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The Curmudgeon's Lair

The Drop Test

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Back in the olden days, when I was in the Army, we had this method of attempting to fix electronic equipment called the drop test. It involved unplugging the device, holding it about chest high and then dropping it on the ground. After that you plugged it back in and checked to see if it worked. I know, sounds really stupid right, but occasionally it did work. I don't know if something would get knocked back into place or if it was merely that the connections needed tightened up. If this failed, you proceeded to step two, which was sending the device to someone who actually knew how to fix it.

So I was thinking, lets drop some 4e D&D characters from chest height and see if they work when we're done.

The average Rogue starts with 12 + Constitution bonus at first level. So anywhere from 12 - 17 hp are possible depending on how min/max the character is. Plus we could add another 5 if the character took the appropriate feat. However, lets just say the average 1st level Rogue in our example has 15 HP.

Damage for falling is 1d10 per 10 ft. that a character falls. This isn't to bad when characters are at low levels. Most characters will only take an average of 5 points of damage from each 10 ft. of distance. So our unlucky rouge would be reduced to 0 HP from an average 30 ft. fall. If we were to max the damage, our Rogue would be reduced to 0 HP from a 20ft. fall. If we min the damage, the the same Rogue would survive a fall from 140 ft. If the character has the Acrobatics skill and makes a good skill roll, this could reduce damage by up to a maximum of 15 points, though in all probability much less. As it is, dying from a very short fall is possible but unlikely, and surviving a very long fall would be unlikely but possible. So at first glance the method used for determining falling damage works to my satisfaction. Also included in the falling damage section of the PHB is an alternative for averaging the damage from long falls (25 damage per 50 ft.), thus reducing the possibility of characters surviving longer falls due to extremely low damage rolls.

One thing that I'm not clear on, is whether or not PC's have an Acrobatics skill check penalty for falls based on distance the character falls. Which I think would probably be a fair policy, and reduce the amount of damage the PC can reduce from a high skill check roll.

The system only begins to fall apart (sorry for the pun) as characters increase in levels and HP. A 10th level Rogue will have 60 HP, a 20th level Rogue will have 110 HP and a 30th level Rogue 160 HP. A fall that would have killed the character at first level wouldn't even make the character flinch at a higher level. HP Inflation kills the system.

I know the argument already, "HP and falling damage are abstractions". All I have to say to that is, that particular argument falls flat, (yet another pun) and fails to account for such a large discrepancy. The second argument will be; "If you don't like it, change it". Now if we were dealing with 1e, I could railroad the characters into that, it says so in the book. However, attitudes have changed a bit since the good old days. Players have a lot more input into the game than they once did. So as a DM I would seek the approval of the players before implementing such a drastic rule change, and would be unlikely to get it. This is due to the fact that it impacts their characters survivability in a major way. My second counter argument to this is that I shouldn't have to. The guys who designed the game are smart, savvy professionals (and what about the 5000 play testers?). They should think these things through, and address them before they see print. My third counter argument is that, I've already ran a number of possible house rule patches through my head, and none of them adequately fix the problem. Getting around the HP Inflation would require either having falling damage be deadly to low level characters, or to have damage based on the characters tier. The latter, would of course be a little weird, not to mention difficult to explain and justify.

So I'm left here twiddling my thumbs, trying to think who I could send this thing and have them fix it. The thing is, if you do attempt to fix the HP Inflation, you would have to alter numerous other aspects of the game (mainly the monster manual). If only they had made you add 1/2 your level to you HP, or even 1 HP per level. That I could have worked with or settled for.

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Updated 03-09-2009 at 04:58 PM by kirksmithicus

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4e Comments and Alternate Rules

Comments

  1. TAROT's Avatar
    I've only given 4th edition a quick skim (I only buy the odd numbered ones), but this doesn't seem to be particularly different from any of the previous editions.

    D&D above 10th level is essentially a superheroes game.

    Death due to falling damage is boring and deprotagonizing.

    (I don't know which patches you considered, but you could adapt either some form of Massive Damage Save or Vitality/Wounds system from 3rd edition.)
  2. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    I know It sounds like I'm picking on 4e, but the falling damage is an issue with all editions and many other games as well. While death due to falling is boring, it should at least add an element of fear or suspense to the game. In order to do that it needs to do serious damage to a character whatever his level.
  3. Soft Serve's Avatar
    You could invent a table. Keep the falling damage thing the same the #d6 for every # of ft etc. but once you roll past a certain number that character has broken their ankle. Then if it keeps going up the table they've broken their leg, then bot hankles, then both legs, then the hip or spine, then you'd have to just kill them...
  4. Farcaster's Avatar
    If you wanted to make a house rule that would make a little more sense and make any fall over 10 feet give the possibility of fatality, perhaps you could add a saving throw to the mix. I don't have time right at the moment to dwell on it too deeply as to exactly the formula would look like, but perhaps an example would be:

    1d20 + 1 per 10 feet vs. Fortitude.
    On Hit: The character takes 1d10 dmg per 10 feet (maximized on critical). If the character was not already incapacitated or killed from the damage, reduce the character to zero hitpoints and the character is now dying.
    On Miss: The character takes 1d10 dmg per 10 feet as normal.
  5. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    Hmmmm, I'll have to dwell upon these for a while. Thanks guys, these are both interesting ways to address the problem with falling damage. However, the problems with the falling damage are just symptoms of a larger problem. I actually like the way falling is handled in the game. (though I would bump up the damage with a internal step-wise increase, say 1d8+2 instead of 1d10 damage per 10 ft. or possibly an exponential increase) The problem is that a characters HP are tied to experience and level advancement, this screws up the whole game. It leads to a never ending cycle of power creep which in turn leads to longer more drawn out combat at higher levels. Which in turn leads to combat grinds that lead to grid fatigue. The point of 4e was to streamline the D&D system and on this particular part of the game, they failed, because they couldn't or wouldn't slaughter a Sacred Cow.
    Updated 03-19-2009 at 01:49 PM by kirksmithicus
  6. Mouse-Fearing Elephant's Avatar
    Watch out, if you make any mechanic more significant through houserules, you run the risk of accidental or intentional rules-abuse. Considering the availability of magic, it gets worse. If a death or damage spell is less effective than falling, it becomes advantageous to create pits under foes, maximize your pushing power, and learn to throw foes upwards to kill them with the ground impact.

    If you really want to make a fall dangerous, just put spikes where the person would fall. In 3e, the spikes dealt damage based on their size, so really long, needle-like spikes at the bottom of a pit could literally impale anyone unlucky enough to hit them. Also pit-spike death is less ignoble than falling off your horse.

    As far as hp inflation on its own, how else do you have little, puny mans fighting big, strong giants and dragons? Lots and lots of party deaths, I guess.
  7. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    Watch out, if you make any mechanic more significant through houserules, you run the risk of accidental or intentional rules-abuse. Considering the availability of magic, it gets worse. If a death or damage spell is less effective than falling, it becomes advantageous to create pits under foes, maximize your pushing power, and learn to throw foes upwards to kill them with the ground impact.
    Those are actually pretty good tactics even with the regular system. You would gain combat advantage over those foes after they fall in the pits, or back to the ground, plus a little fall damage. Then you and the rest of the party gets to give them the beat down while they try to climb out or stand up. Rule-abusing players will abuse house-rules as much as they will cannon rules, they're abusers and need to seek help. Also I've GM'd a number of Rifts games, so I'm used to handling the power-mongering, rule-abusing munchkin types.

    What I could come up with would ideally maintain damage about where it is up to say about 50 feet. After that it would become more dangerous and deadly. Some other thoughts I've had is to make damage from 50-100 ft. = normal damage roll x 2, and no acrobatic saves (distance is to great). Or to make damage max out after 50 ft. i.e. roll damage normally, 5d10 for the first 50 ft. but then just stop rolling after this point and add 10 points of damage for ever 10 ft. beyond that. You've reached max velocity or whatever, even though I have no idea how far you really have to fall to reach maximum velocity. (i'm sure someone here knows though) I've also thought, well maybe you could just add in the first number of the damage expression as a one time bonus to damage, i.e. 5d10 = 5d10+5. Or maybe a damage increase to each d10 you roll, so that damage becomes 5d10+25, but a short fall is still only 1d10+1. I've also thought about having the first number in the expression dictate the number of time I roll that for damage, i.e. 3d10 damage x 3. This is an exceptionally steep increase in damage though, and a lot of rolling, so I'm not going to use that method.

    See these are the things that I think about all day, you can see why I'm crazy.

    So I think I might use a combination of these methods. I'm thinking... 1d10 per 10 ft. plus the add in bonus for distance +1, +2, +3 etc per die roll of damage. At 100 ft. you reach terminal velocity and just take max damage for the fall, 10 damage per 10ft. Saving throws are still cool though, I'd allow those, luck of the Irish and all that. I'd also like to incorporate Farcaster's ongoing damage idea, so ongoing damage equal to the number of dice rolled 2d10 = 2 ongoing, 10d10 = 10 ongoing (max), and so on and so forth.

    Yes having your character die from a fall is ignoble, but so is being stabbed to death by a bunch of kobolds....but such is life, and death in brutal D&D games.


    as far as hp inflation on its own, how else do you have little, puny mans fighting big, strong giants and dragons? Lots and lots of party deaths, I guess.
    Well, that is the main problem. You have to re-write the whole Monster Manual, adjusting all HP's, attacks and damage to a new scheme in order to maintain game balance. A behemoth task that I'm just not willing to take on. You do make a good point though, even if its unintentional. Without the extra HP's characters would not be able to take on higher level monsters. In order to do this under the current scheme the characters have to be high level themselves to fight these monsters. If you reduce or eliminate HP inflation from both the characters and monsters it would allow lower level characters a better chance of survival against all-powerful monsters and open up more encounter options regardless of level. You could run your against the giants campaign at first or second level, or at least mix and match varied level characters. The difference between low level and high level characters would become skill, not HP. High level characters would still have the bonuses to kick a low level characters ass. If the low level guy got lucky though, he could do some actual damage against a high level character, something that never happens with the system as it is. HP are a leveling mechanism (a fudge) needed to maintain balance in a never ending cycle of monster escalation. I simply don't think you need either and that a little compression or deflation would have made the system more interesting.
  8. Farcaster's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by kirksmithicus
    You've reached max velocity or whatever, even though I have no idea how far you really have to fall to reach maximum velocity. (i'm sure someone here knows though)
    About 1,800 feet, or so I have read.
  9. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    Wow, that's a lot further than I though.