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Some creatures have aquatic speed, but playable classes do not.

Does this imply that PCs cannot swim? Or does swimming count as difficult terrain? Or do they just have the same speed? Or is an athletics check necessary for water movement?

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Yes, PCs can swim.

From the 5e SRD in the "Movement" section:

Special Types of Movement

Movement through dangerous dungeons or wilderness areas often involves more than simply walking. Adventurers might have to climb, crawl, swim, or jump to get where they need to go.

Climbing, Swimming, and Crawling

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. At the GM’s option, climbing a slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds requires a successful Strength (Athletics) check. Similarly, gaining any distance in rough water might require a successful Strength (Athletics) check.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, a player character is assumed to know how to swim, and doesn't need any specific proficiency or training to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – hideous-laughter Feb 13 '17 at 1:19

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