How does a Fly spell actually manifest, how does it behave beyond granting the power of flight, and what does that mean to the caster of the spell?
let’s take a look at the description of the Fly spell in various rules:
from Swords and Wizardry:
Spell Level: Magic-User, 3rd Level
Duration:1 turn/level + 1d6 turns
This spell imbues the Magic-User with the power of flight, with a movement rate of 120 feet per round. The Referee secretly rolls the 1d6 additional turns; the player does not know exactly how long the power of flight will last.
Form Labryinth Lord (also essentially identical in LotFP)
Duration: See below Range: 0
For a number of turns equal to the casterÊs level +1d6 turns, the caster can fly with a maximum movement of 120’ each round. The caster can vary the speed as desired, and is capable of hovering.
From Expert D&D
duration: level of caster +1-6 turns
This spell allows the caster (or person touched) to fly. The spell will permit movement in anat direction and speed put to 120’ per round (360’ per turn). It will allow a person to stop ay any point,, as a levitate spell.
from 1st edition AD&D
Duration: 1turn/level +1-6turns Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M Casting Time: 3 segments SavingThrow: None
Range: Touch Duration: 6 rounds +
Explanation/Description: This spell enables the magic-user to bestow the power of magical flight. The creature affected is able to move vertically and/or horizontally at a rate of 12" per move (half that if ascending, twice that if descending in a dive). The exact duration of the spell is always unknown to the spell caster, as the 1-6 turns variable addition is determined by the Dungeon Master secretly. The material component of the fly spell is a wing feather of any bird.
from 1st edition DMG in the Adventures in the Air section of the rules:
Fly spell: Utilizing a fly spell takes as much concentration as walking, so most spells could be cast while flying, either while hovering or moving slowly (3" or less). There is no penalty for archery while flying (assuming the archers are hovering - if they are moving, see AERIAL COMBAT, Aerial Missile Fire), but there are minuses for slinging or swinging weapons, and these are the same as the penalties for archery while levitating, i.e., -1 to hit, cumulative per successive rounds until -3 is reached. Persons using a fly spell (or a magical device which confers that power upon the bearer, such as a ring of flying) will move at maneuverability class 8. Flying persons involved in ground melees attract missile fire much as levitators do. Flying persons involved in combat with other aerial creatures do so in the same manner as any other creature of their maneuverability class.
from 1st edition DMG Underwater adventures:
fly: this spell will, enable the recipient.to swim easily at any depth desired, even if encumbered or normally too heavy to float. Maximum speed is 9"
Range: touch Duration: 1 turn/level
The subject of this spell can fly at a speed equal to his or her normal ground movement rate (as adjusted by encumbrance). The subject can ascend at half speed and descend at double speed, with the same maneuverability as the subject has when moving on the ground. Flying under the effect of this spell requires only as much concentration as walking, so the subject can attack or cast spells normally. The subject of a fly spell can neither charge nor run, nor carry aloft more weight than his or her maximum load.
Should the spell duration expire while the subject is still aloft, the magic fails slowly. The subject floats downward 120' per round for 1d10 rounds. If the subject reaches the ground in that amount of time, he or she lands safely. If not, the subject falls the rest of the distance, taking normal falling damage. Since dispelling a spell effectively ends it, the subject also descends in this way if the fly spell is dispelled.
from 3.5 D&D:
Level: Sor/Wiz 3, Travel 3 Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 standard action Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: 1 min./level
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless) Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)
The subject can fly at a speed of 60 feet (or 40 feet if it wears medium or heavy armor, or if it carries a medium or heavy load). It can ascend at half speed and descend at double speed, and its maneuverability is good. Using a fly spell requires only as much concentration as walking, so the subject can attack or cast spells normally. The subject of a fly spell can charge but not run, and it cannot carry aloft more weight than its maximum load, plus any armor it wears.
Should the spell duration expire while the subject is still aloft, the magic fails slowly. The subject floats downward 60 feet per round for 1d6 rounds. If it reaches the ground in that amount of time, it lands safely. If not, it falls the rest of the distance, taking 1d6 points of damage per 10 feet of fall. Since dispelling a spell effectively ends it, the subject also descends in this way if the fly spell is dispelled, but not if it is negated by an antimagic field.
Arcane Focus: A wing feather from any bird.
from 5th edition D&D online Basic.
Casting Time: 1 action
Components: V, S, M (a wing feather from any bird)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes
You touch a willing creature. The target gains a flying speed of 60 feet for the duration. When the spell ends, the target falls if it is still aloft, unless it can stop the fall.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 3rd.
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From the various incarnations of the Fly spell we see it grants the power of flight, this flight is often of with hazardly limited duration and the person flying thanks to the fly spell may not always be aware of when they are going to lose the power of flight (with variation of course). 1st edition AD&D is verst specific about the range of actions allowed with some odd stability related combat modifiers but doesn’t go on to explain just what is going on with flight from a fly spell (which also works underwater).
So what does a magic-user look like while using a flight spell? Do we have superman like flight? Is the wizard flapping his or her arms to be mobile (as hovering seems to allow a greater range of actions)? Does the recipient sprout a pair of magical wings? Is the caster polymorphed into a semi-birdlike creature? Is the air around the caster animated to support and propel the spell recipient? Is the caster being carried by an angel/dragon/or elemental? Answers and elaborations to those questions will have an impact on play and the stories begin told about the campaign.
Notions introduced by the variable limitation on the duration of flight:
Conjured Critter Flight: The Caster isn’t really in control and as such there is something else doing the actual flying and as such the spell conjures another entity capable of flight to empower them. The caste summons flock of songbirds, a giant eagle, a dragon, a demon, air elemental, or an angel (or something else) that comes to their aid. If this creature is a purely magical conjuration or not is yogin to influence how the whole experience plays out. The caster can’t go where they can’t be carried by whatever is doing the actual flying. The variable nature makes sense, the congaed critter is only going to stick arounds for so long, but is it’s and actual creature can it be further magicked to assist the spell-caster for long, can it be bargained with? How are other people going to react seeing a wizard begin carried by some type of creatures? what happens if the critter doing the flying is attacked? Is the spell tied to a specific kind of creature and as such unusable in areas the creature can’t be located or would be harmed?
Conjured Ethereal Critter Flight: all the situations and questions above apply but in this case the critter is ethereal in nature, not entirely there and not subject to direct interference as easily. Does the caster even know the true nature of the creature carrying them along in this situation? Can ethereal magic and supernatural conditions have unexpected influence on magical flight?
Magical Flight is Fatiguing: magical flight causes some sort of fatigue on the caster and the caster is not entirely sure of how far they can push themselves. Is it possible to learn how to fly better under the influence of the spell as suggested by longer flight times begin available to higher level spell casters?
Polymorphic Flight: If the spell caster (or recipient of the spell) is polymorphed to look more like a flying creature what creature is it and can they attempt to benefit from the nature of this polymorphed form in some other manner? Likely polymorphic flight is limited to a partial form change in general appearance not a complete change as most games have true shape change and polymorphing as a much more powerful spell. Could a caster learn to make use of this polymorphic change through training, levels, or other spells?
Ethereal Form: As with polymorphic flight above but the actual transformation in shape happens only to the ethereal nature and would be unnoticed to those incapable of interacting with the ethereal. Is it those pesky ethereal winds wearing away at the ethereal form that limit the duration of the flight?
Notions introduced by stability of flight:
The options above may introduce some stability related issues on flight granted by a fly spell but all options are not explored.
Fly is based on a concentration of will: Flying requires one to concentrate, the concentration lapses or the distraction is too great the flight doesn’t work as well. A lapse in concentration may cause one to fall, decelerate, or simply stop moving during the spell duration.
Fly is based on a chaotic force: Flying requires some effort on the casters part to tame the forces allowing them to fly, that force interacts in such a manner some activities are prohibited to someone flying under the influence elf the spell. for example: If a magical whirlwind is holding up a caster that very whirlwind may make it difficult for the caster to use ranged weapons or cast other spells.
Notions of form and appearance:
Aside from some of the options above there are other manifestation based on appearance and form of the fly spell.
Conjured wings: If a fly spell conjures a set of magical wings do those wings display something about the caster to others? Is it meaningful if one has sprouted bat wings as opposed to butterfly wings? Are some or all types of wings tied to the nature of the caster or to specific versions of the spell (sure the rule book just has the Fly spell but why couldn’t the campaign have Fly as Eagle, Fly as Bat, Fly as Hummigbird)? Do demon wings mean a Chaotic Evil spell caster as golden angel wings may mean a Lawful Good caster? Do the conjured wings fit the space the caster wants to fly? Can some opponent interfere with those conjured wings?
Winged boots: If the fly spell alters appearance but is subtle as winged boots does this still offer insight into the nature of the caster? Can the winged boots be removed and handed to someone else while the spell duration is still in effect? Can a boot (or the wings on it) be ripped off and what does this do to the recipient of the spell?
Does the recipient of the spell have to visibly do something to move: Does the recipient of a fly spell have to pose superman style to go forward? Does the recipient walk or run on the air to go after or slower and does this make them look like a flying mime? Does the recipient have to actually flap their arms to move while under the effects of a flight spell and does this mean they can only cast other spells or make ranged attacks while hovering?
Lot’s of questions for just one spell but how a DM decides to address or ignore them could impact the many adventures played within a campaign. How would you address some of this, vary it by caster? Vary by version of spell? Allow special skills to be learned? Can other spells be learned to alter the and enhance magical flight, could there be potions or other magical items that extend the spell?