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A dragon flies at 4000 feet of altitude and needs to get to ground level as fast as possible.

With a double-move and a fly speed of 200, it can only move 400 feet per round.

But, can it choose to stop flapping its wings and fall (I would assume maybe 500 or 1000 feet per round), and then use the Fly skill to negate the 20d6 of falling damage when it hits the ground?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The spell fly says that "the subject of a fly spell can charge but not run". Is that a limitation specific to the fly spell, meaning that a creatue flying non-magically could run? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29 '20 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PetrHudeček That might be reminder text, so you should always check the rules associated with flying, the creature feature, when you're trying to figure out how that kind of flying functions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Axoren
    Sep 29 '20 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Disregard the link I posted in the comment above; I have accidentally linked to 5e material \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29 '20 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Minor quibble: even under normal movement rules, a dragon could run toward the ground for quadruple movement, which would be 800 ft. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30 '20 at 14:03
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Yes

Dropping is a free action, and there's no rule saying you must remain flying at the end of a move when using a fly speed. So, the dragon can deliberately drop to descend faster than allowed by his fly speed and use his flight to negate the fall damage with a Fly check, as described in "Avoid Falling Damage" in the skill description.

While the rules do not explicitly say the falling speed, many GMs tend to rule that you fall at a rate of 500 feet per round due to an implication in the falling rules below.

A character cannot cast a spell while falling, unless the fall is greater than 500 feet or the spell is an immediate action, such as feather fall.

500 feet is also a good, easy-to-remember rounding down of the approximate 570 feet a person would fall within 6 seconds (the length of a round).

Thus, your dragon can stop flying and drop up to 500 feet instantly.

However..

A GM might rule this as a complex maneuver, and they would have good reason to do so. The Fly rules have many restrictions on how you move with flight. Violating any of the rules requires a Fly check, as indicated in bold below.

You generally need only make a Fly check when you are attempting a complex maneuver. Without making a check, a flying creature can remain flying at the end of its turn so long as it moves a distance greater than half its speed. It can also turn up to 45 degrees by sacrificing 5 feet of movement, can rise at half speed at an angle of 45 degrees, and can descend at any angle at normal speed. Note that these restrictions only apply to movement taken during your current turn. At the beginning of the next turn, you can move in a different direction than you did the previous turn without making a check. Taking any action that violates these rules requires a Fly check. The difficulty of these maneuvers varies depending upon the maneuver you are attempting, as noted on the following chart.

Because this "stop fly, drop, and slow descent" maneuver essentially tries to "cheat" the maximum speed you can descend while flying, a GM might rule this as a complex maneuver and require a more significant Fly check than merely the one for slowing descent.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ there's no maximum speed you can descend while flying. If you believe there is, you should get a source for that. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30 '20 at 4:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil The quotation in the section However.. says, in part, that the flying creature "can descend at any angle at normal speed." Is that somehow not a maximum? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30 '20 at 5:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan that's covering a normal amount of horizontal distance regardless of angle of descent (see paizo.com/paizo/faq/v5748nruor1fm#v5748eaic9o76). Speed measures how many squares/spaces you can move, and thus vertical motion isn't really covered by the movement rules the same way (because spaces are 5' by 5' rather than 5' by 5' by 5'). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30 '20 at 5:30
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Horizontal and vertical distance are tracked separately

A dragon may only be able to move 200 feet horizontally through the air whilst taking a single move action, but it, like most flying creatures, can descend at any angle while moving at normal speed without even needing to make a Fly check. For example, the normal Fly rules permit the dragon to move 200 feet horizontally and 200,000 feet downward with a move action, or 200 feet horizontally and 30 feet downwards.

Since the game is generally assumed to be played in two dimensions, even when representing three dimensional combat, the rules for ascending are handled by the speed reduction instead of asking players and GMs to ascertain the diagonal vertical movement.

(source)

But you can still fall if you want

That said, should the dragon want to fall instead of just changing its height to any arbitrary lower value as a free part of horizontal movement, it certainly can do so, and regardless of the distance it falls the Fly check to negate damage remains at DC 10.

Falling doesn't actually have an explicit 500'/1000' per turn speed limit, but you can only cast spells during falls longer that, and that is the speed limit when you are falling due to weird gravity stuff:

A severe fluctuation sends the creature falling upward for 2d6 rounds, for a distance of 500 feet in the first round and 1,000 feet in each successive round.

There're also no rules, unlike for regular movement, allowing you to travel arbitrarily large vertical distances instantly at no cost while falling. Consequently, it's totally rules-legal for a GM to limit fall distance per round to 500 ft in the first round and 1000 feet per round afterwards, and indeed makes falling normally and in an unusual direction use the same rules. Another good ruling option, however, and the one I use oftest personally is to limit fall speed to 150 feet in the first round and 300 feet thereafter, bringing material plane falls in line with those under Subjective Gravity:

Under such a procedure, an individual “falls” 150 feet in the first round and 300 feet in each succeeding round.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is "200,000 feet downward with a move action" a typo? That kind of speed is impossible, right? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30 '20 at 6:31
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No.

To fall is a specific free action in pathfinder. Short of gravity and resistance being changed, its considered a constant with simple rules. You fall up-to 500 feet in a round, and thats straight down.

Creatures with flying speeds are allowed to fall, however even if their fly speed is greater than 500, by doing so they are no longer falling but using move actions. However, I dont see any reason why you could not fall 500 feet and then move another 200.

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