Last updated: 190505, …, 191220
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?
How far and fast do creatures go? 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. The Fly spell is Class B, but specifically permits up to a full vertical climb at half normal movement.
- 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.
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 or accelerate faster).
- Winged creatures cannot move less than one-half their normal movement 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 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.
- As previously noted, 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).
- Exception: the Broom of Flying can carry 182 pounds at 30″; every additional 14 pounds slows by 1″.
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 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 Rate). With the DMG describing 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?
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 of -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 occur prior to any (applicable) melee attack. 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. 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, melee combat works similarly to charge—creatures move on Initiative, yet strike in order of weapons length (ties broken by Move, size, 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 works much like charge. Both creatures will get an attack, and the flyer will complete its movement. A diving creature gains +2 to hit but no Dex AC bonus, and 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.
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 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).
On the Ground
So we have grounded combat, and aerial combat. But what to do when flyers interact with those things that aren’t flying? Some notes:
Damaged in Flight
Damage can force flying creatures from of the sky. Feathered creatures reduced to 25% of their hit points are forced to land; reduction to 10% causes them to plummet! For other creatures, being reduced to 50% of their hit points forces landing; being reduced to 25% causes them to plummet from the sky.
Once a creature is forced to land, the creature’s movement rate will decrease to two-thirds of its full normal amount and lose 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 be able to descend and make a safe landing in the same turn that it becomes forced to land. If it does not land within a turn, it will plummet.
When plummeting, the animal will go into a steep dive (WSG). Its rider(s) will have an increased chance of falling while it is performing this maneuver, and even if a rider does not fall he must beware of the sudden stop at the end. For every 1″ of distance the animal dives before reaching the ground, a rider will suffer 1d2 hit points of damage from the buffeting he receives when the animal crashes to a stop. This damage is 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. A rider who does not have at least his lower body strapped to the mount will not suffer buffeting damage; instead, he will be thrown from the mount when it lands, suffering 11-40 hit points of damage (3d10+10) from the tumble.
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 if he 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.
If a flying mount is killed while a character is aboard, the creature will fall and most likely carry the rider to their death, especially if the rider is securely strapped onto the mount. If the creature is close to the ground when it dies (~ 20′), a character with proficiency in riding the mount could leap from its back and land safely on the ground.
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).
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.
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 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).
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. 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/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°)
- +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
- Determine Flyer’s current movement in hexes (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 if speed < 50%.
Note: Including acceleration is massively more complicated than just choosing speed at the beginning of the round, but not doing so decreases the significance of the movement classes.
- Determine flyer’s turn radius. At normal load, creatures moving at half normal movement turn one class better (30°, 60°, 90°,120°,180°)
- 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″
3Pre/post-movement, but not back-to-back—movement must occur between each turn
- Ranged Combat treats Short Range as Medium and Medium as Long, and cannot occur during or after Melee.
- If Melee attack occurs as the result of a Dive of ≥3″, Charge rules apply (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).
- In Melee, the attacker with the longest weapon strikes first.
- Class A combatants gain multiple attacks (if possible) if they choose to stop in the hex.
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 simple 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]
TSR 2020, Wilderness Survival Guide, 1986.
Dragon #124, Flying the Friendly(?) Skies, 1987. [WSG prequel]