In this post I’ll explain my house rule for fixing falling damage in fifth edition D&D. It’s a quick, simple rule, that makes falling damage in 5E a lot more realistic, and which can be implemented without changing too much else about the game.
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Falling Damage – the Rules as Written
First, let us take a look at how falling damage works in fifth edition (from the basic rules):
- “At the end of a fall, a creature takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage for every 10 feet it fell, to a maximum of 20d6. The creature lands prone, unless it avoids taking damage from the fall.”
Alright, that seems pretty simple. What’s the issue?
In one short word: realism. Or the lack-there-of.
While the damage a character takes from a fall feels somewhat realistic at 1st level – a fall of 20 or more is likely to knock a character out, and quickly becomes lethal at greater heights – falling damage becomes downright silly at higher levels, where even frail wizards can routinely walk away from 50-foot-falls with barely a scratch on them.
This is quite a departure from real world physics, where no amount of experience, fighting prowess, or practice will help you survive fall from extreme heights.
So while it is often argued that hit points are just an abstraction – of expended energy, heroic luck, and so on – that argument doesn’t really work when applied to something that is so uniformly deathly as a fall from a great height.
Falling Damage – the House Rule
So how can we fix this?
You could simply increase falling damage, but that has the downside of making falling unrealistically lethal to low level characters and low CR creatures. You could combat this by having falling damage scale with level or HD, but that can quickly get complicated to remember and keep track of.
The best fix I have come up with (and I have tested quite a few over the years, as you may have guessed from the rant above) to fix falling damage in fifth edition measures falling damage against the creature’s Constitution score. It works like this:
- Falling deals the same damage as always – 1d6 per 10 feet, to a maximum of 20d6.
- If damage taken from a fall exceeds your Constitution score, you are reduced to 0 hit points, and become unconscious and dying.
- If damage taken from a fall exceeds twice your Constitution score, you die instantly.
Effects on the Game
What does this change to falling damage mean for the game?
Below are some examples of how this rule works, all assuming that the falling character has a Constitution score of 14 (which is, in my experience, fairly average).
A 30-foot-fall has at least a 5% chance of dropping a character to 0 hit points, regardless of their level and hit points.
A 50-foot-fall has a 30% chance of knocking them out, and a 0.01% chance of killing them outright.
An 80-foot-fall has a 99%+ chance of knocking the character out, and a 40% chance of killing them outright.
A 100-foot-fall? There’s less than 0.01% chance that you’re conscious after that, and an 85% chance that you die outright!
A fall from 200 feet or more? Less than 0.01% chance that you survive at all.
So, is this completely realistic? Of course not. But it’s a lot closer. In the real world, a fall from 50 feet has a mortality rate of 50%, while a fall from around 80 feet has a mortality rate of 90%. We’re still a bit below that, but to be fair – the characters are heroes, and we don’t need to make falling completely realistic. Just more so.
Note: Damage Resistance
Because it’s the damage taken that is measured against the character’s Constitution score, a creature who is resistant to bludgeoning damage – such as a raging barbarian – is still much more likely than other characters to survive a fall from a great height.
Assuming a Constitution score of 20, a raging barbarian who falls from 200 feet or more and takes the maximum 20d6 damage, will still fall unconscious at 0 hit points more than 99% of the time, but only has a 10% chance of dying outright! At 100 ft., the barbarian will be fine (taking only the usual, minor falling damage) nearly 90% of the time, and isn’t at risk of dying outright.
Note: Characters & Creatures
While it goes without saying that this rule applies to characters, what about other creatures? In our game, we have decided that the house rule does apply to all creatures, except for tiny (or smaller) creatures and creatures who have inherent fly speeds – dragons, birds, etc. – because these creatures have lighter bodies, or can arrest their falls using wings, magic, or the shape of their bodies.
While it hasn’t been an issue at our table, you may also warn your players that abusing this house rule – creating character concepts specifically designed to kill foes with falling damage – may cause you to nerf some features, spells, or abilities. Hopefully that will prevent any such shenanigans before they get started.
Note: Reverse Gravity & Similar Magic
A potential downside of these changes are that some tactics and spells become very lethal – exemplified by the spell reverse gravity, which can easily cause several creatures to take a 100-foot-fall. In the particular case of reverse gravity, we have ruled that the shift in gravity is gradual (it doesn’t instantly reverse, but does so over a few seconds), which means that this house rule for falling damage doesn’t apply to it. You could also halve the height of the effect, which would also make it far less lethal.
Note: Making Falls More Preventable
When you make falls more lethal, you may also want to make it a bit easier to prevent them. In our game, we have added this additional house rule:
- When falling and not incapacitated, you can make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to attempt to lessen the impact of your fall. On a result of 10 or more, you can ignore 10 ft. of the fall (landing on your feet if the fall was only 10 feet), on a result of 20 or more, you can ignore 20 ft. of your fall, and so on.
This allows characters to make falls in the 50–100 ft. range a bit less lethal – and makes use of the Acrobatics skill, which is often underused. Plus, it just seems fair that a nimble and highly trained rogue can fall 20 feet and land on their feet, ready to fight.
All in all, I think that this house rule provides a satisfying fix to falling damage in 5E – making it less trivial for high level characters, more realistic, and with fairly little impact on the rest of the game’s rules. Of course, this does require both players and DM to think a bit more falling – and causing falls! – as a tactic, but as long as nobody abuses the rule, that should only make things more entertaining.
What do you think? Would you use this rule? Is there something you would change? Anything I have forgotten to think of? Let me know!
J. A. Valeur