is there a limit to falling damage?

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Falling damage doesn't make sense, overall. Force from falling would not be linear at d6 per 10'. Also, smaller and larger creatures should take different amounts of damage for falling, generally. Force = mass * Acceleration, and the acceleration due to gravity is exponential. Accurate rules for falling damage would be cumbersome. The easiest thing to do would be to have sizes and distance and rolls to make to determine damage, but even then it would be awkward to look up and subject to arguments like crazy. In the end, you'd end up with the dragon killing move to be knocking them prone in the sky and letting the fall kill them... kind of non-heroic.
To me, the size of the creature should determine the dice size. So:

Tiny: no damage
Small d4
Medium d6
Large d8
Huge d10
Gargantuan d12 (or d20 depending on the type of creature perhaps)

That would at least partially account for momentum.
 

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Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
However, I countered, the player was exploiting player knowledge of the rules to benefit his PC.
I disagree. The Barbarian character grew up in a world where he has lived with whatever special rules of physics are modeled by a 20d6 fall damage cap (presumably a lower terminal velocity then is present in Earth physics). In such a world it would be well known that great heroes of his tribe routinely have walked off falls from tremendous heights. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a rite of passage or some other ritualized test in their culture. In a world with extra health at "level-ups" and a firm cap on how much damage falling could ever do that one could eventually outgrow, why would anyone who could not leap from a mountain be deemed fit to be warchief?

The player's mistake, in my book, was not thinking through the cultural ramifications of a 20d6 fall damage cap.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One possibility that I've heard mentioned at times is that current-edition (and all editions from 2e onward) falling damage rules are based on a misinterpretation of how falling damage was written up in 1e or even earlier, and that the d6 per 10' was originally intended to be cumulative.

So, fall 10' = 1d6. Fall 20' = [1+2]d6. Fall 30' = [1+2+3]d6. And so on. This meant the 20d6 cap was reached with a 60' fall.

And whoeever it was upthread who noted that while PC hit points have increased over the years the damage limit has not is bang-on right. The limit should probably go up to 30d6 or even 40d6; failing that just make it a straight save-or-die-outright with a penalty for each x-distance-fallen higher than wherever the damage limit is reached; and at some point (say, once the save reaches -20?) you don't even get a save.

The OP's Barbarian? 1500 feet? Yeah, no save for you Barbie. :)
 

pogre

Hero
I disagree. The Barbarian character grew up in a world where he has lived with whatever special rules of physics are modeled by a 20d6 fall damage cap (presumably a lower terminal velocity then is present in Earth physics). In such a world it would be well known that great heroes of his tribe routinely have walked off falls from tremendous heights. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a rite of passage or some other ritualized test in their culture. In a world with extra health at "level-ups" and a firm cap on how much damage falling could ever do that one could eventually outgrow, why would anyone who could not leap from a mountain be deemed fit to be warchief?

The player's mistake, in my book, was not thinking through the cultural ramifications of a 20d6 fall damage cap.
That's an interesting idea.

Not sure I agree, but I may.

I need to think about it.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I disagree. The Barbarian character grew up in a world where he has lived with whatever special rules of physics are modeled by a 20d6 fall damage cap (presumably a lower terminal velocity then is present in Earth physics). In such a world it would be well known that great heroes of his tribe routinely have walked off falls from tremendous heights. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a rite of passage or some other ritualized test in their culture. In a world with extra health at "level-ups" and a firm cap on how much damage falling could ever do that one could eventually outgrow, why would anyone who could not leap from a mountain be deemed fit to be warchief?

The player's mistake, in my book, was not thinking through the cultural ramifications of a 20d6 fall damage cap.
I disagree with this. The game rules are not the physics of the world IMO. At best they're an abstraction for running a game of heroic adventure.

The character sheet may say that the character survived the 200' fall because he's got oodles of hp, and would actually walk off a second fall like that just fine. However, from the character's perspective, they believe they are lucky to be alive.

Obviously, you're free to run the game how you want. If the GM wants the rules to be the physics of the world then they are. However, I don't think that is meant to be the default assumption of the game.
 

pogre

Hero
I am really sorry to tell you all this, folks, but falling damage is a NARRATIVE element, not a realistic physics simulation or something. Arguments based on physics or realistic modeling do not apply. But then, your hit points aren't just meat and physics, either so...

That cap means that, in terms of narrative... if you are badass enough, that cliff just isn't an important enough piece of the universe to kill you.
You are not sorry. ;)

If I accept it is purely narrative, would you be OK with what the player wanted to do here?

It does not strike me as particularly heroic.

With the caveat I still need to think about the interesting idea up thread of the falling damage mirroring D&D physics....
 

Falling damage doesn't make sense, overall. Force from falling would not be linear at d6 per 10'. Also, smaller and larger creatures should take different amounts of damage for falling, generally. Force = mass * Acceleration, and the acceleration due to gravity is exponential.
According to Gary in an old The Dragon article, originally falling damage was supposed to be cumulative, so a 20 ft fall was 3d6, 30 ft was 6d6, etc. The wording was a bit off from the intent, leaving most to use the linear xd6 damage. IIRC, it was considered for clarification when AD&D (1E) was to come out, but at that point xd6 had become ingrained into the game (just like the million and one uses of the word "level").


Call it "The Rule of Uncool." If what you're doing is too silly to be allowed, it won't be allowed even if RAW would let it be.
I've been dealing with this kind of stuff for almost 30 years. A lot of players always think they can game the system against the DM. This is just part of the DM vs. Player mentality that has permeated gaming for so long.

In my very first campaign, I had a player try to intimidate a shopkeeper, which was fine. However, the frightened shopkeeper pulled out a heavy crossbow, to which the player laughed and stuck his throat on the end. Everyone looked at him and I said "what? Are you suicidal?" He responded that it can't kill him, since it only does 2d4 damage, and he had over 20 HP (critical hit didn't exist yet). He proceeded to taunt the shopkeeper, and I uttered the now infamous phrase "are you sure?" Only he was surprised when I told him the shopkeeper fired the crossbow and that his character died by having his throat ripped out.

I like the phrase Rule of Uncool for when players try to game the system, but I traditionally fall back to both Rule 0 and Wheaton's Law. Fortunately, I game with a much better quality of players (and DMs) these days, so such isn't really a problem.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You are not sorry. ;)
If it causes consternation, I actually am sorry. I am not sorry for being correct, that is true :)

If I accept it is purely narrative, would you be OK with what the player wanted to do here?

It does not strike me as particularly heroic.
So, not being present, I cannot fully judge. How about I describe a sense in which I do feel it would be okay...

Sometimes, people in fictional worlds get a sense for fate, for destiny, for their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. Surely, the character can get to a place where they look at a kobold holding a pointy stick, and laugh, just brushing the poor wretched CR 1/8 creature aside, right?

This is the equivalent. The character has learned something of fate, and just knows, looking at the mere rocks before him, that this is not his day to die, and steps off.

I could see that working for me. There's a certain bravado to it that many characters posses.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
You reach terminal velocity around 1,500 feet.

But let's assume you do the first 10 ft is 1d6 then 2d6 for the next 10 and then 3d6 for the next and so on ... do a little math (okay, spreadsheet) ... it's 39,637.5 damage on average. Splat.

I mean even if you remove the 20d6 limit which never made any sense to me, you get 350 points of damage per 1000 feet on average, which is what I would do if someone is falling that far. Using the alternate calculation it's 192.5 at 100 ft which means that the barbarian could survive a fall most mere mortals could not. Most PCS Better hope there's someone there to heal you up, but it is survivable.

I don't care if you can fight a giant, someone's going to be scraping you up off the ground unless you can cast feather fall if you fall much over a 100 ft in my campaign.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
With the caveat I still need to think about the interesting idea up thread of the falling damage mirroring D&D physics....
There's a number of things that go really wonky if you decide that certain things reflect the actual physics of the world. Like, you reach terminal velocity after 200 feet? What does that say about the gravity, or the atmosphere?

The problem is that, since these things don't come out of an actual physical system, that the various arbitrarily assigned physics elements conflict, and become inconsistent.
 


pogre

Hero
So, not being present, I cannot fully judge. How about I describe a sense in which I do feel it would be okay...

Sometimes, people in fictional worlds get a sense for fate, for destiny, for their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. Surely, the character can get to a place where they look at a kobold holding a pointy stick, and laugh, just brushing the poor wretched CR 1/8 creature aside, right?

This is the equivalent. The character has learned something of fate, and just knows, looking at the mere rocks before him, that this is not his day to die, and steps off.

I could see that working for me. There's a certain bravado to it that many characters posses.
Fair enough. I guess I am not quite there. I'm not able to fully articulate why I agree with your kobold example, but still have a problem with using hit points as an elevator. The intent of the actor matters to me, and yes, the intent of the actor was clear in this case.

Still, you have made a good argument - thanks.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Well, on Earth, with Earth's gravity, atmospheric density, and human body shape and mass....
Yeah, I assume that is the baseline standard. After all, the drawings I see in the MM make humans look just like the normal homo sapiens we all know. Change things much one way or another and that wouldn't be true.

Besides Elminister has visited earth multiple times and never mentioned any difference. If you can't trust the ultimate munchkin wizard who can you trust?
 

Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
I disagree with this. The game rules are not the physics of the world IMO. At best they're an abstraction for running a game of heroic adventure.

The character sheet may say that the character survived the 200' fall because he's got oodles of hp, and would actually walk off a second fall like that just fine. However, from the character's perspective, they believe they are lucky to be alive.

Obviously, you're free to run the game how you want. If the GM wants the rules to be the physics of the world then they are. However, I don't think that is meant to be the default assumption of the game.
In a world where high level heroes consistently walk off falls they would be shocked and confused when one didn't. "Maybe he wasn't the 'level' of hero we thought he was?" they would ask themselves, struggling to explain how a 200 foot fall could kill such a seasoned adventurer.

I'm all for changing the rules to something less silly, I just think that once you've committed to a silly rule there's more fun to be had in looking at what sort of society would grow up based on whatever basic reality that rule is abstracting than in trying to make the characters a bunch of displaced Earthlings who are surprised by how gravity works on the campaign world.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
In a world where high level heroes consistently walk off falls they would be shocked and confused when one didn't. "Maybe he wasn't the 'level' of hero we thought he was?" they would ask themselves, struggling to explain how a 200 foot fall could kill such a seasoned adventurer.

I'm all for changing the rules to something less silly, I just think that once you've committed to a silly rule there's more fun to be had in looking at what sort of society would grow up based on whatever basic reality that rule is abstracting than in trying to make the characters a bunch of displaced Earthlings who are surprised by how gravity works on the campaign world.
I disagree that the rule is silly. I think it does a reasonable job of modeling the fiction it is based on (where significant characters rarely die from falls). Despite falling many times without dying in various stories, I don't recall Conan ever leaping off a mountain because he was too lazy to climb down.

I don't think that a high level character would consider themselves or other high level characters invincible. While it would almost certainly never happen within the context of a game (because it wouldn't be much fun) I think that a 20th level barbarian could lose his balance while standing on a stool, crack his head, and bleed out.

A high level character likely does have significant confidence. They've survived many dangers by that point that should reasonably have killed them. If desperate circumstances dictate that they need to dive off a 1000' waterfall, then they will, trusting to their skills and luck/fate. However, that's completely different from jumping off that cliff because they believe there's no possibility of death. In the former case, it is a calculated risk performed out of necessity. The latter is frivolous and arrogant, and heroes who behave thusly are typically forsaken by fate.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Well, on Earth, with Earth's gravity, atmospheric density, and human body shape and mass....
Which are generally assumed for simplicity's sake to hold true in fantasy settings as well, unless specifically called out otherwise in the setting write-up.
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

The answer is not terminal velocity. That happens a considerable distance after this.

This came up in game when a player whose PC was a barbarian came to gorge 1,500' deep and said, "Yeah, I'll just step off."

I asked if they were committing suicide, because this was going to kill the PC. "Nope," the player replied, "The barbarian will survive the fall."

I stated unequivocally the PC would die - yes, I was aware of the rule - yes, I guess this is a ruling outside the rules, and therefore, a house rule that was unannounced. However, I countered, the player was exploiting player knowledge of the rules to benefit his PC.

So, that's where this question comes from - what purpose does the limit on falling damage serve? What am I missing?

I do remember the falling damage rules debates from the early Dragons and the subsequent ban on articles and letters on falling damage. Just reviving an old D&D tradition: Let's debate falling damage!
Nice ruling for 5e.

Me? "Ok..." Then I'd roll dice and get the damage. Tell the Player. Then ask for a System Shock roll. Then ask them to make various Item/Equipment Saving Throws as I go down the list of all their treasure, equipment and magic items.

Oh...yeah...I use 1e/Hackmaster 'rules' for a lot of my 5e nowadays. It helps prevent this sort of thing. Also, we have a table rule called "Shenanigans". Anyone can "Call Shenanigans" once per game session. The game pauses and the issue is discussed; if the DM was, indeed, guilty of "Shenanigans"...then the Players get to decide the actual 'ruling/result' of the situation. If there was no Shenanigans at play, the Player's character is punished in some way....no XP for the encounter, an important piece of equipment breaks or is lost, etc.

"Shenanigans" is basically when the PC's encounter something in-game that seems FAR to convenient for their opposition. It's used to help curb the DM (generally me or my best friend) from succumbing to temptation of outright choosing some particular event/result that WE think could be fun...but the PC or PC's might not. :) But a DM can also call Shenanigans on a Player...usually for the meta-game-player-knowledge overreach mentioned above.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

TiwazTyrsfist

Adventurer
The median distance for fatal falls (according to the reference book Trauma Anesthesia) is 4 stories or 48ft.

The average normal person is assumed to be a level 1 commoner.

Therefore the average person has 4 hp.

Therefore the AVERAGE damage of a 48 foot fall SHOULD be 4 dmg.

So, 1d8 per 48 ft.

(This does mean that if you manage to hit terminal velocity you take 31d8 dmg)

[it's joke]
 

GreyLord

Hero
One possibility that I've heard mentioned at times is that current-edition (and all editions from 2e onward) falling damage rules are based on a misinterpretation of how falling damage was written up in 1e or even earlier, and that the d6 per 10' was originally intended to be cumulative.

So, fall 10' = 1d6. Fall 20' = [1+2]d6. Fall 30' = [1+2+3]d6. And so on. This meant the 20d6 cap was reached with a 60' fall.

And whoeever it was upthread who noted that while PC hit points have increased over the years the damage limit has not is bang-on right. The limit should probably go up to 30d6 or even 40d6; failing that just make it a straight save-or-die-outright with a penalty for each x-distance-fallen higher than wherever the damage limit is reached; and at some point (say, once the save reaches -20?) you don't even get a save.

The OP's Barbarian? 1500 feet? Yeah, no save for you Barbie. :)
These are good points.

As the d6 is based on a more default HP of a characters such as a Rogue/Thief, and as Thieves now have a d8 HD, it should be d8 rather than d6.

Also, as characters get a max HD at first level these days, it should be a straight up 8 points of damage per 10 feet, not a d8.

and as Constitution bonuses are easier to get, and have on a character, it should be a minimum of d8+1 (or+2 if we put 15 as the minimum, whereas in AD&D you needed at least a 15 to get a +1 HP per HD, whereas if you just have a 14 now you get a +2 HP).

As we don't roll, and it is the maximum, it would be 9 (or 10) HP damage per 10 feet. If we go with the straight up 10 HP per 10 feet for damage we can either put it at a maximum of 200 points of damage, or do it as 1HP dmg per 1 foot fallen, with no limit to have it similar to what earlier editions deadliness were for falling.
 

Ace

Adventurer
The easiest way to compute maximum damage is to just to assume its 70 points.

Now in older editions it would require a massive damage save but in 5e, its not a major deal. Frankly I'm not that bothered by it in a world where feather fall and flight and flying steeds are things and high level PC's are basically superheroes
 

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