D&D 5E 5E Expanded Combat Actions and Systems

Greetings! You may have noticed there are quite a few threads floating around about the disparity between casters and non-casters. A recurring complaint associated with that is the lack of meaningful options for non-casters beyond basic attack actions. I've proposed a few things related to that, and feel it's worth consolidating those ideas, and getting feedback on them. I'm hoping to achieve the following objectives:
  • Does not dramatically increase complexity or combat length
  • Does not introduce an excessive quantity of new rules
  • Expands on the non-magical options available in a way which is intuitive, easy, and fun
  • Allows for a better representation of the kinds of "cool" fights we all love to see
  • Is able to be used by any class

With that said, let's jump in! I've broken it down to 4 pieces, feel free to give feedback on any or all of them.

1. Better Grapple Rules
Add to Grapple Rules the following: "When grappling a creature with limbs, you may choose which limb you are grappling. That limb is considered disabled (see appendix A) for as long as the grapple persists. If a creature with human-like anatomy not immune to suffocation is being grappled, it may instead be placed in a chokehold when successfully grappled. In that event, see page 183 (suffocation rules), but replace 'minutes' with 'rounds'"
Add to Escaping a Grapple the following: "When a creature which is maintaining a grapple is damaged, it must make a Con or Str save (its choice) or else lose grip on the creature being grappled. The DC equals 10 or half the damage taken, whichever is higher. If damage is taken from multiple sources, you must make a separate save for each source of damage."

2. Increased Attack Alternatives
Add all the options from DMG 271. For Disarm, start the text with: "Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to Disarm a creature, or otherwise knock an object out of its grasp. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them." Get rid of the second paragraph with conditional advantage or disadvantage.
Also add: "Trip - Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to Trip a creature, or otherwise knock it prone. If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them. Make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) check or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the attacker wins the contest, the attack causes no damage or other ill effect, but the defender is knocked prone."
Also add: "Strategic Strike - Using the attack action, you can attempt a special melee attack to strike a target in such a way as to cause an additional effect. If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this replaces one of them. Attempting to strike a specific target is harder than going directly for any opening which presents itself, and as such this attack is made with disadvantage. Note that if your attack would already suffer from disadvantage for any reason, you may not attempt a Strategic Strike. If the attack is successful, you also choose one of the following: Trip, Shove, Disarm, or Grapple. Make the normal check or roll associated with those actions and resolve normally. Regardless of the success or failure of the Trip, Shove, Disarm, or Grapple attempt, normal damage is dealt from the attack.
Add to the general 'Actions in Combat' section: "Body Block - You ready yourself to cut off a foe's escape. Choose a creature adjacent to you and no more than 1 size larger. Until your next turn, if it attempts to move out of its square, make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (your choice) contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (their choice). If you succeed, their movement is prevented, and you move into the space they were attempting to move into instead. Note that this will not work against teleport style abilities, and can only be used to prevent special movement types (flight, climbing, swimming, burrowing) if you also possess the relevant movement type."

3. Feat Changes
Add a "Judo Fighter" type feat which allows you to replace references to Strength (Athletics) checks in special melee attacks and grappling with Dexterity (Acrobatics).
Make "Polearm Master" not tied to a specific weapon type.
Make "Grappler" Str (13) or Dex (13), and make it so that if a creature is pinned, you are restrained, but they are "Pinned". While pinned, your movement is zero, and you cannot take actions or reactions, other than attempting to escape the grapple.

4. "Dragonstrike" system
Credit for the idea to Minigiant, I've taken his concept wholesale and just mildly tweaked it to fit my preferences. It's by far the most 'out there' and 'unpolished' of the ideas, so if at all possible focus more on the concept than the execution.
When you successfully perform a Trip, Shove, Disarm, or Grapple (or Feint? Other sources maybe?) gain a point of "Edge" against the target. (It's a terrible name but I don't have a better one yet). You can trade in points of "Edge" to empower your attacks with additional effects. A sampling of those effects is listed below (not yet a complete list). These effects apply in addition to the normal effects of the attack, including but not limited to damage. Any effects labeled "Persistent" last until the target receives magical healing, or until a Medicine check is performed on them, DC 10+ Cost. Any effects labeled "Ends on Save" allows the target to make a Con save at the end of each of its turns, DC 10+ Cost, and ends on a successful save. A successful medicine check, DC 10+Cost, can also end the effect early.

Arterial Strike2Persistent. The target counts as "poisoned" and takes XdY damage at the end of each of their turns.
Disable Limb3Persistent. Disables a chosen limb.
Stunning Blow4Ends on Save. Target is Stunned.
Blinding Strike5Persistent. Target is Blinded.
Knock Out Blow6Ends on Save. Target is Unconscious.

Multiple times above there are references to disabling a limb. Appendix A would include the following:
Disabled Limb - If a limb is disabled for any reason, it cannot be used. If it is involved in locomotion (such as a leg), the target is Slowed until use of the limb is restored. If all limbs involved in locomotion are disabled, the target is immobilized. A disabled limb cannot be used to perform an attack, use an object, cast a spell, or perform any other actions.

Anyway those are the ideas, I'd love any and all feedback you can provide. My goal is for it all to be as simple and easy to understand as possible, but certainly if anything is unclear let me know. If you've tried any of these ideas or anything like them I'm especially interested in your feedback. The intent would be for this to just expand on the existing options, and make some of them more viable, it would not come with additional rules changes, limitations, or balancing mechanics, as frankly I don't think it would be necessary to do so. This would naturally be more useful to those with high Str or Dex scores than those without, and would naturally benefit those with more attacks than those with less. I don't see that as a problem but I do recognize the disparity in impact. Thank you very much for your time, consideration, and thoughts.

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No rule is inviolate
I only got to grappling, which is the one I'm most familiar with having seen it royally fail across multiple editions as being too complex. It's an ambitious project you're trying to "tackle."

Grappling. D&D has oft tried and oft failed to make complex, realistic grappling rules.

Since attempting a grapple does not provoke AoO, the ability to disable an enemy's weapon hand, especially with 2-handed weaponry, would trump trying to whittle down its hit points. Because monsters usually outnumber PCs, PCs will likely get frustrated when the DM repeatedly disables their primary warrior's ability to attack using intelligent monsters that know this is a combat option. Also, you're adding a headache tracking (who has what arm).

Chokehold. With a Con 11 or below enemy OR PC, I can reduce their HP, no matter how high, to 0 in 1 round using a single grapple attempt. That's insane power equivalent to many high-level spells. Also, could an enemy in a chokehold effectively (realistically) wield a 2-handed sword? How would this work with say a dragon grappling a halfling? Or a halfling trying to put a dragon in a chokehold?

Losing Grapple on Damage. I'd have to see this in play, but it seems to dissuade grappling when 1 point of damage could trigger a fail after a success, and would seem to presume damage is a distractor. What about constructs and other beings that don't respond to damage in any meaningful way?

For inspiration, also consider some old-school AD&D and 3rd edition features with the caveat that universally the more complex grapple has ever gotten in prior editions, the less popular it was. No edition kept grapple rules intact even remotely like its predecessor. Hence 5E's solution of simplicity. Even so: (1) If I break a grapple, I can immediately try my own grapple for free; (2) if I try to grapple an armed creature (including monster unarmed attacks), they get an AoO, (3) those grappled can't attack with anything but a light weapon or unarmed attack, or spell with a free hand (an alternative to tracking disabled limbs, though it again penalizes 2-handed weaponry), (4) a grapple deals unarmed damage to foe when first applied.

Thank you very much for the reply! Indeed the goal would be that often grappling is a useful maneuver and presents an advantageous option over just dealing damage. Regarding how it would play out in terms of enemy vs player tactics, this is imho one of the easier things to implement so I'll definitely be doing playtesting over the next few sessions I run (my players are fine with experiments like that), I'll certainly advise how it goes! At times tracking a state per combatant doesn't seem excessive to me, but hey, I could certainly be wrong.

Keep in mind that the increased Draw of grappling is also reduced by the increased Risk of grappling when it can be broken by damage. If you're dealing no damage yourself, just grappling them, and then your grapple gets broken without it having prevented them from doing something (such as if they have a one handed weapon they can draw and jam into your ribs), then your turn was effectively wasted. Again though I agree, I definitely want to see it in play and see how it goes.

For Chokehold, I think you're misreading the rules a bit. The stages of suffocation go like this (thankfully):
  • Hold your breath a number of minutes / rounds equal to 1 plus your Con Modifier (min 1/2, rounded up to 1 in this case)
  • 'Survive' / Remain Conscious for a number of rounds equal to your Con modifier, min 1
  • Fall unconscious

Frankly, a creature with 10 or less Con falling unconscious after the chokehold has not been broken for 3 rounds is a perfectly acceptable outcome to me. We'll see if it gets nutty, but if their Con is 10 or less, how high can their HP really be? If they didn't break a chokehold in 3 rounds, and no allies came to assist, even with the losing grapple on damage, was the outcome of the combat in question anyway?

As far as a Halfling choking out a dragon, it'd have to be a Wyrmling; remember that you can't grapple a creature more than 1 size category larger than you. As far as a Dragon choking out a halfling, it doesn't have the "attack" action, so it's a moot point.

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