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My party, creative as ever, has devised a new method of movement. Our party Warlock cast Levitate on herself, after tying a rope around her waist and handing it to another party member. That party member would then run around the battlefield at max speed, dragging the floating Warlock hovering at the end of the rope around with them like a balloon. This made it difficult for enemies to get on top of them, while freeing up the Warlock to focus on attacking.

In the spirit of fun, I allowed this during the session. However, looking at the wording of the spell, I'm not so sure. Levitate says that a target can only move by:

pushing or pulling against a fixed object or surface within reach (such as a wall or ceiling), which allows it to move as if it were climbing.

It also adds that:

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.

Reading the rules as written, there seems to be nothing that should allow someone to pull a levitating Warlock - only the Warlock herself should be able to cause movement.

However, I can also see an argument for the other party member pulling on the rope to be a similar force as the levitating person pulling themselves along a wall or ceiling, especially since the subject of the Levitation spell is a willing participant.

To expand on this point, if we still maintain that pulling with a rope would not cause the Levitating Warlock to move, would we also have to grant that any other force against the Warlock could not move her at all? Let's say a 400 lb boulder slammed into her from above. Assuming she could maintain concentration after the damage, would it really make sense for that boulder to just bounce off, since the requirements for movement were not met? Or, would that boulder need to exceed the 500 lb weight limit of Levitate in order to cause movement?

I'd be interested to hear some interpretations of this scenario.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, possible duplicate: lassoing a levitated creature \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Apr 28 at 22:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ "This made it difficult for enemies to get on top of them"; could you elaborate? Had the warlock previously been 'pinned down' in combat by grappling? By being in reach and not wanting to incur OA? How is the puller moving at 'max speed'? Are they taking a dash? Regular action or bonus action? Are they incurring OA? And what class are they? Or does the enemies getting on top of them mean sneaking up / using two-dimensional cover? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 29 at 5:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt the puller is a Sorcerer casting Flame Stride and using their dash action to run around the battlefield in an attempt to avoid opportunity attacks and kite slower enemies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chrygore
    Apr 29 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ keep in mind turning yourself into a giant floating target may not work out well. every enemy should have an ranged weapon and should be targeting the warlock pinata. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    May 1 at 2:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ No DM should ever rule against pulling a spellcaster around through the air like a kite. i.gifer.com/40j3.gif \$\endgroup\$
    – Weiramon
    May 1 at 15:58

5 Answers 5

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Yes, you can

Moving a levitating character like that is an idea that may predate even the first edition of the game, and goes back all the way back to OD&D, as shown in the story of Lessnard the wizard, from 1975 (penned by Gary Gygax himself).

Levitate does not say that the target cannot be moved, it only limits the way it can move itself. In 5e, spells only do what they say they do, and the spell would need to say that the target cannot be moved sideways by someone else. An object or a creature not opposing movement is just something with weight that you can carry or drag (p. 176 PHB).

As the target is floating in air, there also might be no weight penalty for doing so, although that is likely more in the realm of DM ruling:

  • In practice, weight is difficult to drag due to the friction it causes on the surface it rests on. The creatue is floating in air, with next to no friction caused by the weight. However, D&D is not a physics simulation, so treating it in line with physics is up to the DM.

  • Using the full weight can slow down the dragging creature and help to counterbalance the tactic if it is causing issues. It also helps to avoid other consequences of inertia and lack of friction that might be exploitable.

One could argue that the spell says the creature

remains suspended there for the duration

would indicate that you cannot move them from there in any other way than what the spell explicitly states. Historical tradition provides context that suggests against this interpretation of the phrase. That the target itself can move with the aid of a point of leverage further supports that being suspended there does not fix the creature there absolutely.

P.S.

It is less clear if you could pull the target down with a rope, as the spell is holding the creature up with a force of 500 pounds. On the other hand, the description of how the creature itself can move does not limit the direction of the movement. This is a slightly different question, discussed here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mike Mornard, wizard Lessnard. (The wizard Tenser played by Ernest...drawmij played by jimward) Fun with names. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 29 at 2:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lfusao The target can be an object or creature. Are you asking for explicit language that you can move something? PHB p 176. You can move an unwilling creature against its will by grappling it PHB p 195, but that should not be needed here as (a) they are willing and (b) they have no leverage point to oppose the movement. I agree re: weightless, the spell does not explicitly say so, and D&D is no physics simulation, so that there is no friction to oppose movement is not a hard argument, and ruling this is up to the DM. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 29 at 5:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even in a frictionless environment, heavier objects are harder to move. The difficulty is not just due to friction. An object 10x heavier than another will take 10x the force to accelerate it at the same rate as the lighter object in a frictionless environment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sean
    Apr 29 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ The other real physics aspect is inertia: player runs at 30’ per round, dragging the levitating one. When the running player stops, the floating one would keep going, possibly pulling down or dragging the earthbound character if they don’t let go. That is, if you you want to apply Earth physics to the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Apr 29 at 15:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin in the right campaign, this could be turned into an amusement park attraction... \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Apr 29 at 18:11
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Levitate does not make the target immune to forced movement

As you say, Levitate imposes a restriction on the target's movement:

The target can move only by pushing or pulling against a fixed object or surface within reach (such as a wall or a ceiling), which allows it to move as if it were climbing.

Note that this is talking about the target moving itself. Movement in this sense refers to a creature's ability to move itself on its turn, as described in the Movement and Position section of the rules. This has no bearing on the ability of other creatures and effects to forcibly move the levitating creature, e.g. by pushing, pulling, carrying, or any other means.

A levitated creature is not weightless

So, nothing about Levitate prevents other creatures from pushing or pulling the target. However, the text of Levitate says nothing about changing the target's weight. So any creature that wants to carry a levitating creature around (either directly or via a rope tether) would still be subject to the normal rules for carrying capacity and encumbrance, just as if they were to pick up and carry the creature normally. So an average barbarian (especially of a race with Powerful Build) will probably have no trouble dragging around their fancy unarmored warlock kite, but the reverse is likely not going to work well.

You can already "run and gun" without a spell

Going further, since the rules for carrying capacity apply as normal even when the target is levitating, casting Levitate is actually totally unnecessary for this plan. As long as one character (we'll call them the "runner") is strong enough to carry the other (the "gunner") without being encumbered, the runner can take the dash action each turn while the gunner rides on them and makes attacks. Of course, at this point you may as well replace the runner with a horse, since doing this gets you pretty close to the rules for mounted combat anyway.

Is this unbalanced? Well, the runner is using all their actions to dash instead of attack or do anything else with a direct combat effect. That's a pretty significant investment of actions to keep this trick going. Obviously it will be worth it in some cases, particularly against enemies with no ranged attacks in an open field with plenty of room to kite. But enemies fighting in an open field with no ranged attacks don't seem like very well prepared enemies anyway, so maybe they deserve to lose.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In comments the querent said the runner is using (UA21 draconic options) Flame Stride (+20 movement, no op attacks, and you do 1d6 damage to each creature you move within 5ft of. Extra d6 for each lvl above 3rd. 1 min concentration.) I'd guess that's a huge part of what's making this strategy seem (or be) over-powered. Although as you say, kiting against melee-only enemies in an open field is very effective. They can't even touch you if you can keep the range open to prevent op attacks. With a good long-range cantrip like Eldritch Blast, you can do this all day. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 at 3:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ You totally nailed it. this is actually the best answer and i was about to write this myself.. so +1 vote on this ! \$\endgroup\$ May 6 at 21:17
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Who can move the Warlock, and how?

DM willing, she can move herself by 'climbing'
As you correctly note, the Levitate spell allows the Warlock to move only by

pushing or pulling against a fixed object or surface within reach (such as a wall or ceiling), which allows it to move as if it were climbing.

If she is tied to a rope, and the other end of the rope is being held by her allied sorcerer, then she can pull on the rope. If the rope is taut she may be able to treat it as a 'fixed object' and thus by "pulling against a fixed object...within reach...move as if [she] were climbing." The as if climbing tells us to use the climbing rules, which say that "Each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain) when you’re climbing, swimming, or crawling."

Thus, provided the rope is fixed, the warlock can move at half her movement by pulling herself closer to the sorcerer. Since this will be her movement, she is free to also blast away using her Cast a Spell action during her turn.

Now, why might the rope not be considered fixed? Well, the sorcerer is not attached to the ground - if the warlock were able to pull hard enough, she could move the sorcerer rather than herself. Since real-world physics do not apply, it is no use trying to figure mass, momentum, friction, and such. The DM must decide whether the sorcerer is big enough to count as 'fixed', at least for the warlock pulling on the rope (it may be helpful to remember that for the purposes of the rules, 'fixed' and 'immovable' max out at 8000lbs of weight regardless of what is attempting to move them).

The sorcerer can also move the warlock by carrying her
Normally, when a creature attempts to move another creature or object, they are interacting with it directly. However, the rope presents a complication, in that there are not specific rules for moving a creature or object through the use of an object. It seems reasonable for the DM to allow the sorcerer to move the warlock through the use of the rope (after all, mounts can pull wagons through the use of a harness), but one should be aware that this is a ruling, not RAW.

If the sorcerer is permitted to move the warlock via the rope, then, the next question becomes whether the warlock is being grappled, dragged, or carried? This has important implications for the movement speed of the sorcerer, for if they are in fact grappling the warlock, their own movement is then at half speed as per the grappling rules. If, however, they may be permitted to drag or carry the warlock with the rope, their movement might not be so impeded.

Normally, a creature is considered grappled, while an object is dragged or carried. However, the grappling rules assume that the target of the grapple is both resisting the grapple itself and resisting the attempt to move it. When this is not true, as here when the warlock is in fact willing to be moved by the sorcerer, it appears to be RAI to allow the mover to treat the person moved as an object; that is, to drag or carry her.

The next question is then whether the warlock is being dragged or being carried. As other answers to this question have said, nothing in the Levitate spell makes the warlock or her gear weightless, so all of this weight must then be considered. If the addition of the warlock and all her gear to the equipment already being carried by the sorcerer is in total still less than Sorcerer's 'carrying capacity'(their Str x 15, in pounds), then the sorcerer can still move at their full movement speed! Thus a strong sorcerer and a light Warlock can take maximum advantage of the levitating warlock by moving her rapidly around the battlefield. [Note: If the optional encumbrance rules are being used, full speed for the sorcerer is obtainable only when the total weight carried is less than (5 x their Strength score) rather than (15x).]

If, however, the total load of the sorcerer's gear plus the warlock and her gear exceeds 15 x the sorcerer's Strength (up to a maximum of 30 x Str), then the sorcerer cannot carry the warlock, and instead must drag her. In this case, the speed of the sorcerer is only 5 feet per turn, which will make this trick practically useless.

Conclusion: Given a strong sorcerer, a light warlock, and a willing DM, you can indeed run your warlock all over the battlefield on the sorcerer's turn.

Further considerations: the dangers of a slack line
A DM trying to add verisimilitude would do well to treat the rope as non-elastic, and to allow the sorcerer to move the warlock only when the rope is taut. Thus if on the sorcerer's last turn they moved the warlock north, are currently 40 feet north of her, and want to begin to move her south, they must first run 80 feet south before they can even begin to move her!

On both the sorcerer's and warlock's turns, they should be taking up slack. Since taking up slack in the rope is manipulating the rope but not moving either one of them, it would be treated as a free object interaction. The DM would need to determine how much rope can be moved this way on one turn before the Use an Object action became necessary (considering that this action would prevent the sorcerer from Dashing and the Warlock from attacking).

A slack rope presents other dangers, however. If the rope were to go so slack that part of it touched the ground, the DM might rule that it is no longer being carried - and thus would burst into flame! This is because if the rope is not carried, then the sorcerer's flame stride will burn through it. "When you move within 5 feet of a creature or object that isn’t being worn or carried, it takes 1d6 fire damage from your trail of heat." Since the rope, whether hempen or silk, has only 2hp, it would most likely be burned through on the first turn of the sorcerer in which it was not carried, stranding the suspended warlock.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The slack line is a good point, but you're assuming the warlock is not floating high enough to keep the rope near-vertical. If the warlock can move upward to keep the line taut as the sorcerer changes direction, that avoids a jerk as the slack runs out. Even without that coordinated movement (which could take an action to ready vertical levitation movement), it could keep the warlock within maybe 10 to 15ft of the runner, with the rope near-vertical. The warlock concentrating on Levitate can use their movement (up or down by up-to 20ft) to move themselves relative to the "pivot" (sorcerer). \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, this seems like the kind of exceptional situation where DMs are expected to make a ruling, not just try to apply existing rules word for word. Encumbrance and carrying capacity is a useful guideline to maybe use as a proxy for ability to change direction of a massive (high inertia) but weightless "balloon", but the force on a rope will be backwards and upwards. And if there's only air resistance, nothing like ground friction, that should be easier to move fast. (But harder to move safely / in control.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 at 3:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Anyway, nice job finding relevant rules, but the way you phrase it implies an assumption that finding and applying existing rules is the only correct approach. If you don't mean that, maybe at least mention that it's normal to make a ruling on situations the rules don't specifically mention. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 at 3:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes My general approach in answering is to (1) elucidate the rules if they clearly apply, (2) explain what rules could serve if there is no clear RAW, and then (3) suggest guidance for rulings if there is no RAW applicable. I think this approach is supported by meta as what is expected by querents of answers, but you are right that I could mention more that in this case a RAW focus might not be best. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 30 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes I certainly was assuming that there was a low angle between the sorcerer and warlock, and making that assumption without thinking about it, so thank you for pointing that out. The problem with a high angle, with the warlock nearly overhead, is that then most of the force applied by the sorcerer through the rope will have a downward component rather than a lateral component, requiring the sorcerer to be stronger to move the warlock as effectively, possibly to the point where they pull hard enough to lift themselves off the ground! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 30 at 15:19
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Using the grappling rules might be an idea

Since the character pulling the levitating warlock around would still have to deal with their weight I'd suggest they can do so but have their speed halved as a result.

About the best justification I can give is the first line of the grappling rules:

When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a Special melee Attack, a grapple.

By using a rope tied to the warlock your character is effectively grabbing them by proxy. I'm not aware of any other rules in 5E by which you can physically move someone around to match your movement without directly using magic eg. dimension door.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems like a decent enough conclusion, but doesn't meet community standards for good answers. Could you back this up with play experience or some indication of why this is the "most correct" answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Apr 28 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re the last paragraph: A creature is also a thing with a weight, and if they are not opposing movement or are unable to do so, I see no reason why you could not carry or drag them like any other thing. The rules for this are on p 176 PHB. Using their full weight for this purpose slowing down the mover is not something I personally would rule, as the reason things need force to move is the friction on the ground caused by their weight, but I think it is within the rules and can be a way to curtail the use of this tactic if the DM wants to do so. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 29 at 5:42
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It doesn't say you can't, so I would agree that pulling it with a rope while it floats is like pulling it as if it was on the ground, with the added effects that since they are floating, they don't have any real weight, and they can't really fight back as well.

On a side note, in one of the D&D novels (I forget which one, but it is by R.A. Salvatore) a drow uses levitate and gets pulled across a gap in a similar manner.

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