The 'Air-Breathing Mermaid Charm' is a useful descriptor for a certain kind of negligence in the writing of RPG books, and particularly their rules. Usually it means approximately the following phenomenon: a mermaid write-up says nothing about breathing (making it easy to assume that the setting's mermaids, being half-humanoid-half-fish, can breath both in air and water, much like mermaids in various works of fiction), but then later a Charm says that it enables air-breathing for mermaids (i.e. it solves a huge, blatant problem that wasn't made known to even exist beforehand).

I would like to know whether this is an actual race in some of the books and an actual Charm, or is it a purely apocryphal example that is very loosely based on various less catchy-sounding Charms in the game? If the former, what book(s) is the example from? If it's the latter, what canonical examples is it based on?

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    \$\begingroup\$ If it’s such a useful descriptor how come this is the first time I’ve ever heard it? (And I don’t know what it means) \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Sep 27, 2019 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM Hopefully the combination of my short description and the longer one in the answer helped clarify the term. As for why you haven't heard it: surely because its origin is in one of the (at times bitterly divided) communities of White Wolf rather than some standardised source every roleplayer learns. As for usefulness, I do find it helpful in analysis of systems other than Exalted and pointing out why some trait write-ups are found to be . . . unfortunate. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2019 at 21:28

1 Answer 1


No, it wasn't an actual charm. It's a meme/out-of-game jargon.

I suspect that the origin of this phrase was a thread on the old White Wolf forums that have been deleted between 24th October and 3rd December 2013, since I can't find the original post with Google.

In essence, the idea of the Air-Breathing Mermaid Problem is a criticism of a mechanical widget (spell, power, piece of gear, etc) that allows a character to do something that would have generally been held to be implicitly possible without it, which is usually added in a supplemental book - the archetypical example of which would be a hypothetical spell that allows mermaids to breathe air. Before the spell was published, the general assumption would be that mermaids would be perfectly capable of breathing air as well as water, but afterwards, it implies that no, mermaids can't breathe air unless they cast the spell first.

It can then be rephrased as "Air-Breathing Mermaid [Mechanical Widget]" like the "Air Breathing Mermaid Charm" you were asking about in the Question, to refer to the specific type of mechanical widget that you're referring to.

An example of this sort of thing in Exalted is the 2e supplement Oadenol's Codex introducing expanded rules for magic item creation, which included a number of minimum stat requirements to do so, as well as rules for how different qualities of crafting workshops interact with the process. In the 2e core rules, there was a Charm named Craftsman Needs No Tools which negates the penalties for not having tools; in Oadenol's Codex, it specifies that it only counts as a particular level of workshop (imposing penalties on rolls to craft magic items), and then introducing a new Charm that negates these new penalties.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Might the thread have been archived by the Wayback Machine or another site? If you remember anything about the thread, it might be possible to find an archived version. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 28, 2019 at 8:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast If it was, it's not being found by Google. The earliest post I've found that mentions it is a post from January 2014 on the Fantasy Flight Games Rogue Trader forums where a poster refers to something as an "air breathing mermaid situation" without any elaboration, which in turn implies that the meme is older than that. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Sep 28, 2019 at 8:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast The White Wolf Forum was deleted by 2014, but I have the last Wayback Machine Capture for you \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 15, 2020 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sadly, individual topics seem not to have been archived. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 15, 2020 at 21:07

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