A Guide to Climbing in 5e, Silhouette of a climber scaling a rocky spire

A New Player’s Guide to How Climbing in D&D 5e Works

Moving in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is often just a matter of deciding where a creature or player character wants to reach. Climbing, while considered a special type of movement, works in much the same way with a few extra rules to consider.
How does climbing work in D&D 5e? What does having a climbing speed mean? And, how can a Game Master work climbing into an encounter?
This article goes over everything you should need to know about climbing in 5e and how it works.

Let’s start off by looking at the explicit rules for climbing in the Player’s Handbook.

Rules for Climbing in 5e

Climbing 5e, Man climbing a brick wall

Climbing in D&D 5e is a special type of movement a creature may do. While climbing, each foot climbed counts as 2 for movement speed unless a creature has a specified climbing speed. Additionally, climbing through difficult terrain takes 2 extra feet of movement.

At its core, climbing is just a way for a creature to move in 5e. But, doing so is typically more strenuous than walking or running, so it takes more movement speed.

Each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain) when you’re climbing, swimming, or crawling. You ignore this extra cost if you have a climbing speed and use it to climb or a swimming speed and use it to swim. At the DM’s option, climbing a slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds requires a successful Strength (Athletics) check.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Chapter 8: Adventuring

Now, these rules also apply during combat encounters. So, if a creature has a movement speed of 30 feet and no specified climbing speed, they may climb up to 15 feet as part of their move.

From Chapter 9 of the PHB:

Your movement can include jumping, climbing, and swimming. These different modes of movement can be combined with walking, or they can constitute your entire move. However you’re moving, you deduct the distance of each part of your move from your speed until it is used up or until you are done moving.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Chapter 9: Combat

What’s more, following the rules for breaking up movement, a creature may move and climb as part of their movement. For example, a creature with 30 feet of movement may move 15 feet, climb a 5-foot wall at the cost of 10 feet (remember: climbing takes 2 feet for every 1 foot moved), and move the remaining 5 feet after scaling the height.

Basically, moving regularly takes 1 foot of movement speed for every 1 foot moved; climbing regularly takes 2 feet for every 1 foot; and climbing through difficult terrain takes 3 feet for every 1 foot. So, as an example, a creature with 30 feet of movement speed would be able to move up to 30 feet normally, climb 15 up feet, or climb up to 10 feet through difficult terrain.

How Climbing Works in D&D 5e

Climbing works in much the same way as regular movement but at a reduced pace. A creature may choose to scale a climbable surface at the cost of 1 extra foot for every 1 foot moved.

Honestly, that’s all there is to climbing in 5e.

Climbing works like regular movement. It (typically) doesn’t take an action or Ability Check. All a creature needs to do is start scaling a climbable surface and factor each 1 foot moved as 2.

Of course, there are specific circumstances to keep in mind like figuring out a creature’s climbing speed, when and Ability Check is necessary, and how attacking works. So, let’s go over these next.

Figuring Out Climbing Speed

If a creature doesn’t have a specified climbing speed, the default equals half their normal movement speed or one-third if climbing through difficult terrain. If a creature does have a specified climbing speed, they may climb that number of feet as part of their movement.

For a creature without a declared speed, use: Climbing Speed = Movement Speed / 2 (rounded down if using a square-based grid for movement). This is because, as stated earlier, each 1 foot moved while climbing counts as 2.

For a creature with a declared speed, simply use the stated climbing speed. For example, the Tabaxi have a trait called Cat’s Claws which, among other things, grants them a climbing speed of 20 feet. So, that’s how far they can climb.

With all this in mind, if a creature climbs through difficult terrain, you then also need to factor that in. But, you don’t halve a creature’s already halved movement speed. Instead, when climbing through difficult terrain, count each 1 foot of movement climbed as 3.

Basically, you divide a creature’s movement speed by one-third if they don’t have a climbing speed and they climb through difficult terrain. That said, creature’s with a climbing speed essentially cut that speed in half.

For example, a creature with 30 feet of movement speed without a specified speed may climb 10 feet through difficult terrain. Meanwhile, a creature with a climbing speed of 30 feet would be able to climb 15 feet through difficult terrain as each feet only counts as 2 instead of 3.

Climbing & Ability Checks

A Game Master may impose an ability check for a creature to climb under extraordinary circumstances. Heavy downpours, strong winds, or slick surfaces may all constitute an Ability Check to climb. Strength (Athletics) is the typical skill used for climbing checks.

Ordinarily, climbing only uses a creature’s available movement speed. A creature simply begins scaling a climbable surface with no other action or check necessary.

That said, if there are significant external factors, a Game Master may ask for a creature or player character to make an Ability Check to climb a surface. These situations are up to each individual GM, but here are some examples as to when climbing may require a check:

  • Slippery surface (ice wall, water-coated cliffs, etc)
  • Few handholds
  • Intense winds, rain, or snow
  • Carrying another creature
  • Volatile rock movement (earthquakes, moving cliffsides, etc)

These are just a few examples. Situations when a GM may call for an Ability Check to climb are as endless as that GM’s creativity.

Now, typically, if you’re making an Ability Check to climb in 5e, you’ll use a creature’s Strength (Athletics) skill. Climbing is a physically strenuous activity, so a creature’s ability to hang on usually relies on their raw strength. Failing to hang on to a surface while climbing usually means falling, so player characters and creatures with higher Strength Ability Scores are usually better suited to climbing in extreme circumstances.

Attacking While Climbing

There are no specific rules for making attack rolls while climbing in 5e. So, it ultimately comes down to a Game Master’s ruling. However, it stands to reason that so long as a creature has a free hand and can hold their place, they can still attack normally while climbing.

D&D 5e’s rules don’t actually explain how to attack or be attacked while climbing. So, Game Masters need to use their best judgement when making these calls.

That said, it’s generally going to follow common sense. While climbing, a creature usually uses most if not all of its appendages to move up or down a surface. However, if that creature is holding its place, they may only need to use 2 or 3 appendages. This means, a creature in 5e could climb, stop, make an attack, then continue climbing.

Now, for most humanoid creatures (i.e. pretty much all of the available player character options), this typically means using both hands and feet to climb and holding on with at least a hand and foot or both hands. So, they could make an attack with a one-handed weapon while climbing.

Of course, if the creature has different appendages which may aid in climbing, holding on, or attacking, they may not have these restrictions. For example, the loxodon’s trunk allows them to do simple tasks and a GM may allow a character to use it for climbing, leaving possibly both hands free to make an attack. Likewise, the hadozee’s Dextrous Feet usually only let’s them manipulate objects as a bonus action, but having an opposable toe could be argued as a climbing aid to, again, leave their hands free for attacks made with two-handed weapons.

This all said, it’s up to the Game Master on allowing a creature to attack while climbing.

Getting a Climbing Speed

Bear cub climbing a tree

Player characters have a few options for gaining a climbing speed. Certain racial traits, class features, magic items, and spells all offer the ability to establish a specified climb speed so you don’t have to use your half of your base movement.

The typical methods of gaining a specified climbing speed in D&D 5e include:

  • Racial and lineage traits
  • Class features
  • Magic items
  • Spells

Now, there’s also the Athlete feat. But, that doesn’t give a climbing speed per se; it just removes the extra 1 foot of movement speed used while climbing.

That said, let’s break each of these down.


Your character may start with a climbing speed thanks to their race. However, only a few races and lineages grant a player character a climbing speed.

The following 5e player races and lineages include a trait which grants a player character a specific climbing speed:

  • Tabaxi (VGtM, MotM)
  • Dhampir (VRGtR)
  • Grung (OGA)
  • Simic Hybrid: Nimble Climber option (GGtR)


Some class features grant your character a climb speed. Particularly, the Druid’s Wild Shape feature gives you the option to turn into a beast with a climbing speed like a giant spider.

The following classes and sub-classes grant a player character in 5e a climbing speed in some way:

  • Druid: Wild Shape (2nd-level) (PHB)
  • Artificer: Artificer Infusions – Replicate Magic Item (10th-level) (TCoE)
  • *Rogue (Thief Archetype): Second-Story Work (3rd-level) (PHB)
  • Barbarian (Path of the Beast): Bestial Soul (6th-level) (TCoE)
  • Paladin (Oath of the Open Sea): Mythic Swashbuckler (20th-level) (TCSR)

Technically, Wild Shape and Replicate Magic Item don’t grant a climbing speed. Wild Shape allows a Druid to turn into a creature with a climbing speed. Replicate Magic Items allows an Artificer to replicate items which do grant it like the Gloves of Swimming and Climbing. While Artificers get access to Replicate Magic Items at 2nd-level, they can’t replicate items which grant a climbing speed until 10th-level.

The Second-Story Work feature doesn’t grant a climbing speed. Instead, it removes the extra movement requirement for climbing. So, instead of each foot of climbing costing an extra foot, climbing through non-difficult terrain works as regular movement.

Magic Items

Certain magic items proffer a climbing speed as part of their effect. the Gloves of Swimming and Climbing and Slippers of Spider Climbing are a couple examples.

The following magic items grants a creature wielding them a climbing speed in 5e:

  • Slippers of Spider Climbing (DMG)
  • Potion of Climbing (DMG)
  • Spider Staff (LMoP)
  • Gloves of Swimming and Climbing (DMG)
  • Cloak of Arachnida (DMG)
  • Silken Spite (EGtW)


Spellcasters have a few options at their disposal for gaining a climbing speed. Spider climb is the most direct example, but polymorph and shapechange are others for turning into another creature with a climbing speed.

There’s only 1 spell which explicitly grants a creature a climbing speed in 5e:

  • Spider Climb: 2nd-level

Other spells which improve movement speed like expeditious retreat technically improve climbing speed, but they don’t explicitly grant it.

Technically, spells like polymorph and shapechange can grant a creature a climb speed by turning them into a different creature that has one similarly to the Druid’s Wild Shape feature.

Running a Climbing Encounter

Presenting a climbing-based encounter to your players, especially in the early levels, is a good way to challenge them. Whether you’re running a combat encounter up and down a steep incline or simply having them scale a mountain to reach their destination, introducing climbing into your game is a great and easy way to put a mundane obstacle in the way of your players.

Climbing encounters present interesting challenges to both player characters and Game Masters. But, they can be a lot of fun simply due to their uniqueness.

Game Masters running a climbing encounter don’t only need to keep track of the regular elements but also verticality. Typically, many encounters are relatively, horizontally flat with maybe some vertical elements like trees, cliffs, and buildings. But, these are often afterthoughts or extra elements for designing interesting battlemaps, not the focus.

Keeping the verticality of a climbing encounter at the forefront presents a unique difficulty for GMs; actually keeping track of how far up or down any given creature is. For theatre of the mind games, this isn’t that much of an issue. But, for games using battlemaps, vertical movement is a bit of a challenge as you either need to use some theatre of the mind OR use other resources like tall standees or a separate guide tracking height.

Additionally, there’s an element of not only tracking creature position relative to height, but also cover and line of sight. For example, when climbing a mountainside, the very platforms creatures stand on would serve as cover from attacks originating from below them.

So, as a Game Master, here are a few tips for helping run a climbing encounter in 5e:

  • Treat it like a horizontal map but know that leaving a platform or losing grip means falling
  • Remember tools to help player characters in climbing (climber’s kit, abilities for flight, etc)
  • Know the rules for falling and make sure your players understand them as well
  • Start simple; don’t add intense weather effects or other elements which make climbing more difficult
  • To start, give creatures platforms as unspoken "checkpoints" they can reach and stand on (and still fall from)

For players, climbing encounters involve the ever-present danger of falling. Despite being relatively harmless (at low levels and low heights), falling is a solid deterrent as many players don’t want to risk it. However, if presented the challenge or it becomes required for their quest, climbing and the risk of falling become a unique obstacle which allows player characters to maybe use abilities and equipment they ordinarily wouldn’t.

Also, from a planning standpoint, strategizing around a vertical surface is a different challenge than a comparatively flat battlefield. Like contending with cover and line of sight for attacks, player characters then need to think about what to do when a party member takes enough damage to fall unconscious and start making death saving throws. It’s an interesting challenge a lot of players might not get to experience.

What’s more, know the tools at your character’s disposal. Can they fly? Do they have rope and pitons? Do they have a trait, feature, spell, or magic item to help them climb? While the GM is challenging your character with a unique obstacle, your character may have tools at their disposal to make a climbing encounter easier; if not for the party, for themselves.

Some example of climbing-focused encounters you can run in 5e include:

  • A mountainside to reach a harpy nest with the harpies harrying the player characters along the way
  • A massive tree in the middle of a heavy lightning storm to find and help a wounded roc
  • An enormous, slime-coated wall on the edge of a cursed swamp where a warlock resides at the top

Climbing in 5e FAQ

Silhouette of a person climbing a mountain using a pick

Is Climbing an Action in 5e?

No; climbing does not take an action in 5e. It is a special type of movement and uses a creatures movement speed as such.

Climbing in 5e uses up movement speed but doesn’t require the use of an action to start it.

What Skill is for Climbing?

Climbing under normal circumstances doesn’t require a skill. However, for extraordinary situations, a Game Master may require a creature use their Strength (Athletics) skill to make an ability check to climb.

Normally, climbing doesn’t require the use of a skill through an Ability Check. But, more intense situations like high winds, slippery surfaces, or

Do You Get Advantage When Attacking a Climbing Creature?

Rules as written, you do not get advantage on attacks made against climbing creatures.

There is nothing explicitly in 5e’s rules about climbing and attacking or getting attacked. So, attacking a climbing creature doesn’t confer advantage on that attack simply because there’s no rule for it.

Does Dash Apply When Climbing in D&D?

Yes; the Dash action applies when climbing in D&D 5e. Since the Dash action effectively increases a creature’s movement speed, it increases how far that creature may climb.

Taking the Dash action simply allows a creature to move up to their movement speed again. So, a dashing creature essentially is able to climb a number of feet accordingly with their regular movement and then again for taking the Dash action.

If a Creature Doesn’t Have a Climbing Speed, What is It?

If a creature doesn’t have an explicit climbing speed in 5e it is effectively equal to half their movement speed.

More specifically, if a creature doesn’t have a specified climbing speed, each 1 foot climbed counts as 2. For simplicity’s sake, this effectively halves a creature’s movement speed while climbing.

Do You Need Free Hands to Climb in 5e?

You don’t need free hands specifically to climb in 5e. If a creature has other capable appendages (prehensile tail, opposable toes, etc), they may still be able to climb. However, a creature typically needs at least 1 free hand to scale a climbable surface.

Again, there actually isn’t any specific rule requiring free hands to climb in 5e. It’s more of a common sense ruling; of course a creature needs some sort of free appendage to climb, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a free hand. A creatures with a prehensile tail or opposable toes could technically use those to aid in climbing. For example, a loxodon may use their trunk in place of a hand to climb a surface.

Of course, since there’s not explicit rule on this, these rulings come down to the Game Master at each table.

How Far Can You Climb in D&D?

You can climb as far as your movement speed allows in 5e. There is no other restriction on distance.

There are no restrictions on how far a creature may climb aside from their movement speed. A creature could climb their maximum speed every time their move without further repercussions.


Summary on How Climbing Works in D&D 5e

That’s about everything you need to know about climbing in 5e.

Climbing is considered a special type of movement. It doesn’t take an action or Ability Check (usually) to do as it simply uses up a creature’s movement speed. If a creature doesn’t have a specified climbing speed, each 1 foot moved takes an extra foot, effectively doubling the amount required per foot.

How often do you have your character climb in your game? Have you ever run a climbing-centric encounter? Leave your thoughts below in the comments!

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