D&D 5E "Naked" Grappler

emeraldbeacon

Explorer
I'm trying to work out a build for a "naked" grappler, by which I mean, someone who is largely independent of equipment, and whose specialty lay in physical battlefield control. Their goal would not be to deal high damage-per-round, or even one-round nova-burst damage, but rather to lock down and disrupt enemy plans, while tanking the front line fight. My current thoughts are in this direction:
  • Variant Human gives me a very early feat, and a fairly well-rounded stat profile (I'll need to keep STR, DEX, and CON all high for this setup).
  • Prodigy is a feat that gives me an extra skill early on, along with expertise. Establishing a huge bonus to Athletics makes it very hard for enemies to break my grapples.
  • Battle Master Fighter seems like the right decision for a primary class; I can take unarmed fighting for melee effectiveness without gear (and virtually always have a hand open for grappling), the large number of ASIs available mean I can both ramp stats and keep adding feats to the list, and combat maneuvers are another way I can modify the battlefield.
  • A light splash of Barbarian gives me both unarmored defense, and Rages, which only ramp my grappling effectiveness further.
  • Other feat ideas include Crusher for more battlefield positioning control, and obviously Grappler.
Do you have any other suggestions on ways to build out someone like this?
 

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Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
I am currently playing an unarmed halforc battlemaster, and so far it is fun.

To focus on grappling:
1. Fighting Style : Unarmed fighting gives you 1d8+STR damage. The catch is it's hard to make it magical damage (which most builds have by level 5-6). No other fighting style directly benefits Grappling; this gives 1d4 (but not 1d4+STR) damage vs. grappled creatures for free.

It is reasonable to ask how this intersects with the crusher feat: "when you hit a creature with an attack that does bludgeoning damage...". Does "when you hit" mean with an attack roll, or is doing bludgeoning damage enough? Talk to your DM, but probably not. I would not take Crusher as a result.

2. Rather than Prodigy, consider Skill Expert (TCOE), which gives you +1 str (or con or whatever) rather than a language and a tool, and still gives you double your proficiency bonus on grapple/escape attempts.

3. With these Tavern Brawler (+1 STR and bonus action to attempt grapple; still a good choice) and Grappler (advantage on attacks vs those being grappled; use action to restrain both you and opponent. "Restrained" means attack rolls vs have advantage, attacks from have diadvantage (whcih will cancel each other out from you at least; and disadv. vs. Dex saves).

4. Indeed, with TCOE's Custom Lineage, you can take Tavern Brawler or Skill Expert, and start with a STR 18 (using the default array or point-buy). Play an intelligent Orangutan.

5. Multiclassing choices:
a. One level of Barbarian gives you 2 minute-long rages/long rest, which gives you +2 to damage and advantage on checks which will help avoid escapes.

b. one level of Rogue gives you Expertise.

c. two levels of Rogue gives you Cunning Action, whi h gives you good flexibility through your bonus action.

d. three levels of Rogue lets you choose Skrimisher (which gives you a free half-move when you are grappling someone) or Mastermind (which lets you use your bonus action to Help an incoming attack.

So...

Yes on battlemaster x/barb 1. When grappling, ideal would be to (a) start with a high STR [Custom lineage is best for you, and lets you take Tavern Brawler; (b) Unartmed Fighting style gives you extra damage, but it's not magical' (c) Rogue 1 would give you expertise.

I might consider Battlemaster 5 (go to 20 STR with the ASI)/Barbarian 1/Rogue 2, for the first 8 levels.
 
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Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
As an alternate to Rogue 2 or 3 you have Bard 2 or 3, which gives you spellcasting too, if you can manage 13 Cha . Bard 3 gives expertise and Cutting Words which can give you an extra push on any grapple attempts.

Maybe Battlemaster isn't needed: Fighter 2, Bard 4, Barb 1?
 

emeraldbeacon

Explorer
The reason I like Crusher, in addition to being a half-feat, is that on a successful hit (and I do indeed intend to punch people when they're held), I can relocate an enemy by a single space. It might not seem like much, but with no saving throw against it, it can be a powerful tool against stubborn creatures. It essentially turns every melee attack into a shove attack as well. Perhaps not the strongest tool, as part of a strictly grapple-based loadout, but certainly useful.

I'm not really feeling Bard, especially because this character's purpose is to frontline the fight, holding down troublesome monsters for the DPR teammates to unload upon. I'd very much like to stick to the peak martial classes... probably a progression like starting as a Fighter, branching to Barbarian at 2, then 4 levels of fighter to get Battlemaster, the ASI and Extra Attack. Similarly, while Rogue is an interesting thought for that Expertise, Prodigy/Skill Expert takes care of that, in the one skill we need most.

I'm really not feeling Tavern Brawler. I'd trade away half of an ASI for, essentially, the ability to conditionally grapple as a bonus action. Since Unarmed Fighting is almost certainly already part of my build, the d4 strikes are irrelevant, and if I have powerful fists, I don't really care about using barstools, treasure chests, giant rocks, or kobolds as weapons.

That said, Skill Expert does seem like a better choice than Prodigy, and while I'm not super thrilled at playing a custom lineage, it does have its advantages (especially in getting STR to a ridiculous level at the very start of their career). Right now, it seems like the ideal level progression would be lv1 fighter, lv2 barbarian, then lv 3-6 fighter to get Battlemaster, the ASI, and Extra Attack. From there, either push Fighter hard to get tons of feats (Grappler, Mobile, Athlete, Mage Slayer, etc), or splash more Barbarian, possibly to unlock the Bear Totem super-resistance.

-----

A related question about grappling prone characters... doesn't that mean they're pretty much stuck on the ground, while you get all the benefits? Grappled means speed 0, and speed 0 means they can't stand up unless the grapple is broken... does that mean I can continue to unload on them, while they flail around on the ground in frustration?
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
I think we're reading the feats differently (which is fine).

Once someone is grappled, repositioning them is trivial, isn't it? Crusher reads as more helpful for a non-grapple build. On the other hand, what I see in Tavern Brawler is the ability to get an extra (bonus) action to initiate the grapple. You always want to have something to do with your bonus action if you can (hence the Rogue 2 rec.). Once you have an extra attack, you get to punch twice and if either hits, you get to roll for the grapple after that anyways (with advantage if you are raging, with expertise if you have Skill Expert). [As with crossbow expert, you might take the feat for only a single bullet point; here you also get the strength bump.]

As for your final question: I think there is some debate around this, but if you use your attack to knock them prone, and then a second attack (if you have Extra attack) or a bonus action (if you have Tavern Brawler) you can grapple them, and then yes, they are prone and you aren't (you're knelling on their back or whatever.) They then struggle to break the grapple.

Some would argue that if you are grappling someone you can fall prone yourself, and that would make the person you are grappling also prone. Yes, the disadvantage then cancels out with you, but your allies have advantage vs. the target. Not every DM would allow that, though.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
Tasha's includes some BattleMaster builds (Pugilist = Boxer) that may help you refine your thoughts.
For a separate mini-campaign I wanted an NPC who was all about unarmed strikes, wrestling, and hit-to-KO. The material in Tasha is helping with that.

Monk1 gets you Flurry of Blows, an extra opportunity or two to hit or grapple somebody. Also Unarmored Defense, for when you get caught with your armor doffed.
 

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