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Several monsters (for example, Darkmantle) have abilities that cause their victims to be unable to breathe. However, when this happens in-game my characters just shrug and say, "whatever, I can hold my breath for 4 minutes." The battle is long over before suffocation becomes an issue. Similarly for situations like running into a AOE (such as a Stinking Cloud where breathing would be ill-advised.

Are there any mechanical disadvantages to being unable to breathe, before you get to the point of suffocating?

I know the rules for Suffocating from PHB p. 183 -- the question is, is there any mechanical penalty to not breathing during the minutes that you can hold your breath.

It's an interesting question as to whether, for example, the Darkmantle attack allows you to "hold your breath" or moves you directly to "choking" but that's really a separate question. What I am really asking here is, if you are holding your breath, as per the game rules on PHB p. 183, can you fight at 100% efficiency? Or should, say, disdvantage apply to attacks rolls, movement rate be reduced, etc.?

Note: Jeremy Crawford has ruled that you can hold your breath.

Q: If you can't breathe due to a monster effect (ie Darkmantle) are you immediately suffocating? Or have Con Mod+1 mins?

A: You can hold your breath

see Looking for play tested house rules for combat while holding your breath for a follow-on question about whether anyone has any good house rules for this situation.

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One thing that may or may not be relevant is: if you are holding your breath, you can't use your sense of smell. – Diego Martinoia Mar 14 at 9:24
@DiegoMartinoia good point -- probably for the best if you have a creature on your head. – PurpleVermont Mar 15 at 1:42
@PurpleMonkey I took out the house rules tag and will add a new question. However, I disagree that the Crawford tweet is part of the answer. The Crawford tweet answered a question I was never asking, and is provided as support for asking the one I am asking. – PurpleVermont Apr 3 at 23:18

Depends if you hold your breath

The player's handbook p.183 gives rules for suffocating. In brief a creature holding its breath can last for minutes but a creature that runs out of breath or is choking lasts a number of rounds equal to their constitution modifier before dropping to 0 hp.

The question then is whether a PC is holding their breath when being suffocated by, say, a darkmantle. The darkmantle monster entry says a creature engulfed is, "unable to breath", but gives us no further information. This seems to be up to the DM to rule if a given character was able to begin holding their breath, and so lasts minutes, or if the suffocation begins suddenly and they can only last a few rounds.

Personally I'd go with effects such as this happening too suddenly to hold your breath since it keeps the effects relevant in an average battle.

RAW, you can hold your breath because Jeremy Crawford says so

If we're counting JC tweets as RAW than all that matters is JC says you can. As you explained in your question this means that the suffocation part of fighting a darkmantle is unlikely to ever come up in a normal battle, and I'd say this takes away what makes the darkmantle an interesting monster. Just another strange part of 5e RAW.

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Whenever you can't breathe, you hold your breath. The questions is whether you got a chance to take a deep breath first, and if not, how much that should cut your breath holding time. Even if I had just exhaled, I can hold my breath pretty easily for 30-45 seconds, which is longer than most battles last. – PurpleVermont Mar 12 at 6:43
@PurpleVermont That's simply not true by the rules as written. "...runs out of breath or is choking.", is the rule for when the second count starts. Choking includes being unable to breath due to obstruction or a lack of air. Therefore you are not always holding your breath when you can't breath. – Ceribia Mar 12 at 15:40
If they wanted us to use the "choking" rules for something like a darkmantle on your face, they would have said "choking" and not "can't breathe". Although using that as a rule would make the ability more relevant. – PurpleVermont Mar 12 at 17:56
@PurpleVermont Google choking and you get, "...have severe difficulty in breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat or a lack of air.". A drakmantle preventing you from breathing by covering your face pretty clearly includes that. – Ceribia Mar 12 at 18:35
I don't think that was the designers' intent, but perhaps. I've tweeted the question to Jeremy Crawford. But in either case, that's not really my question. My question is, if you are holding your breath, are there any mechanical effects? Can you fight at 100% efficiency while holding your breath? – PurpleVermont Mar 12 at 18:55

The rules for suffocation are on p.183 of the PHB; eventually you will become unconscious. However, until that happens, there are no in game effects.

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As others have pointed out, PHB p183 gives rules for suffocating:

A creature can hold its breath for a number of minutes equal to 1 + its Constitution modifier (minimum of 30 seconds).
  When a creature runs out of breath, it can survive for a number of rounds equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum 1 round). At the start of its next turn, it drops to 0 hit points and is dying.

It is perfectly reasonable to modify this depending on circumstances. It is dramatically different to hold your breath just sitting on the couch vs. holding your breath after a couple of minutes of combat, or even after a few minutes of moderate exercise. Try climbing a couple flights of stairs and then hold your breath at the top.

At a minimum, it's reasonable to impose disadvantage at some point as a character is suffocating.

The PHB and DMG support this:

PHB p171:

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

DMG p239:

Advantage and disadvantage are among the most useful tools in your DM's toolbox. They reflect temporary circumstances that might affect the chances of a character succeeding or failing at a task.

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` Try climbing a couple flights of stairs and then hold your breath at the top.` - of course, people who play these types of games a lot may be in less physically stellar shape than traveling warriors. As for the dynamics of a fight, they may be much more instantly physically demanding for an axe-swinger than an archer. The comparison may be useful, but I'm simply proposing that thought/consideration is warranted. – TOOGAM Mar 12 at 15:45
@TOOGAM - you're absolutely right on all points, and of course, a CON saving throw is one way of modelling how well adventurers handle a physical fitness challenge. – Jack Mar 12 at 16:15

Based on the requirements for certain tasks in game, there are some mechanical things that a character cannot do while being unable to breathe:

  • You can't use your sense of smell (so any perception checks depending on smell would be failed).
  • You can't speak.
  • You can't cast spells requiring verbal components.
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I removed the reference to the other question as this is an answer and edited slightly to focus on being unable to breath, which is what the question asks. Revert or edit if I have missed the point of your answer. (I do not understand why it attracted down votes). You may wish to cite a page reference for the requirements for verbal spells, etcetera. – KorvinStarmast Apr 6 at 22:38

Try exerting yourself while holding your breath. Fighting hand to hand is akin to sprinting. Go ahead, see if you can hold your breath while sprinting 100 yards. That's only 10 seconds of running for the slowest of runners.

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The question asks if there are any mechanical effects, which this answer says nothing about. – Miniman Apr 2 at 3:07
Yes, the question is how (if at all) that plays out in the game. Do players holding their breath have disadvantage on attack rolls? Do they do less damage? Or do we assume that "heroes" can do everything they usually do just as well while holding their breath? – PurpleVermont Apr 3 at 2:19

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