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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 '14 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 '14 at 21:34
    
@Cobalt While I agree with the answer, I also think it'd be possible to situationally limit the area of a cone (or even a line) somewhat by breathing in 3D. For example a dragon flying above the ground should be able to breath straight down and affect those under him or at a down angle. So there's no reason I can see why a dragon on the ground couldn't breathe at an angle down, which could limit the squares affected stopped by the ground (or whatever obstacle blocks the breath). It's similar to asking if a lightning bolt must go its max. Normally yes but there are things that can stop it. –  joedragons May 20 at 14:36

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