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How much damage does lava do?

On contact?

On submersion?

I know being in hot temperatures for long periods of time invokes levels of exhaustion. But the DM's guide appears to neglect damage for lava, but it does specify damage for "falling" etc.

During the session last night I chose 10d6 for submersion for level 5 characters and that worked for the moment, but now I'm researching what the damage should have been.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it is worth noting that lava/magma is very dense and without some force pushing you down into it, or a fall from a great height, you would not submerge in lava the same way you would in water. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2016 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although this is undeniably true in reality, cinematic lava (like quicksand) can work differently. :) \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2017 at 15:22

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I would say it would be a based on the Improvising Damage chart on page 249 of the DMG, which says you take this much damage per round:

10d10     …, wading through a lava stream
18d10     Being submerged in lava, ...

That sounds really nasty actually...

For contact and using the same chart, I would probably default to 1d10 (burned by coals on the chart), or possibly 2d10 (stumbling into a fire pit) if a hand/foot was immersed briefly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an additional note - this situation also comes up in Tomb of Annihilation, and the damage noted there is 10d10 per round. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2020 at 21:02
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This actually comes up in Princes of the Apocalypse, so if you don't mind using something from the adventure it contains the following:

Lava. A creature takes 6d10 fire damage when it enters lava for the first time on a turn or when it ends its turn there.

Do keep in mind that this adventure is based on the Elements, and the lava may or may not be enhanced by the presence of Elemental Evil. It's also in an area that should be visited by characters of the third tier of play, and would be almost suicidally dangerous for a party of 5th level characters.

That being said, it's pretty steep damage, especially for not getting anything resembling a save, but lava is hot after all.

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A humorous yet realistic interpretation of lava: You die.*

* unless you are immune to fire

From lava rules pdf, which is an Open GL licensed "comprehensive guide for lava, magma, and super-heated rock." It accounts for felsic lava, andesitic lava, and even well-formed phenocrysts within mafic lavas.

Naratively, lava should be terrifying

Not just terrifying like you could take a lot of damage. Terrifying like it's a non-survivable force of nature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While true, I think even real lava doesn't kill you instantly... (I haven't tested that myself :P ) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Feb 5, 2019 at 21:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Organic material reacts pretty violently with molten rock trash into volcano and you can apparently cook a pork loin rather quickly with a small amount of molten rock. i.imgur.com/70a3D.jpg \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Aug 26, 2019 at 5:40
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In Tomb of Annihilation, lava does the following damage:

Any creature that falls into the lava or starts its turn there takes 55 (10d10) fire damage. Any object that falls into the lava takes damage on initial contact and once per round thereafter until it is removed from the lava or destroyed.

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Obligatory Kyle Hill: Lava is molten rock and dense

Humans are pretty much water. They have a density of 1 ton per m³. Lava on the other hand has a density of more than 3 tons per m³. You'd not sink... you'd stand on the surface of the lava and get turned into burning charcoal from the feet upwards? No, your skin gets vaporized and charred even before you touch the lava... It's an agonizing and horrible death.

Lava Damage in the 5e DMG

Of course, the Dungeon master's guide offers damage on page 249:

10d10 / round wading through a lava stream

18d10 / round Being submerged in lava

With a tiny fix

Which needs some correction and then still can stand: simply replace the wading through with walking over (since you don't even make a depression in the surface), and make the latter being doused with Lava.

Oh, if you get in a lava shower, remember that that stuff is heavy. So it would be fair to add some bludgeoning damage from the impact of the molten rock to the body - which sounds about like a collapsing roof (DMG page 122, example trap) for 4d10 bludgeoning damage atop of the 18d10 heat damage from just having been doused in molten rock.

Oh, and for the record: the very same damage also would apply to molten metals.

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