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I had a situation come up in my game tonight where a gunslinger opponent used powerful shot to push the druid, who was wild shaped into a fire elemental, off a ship into the ocean. The fire elemental specifically has an "ability" where if it has water splashed on it it takes 1 point of cold damage per gallon of water. The amount of water in a 10ftX10ft cube is thousands of gallons. Naturally this means it takes thousands of cold damage and kills the fire elemental form. My question is would this cold damage, which is only a result of a specific fire elemental vulnerability to water, carry over and also kill the druid?

In the moment I ruled it didn't, mostly out of fairness because that situation already really sucked for him, and I didn't think it was fair to kill him outright, even though turning into a fire elemental on a ship is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but I'd like to know for the future.

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    \$\begingroup\$ hmmm, in this case its not resistance though. It is cold damage, and the elf form of the druid is not immune or resistant to cold damage. The cold damage only happens, however, because its a fire elemental being exposed to water \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 10:46
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You could rule that the damage is applied 1 gallon at a time

The Water Susceptibility trait says:

For every 5 feet the elemental moves in water, or for every gallon of water splashed on it, it takes 1 cold damage.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to read that as saying that each gallon of splashed water deals its damage separately, in sequence, 1 damage at a time. This results in exactly the ruling you described: the druid in fire elemental form splashed with thousands of gallons of water will only take exactly enough damage to bring their fire elemental form to zero hit points, after which they will no longer have Water Susceptibility and will just be a soggy but alive druid.

Does a fire elemental actually die when it falls in water?

There is unfortunately some ambiguity in the Water Susceptibility trait. The two ways for a fire elemental to take "water damage" are having water splashed on it and moving in water. So, which of these two conditions applies when the fire elemental falls into a body of water? Is falling into water the same as having water splashed on you? Or is it moving through the water? Or is it both? I'm honestly not sure what the designers intended here.

Additionally, a fire elemental falling in water is not necessarily exposed to an entire 10 foot cube of water. The 10 foot cube is the space it controls in combat, not the volume of its body. On the other hand, if you assume that any water splashed on the elemental evaporates instantly, then the surrounding liquid water would quickly rush in until the elemental is exposed to enough gallons of water to kill it.

I could take this further, but we're already well into hypothetical "What If?" physics speculation territory, and I'm making a lot of unfounded assumptions. Ultimately, there's no real-life answer to how many gallons of water would be "splashed on" a fire elemental that falls in water. So the DM has to make a ruling, and that ruling should be based on fairness and game balance, not speculative fantasy physics. I've given one possible ruling above.

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    \$\begingroup\$ this one gallon at a time thing makes sense to me. Water susceptibility is written badly. To me it makes sense that falling in water would for sure count as it being splashed in water. Doesn't make sense that it gets completely submerged and only takes 1 damage (or a handful of damage depending on how many squares it is considered to have moved through when it falls in). Good point about space it controls, but yes alll the water in that 10ft cube would quickly (within seconds) contact the fire elemental as it is considered to be touching all those squares. \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 12:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am going to say the druid does lose concentration on hos call lightning though, as whether its a DC 1000 con check or 2000 DC 10 con checks, he's going to fail \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd recommend you avoid accepting an answer for at least a day. Someone might come in with a better answer than mine (e.g. finding an obscure rule or official ruling that resolves the ambiguity), and waiting 24 hours gives the entire globe a chance to look at the question during waking hours. \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 12:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The way I see it, "For every 5 feet the elemental moves in water" is not about being submerged in water; it's about moving through shallow water. If the water is shallow, the -1 HP per 5 feet part is relevant, but when the water gets deep enough, the -1 HP per gallon part applies. -1 HP per 5 feet is essentially a minimum. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    May 25 at 3:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AndrewADeMarco: I think it would make sense to roll up all the 1 HP increments into one concentration save, since they happen so close together that you wouldn't mentally feel their effects separately. Each one isn't a separate disturbance to your concentration; they happen over a second or so, presumably similar to taking a splash of acid damage. \$\endgroup\$ May 25 at 4:57
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I think a lot of this comes down to how you rule a fire elemental might interact with the ocean. I think there's a half decent argument for the fire elemental not dying as soon as it goes overboard.

Fire elementals are supposedly made mainly from fire, with "ichor" running through their bodies. I wouldn't imagine they would be particularly heavy. However, they don't have a fly speed, so I think we have to assume that they are heavier than air, and a fire elemental knocked overboard would hit the ocean surface.

If the ocean is calm then the Inverse Leidenfrost Effect might come into effect, and the steam from the ocean surface could even prevent the fire elemental from coming into contact with any water at all. This also depends on how hot a fire elemental is, which is tricky to determine, but it would seem to make sense that it would be at least as hot as a garden fire. If the ocean has saltwater, then the boiling point would be slightly higher than pure water.

If you took this to an extreme, then a fire elemental could even "travel" to some degree over water, by leaning in one direction, and floating on a bed of steam above the water's surface.

If the ocean is choppy, or the ship is making large waves, then you could rule that the fire elemental will be splashed with a wave, even if its essentially floating above the surface, supported by the steam that it's creating. Waves are going to hurt the fire elemental as that is indeed multiple gallons of water splashing it.

Then there's the question of whether the fire elemental could attempt to clamber back out of the water, either by climbing up the side of the ship, or someone throwing it a (fire retardant) rope before it dies.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you should point out that this approach rests on that the wording of the trait specifies that the water has to be splashed onto the elemental by something. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    May 24 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you argue that the Leidenfrost Effect would protect a fire elemental falling off a ship into the ocean, it would also have to protect it from water being splashed onto it. I would argue the opposite: that the rapid evaporation involved in the Leidenfrost Effect is exactly the cause of the cold damage that the fire elemental takes when splashed with water. More generally, I think you can't draw a clear conclusion from physics here. There are too many unspecified parameters: temperature, density, etc. You could come up with half a dozen different reasonable-sounding answers. \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think a Fire Elemental would have a Water Walking trait if they were not able to be submerged. That said, a Water Walking trait for a Fire Elemental could be a very thematic homebrew. \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and check out our help page if you have any questions! \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson: The Leidenfrost Effect isn't perfect insulation; it's that heat transfer rate is lower than you'd otherwise expect. e.g. you can stick your hand into liquid nitrogen for a second or so without ill effect, not minutes. So yes, a fire elemental would absolutely be taking significant damage while levitating. Re: splashing: the argument here is that fire elementals are a lot lighter than water, so don't sink in much (contact area). But water flung at them doesn't hit a solid surface, and steam won't stop its momentum. The elemental's body will be penetrated by drops of water. \$\endgroup\$ May 25 at 5:04
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You could also 'justify' a max of 10 points of cold damage per turn.

Reasoning:

The rule is ambiguous but as I see it the rules intended two scenarios.

The first is moving in water (as nothing is mentioned I assume full immersion). An elemental wants to cross (swim through, dive through) some water and as water hurts it tries to move as fast as possible (50 ft per turn) through it. The rules indicate that moving through 5ft causes 1 damage, which results in 10 damage per turn at max speed.

The rules say:

For every 5 feet the elemental moves in water

I read:

For every 5 feet the elemental moves (at max speed) in water

The second case is about an elemental, that is standing at a dry place (not moving in water), but that's being attacked (splashed at) with water. In a fight one might throw water skins, that burst, empty buckets over them, etc. In this case 1 gallon is required to cause 1 pt of damage.

I don't see how you can expose an elemental to more water by splashing on it, than itself exposes it to by moving through water (full immersion)

I'd thus limit water damage to 10 points per round

Speed of a fire elemental is 50 ft. A fire elemental moving in deep water could move 10x5 feet per turn and thus have 10 points of cold damage inflicted.

A less ambiguois formulation could be (who knows perhaps there will be revised versions )

A fire elemental moving through or emerged in water suffers 10pts of cold damage per turn (1 pt of cold damage for 5 ft of water when moving through it its max speed) A fire elemental suffers 1 pt of cold damage per gallon of water (up to a max of 10 pts per turn) when water is being splashed on it

Final thoughts: I see that others argue, that moving through water might mean, moving through shallow water (a puddle). This is not clear (clearly stated). It could also mean, that an elemental does not sink and always floats / hovers over the water on a steam cloud. or it could mean, that if fully submerged in water an isolating steam layer is forming around the elemental, which absorbs heat, (thus causes cold damage) but also isolates to a certain extent (thus damage is limited) or many other things as nothing is explicitly stated.

As rules are not clear it is difficult to know and the DM has to choose an interpretation, which seems coherent to him.

Coherent does not necessarily mean physically coherent, but which are up to his opinion well balanced in the rule system and which do (if possible) not contradict the wording in the rules.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ the 1 damage/5ft IMO is for shallow water like a puddle. It doesn't make sense to me that its that little damage on full immersion. Its also very weird that those two rules seem to contradict each other. Your interpretation is a possibility, that it was intnded for throwing flasks of water on it and the movement one is a maximum, but that still seems like not enough of a vulnerability to me. I would expect full immersion to do much more damage than flasks. Also the movement rules make little sense because going just by that if the fire elemental is fully submerged and doesn't move its fine \$\endgroup\$ May 26 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ agreed not moving is not covered by the original rules if taken literally. That's why I assume, that a fire elemental takes 10pts per round whenever in water whether it moves or not. Considering that normal creatures suffer 0 damage from water I think 10pts per round is already a difference. but again the rules are quite fuzzy in my opinion. air elementals suffer no damage when touching earth. Earth elementals suffer no damage when touching air so it could be that max 10 per turn is intended \$\endgroup\$
    – gelonida
    May 26 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was looking for other susceptabilities in the rule set to see in which context and with which severity this word is normally used in the rules. I found so far only antimagic susceptability, slashing susceptability, psychic susceptability, inflict susceptability. But these susceptabilities are very different, so tricky to compare to \$\endgroup\$
    – gelonida
    May 26 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also do thematically like the idea of huge water spells like tidal wave or in other ways completely submergering a fire elemental killing it though, as its thematically appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ May 26 at 15:01
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I have read through the previous answer, and I have decided I will calculate how much damage it could take if you tried to calculate it using math. I'm not gonna try and answer the whole answer, but I wanted to say something.

I am going to make some assumptions here.

  1. The fire elemental is medium size.
  2. The fire elemental is moving at an consistent speed
  3. The damage is applied per gallon of water touching the creature.(1 dmg per gallon)
  4. Each gallon of water is a cube in the ocean.
  5. The damage from the water is taken every second.

to calculate this I am going to use multiple calculators and reference sites.

STEP 1.

https://dungeons.fandom.com/wiki/SRD:Fire_Elemental says that a medium fire elemental is 8 ft tall and weighs in at about 1 pound. Now taking those stats I can punch them in a body surface area calculator. The calculator used the schlich method, and got about 6 square feet as the body surface area for a fire elemental.

STEP 2.

A gallon of water in a cube is 231 in^3 Using a reverse volume calculator, We find that one side of this cube is 6 Inches, so someone submerged in water would take 2 points of damage per square foot of surface area.

STEP 3.

The final step, which is very easy. you may have guessed it by now. every turn is six seconds long, which means he takes the damage 6 times per turn Putting it all together, we have 6 x 2 x 6 = 72 damage taken per turn.

AFTERWORD.

This is how I would rule how much damage one takes, but you don't have to do it like that. Since the dm's word is law, you could just say "you take 50 damage every turn until you die" and no one could dispute, because after all, you are the dm.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Also I chose a medium fire elemental bc the question stated a 10 ft by 10 ft cube, and a medium fire elemental most closely fit the description \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Racho
    May 24 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ the elemental is large sized, not medium. That's why I said a 10ftX10ft cube, as that is the combat space taken up by a large fire elemental, not 5ftX5ft. It is the moon druid wild shape which turns into elementals up to CR5, which is the large version. I am pretty sure a large fire elemental will take more than its 138hp in a single round when it splashes in \$\endgroup\$ May 24 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ sorry for the confusion. (im only 13) \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Racho
    May 24 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you assume that water damages the elemental by flashing into steam, that makes room for more water to fill in the gap (limited only by the steam having to get out, so the Leidenfrost effect could maybe come into play.) Your method of modeling considers the volume of water for some distance away from the contact surface, and you chose that distance arbitrarily, as one of the faces of a cube large enough to hold a gallon of water. If you'd used 10-gallon chunks per 10HP of damage, or a shape other than cubes, you'd be considering more water, because you'd extend farther out. \$\endgroup\$ May 25 at 5:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the Schlich method is for human bodies, and presumably only works well over a range of heights and weights that normal humans actually have. (And for bodies with a density very close to water like humans). Not 8ft tall, 2 pounds, and presumably still a significant volume. And of course elementals aren't even human-shaped anyway, at least I didn't think they had arms and legs and heads. So I don't think this works well as a way to estimate surface area; a elemental being a lot less dense can have more volume (and more area) for the same weight. (ping @AndrewADeMarco) \$\endgroup\$ May 25 at 5:21

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