Dungeons & Dragons 5E is not a perfect game by any means. No game can be perfect, but one aspect that 5E flounders is with some environmental rules. It’s not easy to find information about drowning, and swimming in general is not well developed in 5E’s official rulebooks. So, some of the only ways that we can know about drowning involves some extrapolation… and not a small amount of rules bickering. Our 5e Drowning guide will attempt to make things simple.
5e Drowning Rules
Drowning in 5E takes the same rules as standard suffocation. A creature may hold its breath for a number of minutes equal to 1 + Constitution Modifier (minimum 30 seconds). After you run out of breath, you survive for a number of rounds equal to Con Modifier (minimum 1). At the next turn, you drop to 0 hit points and are dying. You can’t stabilize or heal until you can breathe again.
For example, Everen is a 12 Constitution Elf Fighter. He dives into the water to attempt to find treasure. He stays underwater for 2 minutes, and begins suffocating. He then has 1 round to head to the surface, which he cannot do. He is then dying, and can’t be stabilized until someone else dives in to drag him to the surface, so he can breathe again.
As a huge side-note, most DM’s hate these rules. You may want to talk to your DM about if there’s any specific home-rules for swimming and drowning. For example, many DMs put Heavy Armor wearers in disadvantage while swimming. Or, some DMs might force a character to exhaust their breath double as fast if they swing a weapon or cast a spell.
How Many Rounds Does it Take to Drown in DND?
There are a few factors that come into play in determining how long it takes for a character to drown in DND. According to the rules as written, drowning occurs only after you run out of breath and then survive for an additional period after your breath is gone.
At a minimum, your character can hold its breath for 30 seconds. This period can extend to as long as six minutes depending on your Constitution modifier. That means characters could hold their breath for between 5 and 60 rounds. Once a character runs out of breath, they could last up to five more rounds before they drop to zero hit points and are dying.
But it’s not over yet! You still have death saving throws. According to the rules for suffocation, your character cannot be stabilized unless they can breathe. That means you are automatically failing saving throws, but that is three more rounds you can last and possibly get help from your allies.
See Also: Starting Gold 5E Guide
How to Avoid Drowning
Drowning isn’t too hard to avoid, but drowning in a bad spot will kill a character. When prepping for a diving expedition, double-check your racial traits. Races like Lizardfolk, for example, get an ability which allows them to hold their breath for extra time. Lizardfolk specifically get to hold their breath for 15 minutes, regardless of Constitution. The Triton can breathe underwater. These races might be your best choice for underwater expeditions.
But sometimes, you have to bring the party underwater. The most dangerous part of drowning is when the party runs out of breath. So, you want to avoid being in a position where you cannot get air. Preparing a Control Water spell, for example, might allow you to create trenches that will let you get a breath in a dangerous situation. Otherwise, you might be better off getting a magic item, or turning into a sea creature.
Conclusions for our Drowning 5E Guide
Drowning is not an easy rule to work around, since most DMs add some penalties to it. Even so, you’ve got options, and talking to your DM is so important if you plan on entering a water level anytime soon. Have some backup plans and keep things simple the best you can, and drowning will be easily avoided.