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I was hoping to create a dragon shaman using this home brew version of it. My question is what feats should I take to optimize it to be a grapple tank? (By grapple tank I mean that I want him to grapple foes that are about to attack allies)

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Just to clarify before it happens (since it's likely going to), are you interested in answers that say Dragon Shaman are bad grapplers and to achieve the same thing with some other option instead? –  Tridus May 13 at 14:24
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Yes I am fine with them, though the homebrew version does (somewhat) improve their ability to grapple by giving it natural attacks, and eventually a size category larger. –  Ze Demon Pyro May 13 at 14:26
    
'Grapple' is now irretrievably 'grape apple' in my mind I hope this sacrifice is worth it. –  Jack Lesnie May 13 at 15:33

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

To get it out of the way...

Full Casters Make The Best Grapplers

Wizards and Sorcerers can buff themselves to have huge grapple modifiers, grow tentacles, change into creatures with Improved Grab, change size, add grapple for no reason, and basically be all around awesome. Druids explode into giant bears (that have improved grab) at level 5, and cast spells that make their strength huge for no reason whatsoever. Psions grapple things with their minds - many things, all the time, all at once. Clerics pray to their god and receive a bonus of every kind to every type of thing, and then proceed to grow to huge size and grapple people while surrounded by alternating coruscating auras of awesome.

Barbarians Can Grapple In Antimagic

Between Rage, Prestige Classes that increase size/effective size, the Bear Totem Barbarian's Improved Grab, and the Rune Scarred Berserker prestige class that allows a Barbarian to (eventually) sheath himself in antimagic and still be able to grapple anything but Titan into submission. This is Important because otherwise spells like Freedom of Movement and Dimension Door completely negate the point of grapplers(although it's still unarmed damage done with a touch attack, but not the point).

Dragon Shaman Grappler

Key Abilities: Str, lesser Dex/Con

Dragon Shaman Class Abilities That Help:

  • Draconic Aura Vigor: This allows you, in the lower-damage environment of a continuous grapple, outpace your opponent's hp-well with your own.
  • Draconic Aura Power: This again allows you to get the edge in damage done, and you will be using this until you or someone else hits half-hp.
  • Draconic Adaptation(Gold, Green, Black, Bronze): Water Breathing lets you potentially drown a tough opponent, which is weird and cool.

Helpful Dips: Monk 1 (Chaos Monk to taste) gives both Unarmed Strike and Improved Grapple, as well as all good saves and Tumble as a class skill. Bear Totem Barbarian (UA) gives Rage 1/day (take Extra Rage as a feat), Fast Movement, and Improved Grab (for that beautiful and wondrous 'ball of town guards carried above your head' multigrapple).

Feats:

  • Beast Strike (Dragon) allows you to add your claw and unarmed strike damage together when you possess both.
  • Scorpion's Grasp (Sandstorm) allows you to punch someone, get a free grapple attempt, grapple them, and then deal grapple damage. You essentially get unarmed damage twice for the price of one attack, although once they're in a grapple you can't do it again, and you roll more checks. Kind of like Improved Trip for grapplers.
  • Martial Study & Martial Stance (Crushing Weight of the Mountain): Crushing Weight of the Mountain, also available as a dip into Warblade, Crusader, or Swordsage, is a stance that grants Constrict, which is very important for grapplers.

    Constrict is a really important ability for grapplers. It allows you to inflict your UAS damage to your grappled foe every time you win a grapple check. Want to move the grapple? CONSTRICT! Want to pin your foe? CONSTRICT! Foe tries to escape, but fails? CONSTRICT! Its good fun. - Keld Denar

  • Shape Soulmeld and Open Lesser Chakra: Kraken Mantle is a soulmeld that gives an untyped bonus to grapple checks. If you bind it to a chakra (Open Lesser Chakra gives you one chakra) it gives you constrict. See importance of constrict.
  • Mage Slayer, Pierce Magical Protection, Pierce Magical Concealment: Some GMs use only big monsters and things from the monster manuals with occasional cookie-cutter npcs. For those sorts of games, these feats are of limited utility. But if you face off against opponents that use spells intelligently and layer magical defenses, these feats are amazing. The exception to this is Mage Slayer. As a grappler, you are always going to want it, as enemies cannot cast defensively if you are within reach. Which means the cleric can't just Freedom of Movement out of your clutches, and neither can the wizard dimension door. At least, without passing a monster of a concentration check (remember you add your damage from the AoO).
  • Quicken Breath: Dragon Shaman gives you a Breath Weapon, but any round you use it is a round you're not Grappling things, Constricting things, or generally Being Awesome. Shooting off a Quickened breath increases your recharge times, but is otherwise fantastic for you since your actions are all going to be spent grappling. Requires CON 19, so, might be problematic.

Grappal Tank

Grappal tank is hard!

Your best bet is to get them to provoke an AoO somehow, which you turn into a grapple. This means Reach, and worse, Natural Reach.

The easiest way to get Natural Reach is via race. Without that, you're looking at Willing Deformity: Tall, a Vile feat from Book of Vile Darkness, or Aberration Blood + Inhuman Reach from Lords of Madness (which notably opens you up for Extend Reach from Savage Species, a total of +10' reach from tentacle-like arms).

In Complete Warrior there is a 'mancatcher' weapon that is a Reach weapon that can grapple at range. With Unarmed Strike or a Natural Weapon to act as your 'close in' weapon, it's ideal for a grappling defender. You still probably want Natural Reach of some kind, though, if only because having a reach weapon doubles it.

Psychic Warrior (Expansion + Extend Reach) or Wizard (Enlarge Person + Fearsome Grapple) are two relatively low-level-requirement ways to get size-increase (and therefore reach increase) or just straight reach increase from class. Psywar has Grip of Iron that boosts grapple checks by a big number, and Wizard can get a familiar (octopus, stormwrack) that gives a bonus on all grapple attempts (hurl it at flying enemies while shouting something about how your burning soul cannot be contained!).

Your best bet is probably Readied actions, however, like a Linebacker counter-tackling someone. There are ways to get to act as an Immediate action, but most of them are high-psion or high-wizard, and well outside your pay-grade as a Dragon Shaman.

With Improved Grab and a big enough modifier, you can even deal with a horde of attackers with a good dex and combat Reflexes. Just snag'em as they go past.

Grappling as AoO: Starting a grapple is an attack action, so can be taken as an aoo. Some people will say that you can't take the 'free action' to make the opposed grapple check after 'grabbing' with the touch attack. This is dumb. If the rules let you make the touch attack, the rules clearly want you to continue the grapple process with the opposed grapple check. This is a clear case of nitpicking, and if people try to seriously make this argument, then you are in deep neckbeard territory and I cannot help you.

Useful resources: Hulkamania runnin' wild, the Grappling Handbook.

Person_Man's Guide to Increasing Size, Effective Size Reach, and Natural Attacks

Making a Grapple Wizard (Monks Suck)

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I think Complete Warrior's mancatcher is a reach weapon that grapples. It definitely grapples, can't double-check right now that it grapples. –  KRyan May 13 at 15:41
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@KRyan I just checked, it grapples, has a reach of 10', and has subdual. –  Ze Demon Pyro May 13 at 17:07

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