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Ask the Kobold: the Definitive Grappling Answers and Design Notes

Art by Darren CalvertAttempting a grapple is a special attack that takes place of a regular attack. So, if you gain multiple attacks in a round, and you fail at your first grapple attempt, you can try again, etc. until you run out of attacks, right?

Does this mean I can convert any of my regular attacks to a grapple, regardless of sequence? For example, if I have three attacks (+15/+9/+3) and I attack a creature with my first attack, can I then declare my second attack as a grapple?
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If I successfully grapple, and I have attacks left, can I use them or does my turn end once I have successfully grappled? For example, if I have three attacks (+15/+9/+3) and I successfully grapple at my +15, can I then use my additional two attacks to produce grapple options like inflicting damage or pinning the opponent in the round in which I successfully grappled?

If I successfully grapple, deal damage, and decide not to finish the grapple by moving into the opponents square, and I have multiple attacks left, can I attempt a grapple with my next attack bonus, etc?

You conduct grappling combat in lieu of a melee attack. If you have multiple melee attacks available, you can make multiple grappling actions, and you can mix them up with other attacks, your equipment, position on the battlefield, and the rules for grappling permitting.

You can attempt to grapple anytime you could make a melee attack, even as an attack of opportunity. You make attacks of opportunity one at a time, however.

If you use the full attack action to make multiple melee attacks, you can make one grapple attempt per attack, using your attack bonus for that attack in your grapple check. This can give you quite an advantage.

When you grapple, you start with a grab, which is a melee touch attack that provokes an attack of opportunity. If the opportunity attack deals you damage, your grapple attempt fails. Here’s where having multiple attacks can give you a major advantage. When your first grapple attempt fails because you suffered damage from an attack of opportunity, you can just grab again with another melee attack (if you have one available).

When you’ve successfully grabbed someone you make an opposed grapple check as a free action to establish a hold. If you win the opposed check you deal unarmed strike damage. If you wish to maintain the grapple, you must move into the space the foe you’re grappling occupies. The movement is free (it’s not an action and doesn’t count as part of your movement for the round). If a foe threatens the space you leave to maintain a grapple, you provoke an attack of opportunity when you leave. The foe you’re grappling doesn’t threaten you.

As suggested above, you can choose not to maintain the grapple after you’ve grabbed and damaged a foe. When you so choose, you don’t move into your foe’s space. If you have more attacks available, you’re free to attack another foe, or even the foe you’ve released. The rules don’t say so, but I’ve always assumed you need two free hands to grapple. (At least to begin a grapple; I suppose you could use one hand at a penalty, say –2 or –4, or you can just assume one free hand is enough.) If you don’t have the Quick Draw feat, you’d need a move action to draw a weapon for another attack (if you have a base attack bonus of +1 or higher you can draw as part of a move action but you still need to use a move action). You might arrange to draw a weapon as a free action in some other way, such as having an ally hand you a weapon.

Once you’re involved in an established grapple (no matter who started the grapple), you can use extra melee attacks to do anything in a grapple that you can do instead of a melee attack, including: attack your opponent with a weapon, damage you opponent with an opposed grapple check, escape from a grapple, use the opponent’s weapon, pin an opponent, or escape from a pin. So, if you can make multiple melee attacks you can be a real bear in grappling combat, grabbing, holding, and pinning a foe all on one flurry of activity. Likewise, you could wiggle free from a hold or pin pretty quickly.

Design Notes: Combat and Complexity

The game has a great number of rules governing combat because combat can prove a complex business and characters tend to spend a great deal of time doing it. Basic combat—standing toe-to-toe with an enemy and trading blows to deal damage—is a straightforward affair. Things only get complex when players try to get fancy, by attempting to maneuver around, hide behind things, fight barehanded, or the like. The game includes rules governing these kinds of activities because of a design philosophy that favors setting the difficulty for an unusual action rather than prohibiting the action.

When something unusual happens, take a look at the combat rules and find a way to deal with it. The rules for opportunity attacks cover moving around and also doing something without a weapon when you face an armed foe.

Refer to the grapple rules when someone wants to snatch or grab something from someone else.

The rules for bull rushing or tripping cove pushing foes around the battlefield or knocking them off their feet.

Remember this pair of general rules and you’ll be right most of the time:

Leaving a square a foe threatens draws an attack of opportunity unless you’re making a 5-foot step or doing something else to keep from provoking (such as using the Tumble skill or the withdraw action).

Messing with an armed foe in any fashion without using a weapon yourself also draws an attack of opportunity.

Got a question for the kobold? Drop a line in comments and your question may be answered next!

4 Replies to "Ask the Kobold: the Definitive Grappling Answers and Design Notes"

Gabriel

May 20, 2009 at 9:04am

I’ve always been very curious how Grappling seems to be the most confusing thing for people. A set of rules all in one place with everything pretty clearly stated and that’s like the huge example of what was wrong with D&D 3.5.

Razz

May 20, 2009 at 8:54pm

My question with grappling has always been with the Pin action.

The Pinned state says the foe is held immobile for 1 round. What does that mean? Say I go, I pin the bugbear, now the bugbear is immobilized, meaning he can’t take any actions I assume, for 1 round. So, later in the round, when it’s the bugbear’s turn, does he receive no actions and has to wait until his next turn? Or is he only allowed to try and escape the pin each turn? If the former is true, does that mean as long as I successfully continue to pin a foe, that foe will constantly lose all their actions?

Jason

May 21, 2009 at 10:01am

The bugbear would only be allowed to attempt to escape the pin action on his round as his action or cast a spell/ability that requires no use of hands. (Unless you state your making them unable to speak as part of your pinning action.)

skip_williams

June 18, 2009 at 3:37pm

Raz: When you establish a pin, your foe suffers the pinned condition (held imobile) for one round. You must maintain the pin on the following rounds if you want to keep the foe pinned. You foe can try to escape on his next turn (the pinned condition being one from which you can escape).

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