Think of the Wonderful Things!

(or, Oops, I’m Flying)
Last updated: 190505, …, 191112

I’ve previously calculated long-distance movement and flight, but sometimes flying interaction is more immediate. While my grounded PCs have interacted with flying creatures, PCs have rarely used even the Fly spell for combat. The DMG defines aerial combat as, “a swoop and slash, hit-and-run affair,” but then defines maneuverability without detailing melee combat for creatures in flight.  It’s been obvious that flying creatures could attack while flying, but clearly combat doesn’t happen at Initiative (because the creatures’ locations would rarely line up). How complicated is it?

Movement

How far and fast do creatures go? Each 3” of movement rate equals 1 hex of movement. Movement Class specifies parameters affecting movement:

  • Class A (180°) creatures reach full movement in one segment. Effectively, they have full movement each round in any direction, and can immediately stop in the air and hover.
  • Class B (120°) creatures require six segments to reach full speed. That translates to roughly three-quarters normal movement in the first round. Class B also require 5 segments to come to a full stop in the air—half movement in a round before a hover. Class B creatures can remain airborne at less than half-speed. The Fly spell is Class B, but specifically permits up to full vertical as half normal rate.
  • Class C (90°) creatures require a full round to reach full airspeed, translating to half-movement in the first round. For Class C, half-speed is also the minimum to maintain flight, with no ability to hover. Exceptions: The magic carpet is class C as pertaining to maneuverability, but can hover or move at any desired speed. The broom also can move full speed the first round.
  • Class D (60°) creatures require two rounds to reach full airspeed, or a quarter movement in the first round, and half movement in the second round.
  • Class E (30°) creatures require four rounds to reach full speed: 1” the first round, a quarter movement in the second round, half movement the third round, and three-quarters movement in the fourth round.

Movement Modifiers

While movement modifiers are cumulative, if a Movement Class if modified to worse than Class E, creatures still function as Class E. When speed modifies Movement Class, only adjust turn radius (e.g., a Class C creature moving at half speed providing Class B still cannot hover).

Movement Speed

  • Winged creatures cannot move less than one-half their normal moevment and remain airborne. The Broom of Flying is explicitly also included in this category. Exceptions: Class A/B or when taking off.
  • Flying creatures climb at one-half, and dive at twice their stated movement rate. Fliers of Class B-E climb 1″ for every hex forward (~18%), and dive at 3″:1 hex forward (45%).
    • The Broom of Flying climbs (and dives) at 30%, or 2″ for every hex forward.
    • As previously noted, the Fly spell permits up to full vertical climb at half movement.
    • Eagles and harpies can plummet straight down and still pull out or land safely.
  • The maximum speed decreases for a flying creature carrying more than a normal load—typically 50% (see WSG, p. 47).
    • Exception: the Broom of Flying can carry 182 pounds at 30″; every additional 14 pounds slows by 1″.

Movement Class

Creatures maneuver in 30° or 60° increments per hex, up to their maximum (determined by Movement Class) per round.

  • Flying creatures with a normal load moving at half-speed turn as one class better.
  • Flying mounts are one maneuverability class worse when carrying equipment and/or mounted (even by a halfling!).
    • The Broom of Flying, Wings of Flying, and Magic Carpet are not considered “flying mounts” for this consideration.
  • Climbing or diving can be considered “maneuvering” when considering Movement Class and turn radius.

Aerial Melee

Initiative

Grounded PCs can move, or attack, or charge (where charge has implications for AC, To Hit, and Movement Rate). Where the DMG describes aerial combat as a hit-and-run affair, standard melee and Initiative rules don’t work. In the BtB combat sequence, actions are, in order:

  • discharge missiles or magical attacks
  • close to striking range or charge
  • strike blows with weapons

How does that translate to aerial combat?

Ranged Attacks

Dragons can choose to breathe on an approach and then pass and slash with fang or claw. Given the movement of dragons when considering the range of their breath weapon, this implies dragons can both breathe and melee attack in the same round! Manticores similarly can employ their front claws as well as flinging tail spikes.

For all missiles fired while flying, treat short range as medium (-2 to hit) and medium range as long (-5 to hit). Firing at long range will always miss.

Creatures with breath weapons (e.g., dragons, chimerae) have a harder time hitting other flying creatures—moving aerial targets add +2 to their saving throws vs. breath weapons.

Melee Attacks

As all creatures are in motion, when applicable range attacks occur prior to any melee attack. As per dragons, the number of attacks per round allowed flying creatures is typically less than their default. The chimera can use claws or attack with one of its heads. Type 1 Demons can only slash with their rear talons. Giant eagles attack with their talons but not beak. Gargoyles spear with their horn or slash with their claws, but never both. Harpies either use their talons or a weapon. Griffons and hippogriffs attack with their talons or beak. The examples continue, but that demonstrates the basic principles.

And what of the Fly spell? Well, the Fly spell specifically takes as much concentration as walking. Combat therefore would be much like that of a walking character. Two creatures using Fly can be treated as normal (grounded) movement.

Melee combat occurs between two creatures within melee range. As flying creatures can close yet attack in the same round, melee combat works similarly to charge—creatures move on Initiative, yet strike in order of weapons length. Creatures with multiple attacks (claw/claw) would occur at the same time. Creatures with a multiple attacks per round with the same weapon (such as fighters with more than one attack per round) are likely far from their opponent by their second attack, similar to flying creatures only using one attack form. When making a melee pass, flying creatures wouldn’t expose themselves to a “free” attack, as the attack is part of their standard movement.

In summary, if a creature has a separate ranged attack, the range attack can be used when closing for melee. Creatures with multiple different forms of melee attack (claw & bite, for example) can use only one attack form when making a melee pass.

Spell Casting

Spell casting while riding a flying mount or Broom at any speed is impossible. Much like the Fly spell, spell-casting is possible from a magic carpet only if hovering or moving slowly (3” or less).

Damage in Flight

Dealing Damage

A diving creature is considered to be charging, with the normal charge adjustments (+2 to hit, no Dex AC bonus), including inflicting double damage against non-diving targets. This includes attacks on earthbound creatures from a height of greater than 30 feet.  Unless explicitly stated otherwise, dive attacks against creatures on the ground end with the flying creature on the ground.

Receiving Damage

After enough damage, flying creatures fall from of the sky. For feathered creatures, 75% damaged forces them to land, and 90% damaged causes them to plummet. For other creatures, 50% damaged forces landing, and 75% damaged plummets from the sky.

Stamina

For purposes of melee, a creature’s Stamina is unlikely to be relevant, although a few creatures have a Stamina less than or equal to three turns (the boobrie, pteranadon, giant pterosaur, and giant vulture).

Collisions

Planes in WWII making head-on attacks sometimes died in head-on collisions. If both opponents are flying, either opponent fumbling could represent a head-on collision. Both opponents would stop moving, and plummet, falling for d4 seconds (falling 3″, 6″, 10″, or 13″), followed by an additional Save vs Maneuverability. *A Save vs. Maneuverability is based on the movement class of the creature, rolling a d6. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the creature’s maneuverability (where Class A is a 1, and Class E is a 5), the fall continues.

Environment

For every 10 mph of wind speed, the movement rate for fliers change by 1” (direction-dependent).  Crosswinds blow fliers sideways at a speed of 1” for every 20 mph of wind speed. Additionally, the rider must save vs. maneuverability* (at a -1 / 10 mph of wind speed) or lose control, falling for d4 seconds (falling 3″, 6″, 10″, or 13″).

Characters inside a cloud can see only 40’ and are penalized an additional -2 on all missile “to hit” rolls. Every time a character changes direction in a cloud there is a 70% chance that they become lost and proceed in a random direction. All unwrapped items become wet; exposed parchments and papers must save on a roll of 5 or better each turn or become warped and smeared. Invisible creatures are outlined, and can be attacked at -2 instead of the usual -4, and make saving throws with but a +2 bonus.

The time it takes gas-related spells to dissipate is doubled in a cloud. Magical fire-based attacks do 1 HP less per hit die. There is a 20% chance that any electricity-based spell is negated.

Cumulus clouds are created by thermals, and updrafts are always beneath them. Hills create updrafts as well; a 60% chance exists that a given hill produces a thermal. In such a draft, flying creatures may climb at 75% of their normal movement rate (instead of the normal 50% rate).

Mounted Falling

Clearly defined in the WSG, the details are included here for completeness. A character’s chance of falling while riding an airborne mount is checked at least once every three turns while he and the mount are airborne, beginning the count anew each time the mount lands and takes off. Again, this assumes that the flight is smooth and normal in all respects. If the weather is bad, or the mount is very uncooperative, or if it is abruptly changing direction and speed (such as in a combat or evasion situation), a check may be called for much more frequently—perhaps as often as once per round while the unusual conditions persist.

The base chance of a character falling from his mount is 0%. This assumes that the mount is giving its rider(s) a smooth and level flight at its full normal movement rate. The base chance is modified by any of the following factors:

  • -200% Rider’s entire body (upper and lower) securely strapped (1 turn)
  • -150% Rider’s lower body only securely strapped onto mount (5 rounds)
  • -50% Rider has proficiency in Airborne Riding (in the appropriate category)
  • +50% Rider not strapped onto mount and not holding on (hands are free or carrying something)
  • -10% Rider using saddle
  • -10% Saddle equipped with stirrups.
  • -02% per each point of rider’s dexterity above 12, and rider’s strength above 12 (considering 18 as maximum)
  • +02% per each point of rider’s dexterity below 12, and rider’s strength below 12
  • +20% Mount is carrying more than its normal load limit
  • +20% Mount is moving faster than full normal movement rate (diving, dodging, performing combat maneuvers, etc.)
  • + 10% Mount is not flying level (making sharp turns, loops, etc. Turns greater than 45°)
  • +20% Mount’s demeanor is unwilling, and the creature is not charmed, subdued, or similarly influenced.
  • +20% Inclement weather (sandstorm, heavy precipitation, etc.)
  • +01% per mph of wind velocity greater than 30 mph

That which can be calculated in advance (Dexterity, mount load, etc.) should be.

The Guts of Flying

At the beginning of each round

  1. Determine Flyer’s current movement speed (MS) in hexes (MV / 3).
  2. Decide whether to change speed:
    • Increase MS next round: Class B/C up to 100% base MS, Class D up to 50% base MS, Class E up to 25% base MS.
      • Class A is immediate, Class B adds 50% of change immediately.
      • Winged creatures moving less than half speed must increase speed, or fall.
    • Decrease MS: Decelerate up to 100%. Class B will still move 50% MS. Winged creatures (that are not Class A/B) will fall if MS < 50%.
  3. Determine flyer’s Movement Class (MC). At normal load, creatures moving at half normal MS turn one class better.

On Initiative, each Combatant moves their entire movement, and can

Maneuver MV Cost Forward Elevation1 MC Cost  
Move 1 Hex 1 Hex Can turn 30°|60°2
Climb 2 Hex 1 Hex +1″ 30°
Dive ½ Hex 1 Hex -3″ 30°
Land 0

1Broom of Flying is ± 2″, Fly is ± 3″
2Pre/post-movement

Combat

  • Ranged Combat treats Short Range as Medium and Medium as Long, and cannot occur during or after Melee.
  • If Melee occurs as the result of a Dive of at least 3″, Self No Dex, To Hit +2, and Damage ×2.
  • Melee occurs once/round when combatants enter a hex within 10′ elevation (20′ if the attacker is Large, 30′ if the attacker is above).
  • In Melee, the attacker with the longest weapon strikes first.
  • Class A combatants gain multiple attacks if they choose to stop in the hex.

Bibliography

TSR 2011, Dungeon Masters Guide [1e], 1979.
Dragon #50, The Ups and Downs of Flying High, 1981. [Includes traits for flying mounts]
TSR 2020, Wilderness Survival Guide, 1986.
Dragon #124, Flying the Friendly(?) Skies, 1987. [WSG prequel]

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