Is it better to be strong or fast? In the age-old debate of Athletics vs Acrobatics, 5e may still not provide a clear winner.
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Athletics Vs Acrobatics 5e
Your Strength (Athletics) check covers difficult situations you encounter while climbing, jumping, or swimming. Examples include the following activities:
- The character attempts to climb a sheer or slippery cliff, avoid hazards while scaling a wall, or cling to a surface while something is trying to knock them off.
- Your character attempts to jump an unusually long distance or pull off a stunt midjump.
- The character struggles to swim or stay afloat in treacherous currents, storm-tossed waves, or areas of thick seaweed. Another creature tries to push or pull them underwater or otherwise interfere with their swimming.
Your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as when you’re trying to run across a sheet of ice, balance on a tightrope, or stay upright on a rocking ship’s deck. The DM might also call for a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to see if you can perform acrobatic stunts such as dives, rolls, somersaults, or flips.
Athletics Vs Acrobatics: Overlap
There are numerous scenarios where Athletics and Acrobatics can overlap. The Dungeon Master (DM) decides the skill that is used. Depending on the players description of the activity the DM may offer the other skill as an option. For example, climbing is an Athletics check as the assumption is that climbing is a strength-based activity. However, climbing a tree or sheer surface could require the character to balance on limbs or small foot holds. In this instance, this activity leans toward an Acrobatics check more than Athletics.
Athletics Vs Acrobatics: Contested
Grappling and escaping a grapple are the most common uses for the contested Athletics and Acrobatics checks.
Grappling an opponent takes an action but instead of rolling against the targets armor class (AC), the player makes a contested roll. The target of the grapple must be within one size category of the grappler.
Related: Learn how to calculate armor class in DND 5E here!
The grappler makes an Athletics check contested by the targets Athletics or Acrobatics (targets choice). Escaping a grapple is the same process but reversed; the grappled creature makes an Athletics or Acrobatics check contested by the grappler’s Athletics. Resolving a grapple reflects either brute strength to maintain and brute strength or nimbleness to break free using this game mechanic.
Players and DMs will often need to navigate which skill works better for the given situation. Both skills resolve different parts of the same action in certain circumstances. Either way, Athletics and Acrobatics have their own unique scenarios to which they apply. They have some that overlap, and some that are contests. The method in which the skills are applied gives us the best idea of which is better.