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Ask the Kobold: Clay Golems, Falling Damage, Stoneskin, and the Truth about DR

Ask the Kobold: Clay Golems, Falling Damage, Stoneskin, and the Truth about DR

Exactly how much “curse” does a clay golem’s cursed wound really have? The creature description says the damage the golem deals doesn’t heal naturally and that anyone casting a conjuration (healing) spell on the injured character must make a DC 26 caster level check to actually heal the injury. Can a remove curse spell remove this property from the damage a clay golem inflicts?

Given that the clay golem’s cursed wound is an extraordinary ability, it’s reasonable to assume that it is not a true curse, and that remove curse isn’t effective against it. On the other hand, something beyond the mundane must be going on when a clay golem delivers a blow or the resulting damage wouldn’t be so darned hard to heal.

In any case, conjuration (healing) magic can negate the cursed property from the damage a clay golem’s damage, so we can assume that a remove curse spell could accomplish the same trick. Just require the same DC 26 caster level check from the remove curse caster. I recommend that a single remove curse spell and check suffice to render all the damage one character’s suffered from clay golems at the time the spell is cast. I also recommend that the effect last only one day. If the subject still has clay golem damage left after a day passes, the “curse” on that damage returns.

A rules lawyer will tell you that stoneskin applies to blunt weapon damage. So what about falling damage? That’s blunt trauma, but it’s not from a weapon.

The stoneskin spell provides the recipient with damage reduction 10/adamatine, and it applies to falling damage (but not to magical attacks or energy attacks). An earlier version of the stoneskin spell had a specific list of attacks against which the spell was effective, and falling wasn’t among them. That version of the spell is no longer current.

Could you elaborate, please, on why damage reduction applies to falling damage? I’ve always been in the “damage reduction doesn’t help with falling damage” camp, because I’ve never viewed falling damage as weapon damage.

The only sources of damage that ignore damage reduction are spells, spell-like abilities, and energy attacks; that is, attacks that have the acid, cold, electricity, fire, force, or sonic descriptor, including non magical forms of these energy types, such as vials of aid or alchemist’s fire. It’s possible, of course, for a spell or spell-like ability to produce an effect that is subject to damage reduction, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

Falling is not a spell or spell-like ability, nor does it have an energy descriptor. It does not ignore damage reduction. Other mishaps involving falling things are likewise subject to damage reduction, such as cave collapses, avalanches, or being swept way in a strong wind or water current.

Longtime players and DMs are prone to include falling among the “attacks” that ignore damage reduction because the game has a long history of excluding falling from the old weapon immunity special defense. That has more to do with the way weapon immunity worked than with anything else (see the “What Is Damage Reduction, Really?” section below).

So, here’s a case where the rules lawyers are right. Falling is just like a blunt attack when it comes to damage reduction.

Does teleportation maintain momentum? Our party used benign transposition on a falling party member to give him a second chance to grab a rope. We ruled that after teleporting a character appears with no momentum, and falling damage would be calculated from the new height. It seemed the simplest solution.

Something deep within me always has balked at letting players squeeze a free feather fall effect from a teleportation spell. Here’s a case, however, where experience has taught me that my gut feeling is wrong. If the subject of a teleportation spell maintains its momentum, the possibilities for truly serious abuse far exceed the minor “gimme” a spellcaster gets when teleporting before impact in a fall.

To put it another way, the rules say a teleportation spell takes the subject instantly through the Astral Plane and delivers the subject to a destination. It’s no big stretch to assume that subject comes (safely) to a complete halt at the end of the trip. This approach heads off all manner of silliness, such as wizards trying to grind foes into a bloody paste by teleporting rolling boulders from an avalanche on top of them.

What is Damage Reduction, Really?

Damage reduction gives a monster a little extra defensive edge (or possibly a great deal of defensive edge) that PCs can overcome if they’re prepared. As I hinted earlier, damage reduction is descended from the weapon immunity special defense from older versions of the game.

Weapon immunity was an odd game mechanic. Its ultimate roots lay in the old werewolf tales (and especially the werewolf movies of the 1930s). A werewolf in these tales, you might recall, was invulnerable to any kind of weapon except a silver weapon. Guns, clubs, rocks, and pitchforks, all ineffective against a werewolf’s furry hide. But one shot with a silver bullet laid the werewolf low.

This suggested a simple rule: werewolves don’t take any damage from weapons that aren’t silver. The designers applied that principle to other monsters and other special weapons, namely cold iron (effective against some infernal creatures) and various magical weapons.

The Exception List Approach
Unfortunately, weapon immunity proved much more complex in play that it seemed on paper. It’s one thing, for example, to assume a hero wielding a sword can’t get a telling blow against a werewolf unless that sword is silver or magical. It’s another thing to assume that a red dragon the size of a couple of locomotives can’t make a snack out of a werewolf because the swordlike teeth lining its crushing jaws aren’t silver. So, the designers introduced a list of exceptions.

First, a creature (but not a character) with a certain number of hit dice counted as a magical weapon when dealing with weapon immunity. This exception allowed creatures such as giants and dragons to crush just about anything, and that was fine—fantastic creatures should be able mix it up in a fight and actually hurt each other.

Second, spells and energy attacks bypassed weapon immunity. This allowed the game’s vast array of magical effects work against werewolves and their ilk, and that was all to the good, too.

Third, various catastrophic events, from falls to tidal waves, to avalanches bypassed weapon immunity. This helped rule out absurdities such as werewolves falling to earth from orbit and walking away unscathed.

Finally, weapon immunity did not free a creature from the need to eat, sleep, or breathe. Nor did it make a creature immune to aging, disease, or other mundane hazards.

The Dawn of DR
Damage reduction was an attempt to introduce a special defense that did not need quite so long a list of exceptions. Rather than render a creature completely immune to damage from most weapons, it reduces the damage they deal instead. Powerful creatures such as giants and dragons don’t need to be equivalent to magical weapons anymore. They can deal enough damage to defeat opponents despite damage reduction. Likewise, falls and avalanches don’t need an exception because they, too, deal enough damage to be lethal (or at least harmful) despite damage reduction.

Energy attacks, spells, starvation, suffocation and the like still ignore damage reduction because damage reduction is intended primarily a combat defense, not a general immunity to harm.

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