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Setup: we have a fifth level full caster, a very large storage tank full to the brim with lamp oil, and a bunch of folks outside the tank who want the caster dead (perhaps they have swords and pitchforks).

Could our intrepid full caster scramble up the ladder on the tank's outside, then cast Water Breathing on himself and jump down the manhole in the roof to hide safely under the surface of the oil? Or would said caster drown in the oil despite the Water Breathing spell?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Everyone - comments are not for arguing. If you disagree with an answer, write your own answer and/or vote your conscience. We all know that there's two major opinions here, you don't need to shout "yes" at the "no" answer and vice versa. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 30 '15 at 12:46
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Considering that the spell specifically states that it makes the creature capable of breathing water, and no other substances are mentioned in the spell description, I'd say that the wizard would drown if he tried breathing lamp oil after casting the spell. If it was meant to make the user capable of surviving without air in any medium, I'd think the spell text would state so, without going to the trouble of mentioning one medium in particular. Since the spell description goes to the trouble of mentioning water in particular and mention makes no mention of any other uses of the spell, it seems pretty clear that both RAW and RAI points to the spell only being effective in water.

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Imagine putting a fish into a vat of oil. It'll drown. This is because there is no dissolved air in the oil.

So - is the spell giving the caster the ability to use the air in the liquid? Or is it magically teleporting air from somewhere else into their lungs?

With magic, either could be possible.

One approach would be to allow both, but that there is a more powerful form of the spell to breathe in oil than in water. After all, you could not use sympathetic magic based on seacreatures to create the spell for breathing under-oil.

Perhaps a "Breath in Any Liquid" spell, at a higher level.

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Water Breathing states 'water' and nothing else1.


However, this is what you can do, assuming you do not have a Bottle of Air, Iridescent Ioun Stone, Necklace of Adaptation, or an Auran Mask handy6:

  1. Cast Water Breathing on yourself.
  2. Cast Drown2, 3, 5 on yourself.
  3. Voluntarily fail the saving throw4 for Drown.
  4. Jump in the oil and carry on with your plan.

Note: A DM may state that simply having lungs filled with water isn't really breathing. Get his approval before trying this.

or

  1. Use Magic Device - Scroll of Living Undeath7
  2. Jump in the oil and carry on with your plan8.

Note: Use Magic Device is a cross-class skill for Wizards.

or

  1. Cast Water Breathing on yourself.
  2. Hold your waterskin/canteen to your mouth.
  3. Breathe in and out of your waterskin/canteen.
  4. Jump in the oil and carry on with your plan.

Note: This would be like a Bottle of Air - except it's a Bottle of Water.

or

  1. Don your snorkel9.
  2. Jump in the oil and carry on with your plan.

Note: Swimmer's Kit costs 15 gold and could be worn under the Wizard's robes. Since the suit is skin tight, you wouldn't be completely oily and nasty when you finally get out.


1The transmuted creatures can breathe water freely.
2(Book of Vile Darkness, p. 93).
3The subject's lungs fill with water if the subject fails a Fortitude saving throw.
4A creature can voluntarily forego a saving throw and willingly accept a spell’s result.
5The text states "This spell is ineffective against creatures that do not breathe (constructs, some elementals and plants, and undead), or those who can breathe water." The duration is concentration. As long as you concentrate, your lungs are filled with water - and you breathe [water].
6The Auran Mask gives a duration of 1 hour with one breathe of fresh air. No one can hold their breathe for an hour. The Necklace of Adaptation surrounds you in a shell of air even underwater. That is not the same thing as breathing water.
7(Spell Compendium, p. 134).
8While the subject does not actually become undead, its vital processes are temporarily bypassed with no seeming ill effect. Breathing - is a vital process.
9A 1-foot-long slender tube that allows you to breathe while submerged. You can remain underwater indefinitely as long as you stay just under the surface (this is part of the swimming kit, Arms and Equipment Guide, pg. 28).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand your fifth footnote - if drown doesn't work on creatures who can breathe water, wouldn't someone subject to water breathing be an invalid target? Or do you interpret the "ineffective" as meaning "the spell technically functions, but has no meaningful effect?" \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 1 '15 at 23:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe No Meaningful Effect. It would be like adding fire resistance to a creature immune to fire - sure, it serves no meaningful purpose, but it is still there. I believe the text would state a creature that can breathe water would state "creature is immune" rather than "ineffective against." I am certain a fish could care less if we fill their 'lungs' full of water [snicker]. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Dec 2 '15 at 0:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should edit that clarification into your answer, since it's important. Incidentally, most fish don't have lungs, and respirate without breathing. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 2 '15 at 2:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe 'lungs' = gills. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Dec 2 '15 at 3:24
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My reaction would be that other liquids might be possible -- or might not -- at advanced levels or with additional research or both. If they are possible, that doesn't guarantee that they are comfortable, or (as others have noted) that there aren't other effects; mitigating those might take still more research.

You want it, you can get it, but it may take a long time and be costly in multiple and/or unexpected ways. There may be better ways to skin this cat.

Game balance. Roleplaying. If there's no risk, there's no adventure.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There was a 2e Planescape setting that described the various inner planes, that specifically pointed out that while water breathing doesn't allow you to breathe ooze, magma, smoke, vaccuum and so on, spells to breathe other para- and quasi-elemental media should generally be of a similar level, and can be readily researched or purchased in that setting. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 30 '15 at 6:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe -- this should really be fleshed out into an answer -- I suspect that between Adeptus' argument that the RAW is simply a matter of Wizards going YAGNI, and what you point out from Planescape, lies the most correct answer to this question... \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Nov 30 '15 at 23:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shalvenay Alas, to make an answer relevant to 3.5rd edition, I'd need a source from that edition, and I don't have one. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 1 '15 at 0:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Weirdly, the step up from the spell water breathing appears to be the 5th-level psionic power adapt body, which calls out as as two of its features the ability of the affected creature to breathe water and to survive in airless environments. A wizard could research an equivalent spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 1 '15 at 5:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shalvenay Also, what I said really isn't saying anything new that this answer doesn't say already - It's more supporting evidence that keshlam could potentially add to their answer. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 1 '15 at 23:18
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RAW

Rules-as-written, the spell makes you capable of breathing water, not oil.

RAI, Rule of Cool, Good GMing, Storytelling, Game logic, Happiness, Fun, Wiz Biz, Awesomeness, rewarding inventiveness, etc

There's pretty much no reason other than RAW to refuse to allow the Water Breathing spell to affect all liquids. Sure, water has oxygen in it gills la la but it's a magical spell and I don't expect wizards to understand that stuff. They'd just make a spell that lets you breathe liquids.

Basically, if a GM disallowed this at a group I was in, I wouldn't be back. If you're that invested in RAW and that not-invested in storytelling, it's a massive red flag, like the one that used to be over the kremlin. Just huge. There'd be no point continuing to play that game, because fighting monsters for xp is a very small part of the fun of ttrpgs, and if someone is that invested in the rules and that not-invested in an interesting story, the vast majority of the fun is absolutely drained away.

But he's a full caster so you should enforce RAW on him as hard as possible!

This attitude is really terrible and kills fun. All it forces a caster to do is use the laundry list of win spells to be horrifically powerful while perfectly RAW, instead of trying to use spells in interesting (weaker, invisibility is a 2nd level spell) ways, and be more like a storybook magic user than the dnd 'I stand in middle of party and kill everything with glitterdust' wizard.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This conversation has been moved to chat. Please continue any debate there and use comments for practical post-improvement purposes. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 30 '15 at 7:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bring it to the chat linked above, folks. Use these comments if you're actually suggesting actionable improvement or requesting clarification. Discussion isn't what comments are for, and mere disagreement isn't actionable. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 30 '15 at 22:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you clarify which meaning of RAI you're using here? “Intended” or “Interpreted”? Or do you merely intend (heh) to mean “not-RAW”? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 1 '15 at 1:10

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