Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Falling with impunity
"Falling down became second nature and it really didn't bother me." Nancy Kerrigan The rogue character climbs the tower with rope and grappling hook and achieves the top room before the horde of orcs and the large ogre can breach the door. Quickly he helps the princess climb into the rafters of the tower roof and hands her the invisibility potion. "Remain motionless and quiet," he commands her and then moves to the balcony just before the door is sundered in a shower of wooden splinters. "How far to the ground?" asks the player. "Fifty feet. The wall is smooth finished stone," answers the DM. "Hmmmmm, five times six is thirty, so I can survive maximum damage with my thirty-two hit points. Balazar steps off the balcony and waves good-bye to the charging orcs and their ogre pet. At the bottom I will drink my potion of cure serious wounds. Next round I will join the others fighting their way up the tower stairs." Balazar's player crosses his arms and look smug. The DM grinds his teeth. Sound familiar? Should a DM grind his teeth over this encounter? I have no qualms over players defeating my evil designs and feeling smug over it. I rather like that they feel smug when they are successful. I despise metagaming. I also despise the lack of verisimilitude. Should not falling be dangerous? Should players ever know EXACTLY what is the risk of failure? Where is the excitement is danger if you know exactly that you can defy common sense fear of falling and step off the tower ledge? The player did not even attempt to lessen the damage using tumble skill, or some other tool they may have been carrying. Your mileage may vary, but in my game this is just plain wrong. What do you do? I have cast about for possible alternate and house rules to achieve the feel or verisimilitude. Various gaming sites forums have discussions on the same topic, some old some new. A common solution is for falling to do ability point damage. That does give back some lethalness to the situation but induces two undesirable side effects. First, ability damage is a PITA to manage and causes more calculations. Calculations are not inherently fun for most people. Second, ability damage levels the playing field across character levels therefore a higher level character would not be more likely to survive a fall than a lower level character. This goes against the premise that characters get 'better' as they move up in level. I even spent some serious time with a spreadsheet comparing actual velocity to the falling damage. (notice I said that calculations are not inherently fun for MOST people). Surprisingly, the velocity to damage ratio is remarkably close to a straight line d6 damage per ten feet after you get by the initial twenty feet and before you achieve terminal velocity. However, this does not address my concern. During a long discuss on this topic with one of my players (who just also happens to be my grown son) he became thoughtful and asked, "what is the difference between falling damage and weapon damage?" Indeed, what? If you can subscribe to the notion of hit point abstraction, which is hard to avoid if you play D&D, you can easily rationalize an answer of, "nothing." So where does that leave us? It brought us back to looking at other rules, rather than 'solving' the falling problem. Maybe the problem was not falling. Maybe the problem was large amounts of damage. So instead I am instituting a house rule massive damage threshold, one that is variable with a character's hit point total and not an instant death rule. What does your game do to address this problem? Is this a problem for you? Are you interested in our 3.5E massive damage house rule? How is the weather where you are?