Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning to Fly... in 4th Edition

My friend Chadarius recently entitled one of his posts, "D&D 4th Edition Hates Flying... Kind of".  The post was referring to the Sky Hunter paragon path.  Its not bad, but for a paragon path named Sky Hunter, it doesn't do a lot of flying.

In general, it is much harder to fly in D&D 4E than in previous editions.  In general, this doesn't bug me.  In fantasy fiction, from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter , prolonged unassisted flight is rare.  Plus, I was infamous for abusing spells like Overland Flight and Wind Walk.  So it is probably for the best that that door is closed.

Still, difficult is not impossible.  So without further adieu, here are some of the ways to achieve sustained flight in D&D 4E:


Phantom Steed (PHB p. 310): High-level casters can create flying steeds by getting a 40 or better on their Arcana check.

Overland Flight (Dragon 366): This level 20 ritual allows you and your allies to take to the skies.  However, you can do nothing than fly while in the air.

Magic Items

Flying Carpet (PHB p. 254):  It has a flight ceiling of 50', but who can resist a magic carpet ride?

Ebony Fly (p. 181):  If you have to fly, why not ride a fly?


Griffons (MM pp. 146-147):  Classical flying mounts in all editions of D&D.  Hippogriffs (Standard & Dreadmount) and Griffons (Standard & Rimefire) are all available as mounts in 4E.

Manticores (MM p. 184): An unconventional but deadly flying mount.

Nightmare (MM p. 196): The perfect mount for your evil paladin.

Pact Dragon (Draco pp. 190-191): A great mount... if you are a githyanki.

Wyvern (MM p. 268): If you can't be a dragonrider, why not ride a wyvern?


Airship (AV p. 18): Didn't I see this in the Mummy Returns?

Ornithopter (AV p. 19): A flying device made by dwarves?  Um, I guess it must be safe.  Right?

Spelljammer (MoP p. 159):  Flying and plane shifting.  This is the ultimate ride.


Todd said...

I don't really miss the floating death fortress wizards of old, wreathed in spells and never touching the earth (though I thought the clean shoes were quite appropriate on my wind and storm flavored mage), but I do think that having a power that lets you fly so very briefly in the new game is pretty well bollux. A wizard is practically fighting gods before he can use his own ability to fly for more than one round in a battle!

As to the rituals, I liked the overland flight option, thought I think that it is overly limited, given that by the time you will be tempted to use it, your party can likely afford flying mounts. Also this bit: "you can do nothing than fly while in the air." brought a scenario to my mind which goes like this.

DM: You spot the town far below in the distance, but your companions have so far failed to realize that it is your destination.

Player A: I say "there it is"

DM: The effort to speak breaks the fragile ritual, and you plummet from the sky.

Seriously though, part of the cool-factor of flying/waterbreathing/etc. in DnD was always the new and different monsters you would fight in the extreme environments. Ok, technically the "giant gar" never did it for anyone, but try duelling a merfolk assasin on dry land. You will find it somewhat less entertaining than in the water. (acually, in that case the DM just had the assasin polymorph and we had a fun time).

Likewise, I recall trying to fight a manticore on foot, and failing several times, before getting potions of flight and kicking it's ass. Ditto dragon, sphynx or whatever. It really stinks when the monsters can just up and leave if you hurt them badly, but you can not if things go their way.

On an unrelated note, it seems that almost nobody uses mounts in my 4e experience. I am not entirely sure why that is, but I have to assume that one feat is not the reason. I know that in past, I have personally had issues with it. I recall a wood elf eagle rider who spent most of his (admittedly brief) entire life in a dungeon, and several old 1e cavaliers who never got to charge anyone. Even in 3e (where everyone and their mother had a pet animal) there were many people whose paladin "special mount" was a side by side fighting beast for the most part.

Rob said...

Wow Todd, you must have had some real assholes as DM's to imagine that interpretation. If that asshole was me, I apologize.

Anyway, when I said "you can do nothing while flying", I was paraphrasing. Technically, it states "you lose your minor, immediate, and standard actions while flying at your overland flight speed, and can use your movement action only to fly". So talking would not cause you to crash, since that is a free action.

I should also note that landing with the Overland Flight does not end the ritual (in fact, it assumes you are taking rests if you fly for 10 hours "straight"). So you could fly into a battle, fight, then fly away while done.

As for the mount thing, well frankly I believe the only 4E games we have played so far are three 1st level games and one converted 15th level game that ran three sessions. So I am not sure I would declare that "no one uses mounts in 4E" yet.

In fact, I wonder if the lack of easy flight (and limits on other forms of magical travel) will encourage more use of flying mounts. I remember 1E and 2E games where acquiring hippogriffs or pegasi was an important step for mid-level parties. I didn't see that as much in 3E, although there were some memorable encounters with a single griffon and a pegasi in some of the 3E Lords of Tyr games.

In any case, I think we should seek out flying mounts in the "Scales of War" game as soon as is feasible. I can really see Almirith riding into battle on a hippogriff, or better yet a giant eagle! Can't you?

Swordgleam said...

My friend ran a one-shot in which three out of the four of us happened to pick characters trained in arcana who knew rituals (warlock, wizard, and cleric). Two of us had Phantom Steeds, so we decided to summon some up. One of us criticaled the arcana check, and we ended up with flying steeds that we should not have been able to have. We skipped half the encounters, sniped his melee-based cyclopes from our airborne steeds, and in general had a grand old time while foiling all of his plans.

So, yeah. Flying. Powerful. I can't say 4e doesn't have enough, because a little goes a long way.

Todd said...

I wasn't complaining about the level at which flying mounts become available (that might be too early even), but rather the fact that the wizard utilities for flight seem underpowered given the level. The concept of flying about and being immune to counter attack is not a new one, and should be avoided. On the other hand, the giants should have hurled boulders back up at you using "improvised damage" rules (see Rob's post from feb 26).

PS Rob: It wasn't my DMs who inspired me to imagine that scenario, it was my love of satirical comics. My mind just seems to cartoonize and lampoon things for no really good reason these days.