All characters are either untrained swimmers or proficient swimmers.
When the DM determines the swimming ability of characters, the decision should
be based on his campaign. If the campaign is centered around a large body of
water, or if a character grew up near the sea, chances are good that the
character knows how to swim. However, being a sailor does not guarantee that a
character can swim. Many a medieval mariner or black-hearted pirate never learned how
to swim and so developed a morbid fear of the water! This is one of the things
that made “walking the plank” such a fearful punishment. Furthermore, some
character races are normally suspicious of water and swimming. While these may vary
from campaign to campaign, dwarves and halflings often don't know how to swim.
Untrained swimmers are a fairly hapless lot. When they are unencumbered, they
can manage a rough dog-paddle in relatively calm waters. If the waters are
rough, the current strong, or the depth excessive (at sea or far out on a lake),
untrained swimmers may panic and sink. If weighed down with enough gear to reduce
their movement rate, they sink like stones, unable to keep their heads above
water. In no way do they make any noticeable progress (unless, of course, the
object is to sink beneath the surface).
Proficient swimmers are able to swim, dive, and surface with varying degrees
of success. All proficient characters are able to swim half their current land
movement rate times 10 in yards, provided they are not wearing metal armor. A
character with a movement rate of 12 could swim 60 yards (180 feet) in a round.
Characters whose movement rates have been reduced to 1/3 or less of normal (due
to gear) or who are wearing metal armor cannot swim--the weight of the gear
pulls the character under. They can still walk on the bottom, however, at 1/3
their current movement rate.
Proficient swimmers can double their swimming speed, if a successful Strength
check is rolled (vs. half the character's normal Strength score). For a
character with a movement rate of 12, a successful check means he can swim 120 yards
in one round, an Olympic-class performance.
Like running, swimming is not something that a character can do indefinitely.
There are several different speeds a character can choose to swim at, thus
moving in either short sprints or a slower, but longer-lasting, pace.
If swimming at half normal speed or treading water, the character can maintain
this for a number of hours equal to his Constitution score (although he will
have to abandon most of his gear). After a character swims for a number of hours
equal to his Constitution, a Constitution check must be made for each
additional hour. For each extra hour of swimming, 1 Constitution point is temporarily
lost (regaining lost ability points is explained in the next column).
Each hour spent swimming causes a cumulative penalty of -1 to all attack rolls.
All this assumes calm water. If the seas are choppy, a Constitution check
should be made every hour spent swimming, regardless of the character's
Constitution. Rough seas can require more frequent checks; heavy seas or storms may
require a check every round. The DM may decide that adverse conditions cause a
character's Constitution score to drop more rapidly than 1 point per hour.
If a swimming character fails a Constitution check, he must tread water for
half an hour before he can continue swimming (this counts as time spent swimming,
for purposes of Constitution point loss).
A character drowns if his Constitution score drops to 0.
A freak wave sweeps Fiera (an elf) overboard during the night. Fortunately,
she can swim and knows that land is nearby. Bravely, she sets out through calm
water. Her Constitution score is 16. After 14 hours of steady swimming, she makes
out an island on the horizon. Two hours later she is closer, but still has
some way to go. During the next hour (her 17th in the water), her Constitution
drops to 15 (her attack penalty is -17!) and she must make a Constitution check. A
12 is rolled--she passes. In the last hour, the 18th, the seas become rough.
Her Constitution is now 13 (the DM ruled that the heavy seas made her lose 2
points of Constitution this hour), and the DM decides she must pass an extra
Constitution check to reach shore. She rolls a 5 and flops onto shore, exhausted.
Characters can also swim long distances at a faster pace, although at
increasing risk. Swimming at the character's normal movement rate (instead of the usual
swimming speed of half the normal movement rate) requires a Constitution check
every hour, reduces Strength and Constitution by 1 point every hour, and
results in a -2 cumulative attack penalty for each hour of swimming. Characters can
swim at twice this speed (quadruple normal swimming speed), but they must roll
a check every turn and suffer the above penalties for every turn spent
swimming. Again, when an ability score reaches 0, the character sinks and drowns.
Upon reaching shore, characters can recover lost ability score points and
negate attack penalties by resting. Each day of rest recovers 1d6 ability points
(if both Strength and Constitution points were lost, roll 1d3 for each ability to
determine points recovered) and removes 2d6 points of attack penalties. Rest
assumes adequate food and water. Characters need not be fully rested before
undertaking any activity, although the adjusted ability scores are treated as the
character's current scores until the character has rested enough to fully
recover from the swim.
To continue the earlier example with Fiera, after a bad last hour in the
water, she reaches shore. Her Constitution is 13 and she has a -18 penalty to her
attack roll. Exhausted, she finds some ripe fruit and collapses in the shade of a
palm tree. All the next day she rests. At the end of the day she rolls a 4 on
1d6 and regains 4 points of Constitution, restoring it to normal. An 8 is
rolled to reduce her attack penalty, so the next day she suffers only a -10 penalty
to her attack roll. The next day of rest lowers this by 6 to -4 and the third
day erases it completely. So in three days she has fully recovered from her
18-hour ordeal in the water.
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