Hydrophobia: The Fear of Water (Mechanics)


Pathfinder Playtest


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Half speed, half damage, spell effects, various forms of moving water, different weapons handled differently, different rules attacking while under and while over, suffocating rules, skill checks every round, the bends...

Holy mother of nightmares, I've often told my players upfront that if they don't play a grappler, I won't throw them in the lake. It's a fair trade. What can be done about this insanely complex system with such amazing plot hooks but vastly different play abilities?

Bonuses. Stop penalizing players for being underwater, make aquatic beings and water spells stronger, and players act somewhat normally underwater. I don't lose speed, I don't lose fighting ability, but giant squids are really strong for their CR while they are underwater. Now I don't have to mess with a lot of awkward mechanics, but I really want that freedom of motion or aboleths lung spell. I hold my breath for a while, then start taking non-lethal equal to my level. Then lethal, unconscious, dead. If I get a swim speed, I get a bonus to hit and damage underwater. All moving water is just a flat 'unless otherwise stated you move this far with the water. If you can't keep up, you'll be taken wherever the water is going.' Moving water doesn't really have to mean you drown if you fail a swim check, it can be dumbed down a bit.

They can even have the more realistic rules if they want, but for the sake of sanity please let the default rules for underwater adventurers be something you'd be willing to build an AP around. The rules as they are have never, and will never, see play at my table. I'd rather ad-hoc a fight than look all that mess up and figure out who reacts how. I want to visit Atlantis, I want to battle a horrific abberation that bleeds Eels into a Hydra, I want to fight sharks for the treasure in the ship at the bottom of the gulf that we found...

I, and so many other players, will never, EVER be able to do so with pf1 swimming rules. Can we possibly dumb it down to useable, even if it annoys the players who want realism, given that most of them probably can't use this mess either?


Shiroi wrote:
given that most of them probably can't use this mess either


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Not to be a wet blanket, but I dislike almost all of the OP's fixes. Though I would still vastly prefer them to the current rules, which one often feels they are drowning in.

Fights should be fluid, but this ocean of obscure statements drags the whole game down. If we could adopt a simpler, more dynamic system, things would go ... swimmingly.


I like the idea of water mechanics that meaningfully change the game and combat, but I agree that the rules should be something like:

"You move at half speed if you can walk along the ground"
"You have swim speed X based on your athletics proficiency"
"You have a -4 penalty to martial attack rolls through water." (I think penalties make more sense than bonuses)
"You will drown [eventually]"

Then you can have spells/traits/magic gear that negate or replace certain aspects of this (such as swim speed for aquatic creatures).

Essentially, I want water to be an interesting hazard/environmental feature that will change the way players approach their fights, but I also agree that the rules need to be streamlined.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Shiroi wrote:

Half speed, half damage, spell effects, various forms of moving water, different weapons handled differently, different rules attacking while under and while over, suffocating rules, skill checks every round, the bends...

Holy mother of nightmares, I've often told my players upfront that if they don't play a grappler, I won't throw them in the lake. It's a fair trade. What can be done about this insanely complex system with such amazing plot hooks but vastly different play abilities?

Bonuses. Stop penalizing players for being underwater, make aquatic beings and water spells stronger, and players act somewhat normally underwater. I don't lose speed, I don't lose fighting ability, but giant squids are really strong for their CR while they are underwater. Now I don't have to mess with a lot of awkward mechanics, but I really want that freedom of motion or aboleths lung spell. I hold my breath for a while, then start taking non-lethal equal to my level. Then lethal, unconscious, dead. If I get a swim speed, I get a bonus to hit and damage underwater. All moving water is just a flat 'unless otherwise stated you move this far with the water. If you can't keep up, you'll be taken wherever the water is going.' Moving water doesn't really have to mean you drown if you fail a swim check, it can be dumbed down a bit.

They can even have the more realistic rules if they want, but for the sake of sanity please let the default rules for underwater adventurers be something you'd be willing to build an AP around. The rules as they are have never, and will never, see play at my table. I'd rather ad-hoc a fight than look all that mess up and figure out who reacts how. I want to visit Atlantis, I want to battle a horrific abberation that bleeds Eels into a Hydra, I want to fight sharks for the treasure in the ship at the bottom of the gulf that we found...

I, and so many other players, will never, EVER be able to do so with pf1 swimming rules. Can we possibly dumb it down to useable, even if it annoys the players who...

Being underwater is a gigantic shift in atmosphere compared to being on-land or in the air. Comparatively speaking, flying rules are just as convoluted, if not moreso, since in flight, facing matters for movement, you can only move at certain angles (understandable considering the grid rules, but since it's for the course of your movement, it's all or nothing), you always descend faster than ascend (ascending costs double movement), anyone else who isn't flying is insta-gibbed because gravity, and it's almost impossible to quantify creatures on a 2D grid when flight has 3D rules. That's on top of whatever else underwater rules have, which makes them equally dubious to implement in games.

However, it is because of these changes that make combats in the air or underwater different from it simply being a land battle.


We play this game despite the rules.

Often we ignore the rules in order to facilitate playing the game.

It's a good thing.


Don't worry, Pathfinder has rules for this.


Asmodeus' Advocate wrote:

Not to be a wet blanket, but I dislike almost all of the OP's fixes. Though I would still vastly prefer them to the current rules, which one often feels they are drowning in.

Fights should be fluid, but this ocean of obscure statements drags the whole game down. If we could adopt a simpler, more dynamic system, things would go ... swimmingly.

That's fair, I basically spitballed a few concepts to show what I meant by simplify. Definitely wasn't a playtested trial and error sort of thing. The main thing is that I'd like to see some swimming (and flying yes Darksoul) rules that are easier to implement.

For me, no matter how accurate or how "engagingly different from land" the mechanic is, if it's too difficult to use in game it has failed. I'd like to see a strong eye given by Paizo to breaking the common game issue of "Oh gods, it's a freaking water level I can't believe you're actually going to do this to us".

Grand Lodge

I honestly don't mind the underwater combat rules of PF that much. You should have a harder time fighting underwater if you're not an aquatic creature.

That said, I would like to see swimming speed brought from 1/4 land speed to 1/2 land speed.


Well, drowning probably doesn't need you to be at 0 HP anymore because Dying is a condition, so there's that. I imagine a simple way to treat it might be to use a preexisting condition that is pretty close to simulating the awkwardness involved. Maybe something like Encumbered?


Captain Morgan wrote:
Well, drowning probably doesn't need you to be at 0 HP anymore because Dying is a condition, so there's that. I imagine a simple way to treat it might be to use a preexisting condition that is pretty close to simulating the awkwardness involved. Maybe something like Encumbered?

Entangled perhaps?


Yeah, entangled sounds like a good call. That's still one of the PF2 conditions, right?

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