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If a dragon decides to drop prone while flying, will it fall?

To meet the minimum character requirements, here are the rules for Prone and Flying Movement:

Combatants often find themselves lying on the ground, either because they are knocked down or because they throw themselves down. In the game, they are prone. You can drop prone without using any of your speed. Standing up takes more effort; doing so costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed. For example, if your speed is 30 feet, you must spend 15 feet of movement to stand up. You can't stand up if you don't have enough movement left or if your speed is 0.

To move while prone, you must crawl or use magic such as teleportation. Every foot of movement while crawling costs 1 extra foot. Crawling 1 foot in difficult terrain, therefore, costs 3 feet of movement.

Flying creatures enjoy many benefits of mobility, but they must also deal with the danger of falling. If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls, unless it has the ability to hover or it is being held aloft by magic, such as by the fly spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I know this seems like an open and shut "the rules do exactly what they say" kind of question, but I saw many questions/answers mixing up these rules so I thought I would post a clarification to point to. It's much easier to have a link to post than to have to explain multiple times. Thanks for your understanding, I know it's boring to see questions that are directly answered by copy pasting the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 2:48

4 Answers 4

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Short answer: Yes

While there is a difference between dropping prone and being knocked prone, the free action of dropping prone causes the creature to

throw themselves down.

In this situation, the dragon is choosing to voluntarily fall. In the related question, the accepted answer gives you some reasoning as to why that may be; for example, if you choose to use the 500 ft/turn rule, and the dragon seeks to dive bomb or escape, moving well over 500ft in a single turn using prone plus the dash action. This works as well with basic rules, but is a bigger risk to the dragon unless they can resist the <= 20d6 bludgeoning, or have the health to walk it off, as well as subject themselves to the prone condition, at least temporarily.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's an interesting interpretation that I haven't heard before! I am not sure I agree with it but it's a cool answer, kudos! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 3:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the prone condition because the dragon "voluntarily falls" or because they hit the ground and are now "lying on the ground" prone? \$\endgroup\$
    – Thank-Glob
    Feb 20 at 10:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thank-Glob both, they're now on the ground because they have voluntarily fallen. Going prone causes you to throw yourself to the ground. Furthermore, a creature with the prone condition can only crawl; this is distinct from flying as movement. If a creature cannot fly while in the air, they will fall. \$\endgroup\$
    – Korpse
    Feb 28 at 4:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Upon re-reading this I still think it's clever but it's somewhat less convincing. Even if the dragon throws themselves down, why must they throw themselves all the way down to the ground, perhaps 500ft below? Something isn't quite clicking there! An interesting quirk is that if the dragon is more than 500ft above the ground it can go prone, dive 500ft, and end their turn prone mid air. This perhaps warrants more discussion than you give it. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 29 at 7:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Non-novelist while they would be prone mid-air, that's with a variant rule that makes it so you only fall 500ft/turn. Once again, the prone condition makes your only movement option to crawl, causing you to fall. By base rules, this makes you hit the ground instantly. With the variant rule found in XGtE, you can only fall up to 500ft/turn. Ending the prone condition costs half your movement, so hypothetically, yes, you could fall prone, then stop being prone after 500ft, but only if your GM uses the XGtE var. falling rules. I went over that in my answer \$\endgroup\$
    – Korpse
    Jun 12 at 19:36
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If you become prone for any reason while flying, you fall.

You quoted the relevant text in your question:

Combatants often find themselves lying on the ground, either because they are knocked down or because they throw themselves down. In the game, they are prone.

Being prone is "lying on the ground", so it's not really something you can do while also flying, i.e. not touching the ground. The rules address this by specifying how the interaction of those two states works: you fall. There is no particular difference between being "knocked prone" versus "throwing yourself down". You're dropping to the ground quickly in either case.

Conditions are not arbitrary rules elements that float in a purely conceptual space. "Prone" is not a binary flag you can set on the character that just exists divorced from the game world at large. It represents a physical state that's happened to the character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not all prone is lying on the ground, and not all lying on the ground is being prone. Proof: snakes and snake-like monsters aren't always prone and aren't immune to prone condition. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Feb 15 at 3:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can a snake be prone? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 3:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot The snake example only shows that "not all lying-on-the-ground is prone". That does not prove that there exists a state that is prone yet does not lie on the ground. Showing a cow to prove that "not all mammals are dogs" does not prove that "there exists a dog that is not a mammal". They're entirely different claims. Sure, a snake can be on the ground but not prone (represented by JC as being on its back and flailing around trying to right itself). That doesn't help us determine whether a bird can be flying and at the same time prone, which is described as "lying on the ground". \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 3:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Where is the "lying on the ground" part from? Could you post a quote and link to the rule you are referring to? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 3:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ground is of course a surface that can support you, not earth exclusively. If you're laying on the deck of a boat, somebody might ask "Why are you laying on the ground?" and we wouldn't think it's strange. Just to be clear. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 4:19
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A big assumption

Your question assumes that a dragon can choose to go prone while flying. I am not sure that is the case (emphasis and explication mine):

Combatants often find themselves lying on the ground, either because they are knocked down or because they throw themselves down. In the game, they [that is, those combatants who find themselves lying on the ground] are prone.

This passage could be interpreted to mean that throwing oneself down to become prone requires that one end by lying on the ground, and as such, cannot be done while still airborne.

Looking at the rules for flying movement,

Flying creatures enjoy many benefits of mobility, but they must also deal with the danger of falling. If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls, unless it has the ability to hover or it is being held aloft by magic, such as by the fly spell.

While these rules establish that a flying creature may be knocked prone, they do not establish that a flying creature can choose to 'throw themselves down' and go prone.

Thus it is a rather big assumption on your part that a flying creature can voluntarily go prone, when in fact that merits its own stacks question. However, for the sake of answering this question, let's assume that your dragon can indeed go prone while flying without having to lay on the ground.

Will it fall?

As quoted above, there are three situations in which a flying creature will be forced to fall:
(a) if it is knocked prone
(b) if its speed is reduced to 0
(c) if it is 'otherwise' deprived of the ability to move (here 'otherwise' is ambiguous, but since being knocked prone does not deprive one of the ability to move, we can understand this to mean being deprived of the ability to move in any way other than having one's speed reduced to zero)

Since choosing to go prone fulfils none of these conditions, a creature that chooses to go prone while flying (if permitted to do so) will not fall.

If it doesn't fall, what happens RAW?

Suppose we now have a prone, still-flying, not-falling creature.

First, they should have all the mechanical effects of the prone condition:

A prone creature's only movement option is to crawl, unless it stands up and thereby ends the condition.
The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls.
An attack roll against the creature has advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature. Otherwise, the attack roll has disadvantage.

Further,

To move while prone, you must crawl or use magic such as teleportation. Every foot of movement while crawling costs 1 extra foot.

So we have a still-flying creature that cannot move as fast but is harder to hit at a distance, and that is easier to hit within 5 feet but which has a harder time itself hitting.

What I would do

How should we represent the rules consequences of flying while prone within the narrative of the game?

Being knocked prone is one thing, but choosing to go prone typically occurs when a character is protecting themselves from missile fire. To me, it makes the most narrative sense to leave behind the description of prone as being 'crawling on the ground' and instead assume that the flying creature is taking evasive maneuvers; rolls, high-speed turns, sudden changes of trajectory, and such. These actions would be under their own control, would reduce the net distance they traveled, would make them harder to hit unless their attacker managed to get in close, and would make it more difficult for them to attack, neatly fitting all of the mechanical effects of being prone while flying.

Thus, narratively, I would assume that:
The prone condition on the ground means that you are crawling
Being knocked prone while flying means that you are falling
Choosing to go prone while flying means that you are making evasive maneuvers

This is my opinion; other narrative interpretations may apply in other games. However, the mechanical consequences of being prone while flying (assuming one can choose to do so) are RAW and must apply regardless.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting and comprehensive answer mate \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 8:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Evasive maneuvers" overlaps a lot with Dodge, making granting a similar effect as a free action plus movement constraints a little generous to the flying creature IMO. It gives flexible action choices to something that already has a lot of advantages. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ A bit too RAW for my liking, the designers almost certainly wrote the rules from a common situation view, and don't account for edge cases like a dragon choosing to plummet from the sky by going prone. But yet I do agree that a flying creature probably can't choose to go prone in the air. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 15 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NeilSlater It is similar to Dodge, but I see it as ends of an Attack/Defense/Move spectrum: full attack (attack action lets you attack and move without penalty but no benefit to defense), dodge (dodge action lets you move without penalty and bonus to defense but no attack at all), evade (prone while flying lets you attack at penalty, move at penalty, and bonus to defense). Each choice is a tradeoff, benefiting two areas and penalizing a third. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 15 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kirt Except the penalties to attack generally won't apply. With your interpretation, there's no additional cost whilst in mid-air to dropping prone at the end of a turn and un-proning at the start of the next turn (same movement penalty either half speed or pay half your speed, same between-turn effects). There's an edge case that would encourage the flyer to attack at disadvantage - attacker preps a ranged attack for when the flying creature stops evading - but that would be sub-optimal for most attackers. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 16:24
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Dropping prone will not cause a dragon to fall, but being knocked prone will

There are two ways to become prone; either you are knocked prone or you drop prone yourself:

Combatants often find themselves lying on the ground, either because they are knocked down or because they throw themselves down.

The rules for flying movement state that only being knocked prone causes you to fall:

If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls

Dropping prone doesn't trigger any of the other conditions

For completeness, dropping prone does not reduce your speed to 0 or deprive you of the ability to move.

Dropping prone itself does not cost any movement:

You can drop prone without using any of your speed.

And not only is it possible to move while prone, there are even special rules it:

To move while prone, you must crawl or use magic such as teleportation. Every foot of movement while crawling costs 1 extra foot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious what you think being prone while flying looks like. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 2:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Think of the way Superman flies, he's "lying flat, especially face downwards." - the definition of prone. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 3:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, disagree that superman flies prone (horizontal, not prone) -- but even if we accept that, how does that translate to a bird or dragon? Are you suggesting that a dragon "flying prone" no longer needs its wings? What distinguishes normal flight from "prone flight"? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 4:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym the Oxford dictionary states: "prone: lying flat, especially face downwards." is that not exactly how Superman flies? I imagine a dragon doing exactly the same, lying flat face down essentially, in a way that minimizes its cross section just like Superman. As for "are you suggesting a dragon flying prone no longer needs its wings" Uh, no I'm not hahaha. Just follow the normal prone rules. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 4:16

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