D&D 5th - Falling Damage: The Neglected Woe

In a game that takes pride in being able to invoke perilous pits in the imagination of would-be adventurers, D&D needs some serious alone time with - Falling Damage.

Falling Damage: The Neglected Woe

For far too long, rules have allowed Falling Damage in D&D to be rendered nearly irrelevant amongst the scope of other existing arcane and monstrous threats.

Probably 9 out of 10 heroes would far more fear the consequences of a Fireball than that of being shoved off a roof.

They're not wrong, they can clearly expect to survive one ("so what's that? 40ft?! Okay, so 4d6, oh that's nothing.") whereas the other could seriously complicate their lives.

"A fall from a great height is one of the most common hazards facing an adventurer." - Player's Handbook, 5th edition, p.183
But how about all those epic scenes of heroes struggling up mountain faces, the ubiquitous hand grab over the ledge as one person holds on for all dear life? None of these moments are re-creatable in D&D without severely re-defining what we've come to understand as Falling Damage. So let's try.

Enhanced Falling Damage
⚫ A falling creature risks great injury, taking 3d10 bludgeoning for every 10 feet it falls.

At first glance 3d10 might seem like too much, and it might be, but remember, we're not talking about gracefully leaping down a ledge. We're essentially determining what happens when you belly flop from that height to a bed of jagged rocks or stone.

So yes, I suppose you could scale it down to 2d10 but you'll be doing a disservice to the threat as D&D is more than adept at ballooning character Hit Points than you might think.

But falling damage could be about so much more than just well, damage.

Enhanced Falling Damage & Injury
⚫ A great fall from a great height is expected to bring death or lingering injury to a person.
⚫ For every 10 feet a creature falls, it takes 2d10 damage. It must also make a Constitution Save DC 15 or suffer the Crippled Condition

(New Condition) - Crippled
⚫ While a character remains crippled, its speed is reduced to 5ft and it cannot take any Reactions.

⚫ Progress towards removing the Crippled condition requires a successful DC 12 Medicine Skill Roll. It may be attempted up to once per day and must be successful at least (5) times before the condition is permanently removed.

Lesser Restoration cast on the target counts as a successful Medicine Skill Roll.

Design Note:
This should equally affect warriors as much as casters since the latter heavily rely on the occasional Reaction.

So all of this work is about trying to make the hazards of the natural world proportional to those with fangs. It's about turning wonderful maps, terrain, and precarious ledges into something to be tackled with caution as we'd expect if we were watching our adventures take place on film.

I feel like I have so much more to say on this topic but I want to conclude this article with one final consideration for Falling Damage: proportion.

Damage by Proportion

This entire consideration stands on the idea that Hit Points are meant to reflect, as abstractly as possible, our heroes' means to endure blows or 'Hits'.

It doesn't mean they grow a second or third heart, that their blood cell counts are supernaturally high or that their organs regenerate a la Wolverine.

If you are able to accept this conceit, then please read on, otherwise your brow will likely furl on the forthcoming suggestion.

If 'Hit Points' provide an indication of how much stress a hero can take before they succumb to combat wounds, shouldn't damage originating from other sources be treated differently?

I don't want to take this too far astray so keeping it in the topic of Falling Damage, we could argue that a creature would suffer as much injury now as it would later if it's tossed off the same sheer cliff.

Enhanced Falling
⚫ A creature that falls from a height of less than 20ft drops to at least half of their maximum Hit Points.

⚫ A creature falling more than 20ft drops to at least one third of their maximum Hit Points.

⚫ A creature falling more than 30ft is considered Dying.

Okay. Me likes but too much math. Consider this simplified version.

Simplified Enhanced Falling
⚫ A creature that falls or is shoved from a height of over 20ft, drops to at least 10 Hit Points.

⚫ If they have less than 10 Hit Points before falling, consider them to be Dying and they must immediately make a Death Save.

⚫ A creature falling from a height of over 30ft is considered Dying and must immediately make a Death Save.

Halves tend to be the easiest number to derive and "half of something" is already used extensively across the core rules. This last version also pointedly ignores damage for any fall less than 20ft. So maybe the answer lies amongst one of these options or in a combination of them. Maybe we can at least agree that as it stands, Falling Damage is irrelevant and disproportional.

If you enjoyed this, I hope to expand more on my ideas of customized enhancements to 5th edition rules, so stay tuned.

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