In one of my recent blog posts, I talked about how flying foes might not be appropriate for low-level parties? But why not? And when might flying foes actually be good to use?

You can’t win if your enemy can strike you, but you can’t strike back. Flying foes seem like the ultimate creatures that can attack with impunity while laughing at land-bound PCs, but they aren’t. Look at the low-level flying foes common in many games, and you’ll see melee creatures that need to approach the PCs to be a threat. Animals like bats or birds need to fly close to peck and claw at the PCs (this remains true for larger animal-like monsters, like rocs and griffons). Stirges not only must fly up to the PCs, but their tactics are all about latching onto the PCs and staying there. Harpies might not fly right up to the PCs, but their compelling song lures the PCs to them…where the PCs can immediately start swinging once the enchantment is broken. Flying monsters that spend their time next to the PCs are good threats for low-level PCs that don’t have any way to get into the air, even temporarily.

Mid-level flying foes can do some interesting things from a distance, but then usually have to close to remain effective. Dragons, chimeras, and similar monsters might use a breath weapon from the air, but their physical attacks are more powerful so they must eventually meet the PCs face-to-face. Manticores throw spikes from their tails, but these are limited in number and they eventually come down to bite with their super-creepy person-like faces. Ew. These monsters force the PCs to figure out how to outlast the ranged damage or use short-term flying solutions, like levitate spells or potions of fly. Ranged experts in the party—like a wizard with magic missiles or the ranger with a bow—can strike back, but the party as a whole is at limited effectiveness when flying foes remain out of reach. Some games—including the Pathfinder Playtest—have a mid-level spell called earthbind that can bring a flying monster down to the ground temporarily.

Monsters that can fight from the air with unlimited capabilities are the most powerful, and generally only confront high-level PCs that can meet them on their aerial terms. Nightwings can cast unholy blight all day long, decimating good-aligned land-bound foes. Erinyes devils have excellent bows and can stay in the air all day long.

When to use flying foes that hamstring the PCs? Sometimes that challenge is a welcome change of pace, helps the PCs learn new tactics, or might even be necessary for the story you’re telling. Some examples:

Teaching Tactics: It teaches PCs the tactical value of readying their attacks, particularly for foes that can swoop in, attack, and fly away.

Opportunity for Heroism: It presents a believable threat that beleaguered NPCs can’t solve, and must rely on the PCs to confront (city guards who are menaced by wyverns, for example).

Suggesting Gear: It forces a melee fighter to consider expanding her arsenal to prepare for similar encounters in the future.

Validating Archers: It’s a great experience for an archer or long-range warlock, who feel like his choices have made him useful and powerful.

Expending Resources: It’s useful to draw away the PCs’ long-range spells if you’d like them to have fewer of those in later encounters (such as if you’re planning to have a longstanding villain flee on a griffon or in an airship).