Swimming (sage ability)

From The Authentic D&D Wiki
Jump to navigationJump to search
Swimming (sage ability).jpg

Swimming is an unskilled and amateur-status sage ability in the sage studies of Athletics, Beachcomber, Oceanography and Sea Life, that can be performed with a minimum of 1 knowledge point. It's not uncommon for characters to lack swimming skills, but the importance of the activity in some circumstances requires that a clear division is drawn between "able to thrash around to some degree" and actual competency be established.

Characters with less than 10 points of knowledge in the ability are considered "unskilled." Those with absolutely no proficiency (knowledge: 0), when in sufficiently deep water, are certain to drown. As described below, a swimmer with just 1 point of knowledge is able, at least, to keep themselves from sinking immediately.

Characters with 10 points more are considered "skilled."

Techniques and Sustainability

A character's survival hinges on the duration they can maintain a specific activity. Even the weakest swimmers can "thrash," which can be sustained for 4 rounds per knowledge point. Thus a character with 1 point of knowledge could slap their hands on the water's surface for three-quarters of a minute before sinking — giving at least a little time so that he or she can be saved. Those with 3 knowledge points can actually cover a meaningful distance before losing their strength to continue.

Swimmers with 4-9 points of knowledge can paddle with more proficiency, actually covering a meaningful distance by dog paddling, a slow yet straightforward swimming technique. The swimmer moves their arms and legs simultaneously in a treading motion. This enables the swimmer to keep his or her head above water, with the body remaining somewhat upright. This permits steady breathing and doesn't require the timed coordination seen in other swimming styles.

With amateur knowledge, the character masters the ability to Stroke or Race in a freestyle movement. One arm pulls underwater from an extended position in front of the swimmer's side, while the other arm recovers above water, swinging forward. The swimmer turns their head to one side during the arm's recovery to take a breath, and then rotates it back into the water during the pull. Effectively, when stroke-swimming, the swimmer cannot "see" ahead, not without stopping to bob for a moment to obtain his or her bearings, before beginning to stroke again.

When racing, the swimmer increases the stroke rate, maintaining a more streamlined body position to reduce drag. The swimmer opts for fewer breaths to maintain this position and a faster tempo. A strong racer might breathe only every five or even seven strokes.

Knowledge Hexes per action point
Thrashing Paddling Stroking Racing
1-3 0.4 unable
4-9 1.6 unable
10-15 1.8 2.7 3.5
16-29 1.9 3.5 5.3
30-43 2.0 4.3 6.9
44-57 2.1 5.1 8.3
58-71 2.1 5.1 9.5
72-85 2.2 5.1 10.5
86 or more 2.2 5.9 11.3

Distance Travelled

The effect of these swimming styles on the progress is shown on the provided table. The maximumm number of combat hexes that characters can traverse using a specific style is given as a number per action point (AP). This calculation works much like the character's stride, except that the character is swimming.

For example, Jeremy is an unskilled swimmer with just 2 points of knowledge, who has fallen into deep water. Unable to do anything except thrash, he can nonetheless travel 0.4 x his AP — 5 AP if he's unencumbered — or 2 hexes per round. Since Jeremy can flail along this way for 8 total rounds (see above), he might save himself if he can find a solid footing within 16 hexes, or 80 feet. As a round is 12 seconds, others have a little over a minute and a half to catch him before he sinks, and at least a little more time after that if they can find him below the surface.

More able swimmers can achieve effective distances when swimming, up to 34 hexes per round, just less than 3¼ miles an hour. This is somewhat shy of speeds that modern swimmers can perform, but in a medieval world, without enhanced training, medical support or specialised clothing, these numbers are impressive.

When racing, characters expend their stamina at double the usual rate. Therefore, while a character with 40 points in swimming can maintain the stroke for 160 rounds without resting, each round of racing deducts two rounds from this maximum limit.

Resting & Exhaustion

When swimmers exhaust their endurance, they need to rest. If they can find solid ground or a floating object to hold onto, they can recuperate by resting for 5 minutes, or 25 rounds. During this recovery period, they must remain stationary and cannot resume swimming until they've completed the entire duration of rest. Once rejuvenated, swimmers can proceed — however, their effective knowledge points for determining endurance in the next segment of swimming is reduced by 20%. After a second break is taken, the knowledge points are against reduced by 20% of the character's previously adjusted total.

For example, Toby has 5 AP and 32 knowledge points as a swimmer when he begins the first leg of his swimming effort. He stroke-swims at a speed of 5 x 4.3 = 21.5 hexes per round for 128 rounds before he reaches the limit of his exhaustion (a distance of 2,752 hexes, or 2.61 miles). At this point, he happens to find a rock to rest upon. Thereafter he sets out again, with his "knowledge" reduced to 25.6; not only does this reduce the number of rounds he can swim to 102, it also reduces the speed he swims at to "3.5" per AP. When he rests again, his adjusted knowledge of 25.6 is reduced to just 20.48. And so it goes until Toby is completely exhausted.


Once complete exhaustion occurs, sage and expert-status characters (60+ knowledge points) can regain each reduction to their swimming ability after a full hour's rest. Thus such persons reduced to 0.8 x 0.8 of their knowledge would require two hours to become fully restored.

Authority-status characters (30+ points) require 3 hours of rest for each reduction. Amateur characters, once exhausted, must wait 6 hours for each reduction; if swimming again that day until needing a rest, they're considered to be completely exhausted again at that point.

Nowhere to Rest

Characters who cannot find a place to rest once their endurance is spent must depend on being rescued somehow before succumbing to their tiredness and drowning. By saving up available rounds of swimming, a character can use each round to tread water for five full rounds (1 minute). For example, Toby can initially swim for 128 rounds before needing to rest; if he discovered there would be no place to rest ahead of him, he could stop after expending 110 rounds; that would leave him 18 more to tread water, which he could then do for 18 minutes before running out of energy and sinking below the surface to drown.

It's therefore very important that a character makes an accurate judgement of the distance they intend to swim. It's also well to let others know where they might locate the character, in case the distance is too great. Treading water increases the chances of being found by a stranger, or encountering floating debris, which would suffice as a "place to rest." By treading water and looking about, the character might be able to find such, whereas while swimming a log or piece of wreckage would have passed unseen.


D&D characters cannot "drownproof," as the practice wasn't invented or introduced until 1940. A DM may wish to include this in "special knowledge," and if so, the technique can increase the character's survival by three times that of treading water (1 round of duration = 3 minutes of drownproofing). A drownproofing character is nearly invisible in the water, however, so its important for characters to spend 1 in every 3 duration rounds lifting up and treading water, to look around and present a more easily found silhouette in the water.

Encumbered Penalty

When swimming, it's important that characters possess complete freedom of movement, particularly regarding one's hands and feet. Any equipment or clothing that a character wears counts as double-weight for the purpose of calculating the character's encumbrance, greatly reducing what distance they can swim according to the number of hexes per action point, as described above.

If a character's adjusted encumbrance outstrips all their AP, such as might happen if a character falls into the water in armour, then the character is considered utterly helpless — without a single AP, they haven't any movement even to shake off their gear without the help of another person. Thus, drowning is the inevitable result.


Currents such as those found in rivers and large bodies of water, including rip tides, have their own effects upon swimming and must be taken into account when calculating the swimmer's vector across a water's surface. In any case, the speed of the river or current must be known to the dungeon master, as very fast water — upwards of 120 ft. per round — can overwhelm swimmers and put them at the mercy of the water's flow. In the case of a rip tide, a swimmer can be pushed so far out to sea that they haven't the endurance to reach shore. For these reasons, swimming in any current is very dangerous.


The danger posed by river currents is influenced by various factors, including the depth of the water, the presence of underwater obstructions, and the individual's swimming ability. A guideline for dangerous river currents is as follows:

Moderate flow (1.6 to 4.9 ft/s). Those swimmers without proper experience can start to face difficulties in these currents. To maintain one's equilibrium, a percentage die is rolled each round against the character's swimming knowledge multiplied by three. Thus characters with more than 34 points of knowledge never need worry about these currents.
Hazardous flow (4.9 to 7.5 ft/s). Currents of this speed can easily overpower a swimmer, making self-rescue challenging for all but the most able. The force of water allows less reaction time, while higher turbulence increases the chance of submersion or encountering obstacles and debris. A percentage die must be rolled against the character's knowledge as is. Toby, in the example above, would have a 32% chance of maintaining his equilibrium each round.
Raging flow (7.6 ft/s or greater). This flow is very dangerous, typically found in fast-moving choked passages of rivers, especially after a heavy rainfall. Currents of this speed can rapidly sweep aways people, animals and even buildings. A percentage die must be rolled against the character's knowledge, with a penalty of -25% against the total. Toby's chance would be reduced to 24%.

Characters failing their knowledge check are caught and dragged over rocks or the stream's bed, putting a strain on the character's lungs. This results in damage: 1d4 for a moderate flow, 2d4+1 for a hazardous flow and 3d4+2 for a raging flow.

Each round the character can attempt to re-establish their equilibrium and avoid taking damage, with the same chance of success. If this is done successfully, the character can attempt to find succor in some outjutting rock or ledge, or hanging branch of a tree, if they make a successful dexterity check (with a -4 penalty).

Seas and Oceans

In general, these offer dangers only in cases if a character is attempting to cross a swamped coral reef or with fast currents moving outwards from the shore. The former should be treated as a hazardous flow, and the latter as a moderate flow. Also in the case of the latter current, no damage should result, but a failed knowledge-roll would greatly alter the character's location with respect to the shore, either along it or outward into the sea. The DM should be aware of any currents near the ocean, remembering that characters with beachcomber knowledge can identify these currents when they exist.


Note wind forces of 3 or greater

The effects of wind upon swimming act to reduce the character's intended movement. Taking note of the image shown, the effects of wind equal to "force-4" (F4) are as follows:

F4. A moderate breeze creates small waves, with fairly frequent white horses. Overall, the character's actions are reduced by ½ point in calculating swimming movement.
F5. A fresh breeze creates moderate waves, with long strands of foam and many white horses. Characters may dog paddle but stroke-swimming or racing is impractical; the character's actions are reduced by 1½ points overall.
F6. A strong breeze produces large waves, with white foam crests more extensive everywhere. Swimming is disallowed altogether, though it's still possible to tread water — though each minute of doing so costs two endurance-rounds to tread water for one minute.
F7. A near gale causes the sea to heap up, while white foam from the waves blows in streaks along the wind. Those caught in the water in a near gale without some physical means of staying afloat can survive for only 1 minute per 10 endurance-rounds they have remaining.

Any force of wind of F8 or greater will certainly drown any character in 1-2 rounds.

Progenitor Backgrounds

Unless a character possesses a certain background or the sage ability, they cannot swim at all. Backgrounds are determined by the character background generator, which could indicate the character was raised by fisherfolk, sailors, boaters, explorers, shipwrights or buccaneers. Those raised by pirates often cannot swim, as most who become pirates receive no training as such.

See also,