Learn how the grappled condition works and how to use it in combat to your advantage
The grappled condition can be a really useful one to impose on your enemies and is also the most accessible condition in D&D 5e to impose on your enemies as anyone can do it (pretty much). Grappling an enemy essentially involves grabbing them and restricting their movement. You can use it to stop an enemy from escaping, to drag them somewhere or even keep them from getting up from the prone condition.
Grappling is often misunderstood and sometimes under-utilised in D&D 5e despite the relative simplicity of the rules. We’re here to explain exactly how grappling works, how to best use it to your advantage, and also, how to escape it if you’re the hapless victim of being grappled.
The Player’s Handbook explains the rules for the grappled condition, explaining that it causes the following effects:
Player’s Handbook, p290
- 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.
What are the effects of being grappled?
If you’re the unfortunate victim of being grappled, you’ll have the following effects imposed on you:
- When grappled, your movement speed is reduced to 0 (so you can’t move).
- You’re unable to benefit from any effects that increase speed.
- You can, however, use actions as normal so feel free to punch and stab your grappler or even use abilities and cast spells.
It’s not one of the worst conditions to be affected by, but while you have 0 movement, your opponent has half movement meaning they can drag you where they like. That might mean right off a cliff, into a trap or into the range of an AOE spell.
What is a grapple?
To cause the grappled condition, you need to make a grapple as part of the attack action. Grappling covers a wide range of grabby-type actions that might involve grabbing, holding someone with a gun to their head or putting someone in a headlock. You can use it as part of your attack action to get a hold on an opponent and hold them in place, drag them somewhere else or some other form of overpowering your opponent. Because grappling isn’t a whole action on its own, but can be used in place of one of your attacks in the attack action, it means that characters with multiple attacks can make a grapple and still use their remaining attacks in a single action.
How do you grapple someone?
On your turn, you can choose to grapple another creature within 5ft of you as long as it is no more than 1 size larger than you. So if you’re a medium creature, you can grapple a large creature or smaller, but if you’re a small creature, you can’t grapple a large creature (they’re just too big).
A grapple can be used as one of the attacks as part of your attack action. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean using your whole attack action. If you have the extra attack ability and get 2 attacks per turn, you can grapple as one of those attacks and make a normal attack with your other attack.
You must also have a free hand to grapple someone. This means dual-wielders and sword and shield carriers can’t grapple (at least not without dropping something). Interestingly, if you wield a two-handed weapon, you can still grapple by holding the weapon in one hand, grappling, and somehow still manage to attack with your two-handed weapon, though some DMs may rule against this.
Grappling is not an automatic success though, you’ve got to make a strength (athletics) check to see if you succeed. This is contested against your opponents strength (athletics) or dexterity (acrobatics) check. whoever’s check is highest is successful and determines whether the grapple is a success or not. If the result is a draw, then the status quo is preserved; in this case, that would mean that the grapple fails. Your opponent can choose to resist with strength or wriggle away from the grapple using dexterity, the choice is theirs.
How do you escape a grapple?
There are 4 ways to escape a grapple:
- The grappler is incapacitated – This might occur because they’ve fainted by being reduced to 0 hit points, but could also be caused by a condition such as being paralyzed or stunned
- The creatures are moved out of grapple distance from one another – This can occur through spells and abilities like thunderwave which shoves a creature away from the caster or misty step where the creature literally teleports away.
- Contesting a grapple – A grappled creature can contest a grapple on their turn by using their action (yes, I know, that’s very unfair on the grappled creature as the grappler can just use part of their attack, and let’s be honest, it’s the multi-attacking martials probably doing the grappling anyway). Contesting a grapple uses the same checks as before except if it’s a tie, the status quo is maintained meaning you remain grappled. This unfair action economy is what makes it quite beneficial to be the one doing the grappling.
- The grappler lets go – The rules state that a grapple can be ended by the grappler at any time and doesn’t require an action so can presumably be at a point not on their turn. Of course, you’re relying on your opponent ending the grapple which they’re not likely to do unless it benefits them.
There is possibly another way to escape a grapple. You could use a spell like enlarge to become too big to be grappled which would end the grapple.
Because it takes a whole action to contest a grapple with no guarantee of success, it tends to be the least favourable method of escaping a grapple as at least trying to punch the living daylights out of your grappler might mean they lose some hit points. This is where spells and abilities can come in very useful. Something like thunderwave is very useful as you’re able to push outwards from yourself and as you can still cast spells while grappled, could be a more favourable option.
What can you do while grappling?
Anything you’d normally do with one hand free so you can attack, cast spells, use abilities and even move, just with one hand occupied holding onto an enemy (or even a friend I suppose if that’s what you want to do). The only real restriction is because you’ve got someone kicking and screaming to drag around, your movement speed is halved so if you normally move 30ft, your movement speed is reduced to 15ft.
Half speed may be all you need though. Imagine being near a chasm, grappling someone then dragging them off the edge. A grapple can be very dangerous if used right.
Shove is a powerful action to use while grappling someone as you can knock the creature prone and because their movement is 0 while grappled, they’re unable to stand up. This means advantage on attack rolls against the creature for you and your allies (at least the ones within 5ft) but also means disadvantage on attack rolls for ranged weapons. It does also mean that the grappled creature now attacks with disadvantage.
How build an effective grappler
You may now be thinking, how do I make a really incredible grappler and take advantage of the grappled condition. There’re a few things you can do to really boost your effectiveness as a grappler:
- Be strong – The more strength you have, the more likely you are to succeed a grapple (you’ll also become harder to grapple yourself). On top of this, you’ll also become more effective and shoving a target to get them prone too. You do need to balance your ability scores though. Some classes benefit less from strength so you may want to consider which class you’re using. Fighters, barbarians and paladins tend to need strength a lot. Many races also receive a boost to strength though more recently published races allow you to choose the ability score increases you receive.
- Athletics proficiency – A grapple is an athletics check so proficiency in athletics can really boost your chances of a successful grapple.
- Gain advantage on strength checks – Having advantage on strength checks essentially means you can roll twice for your grapple and choose the highest score. While not commonly available, there are a couple of ways to receive this. The easiest is to be a barbarian and use rage which grants advantage on strength checks. The other main way to do this is to use the enlarge/reduce spell. When enlarged, you also gain advantage on strength checks. A few races receive this spell through their innate spellcasting like the Duergar. Other spells and abilities can also grant you improved scores on ability checks like bardic inspiration which can also be handy.
- Extra attacks – The more attacks you have, the better. Having 2 attacks means you can grapple and shove in the same turn. 3 or more attacks will also allow you to throw some attacks into the mix at advantage and hopefully allow your mates to beat your enemy to a bloody pulp on their turns too.
All condition guides
Conditions are powerful tools or problematic obstacles in D&D 5e. You can learn more about all the conditions of D&D 5e in our guides below:
Can you fly while grappling?
Yes, if you’re an Aarakockra for example, you could grapple a creature and then fly away with them. In fact, this is a useful tactic as it will discourage them from attempting to escape your grapple if you’re too high up. You could even just fly really high and drop them for 1d6 damage for every 10ft you are. Just remember, your speed is halved while grappling.
Can you climb while grappling?
This is also allowed though remember, there are often speed decreases when climbing as well as for grappling so you may not get very far. Some creatures and abilities can get around this like monks for example with their wall running. Again, this has the benefit of discouraging your foe from trying to escape their grapple.
Can you swim while grappling?
Yes, any form of movement is allowed when grappling so you can swim and grapple too. Just be aware that swimming often means reduced speed for most creatures, as does grappling so you may not travel far unless you’re a triton for example.
Does it matter how heavy a creature is?
No. The grapple rules are kept simple to accommodate most scenarios so weight doesn’t factor into a grapple at all, just the size of the creature. You can only grapple a creature as long as it’s no more than one size larger than yourself. The rest comes down to strength and dexterity. Practically speaking, how the dwarf manages to drag an ogre around is beyond me but does make things a load of fun.