5E Grappling Guide | What is Grappling in D&D, How to Use It

5e grappling

In Dungeons & Dragons 5E, all characters have the opportunity to perform actions to give enemies conditions. These conditions are things that you think you could do in a fight; the most popular is the Shove maneuver, which pushes a creature away from you. Rather than just strictly dealing damage, these maneuvers might turn a fight in your favor when used correctly. The less popular of these two combat maneuvers is known as Grappling. Grappling isn’t common because many people don’t know what it does… And, unfortunately, sometimes it isn’t common because they do know what it does. Either way, check out our 5E Grappling guide for some advice on how to use this!

5E Grappling Guide

The Grapple maneuver is a special melee attack in D&D 5E. Any creature with at least one free hand may replace one of their melee attacks that they can make in a round with this. In addition, the target must be at maximum one size category larger than the target that’s attempting to grapple. The “Grappler” uses their Strength (Athletics) check, and the target may either use Athletics or Dexterity (Acrobatics).

If the grappler rolls better than their target, the target is Grappled. The Grappled condition reduces the target’s speed to 0… And that’s it, it just stops them from moving. The only other benefit of the Grapple is that the Grappler can move both itself and it’s target half speed while the grapple continues (full speed if they are two size categories larger!). In fact, the “Grappled” condition has more bullet points telling you how a Grapple ends than talking about what the condition does.

A creature can end a grapple on it by using an Athletics or Acrobatics contested by the grappler’s Athletics check. It also ends if the Grappler is K.O.’d, or if the Grappler is forced to step away from their target (like with Thunderwave).

How to Increase Your Chance to Grapple

A contested skill check is rare, and extremely powerful, for a few reasons. These are not considered saving throws, so anything that buffs saving throws does not help these checks. That means your Athletics Check is the main thing that matters!

You can improve your grapple chance in two ways; increasing Athletics, or nerfing the target’s ability checks. Increasing Athletics tends to be easier. Any way to gain Expertise in Athletics will be such a ridiculous boon to your chances (In this case, “Expertise” is any ability that doubles your ability modifier to Athletics). That makes Rogues and Bards surprisingly good Grapplers, if they really want to be. The Prodigy feat allows for Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, or Humans to double proficiency bonuses, but only if they don’t have Expertise already. 

Advantage on Athletics is also fantastic. That makes Barbarians a fantastic choice for grappling, as their Rage gives them advantage naturally. The Oath of Glory can get Athletics advantage for 10 whole minutes, allowing you to do awesome stuff with grappling. This part tends to be easier than getting Expertise, and will probably be “good enough.”

Otherwise, you’ll need to somehow give the target disadvantage on ability checks. This is usually due to a spell or a special ability; the spell Hex, for example, gives disadvantage to an ability check. If you know that a target prefers Athletics or Acrobatics, then you can really make it hard for them to escape a grapple by targeting it.

Grappling Feats

There are two major feats for grappling. 

Grappler gives you advantage against a creature you have grappled, and allows you to Pin. Pinning a target gives both you and the creature the Restrained condition. Restrained gives all creatures advantage to attack the creature (and the creature has disadvantage to attack) on top of the speed reduction to 0. In addition, the creature has disadvantage on Dexterity saves. This puts you in a compromising position, but it can really nullify a dangerous, weapon-based opponent. However, unless your DM agrees with many that pinning a creature to the ground makes it difficult to use Somatic components, the creature can still cast a spell to escape.

Tavern Brawler is not strictly grappling. It gives you a Strength or Constitution boost, proficiency in improvised weapons, and boosts your Unarmed Strike damage. Those are all such tiny buffs to not really matter. However, you may attempt to grapple a creature as a bonus action after hitting with an unarmed attack or improvised weapon. That can be pretty good! If your DM allows for ways for Improvised Weapons to become magical (such as a pair of gloves that give any improvised weapon a +1), then you can make this build work. Heck, some improvised weapons deal great damage! It’s just that crossing the Magical Weapon gap is so hard.

Is Grappling Ever Worth It?

In most cases? No. Grappling is an exceedingly rare maneuver for a reason. In order to use it, you must drop one of your weapons or a two-handed grip, reducing your damage potential. The debuff is pathetically weak, not even imposing disadvantage on attacks or anything. The Grappler feat makes it more impressive and makes a Rogue Grapple build enticing, but that’s a feat. And it’s not even that impressive then!

However, that’s not to say that nothing makes Grappling worth it. Grappling targets a skill check, which can be incredibly problematic if a creature doesn’t have Athletics or Acrobatics trained (many casters). It forces the caster to spend a spell to escape from you, which limits their opportunities to do other things… like blow up your entire party. It allows you to force a creature to reposition (slowly) towards your party or off a cliff.

And theoretically any class can be good at grappling! Well, if they have anything to buff up their Athletics. Extra attack is useful, too. If you want to deal damage with grappling, it’s recommended to have decent damage with a one-handed weapon and consider the Grappler feat for advantage on attack rolls.

If you really wanted to, you could become a Druid/Rogue Air Elemental who drags opponents through Spike Growth for 60d4 damage… but only if you really wanted to.

Conclusions – 5E Grappling Guide

Grapple is weak. It’s weaker than it was in D&D 3.5. That doesn’t mean it’s useless, if a character wants to make themselves a target briefly, or reposition an enemy. Unlike the older editions, you don’t need to focus on grappling to make grabbing someone and pulling them into your Barbarian effective. But, focusing on Grappling can lead to a ton of frustration if you fight larger creatures or those that are immune to your main gimmick. Try your best to find a middle ground between becoming a wrestling star and a normal adventurer.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.