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5E Why is there a limit to falling damage?

Ace

Adventurer
I would put falling damage at 20% of max HP per 10 ft.
a 50ft drop on your head WILL kill you.

if you jump down intentionally, reduce the fall by 10ft and another 10ft with DC15 athletics or acrobatics check, 20ft less with DC30 check.

The thing is falling is very random. we have instances of a person Vesna Vulovic falling from 2 miles up and surviving. There is also a recent instance of someone falling 90 feet, granted onto snow and walking away.

Personally while the OP can certainly do what he wants in his own game and there is nothing wrong with that its better to tell people up front when you want to change rules. This isn't the OSR where its rulings not rules, its a well defined rules set with most exceptions and structures baked in.

D&D is closer to supers than to fantasy and most attempts to twist anything much above level 6 or so into realism make for an inferior gaming experience.

It can also frustrate players when DM's who can't cope with high power gaming refuse to run high level D&D because they can't relate to it or are afraid of powerful PC's I suspect a lot of people would love to play to 15 or 20 but will never get the chance because DM's lock up and demand whole unnecessary concessions to realism

YMMV but its better for all to accept 5E and other D&D for what they are, power games and if you want verisimilitude or realism in your game, play another game.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The thing is falling is very random. we have instances of a person Vesna Vulovic falling from 2 miles up and surviving. There is also a recent instance of someone falling 90 feet, granted onto snow and walking away.

And for every one of those stories there are hundreds or thousands of gravestones memorializing the rest that fell that far.
 

TiwazTyrsfist

Adventurer
"As you fall, you strike a glowing discontinuity. Briefly, you feel like you're being turned inside out through your bottom. You catch a glimpse of your own tonsils as you fold upon yourself and back again. For a fraction of a second, you're certain that you're a petunia in a pot falling somewhere. Or maybe a whale? As you come back to yourself, you float slowly to the ground and land safely. You take no damage. Incidentally, that magic Battle-Axe you used to have? You Never had that, but you do have the lovely Ring of Feather Fall you have always had as your only magic item. Enjoy"
 

Undrave

Hero
The thing is falling is very random. we have instances of a person Vesna Vulovic falling from 2 miles up and surviving. There is also a recent instance of someone falling 90 feet, granted onto snow and walking away.

Personally while the OP can certainly do what he wants in his own game and there is nothing wrong with that its better to tell people up front when you want to change rules. This isn't the OSR where its rulings not rules, its a well defined rules set with most exceptions and structures baked in.

D&D is closer to supers than to fantasy and most attempts to twist anything much above level 6 or so into realism make for an inferior gaming experience.

It can also frustrate players when DM's who can't cope with high power gaming refuse to run high level D&D because they can't relate to it or are afraid of powerful PC's I suspect a lot of people would love to play to 15 or 20 but will never get the chance because DM's lock up and demand whole unnecessary concessions to realism

YMMV but its better for all to accept 5E and other D&D for what they are, power games and if you want verisimilitude or realism in your game, play another game.

And certain conception of 'realism' can often be mistaken. I remember in 4e days a guy on the DnD board insisting that doing archery on horseback should inflict a penalty, that it wasn't realistic to be able to do so...

Cue the posting of a video of a friggin' horseback archery competition with multiple people hitting bullseye while riding across a field.

And as you say, falling is random and it's REALLY dependent on how you land and on what. Snow and tree branches will break your fall quite a lot, but you can also trip on a carpet and smash your head against the corner of a heavy enough table and just die right there.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Huh. Does that mean that the Balor in LOTR was really a Bumble?

It is a balrog. Balor is a D&D term, and while they are themed on the Balrog, we should not mistake the one for the other.

The LOTR is not D&D. D&D is inspired in part by LotR, but also many other things, and is also supposed to be a playable game. So, if you are expecting the game to perfectly emulate everything that happens in those books, you're going to be disappointed. It isn't a reasonable expectation.

Or did Gandalf just know he would only take 20d6 damage?

Quite possibly, as we'll note in a sec....

But he's a fakir.

The word you want is probably "faker". In modern use, a "fakir" is a type of Hindu or Muslim religious ascetic.

So my whole point of this overly long post is that Gandalf is a politician and a fakir.

Again, that's probably not the word you want.

Wait ... no that wasn't it. It's that in the fiction everybody thought Gandalf should die falling that far.

So, here's the thing - Gandalf is a minor angel. A "Maiar" in Tolkien's terms. So, we can have a few explanations:

1) The other characters in the Fellowship probably range from 1st level to 10th, and the falling damage there would surely kill them. Gandalf is the only one who's this massive 20th level (or equivalent CR, as he probably isn't a PC). Sure, they think he's gong to die, because they've never seen someone of his power before. Gandalf, however, knows his chances here, and he's okay with the risk. And maybe the GM didn't roll so hot on the falling damage.

2) He does die. And he's either resurrected or death means something a bit different where he comes from (because, as noted before - angel).

3) For reasons Gandalf actually mentions in the books, he is restricted in use of his power - if he uses too much, Sauron will know where he is, and the jig, as they say, will be up. If he's about to die anyway, though, it hardly matters, so he busts out a whole whopping feather fall on the way down. But, since Tolkien isn't writing about his angels, but about people, that's off screen.

4) Both the Balrog and Gandalf are angelic beings. On the way down, their struggle becomes more metaphorical than physical, and they never really hit bottom anyway.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So, a long time ago, I was playing D&D. 1e. The party was name level or better, but not in the upper teens.

The party finds an incredibly deep (possibly literally bottomless) pit, 30' or more across, with a spiral staircase wrapping around the inside. Being high level, we bust out some magic to quickly fly us down the pit to the dungeon entrance we know is there. We do a whole bunch of adventuring in this dungeon. After we actually find what we came for, we run into a purple worm. The worm chases us full tilt down the corridor to the dungeon opening. Reaching the entrance in the pit, the nearly tapped out spellcasters manage to get everyone but my character quickly to the top.

I run out of the dungeon full speed, make my dex check and get onto the staircase. Just behind me the purple worm comes crashing out, unable to stop it's momentum, and it plummets down the pit, into the darkness.

And my character has to start climbing the quarter-mile or so of stairs to the surface. I had an 18 Con. NO biggie. But I grumble all the way, because stupid party members just left me to friggin' walk...

I get to the top, and as my head clears the edge of the pit, I start giving the party a dressing down for the annoyance... when I run into the actual first trap in the dungeon. The top two steps of that spiral staircase were illusory. And I step on them... and plummet...

...five miles down...

...onto the first layer of Hell... Of course, the pit goes all the way to Hell, literally.

The DM rolls the falling damage, and I am at the cap, but... it isn't enough to kill me.

We all had to sit for a moment or two to figure this out - how the heck does that work. Until we remembered the worm. It had been killed by fall, where I hadn't. So, we figure, I landed on its corpse, which was massive and fleshy enough to break my fall, with my magic armor basically keeping me together. I wake up in a crater of worm guts, in literal Hell.

And now I really had a reason to give the party a piece of my mind for leaving me behind....

The damage cap can make for great war stories. Rather than chafe at it, use it!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
And certain conception of 'realism' can often be mistaken. I remember in 4e days a guy on the DnD board insisting that doing archery on horseback should inflict a penalty, that it wasn't realistic to be able to do so...

Cue the posting of a video of a friggin' horseback archery competition with multiple people hitting bullseye while riding across a field.

But that's basically a white room competition. I'd be curious to see how accurate they were with other people shooting lethal arrows back at them. ;)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So, here's the thing - Gandalf is a minor angel. A "Maiar" in Tolkien's terms. So, we can have a few explanations:

1) The other characters in the Fellowship probably range from 1st level to 10th, and the falling damage there would surely kill them. Gandalf is the only one who's this massive 20th level (or equivalent CR, as he probably isn't a PC). Sure, they think he's gong to die, because they've never seen someone of his power before. Gandalf, however, knows his chances here, and he's okay with the risk. And maybe the GM didn't roll so hot on the falling damage.

2) He does die. And he's either resurrected or death means something a bit different where he comes from (because, as noted before - angel).

3) For reasons Gandalf actually mentions in the books, he is restricted in use of his power - if he uses too much, Sauron will know where he is, and the jig, as they say, will be up. If he's about to die anyway, though, it hardly matters, so he busts out a whole whopping feather fall on the way down. But, since Tolkien isn't writing about his angels, but about people, that's off screen.

4) Both the Balrog and Gandalf are angelic beings. On the way down, their struggle becomes more metaphorical than physical, and they never really hit bottom anyway.
We don't know how far he really fell, but he landed in water. Then he and the Balrog climbed the Endless Stair* to the top of the mountain and continued their fight.

*They were not near the top of the mountain, but Endless Stair makes it seem like it was a pretty far drop.
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
I guess I wonder what was the narrative/mechanical purpose for the presence of the gorge. Basically what does it break for a character to descend that fast and survive?

If the answer is 'nothing', and the player is willing to spend the hp, go nuts. They take their 20d6 damage, and then they get to explain to their healers why they need to blow resources to get him back to full (not to mention whatever they had to spend to safely keep up).
 

Gammadoodler

Explorer
The whole 'are you committing suicide' question is pretty dang silly when applied to D&D adventurers. A realistic answer would almost always be 'yes' based on the shenanigans they get into. On the list of things that would for sure kill/severely injure all people.

-Being inside a fireball (for reference..incendiary grenades).
-Being doused in strong acids.
-Exposure to many poisons (a common means of modern execution)
-Electrocution (also a common means of modern execution)
-Exposure to extreme cold.

Yet these are all reasonably common experiences for a D&D adventurer (See the dragons list). To have a 'Cliffs.. the most deadly enemy of all' approach to character boundaries is a kind of nutty bit of worldbuilding.
 

S'mon

Legend
I read that humans reach terminal velocity at 270'.

My personal falling rule for 5e is 1 point of damage per foot fallen onto flat hard surface (5'+), capping at 250. So raging high level barbarians are still fine, but it does get damage back to 1e-style norms. I went over to that after a low level 5e dwarf cleric fell 120' and walked off the 12d6. It feels about right. I have Large take x2, Huge x4 and Gargantuan x8, so elephants do actually splat when dropped from a great height. :D I reckon I'll have Small take half damage (1 pt per 2' fallen) - it's not come up yet, but would be a nice boost for halflings & gnomes.

Edit: For 5e I tend to have most normal humans have at least 5-8 hp, I think that fits best with eg the animal stats. So a 10' pit is rarely fatal, unless you're a Wiz-1 with a CON penalty! By contrast in B/X RAW a 10' pit does 1d6 and an M-U 1 or Normal Man has 1d4 hp and dies at 0 hp, which feels a bit too 'world of cardboard' to me.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
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!

I had similar annoyances, so I wrote up some alternate falling damage rules a while back. They are loosely based on falling velocity over distance for a 6-foot-tall person. The damage is a fixed number based on distance. A falling creature can use its reaction to reduce the damage by the value of a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. Creatures that fall on purpose have advantage on the check. Creatures take more damage the larger they are, cats and winged creatures take damage based on one size class lower than their size.

The end result is that falling is more deadly, but there is a decent chance of taking little to no damage over short falls. A commoner has a 50% of taking no damage from a fall, or it could kill them. Only the fighters or Barbarians with highest Constitution who are high level (or high-level monks) will survive a 1500-foot drop at 174 damage.

The system is not perfect, but I have used it for several years successfully. The house rule integrates well with things like monk slow-fall, raging barbarians, and becoming prone from taking falling damage. It has instilled a sense of danger in elevated scenarios and has inspired heroics to rescue allies that have fallen as well as trying to get flying creatures knocked prone to get them to fall. I do need to update it to eliminate the extraneous lines though. My updated version fits on a single sheet or two of paper.

 

jgsugden

Legend
For typical people the death rate is 50% from about 48 feet and 90% at 84 feet. So, if you really want realism and assume the average schmoe has 5 or so hps and does not die until negative hps are reached, or 3 failed death saves, around the heights actually fallen in most games, I'd go with (1d6/10' + 3d6) [discard highest 3 dice].

A 10' fall would roll 4d6 and discard the three highest results, generally getting you a 1 or 2 most of the time.

A 50' fall would roll 7d6 and discard the three highest results, generally getting you a lot of results in the single digits, but it might range up to 17 or so.

To avoid silly falls, I would take the cap damage off.
 

Hriston

Hero
Like your player, I would expect the half-yeti ('bom'ble snowman) race in your Christmas special themed campaign to have Bounce as a trait, balanced of course by Cannot Float in Water. Also, I think a half-yeti barbarian should be required to use Rage whenever it encounters an enemy that has something to do with Christmas, which I would expect to be quite often in such a campaign. (Edited because I had a better idea.)
 
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Personally, and i suspect that’s the case with many players also, the problem is not with the falling damage itself. The problem is with the metathinking of knowing one can easily survive the fall because they can afford the damage.

Character falls 200m and survive? No problem there.

Character jumps 200m down out of a despaired last attempt to escape or save someone, and survive? No problem there either.

Character steps down 200ft because it’s quicker and can’t be bothered to climb down? Not cool in my book. At any case, not the style of game that was advertised for the campaign.

We’ve all seen or read of the hero or villain who fell from impossible heights and survive against what everyone thought. Like in every story. But that only works if people think that falling is actually lethal. Being too casual about it takes away from the illusion of the threat, and the threat needs to be somewhat illusory to bend the odds of « surviving against the odds » in the PCs favour.

I do wish that pit traps didn’t have to be 50-60 feet to be anything more than a speed bump however...
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
...
I do wish that pit traps didn’t have to be 50-60 feet to be anything more than a speed bump however...

Spikes. You can never go wrong with spikes. Make the spikes poison for extra fun. Then have the spikes be barbed so you can't get off them easily while the pit slowly fills with water. Oh, and throw in an anti-magic zone so they can't do some silly get out of jail free teleportation. Sit back and let loose that well practiced evil DM laugh. :devilish:

P.S. Do people still really use pit traps as anything other than a diversion? I use sinkholes ever other blue moon, but that's just so I can throw the PCs into a dynamic environment.
 

Inchoroi

Adventurer
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!

From an RPG writer's perspective, that's just a lot of dice, and its d6s because that's what most players have the most of. Its most likely a, "Yeah, that's a lot of friggin' dice to roll. Twenty is enough." I hesitate to apply real-world logic--e.g. terminal velocity--to such a thing, as its simply unnecessary for such an event. Your ruling would be how I would rule, and, opposite things like feather fall or similar things, the character would die.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
For typical people the death rate is 50% from about 48 feet and 90% at 84 feet. So, if you really want realism and assume the average schmoe has 5 or so hps and does not die until negative hps are reached, or 3 failed death saves, around the heights actually fallen in most games, I'd go with (1d6/10' + 3d6) [discard highest 3 dice].

A 10' fall would roll 4d6 and discard the three highest results, generally getting you a 1 or 2 most of the time.

A 50' fall would roll 7d6 and discard the three highest results, generally getting you a lot of results in the single digits, but it might range up to 17 or so.

To avoid silly falls, I would take the cap damage off.
You would also need to strip away most of the hit points from PCs that are higher than level 1. The vast majority of hit points come from skill and such, and a high level PC isn't going to have much more, if any at all, physical hit points than the average schmoe.
 

jgsugden

Legend
You would also need to strip away most of the hit points from PCs that are higher than level 1. The vast majority of hit points come from skill and such, and a high level PC isn't going to have much more, if any at all, physical hit points than the average schmoe.
That would depend upon what hps represent to you. In my world, they represent a combination of your toughness (which is more than just your ability to withstand injury), and the touch of the Gods. A loss of hps is not an injury, it is something that taxes this supernatural capability to survive danger, through force of will, divine intervention, and other forces. Sound nebulous? That is intentional. However, it works for falling damage survival.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
We don't know how far he really fell, but he landed in water. Then he and the Balrog climbed the Endless Stair* to the top of the mountain and continued their fight.

And, the metaphorical imagery in that is so strong... I think my suggestions for interpretations largely still hold together.
 

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