Can DND Characters Swim? (Explained for Beginners)

Swimming in Dungeons and Dragons (DND) isn’t something you think about until your Dwarven Barbarian is perched at the foot of a raging river.

Can DND characters swim?

Characters can swim in DND. Unless the character possesses swimming speed, every foot of swimming requires one extra foot of movement. Swimming takes two feet of movement in challenging terrain. Characters can attack and cast spells while swimming. Armor severely disadvantages the swimmer.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about characters swimming in DND.

Can DND Characters Swim? (Official Answer)

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According to the DND Players Handbook (PHB): “Movement” section, moving through dangerous dungeons or wilderness locations usually entails more than simply walking. Adventurers may be required to swim, climb, crawl, or jump to get to their destination.

In most campaigns, characters don’t end up in the water.

But water-based encounters and settings can be some of the most memorable adventures your DND group ever experiences.

The PHB goes on to state that the majority of characters swim slower than they walk or run.

In fact, the PHB is very specific:

  • 1 foot of swimming = 2 feet of your total movement
  • 1 foot of swimming in difficult terrain = 3 feet of your total movement

Can All Characters Swim in DND?

All standard character classes and races can swim

Players do not need special training, proficiencies, or abilities to swim during a DND campaign.

With that said, there are certain races that get an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to swimming or breathing underwater. Enter racial variants.

Racial variants are an excellent method to add variety to your game without significantly altering the ecology of your environment.

Introducing environmental variants is one way to change the existing races.

These variants can be used by players who desire their characters to be ocean dwellers. Alternatively, their heroes may cross these races when traveling beneath the sea.

Can Halflings Swim?

Although halflings can swim, they are prone to peril in the open water.

They are effortlessly pushed about by subterranean currents that stream like rivers or the surface.

Many predatory beasts have no problem leaping on such tiny game.

Aquatic halflings, on the other hand, are more established in the water than their surface-dwelling relatives.

As a result, aquatic halflings frequently coexist with sea creatures and are able to easily breathe under the water. Therefore, if your campaign setting includes lots of underwater encounters, you may want to consider playing an aquatic halfling.

Can Dragonborn Swim?

Yes, Dragonborn can swim.

The Aquatic Heritage Dragonborn inhabits the Dragonborn kingdoms’ coasts, islands, deepest ocean trenches, and urban centers.

They get 60-foot darkvision and competence with Athletics checks and can swim about 30 feet deep.

Can Dwarves Swim?

Yes, dwarves can swim.

Their small, bulky stature means they encounter more challenges with swimming than some other races.

Like halflings, there are also aquatic dwarves

Aquatic dwarves continue to be stone masters beneath the waters. They construct massive, intricate fortifications amid mineral-rich seas surrounding undersea thermal vents.

They possess +2 in Strength, +2 in Constitution, -4 in Dexterity, and -2 in Charisma.

Aquatic dwarves are acclimated to the harsh temperature and conditions of the sea floor, but they depend on their muscle and armor for protection instead of speed.

Can Humans Swim?

Yes, human characters in DND can swim.

Additionally, there are aquatic humans who live underwater. Some say that they are the descendants of civilizations whose island cities sunk long ago. They may work together with or take the place of merfolk in these settings.

They can swim incredibly quickly at 30 feet per second and have excellent vision even in low-light conditions.

Here is a good video about swimming in DND:

Youtube video by Fails & Flails – Can DND Characters Swim in DND?

How Fast Can You Swim in DND?

When swimming, you can move one foot less than your walking movement.

The PHB pg. 168 states (paraphrased):

Unless a creature travels rapidly when hiking or swimming, every foot of movement costs an extra foot. At the DM’s discretion, a good Strength check is required to climb a slippery vertical layer or one with minimal handgrips. The same may be valid for getting any distance in choppy water.

Therefore, if your character can normally move 5 feet, they can only move 4 feet when swimming.

If the water is traveling fast, it might be considered difficult terrain.

In that case, swimming costs you two feet of movement. Your character can now only move 3 feet when swimming.

Can You Swim Far in DND?

The speed of your underwater swimming is the same as that of your surface swimming.

You can swim downwards if you move at half that speed. You can swim straight back down at 15 feet each round if you’re wearing medium armor or 25 feet per round if you’re wearing heavy armor.

If you are swimming long distances, you risk exhaustion and drowning.

You’ll end up needing to make a Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check (maybe every round).

Can Characters Swim in Armor?

DND characters can swim in armor but they may face disadvantages.

Heavy armor is not very prevalent on ships generally.

The weight is usually the most challenging component, and falling overboard with a 65-pound full plate usually results in death.

Not a good look.

Combat Infantry occasionally wear light or medium armor in battle, but sailors are usually unarmored.

A lucky few, generally the PCs and critical NPCs, have magical artifacts that increase their AC, while most sailors depend on their innate Dexterity.

Light Armor

Swimming while wearing light armor necessitates a DC 10 Strength check every round.

Failure means you lose one carrying item, shield, or weapon and have zero speed for that round.

If you decide to remove your armor after getting into the water, it will take one minute, around ten rounds.

A successful DC 15 Dexterity check reduces this time in half.

Each round, you make a 15 Dexterity Acrobatics DC check. Each successful round keeps your head above the water and counts as one of the rounds needed to remove your armor.

Failure implies you were submerged during the round and didn’t make any progress in removing your armor.

After three failures, you get one level of weariness.

Medium Armor

Wearing medium armor allows you to attempt swimming, but each round requires a 15 Dexterity Acrobatics DC check.

If you complete the round, you will remain on the surface.

Otherwise, you will lose two feet of speed for every foot you swim, and you will only be able to perform two actions: shout and stow a weapon.

If you fail the check, you sink 10 feet and forfeit whatever shields or weapons you still have.

You are underwater during the round that follows a failed check. After that, if the check is successful, you can swim to the top at a pace of 15 feet every round.

If you fail, you plunge another 10 feet.

You can try to remove your armor, but you’ll sink by 10 feet per round.

However, a successful 15 Dexterity Acrobatics DC check cuts that time in half. Without your armor, you can swim 20 feet every round toward the surface.

Heavy Armor

Heavy armor makes swimming impossible, leading to an effective speed of zero.

When you are underwater, you lose whatever shields and weapons you have with you and begin to sink.

Each round, you do a 25 Strength Athletics DC check.

Success maintains your head above the water. If you begin underwater, you can swim 15 feet to the surface.

You have no other options. If you fail the check, you will drop another 20 feet.

You can try to get rid of your armor, but you will sink at a pace of twenty feet per round.

Removing your armor ordinarily takes five minutes, making it about fifty rounds. Although a successful DC 15 Dexterity Acrobatics check cuts that time in half, you can easily swim twenty feet every round toward the surface without your armor.

In short, don’t try to swim in heavy armor.

Can You Drown in DND?

Yes, a character can drown in DND.

Following 1+(Constitution bonus) minutes of holding your breath underwater, you become unconscious, your hit points drop to 0, and you can survive for the number of rounds equivalent to your Constitution modifier (minimum 1 round).

Afterward, you start to make your death-saving throws following the standard guidelines.

You can’t stay stable if you’re still beneath the water. In that case, you must resume making death-saving throws.

Unless you are spared in some way, this will continue until your character perishes.

Can Characters Attack While Swimming?

Yes, characters can attack while swimming.

You can execute a physical in the water or a magical attack under the water.

The Underwater Combat rules will guide you on this, and you can modify them as you see fit.

A creature without swimming speed (natural or conferred by magic) has a drawback on the Attack roll when using a melee weapon, except if the weapon is a Shortsword, spear, Dagger, Javelin, or Trident.

A ranged weapon focussing on a  target outside of the weapon’s typical range is automatically missed.

The Attack roll fails even when striking a target inside the normal range.

Fire resistance is granted to creatures and objects wholly immersed in water.

Can You Fight Underwater?

Yes, DND characters can fight underwater.

According to the PHB pg. 182 (paraphrased):

Adventurers must fight in a difficult environment when pursuing sahuagin down to their underwater homes, fighting sharks in old wreckage, or finding themselves inside a flooded dungeon area.

The following regulations apply underwater.

When performing any melee weapon attack, a creature without natural or magical swimming speed has a limitation on the attack roll except when the weapon is a dagger, shortsword, spear, javelin, or trident.

A ranged weapon attack always misses a target far outside the weapon’s typical range.

How Long Is a Player Capable of Holding Their Breath?

A DND character can hold their breath for 30 seconds and may be able to hold their breath for several minutes.

Suffocating rules from page 169 of the PHB state that (paraphrased):

A creature can hold their breath for at least thirty seconds. It can also hold a breath for up to a few minutes, close to one plus its Constitutional modifier.

Certain characters can hold their breath longer:

  • Aquatic race variants
  • Characters with underwater breathing abilities
  • Characters operating under the effects magical breathing
  • Characters with a magic item that allows them to breathe underwater

Is Swimming Difficult Terrain?

Swimming is not automatically difficult terrain.

For example, a calm pond would not pose much threat to an average player character. However, choppy water, fast-moving water, or water with a rip tide could potentially be viewed as difficult terrain.

It’s really up to the Dungeon Master (DM).

If the Dungeon Master (DM) decides the water is difficult terrain, you can refer to this section in the Player’s Handbook (paraphrased :

The Travel Pace chart assumes relatively basic terrain, like the broad plains, roads, or clear dungeon corridors.

However, explorers frequently encounter difficult terrain, and you can only travel at half the speed in such a terrain. In challenging terrain, one foot moves at the rate of two feet per second. Consequently, you can only travel half as far in a minute, hour, or day.

Final Thoughts: Can DND Characters Swim?

The bottom line is that DND characters can swim on the surface or under the surface of a lake, pond, river, or ocean.

When faced with swimming, take off your armor before you dip your hairy Dwarven toes in the water.

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The Player’s Handbook