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From the DMG p93:

Spells or spell-like effects with the fire descriptor are ineffective underwater unless the caster makes a Spellcraft check (DC 20 + spell level). If the check succeeds, the spell creates a bubble of steam instead of its usual fiery effect, but otherwise the spell works as described. A supernatural fire effect is ineffective underwater unless its description states otherwise.

If the character is casting the spell, the above rule is straightforward. But what about magic items that produce spell-like, fire-based effects? For example, a flaming sword, salamander's cloak or blast globes.

For spell trigger magic items, like staves and wands, it makes sense to use the Spellcraft skill of the item's wielder. But for command word and use-activated items, that doesn't seem right to me.

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I always wondered, why create steam and not a bubble of boiling water?! –  gbjbaanb Apr 15 '12 at 16:17
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There's no difference between steam and a bubble of boiling water (in this universe, anyway). –  Snowbody Apr 15 '12 at 17:52
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I would estimate the skill of the creators spellcraft and make a roll each time the item is used underwater. This would make it unreliable, sometime it would work and sometime it would not. This would be more fun and in the spirit of the rule.

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It turns out that if you do all that math (look up caster level, calculate spell level, calculate Spellcraft ranks and Int bonus of someone who can cast that spell), a flaming weapon faces a Spellcraft DC of 25 (CL 10, 5th level spell) and has a creator's Spellcraft bonus of +15 (max ranks and minimum Int bonus to cast 5th level spells). That's a 55% chance to work. Just call it 50% for all weapons, ignore the odd +4 flaming weapon or flaming burst weapon (which both have a 10% better chance -- big deal), and save yourself all this potential calculation at the table.

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+1 for doing the math and then dropping it, simplifying it for the sake of gameplay. –  lisardggY Apr 15 '12 at 14:02
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Magic items all have a caster level. When you need a spell level, you figure the highest level spell that caster could cast - so a CL9th item would be spell level 5. I'd use the Spellcraft checks as detailed above using that as the spell level to see if they work.

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Anything that involved fire when used underwater would likely create steam. This steam would most likely deal damage similarly to the fire...but not necessarily to the intended target.

I'd say that using a fireball spell wouldn't work (IIRC, it throws a small orb of fire, which then expands) as the small projectile would be extinguished before exploding, creating a minimal amount of steam.

Similar spells that throw fire would be more likely to damage the caster (from superheated steam) than the target. A flaming sword, however, would likely still deal damage to targets (possibly being similar in appearance to the underwater lightsabers seen in the Clone Wars animated show) but it may deal damage to the wielder too.

Basically, you'd have to look at the way the spell works, and be willing to take superheated steam to the face if you were wrong.

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The answer would be normally no.

As described in the rules about magical fire underwater.

If the caster has made a Spellcraft check to make the fire spell usable underwater, the surface still blocks the spell’s line of effect.

Unless you have the creator of the magical item do a spellcraft check to make the magical item work underwater, the item will not work underwater. Normally, such information can be found on the description of the magical item. And you would normally have such magical items worth more than the same item, which doesn't work underwater.

However, the DM can be nice and allow all magical items with the fire descriptor to work underwater. We could assume that the creator of the magical item will always succeed the spellcraft check, but that may be unrealistic. And when have you ever known a DM to be nice.

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Line of effect is only blocked if casting from outside the water into it. If everyone's in the ocean, that does not come into play. –  mxyzplk Feb 12 '11 at 3:38
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