How I Would Rule: Fireball In The Mouth

By David Claxton

Pictire of fireball

Fireball is a staple spell that has always been in Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. Except for 4E Dungeons and Dragons, it has always been one of the most destructive forces available to casters from the moment a caster adds it to their spell list. So what happens when a caster takes the rules as written (RAW) and uses it in creative ways?

As you round the corner, fifteen orcs stand between you and a bridge about fifty feet away. The biggest of the Orcs yells in his guttural language. “Kill them all!” The 14 orcs accompanying him raise their weapons and prepare to charge. The chieftain raises his large sword into the sky letting out a mighty roar as the orcs start past him towards the party.

DM: Roll for initiative.

DM rolls for the orcs and orc chieftain separately. Players report their initiative and to everyone’s surprise the wizard goes first.

DM: Okay it’s our wizard’s turn. Thalor what are you doing?

Thalor: Is he still roaring?

DM: Yes the chieftain continues to bellow.

Thalor: I cast fireball into his mouth.

DM: You what? Okay, um..

We have to forget for a moment that a fireball would probably affect all the orcs were it cast normally. Thalor has decided to put the fireball directly into the mouth of the chieftain. As DM it is my job to now figure out not only if it is possible but what the actual effect would be. I also need to rule without digging in the books so that I can keep the action rolling.

How I would rule and why:

Dungeons and Dragons 5E

First let’s take a look at the text of the spell. You can read the full spell here.

“A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.”

I would think a streak flashing could fit into something as small as a keyhole. Therefore getting it into the open mouth of the chieftain should not be an issue. The DM has already told the player the chieftain’s mouth is open since he is issuing a war cry to his underlings. The big guy is within range as well so no issue there. So what happens next?

The spell allows for a reflex saving throw. This tells me that creatures affected by the spell may cover themselves with their arms or cloak. Or they could crouch down and cover with arms, or anything else you can think of that is not actual movement action. This allows the player to dodge part of the flames. So if the chieftain gets a fireball into his mouth and makes his saving throw I would have him bend back some too and raise his arms to cover his face. This would then make the fireball do the full 20-foot radius and affect everything around him.

Now, what if he fails his save and the fireball goes off within his mouth?

A bit trickier of a situation but in this case I would trust the game mechanics as written.

From the spel text we see that. “The fire spreads around corners.”

The chieftain would take damage in his mouth and down his throat. 5E does not lend to specific damage so I would rule that because of the damage inside that he has a 50% chance to be unable to speak until healed. I would also roleplay that the chieftain’s breathing has become labored. This is not what would precisely happen if someone got fire down their throat. But for purposes of role-playing this scenario I feel giving a silence effect handles it.

A fireball does not create an explosion like a stick of dynamite. It whooshes a ball of flame into existence. While the word explosion is used in the spell’s description it also says it “blossoms”. The damage type is fire; no force damage is notated, which an explosion would include if it were like c4 going off.
Now, after taking care of that issue, I would rule anything that would normally be in the area of effect around him would also get a reflex saving throw. The flames would shoot from his mouth covering the same area of effect as noted by the spell. Look at the sides of his mouth as “corners”. I would describe blistering skin and singed hair. I would notate the smell of things as well.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition

“A roaring blast of fire appears at a spot you designate, dealing 6d6 fire damage.” You can read the full spell here.

Not as much detail on this one but Pathfinder 2nd defines the area of effect as a 20-foot burst.

“A burst effect issues forth in all directions from a single corner of a square within the range of the effect, spreading in all directions to a specified radius. For instance, when you cast fireball, it detonates at the corner of a square within 500 feet of you and creates a 20-foot burst, meaning it extends out 20 feet in every direction from the corner of the square you chose, affecting each creature whose space (or even one square of its space) is within the burst.” You can read the burst rule here.

There is a contradiction here. A “spot you designate” and “corner of a square” create a bit of a conundrum. In reality you are choosing the corner of a square you designate. So unless the chieftain’s mouth is in the corner of the square rules as written makes it impossible to pull this off. I would give the wizard a 20% chance the orc’s mouth is in one of those 4 corners and have him roll to check. If he makes the roll I would rule just as I did in 5E. If he fails the roll then the fireball would go off as normal.

Campaign Issues Arising From This Ruling:

Now that we have handled that ruling it is time to take a look at what repercussions I could be looking at further down the road in my campaign and how I would handle it.

The first thing that comes to mind is held actions.

DM: What do you do oh mighty wizard.

Porthos: I hold my action; if that wizard starts to cast anything with a verbal component I put a fireball in his gullet.

I see this no different as a ranger putting an arrow into someone who goes to cast to try to break concentration. It works better in 5E than in PF2 with the way I ruled above. The only issue that may arise is since I originally made it silence the orc, the player will hope that this silences the caster as well. Not all spells use verbal components but almost all do so this is a way to take a caster pretty much out of the equation in combat. In this case I would still allow it. The dice will determine if that silence effect occurs with the reflex save. If my caster is a bigger bad meant to give them a real challenge then he will have a higher reflex save already. Remember there is also only a 50% chance that it will silence the caster as per my previous ruling. Yes, this silence effect makes an already deadly spell that much worse in some instances. But in my games giving a possible outcome like this is celebrated by players who love thinking outside the box.

What are your thoughts on this ruling? Leave comments below with your thoughts and how you would rule in this situation as a DM.