Link to joke

Context: the party is traversing a mountain pass in a blizzard a la Lord of the Rings scene. DM has everyone roll the dice to see if they don’t fall down the cliff, and dwarf warrior in heavy plate armor fails the check.

DM: Heavy gust of wind pushed you off the path. You slip and fall off the cliff. What do you do?

Dwarf: I flap my arms really, really hard.

DM: Seriously?

Dwarf: it’s not like I got better options.

DM: ok, roll the dice.

Dwarf rolls natural 20.

DM: …

Party: …

DM: roll again.

Dwarf rolls another 20.

DM: …!

Party: …?!

DM: …sigh. With astonished look on their faces, the party behold a most miraculous sight. A dwarf in heavy armor is slowly rising up in the air above the cliff edge by flapping his arms really, really [----] hard.

I laughed really, really hard when I first saw the joke :D

But more seriously: what did the DM expect the Dwarf to do? It seems to me that the Dwarf simply doesn't have any options (the player said as much), but in that case, why didn't the DM just say "you fall to your death"? Alternatively, given that the DM has already asked "what do you do", what should the Dwarf have said/done? I imagine the player can't just say "I fall to my death".

I'm trying to understand the interaction between players and the DM in these perilous situations. Either person might not see a way out for the player, but the other might. What should one do then?

  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no way we can know what that DM would have done, and what other DMs would do is in this situation entirely opinion-based. Literally anything and everything is on the table and questions about how would 'we' have responded are impossible to answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 23 '20 at 17:15

The DM should not have asked the players for a roll if they didn't like the outcome of a failure. If the DM wanted to narrate some mechanical effects from this perilous journey, a better choice might have been "roll to see if you suffer a level of exhaustion" or "roll to see how much cold damage you take from the blizzard". However, assuming that moment has passed, here are some things to try:

  • "There's no problem, because like any sensible climber I have secured myself to a grappling hook before climbing, and it catches me before I fall too far."
  • "I pull out my grappling hook and throw it at the cliff to catch something."
  • "I use my fast reflexes to catch a rock before I fall off the cliff."
  • "Well, I roll past Susan on the way down. Susan, have you got a way to catch me?"
  • "Okay, after Susan I roll past Frank. Frank, have you got a way to catch me?"
  • "Well, I know that Frank has a feather fall spell. Frank, wanna cast feather fall on me so I don't die?"
  • "Well, rolling down the slope isn't the same as a straight fall. I brace my shield against the slope and sled down it."
  • "I turn so I'm falling shield-first and I use my constitution to take the impact on my shield."

Many of these answers are sort of bullshit -- in particular the "use my constitution to take the impact on my shield" thing is pretty far outside the scope of what the rules should allow -- but, if the DM is looking for an excuse to not kill the dwarf, this sort of thing is more plausible than "I flap my arms really really hard".

It's outside the scope of DM responsibility to make up tactics for the character trying to survive. If the DM starts narrating the character doing stuff, the whole table will feel that it's fake.

What the DM can do is tell the group how bad the consequence of failure is. "Okay, you fall sixty feet onto a rocky outcropping. Take 6d6 damage. Does that kill you? No? Okay, what does everyone do now?" Sure, it might have been implied that falling would be fatal, but that's not actually been narrated yet and the DM can still change it.

It may interest you to know that I've had a character in a very similar situation. We were climbing down a rope, and the DM narrated a xorn stepped out of the cliff face and cut the rope above us, and he asked: "so, for a split second you're hanging in midair, before you fall. What do you do?"

We couldn't think of anything. We fell the distance and took the falling damage, and then did the fight. After the fight was over, I realized I could have given the "pull out my grappling hook" or "catch onto a rock" answer.

Later, I had a different character in this situation. We were on a platform, and the DM told us that the platform was unsteady and we needed to make checks to not fall off it. My character failed the check, so the DM told me I had to make a different check to catch the edge of the platform. My character failed that check too, so the DM told me to make a third check to catch some other thing. My character passed that last check. All the while I was thinking: "well, are you going to narrate that my character died because of failing a check, or aren't you?"

After that, I started having all my magic-user characters carry a scroll of feather fall around, just in case. Rules As Written, you probably wouldn't have time to fetch a scroll of feather fall from your backpack while falling -- but, if your character is about to die, the DM might be willing to ignore the Rules As Written.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer's very cunning, would not have thought of those things. \$\endgroup\$ – Allure Nov 23 '20 at 8:46

You may be reading too much into things.

This is a joke, and as such the context may be being taken too seriously. In most systems, the GM would call for some kind of saving throw or other roll for the dwarf, and would not typically ask for what the character does.
In this context, the GM could be asking the Dwarf if they have any spells/magic items or even just a rope or something, anything they could use to save themself. Other than that, this is a joke, and not an extremely likely RPG situation.


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