In Are there mechanical disadvantages to being unable to breathe for a handful of rounds? I asked if there were any disadvantages to fighting while unable to breathe, due to a creature's special attack, before you get to the point of suffocating according to the game rules on PHB p. 183. The answers there mostly focus on explaining the existing rules for suffocating, which don't help, and suggesting that maybe you are automatically suffocating rather than holding your breath, as soon as you are a victim of such an attack, but Jeremy Crawford has issued a ruling that you can hold your breath, so that is not relevant.

What I was after was figuring out whether there are any rules that say that you can't fight at full efficiency, move at full speed, etc. when holding your breath. It "seems obvious" that you won't be able to hold your breath for the same amount of time if you're exerting yourself as if you're sitting quietly.

Since that question has garnered no answers talking about rules relevant to how holding one's breath impacts one's ability to fight, and I can't find anything in any of the core books either, I was wondering if anyone has house rules they'd like to share that address this. As usual, for a house rule to be a good answer on RPG.stackexchange, it needs to be play tested.


2 Answers 2


In my campaigns, I rule that every round you take an action or move, you use an extra round of breath. If you do both, it costs you 2 extra rounds. My players have enjoyed the added tension this brings to what would otherwise be a fairly safe situation.

As far as impediments, fighting underwater already adds plenty of those, so I don't see a need to heap more onto the poor characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is basically how holding breath works in pathfinder as well and seems reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 19:55

It doesn't come up much, but I generally rule that if you're in combat or otherwise working hard, you can hold your breath 1+ con mod rounds, not minutes, then you have to breathe. If you can't breathe at that point, you start suffocating, which is handled as written.

The 1+ con mod minutes is if you have time to prepare (deep breathing and such) and are conserving your energy. Swimming at a relatively slow pace or walking, sure, no problem. Fighting, speed swimming, or sprinting*, no way.

That helps keep choking hazards relevant - a fight in a room full of poison gas is on a timer. RAW makes them essentially unimportant, since every fight will end before even two minutes elapse, at the outside.

If it's a surprise choking situation, like a hidden darkmantle drops on you, I usually allow a last-second Dex save to grab a breath. If you fail, you're going direct to the suffocation part of the rules.

*Notice that this means you can casually walk a lot further without breathing than you can dash without breathing. This is pretty realistic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Many sprinters hold their breath over 100 m... 10 seconds of sprinting versus about a minute and a half of strolling at 4k/h... I feel like you're probably right about being able to casually walk further without breathing than run, but I don't know about "a lot" further... the extra speed makes a significant difference. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 22:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's entirely fair. I don't know that I could dash a hundred meters on a single breath, but I probably couldn't walk two minutes without breathing either. (...okay I'm not sure I could hold my breath for two minutes whilst sitting very still...) I was aiming for a mix of reasonable realism and easy math, and I just said it was pretty realistic. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman That said, I think your estimate is off. For easy math, say you aren't a trained sprinter, and you can run 100 meter dash in 12 seconds. That's about 330 feet over two rounds. (Note: 160 feet/round is far beyond an in-game Dash.) A moderately quick walk is about 3.5 mph, close enough to 5 feet per second (30 feet per round!) ; 5 feet/sec for 120 seconds = 600 feet. 600 feet in 2 minutes walking is vastly further than 330 feet in two rounds. QED. (If you figure it using a professional sprinter's 10 meters/sec, he could run about 390 feet in 12 seconds, still not nearly 600.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ especially when you figure that the 120 seconds 600 feet is at normal speed - allowing for actions (like attacking) and so would be considered to be relatively low intensity IMO - most of the intensity of battle is surely the actual attacks and that, rather than just the walking in between... To clarify - I'm not disagreeing with you - wasn't even straight up disagreeing in my first comment, though I feel it's an interesting point to throw out there in context. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 3:16

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