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 combat.

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.

Maneuverability Classes

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 will react.

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.

Combat Procedure

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.

Air-to-Ground Combat

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 pass.

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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