Player Advice: Grappling

I’ve got a player who’s playing a luchador-styled barbarian. He’s a beefy guy with an equally beefy personality, content to put any challenger into a headlock. Subtlety is not his style. Rules-wise, this has prompted some research into grappling mechanics and ways to build upon a character concept like this. So, for new or old players, here’s a short guide to grappling.

The Rock
Let’s get to it, boys and girls!

Grappling: the Basics

As per the PHB, page 195 has the basics on bringing the pain to your enemies. Pretty simple stuff – a contested check of Strength (Athletics) vs the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics). If the target rolls lower than you, you’ve got ’em.

So… now what? Here’s what the grappled condition states in Appendix A:

  • A grappled creature’s speed becomes 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed.
  • The condition ends if the grappler is incapacitated (see the condition),
  • The condition also ends if an effect removes the grappled creature from the reach of the grappler or grappling effect, such as when a creature is hurled away by the thunderwave spell.

So basically they’ve got a face wedged in your armpit, flailing around. You can drag them around with you, though you’re slowed to effectively half movement speed.

Notice what the grappled condition doesn’t do – restrain them. Even if somebody’s grappled, they can attack you or anyone within their reach. They’re just locked down in a specific position. Sometimes, this can make grappling a danger to you and your party, rather than a boon.

Like this, but with a goblin instead of John Cena


If your campaign allows feats, then a grappling character definitely becomes more viable. There are two feats from the PHB in particular that catch my interest.


Tailor-made for characters like this, a variant human probably will want to pick this up at the start of the game. It allows for additional benefits while grappling someone:

  • You have advantage on attack rolls against a creature you are grappling.
  • You can use your action to try to pin a creature grappled by you. To do so, make another grapple check. If you succeed, you and the creature are both restrained
    until the grapple ends.
  • Creatures that are one size larger than you don’t automatically succeed on checks to escape your grapple.

Everything you envision when you think grappling-based character comes from this feat. Pinning someone results in a much greater mechanical benefit: advantage to hit them, disadvantage on their own attacks, and disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws.

Admittedly, this comes at a price – you’re also restrained, and have all these penalties applied to you, but you’d still attack your victim normally because of the advantage garnered by the first ability. Plus, if your character’s tanky enough on their own, the benefits may greatly outweigh the penalties for such a maneuver.

For when you need to bring the pain…

Tavern Brawler

This feat isn’t so much of a necessity as the previous one, but it provides some fun flavor to your character. Tavern Brawler:

  • bumps your Constitution or Strength score up by 1 point
  • gives you proficiency with improvised weapons and unarmed strikes
  • gives said unarmed strikes a damage of 1d4 instead of 1 and,
  • allows you to attempt a grapple as a bonus action when you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or improvised weapon.

That last ability is interesting, but very conditional. It’s an opportunity to pull a Leo DiCaprio from The Departed – smash a bottle over a guy’s head and grab him for a ground & pound. The bonus action grapple looks dangerous on its own, but it requires you to spend an action dealing an unarmed strike. Unless you’re a monk, that’s not a whole lot of damage going on there. Plus, because it has to be on your turn, we’re not talking about a free opportunity attack used to grapple.

But even when not grappling, this gives your guy/gal some fun options the next time some punks give them trouble at their favorite local watering hole.

… only with a tavern stool

It’s also worth mentioning that in the section on Improvised Weapons, it specifically mentions a goblin corpse as an option. Now, mechanically speaking, I personally don’t see the difference between a goblin corpse and a living goblin when it comes to weapon proficiency. I’d rule it still would only deal 1d4+Str, but that damage is also inflicted on the goblin in hand. Talk to your GM about it – see how they feel. Slip ’em a bribe for good measure.

Additional Techniques:

So even at their basic level, grapplers can grab people, and keep them locked in one place. Optimized with feats, they can pin enemies down for a nice support to the party, score a couple of kidney shots on them, maybe even use a folding chair to bring the pain. What else?

Shove ’em Down

Similar to Grappling, the Shove attack is a special attack that can replace one of your usual attacks on your turn. Mechanically identical to a grapple check, the target is instead either dropped prone, or pushed 5 feet away from you (your choice).

Any battlefield with a cliff or chasm or river of lava is just begging for a good ol’ shove action. Just initiate a grapple, drag your baddie over to a precipice, and shove ’em off!

Plus, it’s just plain embarrassing.

Also, dropping a character prone while in melee is like a diet version of pinning them if you have a melee buddy within range. There’s nothing that explicitly says you have to end the grapple after shoving someone prone, though I personally would rule that if you chose to keep grappling them, then you’d also go prone.

Choke ’em Out

You can also pull a MMA or WWF-inspired chokehold on a character. Your GM might enforce additional conditions on this kind of a thing, but any attempt at a chokehold would surely require a grapple check.

Suffocation rules according to the SRD (and PHB Errata) say the following:

When a creature runs out of breath or is choking, it can survive for a number of rounds equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 round). At the start of its next turn, it drops to 0 hit points and is dying, and it can’t regain hit points or be stabilized until it can breathe again.

Real-life MMA chokeholds can put people under in a matter of seconds, and so I wouldn’t say this is too unrealisitic. It also gives a nice non-lethal option for when you want to bring criminals in to answer for their crimes, or you need to get a scrawny enemy out of the fight ASAP.

Have your bard play a lullaby in the background for extra effect.

Hopefully this gives players a better idea on how Grappling works in 5th Edition. Now you’ve got everything you need to build your own Hulk Hogan!

3 thoughts on “Player Advice: Grappling

  1. My question is is there a feat or spell that grants invisibility while fighting? I’d love to John Cena some halfling to the ground as he’s walking to his house in the middle of the night.


    1. I mean, “Invisibility” will dissipate once you engage a grapple, since it counts as an attack. “Greater Invisibility” (4th-level slot) is probably what you want.

      But keep in mind that invisibility is a specific condition, and isn’t the same as hiding. Check out the conditions on p 290 of the PHB.


      1. … I just realized that this is an involved John Cena joke. Some Nerd, you have my begrudging respect.


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