Table of Contents:
Everything You Need To Know About Grappling in 5e
Grappling is easy in D&D 5e! No incomprehensible grappling charts, no feat trees to make it work. If you want to put a wizard in a headlock you can just go ahead and do it. But how exactly does it work? What are the best ways to do it? Stay in that headlock for just a minute while we explain everything you need to know.
So What’s Grappling?
Grappling is a game mechanic that essentially means grabbing a dude. It’s a catchall that covers every form of wrestling, head-locking, or general bullying you can think of. You use your great muscled frame to overpower your opponent and make them say, uncle. Once you’ve grabbed your target, you can knock them down and make them hurt, or even drag them somewhere nasty, like off a cliff.
How Do I Grapple?
5e is SO much simpler than a lot of other editions and systems, but here’s the rundown:
Whenever you make a melee attack, you can choose to try and grapple a dude instead.
Note that that’s a single attack, not the attack action. So, if you get multiple attacks (extra attack and so on) you can swap any of those for grapple attempts and make normal attacks with the rest.
To attempt grappling somebody, make a Strength (Athletics) check.
The guy you attempt to grapple gets to try and avoid your sick wrestling prowess. They get to make their own Strength (Athletics) check to out-muscle you, or they can try and get out of your way with a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If their check is higher, they aren’t grappled, and nothing happens. If your check is higher, congrats, you’ve successfully grappled your foe.
What Does Being Grappled Mean?
“Grappled” is a condition in 5e, and fundamentally it’s EXTREMELY SIMPLE:
A grappled creature's speed becomes 0, and it can't benefit from any bonus to its speed.
There are other rules in the condition that relate to weird situations that end it, but this is all that matters. It doesn’t look like a whole lot, right? It just locks a target in place, boring right? BUT it has some pretty amazing uses that aren’t instantly intuitive.
What Can’t I do While Grappling Somebody?
You can do pretty much anything you’d normally be able to do while grappling, with just a couple limitations:
Grappling takes a free hand, so... You can’t do anything else with that hand.
Basically, you can make all the one-handed attacks that you feel like, but it’s pretty hard to swing that massive glaive with a dude on one arm.
You can only move at half speed, but the other guy is coming with!
You move at half speed while grappling, but you can drag and shove the other guy along with you. For most races, this means you’re only moving 15 feet, but that can be all you need. You can also stop grappling somebody at any time (no action required), so you can totally drag somebody over to a cliff and toss them off! Muahaha...
But that’s all! You can still cast spells, make attacks, and do absolutely everything else you normally would just like you’d normally do it (just now you’re lugging somebody around with you).
I’ve Been Grappled, Now What?
Escaping a grapple isn’t super complicated, and there’s a few ways to go about it, starting with just straight up attempting to escape:
While grappled, you can use your action to try escaping. Make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, and the guy grappling you makes a Strength (Athletics) check to try and hold on. If your check is higher, you escape! If their check is higher, nothing happens, and you’re still grappled.
This way can be difficult if you’re a scrawny wizard and the great big orc grappling you is swole. It also has a very serious downside of taking your WHOLE ACTION. This means that while grappling only replaces an attack, escaping can essentially take a whole turn.
Another method for escaping a grapple is to magically force your grappler away from you. Part of the grappled condition says that “the condition also ends if an effect removes the grappled creature from the reach of the grappler or grappling effect”. So, if you are in fact a scrawny wizard caught in a grapple, it’s often way easier to cast something that just moves the grappler or yourself away.
Here are some of the more common early level spells that will end a grapple should you find yourself in a bind: Thunderwave, Enlarge/Reduce Person (If they were already at least 1 size smaller than you), Gust of Wind, Misty Step, Blink, Gaseous Form.
Finally, you don’t need to escape a grapple if your grappler is dead! You’re automatically released from a grapple if your grappler if they become incapacitated, such as from dying. If you’re caught in a grapple often the best course of action is to keep attacking the grappler until they die. While you’re grappled, you don’t have any limitations on your attacks or spells, just your movement, so swing away until you can get away!
Do I Need the Grappler Feat?
NOPE! The grappler feat is bad, it was badly designed, and you can completely ignore it. It seems ok at first glance, but it really just lets you do things you could already do by shoving.
The Glory of Shove Attacks!
Shove and grapple work so well together that I almost wish they had combined the abilities. It’s not intuitive, but if you want to succeed as a grappler, you’re going to be making a lot of shove attacks.
A shove attack can replace one of your melee attacks just like a grapple attempt can:
Whenever you make a melee attack, you can try to shove them instead.
- (You can’t shove somebody 2 or more size categories larger than yourself.)
Note again that this only takes a single attack, not an entire attack action. This means that you could easily grapple and shove in the same turn (assuming you have at least 2 attacks).
To attempt shoving somebody, make a Strength (Athletics) check.
The guy you attempt to shove gets to try and avoid your blatant bullying. They get to make their own Strength (Athletics) check to shrug off the shove, or they can try and duck and weave away with a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If their check is higher, they aren’t shoved, and nothing happens. If your check is higher you have two choices, you can either:
- Push the target 5 feet directly away from you.
- Knock the target prone.
It’s the second one there that we want PRONE. Prone is actually a really nasty condition that inflicts the following:
- Prone creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls.
- An attack roll against a prone creature has an advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature. Otherwise, the attack roll has a disadvantage.
Normally a prone will use half of their movement to stand up at their first opportunity. But what if they can’t move, like if for example, somebody was grappling them...
Grappled AND Prone
This is the situation you’re working towards if you’re playing a grappling focused character. A creature that is both grappled and prone is in serious trouble, and likely not long for this world.
Here’s all the trouble currently befalling a sad creature who’s both grappled and prone:
- All your attacks are at a disadvantage.
- The dude on top of you has an advantage in all their attacks against you.
- You can’t move.
- Because you can’t move, you can’t stand up and end the prone condition.
- You can’t move, so you can’t take the dodge action.
- You can’t move, so you can’t take the withdraw action.
- The dude on top of you is really strong and you can’t beat his Strength (Athletics) check.
With just two attacks available, a good grappler can run in and get a target prone and grappled all in the same turn. Now let’s look at YOUR glorious situation once you’ve grappled and knocked your target prone:
- All your attacks against your target have an advantage.
- The dude you’re grappling has a disadvantage on all their attacks.
- You can move (at half speed) and drop your target off a cliff or into a campfire if there’s one handy.
- You’re really strong and your target is likely going to waste his turns struggling and trying to escape (and failing).
Building a Grappler
There are a few things you really want for a successful grappler and quite a few ways to go about getting them. In general, though, you’re going to want to be STRONG, gain advantage on strength checks, and get as many attacks as possible.
Pretty simple, you’re going to want to pick a race with a +2 bonus to Strength. Goliaths, mountain dwarves, and humans are your best bets for this. Goliaths also get double carrying capacity, meaning it’s much easier to lug your opponents around, mountain dwarves gain a slew of great abilities (though the low movement speed hurts), and humans get that sweet bonus feat for further combat prowess.
Advantage on Strength Checks
The two best ways to do this are either be a barbarian (rage gives you free advantage on Strength checks) or gain access to the spell enlarge person. Dipping into the magical arts may not seem very grapple-ish, but enlarge person gives you advantage AND lets you grapple far larger foes. Many of the martial class archetypes dip into the arcane and it can be worth doing for a dedicated grappler. If nothing else there’s always multiclassing.
ALL THE ATTACKS
Bare minimum, you’re going to need a class that gets at least one extra attack, which is practically all the martial ones. However, more attacks are better, and fighter is probably going to be your best bet. That sweet extra bonus attack for fighters and all the extra feats make the fighter class one of the best options for a dedicated grappler.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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