The Ranger Swarmkeeper Gathered Swarm has 2 ability's that can force horizontal movement. But how do they work?

The attack's target must succeed on a Strength saving throw against your spell save DC or be moved by the swarm up to 15 feet horizontally in a direction of your choice

Is this horizontal from the direction I am facing, and if so what is stoping me from turning myself to aim freely, or is it horizontal from where the monster is facing? And second we have...

You are moved by the swarm 5 feet horizontally in a direction of your choice.

What's stopping me again from changing my direction to move freely here too?

Basically can I cheese this to push monsters either CLOSER or FURTHER away from me, not just left right movements.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Can you cast the Leomund's Tiny Hut spell upside down? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 18:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Laying down doesn't change what is horizontal. It changes whether you're horizontal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ryan Kinal
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ You seem to be confusing "horizontal" with "perpendicular". Closer, further, left, and right are all horizontal movements, assuming you are at the same elevation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pugmonkey
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pugmonkey: I'll note that when playing a 2D computer game (or interacting with 2D abstractions in general, including DND maps), horizontal often means west/east and vertical means north/south (or rather left/right/up/down, with up/down NOT referring to height) . I think OP is interpreting horizontal in this sense (hence why he incorrectly suggests that the rules block closer/further movement), rather than mistaking it to mean "perpendicular." The consequences of this interpretation are silly, hence why bonfire's proposed workaround feels a bit strange. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Brian That's actually a REALLY good point. Being more of a theater of the mind kind of player, I didn't even think about that \$\endgroup\$
    – Ryan Kinal
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 16:00

3 Answers 3


Horizontal is defined with respect to some absolute reference frame, not the reference frame of the ranger.

This answer is adapted from my answer here to a question about tiny hut and caster orientation.

To be clear, there is no RAW definition of horizontal, so we interpret it in the usual way that horizontal is used in English.

Relevant definitions of horizontal all read similarly to this one:

horizontal: parallel to the plane of the horizon

To an observer watching this feature at work, the notion of horizontal is irrelevant of the ranger's orientation.

More importantly, the ranger should agree with this observer, since horizontal is defined with respect to the horizon, not the ranger or the observer.

Or, as Ryan Kinal mentioned in a comment on your question:

Laying down doesn't change what is horizontal. It changes whether you're horizontal.

The ranger is not aware of the text of the feature description.

The feature description is meta-knowledge, and trying to leverage it to get horizontal to mean "any direction you want" is metagaming. The ranger does not know that the feature description text says horizontal - this is strictly player knowledge.

The ranger only knows that their ability pushes stuff sideways.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So this means if I shot with an arrow I could push/pull them in any direction BUT up into the air/down into the ground? \$\endgroup\$
    – bonfire
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 9:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @bonfire That is correct. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 9:33

It means you cannot move the target upwards.

"Horizontal" doesn't have any special definition, so we're expected to go with the literal - in absolute terms, in reference to the world around them. With that assumption, the intention of that word used there is apparent - it's so you cannot use the swarm to lift an enemy 15 feet into the air and drop them for another 1d6 bludgeoning damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It also, presumably, is compatible with sloped surfaces and the like even though they aren’t perfectly horizontal—all it really means is you just can’t lift them up or bury them. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ So this means if I shot with an arrow I could push/pull them in any direction BUT up into the air/down into the ground? \$\endgroup\$
    – bonfire
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 9:22

On a plane perpendicular to the force of gravity operating on the subject

The RAW generally assume (quite safely for a rule system that is meant to simulate normative 'medieval' scenarios occurring on a terrestrial body of some kind) that 'up' and 'down' are absolute directions, and that all subjects have a shared reference frame that establishes that axis. So 'horizontal' is the plane perpendicular to the vertical axis formed between 'up' and 'down,' and 'vertical' is any set of planes that are parallel to that axis.

This should only be in question if, somehow, your game is operating outside of those parameters - like in some crazy Escherian wizard's castle, or a space station, or something where space and/or gravity are non-standard - at this point we've left the RAW behind, as they were not written to model these types of situations.

Anything covering this behavior is a house rule -

I postulate that the most reasonable house rule in this case would be to respect the subjective axis established by gravity acting on the subject, as that respects the thematic constraint (swarms aren't strong enough to lift people), and a relevant mechanical constraint (swarms shouldn't be capable of dealing damage by lifting people up and dropping them, but might be able to shove something of a cliff or into some other hazard).


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