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I was looking through the Pathfinder Core Rulebook spells and found Reverse Gravity among the higher levels. As it is a shapeable spell, the spell can be stretched along the horizontal and vertical to the limit of the cubed area limit per level (in this case being a "10 ft cube" [1000 cubic feet] "per level". In this case, someone just gaining the spell could either maximize the horizontal space to raise everyone within a 3,050 square mile area 20ft off the ground, or everyone in a 100 square foot area (4 squares) 11 miles in the air, nearly out of the troposphere in fact!

So, for the sake of applying some point of reference against the logistics of the game, at what point can the 20d6 falling damage limit be ignored?

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Under normal circumstances you would not ignore the falling damage cap

20d6 fall damage is intended to represent reaching terminal velocity for medium creatures, so there would have to be extenuating circumstances to alter it. This is, as always, subject to alteration by GMs.

Don't forget, anything that could take 20d6 damage and survive would be in the realm of high fantasy, beyond 'real world' physics, where there are creatures and heroes with supernatural toughness, held together by a world of magic.

Falling is also not the most well-hashed rules for Pathfinder (or its predecessor D&D3.5) because the creators came to the general agreement that you shouldn't have to use a Quadratic Formula to get around to damage.

An aside, you're misinterpreting the shapeable area of Reverse Gravity. You can shape the cubes however you like, but you cannot alter the cube architecture to be less than 10x10x10 anywhere.

If an area or effect entry ends with “(S),” you can shape the spell. a shaped effect or area can have no dimension smaller than 10 feet.

  • At level 20 with 2 layers up (20ft), only 1000 sq ft (a fraction of a sq mile) (that's 10 sets of 20x10ft cubes) would be covered
  • At level 20, targeting 4 squares, you could raise the target(s) 2000ft in the air, about 1/3 of a mile
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Never.

The limit on falling damage is part of how physics work in Pathfinder. Dropping things from progressively higher distances doesn't do anything to change that, just like being caster-level eleventy-million won't make fireball do more than 10d6 damage.

Moreover, you probably don't want to change it. If your players can do arbitrarily high amounts of damage just by dropping things from extreme altitude, you have heavily incentivized them to solve all problems by dropping rocks on them from very high up.

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The cap comes from terminal velocity. Unless the fall happens in a vacuum, you shouldn't ignore it. (Or if launched into the ground / at a wall at higher than terminal velocity).

If you fell while tied to a giant rock, your terminal velocity would be significantly higher, because rocks are denser than people (i.e. water). Drag is approximately proportional to area, but weight is proportional to volume.

Even a large amount of people tied together could have a higher terminal velocity. From a high fall, a mouse walks away, a cat might survive with broken bones, a human dies, a horse splashes.


If we're only talking about extreme height on a single human, there's no way you'll hit the ground faster than terminal velocity.

A human-size/shape/density object falling even from outside the atmosphere (on Earth) still slows down to terminal velocity before it reaches the ground. High in the troposphere isn't even high enough to char the outside from picking up speed in thin air high up. (related: can you cook a steak by dropping it? https://what-if.xkcd.com/28/ mentions human skydiving from great height (Felix Baumgartner)).

Using that spell, the victim would overshoot the reversed-gravity zone a bit, because they'd be moving upward (at <= terminal velocity) when they leave the area of effect. That's good for a significant amount of extra height, since the air is significantly thinner at 11 miles up so terminal velocity is high. But that doesn't lead to higher impact velocity after falling all the way to the bottom of the troposphere.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your first paragraph explains why the damage cap exists, and shows a fair case of when to ignore it (in a vacuum). And while it's possible to increase someone's terminal velocity, this has nothing to do with Pathfinder rules. If your human character and your horse fell from a very high place, the damage cap is still 20d6 even if physics says the horse will hit harder. \$\endgroup\$ – Question Marks Jan 13 '17 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I posted this mostly because the physics is interesting. Whether or not a GM wants to modify the rules to be more "realistic" is up to them, but having this information can't hurt. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jan 13 '17 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @QuestionMarks: If you agree that a higher impact velocity due to falling in a vacuum should do more damage, why not also for other reasons? Scaling the damage cap with kinetic energy (sqrt(terminal velocity)) would work as a rough approximation. If your players are physics geeks and want to stop for a back-of-the-envelope calculation, go for it. Otherwise just say always 20d6. Would you think this was a better answer if I showed how to scale the damage cap with an example, for people that are interested in taking extra time over it? \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jan 15 '17 at 5:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Derp, I typed that backwards. sqrt(KE) = v_t. Potential energy scales linearly with height, and (ignoring drag on the way to terminal velocity!), so KE at the bottom = PE at the top. And KE= m * v^2 / 2. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jan 15 '17 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider the question is specifically asking about the rules but also tagged the question with "house-rules", it really depends on what the DM wants. If they want to stick to the books, then all physics aside, 20d6 is the cap. If however the DM wants to make falling damage a bit more interesting by house-ruling the damage cap away, then your answer is perfectly valid. That said, you may want to start the question by saying "If you want to work around the rule's constant fall damage, here's some cases that would realistically raise the max fall damage". \$\endgroup\$ – Question Marks Jan 16 '17 at 14:35

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