If a player with great cleave kills a creature while grappling it, can that player then make a grapple attempt against an adjacent creature and continue the carnage across the entire group of enemies?

Scenario: Bob the Grappler is currently affected by enlarge person, fearsome grapple, and balor nimbus. He grapples goblin 1. With his grapple, he moves into goblin square. He annihilates goblin. He now wants to use his cleave attack to grapple goblin 2 and repeat the process until all 15 goblins are un-alived.

Does that work?


Generally, yes, you can Grapple as a Melee Attack off of Cleave/Great Cleave, if you defeated the previous enemy with a Grapple check.

Great Cleave

Works like Cleave...

Cleave (emphasis added)

If you deal a creature enough damage to make it drop (typically by dropping it to below 0 hit points or killing it), you get an immediate, extra melee attack against another creature within reach. You cannot take a 5-foot step before making this extra attack. The extra attack is with the same weapon and at the same bonus as the attack that dropped the previous creature. You can use this ability once per round.

From Grapple

A grapple check is like a melee attack roll.
To start a grapple, you need to grab and hold your target. Starting a grapple requires a successful melee attack roll.

It's important to note, though, that this can only be done on your turn, also from Grapple:

Step 3
Hold. Make an opposed grapple check as a free action.

The end result is, as long as your Grapple check(s) defeat an enemy, you are able to Cleave to another, adjacent, enemy.

However, many GM's may prevent you from using this with Great Cleave.

A GM has open range to restrict Free Actions (here, Maintaining the Grapple/making the Grapple check) you can perform per round. Because of this, they could say you can only Cleave Grapple once per 6 second round (or twice, or however many sounds appropriate to the GM).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it beyond the question's scope to address what the Cleave extra attack's bonus is if the grappled creature's "dropped" not with a weapon attack or even a melee attack but by the grapple option Damage Your Opponent? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 7 '18 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ A fair question. I may have to look into that if you don't have an answer up before I get the chance. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Mar 7 '18 at 20:06

So the first issue here is that Cleave (and thus Great Cleave) requires that your free attack follow up an attack that fells an opponent, and that the free attack be with the same weapon as the first attack. Per the rules, “A grapple check is like a melee attack roll,” but how much like an attack roll it is could be up for debate. If it isn’t sufficiently like an attack roll to make the grapple check count as an attack, the damage from starting a grapple step 3, as well as the damage your opponent option, won’t trigger Cleave or Great Cleave.

In your favor, those say that you “deal damage to the target as if with an unarmed strike,” or “you deal nonlethal damage as normal for your unarmed strike,” respectively, and those are weapons, and dealing damage with a weapon is a pretty strong sign of an attack—but it’s not clear. Those lines are more definitively useful if we accept that grappling is sufficiently attack-like for Cleave and Great Cleave, as they make a strong case for considering the “weapon” used for that attack to be the unarmed strike, which you can go ahead and use to start a new grapple on the bonus attack.

There is a similar problem if you have constrict—or balor nimbus. That extra damage comes from those effects, not any attack. Constrict’s damage might be considered part of the original grapple check—which might be considered an attack—but balor nimbus is definitely separate. And separate effects, not part of an attack, will not trigger Cleave or Great Cleave.

Regardless of all this, the attack your opponent option will. And if you use your unarmed strike for that attack, you use it again for your free attack. And you can grapple with your unarmed strike, and grappling can replace any melee attack roll, like the free one from Cleave. So that works.

The problem is that if you are required to use the separate attack your opponent option, your bonus attack from Great Cleave only lets you start the grapple, and you have to use a separate attack to actually drop him if you want to use Great Cleave again. Only if the initial check can trigger Great Cleave can you use all these free attacks to go through all your enemies. (Note also that your DM may well decide enough is enough and say you are out of free actions if you are truly trying to chain this to a particularly large number of enemies.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I was assuming that the damage to fell each opponent (and thus trigger Great Cleave) was the "you deal damage to the target as if with an unarmed strike" line from Step 3 of initiating a grapple, rather than any of the options of what to do once you're already in a grapple. Otherwise, doesn't each opponent require two attacks (one to grapple them, and one to take the "attack your opponent" option), and thus not work with Great Cleave? \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Mar 7 '18 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @A_Soo The initial attack to begin a grapple does not deal damage (barring constrict or maybe balor nimbus, though the timing of the latter is unclear), so yes, you would be triggering Cleave or Great Cleave off of a second attack—but there is nothing that prevents a character from doing exactly that. Oh, but to repeat, hm, I see what you mean. I will address that. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 7 '18 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wait, the attack to initiate a grapple doesn't deal damage? What's that line in step 3 of "Starting a grapple" talking about then? \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Mar 7 '18 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @A_Soo Oh, huh, missed that entirely—the same line appears under “damage your opponent.” Yeah, OK, in that case, initiating the grapple and the damage your opponent options are equivalent for this discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 7 '18 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WannabeWarlock While grappling, but it doesn’t seem like the damage from it is added on to the grapple damage, it’s a separate thing. The grapple ends, the target is not down, Cleave does not trigger, and then balor nimbus finishes the job, but since that wasn’t an attack, that doesn’t trigger Cleave either. For the record, I would personally allow it, but because I think it would make the game better, not because I think the rules support it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 7 '18 at 23:01

Yes, this works.

Cleave (and, by extension, Great Cleave) grants you:

...an immediate, extra melee attack against another creature within reach.

It doesn't say it must be a "normal" melee attack or anything along those lines.

Initiating a grapple is a melee attack:

  • It's listed under "Special Attacks."
  • It requires a melee touch attack.
  • It can take the place of one of your iterative attacks.
  • Skip Williams thinks that it's a melee attack, to the point that you can initiate a grapple as an attack of opportunity. Note that all the usual disclaimers about the 3.5 FAQ and Rules of the Game articles apply, but in this case I agree with Skip's ruling.

In other words, initiating a grapple behaves in all ways as a special case of making a melee attack.

While I can't find anything that explicitly says "yes, you can use your Cleave attack to make a special attack such as a grapple attempt," I see no reason to think that a grapple attempt shouldn't count as a "melee attack" here, as it does in all other cases where the question comes up.


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