The Alexandrian

Super Simple Grappling

February 16th, 2008

DM: With a leering grin, the orc turns towards Eldath the Arcane!
Peter: Shit! That axe will kill me quicker than spit!
Bob: I grab him!
Peter: NO!
Bob: What’s wrong? You want to stop the orc, right?
DM: Okay, what page were the grappling rules on, again?

What do you call a rule that people don’t use because it’s too much hassle to use it?


Which is the fate of the grappling rules in many, many gaming tables. Action movies are full of heroes and villains grabbing each other, throwing each other around, and generally wrestling of all kinds. When we see Indiana Jones grab a Nazi and throw him off a zeppelin we cheer. But if Bob’s character tries to leap on the back of the dragon and hurl the dragonrider to the ground, we cringe at the thought of looking up all those rules.

What’s the problem here? Why are so many people leery of the grappling rules?

The rules for actually initiating a grapple are relatively simply (being largely similar to the rules for bull rushing, disarming, and the like). The problem is that, once you’re in a grapple, there’s a whole slew of new rules to determine what you can and cannot do in the grapple.

If you look at any one of these rules, you can easily see the logic of why the rule works that way. But the system, as a whole, doesn’t follow any kind of consistent pattern: You can’t just take what you know about Action A in normal combat, apply the “when in grappling” rule, and know what happens when you attempt Action A while grappling.

Sometimes you can’t attempt the action. Sometimes you have to make an opposed grapple check in addition to the normal check. Sometimes you make an opposed grapple check instead of the normal check. Sometimes the scope of the action is limited (attack, but only with a light weapon; cast a spell, but only if the action is no more than 1 standard action). Sometimes the rules aren’t changed at all.

And then, on top of all that, there’s pinning… which introduces a completely different set of conditional rules. These aren’t as complicated as the rules in a non-pinned grapple, but they’re kind of a cherry on top of it all.

The net result of all this is to, effectively, double the complexity of the combat system. It’s essentially a completely new combat system which is just similar enough to the combat system you already know to add a little extra confusion to the mix.

This set of optional rules tries to fix that problem by applying a simple, consistent rule to actions attempted in grappling. You’ll find that, despite the streamlining to make them easy-to-use, they play very similarly to the existing rules for grappling.


GRAB: A character can attempt to grab another character by making a successful melee touch attack. This provokes an attack of opportunity from the target. If the attack of opportunity deals damage, the grappling attempt fails.

STARTING A GRAPPLE: Once they have grabbed an opponent, a character can immediately attempt to start a grapple by taking a free action and making an opposed grapple check. If the character fails, their grab is broken and the attempt fails. If the character succeeds, they move into their opponent’s space and begin grappling.


Characters in a grapple do not threaten opponents they are not grappling.

Characters in a grapple lose their Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) against opponents they are not grappling.

When attempting any action, a character in a grapple must first succeed at an opposed grapple check against everyone else in the grapple. This check is a free action. Opposing characters can choose to automatically fail their checks. (Note: When making a full attack you must make an opposed grapple check before each attack.)

ESCAPING A GRAPPLE: Escaping a grapple requires an attack action. As with any action in a grapple, the character must succeed at an opposed grapple check against everyone in the grapple.

MULTIPLE GRAPPLERS: Up to five combatants of the same size can grapple each other at the same time. Creatures smaller than the largest creature involved in the grapple count for half.


A character in a grapple can attempt to pin their opponent for 1 round by making an opposed grapple check as an attack action. If the check is successful, the opponent cannot take any action except trying to escape the pin (by making an opposed grapple check as an attack action).

A character performing a pin can take additional actions normally (although they are considered to be in a grapple and must succeed at an opposed grapple check).

The character performing a pin can release it as a free action.


When initiating a grapple, a character can attempt to grab an opponent without holding them. They (but not the opponent they are grabbing) are considered to be grappled: They do not threaten other opponents, gain no Dexterity bonus to AC against opponents they are not grabbing, and can’t move normally.

Each round, the character performing the grab must either release the grab (as a free action), use an attack action and make an opposed grapple check to maintain the grab, or use an attack action and an opposed grapple check to initiate a grapple.

Characters being grabbed can attempt to break the grab by making an opposed grapple check as an attack action. If the character being grabbed moves, they must carry the character grabbing them.

Share on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterShare on StumbleUponShare on FacebookShare on RedditShare on Google+Digg this

2 Responses to “Super Simple Grappling”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    Not sure if you intended this, but these rules make grappling much more dangerous for wizards since they now have to make a grapple check (probably impossible) to cast a spell. Much as I cringe at it being a player who often plays wizards, that may be ok since in every group I play in wizards above about 4th level don’t worry about grapples since there are teleport spells without somatic components that let wizards just pop out of grapples. I wonder if there is a middle ground though, because this now makes a successful grapple essentially takes a wizard out of combat until someone saves him.
    Sunday, May 02, 2010, 9:01:42 AM

    Justin Alexander
    You’re making perfect sense. And I’ve never actually used completely player-faced mechanics with D&D, so the entire idea remains completely theoretical for me. But I would make two observations:

    (1) With the exception of opposed rolls, the probability remains the same whether it’s the player rolling the dice or the NPC.

    (2) In the case of opposed rolls we are narrowing the range of possible results (by removing the possibility of extreme failure or success by the NPC). But is this really a problem? You suggest that such a dynamic would make the game passive and uninteresting, but this method is already used in combat (we roll attacks vs. a flat AC, not against an opposed defense roll) — which is arguable the least passive aspect of the game.

    Your point about different DMing styles is a good one, though. I can see how this wouldn’t be at all appealing for the DM who wants to be actively involved in the gameplay.

    Personally, when I DM, my enjoyment is derived primarily from that “omniscient level” stuff — I’m usually juggling a dozen or more characters and situations simultaneously in my mind, while also trying to make sure everybody at the table is getting their spotlight time. So, when I’m DMing, rolling the dice is just a tool I use to get the DM-stuff I enjoy doing accomplished.

    OTOH, when I’m playing I love rolling the dice.

    Which is probably why the idea of player-faced mechanics fascinates me. Wink
    Thursday, May 22, 2008, 1:48:44 PM

    The problem I see with your suggestion is that it places all responsibility on the PC, even if the actual action taking place is done by the NPC. Rolling a spot against an NPC’s hide dc? This takes away the dynamic nature of the player world. DM’s would rely too heavily on “standard” DC’s and would neglect to take into account the possible variations of success and failure an NPC could have with skill use. What if said NPC did a bad job at hiding when he is normally a good hider? How do you account for that with a hide DC when the DC itself is suppose to place consistent control of a situation in the hands of the PC? It is more believable to do an opposed roll in this instance because it allows for failure in an NPC’s action.

    Static DC’s to replace opposed rolls, while freeing up the DM’s time to possibly create a more imaginative scenario, also turns NPC’s into passive characters that have very little dynamic interaction with the players, a stark contrast with the PC’s which creates a world that is less believable when taking into account random chance, and it also creates a gateway to lazy DM’ing. An interesting and worthwhile D&D game involves activity in a similar capacity from DM and player alike in an effort to create a healthy give-and-take dynamic between all involved, which leads me to my next observation.

    One thing I’ve noticed with the DM’s I’ve played with is that, while they control the world on a whole, they more often than not will play certain NPC’s in a fashion akin to playing a PC. This allows the DM to be immersed in their own game and prevents them from always being that omniscient eye that roves above the party and the world. In this light, many DM’s like to be involved in their own game the way a player would, though it requires responsible roleplaying on the DM’s part that doesn’t abuse their meta-knowledge of their own game. Static DC’s that the PC alone must roll against in all instances can take away from that feeling of immersion that a DM can potentially share with his fellow players.

    I’ve likely lost my point in all this babble. Please let me know if I’m making any sense, and I appreciate any response you may have (after reading your 4th edition critiques, I know you’ll give me a sound and respectful argument).
    Wednesday, May 21, 2008, 10:08:41 PM

    Justin Alexander
    No, the number of dice rolls in combat stays exactly the same. The only difference is that the players are making all the dice rolls.

    In the current system when a PC attacks an NPC, the player rolls a die. Similarly, when an NPC atacks a PC, the DM rolls a die. (That’s a total of two die rolls.)

    In the player-always-rolls system, the player rolls in both cases — but the total number of dice rolls remains constant (at two).
    Sunday, February 17, 2008, 11:43:24 PM

    Wouldn’t that double the number of dice rolls in combat? One for attack and one for defense? While I agree that rolling dice is part of the very fabric of the gaming experience, doubling the number of rolls might bog things down.

    I once played in a 1E D&D campaign where the GM rolled all of the dice. The players just described what they were doing. In many ways it became more of a narrative, interactive story.

    Since I have no group at the moment, I can’t test either idea. If you do however, I look forward to the blog post.
    Sunday, February 17, 2008, 1:12:48 AM

    Justin Alexander
    I agree, that is an interesting mechanic. It certainly removes some of the wildly random fluctuations from the system.

    I think this opens up a wider discussion of all opposed rolls: Using a flat AC as a target number (10 + AC modifiers) instead of an active defending roll (1d20 + AC modifiers) seems to work just fine, so why do we use opposed rolls in other parts of the system?

    For example, when we’re trying to Hide from somebody why don’t we roll vs. their Spot DC (10 + Spot modifiers) instead of making an opposed roll against 1d20 + Spot modifiers?

    The answer may be the disparity between who should be making the check and who should just have a flat score calculated.

    I’ve long wanted to play a game of 3rd Edition in which the players always make the active role. If they’re trying to hit somebody, they roll against AC. If someone’s trying to hit them, they roll their AC check against a flat attack DC. If they’re trying to grapple, they roll against a flat grapple AC. If they’re trying to Hide, they roll against a flat Spot DC. If they’re trying to Spot someone, they roll against a flat Hide DC. If they’re being targeted by a spell they roll a saving throw. If they’re the spellcaster, they roll a spellcasting check against a flat save DC.

    This makes it so that the players are always the active ones. Why? Because rolling dice is fun. Rolling dice is the epitome of the gaming moment in D&D. Rolling the dice makes the player feel like they’re in control.

    And, on the flip side, this also simplifies things for the DM: Since it reduces the number of dice the DM has to roll, there’s a little less chaos behind the DM’s screen.

    (OTOH, I do a lot of tricks as a DM to speed up dice rolling — particularly in combat. So a potential area for concern here is that the speed of gameplay would actually slow down. But would that be balanced out by the players feeling more involved and active? Or would they just burn out on all the dice rolling?

    I dunno. I suppose there’s only one way to find out.)
    Saturday, February 16, 2008, 2:24:19 PM

    I was just on the Wizard boards and I saw this comment on Grappling:

    “No more opposed checks. Treat it like other fighting. Roll your attack (grapple check) and beat their grapple AC (10+grapple mod).
    Speeds it up a little as it reduces amount of rolls done and such.”

    Having just read your Grappling post this Horning I thought of you.

    This is an interesting idea. But I would add in the size modifier for the defenders AC.
    Saturday, February 16, 2008, 7:15:56 AM

  2. Warclam says:

    Scrolling through your archives of advanced rules, trying to live up to the Alexandrian Rule. I used this one a few months back, and it worked out great.

    One thing I did notice was that by requiring a grapple check for everything, a poor grappler is at even more of a disadvantage against a strong grappler than with the standard rules. I think this could result in a bug/feature divide. Personally, I come down on the side of feature. When the big strong orc grabs the sorcerer, it seems appropriate that he can do little more than wriggle like a fly in a tar pit (also, it was very funny).

Leave a Reply



Recent Posts

Recent Comments