The Drop Test
by, 03-09-2009 at 03:07 PM (1721 Views)
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.