Pathfinder and Flying Rules

In my Reign of Winter adventure path game we have recently moved onto the fourth module for the game called “The Frozen Stars”.  In this module the players travel to the planet of Triaxius, home to the Dragon Legion and dragon riders.

This is all a hugely high fantasy concept.  We are channelling the beautiful spirit of Anne McAffrey  as the players all take to the skies.  None of them are yet dragon riders but it certainly sounds like a couple of them are interested.  This adventure is more Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss than the adventures of Pern but the imagery is one that goes hand in hand with the fantasy setting.
Learn the rules and you will be flying in no time!
OK, I will stop gushing and talk about why we are here.  Today one of my players asked how difficult it was to run an aerial combat which is what we have done for the past three combats and off the cuff I said no problem at all.  I admitted though that I was not taking into account in any large way the three dimensions of the combat (although one of the players did plummet to the ground 120′ below).  He asked about fly skill checks and I replied that as it was largely open space and no one really tried anything tricky that there was no real need to worry about it.
After the conversation I realised that I was actually removing a lot of the fun to the combat by being so blasé about it all and so I have cracked open a few books to take a look at what I really should be doing to bring these combats to life.

The Fly Skill

Most of what is stated about the flying or sky environment is detailed in this skill.  In fact there is very little else stated explicitly about adventures that are air or sky bound apart from these rules.  There are aside mentions of the environment but really what you need to know exists under the fly skill heading.  

One thing I was right about was the fact that you only need to make a check with this skill when something out of the ordinary happens.  If a character finds themselves flying at the start of the turn then as long as they do not attempt anything tricky they remain flying at the end of the round, no skill check required.

But what is something tricky?  Well, there happens to be some set circumstances in which a character needs to make a check with their flying skill.  They are;

  • Move less than half speed and remain flying (I would argue this does not count when using fly the spell)
  • Hovering
  • Turning greater than 45 degrees at any point during a move action (you can change facing in between turns with no penalty for some reason)
  • Turn 180 degrees by spending  10 feet of movement (Immelman anyone?)
  • Fly up at greater than 45 degree angle
Even my Eidolon needs to use his fly skill once in a while!
Each of these manoeuvres has a DC that you need to roll when flying.  There are penalties to these checks based on wind and also the fly capability of the creature you are mounted on (if you are flying a mount that is).  These situations are simply the times you need to make a check when you are flying in a straightforward manner.  There are other times that you need to make checks as well depending on your interactions in the air.  These circumstances are listed below;
  • Attacked while flying – if you are flying under winged power you must make a check when you take damage or lose 10 foot of altitude
  • Collision whilst flying – if you run into anything your size or larger whilst using wing power when flying you have to make a check not to plummet from the skies.  I am now thinking that a melee attack would actually count as a collision here
  • If you are falling and can fly then you need to make a check to pull out of the fall (this does not count if you are falling after a collision in the same round)
  • High winds can also have an effect and push you astray if you do not make a fly check.  When you need to make this check depends on your size and the strength of the wind
What it only mentions briefly is the idea of altitude and this is the third dimension that we need to consider in our games.  This is definitely going to require a more complex system of combat recording for the GM and each player should also take on the responsibility of keeping track of their own altitude.
For every 5 feet of movement horizontally (if you are using minis) the player can climb 5 feet without a check.  This should actually be considered 10 feet of total movement, much the same as moving diagonally twice on a typical grid.  If they want to climb faster then they need to make a fly check and spend the movement points (so if they want to go 10 feet up in 5 feet horizontal make it a 15 foot move).
As a GM you are going to need a table for all of the enemies and with that you will need individually identifiable markers/tokens or miniatures if you use a map.  It is OK to bring non-combatants in at a standard height but as soon as they get involved then you should start taking note of their position, especially as the players are likely to start asking about what and where the enemies are once three dimensions becomes pertinent.
Flying combats make for an interesting game!


The other thing that may become an issue is mounts.  If you are planning for the players to be using a dragon or pegasus mount for example then you need to brush up on your knowledge of the mounted combat section in the rules.  Luckily these are pretty simple to follow;
  • Mount acts on the riders initiative
  • If the mount moves over 5 feet you cannot full attack for the round (unless using ranged where you can)
  • Mount has to be combat trained or you need to make a handle animal check every round or the mount runs
  • A simple ride check allows you to use two hands in combat
  • If the mount charges you take the neg to your AC too.  Also if using a lance and you charge it does double damage automatically
  • You take a -4 to ranged attacks while moving or -8 if the horse is running
  • Casting spells is fine if horse is moving at a speed under your own natural speed, if not it is a concentration check for the spell caster
  • If your mount falls in combat you will need to make a ride check to land without a penalty and if you are knocked unconscious in a saddle you have a 50% chance of staying in the saddle per round (or 75% if it is a military saddle).  Falling from a flying mount sucks 🙂

Flying with Magic

If flying utilising magic then make sure you read the spell carefully.  There are a number of spells that allow for flight or flying like capability and they all have differences in the way that they operate.  I can think of three off the top of my head (levitate, fly, air walk) so make sure that you get familiar with the common spells and read any that pop up in play.
If a player is using an ability (like a druid’s shape change) then make sure you know how that works and you are well familiar with the rules listed above for the fly skill.


There is no broad space in the rulebooks that say “here are all of the rules you need for an air environment campaign” so you need to do a bit of work.  The detail that I have gone through in the above commentary really gives you an idea on where you need to look to find the material you need.  There are other books and details that can add to this environment but it is value adding.  The core book really has everything you will need to run a flying campaign.

Of course, what I have given you above are the official rules and that is really only half the story.  What sorts of games can you run in the sky and how do things like clouds and other such things play into the game.  Well, they are all interesting questions and ones that I hope to answer in a post sometime soon.  Thanks for reading and keep rolling!

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