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Thursday, 17th September, 2015, 10:19 PM #1
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
The Grappler's Manual (2.0) - Grappling in 5th Edition
~The Grappler's Manual~
Taking 5th Edition Combat to the Ground (2.0)
It's hard to cast a spell when you are pinned to the ground in a zone of Silence. Good luck to any mobile, dual-wielding assassins when they are held in place by their collars. And even the toughest great-sword wielder might as well just be packing a dagger when he's dragged to the ground with a Grizzly Bear on top of him. The D&D 5.0 grappling mechanic lets you do all that and more, denying your opponent's their strengths, controlling the battlefield, and generally exerting your will over any enemy you meet. Both from a rules perspective (grappling acts on an axis that most enemies are unprepared for) and a flavor one (ever wanted to put a Dragon in a chokehold?), grappling is one of the most interesting and useful mechanics in the core rulebook. This guide will teach you how to grapple in D&D, how to build your character, and how to get the most out of different grappler optimizations.
If you doubt the power of grappling, you are going to feel like everyone not named Royce Gracie at UFC 1. If you're already a believer, this guide will give you new tips and tricks on how to bring your favorite mechanic into your games. The goal of this guide is simple: To get you to love grappling, and to get your DM and his monsters to hate it.
NOTE: This guide originally appeared on the Wizards Community forums, but was migrated over to EN World and updated in September 2015.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Why Grappling?
- Grappling Rules
- Wrestling Races
- Class Overview
- Magic and Spells: Cantrips - Level 3
- Magic and Spells: Level 4 - Level 9
- The Dojo: Grappling Tactics
- Build 1: Herculean Wrestler (Fighter/Rogue/Wizard)
- Build 2: The Mage Slayer (Bard/Fighter)
- Build 3: Grizzlyman - (Druid/Barbarian/Rogue)
- Build 4: BJJ Master - Battlefield Jujitsu - (Monk/Rogue/Fighter)
When rating different class features, races, mechanics, etc., I will use the following color coding system.
- Gold: Mandatory. It's a rare rating that denotes something that is so good that you must take it, or you can't call yourself optimized.
- Green: Conditional choice. In the right build, or if you build around it, it can be incredibly strong. Otherwise, best to stay away from it.
- Sky Blue: A fantastic choice. An option you should strongly consider above most others.
- Blue: A good choice. It definitely helps your character in the majority of cases.
- Black: Solidly average. You're not hurting your character by taking this, and it might even help in some situations, but there are better choices.
- Purple: A substandard choice. It might be useful in corner-case situations, but overall it's not worth the investment.
- Red: Red is dead. A trap that you will want to avoid at all costs, either because it's ineffective or because it's thoroughly outclassed by another option that accomplishes something similar.
1. Why grappling?
Ever wanted to armlock an ogre? Drag that cowardly, bow-sniping Ranger over a cliff? Hold down two orcs while kicking the third? Grappling can help you do all this and more.
Why grapple? Easy; Grappling is mechanically unfair. To start, most enemies in D&D derive their strengths from unrestricted movement, free reign to cast spells, ability to target certain PCs in the party, high ACs, etc. All this is totally shut down by a good grappler. Although it looks like an innocuous condition, being "Grappled" (and/or Prone/Restrained on top of that) is a serious hindrance for most enemies. If you can impose these conditions at will, you will dominate the battlefield.
When thinking about mechanics, I like to think about their axis of interaction. Attack rolls are opposed by AC. Spells are opposed by saving throws. High damage is opposed by high HP. Looking over the Monster Manual, most enemies are generally well prepared to fight attack rolls/spells/damage, by virtue of high AC, high saves, and/or high HP. Not every monster has those traits (bless your soul, little goblin), but over the course of your travels, you will often encounter monsters that directly counter these angles of interaction.
Then there's grappling. Grappling is a skill contest (not an attack roll!) based on the Athletics skill. Most monsters, even those with high strength scores, have the Athletics/Acrobatics checks of a 1st level commoner. Sure, you will fight monsters that can't get grappled (Ghosts...why did it have to be ghosts...), but the vast majority of monsters will be crying uncle against a good grappler. That lets you dictate how the enemy moves, who they attack, how they take hits, etc. That is a degree of battlefield control most classes can't boast.
Overall, here are the pros and cons of grappling in 5.0.
- Very hard to interact with. Most monsters are about as good at Athletics/Acrobatics as a first level character.
- Negates mobility. It's amazing how many opponents rely on movement and how many can't do anything once that speed hits 0.
- Makes monsters easier for your party to hit. Grapple them, knock them prone, don't let them stand up, don't let the run around: it's "I hold, you punch" at its finest.
- Cripples offensive capabilities. Grappled monsters already don't get free reign to choose targets or use their weapons. Now give them disadvantage on top of that, or even take their weapons away.
- Combo potential; Grapple a spellcaster in a zone of Silence and no one will hear him tap. Hold two guys in place while your Wizard rains Fireball on their heads. Plant the badguy on the ground as your rogue stabs away. Jump out of a window while holding your targets. The possibilities are endless!
- Weak against large numbers of opponents. As in real life (for those martial artists in the audience), grappling is not particularly effective against multiple attackers. You can only meaningfully engage with as many attackers as you have hands, which is often just going to be two.
- Relatively low damage. Most grappling builds don't deal too much damage on their own, and will have to rely on either allies for massive damage output.
- Low mobility. You will often find yourself in situations where you can't dart around the battlefield without releasing your grappled targets back into the fight. This can be a problem in chaotic battles.
- When you get shut down, you get shut down HARD. Come up against a monster that's immune to shove and grapple? Have fun poking him for the rest of the encounter. Run into that one spellcaster who pre-cast Freedom of Movement? Better hope someone has Dispel Magic. Dragon won't land from the sky? Grow wings or throw insults at him.
- Not for the faint of heart: Don't all guides have some ridiculous weakness like this? Seriously though; if you don't want to get in the face of something two size categories larger than you, a frenzied enemy with a greatsword, or a wizard casting damage-maximized evocation spells, this isn't the class for you.
2. Grappling Rules
Before we can start bringing our jujitsu to the battlefield, we need to know exactly how D&D 5.0 grappling works. Ever since I started playing in 3rd Edition, grappling has always been regarded as one of the most complicated and unintuitive mechanics in the game. Thankfully, 5.0 has done a great job at cleaning up the old issues with the rules, while still preserving a lot of its power level.
Let's start with the basics: What exactly is a grapple? (The complete grappling rules can be found on page 195 of the PHB). Here's the rule broken down into steps, with quotes pulled out where needed.
GRAPPLING 101: DEFINITIONS
- Grappling is a "special melee attack".
- To grapple a target, you must "use the Attack action" to then make your special melee attack (the grapple).
- From an RAW perspective, the "Multiattack" ability of monsters cannot enable multiple grapples because it is its own action type.
- If you have multiple attacks for the Attack action, you can replace as many of them as you want with grapple checks.
- You cannot replace bonus action attacks (e.g. from the Monk or a Barbarian's Frenzy) with grapples.
- A grapple check is an Ability check contested by a target's ability check. It is NOT an attack roll!
- Your grapple target "must be no more than one size larger than you". It must also be within your reach.
- You need at least one free hand to initiate a grapple.
- If you or your target are subject to any involuntary movement, the grapple ends immediately.
- Unlike in previous D&D editions, there is no penalty for grappling multiple targets. You can grapple as many targets as you have hands (typically two).
The biggest thing to remember is that grapple checks are not attack rolls. Repeat after me: Grappling is NOT an attack roll. So stuff like True Strike or the Barbarian's Reckless Attack feature will not give you advantage on the roll (because, remember, it is not an attack roll). But grappling IS an ability check, so it interacts with all sorts of effects and features that function on ability checks (e.g. the Enhance Ability spell).
Enough basics. Time to start wrestling.
GRAPPLING 101: INITIATING A GRAPPLE
- Start by using your Attack action to make a grapple check. If you have "multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them."
- Make a grapple check, a Strength (Athletics) check, as contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) OR Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. They get to choose what they contest with.
- If you fail the ability check contest, nothing happens. There are no consequences for you or your target for failing a grapple check.
- If you have multiple attacks using the Attack action, commonly from the Extra Attack class feature, you can replace another one with another grapple check.
- If you succeed at an ability check contest, the target is instantly subjected to the grappled condition.
- You do not move into the target's square: both of you stay right where you were when you started the grapple.
The important point to remember here is that grappling replaces an attack as part of your attack action. Because it uses the attack action, you ordinarily won't be able to use it as part of a reaction. You also won't be able to grapple if you used that action to do something else, like cast a spell. This shouldn't come up a lot because if you are doing stuff other than grappling, you aren't doing your job.
GRAPPLING 101: BEING IN A GRAPPLE
- While grappled, the grappled creature has the "Grappled" condition (PHB 290).
- The grappler himself does NOT have the grappled condition.
- As a result of the grappled condition, the target's movement speed drops to 0. It also "can't benefit from any bonus to its speed" during that time.
- "A grappled creature can use its action to escape". This will require them to make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check as contested by your own Strength (Athletics) check.
- If they succeed, they are immediately free of the grapple, but they have used their action.
- If they fail, they are still grappled and have still used their action.
- If a grappled creature does not try to escape, you automatically maintain the grapple from turn to turn.
- Because escaping isn't very action-efficient, some opponents might try to shove you instead (remember that shove replaces Extra Attacks). This forced movement would also break the grapple. Indeed, any involuntary movement on either of your parts would break it.
- A grappled creature can also grapple the grappler himself! This will set both grapplers' speeds at 0 and neither will be able to move.
This is where the 5.0 rules really start to deviate from earlier editions. The grappler isn't grappled himself, and you can move the creature with no check. Unfortunately, you can't pin the target as per 3.0/3.5 rules (at least, not without a sub optimal feat we will discuss later), but we'll discuss other options for the grapple initiator.
As they say in the grappling arts, this style of fighting is all about position before submission. Up until now, we've been setting up our position. Now it's time for the submissions.
INTERMEDIATE MOVES: BASIC ATTACKS/OPTIONS WHILE GRAPPLING
- Move an opponent. You can move grappled creatures without any check. When you use your movement, they will simply be dragged with you, but your speed will be halved (unless the target is 2 or more sizes smaller than you).
- Keep an opponent in place. If you don't move, they don't move either.
- Attack with a weapon. You can make an attack roll with any weapon in your free hand. It's a normal attack roll, except your target is subjected to the grappled condition (so they couldn't use the Dodge action, amongst other penalties).
- Attack with an unarmed strike: If you don't have a weapon in your free hand, or you don't have a free hand, you can punch/kick/headbutt instead.
- Cast a spell: Unlike with previous editions, you CAN cast a spell while grappling a single target. If you don't have a free hand, however, you won't be able to cast spells with somatic components, or many material components.
- Release an opponent: At any time, you can always let go of your target.
In the 3.5 rules, the grappling section listed all the things you could do while grappling. Because 5.0 simplified this system, it doesn't explicitly list all those options. Don't worry: they are still all RAW and all available to you from level 1 onward. Some feats and class features might give you better options, as will some of the "Black Belt" techniques below, but these are good places to start on your grappling journey. These mechanics are also at play in the more advanced grappling techniques, so you need to know them before you can do more complicated/fun combat sequences.
Speaking of fun combat sequences..
INTERMEDIATE MOVES: MORE ATTACKS/OPTIONS WHILE GRAPPLING
- Shove an opponent prone: Using the "shove" special melee attack, you can add the "Prone" condition to your enemy. Just make another Strength (Athletics) contest as opposed by their Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If they fail, they are now also prone and STILL grappled. That's a huge problem for most opponents because standing up from prone costs movement, and grappled sets their movement to 0.
- While Prone (PHB 292), an opponent suffers disadvantage on attack rolls, and all attack rolls against the creature have advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet. This includes your attacks. All attack rolls made from further away have disadvantage.
- Normally, the prone creature can just stand for half their movement, but if they are grappled, their speed is set to 0. Prone explicitly states that creatures with 0 speed can't stand, which means they are stuck in that position.
- IMPORTANT: Shoving + Grappling is one of the best things you can do as a grappler, so make sure you are using it frequently.
- Shove an opponent away: You can also use the shove option to move someone 5 feet. Very useful if you grapple them over to an edge or some other hazard and then just push them over/in. Note that this will automatically end the grapple.
- Grapple someone else! As long as you have at least one free hand, you can initiate another grapple. So go find another enemy and repeat the whole process from step 1.
- Once the second enemy is grappled, you won't be able to do actions that require a free hand.
- Thankfully, you WILL be able to knock either of them prone; shoving does not require a free hand.
There are endless combinations of these more advanced and creative grappling techniques, but these are my favorite. The first option, shoving an enemy prone, is easily the most important grappling combination you can execute, and also one of the most powerful. Shoving uses the exact same modifiers and bonuses as the grapple check (Athletics), so you are already positioned to use it. This shoving/grappling combo comes up in almost every good grappling build I know of, and it's the main reason grapplers are so valuable in combat.
While talking about dragging prone opponents in the comments, an interesting point on encumbrance came up. Although moving a prone creature while grappling them is totally RAW, there are also some RAW entries on dragging, lifting, carrying capacity, and encumbrance we need to account for. Here are the most important rules in that category:
ENCUMBRANCE AND DRAGGING WHILE GRAPPLING
- While prone, a creatures move speed is 0. This suggests that they are unable to move themselves even though you can move them.
- More importantly, under the "Moving a Grappled Creature" subsection, the PHB states "you can drag or carry a grappled creature with you" (PHB, 195). This suggests you need to account for the rules on "Lifting and Carrying" and the "Push, Drag, or Lift" options when moving grappled opponents (PHB, 176).
- If these "Lifting and Carrying" rules are at play, grapplers moving a prone creature have additional limitations.
- Your "carrying capacity" is equal to your Strength score multiplied by 15.
- You can push, drag, or lift up to twice your "carrying capacity", but your speed drops to 5 feet when you are exceeding that baseline capacity.
- While grappling an enemy, your speed is halved if you move them.
- Therefore, if you are trying to move an enemy that weighs greater than your carrying capacity, you can't move at all: your speed drops to 5 and is then halved (rounded down) to 0.
- At 16 Strength, your maximum carrying capacity (and, by extension, your maximum drag capacity) is 240 lbs. That goes up to 255 at 17 Strength, 280 at 18 Strength, etc.
- If you are size large (and/or have the Goliath's powerful build trait!), those capacities are all doubled. A Goliath benefitting from Enlarge Person would actually have their base carrying capacity quadrupled!
This is not an exhaustive discussion of grappling rules, and weird situations WILL come up in your sessions. So keep the PHB ready to handle rules questions, and feel free to post any new ideas to the thread. We'll go over these techniques again, and add in some new ones, in the later "Grappling Tactics" section.
3. Wrestling Races
For the most part, any race that looks good at grappling is probably pretty good at grappling. Bruiser dwarves, brutish half-orcs, and brawling humans all make tough wrestlers. Similarly, all the races that look like they suck at grappling probably suck at grappling. The only thing that Elves grapple with is their trees.
Mechanically, grappling is all about Strength (for your ability checks), Constitution (so you don't die when 1-2 attackers focus on you exclusively), and Dexterity (you retain your dex bonus to AC while grappling). Depending on what type of grappler you are playing, other ability scores might come into play as well, but they generally aren't as important as those main ones. This makes race selection fairly easy. On the subject of ability scores, Wisdom is also important if you want to avoid the aptly named "frightened" condition. When frightened, you'll have disadvantage on all ability checks, and Wisdom is the main ability score governing saves against fear.
There's one big exception to these ability score guidelines: Grapplers that use Wild Shape or Shapechange (Polymorph and True Polymorph work too but are generally worse). These spells replace your physical attributes with those of the new form, which totally changes how race selection works. I will try and talk about those possibilities as they come up with the different races. As a general rule, you want transformation grapplers to have higher mental stats and lower physical ones: avoid races that need to transform to grapple and also have Str/Dex/Con bonuses.
- Mountain Dwarf
When it comes to grapplers, it doesn't get any more simple or solid than the Mountain Dwarf. Bonus Str and Con are excellent, freeing up other ability points into Dex. This ensure a well-rounded combat ability set. That movement speed penalty stings, but you won't notice it much with the added attributes.
- Hill Dwarf
Some of the hardiest grapplers around, with bonus hit points on top of the inherent +2 to Con. The Wisdom increase is something you will have to build around if you are playing this class; Monk is a natural choice for the added AC from unarmored defense. The 5 foot speed reduction isn't great but again, if you are playing a Monk Hill Dwarf, you can easily offset that bonus Monk movement speed.
- High Elf
Elves are about as good at grappling as dwarves are at playing harp, but High Elves get a bonus cantrip which can give some interesting combat options. Chill Touch is nice here if you are playing a grappler that grinds down a single target. If they are already prone, you will get advantage on the spell, which will hit for damage and shut down healing for a whole turn. Blade Ward is also useful if you anticipate taking a lot of damage. Unfortunately for the High Elf, you can get those spells elsewhere, which makes the race a subpar choice.
- Wood Elf
Stick to hugging trees, not trolls. The only redeeming quality of this race is the Fleet of Foot feature, which gives you a bit more speed to drag enemies around the battlefield.
- Dark Elf
Darkness at level 5 is strong, but you can get the same bonuses (better. in fact) from Tiefling. Between the light sensitivity and the useless base Elf bonuses, the Drow subrace makes for a terrible, although flavorful, grappler.
- Lightfoot Halfling
Remember White Belt Grappling Rules? Your target can't be more than one size larger than you? When you're small like a Halfling, that means you can't grapple anything bigger than a human. That means you can't grapple in a fantasy world at all. Add to that a lower base speed, irrelevant ability scores, and no valuable racial features, and you have a subrace that might be the worst grappler in the PHB.
- Stout Halfling
To review, Small + low speed + irrelevant ability mods = Bad grappler.
No matter what grappler you play, there are a few feats you want to pick up. This includes Tavern Brawler for extra damage, Mage Slayer for shutting down spellcasters, Warcaster for anyone using Concentration, etc. Human gets these earlier than any other race, which ensure you are relevant at lower levels and helps you race to that coveted 20 Strength. You even get a Str/Con bonus to boot!
Strength bonus alone is reason to consider the Dragonborn, but it's the breath weapon that is more interesting. When using the Grappler feat, you can "restrain" a target to give them disadvantage on dexterity saves. The save against your breath weapon is itself Dexterity based. That's an awesome image (holding down two guys as you breathe acid on them), but not particularly powerful from a damage perspective. But coupled with the Str bonus, it's enough to make Dragonborn a viable, interesting, and mega flavorful option.
- Rock Gnome
If you are going to be a transformation grappler, Gnomes aren't bad choices. They have advantage on a lot of different saves against magic (important for tanking spells), and that +2 Int makes them great Wizards. Their small size and low move speed won't matter when you transform, especially if your crafted Panacea gives you +10 move speed on top of the +10 from Longstrider.
- Forest Gnome
Avoid physical bonuses on transformation grapplers. Just stick with Rock Gnome if you want to go the Polymorph Wizard route.
Even if you are a Bard or Sorcerer Polymorph grappler, this race isn't really doing you a lot of favors. Gnome make good Polymorph grappler due to their ridiculous advantage on saves against spells. Half-Elves just have a bad ability score bonus and no relevant features.
Along with Humans and Mountain Dwarves, this is the third PHB grappling race. Compared to Human, you lose the bonus feat but get to 20 Strength faster. Compared to Dwarf, you lose a bit of HP but gain full move speed. The added tankiness from Relentless Endurance is also nice. Generally speaking, when playing a grappler you'll be picking between these three races.
Just like Dark Elves (can cast Darkness), but slightly better because of the improved features: fire resistance is decent, bonus Charisma helps out a Bard Polymorph grappler, and you don't have that ridiculous vulnerability to light. Even so, there are better options out there.
PRINCES OF THE APOCALYPSE RACES
The birdmen don't get the best ability score bonuses, and they even suffer from a 25 foot base speed instead of the usual 30. They make up for this in their 1d4 unarmed strikes and, more importantly, the 50 foot fly speed. You'll need to get your Strength a lot higher to make use of this in a grapple (your carrying capacity definitely affects your fly speed), but if you can pump enough iron you can easily carry enemies into the sky before dropping them. You can even use flying to close the gap on hard-to-reach enemies! Overarakocra's have a unique grappling playstyle but it's a very rewarding one if done right.
- Deep Gnome
Just as bad as the other gnomes. Still not better than Rock Gnome even if you want to play a transformation grappler.
You can do worse than the Earth Genasi and it's +1 Strength, +2 Constitution from the base Genasi race, and ability to ignore rock/stone difficult terrain. Spike Growth grappling is a cute combination, and Earth Genasi's do it better than most. All the other versions are generally worse than other options out there, although you could consider a deep-sea grappler in the Water Genasi, depending on your campaign setting.
If you don't need the bonus feat from Humans, this is the best grappling race around. You'll get the +2 Strength of a Half-Orc and Mountain Dwarf along with the +1 Constitution bonus. Stone's Endurance is a rock-solid tanking skill that doesn't even interfere with your other actions. But the real reason to play Goliath is for the Powerful Build trait, which dramatically increases your dragging/carrying capacity when moving around the battlefield. Prone enemies can't move on their own which means you have to pull them along for the ride, like Joy dragging Sadness in Inside Out. As an 18 Strength Human, your carrying capacity is a mere 270 pounds. For Goliaths, that jumps up to 540 just on Powerful Build alone, which is more than enough to drag any one (even two!) medium humanoids around the battlefield. Add Enhance Ability to the mix and you effectively quadruple the capacity up to 1080. That's enough to drag all but the largest bear around the battlefield.
UNEARTHED ARCANA RACES
If your DM lets you use the Waterborne Unearthed Arcana, Minotaurs make ferocious grapplers. Like Half-Orc, you get a +2 to Strength and a full 30 feet of movement speed. You lose the Human's bonus feat and the Dwarf's constitution, but you gain an insane 1d10 unarmed strike damage die: a lot of grapplers use their feat to pick up Tavern Brawler anyway, and the horns are just plain better. That said, you'll rarely use Goring Rush or Hammering Horns (the latter can't shove enemies prone), and the advantage on Horns shove attempts won't often matter (you are getting advantage from other abilities already). Even so, the Minotaur is a excellent grappling race for those with UA's allowed in their adventures.
Shifters come out of the Eberron Unearthed Arcana, and although they are no Minotaur, they still have decent grappling options. Shifting itself gives bonus hit points, and both the Longtooth and Beasthide options have grappling applications. Longtooth is a weird one because, as written, it's not clear how it interacts with regular Attack actions. Avoid Razorclaw: you can get bonus attack actions elsewhere.
Solid but boring, which is kind of what you have to expect from Eberron's Warforged race. The AC and ability score increases are relevant, but there are better options out there. A+ for flavor though.
SWORD COAST ADVENTURER'S GUIDE RACES
As a Duergar, you retain the +2 Constitution from Dwarf and add a nice +1 Strength to the mix. Duergar Resilience gives some relevant save bonuses, and the Darkvision isn't bad. But the real reason to take Duergar is a free Enlarge spell starting at level 3. Enlarge is already one of the best spells in the PHB for grapplers, particularly at low level, but only Wizards and Sorcerers get access to it. Duergar's are the only race which can allow Valor Bards, Clerics, Druids, etc. to get this spell without a 3+ level multiclass into the arcane spellcasters. I'm overvaluing this trait a little because you can derive the same benefit with Potions of Enlarge, but it's still an innate spell usable even without fancy gear.
- Aquatic Half-Elf
Here's a weird one. Half-elves are normally not worth it, but this is an RAW way to pick up a swim speed for your nautical campaign. Underwater grappling is definitely a thing, and having a swim speed makes it significantly easier than having to do it with all those underwater movement penalties.
- Winged Tiefling
A less conditional Aarakocra! You lose 20 feet of airborne movement but gain +5 to your groundspeed and the ability to use medium or heavy armor as long as you have proficiency. The ability scores aren't much better than the avian alternative, but darkvision is nifty and the extra armor makes up for the lost speed.
4. Class Overview
There is no single best way to grapple. Almost every class has its own strengths and weaknesses, and many grappler builds will require at least a few levels of multiclassing anyway. To get you started on your own grappling optimizations, here's a feature-by-feature evaluation of each class and its grappling abilities.
It should come as no surprise that Barbarians make outstanding grapplers. Rage really is just as good as it sounds. In fact, it's probably better than it sounds, because until you play a Barbarian grappler, you won't realize quite how often advantage lets you win grapple rolls and fights. Add strong tanking features, a ton of HP, extra damage, and a bunch of other useful abilities, and you have what is probably easily one of the top three best grappling classes in the game.
Barbarian Ability Review
Wait a moment... aren't Bards support characters or something? Isn't their main stat Charisma? Don't they play flutes and harps and stuff? That's all true, and it doesn't mean that they can't wrestle you straight into the dirt. Along with Barbarians, Bards are some of the best grapplers in 5th Edition. If it helps, think of them as gladiators or cagefightesr. Or WWE wrestling champs. Between Cutting Words, Expertise, and some excellent spells in their list, Bard is one of the best dips or even mainclasses you can pursue.
Bard Ability Review
What do the following spells have in common? Guardian of the Faith, Flame Strike, Blade Barrier, Fire Storm. They are all Cleric spells, and they are all Dexterity-saved based. The Grappler feat lets you restrain targets at will and, once Restrained, they will suffer disadvantage on their saves. You will too but you can negate that through smart optimization. Unfortunately, that optimization is often very resource and level intensive, and it often ends up being worse thanother options. Clerics do have a lot of AC/HP to handle the front lines, and a strong spell list to keep them alive. But other classes can just do things a bit better. The only reason this gets an average rating instead of falling lower is that unique combination of a strong spell list on top of innate tankiness.
Cleric Ability Review
If you've ever wanted to be a crocodile dragging their prey underwater, a python crushing the life out of a target, or an ape hurling his enemies from the treetops, then the Druid grappler is for you. Deriving their grappling powers from the Wild Shape ability and concentration spells (typically Enhance Ability), the Druid is one of the more formidable grapplers in the PHB, although you'll need to learn how Wild Shape works to have success with the Druid. Druid grapplers also get a lot of non-grappling utility with all their other spells and class features, which can't be said of more narrow builds in Barbarian, Fighter, Rogue, etc.
Druid Ability Review
Two words: Action Surge. This ability alone makes Fighters one of the best dips you can take for grappling, along with Rogue for Expertise. Add in the maneuvers at level 3, a bonus feat/ability score increase at 4, extra attack at 5, and another bonus feat/score at 6 and you have one of the best base classes for grapplers around. Fighter is also the only class that gives you a third attack courtesy of Extra Attack, which encourages you to stick in the class until at least level 11. Fighters will still need to pick up Enlarge Person or some other way of getting grapple advantage (Eldritch Knight can do it at level 8), but the attacks alone make this an excellent all-around class.
Fighter Ability Review
Thursday, 17th September, 2015, 10:20 PM #2
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
4. Class Overview (continued)
It always surprises me that Monk, the martial arts class, don't make the best grapplers in 5th Edition. Monks have some of the better damage output among grapplers, as well as a lot of tactical flexibility. Unfortunately, Monk has no in-class feature to grant advantage on ability checks, or abilities that directly relate to grappling at all. As an added issue, many of your better abilities don't work in armor. This makes Monk a worthwhile multiclass option, but not necessarily a core grappling advancement. That said, grappling builds focusing on damage, versatility, and/or mobility will enjoy the unarmed attack options in a Monk's arsenal. Its spell-like abilities in Way of Shadow and Way of the Four Elements also give you unique options other classes can't access.
Monk Ability Review
All things considered, there are some redeeming qualities of Paladin grapplers. For one, they can deal a ton of damage to their grappled target with all those radiant bonuses. Vow of Emnity is also significantly better than something like Reckless Attack. None of the Paladin's spells are particularly crazy with grappling, but many of them aren't bad either. Paladin's are also pretty tanky, which is another quality in their favor. So why rate it so low? The reason this class gets a substandard, purple rank instead of an average one is that this damage is mostly worse than Monk without any sizeable benefits in exchange. Clerics will do most things Paladins do, but with better spell selection. Overall, Paladins CAN grapple, but most classes can just do it a bit better.
Paladin Ability Review
There is only one build that grapples as a ranger. The Tag Team Wrestler. This optimization uses a beast companion and a familiar (courtesy of the Magic Initiate feat) to repeatedly take the "Help" action to bestow advantage on your skill checks. But unlike the Raging Barbarian or the spellcasting Bard, Rangers can actually cast and even concentrate on spells while gaining that advantage. This is a very niche style of grappling that is totally dependent on your companion, but it does open the door to other concentration spells you otherwise couldn't access. Unfortunately, this takes a 7 level investment and still only bestows two instances of advantage per turn. Cool? Absolutely. Efficient leveling? Not quite.
Ranger Ability Review
Like Fighters, Rogues are by far one of the best 2 level dip that a grappler can take. Unlike Fighter, there isn't much reason to stay in Rogue after that, which is why the class is overall rated a bit lower. A single level gives you both the respectable Sneak Attack (used in tandem with shove to deal additional damage per turn) and the almighty Expertise. One more level gives you Cunning Action, which lets you dash as a bonus action (real grapplers don't disengage or hide). Know what happens when you Dash as a bonus action while grappling? More move speed to cover distance while dragging your target! The vast majority of decent grappling builds, except those using Bards which already gets Expertise, are going to take at least a 1 level dip into Rogue if not 2. Of course, there are also some scary Sneak Attack-oriented builds you can put together, which you can consider as an alternate damage-dealing option to the Monk's unarmed playstyle.
Rogue Ability Review
If you treat Sorcerer as a 3-4 level dip to pick up a few Metamagic abilities, Enlarge Person, Constitution-save proficiency, and some random spells, then this class isn't that terrible. There are better ways to get all those abilities, but in the right build a 3-4 Sorcerer sample can really shine. Unfortunately, the class loses a lot of power beyond level 5. It suffers from mediocre spells relative to a Wizard (not even Shapechange or True Polymorph!) and bad class features relative to a Bard. I can envision some builds taking advantage of excess sorcery points to cast spells while grappling (via either Subtle or Quicken Spell). I also think those builds are probably worse than other options, which is why this class gets a purple overall rating instead of maybe a black or blue.
Sorcerer Ability Review
Warlock is not red because it's a bad class overall. It's red because it makes the worst grappler. Almost anything you do as a Warlock another class does better. Warlock gets Find Familiar at level 3, but other classes get it at level 1 or via a feat. Warlocks get True Polymorph but not Shapeschange. Warlock casts the powerful Hex spell, but doesn't get Enlarge Person/Enhance Ability: other classes can even get Hex with a feat! Although there are some unique, even worthwhile, abilities scattered around the class, you are generally better making your level investments elsewhere unless you are trying out some niche build.
Warlock Ability Review
The skinny, bookish Wizard, despite some serious survivability issues, makes a very good grappler. To start, Wizards make some of the best mage slaying grapplers around. Antimagic Field plus grappling is virtually unbeatable for most magic-based opponents, especially if you use magic to close the gap. Second, Wizards are excellent at the restrain-target, cast-spell model of combat. They can sculpt spells around themselves to avoid making the save. Cook off a Delayed Blast Fireball for a few rounds and then drag the bad guy into it. It's just as fun as it sounds. Finally, Wizards make strong Shapechange grapplers, mostly because their spell list is the most extensive (no one else gets Shapechange but Druids), and because their class features have such strong synergy with those spells.
Wizard Ability Review
Overall, there are a lot of classes that can get you into the grappling action, and I encourage you to try out different options. If you are still feeling overwhelmed and need some more general rules, here are the overarching guidelines you want to keep in mind when picking your class.
- Athletics advantage: The biggest grappler prerequisite is getting advantage on your checks. This typically means Barbarian Rage, Enlarge Person, or Enhance Ability, although there are other ways to do it and different levels you can get it.
- Extra Attack: If Athletics-advantage is the first prerequisite, Extra Attack is the second. This is the only way to make two grapple/shove checks per round. Avoid the bonus action ripoffs, unless you are using them to deliver maneuvers.
- Remember survivability: You can't grapple two enemies if you are dying by the third round. Enemies will often have friends that can help them, especially magical friends. Don't sacrifice HP, AC, or saving throw bonuses too much. Your DM and his/her monsters will happily exploit those holes.
Later in the guide, we'll go over some builds that bring all this action together. For now, this is a great starting point on your path to become All-Faerun Wrestling Champion.
As a grappler, you might choose to play a raging mountain-man wrestler, a tactical lockdown artist, a murderous get-em-from-behind assassin, or a hungry crocodile who just "wants to play". No matter your path, feats are probably going to be an important consideration. In most cases, and unlike in previous editions, you don't actually need a lot of feats to grapple. Heck, you don't need any really; the basic combat rules let you do almost everything without any serious feat investment. That doesn't mean you shouldn't consider the PHB feats for your character, especially given you will be progressing well past 4th or even 8th level for a few classes.
This section will review all the feats in the PHB, rating them according to how useful they are for the aspiring grappler. If there's a feat that doesn't show up on the list, like Actor, it's just because it's irrelevant for in-combat grappling mechanics.
Most characters have an initiative bonus based on dexterity and nothing else, so +5 is massive. Grappling, moreso than other playstyles, really wants to go first in combat because the earlier you wrangle people to the ground, the earlier you can shut them out of the fight. Surprise immunity and extra anti-invisibility is gravy.
The cornerstone of the powerbomb suplex grapple technique (see builds later). Athlete lets you jump really high with your grappled target(s), throw them to the ground, and then land, stand, and re-grapple. All in one turn. Without Athlete, your jumps will be shorter, your standing will be slower, and the combat style will be much less efficient.
The rare triple trap feature. First, it costs a bonus action, which should already make you leery if you've been paying attention to all the other stuff we can do with our valuable bonus action. Second, Charger makes a melee weapon attack, which can't be replaced with a grapple check. Third, and most problematically, the shove action doesn't actually knock the enemy prone. It just moves them. This feat is important if for no other reason than underscoring grappling rules and reminding you to read carefully.
- Crossbow Expert
Some readers might be surprised to see this ranked so highly. Turn your attention to the second bullet point which, RAW-wise, does not actually require you to wield a crossbow to benefit from. If you are playing a spellcasting grappler, you will need this to cast your ranged attack roll-based spells without disadvantage. You can knock an opponent prone to negate that disadvantage, but then you lose the subsequent advantage from attacking within 5 feet of the prone enemy (the two instances cancel each other out). Crossbow Expert returns advantage to your court, so fire away with whatever spell or weapon you want.
- Defensive Duelist
Not great, but it is usable by the grappler Rogue (or Fighter) who might wield a weapon in one hand while grappling with the other. Reactions make for great action economy, and extra survivability is always welcome. If you pursue a Sneak Attack-based grappler who is hurting for more AC or HP, Defensive Duelist isn't a bad option.
- Dual Wielder
You derive basically zero benefit from any of Dual Wielder's bullet points while grappling even one enemy, let alone two (grappling occupies a hand). And no, grappled enemies don't count as improvised weapons unless they are also dead (only "objects", not "creatures", can be used in this way).
- Elemental Adept
If you plan on grappling/restraining enemies and blasting them with magic, Elemental Adept is a solid way to increase your damage. I strongly recommend "fire" as your element of choice, given the power of Fireball, Wall of Fire and Delayed Blast Fireball against restrained targets.
- Grappler / Grappler
The hands-down most disappointing entry in the PHB, Grappler is the ultimate trap ability. Its first ability is a worse version of the shove-to-prone combat option grapplers already have. Why invest in a feat for advantage when you can do it with basic combat actions? The second ability is what earns Grappler its green status. A restrained target suffers from disadvantage to all Dexterity saving throws, which works nicely with grapplers who use Dexterity-based spell damage. Or grapplers who have allies using that magic. This is a niche way to grapple but a fun one, so I leave it out there as an option for grapplers looking for new ways to enjoy the combat style. As for the last bullet point, it's a leftover of an earlier edition. As the PHB Errata clarifies, " Ignore the third benefit; it refers to a nonexistent rule". All told, this is the feat that should have made us tick and instead it's one of the first you'll ignore.
- Great Weapon Master
At first glance, it looks like you can't use these benefits while grappling because they appear to require two-handed weapons. On the plus side of the feat, you don't actually need a two-handed weapon to use GWM. You just need a "heavy" weapon, and only for the second benefit. On the negative side, neither of the benefits are particularly powerful, although the added damage is nice for a low-damage combat style. A prone/grappled enemy is easier to hit, so you can freely trade -5 on the hit to +10 on the damage as long as you have a heavy weapon in your non-grappling hand. This means you can't grapple a second enemy, but it gives you more damage against one target. GWM gets better if combined with a heavy weapon-wielding Mage Slayer, but that's such a niche build that I can't evaluate the feat on its merits alone.
- Heavily Armored
Survivability is important for grapplers and, In many cases, multiclassing is the best way to get heavy armor. Just take the highest armor proficiency class at level 1 (like Fighter) and then multiclass out at later levels (to Bard/Rogue/Wizard/etc.). That said, there are some instances where a heavy armor class isn't part of your build. In those cases, this feat becomes a lot better. It even buffs your most important ability score as an added bonus! So if you are a College of Valor Bard going straight Bard with only a Rogue multiclass, pick this up right after you get medium armor proficiency. This is also a decent starting proficiency to work towards with the Human bonus feat.
- Heavy Armor Master
You don't want to die in combat, but you don't want to invest too many features into staying alive. +1 Strength is nice, but the flat 3-point damage reduction is underwhelming at best. It doesn't even affect magical weapons or spells.
- Lightly Armored
I can't think of a decent optimization that wouldn't get this from a level 1 dip into some class, whether Bard, Rogue, Fighter, Barbarian, etc. Probably the least useful combat feat in the PHB, let alone for grapplers.
Remember the Wizard's Portent ability? Lucky is a worse version of Portent, but it's one that any class can get. You generally won't use it against opponents (it only affects attack rolls which we probably don't care about), but you will frequently use it on your own checks. Think of it like triple advantage on Athletics, usable three times per day in between long rests. As far as luxury feats go (stuff like Alert), this one is probably the highest on the list because it's incredibly versatile (it even helps your saving throws) and is relevant in almost all fights at almost every level. Fighters will often get this if they stay in their class for long, just because they get so many feats.
- Mage Slayer
Back in 3.0 and 3.5, it was a nightmare to cast spells in threatened squares, especially against grapplers. 5th Edition took a lot of bite from that strategy, but Mage Slayer returns some of our former glory. Slayer doesn't prevent spellcasting, but it does put you in a strong enough position that it won't matter. Once grappled, enemy casters will always be within five feet of you, so you can smack them every time they try to cast a spell to get free. If they are concentrating on a spell, that's yet another attack they need to make to a save on. Oh yeah, and they make all their concentration checks at disadvantage, both against your normal attacks and the free reaction attack every single round. As if that weren't enough, you also get advantage on all saving throws against spells cast within five feet of you. Assuming you are holding down 1-2 mages, that's the only range spells will be inbound from. An overall excellent feat for campaigns with lots of spellcasting enemies.
- Magic Initiate
In most cases, grapplers are better off just multiclassing into a class with the spell than taking this feat. There aren't a lot of good cantrips for grappling anyway (Guidance is the big one), and although there are a bunch of decent level 1 spells, casting the spell only once limits their usefulness. One solid combination is Guidance, Resistance, and Longstrider from the Druid list (Longstrider lasts an hour and doesn't require concentration). Another is Blade Ward, True Strike, and Hex from Warlock. Hex is a great dip into a spell list you ordinarily wouldn't touch, a bonus-action-casttime, no-save-allowed way to screw an opponent's checks. Although savvy opponents can just switch from Athletics to Acrobatics (or vice versa), this will still leave them making the worse of two checks, or just accepting disadvantage on the roll. Either way, that's a great investment for the grappler. You can also pick up Find Familiar with Magic Initiate, but it's more efficient to get your helpful familiar off Ritual Caster than it is to lock yourself out of the level 1 bonus spell.
- Martial Adept
This feat is much better on paper than in a real game. Maneuvers are strong and it seems great to get a free one without a three level investment into Fighter. Unfortunately, getting that maneuver only once per long rest is terrible once you get into real fights. At least with spells, something like Hex or Longstrider from Magic Initiate, your once-per-long-rest magic lasts multiple rounds or through multiple enemies. The one-shot Martial Adept maneuver doesn't, which makes this a weak feat that is only good in white room style optimizations. It's a little better (black rating) if you are a Fighter who just wants more maneuvers.
- Medium Armor Master
Stealth doesn't really help grappling, and the +1 AC isn't worth a feat. Just bite the bullet and upgrade to heavy armor.
+10 to your speed is all you need to know about this feat. That's two extra squares with a dash. Or two extra vertical squares with flying. Remember that dragging creatures is one of the best parts of grappling, so any way you can buff that speed is a great way to enhance your combat utility. Difficult terrain is also a big problem for grapplers who drag enemies, and Mobile addresses that too. Just combine this with Monk or Rogue class features to get a bonus Dash and you'll be bounding around the battlefield in no time.
- Moderately Armored
See Lightly Armored. It's so easy to pick up these proficiencies just by virtue of multiclassing or picking a different level 1 class. Don't waste a feat here.
- Mounted Combat
Is mounted grappling a thing? RAW it is, and you can actually do some cool things by using your mount's move speed in place of your own. The horse's (or dragon's!) speed isn't halved when you as a rider are grappling, but a DM could reasonable impose penalties on that whole operation. If you convince your DM to allow mounted grappling (it really does work, RAW-wise), then this feat is a decent way to keep your valiant steed alive while you grab people around the battlefield.
- Polearm Master
Both feat abilities require a two-handed weapon, and grappling prohibits you from using these effectively. You can only replace Attack actions with grapple/shove checks too, so you can't even abuse the free AOO when enemies enter your reach.
This is one of the better saving throw bonuses in recent editions, especially if you are a spellcaster who needs to pick up Constitution save proficiency to maintain concentration. The ideal spellcasting grappler will have save-proficiency in Constitution (concentration), Wisdom (fear effects), and Dexterity (most common saving throw), and Resilient is a solid way to pick up that third proficiency.
- Ritual Caster
If you want Find Familiar but don't want to a) waste your Magic Initiate feat or b) go into a spellcasting class, then Ritual Caster is the best way to get it. Familiars are a bit limited as grappling helpers (they'll just confer one instance of advantage per round), but they work independently of size, concentration, magic ability, etc.
- Savage Attacker
More damage is nice, but more grappling is better. I suppose you could use this as part of a single-target grappling build, but the difference in damage output won't be big. Remember that Savage Attacker just rerolls the weapon damage di(c)e, not any bonuses (sorry, Sneak Attack).
If you could grapple/shove as part of that provoked reaction, this would be an EASY sky blue rating, if not gold. Unfortunatly, those pesky RAW don't allow you to do that. You can only replace Attack actions with grapple/shove, and all the reaction-based AOOs in Sentinel don't qualify.
Only included here for the -5 to hit, +10 to damage, which synergizes nicely with a prone opponent within 5 feet of you. Dump em down and then shoot em point blank. There are better ways to attack a prone opponent, but I leave this as an option if you're a big hand crossbow fan.
- Shield Master
One of two gold-rated feat in the PHB, although this one is admittedly limited to single-target grappler builds. But if you do pursue the single-target grappler build, Shield Master is easily one of the beats features in the book. Master gives you a free, bonus action-based shove attempt on your target, which frees up your valuable Extra Attack actions to deal more damage or keep an attacker locked down. Simply walk up to your target, grapple them, shove them prone, and then attack them for damage, all as early as level five. Or, even better, grapple them and then shove them prone as early as level one, provided you are a Human getting this feat at creation. The other benefits are just gravy, giving you a bunch of survivability against the most common saving throw effects in the game. You can theoretically drop a shield to use this against multiple opponents, but dropping takes a full action (PHB, 146), so your target might run away. Against a single enemy, however, there's really nothing better.
- Tavern Brawler
After Grappler, this is the second grappler feat in the PHB. To start, a big thanks to Wizards for putting not just one but two of these feats in the book; that's a big investment for a combat style that isn't always in the spotlight. It's also significantly better than Grappler, even if it still isn't quite the awesome feat we are hoping for. The Strength/Con bonus is a nice bone, but the second point is largely irrelevant (RAW, everyone is proficient in unarmed strikes) unless you are using lots of improvised weapons. Things get better again with the third benefit, a big unarmed damage increase for grapplers who aren't going into Monk but still need to grapple multiple enemies and deal damage from round to round. Going up from a flat 1 damage to 1d4 damage is big over a long battle, and you'll welcome it if your hands are full. As for the fourth bullet point, it's an Improved Grab lite ala 3rd Edition, but it forces us to commit our opening attack to a melee hit, not a grapple check. It also consumes a valuable bonus action. This gets a lot better when you are fighting spellcasters and need to disrupt their concentration, but it's still often weaker than just walking up to them, grabbing them, and then smacking them after the grapple gets started. Overall, there are a number of builds which will pick up Brawler as a luxury feat, but few that will rely on it as a core feature.
There are some builds that want to invest a feat for +2 to +40 HP over time, but most builds don't need it. This gets a little better with Wild Shape or Shapechange, both of which give you new HP totals while also allowing you to retain the benefits of your class features. A DM might rule that the layering doesn't work to your favor, but I think there's a strong case to be made that it does. This synergy is the only reason Tough is listed at black rating, as it gives you compounding HP advantage for every form you shift into. Otherwise, there are much better survival-focused features to take.
- War Caster
If you are a spellcasting grappler, you need this feat. Enhance Ability? Enlarge Person? Shapechange? All of that grappling goodness is concentration-based, and War Caster is the best way to make sure you keep your buffs up in real combat. Grapplers take a lot of damage on the front lines, which means lots of concentration checks to avoid losing your spells. If these break mid-combat, you are going to be in a really bad situation, which makes War Caster indispensable for anyone serious about magic-based grappling.
Modes 2 and 3 serve a different sort of grappler, the kind who restrains things with Grappler and then lets them bake in a Wall of Fire or Flame Strike. That second benefit doesn't let you use somatic spells with two enemies in your hands, so you won't be restraining two guys and then casting your spell. But if you are rocking the Shield Master build, that's another story entirely. As for that third benefit, you'll get some reactions out of this, but most enemies won't be moving enough to provoke the AOO. As usual with War Caster, it's the first ability that drives the feat, and you'll need to get this if you want to stay relevant throughout your progression.
When picking feats, just be careful that your build and grappling style fits the feats you are selecting. For example, Monks don't make good Tavern Brawlers because they have too many competing bonus actions and they don't benefit from the unarmed damage die increase. Also, be mindful of how you want your character to play at ALL levels, not just level 20. You might need that heavy armor at level 4. You might need that saving throw bonus at level 8 when it turns out that your entire campaign is against scary (read: bestowing Frightened condition) undead.
More importantly, know when you don't actually need to pick a feat as a grappler! Many builds don't need it and will get more mileage out of a +2 Strength or +1 Str/+1 Con bonus than they will from some cool looking feats. This is often one of the hardest decisions to make (we D&D players love to pack on the features and abilities), but sometimes simpler is better when you're a grappler.
Overall, be flexible and critical with your feat selection and you will be guaranteed to have a powerhouse wrestler on the battelfield.
6. Magic and Spells: Cantrips - Level 3
When I was first working on this guide, I had a distinction between magical and nonmagical grappling. I still have that distinction, to some extent. But having played grapplers before and written on them extensively, I now think that distinction is a bit artificial. Because of feats like Magic Initiate, the ease of multiclassing, and the relative availability of spells even in "nonmagical" classes, there isn't really a hard line between magical and nonmagical grapplers. Instead, it's better to think of grappling magic on a continuum. On one end, you have spells that only dedicated spellcasters can use; True Polymorph, Shapechange, Foresight, etc. In the middle, you have spells that require some commitment to spellcasting classes, but still give you a lot of flexibility in multiclassing: Wall of Fire, Polymorph, Conjure Animals, etc. And then at the other end of the spectrum, you have spells that require no more than a 3 level dip, or even just a Magic Initiate investmnt, stuff like Hex, Find Familiar, Enlarge/Reduce, Enhance Ability, and so on. Even Barbarians, who can't concentrate on spells while raging, can still benefit from something like Longstrider!
Because multiclassing is so easy, because spell lists overlap so freely in 5.0, and because I don't want the spell section to be as long as the rest of the guide, I am only going to list a few spells per level and give a quick explanation of them. I'll highlight the best spells at each level and also some obvious (and less obvious) traps. If a spell isn't listed, it might not be bad with grappling, but it just didn't merit its own entry.
Level 1 spell review
Level 2 spell review
Level 3 spell review
Thursday, 17th September, 2015, 10:22 PM #3
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
7. Magic and Spells: Level 4 - Level 9
Level 4 spell review
Level 5 spell review
Level 6 spell review
Level 7 spell review
Level 8 spell review
Level 9 spell review
In general, your biggest limitation in picking spells is concentration. This is followed closely by somatic components, which you can't perform if grappling two enemies. Outside of Rage, spells are the best ways to pick up flat grappling advantage, which means you are going to need either Enlarge or Enhance Ability as early as possible. You can also concentrate on fear spells as a pseudo-advantage, but enemy disadvantage will generally be worse than your own advantage because your bonuses will be so big. A big exception to this is if you need a specific effect for a certain opponent, such as Silence for mages or Wall of Force for mobile enemies. In those instances, be flexible with your concentration and understand you might need to sacrifice the vaunted advantage for something more targeted at the encounter.
8. The Dojo: Grappling Tactics
We already went over some of the more common grappling sequences in the "Grappling Rules" section. Now that these basics are out of the way, we can look at a few combinations that are a little more involved, either from a rules perspective (drawing from the Dungeon Master's Guide or on some heavy RAW readings), or from a setup and encounter perspective. I'll also quickly summarize those basic mechanics from "Grappling Rules", just so all your options are in one place.
I used the Brazilian Jujitsu belt system in the "Grappling Rules" section in an earlier version of the guide, but I've since moved that ranking here because it makes more sense. It doesn't quite correspond to how I would expect BJJ practitioners to progress in the real world (if your academy teaches weapon attacks from mount to white belts, it's time to find a new gym), but it makes much more sense in the context of the game and how characters level up.
White Belts: Basic Techniques
These are the moves all D&D grapplers need to know. If you forget everything else in a session, just remember these seven options. Mechanically, White Belt techniques are all strict RAW options the PHB already makes available to you. The only exception to this is shoving after a grapple, which feels more Blue Belt-like but is so fundamental to effective D&D grappling that you need to learn it first.
- Initiate a grapple: Gotta start somewhere! Remember that grappling (and shoving) use the Attack action and that Extra Attack gives you multiple grapple/shove attempts.
- Shove an opponent prone: If they fail the Shove contest, they will be prone, unable to stand, suffer from disadvantage on their own attack rolls, and attack rolls against them will receive advantage.
- Move an opponent with you: Drag an opponent at half speed. Note that the rules on dragging and weights will likely apply here, depending on your DM.
- Keep an opponent in place: Prevent an opponent from moving at all.
- Release an opponent: Let go of your opponent. Useful if the grapple is happening over a ledge, on a cliffwall, or in midair.
- Attack with a weapon or unarmed strike: Make an attack roll against your target to damage. Will gain advantage if they are prone.
- Cast a spell: As long as you have a free hand, you can still cast with Somatic components. If you lose that hand for whatever reason, you're stuck on Verbal.
Blue Belts: Developing Techniques
You've figured out the basics and you're ready to be more effective on the offensive and the defensive. From a rules perspective, the common theme of Blue Bel techniques is overlapping two different RAW mechanics to create an outcome the PHB doesn't explicitly discuss. Blue Belt moves also include action options presented in the DMG (p. 271), which your DM may choose to allow or disallow at their discretion.
- Grapple a second opponent: Use a free hand to grapple another target. This will restrict your options later as you lose a free hand. Shoving does not require a free hand, so you can still shove enemies prone after you grapple them, even if you are grappling two at once.
- Shove out of an enemy grapple: If an enemy grapples you and you want to get out, don't waste an action with an Athletics or Acrobatics check. Use the Shove action instead: it replaces your Attack so you might get more chances! The forced movement ends the unwanted grapple and also creates 5 feet of separation, which could be valuable in some situations.
- Counter-grapple an enemy grappler: If your opponent is exceptionally sturdy or the encounter won't let you shove them away (maybe you are in a narrow tunnel), you can also initiate your own grapple check on an opponent. You will both be considered "grappled" until either you or the opponent ends it.
- Climb onto Huge or Gargantuan creatures: The DMG lets you use an action, not an Attack, to make your Athletics check to clamber aboard big enemies. You won't be grappling them and you won't be able to shove them prone, but you'll still get advantage on attack rolls and it's something for you to do with your high skill check in battles against otherwise un-grappleable enemies.
- Disarm an opponent: This DMG action requires you to make a weapon attack, so it won't work if you have two enemies grappled and no free hand to wield a weapon. You'll make an attack roll contested by the enemy's Athletics/Acrobatics check, and if you succeed they'll drop the item. Not quite as good as the Battlemaster maneuver but anyone can do it and you can still drag them away from their dropped item after you win the contest.
- Shove away: Grapple an enemy, drag them somewhere unsafe, and then give them a push. If they lose the contest, they'll move 5 feet back into whatever hazard you lined them up with. Note this breaks the grapple (forced movement).
- Shove aside: The last DMG action is probably the best. Unlike shoving away, which breaks the grapple, shoving aside keeps a target within reach. You just reposition them 5 feet in a different direction. Very useful for certain Purple Belt and higher techniques and for different battlefield configurations.
Purple Belts: Intermediate Techniques
Now that you have all the fundamentals in place, it's time to start attacking and moving in creative ways. Purple Belt techniques combine multiple RAW options into elaborate setups and situations. Unlike some of the later techniques, however, they don't generally require any additional spells, class features, movement modes, or other conditions.
- The long drop: An oldy but a goody. Drag one or two enemies over to a ledge or some other hazardous drop and then shove them off. They'll take 1d6 damage per ten feet traveled. You can even jump with them, hauling them into the air with no shove required. Bonus points for trying to land on top of at least one of them for some amount of damage (your DM will determine using the "Improvising Damage" table on DMG 249).
- Human shields: If an enemy is blocking at least half of your body, you'll get +2 to AC and Dexterity saving throws from half cover (PHB, 196). If you're grappling enemies, you have at least one, possibly two, enemies who will be more than happy to stand between you and danger. Simply grapple enemies and use the shove aside option from Blue Belt techniques to relocate them into harm's way.
- Take it to the ground: If you are attacking prone enemies, you need to be standing so you don't suffer from disadvantage yourself. But if you are under fire from ranged attackers (or monsters with 10+ foot reach), you might need to improve your odds. Dropping prone (no action required) gives enemies greater than 5 feet away disadvantage on those attacks. As long as you maintain your grapple and keep your enemies prone, their prone disadvantage cancels out the advantage they'd gain from attacking you while prone. This is a useful sacrifice maneuver if you aren't worried about your two enemies and are more scared of their far-off friends. Combine with human shields to get bonuses on AC and saves!
(WORK IN PROGRESS 12/29)
Last edited by ktkenshinx; Tuesday, 29th December, 2015 at 06:54 PM.
Thursday, 17th September, 2015, 10:22 PM #4
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
And one more
Thursday, 17th September, 2015, 10:24 PM #5
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Last one juuust in case: was so frustrated in the last version of this guide to only have four
Friday, 18th September, 2015, 05:44 PM #6
Novice (Lvl 1)
Thanks for porting this over ktkenshinx. I'm a big fan of grappler builds, and was basing a lot of my plans on your guide. Good to know it's being kept up here!
Saturday, 19th September, 2015, 07:47 AM #7
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Currently finished with the first post through Fighter. Lots left to go after that, but it's a great start.
Saturday, 19th September, 2015, 08:29 AM #8
First time poster here. Thanks for updating this guide, I was thinking about making a grappling build from some time ago, but until I saw all the options and uses It had in combat I wasn't convinced it would be worthwhile, keep up the good work.
Saturday, 19th September, 2015, 11:20 AM #9
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
Frenzy shouldn't be rated nearly that high, especially for Grapplers. No-one wants exhaustion, limiting Frezny to 1/day, but for Grapplers every level of exhaustion is a negative for them. Either they're losing speed, or getting disadvantage on their grapple/shove checks, or they're dead.
Saturday, 19th September, 2015, 02:05 PM #10
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
Grappling has some cool specific uses but it isn't all that. There is nothing preventing a great sword fighter that you have grappled from chopping you to bits will all of his attacks every round until you let go or die.
Knocking someone prone is nice but YOU are prone too unless you let go. No- you cannot maintain a grapple while standing AND hold a foe prone with one hand-that is stupid.