In my campaign, we have traveled in the wilderness for a while. I made a slight mistake and my DM had me break my leg. However things got a little complicated after that, saying that none of us really knew how a broken leg and its disadvantages actually work. SO we just ended up subtracting 1 from my dex, however I'm not really sure if that's how you do it. For future broken ligaments is there a specific way to do it? Do you just subtract off of your Dex? Or Strength? Or is it a disadvantage on rolls? Or is it something else? What should I do?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very Very Badly. \$\endgroup\$
    – CrimRei
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


While there are no rules for simply broken arms or legs there are rules for losing an arm or leg.

From the DMG on Lingering Injuries

Lose a Foot or Leg. Your speed on foot is halved, and you must use a cane or crutch to move unless you have a peg leg or other prosthesis. You fall prone after using the Dash action. You have disadvantage on Dexterity checks made to balance. Magic such as the regenerate spell can restore the lost appendage.

Lose an Arm or a Hand. You can no longer hold anything with two hands, and you can hold only a single object at a time. Magic such as the regenerate spell can restore the lost appendage.

My suggestion for your DM would be to use these effects but allow a somewhat lower level spell (Regenerate is a 7th level spell!) to reverse the effects. You could also allow it to heal on its own over time though that would likely take your character out of the action for a bit. If you opt for that method an internal injury or a broken rib suggests the time should be "ten days doing nothing but resting."

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd probably say whatever caused this would also cause HP damage. I would say whatever HP damaged caused the broken limb would remain (could not be healed by resting or other mundane means) and you would have the above penalties until 10 days have passed. That being said, magic is magic, so if you got magical healing sufficient to heal the HP damage, it would heal the HP loss and the penalties would go away, or maybe the penalties would remain until your next long rest after the magical healing \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 1:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andrew Every time a ruling adds complexity, you need to eyeball the change and ask "is this actually worth it". I'd say tracking a max hit point reduction is added grittiness with no payoff, and is actually inconsistent with the existing rules on lingering injuries. Himitsu's suggestion of "same effects as lost foot but easier to recover" seems fine as-is. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcosa
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 3:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ good point. My main point is that magic healing should fix it, or at least allow it to be fixed faster. A broken arm is just a very specific type of damage, and cure spells fix damage. If you don't want ot have to track the specific HP loss you could just say if you receive any magical healing at all you are better after your next long rest \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 14:22

However things got a little complicated after that....

You're right, this is a little complicated. The tl;dr is "there's no hard-and-fast rule for this, but here are some guidelines from the books and from experience."

The Dungeon Master's Guide has some advice...

The authors knew this would come up, have played lots of D&D, and have a suggestion. You'll find it on p.272 of the DMG: "your speed on foot is halved, and you must use a cane or a crutch to move.... You fall prone after using the Dash action. You have disadvantage on Dexterity checks made to balance."

(That comes from the suggestion after losing a foot or leg; from my experience breaking an ankle it sounds pretty good.)

... and I've got some.

This is the sort of thing--a house-ruled system for lingering/non-HP injuries--that can add a lot of flavor to your table and your campaign. Or it can add a lot of headache.

You and your table-mates should have a conversation about the style of story you're looking to play. Are these near-rubber action heroes who shake off giants' fists? Then disadvantage on dexterity saves until the next long rest might be all you need. Are these gritty Rolands to the Dark Tower coming? Then it may make sense to give your character a limp (see DMG272 again) for all time.

"Ability damage" is the term for what you describe: removing 1 from your dexterity score. It's not a bad way to do things, but it's been largely written away from in 5e in favor of disadvantage. Two reasons for that are the potential to stack with other penalties (and violate Bounded Accuracy) and the headache that comes from the cascade of recalculations needed when an ability score changes: initiative, armor class, skill modifiers, saves, and attack bonus, just to name a potential few.

That second point becomes more important the more frequent such changes are; if you're running a gritty table where recovery from this sort of thing isn't expected, that may not be so problematic. If you're jumping off of buildings and getting hit by boulders and taking and recovering from ability damage every session, I (and the authors of 5e) urge you against it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Somewhere I think I've got a link to a L&L article about moving away from ability damage... can't put my finger on it right now, though. I shall return! \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 0:39

Creatures in D&D 5e can't break legs

It's as simple as that. The reason you can't find rules for this is that there aren't any.

For example, consider the Sword of Sharpness, a weapon with the explicit ability to sever limbs. It says:

... the effect of such loss determined by the DM.

You say "we just ended up subtracting 1 from my dex, however I'm not really sure if that's how you do it." Well, it's not necessarily how I would do it but it's how you guys did it and since it's your game ...

The Dungeon Master's Guide has advice on lingering injuries

It's on p.272 or on D&D Beyond.

If you like what they do better than what you did, you can use it. But you need to decide what's right for you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do you say creatures can't break legs in D&D? Could you back this up with any citation of game text? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Not Dale, but I imagine the reasoning is: In stock D&D 5e, there are no explicit rules for breaking limbs. Per this Crawford tweet, there are no hidden rules, so there cannot be any rules for broken limbs. A DM could houserule something, but then you are playing D&D-and-a-houserule. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pilchard123 this is based on assumption "anything we have no rules for can't happen in game" which is not true \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor It's based on the assumption that "anything not in the rules we have can't happen in a game solely governed by those rules". If you take "the rules of D&D 5e" to mean "only and exactly what is in the sourcebooks you're using" (my words, not Dale's), then it is not possible to break a limb under "the rules of D&D 5e". If you want to say "breaking a limb means blah", Rule 0 says go ahead - now there's a rule for it and it can happen. But if you do that you aren't playing by "only and exactly what is in the sourcebooks you're using", so you're not playing under "the rules of D&D 5e". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor I'd think it's more like the D&D 5e isn't a physics simulator-type conclusion. Anything someone wants to happen in the game can happen, but the game system itself doesn't simulate broken legs any more than it simulates conservation of momentum when teleporting. The question asks what rules apply to this situation, but there are none because the rules don't cover broken legs and arms. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 16:17

I have a similar problem only for a broken arm. I would proceed from how it would affect a real person.

A broken leg for an adventurer means:

  • it is harder to walk (we can say that the terrain is difficult everywhere)
  • the fracture must be treated and there can be both relief and deterioration (constitution saving throw at the end of the day, if the throw fails, damage or exhaustion levels)
  • it would be difficult for him to rely on it in battle (disadvantage on attack throws or bonus to the enemy's AC)
  • it's hard to climb, run, jump (all throws connected with feet gets disadvantage)
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    Commented Mar 15 at 12:57
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    – Jack
    Commented Mar 15 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know, but I am suspecting you're getting down votes because in part your answer isn't clear. You say, "I have a similar problem only for a broken arm." I'm not sure what you're saying there. In addition, the rest of the answer reads like your opinion, which is fine, but without some reference to the rules, it's just your opinion. Where in the rules are does it say that a broken leg makes all terrain difficult? Or are you saying that you have ruled that way in one of your own games, and the ruling was successful, making the game more fun? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 15 at 13:27

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