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After reading this question on creating a grappling fighter in Pathfinder, I got to thinking about how something similar could be created in DnD 5e. As with the linked question, I am hoping to play some sort of Luchador character who wears a mask, and exclusively wrestles its opponents to death. I found this Homebrew class, and while ideal, I am unsure if my DM will allow it.

This answer seems to be a great start, but unfortunately I am unfamiliar with the differences in game content and mechanics between Pathfinder, DnD 3.5 and DnD 5e. I was reading here about the differences in content, but am still having trouble understanding how grappling specifically has changed.

As such, I have the following question:

How can I create a character that is superb at grappling in DnD 5e?

Ideally, I am looking for the combination of classes, races, and/or feats which would improve grappling the most, and preserves some of the appealing aspects of the Homebrew class above (eg. being able to grapple larger enemies, having an extra attack, being able to jump high and slam the enemy down, etc). I have taken a look at this guide which is a start, but due to my inexperience in character creation I am finding it extremely overwhelming.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a word of caution: the homebrew class you linked is on a website notorious for containing extremely low quality homebrew content. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Jun 7 '17 at 15:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ In 5e, you can not grapple someone to death, meaning you deal no damage. Would you prefer leaving the damage-dealing part to your teammates (becoming a subpar team member in my opinion) or are you willing to refluff a dagger in one of your hands as choking? \$\endgroup\$ – András Jun 7 '17 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Coming into chat may also expedite getting info to help with a build. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 7 '17 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 7 '17 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify, "Luchador" precludes "turning into a giant animal", right? \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Jun 8 '17 at 1:59
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At the risk of downvotes, I'm not going to do a specific build, but present some options for you to consider.

Before beginning, I want to restate that a Grappler build is more of a support style because of the existing rules around the Grappled Condition. Adding feats to help support it can give you Advantage on attacks (Grappler Feat), but unless you want to make yourself Restrained along with your target (which takes you out of the combat as well), the most you can do is set a creature's speed to 0.

ABILITY SCORES

STRENGTH and CONSTITUTION will be your friends here. Grappling is a Strength-based check, so having the highest modifier is going to go a long way. When grappling, you are just as likely as to get hit as hitting the target, so a having HP to absorb that damage and keep the creature grappled is very important.

RACES

There are some races that will vastly improve your ability to Grapple and possibly even reposition enemies on the battlefield by increasing your ability to move them.

Goliath - +2 STR, +1 CON And you count as one size larger for determining carrying capacity and when you push/drag/lift. This can be a big deal for moving bigger creatures. *Talk with your DM if this means if you (a medium creature) can now grapple a Huge creature (normally you are limited to one size larger, PHB 195.)

Aarakocra - +2 DEX, +1 WIS. The scores aren't the big improvement here for you with this race. IF your DM allows for it, what you get from this race is natural Flight. Being able to take a creature up in the air with you and dropping them is pretty amazing.

CLASSES

There are a lot of options, each of which have different effects on how you can play your character.

Barbarian - Unarmored Defense could be big here (and would pair nicely with a MAD build of STR/DEX/CON on an Aarakocra.) When Raging you also get advantage on STR checks and saving throws which will help with your grapple. The danger with Rage is that if you don't take damage, you can lose it. Taking the Totem Warrior-Bear path gives you some additional capabilities - namely at 6th level you can double your carry capacity again.

Bard - Your main focus on this is to become a Lore Bard for their 3rd level ability Cutting Words. Unfortunately, the amount of times you can do this is limited by your Charisma modifier, which introduces another stat for you to have at a decent level. Cutting Words allows for you to reduce the ability check roll of a creature trying to break your grapple - a very big deal! By going Bard, you also get access to spells that can further bolster your grappling such as Enhance Ability as well as a multitude of other fun stuff. With bard, you also gain expertise in multiple skills which could give you additional utility outside of combat.

Fighter - Additional Actions! Battlemaster maneuvers to give you additional things to do when grappling! This is your most traditional that will net you a lot of capabilities with Medium/Large creature. The Action Surge gives you another chance to either attack for damage or make an another attempt to Grapple. Battle Master gives you some maneuvers, but most are based on weapon attacks, which you probably aren't doing with your Luchador concept. The Champion Fighter may be a better choice to improve your criticals (although your unarmed damage die isn't big.)

BACKGROUNDS

When looking here, finding something that might give you Athletics proficiency is what you're going for (if your class doesn't.)

Outlander - Athletics and survival skill proficiencies.

Sailor - Athletics and Perception skill proficiencies.

Soldier - Athletics and Intimidation skill proficiencies.

FEATS and ASIs

Getting your Strength score high is your top priority, but there are feats that can also increase your grappling:

Grappler - as has been said, this feat is problematic. Getting advantage on attacks is good, but if you can force the opponent prone while grappled, that is going to do more for you and your team. The other ability of giving the Restrained condition is powerful, but it also takes you out of the fight.

Tavern Brawler - Proficiency with unarmed strikes works well with a Luchador concept. You also can still attack and have an opportunity to use a bonus action to grapple. The biggets downside is that your unarmed strikes are just d4+STR modifier. Not a big damage die.

Sentinel - Since grappled targets can still attack, having a feat that gives you an opportunity to use your reaction to hit them again is a nice

Lucky - Focusing on Grappling relationship to Lucky, this let's you reroll a bad ability check roll you have made.

HOMEBREW FEATS

If your DM allows pulling feats from this list, then you've got some new possibilities.

Quick Grappler - Bonus action to restrain rather than full action (can sideline the two of you in one round)

Brawler - d6 unarmed damage die

Expert Grappler - Can get cover from the grappled creature and deal STR modifier in damage 1/round.

MULTICLASSING

I would like to reference the answer andras gave on this one. I think it's an excellent suggestion if you want to multiclass rather than stick with a single class.

PARTY SUPPORT

Another thing to consider is if other party members can help support you. Anyone with Enlarge/Reduce can help you grapple the really big things.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any examples of what actions being a fighter would provide? \$\endgroup\$ – B. S. Morganstein Jun 7 '17 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @B.S.Morganstein I added a little bit, but realized it doesn't give as much as I thought (other than another opportunity to attack and deal damage.) I'd probably consider the Champion Fighter instead. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 7 '17 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ For Bard you should mention that expertise enhances your athletics, and therefore grapple check. Also enlarge self increases your size category, allowing for more grapple. Plus after you grapple, vicious mockery and other bard type spells can be pretty thematic. Rogue should also be up there. Expertise, a variety of useful bonus actions depending on subclass, sneak attack (which you get after you prone the opponent), and at higher levels the ability to never roll below a 10 on a grapple check, which combined with expertise is basically auto pass. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan Jun 7 '17 at 19:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ethan Great ideas - I'll try and get to that tonight. Also need to look into the viability of a Strength-based rogue in close combat. Worried about the Squishy factor. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 7 '17 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ STR rogue can work pretty well. You can use heavy or medium armor to keep up AC (you do get bonus ASI's you can use for feats), and have extra mobility options. Thief makes for a fun grappler, you can use bonus action dash for extra dragging, drag+disengage to pull the backline to your team safely, or you can toss around ball bearings and caltrops and stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan Jun 7 '17 at 20:01
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It's hard to nail down a truly 'Optimal Build' for this, because there are a few tradeoffs to consider...such as durability versus damage capability versus how quickly you can get the feats you want.

So, to be a Grappling Monster, there are a few things you need.

Stats

Strength and Con. Strength because Grapple is an Athletics Check. You want to get this to 20 as fast as possible. Con because...let's face it, you're probably gonna get hit a lot.

Skills

Athletics: This is what your attempts to Grapple revolve around.

Feats

Mandatory

Grappler: Advantage on Attacks against Grappled Targets, and the ability to Pin a target (removes both of you from the fight temporarily...use wisely)

Good Ideas

Tavern Brawler: Can grapple as a Bonus Action if you hit with an attack, deal more damage while unarmed. (Mandatory if you want the 'unarmed luchador' feel)

Mage Slayer: Taking down a spellcaster into a grapple, and being able to punch their spells out of them is a great way to ruin their day.

So, that established, let's look at the build.

Capabilities

In order to be a good grappling monster, there are a few other things you need.

  1. Get the Expertise class feature, assign it to Athletics. This is the crux of all your grappling, adding double your Proficiency Bonus to this is critical.
  2. Be excellent in melee combat (with your bare hands, or a 1-handed weapon). You're going to get hit a lot, and you are going to be making melee attacks as your main means of doing damage while grappled. And because you need one hand free to grapple, make sure you're good with a 1-hander.

Tactics

As a Grappler in 5E, there's a two-step process to have someone as immobilized as possible. First, you Grapple (Athletics Check vs their Athletics or Acrobatics Check). Second, you knock Prone--the simplest way to do this is with a Shove Action (same check as a Grapple). Normally, a prone target can rise with half their speed, but because they are also Grappled, their Speed is zero, and so they can't move. Thus, their two options are to either try to hit you (at Disadvantage) or try to break the Grapple.

Alternately, you may Grapple and then Pin...but bear in mind that you are both restrained when you Pin someone. You are sacrificing your own ability to act in order to take one a single other opponent's ability to act.

Once you have them grappled, you may start attacking them to deal damage. You only need one hand to Grapple a target, so your other hand is free to use a weapon. Or, if you pick up the Tavern Brawler Feat, just start punching them.

If you have the Grappler Feat, you may not need to Knock Prone (you already have Advantage on your attack rolls...so if your AC is good enough to tank their attacks, you might not need to worry about it). But if you have allies in melee who will help you dogpile your target, it would still be a good idea.

Races

Pick one of the following, noting the trade-offs.:

Mountain Dwarf (bonus to Str and Con, but they are slow)

Variant Human (Start play with the Grappler or Tavern Brawler feat, but you have lower ability scores)

Half-Orc (Bonus to Str and Con, but a lesser boost to Con than dwarf. But they move at full speed, and Relentless Endurance is a nice boost to survivability)

Classes

For your primary class, pick Barbarian, Fighter, or (if you don't mind waiting to level 3 to be effective) Bard.

If you picked Barbarian or Fighter, you'll want a 1 level dip into Rogue

Let's get into the differences between them...

Barbarian: You have tons of HP and damage soaking ability, and Raging gives you Advantage on Grapple checks.

Battlemaster Fighter: Between Action Surge for that second Action, and a Battlemaster Fighter's maneuvers (like Trip Attack so you can damage and Knock Prone in the same turn), the ridiculous number of attacks as they level up, and how quickly they gain Ability Score Increases (and thus Feats), Fighters make excellent grapplers. Probably the best ones, overall. They are the only class able to grapple and knock prone (or Pin) in a single round (via Action Surge).

Lore Bard: This is the weird one...but at 3rd level, you get Expertise and Cutting Words (-d6 to your opponent's check to escape your grapple). This stops working if you run out of Inspiration Dice, though. The Advantage here is that, by 15th level, a Bard can have the most powerful Athletics Check in the game. (Cutting Words to apply a -d12 roll to their opponent, and Peerless Skill to apply a +d12 roll to themselves)

The reason for the 1-level Dip into Rogue if you took Barbarian or Fighter is to get Expertise for your Athletics skill.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Errata for the PHB has clarified that the third ability provided by the Grappler feat should be ignored (the one dealing with creature size), it wasn't supposed to be there. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 7 '17 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can grapple one size bigger than you, with or without the grappler feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Jun 7 '17 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can grapple one size bigger than you, with or without the grappler feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Jun 7 '17 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ An unarmed strike doesn't have to be a punch; it can be a kick/knee/headbutt/tackle "or similar forceful blow" instead. If you can deal good damage with unarmed strikes, your second hand can hold a shield, torch, spellcasting focus, or even grapple another target. If your other hand holds a shield, you can use Shield Master to knock prone as a bonus action on the same turn you grapple with the Attack action. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Jun 7 '17 at 18:35
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Your best option is a Barbarian/Rogue

Grappling is based on Athletics, and 1 level of Rogue could add your proficiency bonus to it twice with Expertise.
During Rage, you can roll Athletics with Advantage, and you get Extra Attack from Barbarian.

I suggest starting with Barbarian, for the hit points and better saves.

The build

Race:
Mountain dwarf: Good abilities, darkvision.
Half-orc: Good abilities, darkvision, savage attack (you have good crit chances, you will attack with advantage mostly)
Human Variant: Normally Variant Human is the strongest option for almost everything, but this character would not benefit much from any feat.

Attributes:
Str 14+1
Dex 14+1
Con 14
Int 10
Wis 12
Cha 8

Levels:
Level 1: Barbarian (Rage, HP, saves)
Level 2: Barbarian (Reckless Attack)
Level 3: Rogue (Sneak Attack, Expertise)
Levels 4-6: Barbarian (Extra Attack)
Levels 7+: Rogure (Cunning Action, DPR)

Feats:
1st level, if human variant: Defensive Duelist, you have to use a finesse weapon anyway, it can help a lot with not being hit. Tawern Brawler is nice, until you get a magic weapon, then it is inferior.
Levels 5 and 9: nothing is comparable to Ability Score Increase (Str)
Later: Defensive Duelist, Sentinel or Lucky.

Skills
Expertise 1: Athletics
Expertise 2: Perception
Other: Stealth

Equipment

The best Medium armor you can afford.
Rapier is the optimal choice, but for roleplaying reasons you might want to pick Shortsword or Dagger.

Tactics

First round
Bonus action: if you can afford it, rage.
Action: Attack action, grapple, if you have Extra Attack, knock it prone. Now it provides Advantage to your party members, and can't stand up.
Move: Drag the victim close to the next target.

Second round
Bonus action: Dash, if you need it.
Action: Attack action, hit it.


Grappler is not as good as it sounds

You spend your fisrt turn trying to grapple (you will mostly succeed between Advantage and Expertise), no damage, unless you have Extra Attack.
You then spend the second turn trying to restrain it - again, no damage, even if you have Extra Attack.
By the third round most monsters are already dead.

You just spent two rounds, and a feat to become immobile and provide advantage (you are restrained too per Grappler).

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I will make a build under the assumption that the primary objectives are to maximize the character's ability to successfully grapple and maximize the amount of time the character can prevent a grappled creature from escaping.

Per Grappling (PHB page 195),

...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 no more than one size larger than you, and it must be within your reach. Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making ... a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you succeed, you subject the target to the grappled condition (see appendix A). ... Escaping a Grapple. A grappled creature can use its action to escape. To do so, it must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by your Strength (Athletics) check.

So we essentially want to maximize our Strength (Athletics) while minimizing our opponent's Strength (Athletics) and Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks. In addition, if we can ever prevent our grappled creature from taking an action, we prevent them from having a chance to escape. I will also interpret "this attack replaces one of them" to mean that, should we have two attacks in a turn (such as with Extra Attack), only one of them can be used to attempt to grapple, and we can't make two grapple attempts on the same turn.

Also, for ease of math, I will assume that advantage will be equivalent to +5, and disadvantage equivalent to -5, like the mechanic for passive checks on page 175 of the PHB. I will also assume that we don't have disadvantage during any grapple check, and that we are using a luck point.

Race

Variant Human, with the Lucky Feat,

You have 3 luck points. Whenever you make an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, you can spend one luck point to roll an additional d20.

This is effectively advantage, so we will gain a +5 bonus to our Athletics check if we use a luck point.

Background

For our Background, we will just want something that grants us proficiency in Athletics: Outlander, Sailor, or Soldier. They are all equivalent for our build.

Ability Scores

I will assume 27 point buy for ability scores, as described on page 13 of the PHB.

STR: 15 (for Athletics)

DEX: 13 (for Rogue multiclass)

CON: 14 (for HP)

INT: 8

WIS: 9 (interchangeable with INT)

CHA: 13 (for Bard multiclass)

Leveling Roadmap

For level 1, take Barbarian for their Rage (emphasis mine),

On your turn, you can enter a rage as a bonus action. While raging, you gain the following benefits if you aren't wearing heavy armor: You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.

This stacks with our lucky point per Advantage and Disadvantage on PHB page 173,

When you have advantage or disadvantage and something in the game, such as the halfling's Lucky trait, lets you reroll the d20, you can reroll only one of the dice. You choose which one.

Using Lucky + Advantage nets us an Athletics bonus of +7.5, assuming rerolling the lowest die in 2d20 only adds 2.5. Since our Strength mod is +2, and our proficiency bonus is +2, that means that our average grapple check is 1d20 +11.5.

For levels 2-5, take Bard, so that you are Barbarian 1/Bard 4 for Expertise at Bard 3,

Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.

Cutting Words at Bard 3 (College of Lore),

When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration die and subtracting the number rolled from the creature’s roll

And a +2 in Strength at Bard 4.

At this point, our proficiency bonus is +3, our Bardic Inspiration die is 1d6, our Strength is 17 which makes our modifier +3 and since we picked Athletics when we got Expertise, our total grapple check is now on average 1d20 + 16.5 vs 1d20 +[mod]-1d6.

For levels 6-8, take Barbarian, so that you are Barbarian 4/Bard 4 for the Feat Tavern Brawler,

Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20. ... When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.

Our grapple check is the same at this point, but now we can attempt to grapple as a bonus action if we don't attack with a weapon.

For levels 9-20, take Rogue, winding up at Barbarian 4/Bard 4/Rogue 12

At level 12, take the Feat Athlete,

Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

Other optional feats to take at this level are: Heavily Armored, Lightly Armored, Moderaly Armored, Resiliant, and Weapon Master. They all provide +1 STR, but Athlete give you more perks. Athlete, Resiliant, and Weapon Master are better than the armor feats for that reason.

At this point, our Strength is 19, giving us a modifier of +4, and our proficiency bonus is +4. So our grapple check average is now 1d20 + 19.5 vs 1d20 +[mod]-1d6.

At level 19 we get Reliable Talent,

Whenever you make an ability check that lets you add your proficiency bonus, you can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10.

at this point our proficiency bonus is 6. Our new grapple formula is (assuming you correctly choose to use the luck point on the lower die during advantage):

max(1d20, 1d20, 1d20, 10) + 16 vs 1d20 + [mod] - 1d6

At level 20, take one of the optional feats above to increase your Strength to 20. If you want to mitigate not taking the feat Grappler, then take Totem Spirit Wolf at level 7 (this gives your friends advantage on your grappled enemy, assuming they wouldn't already get this from flanking. Nothing to do about Restrained disadvantage to Dex save, though)

This makes our final grapple formula:

max(1d20, 1d20, 1d20, 10) + 19 vs 1d20 + [mod] - 1d6

That's a minimum 29 DC for your opponent, and a maximum of 39.

Grappling a Tarrasque

To get around a size restriction, we can have a couple of wizard buddies cast Enlarge on us, and Reduce on a Gargantuan enemy, and we are now able to grapple any creature. They also get disadvantage on their Strength checks, which works out best for us.

Due to the Tarrasque's Legendary Resistance, the wizards need to cast Reduce 4 times on it. It may be beneficial to wait until after Frightful Presence ends before attempting to grapple.

The Tarrasque's Strength modifier is +10, and its Dexterity modifier is +0, so it still makes sense for an Athletics check even though its at disadvantage. Our formula then becomes:

max(1d20, 1d20, 1d20, 10) + 16 vs min(1d20, 1d20) + 10 - 1d6

Minimum: 26 vs 5

Maximum: 36 vs 29

For a bit of analysis, if the Tarrasque rolls less than a 17 on either d20, or above a 4 on the d6, it's grappled. There are only 10 ways out of 400 for it to not roll less than a 17 (17+17, 17+18, 17+19, 17+20, 18+18, ..., 20+20), and only two-thirds of the 1d6 results allow it. Running the numbers, there is a 1.67% chance that we would not grapple a Tarrasque under these conditions.

However, on its turn a Tarrasque, assuming it hits us with every attack, deals 148 damage. Our max HP would be, assuming the fixed value for HP, 133, so our grappling madman would be a legend for 6 seconds.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ May want to look into spells or conditions that remove the opponent from taking an action, since that will prevent them from breaking free of the grapple. May also want to look at a level 20 build instead of level 17, since that could influence the Bard's Cutting Words dice, and additional feats. Looking further into Druid might be good too, especially if we can use an shape such as octopus to get any kind of bonus to grappling. Also need to double check that all of these modifiers can actually be used in a single player turn (casting Guidance, Cutting Words, Raging, and Attack in one turn?) \$\endgroup\$ – C. A. Jones Jun 7 '17 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Level 20 builds are interesting, but how do you suggest he progress through the multiclassing? You may also want to state the multiclass requirements for each. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 7 '17 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, how effective is this character versus CR20 monsters? Does grappling really remain a viable tactic at high levels? \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Jun 7 '17 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ A per level optimal build would be interesting! I imagine lower level optimal builds might not eventually lead to a level 20 optimal build. I'll try to update this later tonight. \$\endgroup\$ – C. A. Jones Jun 7 '17 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't believe I didn't think about effectiveness, aside from the formula v. formula. I'll have to comb through the monster manual to see what the biggest challenges are for this, although I imagine the size restriction (a medium creature can't grapple a huge or larger creature) would play a big role, although maybe if we had a wizard who could buff us with Enlarge, we could get around that. Considering every buff and debuff spell stacked at the same time might be useful as well, to get a truly optimal grapple. \$\endgroup\$ – C. A. Jones Jun 7 '17 at 17:17

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