Aerial Combat (Tournament)
On first examination, aerial combat seems just like normal ground combat. The
only real difference is that the ground can be anywhere from 10 feet to 100
miles (or more!) below. This little difference, however, leads to a number of
special problems and effects that never come into play during a ground battle.
The biggest difference is that everyone (except the rare creature able to
hover) must keep moving forward. Stop flying and the result is a fall, often with
disastrous results. Two flying creatures simply cannot face off in toe-to-toe
Battles are fought in a series of passes, as each creature tries to swoop down
on the other, attack, wheel, and return before the other can respond. Speed
and maneuverability are even more important factors in an aerial battle than in
an ordinary one.
Another big difference is that aerial battles are fought in three dimensions.
While this is hardly surprising to creatures of the air, it often causes the
plans and tactics of groundlings, accustomed to only two dimensions, to go awry.
In the air, attacks can come from ahead, alongside, above, behind, below, or
any combination of these. A paladin riding a pegasus may find himself beset by
harpies swooping from high and in front, low and to the right side, high and
from the rear, and even straight down from above. Clearly, standard methods of
defense and attack that work on the ground are going to do him little good here.
There are two ways of running aerial battles: the Tournament rules and the
Optional rules. The Tournament rules can be used in any situation, but rely on the
descriptions of the DM and the imaginations of the players for much of their
effect. The Optional rules provide a more detailed system for fighting aerial
battles with miniatures. The Tournament rules begin below.
How tightly a creature is able to turn is an important factor in aerial
combat. To measure this, all flying creatures have a maneuverability class ranking
from A to E (with A being the best). In general, creatures with a better
maneuverability class can attack more often and more effectively.
Class A creatures have virtually total command over their movements in the air; it is
their home. They can maneuver in the air with the same ease as a normal person
on the ground, turning at will, stopping quickly, and hovering in place. For
them, flying is the same as walking or running.
Class A creatures can face any given direction in a round, and are virtually
impossible to outmaneuver in the air. Fighting in the air is no different from
fighting on the ground for them, so they can attack every round. This class
includes creatures from the elemental plane of Air and creatures able to fly
magically, without wings.
Class B creatures are the most maneuverable of all winged creatures, although they
lack the utter ease of movement of class A creatures. They are able to hover in
place, and so are the only winged creatures that do not need to maintain forward
movement in a battle.
The creatures can turn 180 degrees in a single round and can make one pass
every round. this class includes pixies, sprites, sylphs, and most giant insects.
Class C includes most normal birds and flying magical items. Forward momentum must be
maintained by moving at least half the normal movement rate (although some
magical items are exempted from this). Creatures in this class can turn up to 90
degrees in a single round and can make one pass every two rounds. Gargoyles and
harpies fall into this class. Dragons, although huge, are amazingly maneuverable
and also fall into this class.
Class D creatures are somewhat slow to reach maximum speed, and they make wide turns.
Forward movement equal to at least half the movement rate is required. Turns
are limited to 60 degrees in a single round. Class D creatures make only one pass
every three rounds. Pegasi, pteranodons, and sphinxes fall into this class.
Class E is for flyers so large or clumsy that tight maneuvering is impossible. The
creature must fly at least half its movement rate, and can only turn up to 30
degrees in a single round. Thus, it can make just one pass every six rounds. This
class includes rocks and other truly gigantic creatures.
Levitating creatures don't truly fly, and their movement is generally limited
to up or down. Levitating creatures that are able to move freely are assumed to
be class A. Otherwise, the power does not grant any maneuverability and so is
not assigned a class.
The relative elevation of combatants is important for a variety of reasons,
but as far as combat goes, it has little real effect. If flying creatures wish to
fight, they must all be flying at approximately the same height. If one of the
creatures flees and the others do not pursue, he gets away. Simple.
Altitude affects the action. The DM should keep the following guidelines in
mind as he listens to what players want to do and decides how creatures and NPCs
Creatures cannot charge those above them, although those above can dive,
gaining the charge bonus.
Only creatures with natural weapons or riders with "L" weapons, such as a
lance, can attack a creature below them. Attacks from below suffer a -2 penalty to
the attack roll, as the reach and angle make combat difficult.
Aerial combat is based on maneuverability. When flying creatures fight,
compare the maneuverability classes of the different combatants. If these are all
identical, the combat is conducted normally. When maneuverability classes differ,
creatures with the better class gain several advantages.
For each difference in class, the more maneuverable flyer subtracts one from
its initiative die rolls. Its maneuverability increases its ability to strike
quickly and to strike areas that are difficult to protect.
Breath Weapons are more problematic in aerial combat than on the ground. Creatures using
breath weapons find their fields of fire slightly more restricted, making the
attack harder to use. Dragons, in particular, find it difficult to use their breath
weapons to the side and rear while flying forward.
Those within a 60-degree arc of the front of the creature roll saving throws
vs. breath weapons normally. Creatures outside this arc save with a +2 bonus to
the die roll.
Missile Fire is also difficult in aerial combat. Those mounted on a flying creature or
magical device suffer all the penalties for mounted bowfire. Hovering is the same
as standing still and incurs no penalty.
Characters using missile fire while levitating suffer a -1 cumulative penalty
for each round of fire, up to a maximum of -5. Levitation is not a stable
platform, and the reaction from the missile fire creates a gradually increasing
rocking motion. A round spent doing nothing allows the character to regain his
balance. Medium and heavy crossbows cannot be cocked by levitating characters,
since there is no point of leverage.
When attacking a creature on the ground (or one levitating and unable to
move), the flyer's attacks are limited by the number of rounds needed to complete a
A dragon flies out of its cave to attack the player characters as they near
its lair. On the first round it swoops over them, raking the lead character with
its claws. Since its maneuverability is C, it then spends a round wheeling
about and swooping back to make another attack on the third round of combat. Of
course, during this time, its flight will more than likely take it out of range of
the player characters.
When a creature tries to break off from combat, its ability to escape depends
on its maneuverability and speed. Creatures both faster and more maneuverable
than their opponents can escape combat with no penalties. The free attack for
fleeing a combat is not allowed, since the other flyer is also in motion
(probably in the opposite direction).
If a creature is faster, but not more maneuverable, it can break off by simply
outrunning its opponent. The other cannot keep pace. In this case, a free
attack for fleeing is allowed.
If the creature is slower, regardless of maneuverability, an initiative roll
must be made (modified by the maneuverability of the flyers). If the fleeing
creature's initiative roll is lower than that of the pursuer, the creature has
managed to flee, although suffering the usual attack for fleeing.
Any winged creature that loses more than 50% of its hit points cannot sustain
itself in the air and must land as soon as possible. The creature can glide
safely to the ground, but cannot gain altitude or fly faster than half its normal
movement rate. If no safe landing point is available, the creature is just out
of luck. Since the circumstances of a crash landing can vary greatly, the exact
handling of the situation is left to the DM. The falling rules may come in
handy, though a vivid imagination may be even more helpful.
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