Grappling is one of the things martial characters can do in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition really well that doesn’t involve making an attack roll. It’s useful in situations where attacking isn’t optimal or even possible.
The problem is the rules can be a bit confusing for beginners.
This post covers everything a starting D&D 5e player or Dungeon Master needs to know about grappling in 5e.
Let’s start things off at the beginning; what is grappling in D&D 5e?
D&D’s Grappling Rules
Grappling is a special attack you can do in D&D 5e. It lets you forego dealing damage in favor of holding an enemy in place.
The rules for grappling in 5e essentially outline how to make a special melee attack. You may only target a creature that is up to one size larger than you. While grappling is a special melee attack, you don’t make an attack roll. Instead, you force an Ability Check contest between your Strength (Athletics) and the target creatures Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).
Of course, that’s the most basic breakdown of how grappling works in 5e. There are some other intricacies which we’ll get to later in this article. Luckily, when you strip everything down to it’s core, grappling has six basic rules:
- You need a free hand to attempt a grapple
- It takes the place of an attack, so you choose to grapple with your Attack action
- It counts as an attack for the sake of spells and other features
- You can’t grapple a creature bigger than one size larger than you
- You roll contested ability checks instead of aiming for a target Armor Class (AC)
- Escaping a grapple uses up an action and requires another contested roll
Page 195 of the Player’s Handbook explains the rules for grappling in 5e:
That’s the simplified version of 5e’s grappling rules.
But, let’s break each of these down a bit more to clarify any confusion.
- You Need a Free Hand
- To grapple a creature in 5e, you need a free hand. Makes sense since you need something to grab another creature with. So, if you’re dual wielding or using a two-handed weapon, you’ll have to stow or drop your weapon in order to free up a hand or two.
- Grappling is a Type of Melee Attack
- When you take the Attack action, you can instead opt to attempt a grapple on your target. This means you don’t make an attack roll against your target’s AC. And, you won’t deal damage with the attack.
- Grappling Counts as an Attack
- Since you use the Attack action to attempt a grapple, grappling in 5e still counts as an attack. This means and spells or features that trigger when a creature makes an attack activate on an attempted grapple.
- You Can’t Grapple Creatures Bigger Than One Size Larger
- This one’s a bit weird in it’s wording. The best way to explain this is with an example. Say you have a medium creature. That creature could attempt a grapple against tiny, small, medium, and large creatures according to D&D 5e’s size categories. But, they couldn’t grapple huge or gargantuan-sized creatures.
- You Roll Contested Ability Checks
- Instead of rolling against a target AC, you and your target rolls opposing ability checks to see if you succeed in your grapple. If you roll higher, your character grapples your target.
- Escaping a Grapple Requires an Action
- If you’ve succeeded on a grapple, the grappled creature can use an action on its turn in an attempt to escape. This triggers another contested ability check by you and the grappled creature.
The Grappled Condition
"Grappled" is one of D&D 5e’s many conditions. It results from a creature grappling another.
Basically, if you succeed on a grapple check, your target succumbs to the Grappled condition.
The grappled condition has a few elements to it. But, you’re really only gonna care about the first one.
Page 290 of the Player’s Handbook explains the grappled condition:
Honestly, the last two points matter since you’ll need to know what ends a grapple. But, the first bullet point is the main part of the grappled condition; a grappled creature has their speed reduced to zero.
That’s the real reason you’ll grapple anything.
Now that we’ve covered what grappling is in 5e and the grappled condition, let’s move onto how you do it.
How to Grapple in 5e
Attempting a grapple means rolling opposing ability checks. The creature attempting the grapple rolls a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).
It’s honestly as simple as that.
When you’re attempting a grapple, you follow these five steps:
- Declare you’re grappling instead of making a normal attack
- Roll a Strength (Athletics) check adding any modifiers or bonuses you may have
- Your target rolls a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check
- Compare the two rolls; if your roll is higher, your character grapples their target
- The grappled creature then falls under the Grappled condition
But, now that you’ve grappled a creature…what next?
Well, let’s take a look at what you can do while grappling in 5e.
What You Can Do While Grappling
You can actually do quite a lot while grappling. I think a lot of players (and DMs) think grappling a creature restricts actions. But, that’s not the case.
While it’s true you need a free hand to grapple a creature, it doesn’t actually restrict the types of actions you have.
Despite using one free hand, you can do the following while grappling in 5e:
- Move at half speed
- Cast a spell
- Anything else, honestly
Let’s start with looking at how grappling affects movement.
Moving While Grappling
If you’re grappling a creature, you can still move. But, if you’re grappled by a creature, then you can’t move.
Honestly, this is probably where a lot of the confusion involving movement and grappling comes from.
Yes, while grappled, your movement speed drops to zero. That’s basically the main reason you’d grapple anything.
But, if you’re the one grappling, you can still move with the caveat that you usually only move at half your total movement speed. For example, if a human player character grappled a bog-standard bandit, they could still move 15 feet on their turn since their max speed is 30 feet.
Now, the movement restriction doesn’t apply if the creature you’re grappling is two or more sizes smaller than you. So, if a human (size Medium) grapples a pixie (size Tiny), they move normally while dragging the pixie along.
The fun thing is moving while grappling a creature drags that creature along with you. Great for moving enemies away from allies (or dropping them off a cliff).
I think it’s the semantics that cause confusion. But, just remember this; if you’ve initiated the grapple, you can still move. But, if a creature grapples you, you can’t move.
Attacking While Grappling
You can still attack while grappling a creature.
Since grappling requires only one free hand, you can still make attack rolls in D&D 5e.
Even better, there aren’t any drawbacks to making an attack while grappling or while subject to the Grappled condition.
That’s right; you can still attack even while another creature grapples you.. There’s no disadvantage or anything.
Now, the flipside of that is you don’t get advantage just for grappling another creature. So, even though you have a creature effectively held in-place, you don’t get any other bonuses to your attacks just from grappling.
Casting a Spell While Grappling
You can still cast a spell while grappling a creature in 5e.
Much like making an attack while grappling, so long as you have one free hand, you can cast a spell while grappling or affected by the Grappled condition. Some spells require the Somatic component which basically means you need to use a hand to cast them. So, as long as you have a single hand available, grappling doesn’t stop you from casting any of these spells.
Page 203 of the Player’s Handbook explains the somatic component:
It’s as simple as that, really. On its own, grappling doesn’t restrict your ability to cast spells.
Everything Else While Grappling
Then, there’s the rest.
Honestly, grappling doesn’t restrict actions in D&D 5e as much as it seems like it might.
You can still pick up an object, interact with a lever, wave over an ally, and pretty much anything else that requires one hand. Which might seem like a disappointment to some.
But, remember the main reason you want to grapple; to stop a creature from moving.
The Benefits of Grappling in 5e (ie, Is Grappling Good in 5e?)
The biggest benefit of grappling in 5e is that you effectively stop an enemy in their tracks. This is what makes grappling a good tactic.
Grappling is great for controlling enemy movement. While you can usually only grapple one creature at a time and still attack, holding an enemy creature in one space is great for letting your allies move around the battlefield.
The Grappler Feat
The Grappler feat is great for adding a bit more oomph to grappling in 5e. It grants two benefits; gives advantage on attacks against the creature you’re grappling and adding an option to pin a grappled creature.
This is the only feat in D&D 5e in the Open Gaming License. Which means I can show you exactly what it does. So, page 167 of the Player’s Handbook has the rules for the Grappler feat:
The first part is pretty self-explanatory. While grappling a creature, you have advantage on your attacks against that creature. Pretty good for giving you a bit of an edge in combat.
The second part is a bit funky. Basically, if you’ve already succeeded in grappling a creature, you can make an attempt at restraining the grappled creature with another contested roll. While grappling counts as a special attack meaning you can use it in place of attacking normally, you must use your action for this second check. Succeeding means you and the grappled creature both succumb to the Restrained condition.
Basically, the Restrained condition does four things:
- A restrained creature’s speed becomes zero
- Attack rolls against a restrained creature have advantage
- A restrained creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage
- A restrained creature has disadvantage on Dexterity Saving Throws
Honestly? You might want to skip the restraining bit. Which isn’t great because it’s half the feat.
The problem is you’re also restrained. So, that advantage you’d get at the start of Grappler? Negated by the fact that your attacks have disadvantage from becoming restrained.
It might help for when you need to capture a creature without harming them or just bring them to a complete stop. But, in most combat situations, becoming restrained to restrain another creature isn’t ideal.
So, situationally, the second benefit from the Grappler feat may help. But, the first benefit is really all you need from the feat.
D&D 5e Grappling Build
Now, nearly any player character may attempt a grapple. But, like most things, some character builds are better than others.
Personally, I’d say a Goliath Barbarian with two levels of Rogue makes for the best grappling build in 5e. But, there’s a variety of ways you can make a character meant for grappling. That’s the beauty of 5e.
Let’s go over how I’d build a grappling character.
Ability Scores for Grappling
The most important Ability Score for grappling in 5e is Strength.
If you’re going for a grapple build, there’s really no competition for which Ability Score you should prioritize. You need a good Strength score to boost your Athletics skill to win the contested rolls during a grapple.
I’d say you should prioritize Constitution as your secondary Ability Score since you’ll be up in the faces of your enemies. A higher Constitution score means more hit points for your character which means you’ll die less.
After that, I’d put Dexterity. This is solely so your Armor Class gets a little bit of a boost. Again, it’s meant to help your survivability while grappling the myriad of creatures you’ll face.
Then do whatever you want with the rest of the Ability Scores. They won’t really apply to a grappling build with the exception of maybe Wisdom. But even then, that’d only be so you can spot the creatures that need a good grabbing.
Best Race for Grappling
The Goliath is hands down the best race for a grappling character in 5e. They get proficiency in the Athletics skill with their Natural Athlete trait. And, they count as a Large sized creature when it comes to dragging thanks to the Powerful Build trait.
Additionally, if you’re not playing by the new Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything rule that lets you move around racial Ability Score increases, Goliaths get a +2 bonus to their Strength and a +1 to the Constitution Ability Scores. Making them perfect for a grappling build.
The proficiency in Athletics means you’re adding your proficiency bonus to your grapple checks, making them easier to win. And, counting as one size larger than Medium (which is to say "Large" with extra steps) with Powerful Build is great when you want to drag Small sized creatures around.
But, it’s important to note; Powerful Build doesn’t let you grapple Huge or larger creatures.
It doesn’t change the fact that Goliaths are Medium sized creatures. Rather, it means they count as one size larger while pushing, dragging, or lifting things.
Now, the Bugbear, Firbolg, and Orc playable races in Volo’s Guide to Monster also get Powerful Build. But, they don’t get proficiency in Strength on their own. Meaning, you’ll use up one of your skill picks from your class or background to grab it.
Best Class for Grappling
Barbarian is the best class on its own for a 5e grappling build. The Rage feature gives you advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks which make it easier to succeed on grapple attempts.
Any of the classes that benefit from having a high Strength stat work for a grapple build. So, Druids (for animal forms), Clerics, Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers all could work as grapplers. But, none of them really compare with the Barbarian.
Fighters make better for a better secondary grappling class due simply to the fact they get so many attacks through the Extra Attack feature. But, it still doesn’t quite beat out the advantage on Strength checks Barbarians get.
Funnily enough, Rogues make alright grapplers. They get the Expertise feature at 2nd level which doubles their proficiency bonus for a skill of their choice that they’re already proficient in. If you choose Athletics, that means an even higher bonus for your Strength (Athletics) checks made to grapple. But again, on its own, its not enough to beat our Rage.
…But, if you multiclass into Rogue from Barbarian, well, that’s just mean.
Personally, I’d probably look at a multiclass grapple build using Barbarian and Rogue. Even then, I’d probably only do a two level dip into Rogue just for Expertise. So, you’d have advantage on Strength checks thanks to Rage and double your proficiency in Athletics thanks to Expertise.
You’re basically just buffing your Strength (Athletics) as much as possible.
Best Skills for Grappling
Athletics is about the only skill you need for a grappling build in 5e.
As far as ancillary skills, I’d say Perception for spotting hidden creatures is useful. But, let’s be honest, Perception is almost a requirement for optimized characters at this point.
Survival might find a use in your grapple build as it could help you track down creatures. It’d basically be an extension of Perception at that point.
Best Feats for Grappling
The single best feat for grappling in 5e is Grappler. But, Lucky, Tavern Brawler, and Tough are all also great picks.
We’ve already looked at Grappler. So, let’s take a look at the others.
5e’s Lucky feat is one of the strongest in the game. Basically, it gives you three rerolls on any roll that uses a 20-sided die per day. Great for helping you succeed on your Strength (Athletics) grapple checks.
Tavern Brawler does quite a few things. But, the main one for grappling is that it lets you use your bonus action to attempt a grapple when you hit with an unarmed strike or improvised weapon attack.
And Tough is great for survival. It basically gives you a little bit of extra hit points per your character’s level. Perfect for ensuring you have the durability for grappling your various enemies.
Should you take all of these feats for a grapple build?
I’d say probably not. You’ll also want to maximize your Strength Ability Score as fast as possible since that’ll affect your grapple checks.
I’d prioritize Grappler and Lucky since those are the most useful.
Next up, let’s look at some tactics you can use with your grappling focused character.
D&D Grappling Tactics
You can attack a grappled creature. But, really, where’s the fun in that?
Here are three things things you can do while grappling aside from attacking.
The Drop Off
As we all know, every good battlemap has a cliff. While the truth of that statement may vary depending on your game, having elevation to your maps adds a whole new element you can use.
If you’re playing a grapple build or otherwise grappling a creature or character, why not drag the grappled target to a ledge and let them go?
Fall damage in 5e isn’t terribly threatening, especially at higher levels. But, dropping a creature off a ledge not only does damage, it also inconveniences them.
Once you fall off a cliff, even just a short one, you’ll have to figure out how to get back up to engage with the enemy. Which means wasting time and movement to get back into the fight.
So, grapple your enemies and drop them off cliffs. It’s what they’d do to you.
This grappling strategy requires a bit of teamwork.
Basically, you should grapple your target and then hold them up in front of your ranged allies. They won’t really get bonuses (unless they’re a Rogue), but you’ll give them a clear shot at the very least.
This grappling tactic works especially well for ranged enemies or creatures that like to hide. If you find them, grapple them, and drag them out of their hiding place, your party can just lay into them.
The Human Shield
Like Target Practice, this grappling tactic involves grabbing an enemy and holding them up in front of you. But this time, you’re using them as cover against enemy attacks.
Pick up an enemy and put them between you and any ranged enemies in the battle. This should give you half cover at the very least which means a bonus +2 to your AC.
Easy as that.
Grappling in 5e FAQ
What Do I Use for Grappling in D&D?
You use your Strength (Athletics) skill for grappling in D&D. Avoiding a grappled uses either Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).
Is Grappling Useful in 5e?
Grappling is useful in 5e for holding enemy combatants in place or dragging them to a more advantageous position.
Does Grappling Impose Disadvantage?
Grappling in 5e does not impose disadvantage on the grappled creature. For that matter, it doesn’t impose disadvantage on the grappling creature either.
What Happens If I’m Grappling a Flying Creature in 5e?
If you grapple a flying creature in 5e, their movement speed becomes zero and they fall to the ground. An exception is if the grappled creature can hover.
What Happens If I’m Grappling a Prone Creature?
If you grapple a prone creature, that creature cannot stand up. Standing up requires half your total movement speed. You also can’t stand up if your movement speed is zero. Since grappling reduces a creature’s movement speed to zero, a grappled and prone creature becomes unable to stand.
Final Thoughts on Grappling in 5e
That about covers grappling in 5e.
The important things to remember are:
- Grappling counts as a special melee attack that you may take in place of a regular attack roll
- You roll an opposing Strength (Athletics) check contested by your target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) roll
- Grappling imposes the Grappled condition and only reduces a grappled creature’s movement speed to zero
There are quite a few other elements to D&D’s grappling rules. But, those are probably the most important.
Have you played a grapple-focused character in D&D 5e? Do you use the grapple rules often? Leave a comment below.
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11 thoughts on “A Guide to D&D 5e’s Grappling Rules & the Grappled Condition”
I never thought of the Rogue angle that’s pretty good
I always liked the thought of Barb/Monk and using Flurry of Blows while they are grappled
you get alot of little things you can use while grapple, more movement that allows you to drag people, getting dodge as a bonus action
… at level 5 you have the potential to have 4 attacks in one round (Frenzy+Flurry of Blows) so 4d8 isn’t too bad
And the crazy fact despite not having armor on… you use your Dex/Con/Wis Mod for AC, even tho you’ll need Strength as a paramount
I still prefer ROGUE over BARBARIAN for grappling. On top of expertise, you have sneak attack for anyone you gain advantage against. (Grappler feat). At 11th level, Reliable Talent is far better than advantage.
Add in the cunning action to dash+move before grappling, and it’s the ultimate “no one escapes.”
Rogues can make pretty good grapplers and I love how they’re kind of an unusual choice for it thematically speaking.
One of the main reasons I’d prefer a Fighter or Barbarian is for Extra Attack, it means a creature has no chance of escaping in between the grapple and first attack. Also, while I agree Reliable Talent is better than advantage, being an 11th-level feature means few players actually get a chance to use it since a majority of games don’t make it past 10th-level.
What happends if an outside party member tries to hit an enemy that has grappled a party member and misses the attack. Been looking for a rules justification. The PC says that they just miss the attack others are saying that the attack has a change to hit the player??
Strictly Rules as Written, nothing additional happens. If one PC has an enemy grappled and another PC misses an attack against the grappled enemy, that’s the end of it. The attack misses and play continues as normal.
Generally speaking, missing with an attack is bad enough in D&D, so there’s no need to add an additional detriment.
Now, you could homebrew rules for hitting creatures adjacent to a target a PC misses with an attack. Something like rolling comparing the attack against the adjacent PC’s Armor Class, rolling a die to determine where the attack gets directed instead, or some other method.
That said, I’d generally advise against this as it can complicate and slow down combat even more which is a problem 5e tends to have.
Hey, this is a great article. Super helpful!
What happens when the contested strength checks tie? Do you roll again on the same round? Does the grappler win a tie by default, or vice versa? Do you go by strength score? This came up in a game I ran recently, and I wasn’t sure how to resolve it correctly….
Technically, attempting to grapple a creature results in a contested check. The rules for Contests come from page 174 of the Player’s Handbook:
So basically, if a creature was NOT grappled prior to another creature attempting a Grapple check against them and the result is a tie, you default to the prior circumstance. Meaning, the former creature is not grappled.
Now, the reverse is also true. If a grappled creature attempts to escape another creature’s grasp and that contest results in a tie, the former creature fails to escape.
Another fun detail is that you can grapple and then shove to knock your enemy prone, if you shove first they will just stand up. So grappling then shoving leaves them at disadvantage to attack you. in fact, if you have multiple attacks in a single turn you can do both in one turn. However if you can do both then knocking them prone first could give you advantage or if you’re a barbarian, double advantage. they will have a hard time escaping and you can pummel them while they are down, maybe dropping your two handed axe to repeatedly get them with a dagger or shortsword.
Yeah, the Grapple-Shove into prone is a fantastic move. Great for helping your melee party members, too.
Kind of a fine detail, but: the reason you can’t stand from prone while grappled is not because you can’t halve zero—half of zero is zero. The reason you can’t stand from prone while grappled is because, as per the Combat section of the PHB, “You can’t stand up if you don’t have enough movement left or if your speed is 0.”
Oh, that’s right. I missed that when I was reminding myself of all the rules that go into grappling and the prone condition.