As far as I know, there are no rules for this, so, I am asking for some other opinions on what rules to adapt and apply to it, because I can easily foresee this being very important in the next session of the game I am running.
Two strong characters are on dry land holding a long rope tied to a third character. The third dives underwater. How quickly (how many feet per round) can the two pull the diver back up to the surface?
To further complicate this, what if the diver is not dead weight? What if they actively swim towards the pullers? Could you really just combine the two speeds or is it impossible to swim while getting dragged? What if you can't swim at all? Can you still help by pulling yourself along the rope you're tied to?
And how about a useful extrapolation not as immediately relevant to me, but still useful to know:
What if someone is at the bottom of a cliff tied to your rope. How quickly can somebody pull them up the cliff (could be relevant if there are pursuers)? Again, what if the person is actively climbing the rope you're pulling?
I would say about 30ft per round. I'm basing this on the fact that your approximate arm span is the same as your height. In pathfinder, characters are 5ft tall for the purposes of square they occupy at medium size. I would say you can move the rope between you hands 5 to 6 times in a round, leading to a total of 25 to 30 ft in a single round. Additional people doesn't really help you move the rope faster, but does help to hold onto the weight.
For dragging though the water, I would let a move equivalent action pull them the same distance as the characters move. The concept being that they could drag something behind them that far, so it isn't really unbalancing to let them use the same amount of time / energy to pull a rope in. I probably wouldn't allow a swim speed to combine with this motion though. You aren't reducing resistance that much, since pulling someone through the water is fairly easy anyway and it would also be difficult to effectively swim while being pulled, but that is just a judgement call.
I would have a similar rule for pulling somewhat up, but encumbrance would be a major factor. If the weight took them out of a light load, they could only pull up at medium speed. If it took them over heavy load but still under max lift it would be 5' as a full round action.
In this case I would allow climbing to add to pulling up speed, but probably increase the DC of the climb by 5.
I'd be inclined to go with a system similar to Dave Justus. The dragging speed would be probably be halved through water or actually having to drag someone up a cliff or across the ground (as opposed to a short, violent jerk that might pull someone back through the air a few feet.
The only problem with basing it on the dragging character's speed is if an exceptionally strong character has a poor movement. A titan rooted in place or a creature with a Spd of 5 or 10 but immense size and strength. This is assuming a stand-in-place kind of pull, however. It works fine for the hold-the-rope-and-drag-by-walking-forward method, like a mule team.
There is actually a note on pulling someone up a cliff under the climb skill write up.
It is double your max load if the one character is just pulling someone or something up a cliff.
Not sure how that would affect someone pulling through water though.
I get that it's double your max load--I'm not too concerned about the weights here because it's two very strong characters pulling a smaller one--but at what speed can they do this?
The specific situation I am envisioning, though it's by no means the only way they'll do it, is that the party is facing an underwater tunnel. The two stronger characters can easily swim through to the other side, I know. The Dervish Dancing Bard? Not so much. I think she'll drown trying it, and I suspect they'll know this. So, I foresee the strong ones swimming first, trailing a rope tied to her. When they get to dry land, a tug or two will tell her to dive in, and they can pull her through, I assume, faster than she could feebly swim.
The water is only DC: 10, but it's a long passageway and the two stronger ones can hold their breath much longer than needed and also can't fail the Swim check. The Bard can definitely fail, and her Con is lower, too, so, if she fails more than maybe three or four times during the course of a fairly long swim, she'll die.
How about treating it as aid another?
Each character pulling the rope makes a DC10 strenght check, and each success adds 2 to the tied character's swim check. Simple enough, and would work well enough for the situation you're describing.
Of course, this would be beter if the swim abilitiy allowed you to swim a variable distance depending on the resul (a la jump).
For purposes of your example, I would say that the pulling character could pull the character through the water at half the puller's walking speed if they are walking and pulling (since pulling or moving through water typically moves at half such speeds; freedom of movement and such not withstanding.)
Since the swimming character isn't resisting, I don't see a need for a Str check or anything unless the weight would be very close to the puller's max load. The swimmer can try and help by succeeding at a Swim check, and if they do, they move 1/2 their speed. If the puller would move farther by walking and dragging them (at half speed) then you go that far, meaning you get to move whichever is further but you don't add the distances.
If you have the puller standing in place and drawing in the rope, hand over hand or something, I would use the water's DC and if they beat it, they pull the character in 5 feet, and an additional 1 feet per 2 points they beat the DC. Why 1 per 2, to account for the half-speed drag of the water. Fail by 5 or more and lose grip on the rope, which in this example does nothing much, but if there was a current might matter.
I know typically things move in 5-foot increments but for swimming and climbing you should remember half-feet and such, since a character with 30 Speed can move 7.5 feet at 1/4 their movement and such would get 15 feet over two rounds.
The character being dragged can Aid Another by succeeding on their Swim check to both move 1/4 their speed underwater and grant a +2 to the Str check of the puller. Why 1/4 speed? Assume they're spending half their time trying not to get jerked sideways or spun around or caught on things or tangled in the rope or timing their stroke with the pull, etc.
That's all just an optional choice obviously. There's numerous fair ways you can rule it or make it as simple or in-depth and accurate as you want to. Let us know if they drown because of what you decide on though.
How about treating it as aid another?Each character pulling the rope makes a DC10 strenght check, and each success adds 2 to the tied character's swim check. Simple enough, and would work well enough for the situation you're describing.
The problem with aid another, which I did consider, is that it puts the action burden on the one being pulled.
See, when you are holding your breath, taking any action beyond a move action causes you to lose a second round worth of breath. So, if you have 10 Con, taking only move actions, you can stay under water safely for 20 rounds if you never take more than a move, but only 10 rounds if you do. That means normal characters with a 30' base speed can go 140' over 1 minute, or 150' over 30' seconds and be ok. If someone can pull you at, say, 15' per turn, you'd be totally safe for 300' of travel, since you could just take no action and hold your breath for the full 20 rounds while they did the work.
The problem here is that the party has to go 250' feet under the water, which requires 17 full round actions (well, they don't have to go here, they just want to--I run sandboxes). You would need 17 Con for that to be totally safe, which nobody in the party has. They do, however, all have air-bladders, which means the trip is a cinch for the guys who can't fail the swim checks and have 14-16 Con each.
It is significantly harder for the Bard who will fail ~1/3 of the rolls or so and only has 12 Con. So, ok, she can fail 7 rolls before she's in the danger zone, but that's still not great odds, since the probability suggests she'll fail 6 before making 17. One extra slip and she'll die. So, I might also need to know pure pull speeds, with an unconscious person on the other end for the last few feet, for example.
I'm also not really looking forward to rolling out 20+ swim checks just to see if a PC dies or not. So, ideally, I'd like them to feel how risky it all is, but ultimately have a fair answer to the question that also keeps them alive without having to really go through the rolls.
I'd let them use a drag action and another character is definitely under 5 times their maximum load. Because the rules for dragging don't specify anything else I'd also say that this is done at normal movement speed.
The character being dragged wouldn't be able to help because any swimming they did would make the rope go slack and waste that much movement on the part of the puller. They could definitely grab the rope on their end and pull themselves along it though and add half their move speed as a climb action.
TLDR: I agree with Dave Justus.
Note: The second character pulling on the rope could only use aid another on the first character pulling on it.
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Each strong character takes 10 on their strength check to 'aid another' the swimmer. That gives the bard +4 to their Swim.
They take 10 on the Swim check (which they can since it's DC 10 water) giving them a 14 before they add (or subtract) their Swim skill (even if it is just Str).*
They should be able to pass without ever rolling a die.
Which is fine, I think, for coming up with something so clever as this scheme in the first place.
*Unless the Bard's Swim modifier is sitting at an abysmal -5 or less.
Honestly, starting with a base DC of 5 to move the person 5' towards you would seem a good initial DC. Add in environmental factors (pulling up a cliff/out of quicksand/rapid water/etc adds 5, 50% of max load add 5, max load add 10, etc). For every 5 points that a PC exceeds the DC increase distance by 5'. Strength based PCs should succeed without much trouble (except in extreme situations) and requires longer time based off of difficulty, which should play a role. Failure by less than 5 has no movement, every 5 points that one fails by causes a drop of 5' if applicable.
If the bard that you speak of can move, I would let them pull his self through the water at his normal movement speed as a move action. It is really pretty easy to pull yourself along a rope underwater. It doesn't mater if you are going up, down, or on an angle. I haven't done this to any great degree, but whenever I have done anything like this, it was very fast and easy.
Of course, current and other environmental conditions could easily affect the movement rate.