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I was listening to the Nerd Poker podcast, where

a character fell down a substantial distance (hundreds of feet, down a mine shaft) while another character – who wasn't in a position to intercept – was levitating nearby (2e D&D Levitate spell).

Which got me wondering what would have happened if the levitating character had been in a position to catch this 400-pound falling giant. It's well over the Levitate weight limit, so there's no chance of just catching and levitating back up, but would the Levitate spell slow the general ascent? Or does the spell just "break" at the weight limit and stop functioning altogether, putting both characters into freefall?

There's the concurrent issue of "falling as weight" – assuming I'm hundreds of feet above the ground, there's a substantial difference between having a weight that I'm levitating, a weight that is somehow handed to me, or a weight that is falling toward me at critical mass. I guess I'm picturing some sort of Superman-style "catches falling object, falls a bit, recovers, starts flying back up" scenario, but I'm not sure how it should work.

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Thanks for spoiler-tagging that, SevenSided -- I've wandered over to Exchange from StackOverflow, and didn't know that was a possibility. –  mattshepherd Oct 11 '13 at 16:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

They fall.

A spell's entry, plus the general rules for spells, together give a complete description of how it changes reality. AD&D spells tend to be very open to creative use, by extrapolating logical consequences from the effects a spell describes, but there's no rules or tradition support for extrapolating extra reality-changing effects than those which are described. Where a spell is silent on how it works, it's up to DM interpretation; but where a spell is silent about what it does, it simply does nothing.

So. The spell levitate has a maximum weight limit, and describes no slow-falling effect while exceeding it. Since "falling slowly" is a magical effect, and the spell does not describe it as having such a magical effect, it doesn't. And since it has a weight limit, that is how much weight it can lift. Without adding any new magical effects than those described, there's simply no provision for the spell to have any effect at all while its stated limits are exceeded.

However, it wouldn't "break", as the spell also makes no mention of being dispelled by exceeding the weight limit. It would just fail to be able to levitate you, until the excess weight is removed.

(Of course, a DM can change or add to spells as they see fit, but that should go without saying, and besides which doesn't change what a spell does absent any after-the-fact modifications a particular DM might make.)

As an aside, D&D doesn't simulate weight-as-force except in the damage rules (where it does not simulate it so much as nod in the general direction of our physical expectations). D&D generally simplifies weight to a pre-Newtonian concept of weight-as-mass. You can ignore added force due to the acceleration of falling in most cases, since the game systems don't benefit from the extra calculus and may actually suffer added weirdness if done.

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In AD&D 2e, the DM improvises.

SevenSidedDie gives a well articulated answer, based in the culture of how D&D (3.x and 4e) are played now: the spell cleanly stops having an effect when it's stated maximums are exceeded.

That said, this question was asked for AD&D 2e, which had a very different culture around how to interpret the rules, and what to do when you encountered fuzzy patches (my emphasis):

Take the time to have fun with the AD&D rules. Add, create, expand, and extrapolate. Don't just let the game sit there, and don't become a rules lawyer worrying about each piddly little detail. If you can't figure out the answer, MAKE IT UP! And whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of believing these rules are complete. They are not. You cannot sit back and let the rule book do everything for you. David "Zeb" Cook, Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, Foreword (1989).

In other words, (in 2e) when the players do something outside the bounds of what's spelled out in the rules, the DM isn't encouraged to do a careful textual analysis; the DM's encouraged to improvise.

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Actually, my answer is based on the culture of how I played D&D before 3.x came along and legalism-d everything. I explain in detail not because I tend toward legalistic interpretations, but because I had to explain what seemed like a common-sense interpretation in detail. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 16 '13 at 8:32
Fair enough, and a very reasonable interpretation of the rules...though I think it's worth noting that (based on Cook's written guidance to DMs) @mattshepherd's "Superman-style" scenario is equally within the realm of the 2e rules. –  Jeff Fry Oct 16 '13 at 18:57
@SevenSidedDie I see where you are coming from, but I am not sure it is "a common-sense interpretation" or at least not the only possible one. I'm inclined to agree with Jeff about the DM improvising, and if I were DMing I would have gone with "falls slowly". –  TimothyAWiseman Mar 26 '14 at 19:48
@TimothyAWiseman *shrug* The stance that, if the spell doesn't say it does that, it doesn't, seems fairly commonsense. Given the way AD&D spells in general are fairly comprehensive in their fictional effects (as opposed to mechanical), I do think that's the most reasonable and faithful-to-the-game interpretation. GMs can make up whatever, of course, but deciding that a point on which the spell is silent should contain something fantastical, and making it up, is adding something new that wasn't there. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 26 '14 at 22:31

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