This Kelpie (3pp) in Pathfinder could be interpreted in two (very very) different power levels. One would be that the person in question is so infatuated with the Kelpie that they do not attempt to hold their breath, meaning that they will die in three rounds if the Kelpie has not been dealt with and they cannot escape the grapple (which they wouldn't be resisting, and thus wouldn't be escaping. )

The other interpretation would be that they hold their breath, which makes the kelpie a near useless monster due to requiring 30+ rounds to kill a PC.

Kelpie rule in question:

Charm (Su)

Once per day, a kelpie can produce an effect identical to the charm monster spell (caster level 9th). The target can make a DC 17 Will save to avoid the effects. (...)

The kelpie can automatically grapple a charmed foe and attempts to drown the victim. A charmed foe does not resist the kelpie’s embrace, and the drowning attempt does not allow an additional save. (...)

Drowning rules:

Drowning Any character can hold her breath for a number of rounds equal to twice her Constitution score. If a character takes a standard or full-round action, the remaining duration that the character can hold her breath is reduced by 1 round. After this period of time, the character must make a DC 10 Constitution check every round in order to continue holding her breath. Each round, the DC increases by 1.

When the character finally fails her Constitution check, she begins to drown. In the first round, she falls unconscious (0 hp). In the following round, she drops to –1 hit points and is dying. In the third round, she drowns.

Unconscious characters must begin making Constitution checks immediately upon being submerged (or upon becoming unconscious if the character was conscious when submerged). Once she fails one of these checks, she immediately drops to –1 (or loses 1 additional hit point, if her total is below –1). On the following round, she drowns.(...)

Given a comparison with the Harpy, who can charm any (or all) members of the party at the same time and take full round attacks at them without retaliation; she could potentially be downing a character in a couple rounds without too much trouble and doesn't require special terrain to do it. This would make me lean towards the more powerful version of the Kelpie.

Thank you for any thoughts or rules arguments that would help me figure out which interpretation makes more sense.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It'd be great if this question linked to appropriate rules elements (e.g. kelpie, drowning, harpy), both to save those answering from manually looking up the information and to avoid confusion. For example, there're two kelpies, a plant and a fey. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2018 at 12:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The Tome of Horrors version will require the third-party tag, the official kelpie has a similar flavor but very different mechanics. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Sep 25, 2018 at 12:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras I can't seem to find a third-party tag (checked 3, 3pp, party, third, etc.) but I did appreciate the find. I've made it more obvious by saying "This Kelpie (3pp)" at the top as a start. Feel free to edit in the appropriate tag. \$\endgroup\$
    – blurry
    Sep 25, 2018 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras It was decided that 3pp company would each have their own tag and only if its needed at the time. Therefore, the tag would be [Necromancer Games, Inc.] or possibly [Frog God Games] because they're the publisher. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 25, 2018 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


You seem to underestimate how much takes place in 3 rounds. A Pathfinder combat rarely lasts longer than 3 rounds. That’s easily an entire fight. And yeah, if they’re not resisting, it seems perfectly reasonable to say they’re not holding their breath.

However, though the victim “attempts to move as quickly as possible toward the kelpie,” that would, I think, still be subject to the usual rules for charm effects—namely that people won’t be suicidal in their attempts to do what the charm tells them to. The rules give a special exception for the embrace saying that the target will be suicidal there, but no such exception for just moving towards the kelpie. I would expect them to limit those attempts to what they can accomplish without drowning—after all, they get as close “as possible.” Regarding something you cannot accomplish because you would drown as not “possible” seems entirely correct to me.

That means that the kelpie must grapple someone to get them to entirely stop resisting. And though it is “automatic,” I take that to mean that it cannot fail, not that it happens instantaneously—the kelpie must still spend an action grappling the target. So the victim can hold their breath until the grapple starts, and if the kelpie doesn’t start a grapple, they have the far-longer time for some solution to be found. At best, the kelpie can start the grapple, causing the target to release their breath, and then end the grapple and leave—but considering the target’s compulsion, though, I suspect they would resist ending the grapple. And if the kelpie did succeed and leave, the victim would no longer be subject to the stronger effect that charms them into completely suicidal behavior—so I would expect their first maneuver to be to get air, then chase after the kelpie.

So I agree it’s ambiguous, but I don’t agree that the 3-round version is overpowered; that sounds about right to me. Plenty of Will saves do far, far worse than kill someone three rounds later, tying a combatant up until then. You’re absolutely correct that the longer version is pointless, and just becomes a fluff ability.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is mostly where I was coming from and you've helped substantiate the answer enough that I feel comfortable with it. I would maybe rule the Paizo one differently (which wasn't the question, so that's not a criticism) simply on its wording; but for my question this seems pretty spot on. \$\endgroup\$
    – blurry
    Sep 25, 2018 at 15:02

Disclaimer: This answer refers to the official version of the kelpie (a fey), as published by Paizo on their Bestiary 2. The ability you mention appears to be about the third-party's Tome of Horrors Complete version of the kelpie (a plant creature).

It's unclear

The targeted character is restricted to only moving towards the kelpie and defending themselves:

A captivated creature can take no actions other than to move toward the kelpie and defend itself, even if it is drowning.

This means that they will use all their actions to move towards the kelpie, unless they have to defend from attackers, in which they are allowed to respond however they want, and however the GM allows them to, considering that there is no definition of what "defend itself" exactly means in the system.

But this doesn't restrict their defensive actions in any way, namely, standard, free and swift actions. They could yell for help (if not underwater yet), for instance, or activate an ability that slows their suffocation.

When asked a similar question about drowning while paralyzed, James Jacobs (Creative Director) answered that it pretty much depends on the GM:

Depends on how hard-core and gritty you want to run your game.

Paralyzed people can still breathe, though. Their hearts and lungs can still work. And they remain conscious. I think it's likely that a person who's paralyzed in this state by most forms of magic and the like WOULD be able to hold their breath as a result. I would allow it in my game.

Unconscious people, though... they're hosed. They'll drown fast if they fall into the water, but depending on WHY they're unconscious I would probably allow some sort of Fortitude save to wake up.

In any event, it's up to the individual GM how deadly and harsh he/she wants to be with these situations. My advice would be to go easy, though. Being paralyzed already sucks because it means you can't play the game until you get cured... being killed because you were paralyzed is even worse, and I can't see allowing someone who's paralyzed being able to hold their breath being bad for the game. If anything, it adds to the tension, I would think, by drawing the situation out!

To which, he completes:

Remembering that the game is supposed to be fun for EVERYONE, not just the GM, is one of the most important rules GMs should keep in mind. Seems like a lot of GMs forget this.

There is no clear definition of what action it takes to hold your breath, either a free or no action, so it will depend entirelly on how the GM want's to run the game in that situation. If the GM rules that holding your breath is a free action, then you cannot hold your breath while captivated and moving towards the kelpie. But if the GM rules that it doesn't take an action, then the kelpie's ability will not prevent the character from holding her breath.

But remember, it's a CR 4 creature, and there are many low CR creatures that can easily kill a character (like ghouls or shades). So, if you decide that they should be more deadly than this, you totally can.

But I would rule that you can hold your breath

With all that said, I agree with him, getting 3 rounds to be saved or die would suck, especially after reading the kelpie's flavor and noticing how they can easily kill a captivated creature without allowing resistance by grabbing them and/or coup-de-grace'ing them.

My problem with disallowing the character from holding her breath is that she not only will die within 3 rounds, but she can do absolutely nothing about it. And all the kelpie has to do is to swim away (at over 80 ft per round) from the group to make this completely irreversible.

Also, they are intelligent enough (8 int) to be able to discern a good target among a group of people. So, there is a chance that this will probably target someone in medium or heavy armor, which will have a harder time swimming away to safety. And, if hurt (or if the GM is especially gritty), they could flee and still guarantee at least one victim.

Most groups that will normally face a kelpie will be around level 2 to 4, which still won't have access to Water Breathing (available at 5th), and at later levels, they will probably be facing more than a single kelpie.

So, they have plenty of time to kill their victim without the GM ruling that you suffocate within 3 rounds, as it would happen should you be unconscious on that situation.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 25, 2018 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the concerns, though if you design an encounter well you can allow the players other ways to interact; or make sure that she's somewhat exposed for the drowning (as in; not a deep lake or something.) A Stun-effect or something else could quite-well save the victim which would (essentially) restart the clock. What's more, only being able to use the ability once a day (compared to a harpy, who affects 4x the creatures) it seems unlikely she'll even nab you. \$\endgroup\$
    – blurry
    Sep 25, 2018 at 15:01

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