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At 4th level, monks get the class feature Slow Fall:

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.

Does a monk decide to use their reaction for Slow Fall before or after the falling damage is rolled?

Typically when slow fall opportunities have come up for me it doesn't matter, I have nothing else to use a reaction for at the time so I will always use it even to negate just one damage. But recently a situation came up where I wanted to save the reaction for something else, but whether or not saving the reaction was worth it depended on how much damage I took from the fall.

My first inclination was that the monk must decide before fall damage is rolled, because other similar abilities that effect rolls explicitly say they may be used after the roll is made but before the outcome is determined and Slow Fall doesn't say that.

But on further thinking I'm not sure that's correct, because this isn't affecting whether an outcome is a success or not. I could imagine a fall that lasted across two turns; a monk presumably cannot use Slow Fall during the first turn and expect the damage reduction to carry through to the second turn (when the fall ends), so it makes most sense that what you are reacting to is the end of the fall when damage is dealt, not the actual fall itself.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you expand on what rules you're referencing with respect to multi-turn falls? Presumably it's Xanathar's Guide to Everything, since that introduces such a mechanic, but base rules are that falling is instantaneous. Are you referencing XGtE specifically, or a houserule (theoretical or in use) to govern falls taking time? \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 20 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case I am referring to the optional rule in XGtE that states you fall 500 feet per turn. It's not super critical to the question, would it be better if I removed that statement? \$\endgroup\$ – ThePorkchopExpress Jan 20 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's significant to the question, since that's the only case in which falling takes any in-game time. I suggest editing the question to include a statement that you are using the optional falling rules from XGtE for a multi-turn fall, especially as you are interested in whether or not you could use a reaction in the first round to do something other than Slow Fall and still have that ability as an option later during the same fall. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 20 at 22:51
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You use your reaction when you fall, before damage is rolled

The trigger for Slow Fall's reaction is "when you fall". This trigger occurs as soon as you find out you are falling, not after the fall when you take damage. Note that the Feather Fall spell has the same trigger (plus the ability of the spell to affect others as well), and the mechanics of Feather Fall (i.e. slowing your descent to 60 feet per round) only make sense if you cast it before you hit the ground. Therefore the same logic should apply to the trigger of Slow Fall: you must use your reaction before hitting the ground, and therefore before taking any falling damage.

As further evidence, note the wording of the damage reduction from Slow Fall: "reduce any falling damage you take". This is worded conditionally because at the time you make the decision, you don't yet know if you're going to take damage, or how much you're going to take. Any number of things could happen on the way down: you might fall safely into deep water, your wizard might cast Feather Fall, or the pit might just turn out to be 5 feet deep with an illusion making it seem bottomless. You don't have any way of knowing, and you need to make the decision to use your reaction before finding out what happens at the bottom of the fall (just like that wizard deciding whether to cast Feather Fall does).

Compare this to the wording of abilities that trigger when you take damage, such as the Battle Master fighter's Parry maneuver:

When another creature damages you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend one superiority die to reduce the damage by the number you roll on your superiority die + your Dexterity modifier.

Or the Ancestral Guardian barbarian's Spirit Shield:

If you are raging and another creature you can see within 30 feet of you takes damage, you can use your reaction to reduce that damage by 2d6.

Notice that these abilities use definite wordings like "reduce the damage" or "reduce that damage", because the trigger is the damage, so there's no doubt about whether someone is taking damage or how much. Further note that Slow Fall could have been worded with the falling damage as the trigger, but wasn't.

For longer falls, you can use Slow Fall every round while falling

Xanathar's Guide to Everything presents an optional rule for long falls that take longer than 1 round:

The rule for falling assumes that a creature immediately drops the entire distance when it falls. [...] If you’d like high-altitude falls to be properly time-consuming, use the following optional rule.

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. This process continues until the fall ends, either because you hit the ground or the fall is otherwise halted.

In this case, mechanically, your fall is broken up into a series of smaller falls, each at most 500 feet. The first fall occurs immediately, and the subsequent falls occur at the end of each of your turns. Any of these "mini-falls" is a valid trigger for your Slow Fall reaction, so you can use Slow Fall on every turn while you are falling. Of course, if you use Slow Fall on a turn when you don't hit the ground, it has no effect. If you're skydiving in a clear sky and can see the ground, you can use your reaction for other things until you are within 500 feet of the ground, and then finally save your reaction for Slow Fall on your last turn of falling. However, if you were, say, falling down a deep pit shrouded in fog, you would have no idea how long the fall is or when you will land, so you would certainly want to save your reaction for Slow Fall on every turn while you are falling.

(Curiously, the above passage from XGtE also claims that the "default" when not using this optional rule is that falls occur instantly, but the basic rules for falling don't actually say anything about how, when, or how quickly a fall occurs. Nevertheless, this answer covers both cases: instant and non-instant falls.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ "All falls occur instantly" how? It's not in the Falling rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 21 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Actually, you're right. The quoted passage from XGtE claims the PHB assumes instant falls, but the PHB doesn't say anything about how, when, or how fast you fall. It just says what happens when you land. I'll edit my answer accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 21 at 0:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. I don't think I ever said or implied it was a stupid question or had an obvious answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 22 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Retracted my earlier comment. The analogy to Feather Fall is what I had in mind, though. That obviously works by making you fall slower, using magic. It's less obvious what the mechanism for Slow Fall could be; whether it's just being nimble when hitting the ground, or full-on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon physics. Since the rules say you have to react when you fall (or not at all), and given the name Slow Fall, it makes sense to assume it is something you have to actively do all the way down. (Alternative: prepare yourself to do at the possibly-illusory surface.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jan 22 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Effects don't stack with themselves, so you would still only reduce your falling damage by 20. You could reasonably argue that even though the falling rules break a long fall into multiple discrete descents, they are all part of the same fall, so any reaction you spend on Slow Fall at any time during your descent will reduce the falling damage you take at the end of the fall. But you still only get to reduce the damage once, not 10 times. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 22 at 21:13
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You must use your reaction as you fall. After taking damage, you are no longer falling.

The trigger is specific:

you can use your reaction when you fall

You take falling damage when you hit the ground, and at that point you fell, you are not falling anymore. Therefore, a Monk spends its reaction before taking damage.

Narratively, it doesn't make much sense to choose to fall slowly after you have already landed face down on the ground. You spend your Reaction to slow down your fall somehow, and land in a better way.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So in my theoretical situation of a fall that lasts across two turns, the monk can use slow fall when they start falling (in the first turn) and it will reduce the damage when the monk hits the ground in the second turn? As it appears there is no timing restriction on how long slow fall is in effect other than the current fall. \$\endgroup\$ – ThePorkchopExpress Jan 20 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might add that if you are falling you should somewhat know from how high so you can estimate the damage to decide if you use it or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Jan 20 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThePorkchopExpress That is an edge case where, per raw, yes, you'd reduce the dalling damage taken on the second turn. Keep in mind, however, up until XGtE (where optional rules for realistic falling are found), every fall is instant and ends on the turn it starts, so this writing would not account for multi-turn falls. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jan 20 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 The problem with your answer's logic is that it ignores when the damages occurs from the game and physics perspectives. From the game perspective, the damage occurs when the dice to calculate the damage are rolled. You cannot reduce something that has not occurred. From the physic's perspective, you take damage the moment you stop falling, thus, when you are not longer falling. It is the sudden stop that hurts. \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Jan 20 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chepelink I disagree. In that case, the text would say "when you land from a fall". But to each his own \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jan 20 at 23:27
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Before damage rolls

The ability states

You can use your reaction when you fall

This is the trigger and so you must choose to use the reaction as soon as you start to fall. The ability does not say anything about "when you land". If you choose to use your reaction after you impact the ground you would realistically not be able to avoid damage and would take all the damage. As to the question of if you are falling multiple rounds, The trigger is when you fall therefore, you would use your reaction on the first turn of the fall and not be able to use it on subsequent rounds. The ability is called Slow Fall for a reason, whether we know what it is or not, we can infer that the ability alters the falling itself and not the impact.

The word fall means:

Verb; Move downward, typically rapidly and freely without control, from a higher to a lower level. Noun; An act of falling or collapsing; a sudden uncontrollable descent.

This does not say anything about "fall" meaning impact or landing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for mentioning the falling across two turns hypothetical. Another answer links to rules in the DMG that state "If a reaction has no timing specified, or the timing is unclear, the reaction occurs after its trigger finishes". If "when you fall" is the trigger, and reactions occur when the trigger completes, do you think that contradicts your answer? Or is "when you fall" is specifying the timing so the general rule doesn't apply? Or perhaps there is something I else I missed. \$\endgroup\$ – ThePorkchopExpress Jan 20 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThePorkchopExpress I put in the answer that you choose when you start the fall because "when you fall" is the beginning. After that you are in a different state of motion "falling" therefore the trigger is the beginning of the fall and is specific.There are three states to every motion; beginning, middle and end. Fall is the beginning. Falling is the middle. Landing or impact is the end. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Jan 20 at 22:00
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You have to choose before the damage is rolled

A reaction generally interrupts the thing that triggered it, (such as an attack of opportunity from an opponent moving, or from a readied action to do [X] when [Y] happens) and happens either after or during the action that triggered it. I believe you would have to choose to use slow fall before the damage is rolled. Once the damage is rolled (or the damage total is revealed at least) you've already landed, you've finished falling and can no longer affect the fall.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In fifth edition reaction generally happen after their their triggers, even Readied actions happen after their trigger \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 20 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ But note that the trigger is falling. Not landing. As they say: "its not the fall that kills you; its the sudden deceleration at the end!" \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Jan 20 at 21:47
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It happens after damage rolls

Most reactions interrupt or happen after their trigger. (Link thanks to Medix2)

Although the linked example leaves out Slow Fall the results are the same. You must Take Damage to use Slow Fall.

Let's frame it this way though. A Monks slowfall is, or at least appears to be, a nonmagic ability. Since it doesn't require them to be near a wall or other solid object they probably roll or have a landing technique they use. If it's a roll, or landing technique, they have to hit the ground first, which would be the triggering damage in 5E.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the trigger the damage or falling? \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Jan 20 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes falling causes the damage but that wouldn't necessarily be the trigger. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Jan 20 at 21:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for mis-identifying the trigger. Trigger is when you fall not when you take damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 20 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Slow fall seems to clearly describe a modification to falling, namely that a character falls more slowly than normal. That doesn't sound like a roll or landing technique. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 20 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThePorkchopExpress The answer you linked does not say that you do not fall slowly, only that it is a valid interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jan 20 at 23:50
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FALLING is the action of rapid uncontrolled descent. IMPACT is the consequence of abruptly ceasing to fall. FALLING is potential energy. IMPACT is kinetic energy. SLOW FALL reduces the potential energy that is a key component of the resulting kinetic energy of IMPACT.

From a theoretical physics perspective, Slow Fall reduces the acceleration to terminal velocity, which is what determines the energy released on impact.

Slow Fall

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.

The mechanics are that this black box of a skill (we don't know it's mechanics. It's just a skill that works according to the game rules) is activated when you fall, assuming you are allowed the opportunity to react, or that your reaction roll is successful.

The operative results of the skill are that you will take damage from a fall. The explanation is that your inherent reaction ability triggers the skill. As a result, when you take damage, which is inevitable, the amount will be DAMAGE - (5* Monk Level).

Therefore, my monk, after falling some distance, reactively uses their slow fall skill, feeling the impending probability of injury, and makes adjustments during the fall.

What causes other players in the party 10 points of damage will cause my 5th level Monk 10 - (5*5) = -15 (effectively zero) points of damage.

So, my Monk could succumb to a fall that mandates up to 25 points of damage on impact, and through the use of the SLOW FALL, sustain zero damage.

That's how I understand that skill to work. When it activates is a function of story. What it does is a function of rules and game mechanics. You take damage when you fall. How much damage is mitigated by spells and skills, therefore when damage is rolled is irrelevant. The question is, how much damage can you negate, and that depends on Monk level with Slow Fall.

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