Variant Rules for Falling
It can be hard to have a truly omni-directional combat that means anything in 5e (and not unique to 5e, either). Falling is an almost meaningless mechanic after a few levels and doesn’t really represent a lot of worry after 10th.
Between Feather Falling and Flying and good saves and hit hitpoints and death saves that lean toward “not dying” with every rolll… well, falling has little consequence. And with no consequence, it makes some interesting combats and adventure arcs worth much less, possess less drama or suspense, and keeps narrow the tactics and spell lists that are intended to be as ready for anything as possible.
So, here are my variant rules for Falling and falling damage. Simple, quick. I don’t always use them, it depends on the game, but it takes away from “damage as the problem” and really emphasizes “condition is the problem” more. After-all, a 50ft. drop has every likelihood of breaking, crippling, and killing a normal person–but this is fantasy… however, a 100ft. fall averages only enough damage to wind a normal mid-level character. Surely we can do better, cinematically?
There are two major kinds of falls (whether one jumps or is knocked down):
- A. Standard Fall
- B. Hazardous Fall
The first step to determining Fall consequences is to quickly determine which one you’re dealing with.
A Standard Fall is a fall whose height is less than half of one’s Constitution Score. A score of 10 means 5ft., a score of 15 means 8ft., a score of 20 means 10ft. (half, round-up). People should write down next to their movement or in an appropriate place for easy reference how far their Standard Fall is. It’s a simple number to know.
A Hazardous Fall is anything more than that Standard Fall number.
Here are the rules that govern the consequences:
A. Standard Fall
When subject to a Standard Fall (within that range, height-wise), the character suffers absolutely no damage at all. Players can freely think of that distance as how far they can jump down willingly for free or how risky any ledge is. For instance, someone with a Standard Fall of 10 ft. and someone with a standard fall of 5 ft. may both be involved in a fight against goblins on the bridge. The first player can move around very confidently, knowing there is no damage penalty should they fall at all–their PC is comfortable with the knowledge that “it’s not that far down”. On the other hand, the second player might want to be careful or cautious to avoid the sides as they will suffer some consequences for falling off (or being knocked off).
When combines with Jump rules and Climb rules, it allows PC’s to treat ledges and walls and even swinging from chandeliers as a more clear alternative direction for movement.
B. Hazardous Fall
Any fall greater than the Standard Fall distance is Hazardous. There are three major consequences of such a fall. Which apply to the PC are determined by the distance.
First, the PC may become stunned. For any fall greater than their Standard Fall maximum up to their Constitution score, the PC is stunned for 1d2 rounds, they may reduce that number by 1 after the roll with spending an Inspiration point. They also take 10 damage, minus their Dex Modifier.
Second, the PC may become Unconscious. At heights greater than their Constitution score, for every 5ft above that score there is a +2 difficulty added to the Constitution Save (base is 5) the PC must make when they hit the ground. A Constitution of 15 would mean that at 20ft, the Constitution Save is 7 (5 base +2 for 5ft over). This means that a Constitution 10 character is fine for falls of up to 5ft without damage, and at a height of 10ft. may spend one or two rounds stunned (and will take 10 damage). At 20ft., they’ll need to make a Con Save DC9 or fall unconscious. The hearty 20 Consitution PC is fine being thrown from a 10ft. ledge and will suffer no penalties, up to 20ft. he may end up stunned for a round or two and take 5 damage or so. At 30 ft., they would be trying to make the same DC9 Constitution save or be knocked unconscious.
Third, the PC may die (or, better to say, “start Death Saves”). Should the save exceed DC30 (this happens at over 60ft after Constitution Score), the fall will result in dropping to 0 hp and beginning Death Saves. Should the fall exceed Constitution Score + Maximum HP, they start with one failed save automatically.
So, in my world that’s pretty quick figuring for everyone and some certainty for the players while giving me, as the DM, some room to make the world move more interestingly.
The DM should add damage for things at the bottom of the fall, as they see fit (spikes, rocks, etc.). I encourage advantaging the saves and reducing the stunned duration by 1 if falling into water. I also like the idea that the DM should splash in Prone everywhere it makes sense (and virtually always for falls that the PC didn’t see coming at the time).
Example of Play
Let’s say, in the party, there are three different adventurers:
The Warlock – Constiution of 10.
The Figher – Constitution of 15.
The Cleric – Constitution of 20.
They’re all racing through a fight on the windblown crags and ledges of the mountain pass–fighting off ogres and goblin raiders.
They turn the corner and the drop from the ledge is 15 ft. down before hitting a smooth stoney outcropping. They have no Ranger or Druid or Rogue–so they don’t spot the treacherous ledge’s weakeness before running through it (with Monsters all about, they must move quickly).
The three all fail the appropriate Dex check, we’ll say, and go careening off the ledge.
The Warlock, being sleight and not used to the adventuring hazards of the world, takes 10 bludgeoning from the fall and will spend the next two rounds pulling his wits together from the tumble and bad fall.
The Fighter takes 8 bludgeoning, but is otherwise fine enough to keep moving into a defensive position in case things up there start shooting.
The Cleric hits the ground for 5 bludgeoning, hardly anything really, and moves to cover the “shaking the stars out from his eyes” Warlock.
The stoney ledge they’re on now, however, is 30 ft. above an outcropping full of jagged rocks (that may do extra damage).
They all take position as the fight comes down to them (many of the goblins and ogres jump down or climb down–thus not “falling” and mitigate much of any impediment that way). Swords and defending the Warlock as he gets it together, clashing and stomping and fighting.
The Warlock starts hugging the inside, near the mountain, face of the ledge–he really doesn’t want to fall again (30 is going to be an automatic 10 more bludgeoning and being stunned again, and may result in him getting knocked right out because the check would be a Con Save DC 13 and he’s less than 50/50 to make that).
The Fighter starts taking advantage of the environment and moves around an Ogre–putting it between him and the edge–and then shoving him 300 style off the ledge. The Ogre has a Consitution of 20, and so it takes 5 bludgeoning from the fall and is stunned for 2 rounds while it finds its club and gets to its feet again. And it has to make a Con Save DC 9–which is likely. They’re tough bastards.
Seeing this move, the Cleric peaks over the edge way down there where the creature is shaking its head and groping around. Running leap while it’s stunned, mace overhand. The Cleric will take 5 bludgeoning, for sure, and may end up stunned–but he gets to attack before he hits the ground (it’s a reasonable held action). Stunned opponent is very vulnerable, attacking “Reign of Fire” style with a leaping smack of a heavy mace is hard. The Advantage and Disadvantage cancel each other out. A normal attack.
A good crack on the skull and the Ogre is dead, the cleric is on his back reeling from the fall. Peeks over THAT edge and sees a 100 ft. drop… and rolls away from the edge nervously.