One PC of the game I am currently hosting has the spell "aboleth's lung". In short it means, that any land creature cannot breathe air anymore, but only water. This lasts one hour. Of course she will use it as a weapon against some enemy, be it a dark elf, a minotaur or any other creature.

What are your suggestions to decide how long an enemy can still fight holding their breath? A minute (10 rounds)? A few seconds (1 round)? Are there any written rules for that?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Frankly, most combat doesn't last long enough for this spell to matter. In all likelihood, your player will cast this a few times and then the novelty will wear off and she'll go back to more conventional means of murder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric B
    Mar 26, 2014 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @EricB The combat probably won't last long enough for the spell to matter, but the PCs might last long enough for the spell to matter, especially if they're victims of hit-and-run tactics. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26, 2014 at 20:03

1 Answer 1



A character who has no air to breathe can hold her breath for 2 rounds per point of Constitution. 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 in order to continue holding her breath. The check must be repeated each round, with the DC increasing by +1 for each previous success.

When the character fails one of these Constitution checks, she begins to suffocate. In the first round, she falls unconscious (0 hit points). In the following round, she drops to –1 hit points and is dying. In the third round, she suffocates.

Although the medium he breathes has changed, a victim of aboleth's lung is going to suffer the same fate unless he reaches water.

An Aside: On the Cruel Nature of the Spell Aboleth's Lung
The spell aboleth's lung is a 2nd-level, slow save-or-die touch spell versus foes without dispel magic and who breathe. That's... actually a lot of folks, especially at low levels. That the creature dies faster if it tries to murder the caster is tasty gravy.

The problem with the spell is when it's used versus the PCs. It's entirely possible for PCs to face foes who can employ the spell when the PCs are among the folks vulnerable to it, making it just a slow, unpleasant death sentence. Such spells are unusually unfun, making players feel helpless while also killing their characters. Usually, it's more fun--as the DM or the player--to just cast scorching ray at a dude than to slowly suffocate him while making him do math.

There's an argument that adventurers should be carrying water when adventuring, giving them the means to save their air-drowning friend. But this assumes someone trained in the skill Spellcraft successfully identifies the spell when it was cast. (Pathfinder removed from the Spellcraft skill the ability of D&D 3.5's Spellcraft skill to identify a spell that’s already in place.) If the Spellcraft roll's failed, the DM just describes the spell's effects--suffocation. Uninformed PCs are then supposed to make a leap of cartoon logic that shoving their friend's head underwater will save him, which makes about as much sense as stopping bleeding by sticking a sword in the wound.

The spell, without DM's permission, is supposed to be exclusive to gillmen. Encourage your players to enter into a gentleman's agreement wherein this spell's just used by gillmen... then don't use gillmen. The spell aboleth's lung is a war crime.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @mawimawi O, no. Mechanically, the spell is neither chaotic, good, evil, nor lawful, but as a means of eliminating a foe it is horrifying. Spells often are, but usually the victim's too dead (or something) to care; with aboleth's lung the spellcaster kills the victim and the spellcaster's a jerk about it. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26, 2014 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting point @mawimawi. Seeing that it is a slow, torturous death sentence, continuous use in this fashion (as compared to using it as a water-breathing thing) could indeed have alignment infringements, even though the spell itself is not [Evil]. \$\endgroup\$
    – MrLemon
    Mar 26, 2014 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be better off focusing on answering the question, the spell being badly balanced sounds more like a commentary... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ernir
    Mar 26, 2014 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ernir I don't think the spell's unbalanced but poorly conceived. Lots of 2nd-level spell kill folks, but few do it in such a way that they make the player suffer. I will make it clearer that my commentary is separate from my answer, though. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26, 2014 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like the complaints about aboleth lung are a bit of an exaggeration. Only gillmen can cast it barring giam fiat, and gillmen die if out of water for more than a day. When will the players ever encounter this spell but not have free access to an aquatic environment where they can breathe? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric B
    Mar 26, 2014 at 17:39

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