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A Totem Warrior Barbarian can gain this at level 14:

While raging, you have a flying speed equal to your current walking speed. This benefit works only in short bursts; you fall if you end your turn in the air and nothing else is holding you aloft. (PHB p.50)

Does this imply that you can start flying as you are on air? As I understand it, since it works in short bursts, the RAI is that you can leap off the ground, fly around, and then land back. In other words, you don't grow wings, you just manage to magically fly fueled by your eagle spirits.

My barbarian player, however, argues that he doesn't need an initial foothold. If he throws himself or falls off a cliff, he can just fly right before landing and avoid taking damage. This sounds terribly wrong, it allows you to fall down from 20 miles high and just magically land.

Is there any written rule for flying whilst falling? If so, does the Barbarian flight apply to it, meaning there is no need for an initial foothold?

Our homebrew rule was to decrease the speed at which he is falling (e.g., if he fell 50ft and has 30 fly movement, he slows down and takes damage as if he fell only 20ft).

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As written, your player is correct. The rules do not state that he needs an initial foothold. Are you concerned that a level 14 Barbarian has found a way to replicate part of the effects of a level one spell (Feather Fall)?

Feather Fall is gained extremely early for Wizards, Sorcerers, and Bards, can be cast several times a day, and affects up to five creatures. This protects the Barbarian only at the cost of one of his Rages, at 14th level. This does not seem unbalanced to me.

This ability is not a reaction however, unlike feather fall. To perform this cliff-diving trick and save themselves from lots of falling damage, the Barbarian, on their turn, would have to already be raging, spend a few feet of movement to jump down the cliff, and then "turn on" their flight near the bottom of the cliff. They cannot use it when it is not their turn, so being pushed off a cliff still causes full damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd point out that I don't think the Barbarian's ability is a reaction - which means they'd have to do something like ready an action to use it "when I'm 30 ft from the ground) or something like that. So if they use it "normally" (for example) and don't land, they fall .. he then splats .. since he doesn't have a reaction to activate it again to prevent the falling damage ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Ditto Dec 20 '16 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why is everyone talking about reactions and readying actions or something for after he jumps/falls off a cliff? This grants him a permanent flying speed while raging. Flying speeds are used when movement is used and thats it. You switch between walking and flying until your speed (30ft for most races) is used up. Where is the confusion? \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Dec 20 '16 at 18:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airatome Would you say that while having a flying speed, one could not elect to fall? Falling on purpose to descend a cliff then catching yourself at the bottom is the intention. It is true that this doesn't require an activation, and is simply on when raging, so I'll change my answer somewhat to account for not needing to spend any action to activate it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tal Dec 20 '16 at 19:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tal if the cliff was high enough that they fell for MORE than one turn, they could still catch themselves in their turn right (or maybe a floating platform is the clouds)? \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Dec 20 '16 at 19:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tillmas there aren't actually any provisions for that kind of thing in the rules as written. Falling in D&D is both practically instantaneous (happens in the short time during the turn or part of turn where you start falling), and slow enough that a wizard can cast feather fall as a reaction to stop it from hurting. Don't think about the physics too hard, I guess... \$\endgroup\$ – Tal Dec 20 '16 at 20:24

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