View Full Version : D&D 5e/Next Variant rules: Hold breath, suffocation, breath penalties, constriction/strangulation

2018-09-05, 05:13 PM
I find the current 5e rules for holding breath, suffocation, and constriction/strangulation lacking.

Hold breath only has penalties for spells with verbal components, which is very specific.
Suffocation ends penalizes nearly immediately and the penalty is instant death, which is undesirable.
Constriction/strangulation cannot be implemented because of the issues with suffocation: instant death would be remarkably easy and therefore broken.

I'd like to propose a variant which addresses these issues.

For convenience, the rules as written are posted.



Con signifies: Constitution base value
CON signifies: Constitution modifier value
ATH signifies: Athletics proficiency bonus
DAM signifies: Damage received (DAM.hp to HP, DAM.vit to vitality)
MAX signifies: Use of the higher value of two comma separated values.


RAW (Rules As Written)::

The RAW (rules as written) are as follows:

Lose breath (via time):

Start of turn, if unable to freely inhale oxygen:

If have breath available to hold : Holding breath
If hold breath countdown not yet initialized: Initialize hold breath countdown value.
Else if hold breath countdown value at 0 or below: Go to 'If have no breath available to hold'.
Else : -1 [round] to countdown value.

If have no breath available to hold : "Suffocating"
If suffocation countdown not yet initialized: Initialize suffocation countdown value.
Else if suffocation countdown value at 0 or below: Go to 'If dying by suffocation'.
Else : -1 [round] to countdown value.


Countdown Values:

Hold breath: HBr.raw [rounds] = MAX( 5, 10 (1 + CON) )
Suffocation: Suf.raw [rounds] = MAX( 0, CON )


Lose breath (via actions): Source (https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/78530/can-spells-with-a-verbal-component-be-cast-underwater-if-the-caster-cant-breath)

If holding breath:
If cast a spell with a verbal component:
Hold breath: HBr.raw [rounds] = 0.


Suffocation (effects):

If suffocating:
Cannot cast spell with a verbal component.


Dying by Suffocation:

If dying by suffocation:
Go to 0 HP. Begin dying (and first death saving throw).
Cannot be stabilized or regain HP until able to freely inhale oxygen.


2018-09-05, 05:14 PM
New (Modified/Homebrewed Rules)::

My suggested alternatives are as follows:

Countdown Values:

Hold breath: HBr.new [rounds] = MAX( (Con + ATH), 5 (Con + ATH - 8) )
Suffocation: Suf.new [rounds] = MAX( 0 , CON + ATH + 4) )


The changes are easier to visualize in tabular format,
provided here (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KedU7n63BZMes6xwbvPr3NgVIdqG1ECvVQfGZG0uVfY/edit#gid=0).

Note: The ATH value may be edited, ranging from 0 to 12,
(where 12 is representative of double proficiency at level 20).

Lose breath (via actions):

For each performed, -1 [round] to current countdown value:
Action, bonus action, reaction.
Lengthy verbal free action.

Additional -1 [round] if any of the above have significant physical AND verbal aspect.
Example: Spellcasting with somatic AND verbal component.

Exception: No loss if an action was neither performed nor attempted.
Example: Prepared action with unmet condition.
Example: Dodge action in which no received attacks were attempted.
Example: Disengage action in which no received attacks of opportunity were attempted.


Suffocation (effects):

If suffocating:
Cannot perform any type of action which requires verbal communication.
Example: Cannot cast spell with a verbal component.


Dying by Suffocation:

If dying by suffocation:
If suffocation damage counter not yet initialized: Set damage counter to 1.
Else : +1 to damage counter (Max: 3).

If not using vitality variant : DAM.HP = -15 damage counter.
If using vitality variant : DAM.VIT = -01 damage counter.
If HP reaches 0: Cannot be stabilized or regain HP until able to freely inhale oxygen.


Spellcasting modifications:

Spells cast in an unfamiliar environment require a spellcasting proficiency check.
Failure of the check results in failure of the spell.
Note: A failed attempt is still considered a usage.

Example: air-breather casting verbal component in extensive helium environment.
Example: air-breather casting verbal component in underwater environment.
Example: air-breather casting verbal component in underwater environment,
holding breath (and therefore minimizing its use while casting).
Example: land-dweller casting somatic component in underwater environment.
Example: casting somatic component while grappled.

Those who have trained to cast in such environments do not need to make the checks.

Example: Water-breathers likely would not need to make checks in underwater environments.
Example: Water-breathers likely would need to make checks in air-based environments.
Example: Aquatic beings would need to make a spellcasting proficiency check in air.


[Optional]: Spell modifications:

Water Breathing:
The verbal component is unaffected by immersion of the sound in water-based liquid.
The somatic component is unaffected by immersion of the limbs in water-based liquid.

Spellcasting ability checks are therefore not necessary for casting this spell in
water-based environments.


[Optional]: Constriction (Suffocation via grapple): Source (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constriction

If have the means and the knowledge of how to constrict the target
(via blocking bloodflow and thus oxygen to a known critical organ):
A constriction check may be made against a target.

If making a constriction check against a target:
Use grapple check rules with -5 to constrictor roll.
If successful, target is grappled as usual and additionally begins Suffocating.
[Target will go to 'If have no breath available to hold' at start of turn].
Target remains suffocating until grapple is broken.

If constricting and take damage: Perform concentration check:
Constitution (Athletics) vs. MAX( 10, 0.5 DAM )


2018-09-05, 05:16 PM

Note: Reading this section is purely optional.
This section attempts to explain some of the justification and reasoning behind these rules alterations.


I tried to move away from instant death from water-based environments.
I still attempted to keep water an inherent danger (when lacking water-breathing capabilities).

I used the (real-world) unassisted free dive (single breath) world records as a guide (source) (https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-secret-to-holding-your-breath-for-20-minutes-15424515200), and
then attempted to allow surpassing those levels, keeping in tune with the fantasy elements of the setting.

Although the alterations for hold breath and suffocation make the formulas for length of breath slightly more complex,
I believe that the added complexity is within reason for a variant.

Hold Breath:

I placed hold breath more in line with the rules for strength and encumbrance,
using the Constitution base value in the calculation rather than the modifier value.


It can be seen in the spreadsheet that rounds until suffocation has been buffed.
This is because people do not instantly pass out and die in the absence of air.

Feel free to try: completely exhale and then do not inhale for as long as you can.
Many of you should be able to achieve 20 - 40 seconds before fearing for your life.
[Please do not actually incapacitate yourself ; j ]

I also do not believe that players enjoy instant death without the ability to react in the event of a lack of air in the lungs,
so I feel that this also adds to the rules as fun (RAF), in addition to more accurately modeling reality.

Lose breath and Spellcasting Modifications:

I think the alternative model given for loss of breath is simple and straightforward.
It more evenly distributes penalties for performing activities outside of
meditatively concentrating on remaining calm and minimizing use of oxygen;
simply put: Performing an action comes at the cost of breath.

The updated method also attempts to incorporate the rules as intended regarding
underwater spellcasting (https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/78530/can-spells-with-a-verbal-component-be-cast-underwater-if-the-caster-cant-breath) when there is a verbal component.

Personally, I would assume that some spells have much much louder verbal components than others
but the rules aren't specific enough for this, so I believe that specifying is beyond the scope of this variant.

[Optional]: Spell modifications:

I attempted to bring the wonderful elegance of Feather Fall to Waterbreathing by
providing the ability to cast it at the time it is most needed.

I did not adjust the speed (despite the urgency that breathing can have)
nor did I minimize its components.

I simply made it more castable in the environment to which it relates,
(which I assume can be especially important if everyone is already down there).

[Optional]: Constriction / Strangulation:

Since I eased off of the instant death regarding suffocation via drowning;
I believe the rules can handle constriction with the same ruleset without
DMs needing to worry about all of their players becoming instant serial stranglers.
(This hasn't been play-tested yet, however; so please feel free to argue this.)

2018-09-05, 05:17 PM
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2018-09-05, 05:38 PM
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