Grapple 5e

Published on June 1, 2023, Last modified on August 14th, 2023

Master the art of grappling in D&D 5e and set your opponents up for a TKO!

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The Art of the Grapple 5e

Martials may look at casters and be jealous of their wide variety of battlefield control option that casters possess. They can meld earth, throw up walls of fire, and even hypnotize large swathes of enemies. While martials focus more on dishing out damage with a weapon, there are special actions they can use to swing the odds of combat in their favor.

Grappling is an often-overlooked method for martial characters to control the battlefield. Instead of swinging their weapon and doing damage, they instead get to restrict a targets movement. While this may not seem like the best way to end a fight, it can certainly be of use when strategically timed.

What is Grappling in D&D 5e?

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that there are two specific things you need to know about grappling in D&D 5e. There is the grapple action and the grappled condition.

The Grapple Action in D&D 5e

The grapple action is a special action creatures can take in combat, like the shove action. In the case of these special actions, your character can forgo one of their attacks to make a grapple check against their opponent. To successfully execute a grapple in D&D 5e, you needs to adhere to the following rules:

  1. The target must be no more than one size larger than you: Your character can’t grapple an opponent that is more than one size category larger. That means a Medium-sized character can grapple up to a Large-sized creature, but anything larger is off-limits.
  2. You need to have at least one free hand: To grapple, you must have a hand free. You can’t successfully grapple a creature if your hands are occupied.
  3. Make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check: The success of your grapple attempt is determined by an opposed check. You, as the grappler, use your Athletics skill, while the target can choose to resist using either Athletics or Acrobatics, whichever is higher.

If you succeed, the target is considered grappled, which we discuss below.

The Grappled Condition in D&D 5e

The Basic Rules has this to say about the grappled condition:

Grappled

  • 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.

Basic Rules – Appendix A: Conditions

All in all, being grappled isn’t a huge deal in D&D 5e. You can still attack normally, other creatures don’t have advantage on attacks against you, and you aren’t incapacitated in any way. Really, the only thing is you can’t move from your current position.

That said, while not being able to move may not seem like a dire situation, it can be made more dangerous using some tactics that we discuss in the next section.

Grappling Tips

The power of a grapple lies in its ability to limit opponents’ movement and set them up for follow-on attacks. However, it’s not just about brute strength; it’s also about strategic application. Here are some tips for using grappling effectively in D&D 5e:

Use Extra Attacks

Grappling only uses one attack if you gain access to multiple attacks via the Extra Attack class feature. This can allow you to attempt to grapple an enemy using your first attack and continue to attack them normally once you’ve succeeded with subsequent attacks.

Grapple Prone Creatures

Grappling an enemy allows you to manipulate their positioning on the battlefield, thereby setting up tactical opportunities for your allies. The most useful (and thereby common) application for this is grappling a prone creature. Seeing as a grappled creatures movement is reduced to 0, they won’t be able to stand up. This allows you and your party to lay the beatdown on your grappled enemy.

A Strength-focused build like a fighter or barbarian can easily shove a creature to the ground and grapple them in the same turn once they hit 5th-level and gain access to extra attacks.

Enlarge Your Size

Using the enlarge/reduce spell or a different class feature (like the Rune Knight’s Giant’s Might) can allow your character to grapple larger creatures. Is that adult dragon trying to fly off? Increase your size and grapple it to ensure it can’t escape!

Creating a Grappler Build in D&D 5e

When it comes to building a character proficient in bringing enemies to the mat, you’ll want to prioritize Strength and Constitution for the necessary durability and power. Fighters, barbarians, and even paladin are excellent choices for grapple-based characters due to their high hit dice, Strength-based focus, and proficiencies in Athletics. Here are some aspects to consider:

Best Races for Grappling

Certain races have inherent Strength bonuses and other racial traits that can be beneficial for a grappling build:

Standard

  • Mountain Dwarf: +2 Strength and +2 Constitution are a great base for a grappler build.
  • Half-Orc: +2 Strength and +1 Constituation aren’t quite as good as the mountain dwarf, but you get access to increased damage on a critical hit. You can make good use of this because of the advantage on attacks you get if you grapple a prone creature or pick up the Grappler feat to restrain your foes.
  • Variant Human: It might seem boring, but this can get you access to Strength and Constitution right off the bat, as well as a beneficial feat like the ones discussed below.

Non-Standard

  • Aarakocra: If you get your Strength score to 20, you’d be able to carry a 300lb creature. This would allow you to grapple a creature, pick them up off the ground (at half speed) and drop them from on-high. Pretty gnarly stuff.
  • Duerger: Being a Medium-sized creature that can cast enlarge/reduce without expending a spell slot is an awesome start to a grapple build and can combine well with the Rune Knight’s abilities to further increase your size.
  • Goliath: Powerful build allows you to carry creatures twice your normally carrying capacity. If you enlarge yourself, you’d be able to grapple and carry some big creatures.
  • Owlin: Same as the Aarakocra because of their fly speed and medium size.
  • Simic Hybrid: The Grappling Appendages feature allows you to grapple multiple creatures. This race also gives you +2 Constitution off the start, which is nice.
  • Thri-Kreen: The Thri-Kreen’s Secondary Arms feature allows you to grapple a creature in one hand, wield a shield in the other, and dual wield light weapons when you want to get up close and stabby.

Best Classes and Subclasses for Grappling

Any Strength-based class will make a decent grappler but if you want to center your build around this special action, take a look at the options below:

  • The Battle Master fighter can be particularly effective at grappling as it provides maneuvers like Trip Attack which can be used in conjunction with grapple.
  • Rune Knight fighters can increase their size with the Giant’s Might feature, allowing them to grapple larger creatures and gain advantage on Strength checks.
  • Barbarians, with their Rage feature providing advantage on Strength checks, are naturally adept at grappling. The barbarian’s Battlerager subclass can also enhance their grappling prowess by giving them additional damage to creatures they are grappling.

Best Feats for Grapple Builds

There are a number of feats that can provide substantial bonuses to your grappling capabilities:

  • Tavern Brawler increases your Strength or Constitution score, gives you proficiency with improvised weapons, and allows you to attempt to grapple a creature with a bonus action after you hit them with an unarmed strike or improvised weapon.
  • Grappler allows you to pin opponents, restraining them and making them easier to hit.
  • Fighting Initiate allows you to pick up Unarmed Fighting, which provides extra damage to grappled creature and increases your unarmed strikes’ effectiveness.

Equipment for Grapplers

Always remember to keep a hand free to initiate a grapple. But, seeing as you can stow a weapon as a free action, you don’t need to worry too much. Also, certain magical items like Gauntlets of Ogre Power or a Belt of Giant Strength can provide valuable boosts to your Strength score.

Best Skills for Grappling

This is an obvious one, but make sure to prioritize Athletics, as it’s the key skill used when attempting to grapple. You could even dip into the rogue class or grab the Skill Expert feat to get an expertise in the skill which doubles your proficiency bonus.

Escaping Grapples in 5e

If you find yourself on the wrong side of a grapple, there are a couple ways you can escape unscathed:

  • Escape using a contested check: If you think you can outmaneuver your opponent, you can attempt to escape by using your action and making a contested Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check against your grappler’s Strength (Athletics).
  • Teleport out: For the small cost of a bonus action and a 2nd-level spell slot, you can easily misty step out of a grapple.
  • Blast your opponent away: Using a spell like thunderwave forcibly moves your opponent, thereby breaking their hold on you.
  • Incapacitate your opponent: Your opponent won’t be much of a grappler if they’re unconscious! There are plenty of ways to incapacitate foes, ranging from the sleep spell to a monk’s Stunning Strike!

Grapple With Your Decision

Grappling in 5e, though seemingly a simple mechanic, adds a layer of depth to combat encounters in D&D. It can be a gamechanger when utilized correctly, turning the tide of a battle and providing strategic opportunities for the entire party. So, next time you find yourself in the heat of battle, don’t hesitate to grab your opponent, take them to the mat, and lay the old ground and pound into them!

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. He is a Mithral best-selling author of Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery on DMs Guild and is a contributing author at D&D Beyond. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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