The Pixies are invading D&D! With the release of Heroes of the Feywild it seems like everyone wants to play a Pixie. I don’t think that everyone finds the concept of being a Pixie all that appealing, rather I think a lot of players believe that being able to fly gives them a huge advantage over all other PCs races. And you know what, they could be right. However, after seeing a bunch of Pixies in action during numerous gaming sessions I feel the need to review some of the rules about flying. After all, until now flying was limited to monsters (with very few exceptions). This meant that players didn’t need to worry about how flying worked. But now that everyone and his mother are playing flying PCs it’s time to review the rules and clear up a few of the misconceptions abut flying in D&D.
I began by looking in the glossary at the back of my Monster Manuals. Upon reading the flying rules I realized that there are a few very important details that we’d overlooked. A quick double-check of the DMG confirmed it. At least I thought it confirmed it – until I looked up flying in the Rules Compendium. That’s when things really got confusing.
The glossary in all three Monster Manuals and the entry on flying in the DMG all state the following about flying.
To remain in the air, the creature must move at least 2 squares during its turn, or it crashes at the end of its turn. While flying, the creature can’t shift or make opportunity attacks, and it crashes if it’s knocked prone.
We were not following these rules at my gaming table. Introducing them will change the tactics of a lot of players running Pixies. Or at least I thought it would until I checked the online compendium. The rules for flying listed there were incredibly simplified and not nearly as restrictive.
To fly, a creature takes the walk, run, or charge action but uses its fly speed in place of its walking speed. A creature that has a fly speed can also shift and take other move actions, as appropriate, while flying. A flying creature does not need to take any particular action to remain aloft; the creature is assumed to be flying as it fights, moves, and takes other actions.
Although there is no official update to the original rule (I check the Wizards website), the flying rules listed in the MMs and DMG were clearly superseded by the newer rules from the Rules Compendium. This simplification makes it a lot easier for flying creatures (including Pixies).
The simplification eliminates all the possibly negative consequences to flying. Without any hindrances there’s no down side for creatures that can fly not to fly all the time. I think the initial restrictions about shifting and opportunity attacks were a good way to keep flying balanced. Without them flying creature now have a huge advantage (as a lot of the players continue to realize every week).
The only real restriction that Pixies have is their altitude limit of 1. At the end of a Pixie’s turn it will crash if it’s more than 1 square above a solid surface. So it can fly up six squares, but has to end on a platform, roof, ledge, ground or other solid surface. This is certainly a limitation, but a Pixie that does a double move is still capable of flying 12 squares in any direction (including up) on its turn as long as it can land on something. So much for wide crevasses or monstrous artillery firing down from a lofty perch, Pixies render these obstacles and challenges meaningless.
In the unlikely event that a flying creature does fall it can still mitigate falling damage. You begin by subtracting the creatures flying speed from the distance of the fall and if it’s zero or less the creature takes no falling damage. So Pixies can fall 30 feet, avoid any falling damage and remain upright. High altitude falls are a whole other issue which I’m not going to get into that since it comes into play so rarely.
So now that we’ve covered the basics on flying it’s time to look at some of the other complications that flying creatures present to the game in general.
I’ve played some great encounters, especially at low levels, that include very simple challenges that would in no way challenge a PC that can fly. Challenges like the insurmountable wall or the incredibly wide cavern that was supposed to require teamwork or even a simple skill challenge to overcome, are now easily bypassed by the flying PCs. Of course not every PC will be a Pixie, but the Pixie Dust encounter power allows Pixies to grant an ally flight for a short time. As long as time isn’t a factor than a 30-foot wide chasm is nothing more than an inconvenience and certainly not a challenge at all.
I’ve noticed that the players running Pixies have equipped their PCs with ranged attacks. This encourages tactics where the Pixie can fly to a safe perch and pelt non-flying monsters safely. This means that DMs have to include more artillery or flying monsters to keep things balanced. It’s not fair that the Pixie Rogue can hail sling bullets down on the land-bound monsters for obscene damage and not fear reprisal. In a home game a DM can adjust for this, however in D&D Encounters and other public play events, the encounters are more generic and they won’t always have something that can challenge a flying PC.
Even after a few short weeks of seeing the Pixie in action I realize (from the DM’s perspective) that flying is too powerful to allow at level 1. I’m not saying Pixies shouldn’t be able to fly but I think it makes more sense to force Pixie PCs to spend other resources to gain this advantage. Perhaps they have to take a feat to allow them to fly more than 1 square off the ground.
A creature that has the power to fly changes the game. For that reason gaining the power to fly should be a big deal, and until now it was. I remember a player with a Dragonborn PC who aspired for the Scion of Arkhoshia paragon path (from PHB2) because it would grant him flight as an at-will power at level 12. Until this PC reached paragon level he was incapable of flight and when he finally got it, it was a big deal. When other PCs got cool attack or utility powers at level 12 he got wings. Allowing players to create Pixie PCs and fly from day one belittles the few other specialized options that rewarded hard-working characters who earned the right to take to the air.
Although we’re sure to see updates to Heroes of the Feywild, I don’t think that the Pixies’ flying ability will change. The horses have already left the barn on that one. Now we’re just going to have to deal with the fall out. Perhaps this fad of creating Pixie PCs will go away and flying characters will become rare again, but I doubt it.
Where do you stand on allowing a playable PC race to fly automatically from the character creation stage? Do you think it’s too much of an advantage? Do you think my suggestion to require a feet for advanced flight is out of line? How are DMs planning to challenge parties where some characters can fly while others cannot?
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