Grapple 5e

The Grapple Action

When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.

The target of your grapple must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making a grapple check instead of an attack roll: a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). You succeed automatically if the target is incapacitated. If you succeed, you subject the target to the grappled condition. The condition specifies the things that end it, and you can release the target whenever you like (no action required).

Escaping a Grapple. A grappled creature can use its action to escape. To do so, it must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by your Strength (Athletics) check.

Moving a Grappled Creature. When you move, you can drag or carry the grappled creature with you, but your speed is halved unless the creature is two or more sizes smaller than you.

Player’s Handbook, page 195

The Grappled Condition

  • 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.

  • 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.

Player’s Handbook, page 290

Grappled 5e

Grappling is a popular tactic in hand-to-hand combat styles around the world. It’s especially effective for rooting an adversary in place while allies take advantage of the grappled person’s lack of mobility.

It’s no different in the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Grappling is okay on its own, but it only really shines as a brilliant tactic when you’ve got a party that’s well-optimized to take advantage of the status.

This article will cover:

  • How to grapple in 5e, both mechanically and tactically

  • How the grappled condition works

  • What the prone/grapple combination is and why it’s powerful

  • How to build a grapple-focused character

  • Rules clarifications on how grapples work

How to Grapple 5e

To grapple in 5e, you use the Attack action to make a special melee attack. This special attack is actually an ability check contest, not an attack roll.

The grappler makes an Athletics check, contested by the targets’ choice of an Athletics or Acrobatics check. If the grappler rolls higher than the target, the target now suffers from the grappled condition (explained below).

You need a free hand to attempt a grapple and can end a grapple at any time without using an action.

Escaping From Grapples

The grappled creature can attempt to escape a grapple by using an action to make an Athletics or Acrobatics check contested by the grappler’s Athletics check. If the grappled creature rolls higher than the target, they break free from the grapple.

A grapple also ends early if the grappler is forced more than 5 feet from the target or becomes incapacitated.

Moving While Grappling

A grappler can move at half speed while grappling, and the creature is dragged along with them. The grappler’s speed is not halved if the grappled creature is two or more sizes smaller than the grappler.

What Is The Grappled Condition in 5e?

The grappled condition causes a creature’s speed to become 0 and prevents it from gaining any bonus to its speed.

How Do You Escape Grapples in 5e?

To break free of grapples in 5e:

  • Use an action to break free. A creature must spend their entire action in order to make this ability check. It may not attack or cast a spell after breaking free, unless with a bonus action. It may move afterward, if it succeeds in the ability check to escape from the grapple.

  • Push or pull the grappler away. The simplest way to do this is with the Shove action. This is an especially good tactic for breaking free of grapples if you have the ability to Extra Attack. If you successfully shove the target away, you can follow up with an attack. And if you miss your first shove, you can try again.

    Other options for pushing grapplers away include spells and effects that push, like Thunderwave, or pull, like Thorn Whip. The Telekinetic feat is another good option.

  • Teleport. With spells like Misty Step or features like the Echo Knight Fighters’ ability to teleport work for automatically escaping from the grappled condition. (Because you’re out of the reach of the grappler at that point).

Grappled and Prone Combination

If you look at the grappled condition and think, “it doesn’t seem worth my action to attempt that,” you’re right. Grappling on its own is a very weak condition that only brings a creature’s speed to 0 and slows down the grappler’s movement.

However, the grappled condition becomes much more powerful when you pair it with the prone condition. Here’s the relevant part of what the prone condition does:

  • The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls.

  • An attack roll against the creature has advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature. Otherwise, the attack roll has disadvantage.

Player’s Handbook, page 292

Most importantly, a prone creature cannot stand if its speed is 0 (PHB 191). This effectively means that a prone creature who’s being grappled cannot stand up until they’ve broken free of the grapple.

You can shove a target prone and then grapple them, or grapple them first and then shove them prone. In neither case does the grappler themselves become prone (Sage Advice Compendium, pg. 12).

This is an incredibly powerful tactic for melee-heavy parties.

All melee characters in range of the prone/grappled creature will have advantage on their attacks. And the prone/grappled creature will have disadvantage on all of their attack rolls until they spend their action to break free of the grapple and stand up.

However, characters who rely on ranged attacks for damage will have disadvantage attacking the prone target. That means this isn’t always a great tactic, depending on your party composition and the situation.

dungeons & dragons mini fight

How to Use Grapple in 5e

Here are a few ways to use grapples to your advantage in Dungeons and Dragons:

  • Pair with the prone condition (in melee-heavy groups). Advantage on all attack rolls is a massive force multiplier that is definitely worth the cost of your action, especially on characters that have the Extra Attack feature.

  • Prevent multi-attacks. Another reason why grapple is so powerful is that it can effectively nullify the multiattack ability that enemy creatures have (distinct from PC’s Extra Attack). If an enemy attempts to break free of the grapple, that’s their action for the turn.

    Even if they successfully shove their grappler away (as a player with Extra Attack could), that’s all they can do with their turn — multiattack is no longer a possible action they can take.

  • Drag and/or hold creatures in continuous damaging effects. Things like Spirit Guardians, Spike Growth (around the perimeter), Cloud of Daggers, Create Bonfire, Moonbeam — you get the idea.

    If there’s a source of damage that deals damage at the start/end of a creature’s turn, use grapple to make darn sure that they’re standing in that space for as long as possible.

  • Protect your back line. DnD offers very few ways to reliably “tank” in the traditional sense of forcing enemies to attack you. However, if an enemy’s movement speed is brought to 0 and you’re the only one in reach, that’s a pretty effective “soft taunt.”

    Basically, the enemy has to decide between wasting their entire action trying to get free (attacking nobody this turn) or attempting to attack the grappler (which is probably what you want).

  • Get around high CR monsters’ Legendary Resistance. Many of the god-level monsters in the Monster’s Manual and other 5e creature sourcebooks have Legendary Resistance — the ability to shake off a failed saving throw and replace it with a success.

    Grapples and shoves aren’t saving throw-based attacks or attack rolls. So unless these powerful creatures are also immune to the grappled condition or have a big size advantage, they have no special trick up their sleeve for avoiding/escaping you.

  • Take advantage of Athletics modifiers scaling faster than creature Athletics/Acrobatics modifiers. Monsters in DnD rarely have proficiency in these skills. And even the creatures who do won’t be as fully-optimized for grappling contests as a well-planned character.

    What’s more, there are very few things a creature can do to boost these skills. While enemy saving throws and AC will naturally scale alongside average party level, Athletics/Acrobatics does not. That means grappling becomes even more potent in the mid-late game.

  • Prevent movement- or direction-based abilities. Some creatures have charge-like abilities that are more powerful if the aggressor moves before attacking — grapple takes that option away from enemies. Likewise, cone- and line-shaped attacks rely on enemy movement to optimally set up — again, grapple prevents this.

    Of course, the grappler is still in danger. But since grapple-focused characters are usually tanks, it’s fine if they’re the only ones that the big-bad is able to focus their mighty attacks on. Meanwhile, the party’s damage-dealers can get into whatever position works best for them.

  • Grapple flying creatures. Fall damage is 1d6 per 10 feet, and the creature lands prone at the end (PHB 183). Sure, you’ll also take damage and fall prone as the grappler, but it can be worth it in certain situations. Note that this only works if the flying creature doesn’t have the ability to hover or isn’t being held aloft by magic.

  • Attacking a grappled creature does not risk injury to the grappler. Many players wonder if attacking two grappled creatures means that you might accidentally hit the wrong one — it doesn’t. You choose who to attack. If you hit, you hit. If you miss, you miss. Grapple does not change the normal course of play here.

  • Get boosts to your ability checks. Pre-casting spells like Guidance or Enhance Ability (advantage on Strength checks) can make your grapples much, much harder to deal with.

    Using the “enlarge” aspect of the Enlarge/Reduce spell is especially good, giving you advantage on Strength checks and allowing you to grapple creatures of one size larger than you normally can, as well as move smaller creatures without a penalty to your movement speed.

  • Hex the target before grappling. Give the enemy disadvantage on their Strength checks — same idea as boosting yourself. These two ideas can stack together for a truly dominant combination.

How to Make a Grappling Character in 5e

We’ve covered the tactics of grappling, but what about the strategy? If you’re trying to build a character that specializes in grappling, here are some tips for getting started:

  • Get the Skill Expert feat (TCoE 80). +1 ASI (for Strength), proficiency (in Athletics), and expertise (in Athletics) for double proficiency bonus. This is literally a must-have feat if you’re building a grappler who doesn’t want to multiclass dip into Rogue or Bard.

  • Be proficient in Athletics. The simplest, best-scaling way to give yourself better grappling ability.

  • Max out Strength. Getting a base of +5 Strength isn’t as important as proficiency in Athletics, but it is the only way to be a completely optimal grappler.

  • Extra attack. The grapple/prone combination is much more powerful when one character can accomplish it by themselves in one turn. With Extra Attack, that’s very doable. And it also makes it less painful if you miss one part of the combo — at least you didn’t waste your turn completely.

  • Unarmed Fighting style. The ability to deal 1d4 bludgeoning damage to a creature you’re grappling with for free at the start of each of your turns is a nice little bonus. However, it’s not good enough to warrant going for the Fighting Initiate feat (TCoE 80), in my opinion. If you’re a Fighter, though, it’s worth picking up.

  • Skip the Grappler feat. While the Grappler feat seems like an obvious choice for a grapple-focused character, it’s one of the worst feats in the game and should be avoided by everyone everywhere.

    If you’re asking, “why is advantage against creatures you’re grappling bad?” the answer is that it isn’t — it’s just that you’ll be knocking them prone anyway, so you already have advantage against creatures you’re grappling if all goes according to plan.

  • Talk to your party. Ideally, you’re running with a melee-heavy party to begin with, and this is a discussion you have during session 0. But even with a balanced group, your grappling character dream can still work.

    Just communicate to your party’s casters that they’ll be better served by saving throw-based spells rather than ranged spell attacks. Players who want to use ranged weapons are in a tougher situation, but they can still attack creatures that aren’t knocked prone.

    If you’re running with a ranged/caster-heavy group, it’s probably best to save this particular character build for another campaign.

Best Classes for Grapple Builds

  • Barbarian. Rage, Barbarians signature feature, gives advantage on Strength checks (including Athletics). High hit points, solid defense, and subclasses that support tanky playstyles like Ancestral Guardian or Totem Warrior all work to support an ideal grappling character.

  • Fighter. Fighters can Extra Attack more than any other class, reaching three attacks per turn at 11th-level. This all but guarantees a successful grapple/prone combination in your first turn of combat.

    Plus, it’s basically free to pick up the Unarmed Fighting style and get a bit of extra damage to your grapple target each round.

5e Grapple Rules

Here are a few rules clarifications on how grapples work in DnD 5e:

  • You can still attack while grappled. “The grapple condition limits movement, not attacks, spellcasting, and the like” (SAC 11).

  • You don’t get advantage on grappled creatures. The grappled condition itself applies no advantages or disadvantages. The prone condition does that.

  • A grapple is not an attack roll; it is an ability check. This means that something like Dodge doesn’t help against grapple attempts, but something like Hex or Enhance Ability does (SAC 9).

  • You cannot grapple as an opportunity attack. Opportunity attacks are “special reactions” — grappling requires the Attack action (SAC 11). However, you can still use the Ready action to prepare for a grapple if someone attempts to run out of your reach on their turn.

  • Dropping prone while grappling doesn’t cause the grappled creature to become prone. Nor does shoving a creature prone you’re grappling with cause you, the grappler, to fall prone (SAC 12).

  • A flying creature that is grappled falls unless it can hover. So something like a Giant Bat falls if grappled, while a Demilich would remain in place, hovering, while grappled. Sage Advice confirmation.

  • A tie on the contest for a grapple attempt results in the target not being grappled. A grapple is an ability check contest. “If a contest results in a tie, the situation remains the same as it was before the contest” (PHB 174).

    Since the target wasn’t grappled before the contest, it remains not grappled if the contest is a tie.

  • A tie on the contest for a grapple escape results in the target remaining grappled. For the same reason as the above ruling. Before the contest, the would-be escapee is grappled. If they tie their contest to escape from the grappler, the situation remains the same, meaning they remain grappled.

  • Grapple rules for monsters. When a monster hits with an ability that has a rider effect of grappling a target, it doesn’t need to make a separate ability check contest to see if the grapple succeeds, unless the attack says otherwise (Monster Manual, pg. 11).

    The DC for these contests should be in the creature’s stat block. If they aren’t, use 10 + the monster’s Athletics modifier.

  • All creatures can grapple, but not as part of their Multiattack ability. Multiattack is different than a player’s Extra Attack. A creature either uses their Multiattack or makes a grapple attempt; not both.

    This also goes for attempts to escape from grapples by shoving the grappler. Even if the monster succeeds, they used their action on the Shove action, and can therefore no longer take the Multiattack action.

  • Even hand-less creatures can grapple. The Sage Advice Compendium cleared up this common rules question:

    “A DM can easily adapt the rule for a handless creature has a bite or an appendage, such as a tentacle, that could reasonably seize someone. A wolf, for example, could plausibly try to seize a person with its bite, and the animal wouldn’t be able to use its bite attack as long as it held onto a person” (SAC 11).

Creatures and Grappling in 5e

Many common creatures in the Monster Manual and other 5e sourcebooks have attacks and abilities that grapple the target if they hit. Here are a few common culprits:

  • Ankheg

  • Mimic

  • Mind Flayer

  • Vampire Spawn

  • Water Elemental

  • Grell

And here are a few common beasts that can grapple as part of their attacks. This is especially handy for Moon Druids who want to Wild Shape into a beast to fulfill the short-term role as the party’s grappler:

  • Constrictor Snake

  • Crocodile

  • Octopus

  • Giant Crab

  • Giant Scorpion

  • Giant Toad