A couple of weeks ago, I received an email regarding an article I posted some time ago about falling damage. I thought it was worth responding to as a follow-up article. Here is the email I received:
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I absolutely love it. The insights gained from a lifetime of gaming are invaluable for an up-an-comer DM like me.
However, what has especially piqued my interest is this article:
Using that train of thought, it could be argued that most damage done to the characters in the game is ridiculous.Why should a level 5 wizard be any more resistant to sword damage, torch or a block of stone falling on his head than a level 1 Wizard?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Yours truly, a reader.
First off, let me answer the question directly. Falling damage is something I think should be treated differently than other forms of damage as there is no way that a character’s skill or experience could lessen the impact of the fall (Safe Fall skill, Feather Fall spell, etc notwithstanding).
Most other damage comes from a source where a high level character is assumed to have learned various techniques for: anticipating attacks, dodging, turning to lessen the blow, parrying an attack, finding partial cover from an area effect, etc. A fall, on the other hand, is dictated by gravity and is unaffected by any techniques the character attempts to employ to lessen the severity of the sudden stop at the end.
It’s hard to read such an explanation, let alone write it, without thinking that it sounds a bit contrived. The truth is that it is contrived. Unfortunately, it is a necessary rationalization to overcome the inherent problems caused by the HP/AC combat system.
Essentially, the answer to your question “Why should a level 5 wizard be more resistant to sword damage […] that a level 1 wizard?” is that a level 5 wizard isn’t more resistant but instead is more skilled at avoiding and/or parrying to lessen the blow from that sword thrust. Character skill is being represented by increased HPs which is the root of the problem.
A far more realistic system would have all characters possessing the same number of hit points, armor and shield stopping damage at the cost of making the wearer easier to hit, and a comprehensive skill system to resolve attacks. I have tried a number of times to develop a replacement combat system that would add realism and more accurately describe the various components of attack and defense. Unfortunately, everything I have developed has bogged down combat excessively and made things far too complicated.
Although heavily flawed, I think the HP/AC combat system is here to stay. It forces us to accept/invent rationalizations for exactly the situations you point out, but in exchange gives us a streamlined combat system that is quick and easy.