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D&D 5E Rules Question - The interaction between Str (Athletics) checks, movement and actions. Does Swimming take an Action?

Hussar

Legend
Just had this come up in game and I'm not sure the answer.

A character without a swim speed (or a climb speed in the case of climbing) needs to make a Strength (Athletics) check in order to swim and move half the character's speed, presuming difficult swimming conditions. I'm not worried about the DC, that's fine. But, does that Strength (Athletics) check count as an action?

I think that it does and here is my logic:

1. You have a movement speed of 0 for unusual movement types - climbing, swimming, etc. Thus, you can't actually move using those movement types normally.
2. Taking an action in the form of a Strength (athletics) check allows you to move at half speed (typically), thus burning your action.

Otherwise, how can you move if your speed is 0. You only gain movement speed through a successful ability check. Typically checks are actions (with some exceptions). Having that movement speed obviates the need for any check and you just move that speed. But, without that movement type, you need to make a check in order to gain any speed.

IOW, you are trading actions for movement.

And, secondly, would the same logic apply to climbing for characters without a climb speed?
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Characters do not really have a swimming or climbing speed of 0. They just don’t have a listed one, meaning they don’t benefit from the various perks of having an explicit one. They just use their regular movement rate but with additional cost for each food moved.
And for most situations, an athletics check is unnecessary. See page 175 of the PH.
So, no, it shouldn’t cost any action under normal circumstances.
 

DeviousQuail

Explorer
I'm away from book but I'm sure the PHB specifically says that if you are swimming or climbing every foot of movement requires 2 feet of your movement speed (or more in difficult terrain) if you don't have a swim or climb speed listed. Your first point is incorrect and making any check to succeed on the move should not require your action.
 


Hussar

Legend
Well, the specific situation was being flung 40 feet by a kracken into water - I figured that a Strength (Athletics) check was warranted. :D

Well, three for three say that it's part of movement, so, who am I to argue. Thanks folks.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Well, the specific situation was being flung 40 feet by a kracken into water - I figured that a Strength (Athletics) check was warranted. :D
Oh, I think a Strength (Athletics) check would still be warranted. After all, being violently thrown 40 feet into the water would be a difficult situation that could warrant a check - it's not simply swimming.
 

auburn2

Explorer
Oh, I think a Strength (Athletics) check would still be warranted. After all, being violently thrown 40 feet into the water would be a difficult situation that could warrant a check - it's not simply swimming.
What specifically is the check for?

I could see a check to avoid being damaged (soft landing) or to avoid being "prone" on the first turn and niether would require an action. I realize a character is not actually prone but I could see hitting the water awkwardly could cause the equivalent of being prone in terms of requiring half your movement to orient yourself and become "unprone" before you start swimming.

If I did this I would allow either athletics or acrobatics. The acrobatic character who rolls really high sommersaults in the air and hits the water with toes pointed in what would be a perfect score in olympic diving. The character using athletics braces himself and uses after as soon as he hits he hits he kicks his legs hard and skulls with his hand to break the fall and orient himself how he wants.

On a failure they end upside down and crooked and maybe lose what they are holding.
 

Hussar

Legend
I figured it was a check to basically tread water and not sink like a stone. Fully clothed character hits the water like that, a failed check and you're sinking.
 

In general, using Str/Athletics is because of an odd situation or a desire to push beyond the normal rules. For example, many DMs will allow a character to jump a bit higher/farther than their Str score allows by requiring a check. In the case of swimming or climbing, if the water/surface is harder to handle than expected it might require a check. In no case, however, is it an action (although the Dash action could be used to increase speed).
I figured it was a check to basically tread water and not sink like a stone. Fully clothed character hits the water like that, a failed check and you're sinking.
From your example, I would think it's getting back to the surface. Falling a depth unexpectedly into deep water will cause disorientation, and the disrupted water wouldn't help determine which way is up. In addition, while 5E doesn't cover it, being unexpectedly submerged means you probably don't have a full breath.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Yeah, the game defaults to the idea that every character can swim and climb in a rudimentary fashion, they just go half as fast in relation to the speed at which they walk (with some characters able to climb/swim just as fast as they walk if they have special movement abilities.) So ordinary climbing/swimming movement would require no Strength (Athletics) check and thus no Action.

But as others have said... circumstances in the game might inspire you, the DM, to ask for checks if what is happening or what the character wants to do is above and beyond ordinary climbing/swimming. But in that case the rules do not indicate (at least as far as I can tell) that it requires an Action to do so... looking at PHB pg 182 - 'Special Types of Movement' there is nothing in those sections stating that these checks require Actions, they all are just an added requirement the DM asks for when the player chooses a movement that is beyond ordinary. So in my opinion, the Strength (Athletics) checks would just be part and parcel with the movement.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest
What specifically is the check for?
Considering that being violently flung into the water would be a bit uncontrolled and disorienting, I'd have them make the check to swim effectively rather than sink further and be forced to hold their breath. If they failed, rather like failing a difficult climb check, they make no progress with their attempt at movement.
I'd also give them a second check if they used the Dash action for more movement.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Well, the specific situation was being flung 40 feet by a kracken into water - I figured that a Strength (Athletics) check was warranted. :D

Well, three for three say that it's part of movement, so, who am I to argue. Thanks folks.
I would say, rule of cool. Athletics check or stunned for one round sinking 30 or 60 feet.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The rules quote is:

"Each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain) when you’re climbing, swimming, or crawling. You ignore this extra cost if you have a climbing speed and use it to climb or a swimming speed and use it to swim. At the DM’s option, climbing a slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds requires a successful Strength (Athletics) check. Similarly, gaining any distance in rough water might require a successful Strength (Athletics) check."

I think it would be reasonable to say that IF a check is required, that takes your action. If a check is not required, then the movement is half-speed, but not an action. If you want to swim through rough ocean, that takes enough effort that no, you cannot attack or cast a spell the same round.
 

Hussar

Legend
The rules quote is:

"Each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain) when you’re climbing, swimming, or crawling. You ignore this extra cost if you have a climbing speed and use it to climb or a swimming speed and use it to swim. At the DM’s option, climbing a slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds requires a successful Strength (Athletics) check. Similarly, gaining any distance in rough water might require a successful Strength (Athletics) check."

I think it would be reasonable to say that IF a check is required, that takes your action. If a check is not required, then the movement is half-speed, but not an action. If you want to swim through rough ocean, that takes enough effort that no, you cannot attack or cast a spell the same round.
Which would mean that I was right. At least in the first round - since I required a check (on the PC's turn, after being flung into the water) - then that check would be an action. Then, on the second round, presuming that the kraken hasn't decided to make swimming really difficult by, say, swallowing the PC whole (which happened to another PC in the fight), then movement would just be half speed.
 

I do not believe that making the check is a separate action.

However, failing the check may prematurely end your move.


Example:

Let's assume a PC with 30ft of movement.
Between Point A and Point B is 10ft of walking, 5ft of swimming through treacherous water, and 5ft of climbing a rope.
Step 1 - The PC walks 10ft (10/30 used)
Step 2 - The PC enters the treacherous water and the GM asks for an athletics check
--If the PC succeeds, the PC moves 5ft, but counts as if having moved 10ft (difficult terrain) (20/30 used)
--If the PC fails, the PC cannot continue their movement through the water and their movement ends.
Step 3 (assuming success) - The PC makes a climb check to climb 5ft, but it counts as if having moved 10ft (30/30 used)
Step 3 (assuming failure) - If the PC failed the swim check, their move ends, but I believe they could use their action to attempt more movement.
 

I figured it was a check to basically tread water and not sink like a stone.

If you can swim, you can swim.

Fully clothed or not, you can tread water, even after unexpectedly falling off a boat or getting thrown into a pool or whatever.

You dont need a check for that any more than you need one to climb a ladder.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I would rule that it is not an action. While you don't need to make a check while swimming in calm waters, you do under certain circumstances but nothing indicates that it's an action.

Of course, your game your ruling.
 

Hussar

Legend
If you can swim, you can swim.

Fully clothed or not, you can tread water, even after unexpectedly falling off a boat or getting thrown into a pool or whatever.

You dont need a check for that any more than you need one to climb a ladder.
Normally I would agree, but, being thrown through the air by a kraken, that is now swimming around, thrashing, and doing all sorts of other stuff, does make swimming a bit more difficult. But, I would only insist on the check in the first round, simply because of being chucked through the air like that. It would be a bit disorientating. Note, the check was to make progress. When she failed a second check (rogue, bonus action) I said that she simply didn't make forward progress.

Which then turned into the discussion about whether or not the checks ate into the Actions or not.

I guess the consensus answer seems to be - normally no. In a fairly normal circumstance, even when a check is required (such as climbing), it won't eat into your actions. It might in extreme circumstances. Climbing rigging on a ship wouldn't need a check normally. Climbing rigging in a strong wind probably would need a check (with a fairly low DC) but not eat an action. Climbing rigging in a typhoon while under attack from a dragon would likely eat actions. :D
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The effect of it sounds like a no-save action denial. Not that you don't get your action, but it's required to be an athletics check. If the challenge 23 Kraken is having problems with the PCs, then go for it as an additional hazard. If it makes a more dramatic combat, go for it. If it's action denial on top of deadly battle, I wouldn't.

I'd go with the rules under "Fling" on the Kraken, which knocks them prone as part of it. So first round they are up to 60 feet away, spending half their move just to "right themselves" in the water (become unprone), and have to spend an extra foot (2 feet if it's rough) - they are already potentially out of the fight for a while.
 

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