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This came up as a controversial topic at my table with a player creating a Zangief playstyle.

The player uses an aarakocra monk that flies up with a grappled enemy, then ends his movement to fall to the ground.

This player is stating that the rules for the monk's Slow Fall ability would allow him to reduce his falling damage without reducing the damage that his grappled enemy would take.

The argument at the table was very focused on the name "slow fall" insisting that it meant that the monk was falling slowly. I and the player contended that the label of the ability was not the rules text for it, which merely stated that the monk reduced the damage they take from the fall, not that it actually slowed the rate of descent. I compared this to the feather fall spell which specifically says it slows the rate of descent for an affected creature.

The feature description of Slow Fall states:

Beginning at 4th level, you can use your reaction when you fall to reduce any falling damage you take by an amount equal to five times your monk level.

Would it be possible for an aarakocra monk to reduce only their own fall damage using Slow Fall, without slowing the fall of a creature that they have grappled?

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Yes, because Slow Fall is just a figurative name

As clarified in the Sage Advice Compendium, in response to a question about mage armor:

Some spells and class features have figurative, not literal, names. The text of the spell or class feature explains what it does.

Slow Fall explains that:

you can use your reaction when you fall to reduce any falling damage you take

without any other conditions or requirements, so you can use Slow Fall in your grappling scenario.
Moreover, Slow Fall doesn't state that you can reduce the falling damage of other creatures, let alone that you must.

DMs can narrate Slow Fall however they see fit and indeed, falling slowly is a simple and widely-applicable narration, but it is not the only valid narration.
In some scenarios the Monk might break the fall with nearby trees or walls. In your scenario the Monk might use the grappled creature to cussion the fall. The Monk could even fall like a log and reduce the damage through sheer badassness.

Your comparison with Feather Fall is on point. This spell clearly explains that it can target multiple creatures and that the targets descend slowly, whereas Slow Fall does not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Or as in every superhero movie ever, land on the BBEG itself and use his body to nullify the fall... \$\endgroup\$ – GPPK Jul 16 '18 at 8:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I always figured - given the martial/acrobatic flavour of the monk - that, in the absence of a surface or obstacles to actually slow the fall, it represents breakfall techniques like rolling and "slapping". \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jul 16 '18 at 10:44
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It's up to the DM

Both interpretations are valid. On the one hand, when you carry someone and you slow down your own speed, the other person's speed will also be slowed. On the other hand, despite of the name, the class ability's description says that it allows you only to reduce falling damage, not to slow your speed.

The nature of this damage mitigation process remains vague, thus, a subject to DM's interpretation (see also What is the source of the "spells do only what they say they do" rules interpretation principle?). DM have to make adjudications aside from the rules, that's what we have DMs for. The Slow Fall ability works differently with different DMs, it is completely normal for the 5e paradigm.

As a DM, you should allow this

The main DM's job is not following the rules as strict as possible. The main DM's job is ensuring that all the players at the table had a good time:

As the Dungeon Master, the most important aspect of your role is facilitating the enjoyment of the game for the players.

Always follow this golden rule when you DM for a group: Make decisions and adjudications that enhance the fun of the adventure when possible.

-Adventurer's League Dungeon Master's Guide: Additional Tips for the Dungeon Master (available from the Adventurer's League resources page)

The rules is a tool for you, not a straitjacket. Your priorities should be: Fun > Story > Rules.

Grappling is underused in 5e. Your player has an interesting idea for their unique fighting style. He/she puts some efforts into the character, you shouldn't throw the idea out afterwards, that would be unfair.

...unless it breaks the game

However, you are supposed to care about all the players, not just about a single one. If one player starts doing too much with their character, other players can't contribute on par with them. That's why we say such a character becomes "unbalanced".

For instance, if a character (due to rules misinterpretation) gains a possibility of doing too much damage, other damage dealers would feel useless. Feeling useless is not fun.

Nevertheless, I don't think this Zangief-style Aarakocra monk is unbalanced. There are already a few restrictions for this style:

  • You can do this only with light targets.
  • Your speed (including your flying speed) will be halved while you maintain grapple.
  • You either deal little damage, or you can damage yourself in the process.
  • If you take damage, you fall prone. You will have troubles with the subsequent moving.
  • You can't deal with multiple foes like that, and you probably trigger opportunity attacks.
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RAW: Slow Fall only affects you.

Within the text of Slow Fall, it does not state that you actually fall slower. Therefore, you do not fall slower. As others have noted, not every Name is literal. That doesn't mean you can't picture it as being literal or use a literal interpretation of the name for flavor, but you shouldn't assume the Name always lines up with the actual text/effect.

Rules As Interpreted: Slow Fall affects you by making you Fall Slowly, so it would also affect your Grappling partner.

Because the name is "Slow Fall" and it's effect is to reduce damage, you could justify the effect works by slowing you and, therefore, whoever you are grappled with. That said, this is interpretive, and not based on the effect text which is primarily what should be looked at unless Rule of Cool and/or Rule of Fun is being invoked. It's fine to do so, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the player's experience playing the game.

Personally, I wouldn't make the decision for the other person to also receive reduced damage, but it is understandable if your DM wants to rule that to be the case.

If I were to take the RAI route, I'd argue another Contest would have to be done to see if the difference in falling speed causes the Grapple to break. If the person Grappling manages to maintain the Grapple, I would then give the reduced damage, but only because that would at least make thematic sense. Anything else (bar treating the effect as RAW) feels like I'd be cheating the player for using their Slow Fall.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, please, tell me what is wrong with this answer? I give RAW and RAI both, allowing the DM to decide what they'd feel is better for their story. \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Dec 11 '18 at 0:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for broken Grapple. No clue who would have voted this down \$\endgroup\$ – Weasemunk Mar 26 at 18:51
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Just don't fall?

  1. RAW: "When you move, you can drag or carry the grappled creature with you, but your speed is halved"

    • It does not double movement costs, like difficult terrain. It halves speed.
  2. RAW: "you can release the target whenever you like (no action required)."

  3. RAW: Using different speeds

    • If you have more than one speed, such as your walking speed and a flying speed, you can switch back and forth between your speeds during your move. Whenever you switch, subtract the distance you've already moved from the new speed. The result determines how much farther you can move. If the result is 0 or less, you can’t use the new speed during the current move.

    • For example, if you have a speed of 30 and a flying speed of 60 because a wizard cast the fly spell on you, you could fly 20 feet, then walk 10 feet, and then leap into the air to fly 30 feet more.

  4. RAI?: Fly up half your fly speed, because that's as far as you can go. Release the grapple. As you're no longer maintaining a grapple, your speed is restored, and you can fly to the ground.

That's how my group does it. It's balanced in that it allows for turns like "grapple, grapple move, release, move", but not "move 50% of move speed, grapple, grapple move".

The big difference with OP's scenario is that after slow falling with the target, he would still be grappled. Which would allow him to use his move+reaction to deal damage every turn while grappled, and still have both his actions. I'd rule against that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 1 at 10:27
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It's basically a suplex.

A suplex is an offensive move used in both professional and amateur wrestling. It is a throw that involves lifting the opponent and bridging or rolling to slam the opponent on their back.

The "bridging or rolling" creates an arc. The velocity of you and your opponent are different because you follow the arc. The person on the outside is moving faster than the person on the inside of the arc. Your movement is slowed, theirs in not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't really answer the rules question; it seems to be more of an in-universe justification of how the Slow Fall ability might reduce your fall damage but not someone else's. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 16 '18 at 22:04

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