(or, Oops, I’m Flying)
Last updated: 190505, …, 230820
While my grounded PCs have interacted with flying creatures, PCs have rarely used even the Fly spell for combat. I’ve previously calculated long-distance movement and flight, but aerial combat is more immediate. The DMG defines aerial combat as, “a swoop and slash, hit-and-run affair,” with specifics for movement and maneuverability for creatures in flight—without detailing melee combat. It’s been obvious that flying creatures could attack while flying, but clearly combat doesn’t happen at Initiative (because creature locations would rarely line up). How complicated is it?
Each 3” of flying rate equals 1 hex of potential movement. For Movement Class:
- Class A (180°) creatures reach full movement in one segment. They can move any direction at any speed every round, 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 creatures require 5 segments to come to a full stop—half movement in a round before a hover. Class B creatures can remain airborne at less than half-speed.
- 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 Carpet of Flying is Class C as pertaining to maneuverability, but can hover or move at any desired speed. The Broom of Flying can move at 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.
Note: A creature can reach full speed sooner by taking off from a running start.
Movement modifiers are cumulative, but if a Movement Class modifies 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 adjusted to Class B still cannot hover or accelerate faster).
- Winged creatures cannot move less than one-half their normal movement and remain airborne. The Broom of Flying is also explicitly included in this category. Exceptions: Class A/B or when taking off.
- Flying creatures climb at one-half, and dive at twice their current 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.
- The Fly spell permits up to full vertical climb at half movement.
- Eagles and harpies can plummet straight down (6″, 0 hexes) and still pull out or land safely.
- Maximum speed decreases for a flying creature carrying more than a normal load—typically 50% (see WSG, p. 47).
- The Broom of Flying can carry 182 pounds at 30″; every additional 14 pounds slows by 1″.
Flying creatures maneuver in 30° or 60° increments per hex, up to their maximum (determined by Movement Class) per round.
- Flying creatures moving at half-speed (with a normal load) turn as one class better.
- Flying mounts are treated in all respects as one maneuverability class worse (minimum Class E) 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.”
Grounded PCs can move, or attack, or charge (where charge has implications for AC, To Hit, and Movement). Aerial combat doesn’t work as a hit-and-run affair with standard melee and Initiative rules. 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?
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 fling tail spikes the same round they employ their front claws.
Creatures using 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.
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.
Range to creatures at a different elevation is generally calculated as +1″ for every 1″ of elevation.
Levitating archers strike at a cumulative –1 To Hit (maximum –3). Slinging, casting javelins or spears, or swinging a weapon (such as a sword) will be at double the cumulative minuses “to hit” for archery (i.e., –2, –4, –6). There is no penalty for archery while flying (assuming the archers are hovering—if they are moving, treat as fired missiles), but there are minuses for slinging or swinging weapons—identical to the penalties for archery while levitating.
As all creatures are in motion, range attacks must occur prior to any (applicable) melee attack. The number of melee attacks allowed flying creatures each round 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. Etc., Etc.
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 creatures within melee range. As flying creatures can close and attack in the same round, all melee combat works similarly to charge—creatures move on Initiative, yet strike in order of weapons length (ties broken by size, Move, and Movement Class). Creatures with multiple similar attacks (claw/claw) would occur at the same time. Those with 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 don’t expose themselves to a “free” attack, as the attack is part of standard movement.
If a flyer attacks a creature on the ground, it also works much like charge. Both creatures get an attack, and the flyer will complete its movement. An airborne character is + 1 “to hit” against an opponent on the ground, or +2 if the attack is made at the end of a dive. A diving creature gains Dexterity AC bonus but inflicts 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.
A character on the ground may defend against an attack from above by bracing for the onslaught. If done, and wielding a weapon of at least 6′ in length, the character receives a +4 bonus on their “to hit” roll, but at the same time they forfeits any Dexterity AC bonus. An airborne opponent, noticing this tactic, can choose to pull up and break off his attack, in which case neither combatant will score a hit.
In summary, all melee combat when flying works like charge without a movement increase. If a creature has a separate ranged attack, the range attack can be used when closing for melee. Creatures with multiple melee attacks (claw & bite, for example) can use only one attack form when making a melee pass.
A creature capable of vertical movement from a standing start (Class A/B, or a Fly spell), that starts a round engaged with a grounded creature could also choose to withdraw/fall back from a grounded creature by moving straight up!
Spell casting while riding a flying mount or Broom at any speed is impossible. Much like the Fly spell, spellcasting is possible from a magic carpet only if hovering or moving slowly (3” or less).
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).
Damaged in Flight
Damage eventually forces flying creatures from the sky. Hit points reduced by 50% (75% for feathered creatures) forces a creature to land. Creatures with hit points reduced by 75% (90% for feathered creatures) will plummet from the sky!
Class A creatures can land anywhere. Most winged creatures need no more space to land than their size, assuming the hex before the landing zone is not higher than their ability to dive (normally 3″).
A creature forced to land slows to at most two-thirds of its movement and loses at least 1″ of altitude per round. If the creature is not flying more than 10″ above the ground and is not somehow forced to remain aloft, it will descend and make a safe landing within the same turn as forced to land. If unable to land within a turn, the creature will plummet.
When plummeting, the animal will go into a steep dive (WSG). Its rider(s) has an increased chance of falling while performing this maneuver. If a rider does not fall there will still be the sudden stop at the end. A rider who does not have at least their lower body strapped to the mount will be thrown from the mount, suffering 11-40 hit points of damage (3d10+10) from the tumble. Otherwise, for every 1″ of distance the animal plummets, a rider will suffer 1d2 hit points of damage from the buffeting he receives when the animal crashes to a stop, halved for a character with proficiency in airborne riding or for a character securely strapped (upper and lower body) to the back of the mount.
If a flying mount dies, the creature will fall (along with their rider), most likely carrying the rider to their death, especially if the rider is securely strapped onto the mount. If the creature dies close to the ground (~ 20′), an unstrapped character with proficiency in riding the mount could potentially leap from its back and land safely on the ground.
A character’s chance of falling while riding an airborne mount is checked at least once every three turns while airborne, beginning the count anew each time the mount lands and takes off. 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.
If a flying mount takes damage that brings it to less than half of its total hit points, the rider must immediately make a check to see the rider falls. Further checks are required every round until the mount is brought to a landing or until it regains enough hit points to put it out of danger.
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/5 rounds)
- -150% Rider’s lower body only securely strapped onto mount (5 rounds/2 rounds)
- -50% Rider has proficiency in Airborne Riding (on the appropriate creature)
- -84% (with an additional- 1%/level) for Cavaliers (supersedes Airborne Riding)
- +50% Rider not strapped onto mount and not holding on with both hands (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°) [cumulative?]
- +20% Mount is wounded > 50%
- +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
- Determine Flyer’s current Hex Movement (MV / 3).
- Decide whether to change speed:
Increase speed (Winged creatures moving less than half normal movement must increase speed, or fall)
- Class A: Can change speed immediately, up to normal. Move up to 100% any time.
- Class B: Can increase speed by 25% of normal immediately. Move 75% on takeoff.
- Class C: Can increase speed next round by 100% of normal. Move 50% on takeoff.
- Class D: Can increase speed next round by 50% of normal. Move 25% on takeoff, 50% on round 2.
- Class E: can increase speed next round by 25% of normal. Move 1”/25%/50%/75% on rounds after takeoff.
- Decelerate up to 100%. If not landing, Class B will still move at least 50% of movement from last round. Winged creatures that are not Class A/B will fall 1″ / round if speed < 50%.
Note: Including acceleration is more complicated than simply choosing speed at the beginning of the round, but not doing so decreases the significance of the movement classes. I don’t use acceleration except at takeoff.
- Determine flyer’s turn radius. At normal load, creatures moving at half Hex Movement turn one class better.
- On Initiative1, each Combatant moves their entire movement, and can:
|Move||1 Hex||1 Hex||–||Can turn 30°|60°3|
|Climb||2 Hex||1 Hex||+1″||–|
|Dive||½ Hex||1 Hex||-3″||–|
1In the case of a tie, current speed, size, and then Movement Class breaks the tie
2Broom of Flying is ± 2″, Fly is ± 3″
3Post-movement and not back-to-back—movement must occur between each maneuver.
4Cannot Maneuver and ranged attack in the same hex.
- Once/round when combatants enter a hex within 10′ elevation (20′ if the attacker is Large)
- Creatures with multiple forms of melee attack can use only one attack form
- The attacker with the longest weapon strikes first
- For melee as the result of a Dive of ≥3″, Charge rules apply (No Dex, To Hit +2, and Damage ×2)
- Ranged Combat
- Cannot occur during or after Melee
- Treat Short Range as Medium and Medium as Long
- Cannot Maneuver in the same hex as making a ranged attack
- Range determined between the attacker and defender at the time of the ranged attack
- Class A combatants gain multiple attacks (if possible) if they choose to stop in the hex.
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.
Near the ground, fliers can collide with things. Boulders, trees, fences, and hills often lie in the flier’s path. Defenders might plant stakes to keep aerial enemies at a higher altitude. When a collision is likely, the airborne character traveling at Nap-of-the-earth must roll above his Maneuverability* on d10 to avoid the crash (with a -1 penalty for every 10″ of movement). For every 10″ of movement, collisions do d6 hp damage to the mount, and half damage to the rider. Unless the rider rolls a result equal to or less than his Dexterity on d20, the rider will be stunned for d8 rounds (no attacks or shield use possible, -4 on saving throws and armor class). This assumes that the rider is tied onto his mount, of course. If a PC is flying under their own power (e.g., using a Fly spell or Potion of Flying), they take full damage.
An intrepid proficient flier can lean down to snatch objects from the ground with a successful Save vs. Maneuverability. To grab an unwilling victim, a grapple roll is required. If the object to be lifted is at least 50% as heavy as the character grabbing it, the character must make an Open Doors roll to avoid taking an additional d6 hp damage from muscle strain and lose whatever they were trying to grab. If not strapped on, a PC making any attempt to grab something from the ground falls off his mount. A character who falls to the ground takes d6 hp damage for every 10″ they are traveling, plus normal falling damage, to a limit of 20d6.
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 (limited by Movement Class). 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 usually form at altitudes between 1,000 and 5,000ft. 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 33% rate), or 2″ for each hex of forward movement.
Air-To-Ground (Alternate System)
2nd Edition offers an alternate abbreviated “Tournament” system, where Class A/B creatures can attack every round, Class C creatures can attack every other round, Class D every three rounds, and Class E every six rounds, a good basis for simpler air-to-ground combat. Initiative is modified by Movement Class.
TSR 2011, Dungeon Masters Guide [1e], 1979.
Dragon #50, The Ups and Downs of Flying High, 1981. [Includes traits for flying mounts]
Polyhedron #12, “Dispel Confusion”, 1983, p. 10. [weird answers, like +4 to hit for surprise]
TSR 2020, Wilderness Survival Guide, 1986. [Flying mounts]
Dragon #124, Flying the Friendly(?) Skies, 1987. [WSG prequel]
TSR 2100, Dungeon Master Guide [2e], 1995.
Dawn of Emperors, 1989. [Detailed aerial combat]