Understanding Grapple (Complicated Edge Cases)


Rules Questions


This will be long, because it will include a summary of the grapple rules as best I understand them, partially to test my own knowledge and partially as a community resource. There’s a scenario/question at the end.

Terminology/Restatement of Rules:

1) “Grappled” means “having the grappled condition”. In some cases, a character may grapple (the action) without being “grappled” (the condition) – such as with the Grab universal monster ability.

2) “Initiating” a grapple means “applying the grappled condition to a target that does not have it.” Under normal circumstances, this comes with a few side effects: the newly-grappled target is moved to a square adjacent to the initiator; both characters gain the grappled condition, with one considered “dominant” and the other “subordinate.” (Without the Improved Grapple, Grab, or similar ability, initiating a grapple provokes attacks of opportunity; the damage dealt adds a penalty to the initiation check.) Under some circumstances, the dominant grappler will not actually have the grappled condition – as is the case for monsters using the Grab ability (more on Grab later).

Grappled creatures may not make attacks of opportunity, take a -4 penalty to Dex and -2 penalty to attack rolls (including combat maneuver rolls), and may not move, use stealth, or use any action that requires two hands, but may still attack (including full attacks, using light, natural, or one-handed weapons), cast spells, or even make combat maneuvers (dirty trick, disarm, grapple, steal, sunder, or trip – no bull rush, drag, reposition, or overrun, because those imply movement of one or both grapplers; While many combat maneuvers are possible, for the most part only grapple would ever be used, but one could imagine, for example, wrestling a sword out of an enemy’s hands (disarm), or smearing mud in his eyes (dirty trick) to cause him to release the hold.) If a grappled creature becomes invisible, it gains +2 circumstance bonus on its CMD to avoid being grappled, but receives no other benefits.

3) “Maintaining” a grapple means “the dominant grappler (which may not have the grappled condition) performs a successful grapple action against the subordinate grappler, on the dominant grappler’s turn”. “Maintenance” is required to preserve a grapple; if a grapple is not maintained, it ends. Per the rules: “If you do not release the grapple, you must continue to make a check each round, as a standard action, to maintain the hold.”

But “maintenance” is not special kind of action or check. Rather, it is simply a grapple check, against a grappled target, made on the dominant grappler’s turn. Failing a “maintenance” check does not release the grapple; it is for this reason that Greater Grapple notes that it “allows you to make two grapple checks each round (to move, harm, or pin your opponent), but you are not required to make two checks. You only need to succeed at one of these checks to maintain the grapple.” A character can fail its move-action grapple check, succeed on its standard-action check, and still maintain the hold – the only important part is that at least one check was made successfully. (This will be very important later.)

Maintenance is associated with one or more additional effects: moving both grapplers; damaging the subordinate grappler; or pinning/tying up the subordinate grappler. But that’s not because these are special “maintenance” effects. They’re just the natural consequence of making a successful grapple maneuver against a target that already has the grappled condition. (Again, this will be important later.)

One interesting and important consequence is that “maintenance” is not done at any particular time in the dominant grappler’s turn. What this means is that a Wizard, if dominant in a grapple and with the Greater Grapple feat, can cast True Strike and then use a move action to make a grapple check to maintain the grapple (since grappling uses an attack roll). Going back, the rules state only that “you must continue to make a check each round (i.e., at some point in the round), as a [move action, thanks to Greater Grapple], to maintain the hold.”

4) “Pinning” means “applying the pinned condition to a subordinate grappler.” The pinned condition denies a target its dexterity modifier, prevents most actions, and takes an additional -4 penalty to its AC. The only allowed actions are Grapple and Escape Artist checks, or purely mental or verbal actions (such as casting a Still spell). Casting requires a concentration check, with DC equal to 10 + opponent’s CMB + the spell’s level.

A character with the pinned condition may be helpless. There is reasonable disagreement on this point, however. The case for pinned = helpess:

A) Helpless: “A helpless character is paralyzed, held, bound,…”; Pinned: “A pinned creature is tightly bound and can take few actions.”
B) Throat Slicer feat: “you can deliver a coup de grace to an unconscious, bound, or pinned target (though not other kinds of helpless targets) as a standard action. (A canon of interpretation is that the “not other kinds of X” implies that the thing preceding is a kind of X; this is bolstered since “unconscious” is also a kind of helpless).
C) Pinned and tied up both describe the target as “bound”, and also that “a creature that is tied up is ‘bound’ which means it has the Helpless condition.”)

The case against is simply that both paralyzed and unconscious explicitly specify in their descriptions that the character is “helpless,” while “pinned” does not.

4) “Tying up” means “applying the ‘bound’ condition to the subordinate grappler permanently”. Bound is a special kind of pin, that can be escaped only through an Escape Artist check with DC equal to 20 + the opponent’s CMB.

5) “Breaking” or “escaping” a grapple means using the grapple maneuver or an Escape Artist check to end a grapple. Essentially, breaking a grapple is the action of becoming dominant in the grapple, and then releasing it immediately as a free action (but can be done as a free action). Escaping a grapple is the same as escaping a pin or binding.

6) “Grab” is a special ability that allows a character or monster to initiate a grapple as a free action after hitting with a regular attack. It additionally has the option of not getting the grappled condition, by taking a -20 penalty on its grapple maneuver. (Of course, if it somehow succeeds, it will still need to make a grapple check to maintain.)

7) “Constrict” is a special ability that allows a creature to cause regular grapple damage in addition to the effects of any other grapple check. It can deal its grapple damage twice, if it acts to maintain a grapple.

EDGE CASE TIME

1) The Giant Octopus: This guy has 8 tentacles and the Grab and Constrict abilities. As part of a full attack, he can initiate a grapple. If he chooses not to become grappled himself, he takes a -20 penalty on his checks. So he can attack-grapple-constrict, then release as a free action, 8 times.

He has the option of taking that -20 penalty on his last attack to avoid the grappled condition (but will likely lose his prey if he does so), or he can retain the grappled condition on himself to keep it at full strength. If fighting multiple opponents, he can retain the grappled condition on himself, while still being the dominant grappler with respect to each opponent. However, because he does not have Greater Grapple, and Grab specifies that he can only start a grapple with a successful attack. This means that he can’t use a full attack to pin 4 enemies at once (though he could grapple 8), and on his next round he must focus on only one enemy if he wishes to pin or move them. Any creature he is grappling may either attempt to escape (via Escape Artist), or become dominant (by starting a grapple against the octopus, if necessary).

NUMBERS INTERLUDE

This seems overpowered and cheesy – 9 attacks, plus 8 grapples, including lots of free action grapples and releases, just seems like abuse of the rules. Consider that his strength modifier is +2, meaning he could deal 1d8 +5 (bite) plus 16d4+32 (tentacles), or about 82 damage, plus poison, on a full attack. That’s a lot. It must be that there’s some requirement, like he can’t release during a full attack, right?

No. The damage above is only if he hits with everything, which we can’t assume. If we assume that he hits only on 11+ for both his attacks and grapples, he’d actually do only an average of 5 (for the bite) plus 4 tentacles and 2 constricts – or about 32 damage. We can compare this to a CR-equivalent Deadfall Scorpion, which would hit on a 9+ against the same AC and deal 12.5 average damage on a hit – for about 32 average.

These numbers are very similar, suggesting that the octopus is intended to use the hit-grapple-release tactic in combat unless it is specifically trying to pin or move a creature.

BACK TO EDGE CASES (and where the questions begin)

2) The Maneuver Master Monk: He gets a Flurry of Maneuvers, allowing him an extra combat maneuver – even one that normally takes a standard action – during full attacks. At level 8, he gets 2 such maneuvers.

Can he choose to grapple for both of these maneuvers, taking an adjacent target from standing to pinned, while also attacking?

I tend to think yes, for a few reasons: First, the point of the archetype, as I see it, is that the monk can use a full-round action on a grappled enemy to advance the grapple, instead of specifically taking a standard and a move. Second, the effect, taking an adjacent enemy from standing to pinned, is granted at level 8 – or right around the time any other chained monk could use Greater Grapple for the same effect. Essentially, the Maneuver Master is trading some BAB on his combat maneuvers for a free attack, which seems Fair and Balanced. This interpretation would confirm my belief that “maintaining” and “progressing” a grapple are the same thing, not specific actions with specific action economy.

Which brings me to…

3) The White Haired Witch: At level 1, she gets a special hair natural attack, with an ability written very similarly to the Grab ability. However, the description notes that she is never considered grappled when using it (so there’s no need to take the -20 penalty). More importantly, the description says that “whenever the hair strikes a foe, the witch can attempt to grapple that foe with her hair as a free action”. Note that the description doesn’t say that she can start a grapple, only that she can grapple. (Otherwise, the description simply would have said “she gains the Grab ability” or something like that.)

This suggests that if she can get multiple hair attacks in one round, she could use her attacks to pin. For example, if an enemy provoked two attack of opportunity (moving inside her rather long reach, and then casting a spell, for example), and she had Combat Reflexes, she could hit (and attempt to grapple) twice, pinning the enemy. Alternatively, by using Feral Combat Training and dipping into Monk, she could make a Flurry of Hair; if she was successful at both the hits and grapples, she’d be able to pin in one round – just as if she had Greater Grapple and the target started adjacent to her. (Note that for this ability, she had to take 3 feats, put levels in a low-BAB class, give up all hexes, and dip into Monk, AND land 4 hits in a row on her target. It’s in the realm of “possible, but exceedingly unlikely.”)

THE QUESTION:

Is the White Haired Witch example above the correct reading of things? Nothing in the grapple rules says that a particular body part is occupied while grappling, and that would also mean that her reach isn’t particularly useful because it can’t make attacks of opportunity while she’s grappling someone, even though she specifically doesn’t have the grappled condition (which the designers must have done for a reason). I can maybe see that she’d need to maintain with a standard or move action if she wanted to keep a grapple or pin, except for part 3, where maintaining is simply having a successful check on your turn (and for which my interpretation is further supported by the existence of the Maneuver Master).

Thanks for reading!


Check this out: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://m. youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3D89pJS2GqHco&ved=0ahUKEwjMxY2npt7iAhWD_J4KHeOLAm 0Qo7QBCCgwAA&usg=AOvVaw0HsnfseCTy1Tv59uxk79LP

Yeah, I've never bothered figuring out how to format a link on my phone, but really, check out that video.

Grand Lodge

That link does not work.

As for the OP's question, there is a lot of debate on the forums about single round pins. RAW it should work, but some people seem to think that making a grapple check is not the same thing as trying to pin a target.

I am on the side of any time you can make multiple grapple checks on something in a round, you can attempt to pin, move, etc.


Urgh, search for the Arcane Mark youtube channel, episode on grappling.


Having watched the video, I'm not sure what to say. I've seen some designers (I think JJ?) remarking on this very forum that Greater Grapple allows for a one-turn pin, which directly contradicts Mark.

Mark's interpretation also doesn't appear to conform with the written rules in various places. For example, he says you can't take free actions during a full attack - but that would mean that Grab wouldn't resolve (or even check) until after the full attack was finished, because Grab technically gives a free action grapple. Yet if you can take free actions during a full attack, you should be able to release, and the octopus works as I described even if it's a little hard to imagine in reality. And if "maintain" is a separate action that can only be done on a subsequent turn, it severely limits the usefulness of Greater Grapple because it gives the opponent a round to break free or full attack, while shutting down your own ability to make attacks of opportunity. Usually, the Greater Maneuver feats give you something good that makes up for the action you had to put in - Trip gives you an attack of opportunity (against a prone enemy!), so it basically makes your trip attempts free; Dirty Trick takes away their standard action, so it prevents counterattacks and sets up sneak attacks. Under Mark's interpretation, Grapple has many more checks to defeat than to succeed.

Likewise, under Mark's interpretation, a creature like the octopus is better off never grappling - it would have to choose between maintaining as a standard, for two rolls of 1d4+2, versus a full attack of 9d4 + 18 + 1d8 + 5, "maintaining" the grapple by releasing before the full attack and then maintaining it at the end again. Maybe this is just me, but when a creature's stat block is built for grapples, it should be better at grappling than the alternative.

His comments on Rake are also confusing to me - I read Rake essentially as an ability to allow a full attack while also progressing the grapple (taking a standard to maintain plus the "free" claw attacks it otherwise would've been able to take on a full attack). According to him, you could Rake, then release the grapple, and then full attack.

In sum, I am very much not persuaded. I'd want to hear from the guy who wrote the grapple rules.


The OP is correct in the literal meaning of the rules.

A lot of players and GMs hate using Grappling that way, including Mark Seifter, but Mark Seifter has yet to actually change what the rules literally say.

Revengeance wrote:
But “maintenance” is not special kind of action or check. Rather, it is simply a grapple check, against a grappled target, made on the dominant grappler’s turn.

Their view depends upon this statement of Revengeance being false and the opposite being true, but I have never found, nor has anyone shown me, anything in the rules that contradicts Revengeance here.


Revengeance wrote:
This seems overpowered and cheesy – 9 attacks, plus 8 grapples, including lots of free action grapples and releases, just seems like abuse of the rules. Consider that his strength modifier is +2, meaning he could deal 1d8 +5 (bite) plus 16d4+32 (tentacles), or about 82 damage, plus poison, on a full attack. That’s a lot. It must be that there’s some requirement, like he can’t release during a full attack, right?

I've seen overpowewreder and cheesier, but yes. It is probably not as overpowered as it looks: those extra 8 Constricts only occur when those tentacles hit. And Tentacles are Secondary Natural Attacks the suffer a -5 on the Attack Roll. I don't recall whether Giant Octopi have Multiattack which reduces the penalty to a tolerable -2, but still, the maths don't work out as broken as you might think.

A Giant Octopus seems best advised to catch-and-release, exploiting Constrict for extra damage.

There have been some builds for Druids that use this. They are a subset of Druidzilla builds to my knowledge begun by a contributor to this thread named Lord Markov. He called his build the Monktopus. I have designed a few Monktopus builds of my own, updated for rules changes. For instance, Feral Combat Training used to let you apply Monk Unarmed Strike Damage to your Natural Attacks. Now it doesn't. My build now calls for dipping into Warpriest instead of Monk.


Revengeance wrote:
White Haired Witch: At level 1, she gets a special hair natural attack, with an ability written very similarly to the Grab ability. However, the description notes that she is never considered grappled when using it (so there’s no need to take the -20 penalty). More importantly, the description says that “whenever the hair strikes a foe, the witch can attempt to grapple that foe with her hair as a free action”. Note that the description doesn’t say that she can start a grapple, only that she can grapple. (Otherwise, the description simply would have said “she gains the Grab ability” or something like that.)

Yup. That's what the rules say.

Revengeance wrote:

This suggests that if she can get multiple hair attacks in one round, she could use her attacks to pin. For example, if an enemy provoked two attack of opportunity (moving inside her rather long reach, and then casting a spell, for example), and she had Combat Reflexes, she could hit (and attempt to grapple) twice, pinning the enemy. Alternatively, by using Feral Combat Training and dipping into Monk, she could make a Flurry of Hair; if she was successful at both the hits and grapples, she’d be able to pin in one round – just as if she had Greater Grapple and the target started adjacent to her. (Note that for this ability, she had to take 3 feats, put levels in a low-BAB class, give up all hexes, and dip into Monk, AND land 4 hits in a row on her target. It’s in the realm of “possible, but exceedingly unlikely.”)

THE QUESTION:
Is the White Haired Witch example above the correct reading of things?

Yup. That's what the rules say.


Java Man wrote:

Check this out: Arcane Mark Episode 4: Ask Mark (Grapple)

Yeah, I've never bothered figuring out how to format a link on my phone, but really, check out that video.

Linkified.

Also, you linked the search engine pointer, not the actual web page. Fixed.

/cevah

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