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I'm trying to figure out the rules around flying creatures - particularly those that only have fly speeds and if that means they effectively have 2 actions a round due to a required hover.

  • Looking at a Ghost Commoner does it need to spend an action every turn to hover to avoid falling?
  • As an incorporeal creature is falling even a concern?
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Rules As Written, maybe

No rule tells us that incorporeal creatures are exempt from the falling rules. We do know that at least some incorporeal creatures are weightless (eg the wraith), but no rule tells us that all incorporeal creatures are weightless, and (absurdly) no rule tells us that weightless creatures are exempt from the falling rules.

No rule tells us whether incorporeal creatures can choose not to fall through the ground. The text says that an incorporeal creature: "can pass through solid objects, including walls", and we might argue that this is an optional ability that an incorporeal creature could choose not to use, but it's not clear if the rules support this; also it seems false given our understanding that incorporeal creatures can't interact with material objects.

The rules say: "Incorporeal creatures usually have immunity to effects or conditions that require a physical body". Gravity and falling seems like they should fall into this category, but it's not explicitly stated as such, so you'd have to ask your DM for a ruling.

In practice, your DM will houserule this

Your DM is likely to rule that incorporeal creatures are unaffected by gravity and don't ever fall. Your DM may issue this ruling by interpreting that line above, "Incorporeal creatures usually have immunity to effects or conditions that require a physical body", to include gravity and falling.

This "have to use an action each round to hover, provoking attacks of opportunity in the process" thing is a pretty severe weakness, and it seems wrong to apply this disadvantage to incorporeal creatures based on what appears to be a rules oversight on the part of the writers.

If someone in my game tried to argue that all my wraiths had to hover and provoke attacks or fall through the ground, I'd probably feel annoyed at them for rules-lawyering.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's sort of how it came up in the game. We all had an "oh wait" moment then laughed at the thought the center of the planet was a ton of ghosts who forgot to hover. We then carried on killing some ghosts - luckily our group wasn't trying to "gotcha" the DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rapida
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 15:26
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Ghosts probably don't need to Fly unless airborne

The rules for the Fly action partially say (Core Rules, 472):

If you’re airborne at the end of your turn and didn’t use a Fly action this round, you fall.

The application during your example will need to be based on where exactly the ghost is. Is it flying 50 feet up in the air? I think that is unambiguously "airborne" and would require a Fly action to hover.

On the other hand, is a ghost standing at ground level airborne? That is a decision for the GM to make, but to me that seems contrary to the normal meaning of airborne. There is no need for a Fly action to hover because the creature isn't airborne.

Reasonable minds may disagree, but I would point out that even if you decide that the ghost commoner is in fact airborne when standing at ground level then there are no ill effects. If it doesn't Fly that round, then it merely falls to whatever ground level is. If the distance is less than 10 feet, the ghost commoner takes no damage and therefore isn't prone - no harm done.

Will they fall through the ground?

In a comment, Rapida asked whether the ground itself is an object that an incorporeal creature would fall through. The relevant text from the incorporeal trait says (Bestiary, pg.346):

It can pass through solid objects, including walls.

If the ground is an object, then we know the incorporeal creature will fall through and would need to Fly each round to hover in place. So what's an object? The glossary in the Core Rulebook says only (pg.634):

See also item. 271 - 273.

The page numbers direct you to the section about equipment and items. 'Object' as a game term appears to be a synonym for 'item'. In that reading, an incorporeal creature can pass through items, including walls (which are explicitly called out in the incorporeal trait description), but not the ground, which is not an item/object.

On the other hand, you could understand the term 'object' not as a technical game term but in its common language meaning. In that sense, it's up to individual interpretation. I would personally not refer to an entire planet as an 'object' in most contexts; your mileage may vary.

An additional bit of doubt comes from the observation that at least some incorporeal creatures have normal Speeds (not fly). Searching Archives of Nethys I found the Elder Wyrmwraith, which has a Speed of 50 feet and a fly speed of 100 feet. It's not proof, but providing both kinds of movement suggests that the designers intended for the Elder Wyrmwraith to have two different kinds of movement. Ordinary terrestrial movement wouldn't make sense if it couldn't physically interact with the ground, so there's some (modest) doubt that the intent is for incorporeal creatures to fall through the ground.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Being Incorporeal wouldn't it "fall" through the ground? By the rules as written, I think they'd fall 500 feet on the first round. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rapida
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ It CAN pass through objects, not that it MUST pass through objects. The question is whether incorporeal beings are affected by gravity, which is required for them to fall. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mary
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mary That sounds like the basis of an interesting answer. I'm not going to edit to address that, because really only the first section of this answers the question. The second section (about falling) addresses a follow-up question by OP here in the comments; it's unnecessary for actually answering the original question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 0:52
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A ghost is incorporeal and not affected by many objects. It not only can pass through many objects,

It can pass through solid objects, including walls.

it has resistance to damage (though not immunity).

all damage 5 (except force, ghost touch, or positive; double resistance to non-magical).

How therefore can gravity, which is caused by the attraction of the world (an object) to another body (whether creature or object), pull it? Flying would only affect its motion, not keeping it from the ground

If it were affected by gravity, it would have to either fly or hover constantly, as it would fall through the floor, an object, (so there is no exemption for "ground-level"), and only be slowed.

if it starts its turn in an object, it is slowed 1

unless the rule that it CAN move through objects means it can decide not to, and to be stopped by them instead. This would at least clash with the issue that incorporeal beings need a ghost touch rune to affect objects:

An incorporeal creature can’t attempt Strength-based checks against physical creatures or objects—only against incorporeal ones—unless those objects have the ghost touch property rune.

I conclude that the ghost doesn't need to hover because it does not fall under the influence of gravity.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you clarify what you believe the correct ruling is and back it up with text from the book(s)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 14:15

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