The official rules state that characters takes 1d10 points of damage for every ten feet that they fall. Furthermore, those trained in Acrobatics may make a skill check to reduce the damage by half. This is a pretty standard system that has been around forever.
But It’s a Ridiculous Rule
According to this rule, higher level characters are more resistant to falling damage than lower level ones. They take the same amount of damage, but a higher level character’s increased hit points provides greater survivability. That is blatantly silly. Dumb luck may play a factor but character level shouldn’t allow one character a better chance of surviving a fall than any other character.
Being a fantasy game, many people argue that things like this don’t need to be realistic. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw common sense out the window at every opportunity. A fall that can kill one character should just as easily kill any other character.
I’ve tried a few different systems over the years. One I was fond of was this: Characters can fall up to ten feet without taking damage. Beyond that, they take 1d6 damage, times their level, for every ten feet they fall (beyond the initial ten feet). This levels the field in that all characters, regardless of level, take more or less the same amount of relative damage. It also maintains a bit of randomness. Rolling the dice themselves tends to give players a feeling of control over the outcome. Plus, when their character ends up a pile of gore at the bottom of the cliff, they can blame the dice (instead of the DM).
My New Rule
However, I’ve recently adopted a new rule that I think is going to work out even better. Characters will take a set percentage of their total hit points as damage when they fall.
|Distance||Percentage of Total HP||With Successful Acrobatics Check|
|60′||200% (Dead)||100% (Dying)|
The numbers are easy to calculate. Characters (starting at full hit points) are guaranteed to survive a 40′ drop (60′ with a successful Acrobatics check), although they may require immediate care in some cases. All characters suffer the same consequences of falling, regardless of level. There is no situation where a character could fall hundreds of feet, stand up, brush himself off, and go looking for the healer (as was possible under the official rules). The only thing I don’t like is there is no randomness (for the reason described above) but I think that will be ok.
It probably wouldn’t be a very popular rule in some groups. Fortunately, my group likes realism. At least in the sense that they want to have a consistent, logical, physical world that they can rely on. I think this system will fit that definition.