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The levitate spell description states:

One creature or object you can see rises vertically, up to 20 feet, and remains suspended for the duration. The spell can levitate up to 500 pounds. An unwilling creature that succeeds on a Constitution save is unaffected.

The target can move only by pushing or pulling against a fixed surface, which allows it to move as if it were climbing. It can also move up or down as part of its movement. You can change the target's altitude by up to 20 feet on your turn. Otherwise, you can use your action to move the target, but only within the spell's range.

What happens to a flying creature if levitated?

It sounds like the targeted levitating creature would need to push/pull a fixed surface to move, but this doesn't make sense to me for a creature that is already flying.

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4 Answers 4

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Flying creature that fails the save stops flying and begins levitating

TL;DR: The spell does what it says it does, and it is very specific about the only way an affected creature can move.

The target can move only by pushing or pulling against a fixed surface, which allows it to move as if it were climbing.

Spells do what they say they do

Q&A about spells doing what they say they do

From the Levitate spell description it sounds like it would need to push/pull a fixed surface but this doesn't make sense for a creature that is already flying.

For rules as written, it doesn't need to make sense in a physics sort of way. It's magic. Seems like a clever use of levitate is to stop a flying creature from being able to fly.

Specific beats general

Basic rules intro on specific beats general.

Magic accounts for most of the major exceptions to the rules.

The specific description of the spell beats the general fly speed movement.

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100% RAW

I would agree that

The target can move only by pushing or pulling against a fixed surface, which allows it to move as if it were climbing.

means that the target can no longer fly and can only move using fixed surfaces.

My interpretation

I would personally rule that the target can still fly because they are using some force to move, either pushing the air or with magic, just as they would do if they pushed off a solid surface.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 6, 2019 at 3:12
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"The target can move only by pushing or pulling against a fixed surface, which allows it to move as if it were climbing."

I feel that this is being hyper-focused on; while this creates an interpretation dilemma, what's really more important here is the other interactive part of the spell, and how it functions in each case of interpretation.

"You can change the target's altitude by up to 20 feet in either direction on Your Turn. If you are the target, you can move up or down as part of your move. Otherwise, you can use your Action to move the target, which must remain within the spell's range."

Interpretation 1: Magic is magic and the flying creature needs a SOLID surface to move around on or it hangs there indefinitely, unless you use your action to move it on your round, straight up or down only, by up to 20 feet. It's stuck. Personally, I feel this is obviously not the intended metric, otherwise earthbind would be absolute garbage when held up next to it. The spell also doesn't use the word 'solid.'

Interpretation 2: Magic and physics can coexist. The text doesn't actually say you need a 'solid' surface, it says you need a 'fixed' one. By flapping your wings, you are 'pushing' off the fixed surface of the ground by displacing the air between you and it.

This works with Mearls' answer, and the way a round would play out in this use-case follows.

Round 1: Griffin takes to the air and begins its approach for a flyby attack. You cast levitate on the griffin- it fails its save. You immediately change its altitude by 20 feet straight up or down.

Round 2: The griffin can still use its flying speed to move and take actions. It does so, making a pass at you and missing. It flies past you, and circles back around to make another pass. Here you have options on your turn. You can use your action to move it up or down another 20 feet, you can ignore it and make an attack on it, or you can Ready an Action with the trigger "when the griffin flies within five feet of someone, lower it up to 20 feet down to the ground." How this plays out in RP is entirely up to your DM in terms of what consequences or damage the griffin suffers from this, if any, but there's one mechanical consequence to this RAW that can't be overlooked- if you force the creature down to the ground before it attacks the target, it's no longer flying when it attacks the target, and it will no longer benefit from flyby, forcing it to stay and engage or take an AoO to resume moving away.

You could also raise it 20 feet, possibly causing it to have to fly back around for another pass to make an attack based on its size, reach, and maneuverability, which could keep it from ever actually being in position to make a flying attack and force it to land and stay on the ground if it wants to make one.

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Mike Mearls gave an answer here on Twitter stating they can still fly normally.

Checkmate🌧️ @Checkmatex3
Dec 27, 2017
If you cast Levitate on a creature with a fly speed can it still just fly around?
#D&D #5e @mikemearls
Mike Mearls
@mikemearls
Replying to @Checkmatex3
Yes
1:03 AM · Dec 27, 2017

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