Issue #70 of Dragon (February 1983) saw the appearance of "Falling Damage" by Frank Mentzer, the first of what would turn into several articles discussing this strangely contentious subject. I say strangely contentious because, until this article appeared, I don't think the "right" way to adjudicate falling damage was ever a topic of serious conversation, at least not among the gamers I knew. The LBBs provide rules for falling damage hidden away in the section on aerial combat in Volume 3, where it's stated simply that
for every 1" of height a rider must throw one six-sided die for damage occurring from the crash, i.e. a crash from 12" means twelve dice must be rolled and their total scored as points of damageThat passage is the basis for what was the standard interpretation of falling damage in every form of D&D -- 1d6 damage per 10' fallen. That is, until this article, where Mentzer claims that the rules in AD&D were hastily written by Gary Gygax and were, as such, unclear as to his actual intent. Instead of 1d6 damage per 10' fallen, the claim is advanced that Gary actually meant 1d6 damage per 10', with the dice being cumulative in effect. That is,
1d6 for the first 10' feet, 2d6 for the second 10' (total 3d6 for a 20' fall), 3d6 for the third 10', and so on, cumulative. The falling body reaches that 20d6 maximum shortly before passing the 60' mark.According to Mentzer, this new system -- which in fact Gygax had "always used" -- is "definitely more realistic." (emphasis mine) There's that dreaded word, the hallmark of the Silver Age. It's something that, at the time, meant a lot to me, but that, as the years have worn on, I find myself caring less and less about. In a game where people can throw balls of fire from their hands and adventurers become tougher to kill as the result of slaying monsters and looting treasure, fretting over whether a 60' fall or a 200' fall deals 20d6 damage seems bizarre. More to the point, after nearly a decade of "doing it wrong" (Mentzer's words), did the difference matter enough to make the change?
Regardless, the claim that Gygax had "always used a geometrically increasing system for damage in AD&D games" strikes me as somewhat suspect. I suppose it's possible that, sometime after the LBBs were published, Gary changed the way he dealt with falling damage in his home campaign. But, if so, I find it surprising that he never noticed that in every other D&D product published after 1974, the 1d6 per 10' rule is the norm. Indeed, I'd hazard a guess that, if one were to look through the various modules and articles Gygax penned between 1974 and 1983, we'd find instances where the 1d6 damage per 10' rule was in fact used. There's a fun project for an enterprising soul out there!