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If a character falls from a great height and has a skill or item that may save them if used early enough, how does one determine where in the fall the item is used? Depending on the reason for the fall, there may of course be some DC to avoid falling in the first place (usually a Reflex check against the DC of the trap that's opening up beneath you) but what I'd like to know is what happens once it's decided that the character is definitely going to fall.

For example, say I have some kind of teleportation effect that can get me back on solid ground, but the rules say that it doesn't affect my momentum, so if I'm falling at speed I'll still hit the ground hard when I emerge wherever I teleport to. So, this will only save me if I can do it fast enough - for D&D3.5e that's basically before I've fallen ten feet (or twenty if I can make a DC 15 Jump or Tumble check to negate damage from the first ten). How do we determine if I manage that? Can we assume I make it if the activation of the effect is fast enough? Is there another check? My instinct is that it'd be another Reflex check, but I'm not sure what the DC would be.

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Some actions, principally Immediate Actions, can be taken out-of-turn and therefore always can occur during a fall. Feather fall is even specifically designed to be used just as you begin to fall.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide II specifies that on the first round of a fall from a very great height, a character falls at most 670 ft. Thereafter, each round is another 1,150 ft. These numbers are a fair bit larger than dlras2 had calculated using the relevant real-world physics,1 but then maybe the acceleration due to gravity is larger in D&D than on Earth.

There are no restrictions present in the rules on how you may spend your actions if your turn comes up in the middle of free-fall. Presumably, if you only have a land-based movement speed, you would not be able to actually move, but you would get a Move action, as well as Swift and Standard actions, as usual. Because of the abstractions present in the rules, this means that for shorter falls, if you fall during your own Move action you can land and still make your Standard action afterwards. In theory, maybe some or all of that is actually going on during the fall but the game does not model that.

Personally, if this was any thing like a major part of a campaign I was running, I would houserule some way to move as a Move action while in free fall – even without any kind of equipment you can aim yourself in a long fall, though I’d have to do some research on how much.

1 See the comments for dlras2’s calculation. Using real-world physics and a lot of estimation, and assuming you take 20d6 damage, i.e. 200 ft., to be the point at which you hit terminal velocity, you would move 470 ft. in the first round and 660 ft. per round thereafter.

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There are rules for how far a character falls in 3.5rd edition; From memory, it's 150 feet in the first round and 450 feet every round thereafter, during which the character is assumed to have met terminal velocity. I don't have my books with me, though, so I can't give a page reference. – GMJoe Jan 21 '14 at 3:01
@GMJoe Is the 2005 Dungeon Masters Guide II (pg 47, Battle In They Sky) what you are looking for? – high bandwidth Jan 22 '14 at 22:22
@highbandwidth Regardless of whether or not it is, that’s a great source and I’ll update my answer accordingly. Still doesn’t answer the question of what you can do while falling, though. – KRyan Jan 22 '14 at 22:25

The rules for falling don't make any special allowances for actions while falling, though immediate actions (such as casting Feather Fall) can be used immediately at the beginning or during any point of the fall.

If you're looking to add a houserule to your 3.5 game, Pathfinder rules adds that if a character is falling more than 500 feet they can cast a spell with a concentration check. It would be sensible to allow a character falling more than 500 feet any single standard action rather than just a spell casting, tho it make take some sort of additional check — a character falling less than 500 feet simply doesn't have the time to do anything that can't be done as an immediate action.

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