5e Falling Objects: Damage from Dropping Things Offensively

Written by Phil

Phil was a world-traveler, writing, playing games, and exploring. Now he lives in Toronto and plays D&D, Root, and Terraforming Mars online. Most recently, he has been exploring the asymmetric games by Leder Games. Links to Other Writing: Persuasive Writing; Coffee Website.

In D&D 5e, there are explicit rules on how much damage you take from falling. For further clarification on this, you can check out our article on the topic here. However, the rules are much less clear on how to handle dropping objects on creatures offensively. How much damage should be done when you drop something on someone?

5e doesn’t have an official framework for damage done by objects falling on creatures—only damage done to the object itself. We propose a system using size category and weight of falling objects, and proposed Str/Dex saves for each. See below.

Admittedly, that’s a bit disappointing, but I suppose they didn’t think it’d be a common mechanic. From my view, not having a mechanic would also make it less likely, so why not come up with something workable?

Falling Objects: Crushing Your Opponents (and Players)

First, we need to address what is currently available and what it is we’re talking about specifically.

Let’s start with the available options:

Fall Damage Rules

We know how fall damage works: 

1d6 bludgeoning for every 10ft fallen, with the max being 20d6 (max 120dmg) after 200ft—but that’s only relevant for damage the falling object itself takes.

There are arguments online (of course), starting with this one about dropping a 1000lb object on a creature. 

The question at hand is to do with lifting a heavy object above a creature using telekinesis and letting it drop (I’ll get to that shortly).

Improvised Damage Charts

Here is what is available in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG, pg 249):

DiceExamples
1d10Burned by coals, hit by a falling bookcase, pricked by a poison needle.
2d10Being struck by lightning, stumbling into a fire pit.
4d10Hit by falling rubble in a collapsing tunnel, stumbling into a vat of acid.
10d10Crushed by compacting walls, hit by whirling steel blades, wading through a lava stream.
18d10Being submerged in lava, being hit by a crashing flying fortress.
24d10Tumbling into a vortex of fire on the Elemental Plane of Fire, being crushed in the jaws of a godlike creature or a moon-sized monster.

The improvised damage chart, to put it bluntly, is inconsistent

Glossing over the fact that getting struck by a lightning bolt from the sky is apparently equal to falling in a fire pit (as opposed to a pit of fire); are we really to believe that a 3rd-level spell will do more damage than mother nature herself? 

For reference, normal lightning does 2d10 (11 dmg on average); Lightning Bolt does 8d6 (28 dmg on average).

Further, there’s the question we explored in our post on improvised damage: should damage be “universally consistent” or “narratively relevant”? 

For the consideration of this article, I’m going to focus on the universally consistent angle.

Telekinesis

While some interpret using Telekinesis to raise the half-ton object and dropping it would require a Dex save related to their caster DC, that doesn’t make sense unless the caster is actively throwing it. Gravity doesn’t rely on a caster. (…wait, does it?)

This is for specific cases, anyway. To me, actively pushing the object at the enemy, from any direction, should do a Dex save related to their caster DC, possibly with a bonus if gravity is assisting the throw.

Trap Mechanics

You could also take a look at Trap Mechanics, which seem to follow similar damage rulings to that of the improvised damage table.

They break it down by Save DCs and Attack Bonuses (for the trap):

Trap DangerSave DCAttack Bonus
Setback10-11+3 to +5
Dangerous12-15+6 to +8
Deadly16-20+9 to +12

Likewise, they break it down by level and how much damage based on how much trouble you want to give the players:

Character LevelSetbackDangerousDeadly
Tier 1: 1st-4th1d102d104d10
Tier 2: 5th-10th2d104d1010d10
Tier 3: 11th-16th4d1010d1018d10
Tier 4: 17th-20th10d1018d1024d10

For more, we have articles on Tiers of Play and How Difficulty Class (DC) works.

With all that in mind, let’s look at the framework I’ve developed.

Proposed Framework

Looking at the improvised damage chart, it’s measuring most things with a d10 for damage, I’d rather go for a bit more nuance; let’s use weight and size to determine damage and Dexterity (Dex) and Strength (Str) Saves to allow for player flexibility.

Why both Dexterity and Strength saves? 

To me, it never made sense to pen characters into one or the other when a dexterous person is likely to use dexterity to solve problems, just as a strong person would use strength.

Imagine a boulder is chucked at Mr. Incredible, and another at Spider-Man. 

Mr. Incredible will likely catch or deflect it; Spider-Man will dodge (unless there is possible collateral damage).

At the risk of overcomplication, I’m a fan of tiered saves.

Dexterous Approach

For Dex, a higher save allows the creature to avoid all damage, moving them to a space immediately outside of where the object is falling. The second, lower DC save, is for half damage because they were grazed by the object while escaping.

Strength Approach

On the other side, Str allows you to resist the damage instead of directly negating it; you are still absorbing the blow, after all. However, the main benefit for doing this (besides catering to different builds) is that it allows you to catch the object.

To continue holding it, you have to pass the original DC –5 because there’s no momentum to it. It’s merely holding it, but the character can choose to let it down in a nearby space as an action.

Helping With Strength

Large to Gargantuan objects can be tackled as a team, allowing the affected parties to combine their strength to catch the object. Since more creatures can fit under it, they are more likely to have a shared interest in not dying.

I came up with more complicated approaches, but more math means it’s harder to implement and balance. Let’s simplify:

With one helper, the catcher gets advantage. Nothing abnormal there. But for every additional character, you add an extra +1 to the roll. Damage is shared equally among all those affected.

Or in chart form:

Targets Attempting to Catch the ObjectRoll
Lone TargetNormal roll
Target & HelperAdvantage
Target & Two HelpersAdvantage +1 (including original bonuses)
Target & Three HelpersAdvantage +2 (including original bonuses)

You get the picture.

Weight of Falling Objects

Weight will affect how many damage dice to throw, I think we can try categories of:

  • 5-100lbs: 1-3
  • 101-500lbs: 4-6
  • 501-750lbs: 7-9
  • 751-1000lbs: 10-15
  • >1000lbs: 15-20

Size of Falling Objects

Size categories will affect which damage dice to use:

  • Tiny (2.5ft*2.5ft): d4
  • Small (5ft*5ft): d6
  • Medium (5ft*5ft): d8
  • Large (10ft*10ft): d10
  • Huge (15ft*15ft): d12
  • Gargantuan (20ft*20ft or more): d20; I know d20s are almost never used as damage dice, but they’re warranted by the rarity and size of such objects.

Since gravity affects all objects the same, no matter the weight, it stands to reason that size should determine the Dex DC; weight will determine the Str DC.

Strength DC (Catching):

  • 5-100lbs: 10-13
  • 101-500lbs: 14-17
  • 501-750lbs: 18-21
  • 750-1000lbs: 22-25
  • Over 1000lbs: 26+

Dexterity DC:

The following values are to completely avoid damage. Subtract 3-5 to arrive at the half-damage “grazed” outcome:

  • Tiny (2.5ft*2.5ft): 10-13
  • Small (5ft*5ft): 14-16
  • Medium (5ft*5ft): 17-19
  • Large (10ft*10ft): 20-23
  • Huge (15ft*15ft): 24-26
  • Gargantuan (20ft*20ft or more): 27+

Given that I’m more comfortable with levels 1-10, these outlines may be a bit askew near the higher tiers of play.

Example

An enemy pushes a Large boulder onto unsuspecting PCs.

Sandstone weighs 150lbs per cubic foot, so that’s 1500lbs (150lbs*10^2ft).

Looking at the selections above, that would equate to 15d10 damage [83 avg], with a DC 26 Str or a DC 22 Dex to fully dodge or DC 18 to scrape by. 

If we look at the damage chart from the trap mechanics, this would be deadly for Tiers 1-2 (shocking), just below deadly for Tier 3, and just below dangerous for Tier 4.

Let’s say the Barbarian decides to catch it (Str), and 2 allies are within the radius. The Barb gets advantage from the first ally, then +1 for the second. With a strength score of 20 (+5 mod), as well as proficiency (+3) that’d give the barb advantage and +9 on the roll.

If he rolls a 17 or more, they will succeed. Tough, but it is a large, 1500lbs boulder. The assumption is that the Barbarian is also Level 8, having just gotten their 2nd ability score increase which raises their Str to 20.

The group will take 14 damage each (83/2 because they passed, spread evenly among the 3). If he fails, each take 28 damage and are restrained under the object.

Being Stuck Under an Object

Creatures completely covered by the object (any spaces not touching the outside) will be suffocating, but also cannot be targeted by attacks. 

A much more modest Str check will need to be passed to escape from this situation; subtract 7 from the original Str DC to move one square while under the object. 

Once on the outer edge, the creature can breathe and be targeted again – prone and with ¾ cover.

Further Complications

You could probably factor in creature size to assist with these calculations, but it’s already complicated enough. 

I’m still tempted because a Goliath’s Powerful Build counts as one size larger when it comes to carrying capacity, which surely counts for something, like escaping from under a weight.

As well, some people calculate damage based on how far the object has fallen, which I’m ignoring for simplicity’s sake. I’d rather avoid having to factor in the acceleration of gravity, especially if it deviates from our planet’s 9.81m/s^2.

If you prefer to factor in the fall distance, then the OldDungeonMaster has their own simplified take on this. 

I find it too simple, but sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed when in a pinch.

Summary

I’ll throw some charts here to make it as clear as possible:

Weight and Strength DC

Object Weight (in pounds)Number of Damage DiceStrength Save DC (Catching)
5-1001-310-13
101-5004-614-17
501-7507-918-21
751-100010-1522-25
>100015-2026+

Size and Dexterity DC

Object Weight (in pounds)Type of Damage DiceDex Save DC (Full Dodge)Dex Save DC (Half Damage)
Tinyd410-137-10
Smalld614-1611-13
Mediumd817-1914-16
Larged1020-2317-20
Huged1224-2621-23
Gargantuand2027+24+

Catching the Object

Targets Attempting to Catch the ObjectRoll
Lone TargetNormal roll
Target & HelperAdvantage
Target & Two HelpersAdvantage +1 (including original bonuses)
Target & Three HelpersAdvantage +2 (including original bonuses)

Stuck Under Object

  • At edges: Able to breath, ¾ cover, prone
  • Center Squares (under object, away from edges): Suffocating; full cover; prone
  • Moving one space under the object requires Strength Save equal to the original save minus 7.

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