The very environment that surrounds adventurers can be a detriment to their wellbeing, one of the most common is falling from a great height. Fall Damage is generally less lethal than it used to be however it is still a cause for concern depending on the amount taken and the level of character.
The rules for fall damage can be found in the Players Handbook on page 253.
Fall Damage 5e
A fall from a great height is one of the most common hazards facing an adventurer. 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.
The rules for fall damage are straightforward and remain constant in the damage of 1d6 per 10 feet. There is a maximum placed on the amount of damage taken at 20d6, which would require a 200-foot fall. This is an unlikely but not impossible scenario to encounter.
What Type of Damage is Fall Damage?
Fall damage is bludgeoning damage as it relates to resistances and/or abilities. This means that a barbarian is resistant to fall damage (bludgeoning) and could survive a fall much better than some other characters. This makes the 20d6 significantly less lethal as the average would be reduced to half for any creature with resistance to non-magical bludgeoning damage.
How do you Stop Fall Damage?
Preventing fall damage can be done in many ways. There are spells such as feather fall that slow the descent of a character negating fall damage that is cast as a reaction. Class features can negate fall damage, such as the Monk’s slow fall ability that reduces damage at 5thlevel.
Fall Damage itself is not nearly enough to base an encounter on and will not necessarily make the players any leerier about the situation. It can be used to add tension in scenarios where there may not be a return. When used properly on an unstable mountain pass, it can build incredible tension.
The fall itself may not deal damage enough to kill or even seriously injure the character, but the idea of tumbling down the rocky mountainside out of sight could be a death sentence.
How Far do you Fall in a Round?
As clarified in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, a creature falls 500-feet per round. This means in most scenarios, the creature has little opportunity to do much of anything before hitting the ground. A bonus action or reaction would be possible but tossing the creature a rope, for example, probably would not.
If the fall was high enough to provide falling for an entire round, then the creature would be fully capable of taking any normal actions it can take.
Alternative Fall Damage Rules?
It is feasible that a character of mid-level would survive even a max damage fall. This has led to the exploration of alternative fall damage rules.
One option is to tie falling damage to the constitution score. If damage exceeds constitution, the creature goes to 0 hit points. This makes falls more deadly for low constitution characters than high con characters and represents some maintained realism.
Another potential solution would be to remove the cap on the damage. A fall from 1000 feet is more likely to be deadly, where a shortfall is still manageable at lower levels.
No player likes it when their character dies to some random trap, and generally, it is not satisfying for a DM either. Keep this in mind when applying fall damage or potentially altering the rules as provided. 5e is balanced in a certain way for a reason.
Fall damage is a great example of how the environment can be used to challenge players just as much as a specific creature. 5e is loaded with environmental scenarios that bring a whole additional level of difficulty to an otherwise ordinary encounter.
If all else fails, mixing the two could provide just enough challenge without being over the top. Make the party fight goblins on a rickety bridge or race across a crumbling floor while chasing kobolds. It is sure to add some depth to the encounter.