Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

Tag: rules

Group Stealth & Other Ability Checks

Something came up during my last D&D session that got me thinking. We were sneaking around on top of a mountain range, trying to avoid the watchful eye of various baddies and beasties in the vicinity. The DM ruled that my Rogue Assassin (with +14 stealth!) could make one check for the whole party to see if we succeeded, as he reasoned that I’d be able to signal to my companions when to crawl, when to duck down etc. etc.. That was nice him and I certainly didn’t argue, however I did think he was probably being a bit too generous.

A little Googling and revisiting the Player’s Handbook (p.175) reveals that the official rules for Group Checks are that “everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise the group fails.” The handbook explains “in such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren’t.”

I like it I have to say. It’s quick and easy solution, and if fast gameplay is what you’re all about then I think it’s hard to improve on…

However, before I looked up the rules I already started to consider another option, and I think it’s worth sharing.

Group Ability Checks – Hipsters Variant ‘Take The Lead’ Rule

Considering the game scenario I already alluded to above, the way I think I would DM it would be that I would let the party elect the PC who is most skilled in stealth (or whatever) to take the lead and to roll first. If they are successful in their ability check – provided they are able to communicate with the rest of the party, via hand signs etc. – then they can confer advantage to the other PCs on their own roll. However if one fails the game is up.

In my imagination I can see a sneaky Rogue leading his group through the castle at night. Having already told them to keep their unblackened weapons sheathed and used a bit of cloth to muffle a particularly clanky piece of platemail, he leads them through the quiet courtyard, motioning them to stop and then duck, and cling to the darkest of the shadows. This explains why they get advantage on their check. What he can’t do however is prevent them from kicking a barrel of fish over the cobblestones, or tripping over their own cloak, which is why he can’t make one check on the whole party’s behalf.

I quite like this mechanic because it feels a bit more realistic, and with more individual player agency than with the official rules that lump everyone together and don’t punish failed rolls. There’s a clear benefit from having at least one expert in the party, but overall it’s harder for the party to mask the weaknesses of their companions. It also means that the larger group, the harder it is to move stealthily, whereas in the official rules sneaking around with three people of mixed ability is just as hard or easy as sneaking around in a party of 103.

Does this ‘Take The Lead’ mechanic work for other group skills checks? Maybe. A good climber can lead the way up a steep rocky incline showing those that follow the best hand and footholds, giving them advice / encouragement and generally making their lives easier. It would make sense therefore, if this ‘activity leader’ (for want of a better phrase) could confer advantage to others less skilled. In this case, assuming the climbers aren’t roped together, if one fails it wouldn’t mean they all fail.

It might need some more playtesting but hey, I just put it out there… it’s up to you if you decide if you want to use it in your game! But if you do, let me know in what situation and whether it worked. That’s the comment section right there ↓ 🙂

If you liked this idea maybe you will like my rule on what I call Dungeons and Dragons ‘technical proficiencies‘.

Is Counterspell Overpowered? How To Deal With Counterspell as a DM…

Is Counterspell overpowered? The answer is probably yes. Using just a reaction (ie. you can still use your own action to cast another spell or attack!), and a third level spell slot (minimum), you can negate the effect of any spell of 3rd level or lower cast within 60ft of you, and you have a decent chance of bringing higher level spells to a grinding halt as well.

During a recent encounter our poor Dungeon Master grew quite frustrated as the sorcerer in our party rendered a high level cleric powerless, by negating a succession of dangerous spells that would have put the combat right in the balance, all with just a couple of 3rd level spell slots. Maybe that’s why DM David voted it one of the four most annoying spells in D&D!

Counter this beeactch... (Artwork by Biffno on Deviantart)

Counter this beeatch… (Artwork by Biffno on Deviantart)

As a Dungeon Master the spell carries a double annoyance. It can make it harder to judge how tough to make encounters (if Fire Storm takes effect the party is going to be in a lot of trouble… if it doesn’t it could turn into a cakewalk), and from a story point of view it can replace epic happenings with the empty hiss of arcane magic fizzling out into nothing.

Of course you could simply ban the spell from the table, but that can feel pretty rough on those who consider it a key weapon in their armoury, so let’s look at some ways you can legitimately prevent it from getting overpowered without changing the existing rules.

1. Perception Check
The caster of Counterspell has to be able to see the caster of the spell they are trying to interrupt. But let’s remember that they don’t get a little notification in their inbox saying “someone within 60ft of you is trying to cast a spell, would you like to try and counter it?” Just because it’s possible for character A. to see character B., ie. there is a clear line of sight, doesn’t mean that character A. was looking in that direction at exactly the right moment. Unless the character in question was unquestionably focused on the caster have them roll a Perception check to see if they notice what the hell is going on. On a chaotic battlefield with multiple casters I’d recommend a DC of around 15.

2. Don’t Automatically Reveal What Spell Is Being Cast
If you know one or more of your players has Counterspell up their wizards’ sleeves, then be smart. Don’t declare what spell your NPC is casting. Simply inform your player(s) that they see a creature (if indeed they do see them… see points 1. and 2.) about to cast a spell, and have them roll an Arcana check DC15. If they pass they correctly guess the spell being cast, otherwise they have no idea and have to gamble whether or not to use their spell slot to try and counter the spell on what might just be a magic missile or cantrip. What’s more if the character has never seen the spell cast before give them disadvantage on their Arcana roll (if they have seen it plenty, or frequently cast it themselves, you should probably give them advantage). If you want to be really mean roll for them privately, behind your screen, and feed them misinformation when they fail their roll. This way they never know for sure, because even when they pass the check and you tell them the truth, they don’t know they passed the roll, so can’t be sure to trust their character’s assessment.

3. Make The Players Act Instantly
The uncertainty caused by point 3. will create a lot hesitation… snap your fingers, and if they haven’t decided tell them they’re too late! They just lost their reaction. Better luck next time. (That is if they survive the Lich’s Power Word Kill… mwah ha ha ha!).

4. Get The Rules Right
When the spell being cast is higher than the spell slot being used to interrupt it the Counterspeller must make a DC check of 10 plus the spell level. They can add their spellcasting ability but NOT their proficiency bonus. (I mention this because we got this wrong on our table and indeed our frustrated DM might have got off at least one more spell if we had this clearer! There is actually a skill called Improved Abjuration available to Wizards who follow the School of Abjuration who reach 10th level that enables them to add their proficiency bonuses to this roll [p.115 of the Player’s Handbook]… chances are your players don’t have that!).

5. One Reaction A Turn Max.
Remember the spell does take a reaction. And every character only gets one reaction a round. So if they’ve cast Shield already for example, or indeed another Counterspell, or used Uncanny Dodge to halve some damage (if they are multiclass Rogue), then they’re shit out of luck.

6. Fight Fire(ball Extinguisher) with Fire(ball Extinguisher)
One other very obvious way to fight the power of Counterspell is to arm all your NPCs casters with it as well – a particularly good tactic if you want to persuade magic using characters on your table to drop it from gameplay altogether, as you’ll soon see them get frustrated when their own spells fizzle out and the combat is decided by the fighters in the party. (Do note however, despite some DMs arguing that you can, you should not be able to Counterspell a Counterspell. Aside from the ridiculousness that would ensue, that would also involve casting two spells simultaneously, which is not only against the rules, but also against common sense. Additionally CS is so fast there’s no way you could react to it… most spells take several seconds to cast, CS takes a split second. More on this in the Comments section below).

Hipster Rules Fix

If, after applying all these factors to your gameplay, you still feel that the spell is overpowered let me suggest the following rules fix. Instead of setting a DC, the CS caster must contest the original caster each using their spellcasting ability modifier. If one of them is using a higher spell slot than the other, they get +2 modifier per slot higher.

Eg. Gandalf is a wizard with Intelligence 18 (+4 spellcasting modifier) and seeing the dastardly Harry Potter (Intelligence 16, +3 modifier) preparing a nefarious incantation he successfully rolls Arcana to recognise it. It’s the level 7 Finger of Death spell! Gandalf uses his highest spell slot left, a level 6, to try to counter it. He rolls a 15, which becomes 19 with his spellcasting modifier. Harry rolls 13, plus his own spellcasting modifier of 3, and an additional plus 2 as his spell is one level higher than the slot being used to counter it. His total is 18 (a draw would result in the spell being cast). Gandalf succeeds in his counter… just.

In my rules fix there’s also no such thing as an automatic counter, so you should roll/contest if even if you are countering a spell using a higher spell slot, getting +2 on your roll per slot level higher you use. (Otherwise a higher level wizard would systematically destroy a lower one without a chance, which is against the spirit of D&D).

Personally I quite like Counterspell, probably because I currently play as a multi-class Fighter / Rogue / Wizard, and it gives me a chance at least to avoid seriously nasty spells of magic users before engaging them in melee, where I have the upper hand. As someone with a long history of failing saving throws I really enjoy getting a second chance to avoid some excruciatingly annoying effect that is going to take my character out of the game for the rest of the encounter…

Plus this guy has some good advice on making it fun!

Critical Fumble Tables for 5e D&D

What happens when you roll a 1 for an attack roll in Dungeons & Dragons? Well according to the official 5th Edition rules, not too much.

“If the d20 roll for an attack is a 1, the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.” (p194 of the Player’s Handbook).

So you automatically miss, no matter what your attack roll modifier is and no matter how easy a target your opponent is, but nothing bad happens to mirror the powerful effects of scoring a critical hit when you roll a 20 (when you do double damage to your foe, and – at the DM’s discretion – also roll on the Lingering Injuries table – p272 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide).

a “critical fumble” blasts open the door of opportunity for something funny, unexpected or challenging to happen to both PCs and NPCs/Monsters

That’s a bit boring frankly speaking! As far as I’m concerned a “critical fumble” blasts open the door of opportunity for something funny, unexpected or challenging to happen to both PCs and NPCs/Monsters, and every DM worth his salt will want to seize this opportunity to spice up a combat. Making up details on the fly can be challenging (a DM has plenty to think about as it is!) and can even make PCs feel victimised if they bear the brunt of an ad hoc ruling – leading to tedious arguments and/or an unhappy player. But, by having a clear table that applies to 1s rolled on attacks by both players and monsters, not only can you depend on some interesting outcomes for your D&D combats… but hey you can blame it all on the dice!

Dammit, not again...

Dammit, not again…

So without further ado, here is Hipsters & Dragons very own homebrew critical fumbles chart for melee weapons (with separate charts for both thrown and fired range weapons underneath). Just buy me a beer sometime!

UPDATE. I’ve polished up these tables, added charts for natural weapons and spell attacks and published on the DMs Guild in a lovely printable PDF. If you’d like to donate a dollar to the cause, even better!

Critical Fumbles Table (Melee Weapons)

Roll a d20…

1-2. Weapon Break. The force of your blow, or parrying that of your opponent’s, causes your weapon to snap in two. (For magical weapons roll an additional d10, on a 1 they break).

3-4. Goodbye Fair Blade! Roll an Strength / Athletics check DC 15, or your weapon flies d12 feet out of your hand in a random direction. If you have any movement and a bonus action left you can go and pick it up. In doing so you provoke an opportunity attack from anyone in the area, starting with your most immediate opponent. (Otherwise you could simply draw a second weapon, if you have one, using a bonus action).

5-6. Wild Swing. You overextend yourself going for the kill. Your opponent gains advantage on their next attack roll.

7. Stuck Weapon. Your weapon gets stuck in your opponent’s shield, armour, hide, or else in a tree or wall, or the ground. Roll a Strength check to see if you can free it using a bonus action. The DC is 8 + your strength modifier.

8. Ooops! You hit an unintended foe in combat. Randomise all combatants within 5 feet and roll a second attack roll, if you beat their armour class roll damage as if they were your intended target. (Discount sneak attack damage for Rogues).

9. Self Inflicted wound. You manage to slice yourself with your own blade, roll normal damage and half it. (Applies to combatants using slashing weapons and flails only. Other weapon types roll again. Discount sneak attack damage for Rogues).

10-14. Slip Up. You lose your footing. Roll Dexterity / Acrobatics check (DC15) or fall prone. Your turn has ended and melee attacks have advantage on you (see p292 of PH for conditions of being prone).

15. Pulled Muscle (Arms). Roll a Constitution Saving Throw DC15 or the strain of your attack causes you to pull a muscle in your upper body. You have disadvantage in attack rolls and ability checks requiring upper body strength until you have completed three long rests, or received magical healing.

16. Pulled Muscle (Legs). Roll a Constitution Saving Throw DC15 or the strain of combat causes you to pull a muscle in your leg. Your movement is halved, and you lose your dex modifier to AC and initiative, and you have disadvantage on any ability checks that require lower body strength, until you have completed three long rests, or received magical healing.

17-18. Loss of Nerve. Man your opponent looks tough. Make a Wisdom Saving Throw with a base DC of 10 modified by +2 for every hit dice higher than you your opponent has (or -2 for every hit dice less). On a fail you are frightened (see p292 of Player’s Handbook). After one turn you can attempt the saving throw again.

19. Broken Item. In the hurly burly of combat, something fragile – like a magic potion – you’re carrying breaks. Randomise fragile objects you have in your possession and roll to determine which. (Note, better to do this when the combat is over).

20. A Little Accident. Either through fear, excitement or simply needing to go, you soil yourself. 75% chance it’s only pee.

Critical Misses Table (Shooting Range Weapons)

Roll a d20…

1-2. Weapon Break. Your bow shaft or a mechanism in your crossbow breaks and is now useless. (For magical weapons roll an additional d10, on a 1 they break).

3-5. String Break. Your bowstring snaps. Assuming you have a spare string, it requires 1 minute to replace it.

6-8. Loose String. Your string comes loose. You lose this attack. Starting next turn you can make a sleight of hand check DC15 to fix it. Each attempt takes one turn.

9-16. Ooops! You hit an unintended random target. Randomise all combatants within 10 feet (for a short range attack, or 30 feet for a long range attack) and roll a second attack roll, if you beat their armour class roll damage as if they were your intended target (discount sneak attack damage for Rogues).

17-18. Ammo Accident. Your quiver spills (50% strap broken, 50% you tilt it over by accident), and the remainder of your arrows / bolts fall to the floor. If you remain still you can use a bonus action to pick up one a round and still fire using your action. Otherwise you can use an action to pick up 2d8 and put them back in your quiver.

19. Pulled Muscle (Upper Body). Roll a Constitution Saving Throw DC15 or the strain of your attack causes you to pull a muscle in your upper body. You have disadvantage in attack rolls and ability checks requiring upper body strength until you have completed three long rests, or received magical healing.

20. Slip Up. You lose your footing. Roll Dexterity / Acrobatics (DC15) or fall prone. Your turn has ended and melee attacks have advantage on you (see p292 of PH for conditions of being prone).

Critical Misses Table (Thrown Range Weapons)

Roll a d10

1. Weapon Break. The impact of your weapon hitting a tree, the ground, a shield etc. causes it to break. It is now useless. (For magical weapons roll an additional d10, on a 1 they break).

2. Pulled Muscle (Arms). Roll a Constitution Saving Throw DC15 or the strain of your attack causes you to pull a muscle in your upper body. You have disadvantage in attack rolls and ability checks requiring upper body strength until you have completed three long rests, or received magical healing.

3-4. Slip Up. You lose your footing. Roll Dexterity / Acrobatics (DC15) or fall prone. Your turn has ended and melee attacks have advantage on you (see p292 of PH for conditions of being prone).

5-9. Ooops! You hit an unintended random target. Randomise all combatants within 10 feet (for a short range attack, or 30 feet for a long range attack) and roll a second attack roll, if you beat their armour class roll damage as if they were your intended target (discount sneak attack damage for Rogues).

10. WTF? You launch a comically bad projectile attack nowhere near your intended opponent – it flies into a huge empty space (or at DM’s discretion a distant unintended target) taking your self confidence with it. Roll wisdom saving throw DC15, or suffer disadvantage to attack rolls until you next score a hit on an opponent.

Critical Fumbles for High Level Characters. Once your PCs have two or three attacks a round, they might start rolling an incongruous number of fumbles, especially for heroes of their ability. Whilst being a higher level should also make passing some saving throws / skills checks easier, as well as reduce the chance of weapon breaks (as most high level characters fight with magical weapons), if you feel it’s necessary you could bring in a new rule. Starting at Level 5 you could give them a fumble saving throw where if they roll their level or below on a d20 they suffer no adverse effects. That way extremely high level characters will rarely fumble. Or you could rule that only if they roll a 1 on their first attack of their round do they have to consult this table. Rolling a 1 on any other attack and it’s just an automatic miss.

Like this? I’ve got a few other homebrew rules that you might like as well. If you have a chance to play test any of them do let me know in the comments. Would love to hear from you…

Update, what happens when a monster with natural weapons, such as bite, claw or tail attack, rolls a 1? Here we go….

Critical Misses Table (Natural Weapons)

Roll a d10.

1-2. Ouch! The attacker snaps one or several teeth / claws on its target’s weapon or armour, or nearby surface. They receive 1d3hp of damage, and furthermore they must subtract the result of the same d3 roll from damage done from this attack from now on. (Ignore for tail attacks).

3-5. Wild Swing. The attacker overextends itself going for the kill. Their intended target gains advantage on their next attack roll.

6-7. Slip Up. The attacker loses its footing. Roll Dexterity / Acrobatics check (DC15) or fall prone. Their turn has ended and melee attacks have advantage on you (see p292 of PH for conditions of being prone). Creatures with more than two legs are immune to this effect.

8-10. Loss of Nerve. The attacker is scared. They must make a Wisdom Saving Throw with a base DC of 10 modified by +2 for every hit dice higher the target of the attack has vs. the attacker (or -2 for every hit dice less). On a fail they are frightened (see p292 of Player’s Handbook). After one turn they can attempt the saving throw again. Creatures that inspire fear are immune to this effect (unless their target also inspires fear).

Now available on the DMs Guild…

>>> Download these tables in a handy and printable PDF form <<<

Using Skills Without Proficiency (5e D&D)

Can I use a skill that I’m not proficient in?

According to the letter of the rules, yes you can. Page 174 of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook states:

“Proficiency in a skill means an individual can add his or her proficiency bonus to ability checks that involve that skill. Without proficiency in the skill, the individual makes a normal ability check [adding just their ability modifier].”

Remember your proficiency bonus is the one that goes up as you gain levels. It starts at +2 at level one and is added to all skills checks your proficient in, as well as to attack rolls with weapons you’re proficient in. Check p.15 of the Player’s Handbook for a table that shows proficiency bonuses next to character levels.

Your ability modifiers are the bonus (or minus) you get depending on your ability scores in strength, dexterity, intelligence etc. They are added to every ability/skill check you make.

Example: Two first-level rogues, called Vince and Howard, are walking across a tightrope above a yawning precipice. They both have dexterity 16 giving them an ability modifier of +3 each. But furthermore Vince has the Acrobatics proficiency, meaning he can add a further +2 to his roll to make a total modifier of +5. Whilst Howard, who isn’t proficient, will have to hope +3 is all he requires!

skills and proficiencies

I’ll be fine with just my ability modifier Vince

This rule works pretty well for skills that most people could reasonably attempt, like climbing and jumping (Athletics), riding a horse (Animal Handling), foraging for food (Survival) or telling an outrageous lie whilst looking someone right in the eye (Deception)… however for me it falls down when we talk about more technical skills, or ones that require specialist knowledge.

For that reason, I’ve created this small rules fix which declares several of the D&D skills as “technical skills / proficiencies”. When attempting to use these skills, non-proficient characters not only don’t add their proficiency bonus, but they also attempt any such checks at disadvantage.

Hipsters & Dragons list of “Technical Skills”

  • Arcana
  • Religion
  • Medicine
  • Tools (Disguise Kit, Herbalism Kit, Musical Instruments, Thieves’ Tools etc. See p.154 of Player’s Handbook).

All of these skills require a degree of specialist training and knowledge that, for me, need to be reflected in terms of probability when a non-proficient character uses them, and which I do by imposing disadvantage.

The average fighter is not going to have a clue about arcane or religious rituals, not does he have the anatomical knowledge or herbal lore to have any realistic chance of performing any healing (Medicine) on anyone, other than bandaging wounds. (In fact, I think it would be justified under some circumstances if the DM gives a non-proficient no chance at all in tests of these skills).

Finally I will add that within the non-technical skills, as a DM, I would still consider giving disadvantage to non-proficient players for some more specialist skill tests. In fact, my tightrope example above is a good one in this regard… whilst it makes sense that every character can attempt to forward roll over a tavern table without needing proficiency in Acrobatics, walking a tightrope is a very technical skill, so a tough-but-fair DM (my favourite type) could easily justify imposing disadvantage.

Similarly if you attempt to Crocodile Dundee a Buffalo and you’re not proficient in Animal Handling, I’m going to give you disadvantage (on top of a very high Difficulty Class… p.154 Player’s Handbook).

A Couple More Points About Skills

While updating this post and doubling back on the source material a couple of interesting things came up that I hadn’t fully got to grips with… which leads me to suspect others might not have either.

Healer’s Kit

Consulting the Player’s Handbook, I noticed that the Healer’s Kit (not to be confused with the Herbalism Kit) is NOT in the list of tool kits on p.154, appearing in the equipment section on p.151 instead.

“As an action, you can expend one use of the kit to stabilize a creature that has 0 hit points, without needing to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check.”

So there you are… no rolling required.

A reminder that, without a Healer’s Kit: “you can use your action to administer first aid to an unconscious creature and attempt to stabilize it, which requires a successful DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check.” (p.197, PH).

(Using the Hipsters Rule Fix that check would be made with disadvantage if you didn’t have the Medicine proficiency!).

Similarly the Climbers Kit is not a tool set, but a set of equipment.

Tools Proficiencies & Ability Modifiers

Tools proficiencies use ability modifiers… but which ability might depend on the nature of the check. Page 154 of the Player’s Handbook states:

“Proficiency with a tool allows you allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool. Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. For example, the DM might ask you to make a Dexterity check to carve a fine detail with your woodcarver’s tools, or a Strength check to make something out of particularly hard wood.”

I think we often naturally go to a class’s prime ability to determine what modifier should be applied to using a tool kit. A classic ability would be a Dexterity check for a rogue using a Thieves’ Took Kit, a Wisdom check for a cleric or ranger using a Herbalism Kit, or a Charisma check for a bard playing a musical instrument.

But that’s not always the most appropriate. A trap might be easy to disarm, if you cut the right cord… figuring out which would be an Intelligence check, not a Dexterity check. Meanwhile rocking out the world’s fastest harp solo should require a Dexterity check, not a Charisma check.

When Tools & Proficiencies Overlap

A previous version of this post declared that DMs might want to consider Performance a technical proficiency if it came to performing with a musical instrument (as opposed to singing, giving a speech, or telling a story/joke)… however an astute commenter (see below!) pointed out that musical instruments are in fact tool proficiencies, so I didn’t need to qualify what I’d already covered in my ruling.

That did deliver a bit of a shock to me, as I think in all the 5th edition games I’ve played in we’ve always simply used Performance for any musical endeavour.

And it also raises an interesting point about what happens when both a skills proficiency and a tools proficiency are relevant to a skills check, as might be when a bard is performing with a musical instrument. (Arguably a rogue might use sleight of hand when disarming a trap with a Thieves’ Tool Kit)

There’s actually some interesting reading in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything on exactly this subject, starting on p.78.

The game designers suggest that in cases where a tool and skill proficiency overlap, it’s totally appropriate for the DM to either a) give the PC advantage on the check or b) give additional information or an additional benefit on a check they completed where they have proficiency in both the skill and a relevant tool kit. (They give the example that someone with Mason’s Tools proficiency who passes a Perception check to spot a hidden door, might automatically know how to open it, without an additional check).

I suggest you have a good read of the section as it’s very insightful and they go into individual detail on every tool kit and what checks they might confer advantage on.

For me there’s an even more obvious boon to award in situations where skill and tool proficiencies overlap, and that’s simply allow the PC to add their proficiency bonus twice to the check (effectively granting them something akin to the rogue’s expertise feature).

Further Reading… Weapons!

I’ve attempted to make weapons a bit more exciting in 5th edition by creating some new properties that give different weapons different situational advantages. More info on this post.

Improved Grappling Rules for 5th Edition

So here’s a question for any Dungeon Masters out there… have you ever pit your adventurers against an awesome and powerful foe and looked forward to the epic battle that was going to ensure between them… only for one of the characters to shout out on round one of the combat “I’m going to grapple him!”

One lucky roll later and your supposedly awe-inspiring NPC is restrained by a weedy 1st level halfling rogue whilst the others rain blows on his motionless ass, making short work of him.

(Image by Janus on ddemotivators).

(Image by Janus on ddemotivators).

The 5e D&D grappling rules have a lot to be desired in my opinion, and are also pretty vague. For a start the condition of being grappled (p290 in Player’s Handbook) states only that the subject cannot move, however most players will expect some kind of advantage over an NPC they have successfully wrestled with. It would make more sense if the conditions of being restrained (p292 PH) were also applied to the grappled subject.

In short, I’ve come up with what I think are improved rules, which effectively reduce your chances to grapple in armed combat, when such circumstances would realistically make this very difficult indeed, but do make grappling well worthwhile in the right circumstances. I also made some slight tweaks, for example whilst it makes sense that you can avoid being grappled using Dexterity / Acrobatics, once grappled it makes sense that only Strength / Athletics will set you free (you can hardly cartwheel out of danger if someone is holding your ankles). These rules are a little more complicated than Wizard of the Coast’s but I am confident that they will improve your gameplay and help you create realistic scenarios that your players will understand.


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 within your reach and can be the same size as you, one size larger than you (in which case you suffer disadvantage), one size smaller (you gain advantage), or two sizes smaller (disadvantage… it’s hard to grab a rabbit!).

You can choose to use one hand (at disadvantage), or two hands. You must drop anything in these hands in order to grapple. If your target is armed you provoke an opportunity of attack from your opponent. If this attack is successful you take damage and the grapple automatically fails.

If the creature is unarmed and / or they fail on their attack of opportunity you make an Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target may choose which). If you succeed you subject the target to the restrained condition.

Escaping A Grapple

A grappled creature can use its action to escape. To do it must contest a Strength (Athletics) check with its opponent. Note that the original contest would count at the victim’s reaction, so if they have not used their action this round (ie. they were after their attacker in the initiative sequence) they may use it in the same round to try and escape. Alternatively they may try to attack (with disadvantage, see conditions for being restrained). If they hit their target (who cannot add their dex modifier to their AC), the grappler must make a Strength check with DC 10 + damage of the attack to maintain the grapple.

If the victim of a grapple fails to escape for three turns, including the turn they were grappled in, then they are considered to be incapacitated (can speak only).

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.


(Modified from Player’s Handbook p292).

  • A restrained creature’s speed become 0.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage (also they can’t add their dex modifier to their AC), and the creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage.
  • The creature has disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws.
  • Spellcasters must roll DC 15 (modified by spellcasting ability) to cast spells that include more than verbal components (spells with only verbal components can be cast as normal).

Further Notes

Note that monsters with a different physiognomy to humans that naturally grapple in their attacks, such as giant scorpions, do not provoke an opportunity attack when trying to grapple.

Once a creature is grappled, a second person, with at least one free hand, can use their action to confer advantage on keeping the subject grappled, provided he moves before the victim in the initiative chain. (The DM may rule that a third person renders the victim incapacitated provided they are of the same size as the one being grappled).

A grappler may use their bonus action to attack their victim (with advantage, as per the conditions of being restrained) either with an unarmed strike or a weapon (in the latter only if they succeeded in grappling with one hand… which remember they do with disadvantage). This means however, if they were not already, that they are now grappling with one hand, and so contest any escape attempt in this round at disadvantage.

The person who is being grappled normally has disadvantage on their attack rolls (see restrained condition above), however if they attack their grappler with unarmed strike or short weapon (dagger or smaller) they can lose that disadvantage. The DM may rule that they need to make a sleight of hand check to be able to draw a dagger if they were not already carrying it. Suggested DC10.


Nada a 4th level fighter / rogue PC with strength 14 is speaking with Xenia (a 4th level rogue assassin with strength 10, dex 18), a mysterious half elf with a scarred face, in The Thirsty Goat Tavern. She decides she can’t trust Xenia and without warning jumps across the table to grab her. Xenia is alert so Nada doesn’t get a surprise, but the DM gives Nada first initiative for the round without rolling. She rolls 12 for her attempted grapple and has proficiency in athletics making a total of 16, but Xenia has proficiency in acrobatics +4 dex modifier rolls 11 and gets a total of 17, ducking aside as Nada goes flying over the tabletop, sending two flagons of ale flying. Xenia promptly draws her shortsword, stabs Nada (who the DM rules is prone) and then uses her move turn to run out of the tavern door. Here she runs into Grunder a half orc paladin PC who was guarding the door. He drops his sword and also tries to grapple her, using both his hands. Xenia now is armed though, so he provokes an opportunity attack – which unfortunately for Xenia pings off his plate mail, allowing him to go through with the grapple. Grunder has strength 18 and rolls a 15 (+2 +4 = 21)… Xenia rolls a 3 (+2 +4 = 9). She is grappled and subjected to conditions of being restrained. They roll for initiative and Xenia wins. She has a choice… contest the grapple using strength (athletics), as she can no longer use acrobatics. Or make an attack at disadvantage that might force Grunder to let go of her. As she isn’t proficient in athletics, she prefers her chances at making an attack at disadvantage. She has +6 to hit AC18 and luckily rolls a 12 and a 19. She deals Grunder a meaty 9 hp damage, meaning he has to make DC 19 to maintain the grapple. The lucky half orc rolls 13, which with his proficiency and str bonus is just enough. Xenia is still grappled. It’s then Nada’s turn to act and she leaps to her feet and attacks Xenia with her longsword with advantage dealing 10hp damage. Grunder then uses his bonus action to punch Xenia, again at advantage, dealing 5hp damage. Realising she’s in a bind, Xenia begs for mercy.

For an in depth discussion on grappling check this conversation out on Facebook that these rules prompted (I should add that many defended the original rules for their simplicity, and stressed that grappling is just for reducing the movement of your opponent). If you’ve had any issues with grappling or playtested my rules please leave a comment below.

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