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Rules for Wrestling (Grappling) in D&D

by Cab Davidson

I've never found a rules-set that I really like for trying to grapple or wrestle a foe in Dungeons and Dragons. To my mind, they've always erred between the overly simplistic (e.g. 5th ed attackers strength check opposed by defenders strength or athletics) or too complex (having to look up a whole chart in 2nd ed.) to just not entirely functional (classic D&D's oddly simulationist wrestling rating system - beautiful, but not fitting). They're also not quite dramatic enough - yeah, you can wrestle someone to the ground, but having done so what happens if you release them to pummel them with both fists? Where does THAT fit in to wrestling?

So for my classic D&D game (and if you want to adapt it to any other version please be my guest) I propose the following. We need a new mechanic - and for that I propose the†opposed hit roll. For the opposed hit roll system, both the attacker and defender make hit rolls. Whichever hits the 'best' armour class (in classic and AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, thatís a lower armour class, in 3rd ed and onwards its a higher armour class) wins. How this is used will become clear.

Intentions Phase
This is of course only relevant in versions of D&D that use intentions phase.

The attacker must declare the intention to grapple in the intentions phase of the round, and must have at least one hand free (not holding a weapon, shield or other object). A weapon may be dropped in the same round as a grapple attempt. A defender, if grabbed, grappled or taken down, is assumed to be trying to release themself from being wrestled, but may instead declare other actions. In any round when a defender has been grabbed, but has not previously declared that they will try to escape, they may if they have not already acted change their action to make such an attempt.

Attackers Options
An attacking character who rolls a 20 on any opposed hit roll has automatically succeeded (e.g. to grab, take down or pin a foe), unless the defender also rolls a 20, in which case the round is resolved normally.

A grab happens in the attack phase of the round. If the defender has a weapon in hand, he may make an extra attack against the grabber. If multiple attackers are trying to grapple the same opponent, the defender may choose which of those attackers they wish to make a melee attack against. A character under the effects of a†haste†spell may make such attacks against two grabbing attackers.

The attacker must make a hit roll against the targets AC, including only their dexterity bonus and any magical bonuses due to rings or magical armour (for example a defender wearing a ring of protection +1 and plate mail +2 but without an armour class bonus has an AC of 6 against this attack). If this attack hits, the defender has been grabbed.

If a single handed grab has been made, the attacker may now (in the same round) attempt the same procedure to grab with his other hand. Once an attacker has successfully held with both hands, he may in the subsequent round choose to restrain or throw his foe.

To Restrain a Grabbed Foe
The attacker and defender make opposed hit rolls. If the attacker wins, he has restrained his foe.

To Throw a Grabbed Foe
Both parties make opposed hit rolls, with the attacker suffering a -4 penalty to the roll. If the attacker wins, the defender is thrown to the ground, to a location within 5' of the attackers choosing, suffering 1d2 points of damage, automatically losing initiative next round, and is now prone. If the defender wins, he remains grabbed but is not thrown. A fie can only be thrown if a similar size (or smaller). One cannot throw a giant.

To Disarm a Grabbed, Restrained, Taken Down or Pinned Foe
A standard disarm check is made, with the attacker having a +2 bonus to disarm a restrained foe, +4 bonus versus a taken down foe, and +6 bonus versus a pinned foe. Note that disarming while wrestling is not solely a fighter combat option, and that any character wrestling another who is holding a weapon may try to disarm.

To Take Down a Grabbed Foe
The attacker and defender make opposed hit rolls, with the attacker suffering a -2 penalty to the roll. If the attacker wins, he has successfully wrestled the defender (who remains grabbed) to the ground.

To Pin a Taken Down Foe
Both parties make opposed hit rolls, as described above. If the attacker wins, the defender is pinned. The attacker may now inflict one point of damage (plus strength modifier) per round to the defender, until the defender is freed. The attacker may instead choose to free the target from being pinned and†pummel†the defender, punching him twice per round, with a +4 bonus to hit (in addition to -4 to the defenders armour class for being pinned).

Note that a defender who has been taken down is not automatically restrained - a character can be wrestled to the ground without being restrained.

Defender Options
At any time the defender may choose to wrestle back - following precisely the same procedure as for the attacker above. Two foes may successfully grab each other, but a restrained defender can only try to release himself from restraint. A defending character who rolls a 20 on an opposed attack roll has automatically freed himself, unless in that opposed roll the attacker has also rolled a 20, in which case the result is handled normally.

Grabbed (With One or Two Hands)
A grabbed defender can either choose to wrestle back, try to free himself, or strike with a weapon. Weapon attacks against the grabbing foe have a +4 to hit and automatically inflict an extra 1d6 damage.†

If instead the defender tries to wrestle himself free, an opposed hit roll is made, however to free himself from a grab the defender may choose to use his dexterity modifier instead of strength for the hit roll.

When restrained a defender cannot attempt to attack with a weapon or punch his foe, but can still wrestle back. A restrained character can attempt to grab or indeed restrain his foe - it is possible for two wrestlers to restrain each other. To become freed from restraint a defender must win an opposed hit roll.

Taken Down
When taken to the floor, a defender can still try to free himself. An opposed hit roll is made, with the defender suffering a -2 penalty to their roll. If the defender wins and becomes free both the attacker and defender are still prone. Either party may try to grapple the other on their next action.

A thrown target is simply prone, and may stand, remain prone, etc.

A pinned character can only try to free himself. An opposed hit roll is made, with the defender having a -4 penalty. If the defender wins this opposed check, he is no longer pinned but is still taken down.

A character being pummelled has the option to try to wrestle out of being taken down, with a standard opposed hit roll with a -2 penalty or may attempt to punch back, with a -4 penalty to hit rolls, or if not disarmed may make weapon attacks, likewise with a -4 penalty to hit rolls.

Optional Rules

Multiple Attacks
Multiple attacks are handled normally. E.g. a fighter who has two attacks in a round and who has successfully grabbed with both hands may, in the same round, attempt to throw or take down his opponent. Otherwise, this would only be possible in the next round. A pummeling character with multiple attacks only gains one extra attack for punching with their off hand.†

Character Class
Monks (or in classic D&D mystics) gain a +4 bonus to opposed hit rolls when wrestling.

Wrestling Skill
Characters successfully making a skill check gain a +4 bonus to all wrestling checks for the combat.

Weapon Mastery
All characters have basic weapon mastery when wrestling. Weapon mastery bonuses to hit are also applied to defending opposed hit rolls. Skilled, Expert, Master and Grand Master wrestlers inflict 1d2, 1d4, 1d8 and 1d10 (plus strength bonus) damage to pinned targets.

Multiple Wrestlers
Multiple attackers or defenders may work together. Each side must pick a leader. Each participant in wrestling adds +3 and their strength bonus (if any) to each hit roll. The maximum number of wrestlers able to attack one human sized foe is 6, although the DM may rule that a halfling sized foe can only be wrestled by four, and large targets (ogres, giants†etc.) might be wrestled by more.