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Does a breath weapon's area of effect always have to extend to its fullest size, or could you use it over a smaller area than your maximum if you so chose (e.g. breath weapon is 60 foot line, stop line at a particular target instead)? If this is possible, does it require a feat or any other prerequisite?

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In a stricter reading of the RAW, I think the answer is yes, a breath weapon's area of effect always extends to its fullest size / covers the maximum area possible, and causes the damage given in the rules.

Witness:

No attack roll is necessary. The breath simply fills its stated area.d20srd

(and the DMG3.5 has the very same information.)

Considering that - as far as I know/remember - even to split its breath into two equal portions (or to change the shape of the breath) a dragon (the most obvious example of a breath weapon user) has to have a feat (a separate feat for my two examples), I don't think it likely that it would be possible to limit a breath weapon's area and/or damage without a feat. (Think of it as if the creature had a gun. When the creature fires the gun, the gun projectile travels a distance and causes a damage that only a specialist, highly trained gun-wielder can try and control.)

Of course, there might very well be a book or an article that modifies the above, but I haven't encountered any (but other answers are quite likely to bring them up, if there's any.)

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Would make sense, though I was just thinking if it was a breath weapon you could potentially reduce the area by, you know, breathing less hard? Not exactly shape it, just use a smaller cone/line size than max. Probably would still need a feat anyway. –  Cobalt Apr 5 at 21:11
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@Cobalt You asked for RAW... :) As a DM, I'd have no qualms about having a dragon NPC light up a camp fire with a cough (without a feat) and stuff like that -- but my players are used to that. (We're consensually using the rules in a rather liberal way.) However, the RAW is the RAW: breath weapon using creatures probably have a set amount of "fuel" that they must use for a breath (otherwise the fire glands don't trigger and it'll be only a bad case of halitosis or whatever. :)) –  OpaCitiZen Apr 5 at 21:34

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