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I have a level five fighter who enjoys using the terrain as a weapon in a somewhat WWE style. I am at a loss as to how to go about adjusting the damage he does for the less than by-the-book actions.

My last game session he pulled a monster off the edge of a 10-foot cliff from below, and, as they put it, "put all their body weight into slamming them into the ground". I enjoy the flavor, and in and of itself it's fine, but the only math I have that is supported by the book is fall damage + his strength mod with a d4 for an improvised weapon. I am getting the impression that it feels like a very lackluster bit of damage for them overall, and will become even more of an issue as the character gets higher level where normal attacks do more damage.

(As it stands now he's just done this where he would have been able to make normal attacks already — sometimes going as far as putting away the sword and shield to do so — so I am not worried too much about him being a munchkin.)

My ultimate question is, how do I give the character more damage with these improvised actions as they progress, while keeping balance for the other characters?

Strength +3 vs. +5 is not much improvement compared to 3 or 4 extra attacks. The situations overall will remain unchanged in that he's not really ever going to be able to jump higher (barring magic) than that 10-foot wall, so fall damage from this tactic would remain static. Proficiency added to the damage for this type of action might solve that.

Page 249 of the DM Guide has an improvised damage chart but most of it feels too static.

My goal is not full narrative combat, but more to find a happy middle ground so that one of my five or so players does not hate his class just because it's less flavorful than being able to throw fireballs, and I want to find that middle ground without also breaking everything. I am kind of new, as a DM, to be houseruling too much — I simply don't feel like I have a good enough grasp on the system to not break things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Tell him he's awesome, from all of us on the internet. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe May 5 '15 at 4:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really interesting question. There are games that give specific mechanical benefits to players who creatively describe their attacks and attempt unusual stunts (Your player would love Feng Shui), but to the best of my knowledge D&D 5e is not such a game; I guess if anyone's had experience porting such rules into 5e they could post an answer describing their experiences. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 5 '15 at 4:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this Wizard's Community Forums post is relevant. It shows how to make many interesting Grappler characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o May 5 '15 at 7:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like there was a recent question about how fighters can contribute to roleplaying during combat, but I can't find it now. \$\endgroup\$ – detly May 5 '15 at 7:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could have been this one? Are melee combatants limited to standing around saying “I attack”?. Not super helpful to your specific situation, but I really think there was a better one... \$\endgroup\$ – detly May 5 '15 at 7:26
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I have a number of points to make:

  1. You are the DM - you can change the rules to suit how you want to play. You can do this provisionally, tell your players that you are going to try this for a while and see if it makes things more fun, if it does, keep it, else dump it.
  2. Weapons do not increase in damage as levels go up (exception: magical pluses) so one of your problems, isn't. Weapon specialists keep up with the magic users (whose cantrips do do more damage) by getting more attacks. An improvised weapon is the equal of a dagger or about half a long sword.
  3. Look at the Tavern Brawler Feat #GMNoob is wrong about it increasing improvised weapon damage - it increases unarmed damage and gives proficiency with improvised weapons as well as allowing a bonus action to grapple.
  4. Did you find this move inspiring? Give Inspiration.

For the specific case, if your fighter were a battle master with the Pushing Attack manoeuvre, the Duelling fighting style and the Tavern Brawler feat then he could:

  1. Take the Attack action (2 attacks for a 5th level fighter)
  2. Use his first attack unarmed Damage: d4+2+STR bonus
  3. Use the Pushing Attack Manoeuvre to pull them over the cliff Damage: 1d6 and prone
  4. Jump down (movement)
  5. Draw a sword (free object interaction)
  6. Second attack with advantage (prone) Damage: 1d8+2+STR bonus
  7. Use the bonus action grated by Tavern Brawler to start a grapple

Meanwhile the Wizard has used a single pathetic firebolt to do 2d10 damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ 4 attacks? Is that right? \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus May 5 '15 at 5:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus its 2 attacks, 1 bonus action, and one maneuver ability. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob May 5 '15 at 5:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Inspiration, Tavern Brawler, and Battlemaster. I feel like this is already built into the system. You should also mention the Grappler feat. It grants advantage on grappled foes, allows pinning, and you can grapple larger foes. I'd also like to call out flavour. An attack doesn't have to be a punch. If you attack a grappled foe, just say your character piledrives him. Sure there's no mechanical benefit to doing so, but it sounds cooler :D \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o May 5 '15 at 7:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, this :) (Wizards forums "The Grappler's Manual") \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o May 5 '15 at 7:16
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Realistically, falling 10 ft is not going to hurt (or kill) as well as a Greatsword to the face, and you shouldn't try to make it. You should not try to balance improvised and normal attacks by making them identical.

You have a few options for making improvised attacks worthwhile.

  1. Occasionally, leave players in situations where the environment can do more damage than a 10 ft fall - great examples being a 100 ft fall or a 1000 ft fall.

  2. Make battle situations where moving people is more important than killing them. If the objective is to get past a guard, without needing to kill him, then dropping him off a 10 ft ledge might turn from a measly d4 damage into a battle winning move.

  3. Focus on improvised attacks dealing status conditions. Turning someone's helmet backwards won't do any damage, but will temporarily cause the blinded condition, which can be particularly useful if you followed step 2.

If you follow these, improvised attacks will do less damage, but be useful in certain circumstances to gain the upper hand. This has the advantage of automatically scaling with power.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 1 monster that weighs a ton or more- its bones would broken to smithereens and its whole body would be horribly damaged- likely straight out killed much worse than a broadsword. \$\endgroup\$ – user2617804 May 5 '15 at 8:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 That may be a little too simulationist for DnD. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o May 5 '15 at 22:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 Good description! So how much damage is that? ;) \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Apr 23 '17 at 23:33
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I'm not sure I understand why you think you need to create a house rule for this.

Fighter weapon attacks don't get stronger as they level up.. rather instead, they get more attack actions.

If you truly must houserule something, the easiest house rule to make is to change the damage die from a d4 to a d10 based on what you think is appropriate for the action being done. Doing so will make his damage output exactly the same as if they were using a traditional weapon.

There is no reason in the rules, why the fighter can't make multiple improvised environment attacks as they gain more attack actions. That is, after pulling the monster down and body slamming them, they might then pick the monster up and throw them against the cliff face. The DMG plus the Shove attack option rules, already cover these sorts of situations.

Another rule that is often forgotten or overlooked, is that if the improvised attack uses something in the environment which is similar enough to a known weapon, then you can use the known weapon's damage die. For example, using a table leg as a club you use a d6.

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I thought I'd (tentatively - I'm still new around here...) chime in with how things go in our game.

I run a fairly "rules-light" 5e game where such combat improvisation is rewarded and encouraged. We've had characters running across kitchen counters before leaping on an enemy with their sword out; baiting a previously-discovered acid pit so a skeleton falls down it; chucking a massive pottery oil lamp at a wizard, and so on.

In most of these instances, I translate it as Ability Check Success=Advantage, Ability Check Failure=Disadvantage. For instance, with the running across the counters example above, I made the player make a dexterity check, they succeeded, and got advantage on the attack. Granted, this doesn't increase the damage, but it increases the likelihood of it doing damage in the first place.

Regarding damage, with improvised weapons of an unusual size (like a big piece of pottery, a table, half a fallen tree) the strength check gives it a bit of uncertainty, with the advantage/disadvantage pay-off being the result of that. I think 1d4 damage for a lot of improvised weapons is silly, but I think I remember seeing a "compare it to a weapon" - a chair leg is approximately a club, for example. For stunts like jumping off a cliff and shoulder-barging things into the ground, maybe have: falling damage of the creature being attacked+falling damage of the character attacking+unarmed/improvised attack=damage dealt to the creature attacked. If you wanted, the attacking character could take some damage as well, depending on how "cushioned" the monster they land on is...

More than anything, though, I go by the logic of "Was that description awesome?". If it was, then good things happen to the character, and the game is improved as a whole by their willingness to get involved. If the description is lacklustre, or there is no description at all ("I roll to hit him") then nothing special occurs. It's your game, so run with it if your players like it, and have fun.

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