Skill Focus: Athletics

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 14, 2009

Here are 10 new and alternative ways to use Athletics. Athletics and Acrobatics are not interchangeable. Too many PCs assume that if they’ve got a high Strength they can use Athletics and if they’ve got a high Dexterity they can use Acrobatics. Well I disagree. If these skills were intended to be interchangeable then they would only be one skill. When I’m the DM, I make a point to set up challenges that can only be overcome with Athletics or Acrobatics.

Another difficulty I faced as a DM is that many Athletics checks can be mimicked with a simple Strength check. If the DM allows this then it diminishes the significance of taking training in Athletics in the first place.

My advice to players is to be creative when you’re using Athletics. Try to do things that can only be done by someone with formal training in Athletics and remember that it’s a Strength-based skill so it should involve a lot of physical exertion and some finesse or skill.

My advice to DMs is to make sure obstacles designed to be overcome with Athletics checks are not just as easily accomplished with Acrobatics or a Strength check. When determining the DC for these uses of Athletics, be sure to scale them appropriately for the level of your PCs.

10 New Ways to Use Athletics

  1. Horse-back riding

  2. You’re able to ride a horse or similar creature without tack and harness. If you have the appropriate riding equipment a successful Athletics check allows you to attack from horseback without penalty. This includes jousting.

  3. Catch it

  4. You’re able to catch a fragile object without breaking it or a heavy object without dropping it.

  5. Burst of speed

  6. A successful Athletics check during your move action provides a +2 bonus to your speed until the end of your next turn. Failure results in the loss of a healing surge.

  7. Power fist

  8. You make an athletics check as a minor action before making an unarmed melee attack.
    Success: You’re able to focus your energy and deliver a powerful blow gaining a +2 bonus to damage.
    Failure: You are so focused on delivering power you sacrifice accuracy and suffer a -2 to your attack roll.

  9. Wrestling

  10. You’ve able to fight unarmed. A successful Athletics check allows you to perform a signature move. This could include a sleeper hold, pile-driver or the like.

  11. Keep charging

  12. Make an Athletics check as a move action when you charge in order to push your opponent after attacking him.
    Success: You push the target 1 square after a successful charge attack. For every 5 you exceed the Athletics check by you can push your opponent 1 additional square.
    Failure: You grant combat advantage to the opponent you charged until the beginning of your next turn.

  13. Escape artist

  14. After escaping a grapple, your quickness allows you to make a fast, unexpected attack against the grappler.
    Success: You free yourself and manage to make a quick attack against the grappler with a +2 bonus to damage.
    Failure: Your attempt at a quick strike doesn’t work as well as you expected. You suffer a -2 to your attack roll for acting too quickly.

  15. Performance

  16. You’re able to use Athletics to perform. This could include a show of strength, a complicated combat maneuver or even a dance move. This also encompasses your performance while participating in organized sports. A successful Athletics check lets you demonstrate your superior aptitude.

  17. Ignore difficult terrain

  18. You manage to rush through or jump over hazardous terrain as you try to avoid slowing down.
    Success: You can move through difficult terrain without penalty.
    Failure: You get tied up and must stop you movement as soon as you enter the difficult terrain.

  19. A fantastic throwing arm

  20. You’re able to throw exceptional distances with extreme accuracy. A successful Athletics check allows you to add 5 do the distance of any ranged attack with a heavy thrown weapon. Alternatively, you can throw small objects (like rocks) twice the normal distance without penalty.

Let us know what you think of these suggested uses of Athletics. If you’ve come up with new and creative ways to use Athletics, please share them.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out all of our Skill Aides, including other entries in the Skill Focus series.

1 Dungeon May 14, 2009 at 9:08 am

Nice article Ameron, i do agree that Athletics and Acrobatics are two major different skills, and some DMs use them both interchangably. i have a question though on number 5.
You’ve able to fight unarmed. A successful Athletics check allows you to perform a signature move. This could include a sleeper hold, pile-driver or the like.”

could you include the specifics of what the sleeper hold or pile-driver do. and how they affect game play? I just want to know how you would do those things.

2 Chase Dagger May 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Great stuff to work with, thanks Ameron.
I too would love to soak up more regarding the wrestling moves.
I know my PCs would love it, one hold move and one blunt impact move (like a pile-driver) as examples would be enough to work with and build others.

3 Ameron May 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I’m glad you found this article useful. It was a lot more difficult to come up creative uses for Athletics than I first anticipated. Especially when I tried to find ones that couldn’t be duplicated with Acrobatics.

@Dungeon & Chase Dagger
Regarding wrestling moves, I leave that to you and your DM to flesh out. My wrestling knowledge is extremely limited. But off the top of my head I think that a sleeper hold would begin with an attempt to grab an opponent. Then if successful you make an Athletics check vs the opponents Fort. I’d look at the way the sleep spell works for a guideline on how to handle putting your opponent to sleep this way.

I’d recommend using wrestling more for dramatic purposes than actual game combat. I suspect that we’ll see expanded rules for unarmed combat when Wizards brings out the Monk for 4e in PHB3.

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