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I've been doing research to figure out if a druid using wild shape to shapeshift into a beast that is known to be nimble (in the real-world) would be able to prevent or reduce falling damage. For the sake of discussion, I'm talking about reducing damage taken by the current beast form.

I was surprised to read that apparently D&D 5E doesn't even allow using an acrobatics check to halve falling damage (unlike previous editions). I also searched/filtered every single monster in D&D Beyond, and there are exactly zero beasts with acrobatics. Reading the description for cats (as an example), there is nothing in there about benefits when falling, which seems a glaring omission.

So is there any rule that can help a druid prevent or reduce falling damage when using Wild Shape, or do they take the full 1d6 damage and land prone even when falling a mere 10 feet in cat form?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does it count that the damage goes into your animal form? So, you're "technically" reducing damage dealt to your body, by virtue of wild shaping. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Dec 21 '18 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair point. I edited the question to add a clarification indicating that I'm talking about reducing damage taken by the current beast form. \$\endgroup\$ – ActiveNick Dec 21 '18 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pet Health PSA: cats get worse injuries from low falls. (Many sources; e.g. Cat Myths & Misconceptions.) Help kill this myth and help save pet lives. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 21 '18 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SirCinnamon Better, yes; there’s middling heights that have “best” outcomes. “Best” still tends to be bad enough due to unaffordable health costs though. :( \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 21 '18 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Certainly a good rule of thumb is that if at all possible don't let your cat fall down farther than it can jump up \$\endgroup\$ – Sir Cinnamon Dec 21 '18 at 21:09
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There is no beast feature which reduces falling damage

There are no beast or creature features that reduces fall damage. So, you aren't going to get anything there.

If your Wild Shape form has flight there is an optional rule which can help

In Xanathar's Guide to Everything they give an optional rule for flying creatures and falling part of which says:

If you’d like a flying creature to have a better chance of surviving a fall than a non-flying creature does, use this rule: subtract the creature’s current flying speed from the distance it fell before calculating falling damage. This rule is helpful to a flier that is knocked prone but is still conscious and has a current flying speed that is greater than 0 feet. The rule is designed to simulate the creature flapping its wings furiously or taking similar measures to slow the velocity of its fall.

Thus, if your DM goes by such a rule, you will have a way to reduce fall damage if you have a fly speed.

But this only works if you are already flying (or at least have a fly speed) when you start falling.

You can't transform into any creature while falling...

Transforming into a Wild Shape takes an action (or a bonus action if you are a Moon Druid), however in 5e falling happens instantly.

The rule for falling assumes that a creature immediately drops the entire distance when it falls.

Thus, when you start falling there is no time to do anything to reduce your fall damage (unless it is a reaction or readied action which triggers on falling). Once you start falling, you have no chance to use your action or bonus action to transform. So the whole idea of transforming as a way to mitigate fall damage is a nonstarter according to the rules.

...unless you are falling an extreme distance and using an optional rule

The only exception to this would be if you are falling from a height of over 500 feet and your DM uses the optional falling rule from XGE:

When you fall from a great height, you instantly descend up to 500 feet. If you’re still falling on your next turn, you descend up to 500 feet at the end of that turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to stipulate that a Circle of the Moon Druid can "use Wild Shape on your turn as a bonus action, rather than as an action." This may influence timing in what you can do while falling. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Dec 21 '18 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott good point! I have updated my answer. However bonus action does not change anything, but well worth noting. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Dec 21 '18 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just don't jump off a 1000 foot cliff, claim 'I'm a god!' turn into a goldfish, and bounce off the rocks below. That's proven to not work. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Dec 21 '18 at 17:48
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Yes, at the GM's discretion.

Another answer says, "There is no beast feature which reduces falling damage." This is not quite correct. In fact, there's no beast whose stat block specifies that the beast reduces falling damage. The RAW allows two interpretations: If an ability isn't on a stat block, that ability doesn't exist; or, if an ability isn't on any stat block, then the rules just aren't addressing that ability (and therefore it's an edge case, and the GM can and should make something up).

Wild Shape

Starting at 2nd level, you can use your action to magically assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before.

While you are transformed, the following rules apply:

  • Your game Statistics are replaced by the Statistics of the beast, but you retain your Alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores...

Let's say my druid is being chased by trolls. On my turn, I say, "I jump off a cliff, but first I wildshape into a cat, causing me to suffer less harm than if I'd turned into, say, a wolf."

At this point, the GM would be credibly following the rules with EITHER of the following interpretations:

Interpretation 1: No.

The rules afford the cat shape no special consideration. Based on their stat blocks, a cat is actually worse off than a wolf; neither has a special falling ability listed, and a wolf has more hit points to absorb the fall.

Interpretation 2: Yes.

A cat is not a stat block. A cat is a four-legged, furry animal with many properties. The fact that the stat block doesn't list a common property of cats doesn't mean the cat lacks those properties.

Beasts include all varieties of ordinary animals, dinosaurs, and giant versions of animals (Monster Manual p. 6).

In other words, the stat block for a cat is meant to model a real-world cat.

The cat jumping off a cliff is an edge case. Since the rules don't address cat falling aptitude, the question shouldn't be, "What do the rules say?" but rather, "What would the rules say if they bothered to address this issue?"

Interpretation 2 is better.

I at first wanted to offer only the second interpretation, but that's not fair. I have reasons for preferring interpretation 2 (which I'll explain), but Interpretation 1 is consistent with the rules.

The problem with the first interpretation is that it requires willful ignorance about real-world animals, and (taken to an extreme), it creates needless oddities in the fantasy world. Meanwhile, interpretation 2 is more fun, as it allows Wild Shape to be a tool for creative problem-solving.

Remember: Wild Shape specifies "a beast that you have seen before." If you're limited to turning into a cat that's bad at falling, that means that you live in a world where the typical cat is bad at falling. What other surprises await you in this strange fantasy world?

  • You enter a town. It's an ordinary medieval town, and yet, something seems off. Yes, that's right, none of the cats are light on their feet. It's the spooky fantasy element that no one asked for.
  • The party enters the tavern. There, in the corner, is a dog pooping in a litter box. That's right: because its stat block doesn't say how pet dogs are maintained, we have to assume that they're basically the same as cats. Again, spooky fantasy element that no one asked for.
  • The party encounters a giant octopus. The bard walks over and starts petting its soft, lustrous fur. Wait, what? Sorry; stat block doesn't say whether giant octopuses have fur, so they're probably the same as cats and dogs in that respect.

Real-world cats and falling

It's worth noting: real-world beasts are NEVER magically-good at falling. Cats are exceptionally good at falling, and yet they sometimes are injured or killed by falls. If a GM wanted to make the "Cat jumps off a cliff" outcome realistic, or at least exciting, he might decide a skill check and/or saving throw was in order. Maybe the druid-cat gets banged up to the point of reverting to a humanoid. Maybe that happens when the cat hits the ground, or maybe it happens when he collides with a tree branch 20 ft off the ground.

The bottom line for Interpretation 2 is: The GM needs to make a judgment call based on BOTH things like whether there are trees or other hazards AND how good he thinks a chosen beast-form might be at negotiating those hazards.

Other details

Like I've said, the above is a detail that requires GM interpretation. If your GM wants to argue that a beast is no more than its stat block, fine. Take the ruling and move on.

There are a couple things, though, that the rules definitely DO say about Wild Shape in relation to your question:

Is there any unambiguous way for Wild Shape to prevent fall damage?

Yes; a bird-shaped druid can descend using the movement rules (without it counting as a fall).


Can a falling druid activate Wild Shape?

No. Wild Shape requires an action (or a bonus action if a Moon Druid) As this question explains, you don't get your turn to take an action before going splat, unless the height is greater than 500 ft. and you're using an optional rule.

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There is nothing in the rules that say anything about Wild Shape having any effect on falling damage in and of itself.

And, with the old cliched saying of "the rules only do what they say they do", then unless there is mention of a beast with an ability to reduce falling damage then it doesn't. This may not be particularly "realistic" such as with your cat example, but that is the way of RAW (Rules as Written).

Of course, as long as you are of a high enough level, you can turn into a beast with a flying speed, which would typically allow you to avoid such a thing. Though a DM could argue that if you weren't flying to start with when you suddenly fall, then there may not be enough time to react. In the rules, falling is an "instantaneous" effect unless it's a really long fall.

If your druid knows of such animals and the DM permits then he could also turn into something like a "flying squirrel" or many of the other beasts that exist (in the real world at least) that glide rather than fly. Remember that not all beast stats are in the books so it would require a DM to create the stats.

As goodguy5's comment on the question mentions, it is worth remembering that a druid in Wild Shape is essentially a big bag of hit points. So turn into something nice and beefy and you can probably soak up the damage anyway!

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