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Here are the rules on underwater movement:

While climbing or swimming, each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain), unless a creature has a climbing or swimming speed.

I have a question related to the highlighted passage: if a creature has a swimming speed, but chooses not to use it, would their movement be penalized as per the above rules, or would they get the same benefit [no speed reduction] that creatures using their swimming speed have?

One case where this would be useful is if a character has a walking speed of 50 feet and a swim speed of 30 feet. Since the character has a swim speed, can it use its walking speed to move faster (since it no longer has to spend extra movement)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ben Then please don’t post it as an answer in the comments. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 5 '18 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch but the question was whether the above example would be able to move 100ft or be forced to move only 50ft. Both are greater than 40ft, but the swimming speed is not relevant, it's just the fact that the character has a swimming speed. \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Jul 5 '18 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch but the question isn't whether you can have that extra 5' or not, it's whether you can have that extra 50' \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Jul 5 '18 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I made an edit to help people understand the use case for this? Is this still in the spirit of your question? \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jul 5 '18 at 18:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ The rules don't technically say, at least in the SRD (all I have available at work), that your walking speed can't be used to fly straight up. That doesn't mean that it can. \$\endgroup\$ – Tin Man Jul 5 '18 at 21:51
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Yes, if you don't use your swim speed then your movement is penalized

Swim Speed is not a generic rule that allows you to use your standard movement speed for Swimming, it's a specific movement rate when Swimming. All creatures that have a Swim Speed have one listed at a specific value. It's not a generic ability that enables them to use their standard speed for swimming, but a specific and different value from the other movement speeds.

Because we are talking about specific speed values, the logic here is fairly simple based on the rules regarding Swimming. WoTC released an errata that clarifies this:

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.

This now clearly gives you the option of using your swim speed and ignoring the extra cost, or using your regular speed with the penalty.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you explain the logic that led you to state you automatically use your swim speed while underwater (or quote the relevant text) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jul 5 '18 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please clarify how it is that you think the RAW logic says that. Bonus points for providing understanding of what you see as the flaws in interpretation by Blake Steel's answer. ...or is there some other pertinent rules text that we're missing? \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jul 5 '18 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden I've submitted additional information and an example of why it doesn't make sense to allow Swim speed to be whatever your highest current speed is. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 5 '18 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ The rules do NOT say specifically that you lose access to using your other speeds, only that running out of using your 'new' speed (Swimming) means you can't use any more of that speed, not that the other speeds you possess are unavailable, including your standard movement, which would be penalized 50% to continue your move. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Oct 25 '18 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to update with regards to the new PHB errata \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Nov 16 '18 at 20:10
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RAW, the creature can move its full walking speed

While climbing or swimming, each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain), unless a creature has a climbing or swimming speed.

This implies that you need not use your swimming speed, merely have it. (Also, amusingly, it was pointed out that this also means that a creature with a swim speed can climb at full speed and vice versa)

However, I suspect RAI is:

While climbing or swimming, each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain), unless a creature is using its climbing or swimming speed, respectively.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Trying to intuit RAI is... treacherous. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jul 5 '18 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that the use of "has a" makes it a choice. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 5 '18 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden if the RAW interpretation is correct, the actual swim speed matters not. All that would matter is the binary of "swim speed" or "nah" \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Jul 5 '18 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was under the impression (and I think this is what NautArch was getting at), was that the listed speeds are the speeds you use in those modes. That is, your swim speed is not "a speed that you can use while swimming", it is "your speed when swimming". The half movement rules are just ways to calculate a swim speed for creatures that don't have one listed. \$\endgroup\$ – firedraco Jul 5 '18 at 18:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Blake Steel ...or have a climb speed. It's a bit silly, but it's there. Climb speeds help you sim better. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jul 5 '18 at 18:52

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