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If I succeed in grappling a spellcaster, can I choose to cover their mouth so they can't cast a verbal spell? If so, do they have to break the grapple to pull my hand away from their mouth?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Here is a related question about restricting spell caster options, using a grapple, but it is not a dupe. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 19 '18 at 3:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I agree with the core assumption that covering a caster's mouth would make them incapable of using verbal components. They would still be able to speak, it would just be muffled and hard to hear by everyone (including themselves). I assume even a quiet, muffled spell would still work. At worst, it'd just have the same effect as being deafened (making you unable to hear yourself and thus slightly harder to pronounce your own words correctly). \$\endgroup\$ – Southpaw Hare Mar 19 '18 at 15:41
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This isn't covered by the grappled condition

The grappled condition states:

  • A grappled creature’s speed becomes 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed.
  • The condition ends if the grappler is incapacitated (see the condition).
  • The condition also ends if an effect removes the grappled creature from the reach of the grappler or grappling effect, such as when a creature is hurled away by the thunderwave spell.

Nothing here refers to the ability to extend the grapple to removing a wizard's speech. This activity would fall under a DM ruling.

Here's how I would rule it

You make a special melee attack that uses your Strength modifier (perhaps you could gain a bonus with the Tavern Brawler feat). On a successful Strength contest (where the opponent can choose to use Strength or Dexterity) the creature cannot use verbal components until it makes a Strength check contested by a DC equal to your Strength score as an action. You would of course need to be able to reach the mouth and have a free hand (if you want to silence that giant warmage start climbing).

Do note that some spells do not have a verbal component and sorcerers have subtle spell to work around this tactic

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    \$\begingroup\$ How did your ruling turn out in your game? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 19 '18 at 4:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 I've never had a player suggest this particular action but I have had players try to restrict caster ability in other ways (holding there hands together specifically). In that case, this method worked fine. It gave the fighter a good option against the wizard and the wizard had to get the help from his allies to force the fighter off of him before he could cast. It really diversified the combat for many encounters. (note: I used athletics instead of Strength in that other case since maneuvering your arms effectively would give a bonus if proficient whereas here you are just pulling) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 19 '18 at 5:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WilliamMariager I would treat this as a separate action but if you don't grapple the target (or otherwise restrict the target's movement) they could just move away. You are essentially just holding your hand over their mouth until they pry it off. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 19 '18 at 6:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I always discuss with my players ahead of time that if they start using a tactic I will use the same rules against them (and sometimes I come up with tactics for my monsters to use that my players have copied). Ended up leading the casters to use things like enhance ability and other obscure spells in certain situations (when they couldn't just stay far away) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 19 '18 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Instead of placing my hand on their mouth, what if I was holding a sword and inserted said sword through their mouth and out the other side? (by this, I'm trying to say "having someone so under your control they cannot speak is generally harder than just killing them with a sharp object": some moves in combat consist of "enemy is now defeated") \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Mar 19 '18 at 18:40
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A grappled creature can speak and perform verbal components

However, a grapple is only one example of a Contest in Combat

Battle often involves pitting your prowess against that of your foe. Such a challenge is represented by a contest. This section includes the most common Contests that require an action in combat: grappling and shoving a creature. The GM can use these Contests as models for improvising others.

If the GM thinks that holding a creature's mouth shut is possible, then they could improvise a contest to do just that.
Here is an example of a jaw hold contest that is modeled after a grapple check and which I think would work well:

When you want to prevent a creature from speaking, you can use the Attack action to make a Special melee attack, a jaw hold. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.

The target of your jaw hold must be already grappled by you. Using another free hand, you try to hold the target's mouth shut by making a jaw hold check instead of an attack roll: 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, the target cannot speak until the grapple ends or until you release the jaw hold (no action required).

Preventing verbal spells is a very strong effect. Which is why my example requires you to sacrifice at least two attacks (one for the grapple and one for the jaw hold) and both hands (one for the grapple and one for the jaw hold).

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Grapple, no. The grapple condition only holds the target in place. A "grapple" in 5e is not a wrestling move to restrain a target. ALL a "grapple" is, in 5e, is grabbing the target with a hand or appendage so it can't run away. That's it. ALL there is. Finito. It isn't a choke, or a way to prevent any activity other than movement.

If you can do something that applies the "restrained" condition, I would allow that to be aimed at preventing speech.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The first part is correct as to RAW, if we are talking about house rules or conforming to reality, covering someone's mouth while grappling is realistic, though the better way to stop an enemy from talking during a grapple would be to go for a choke. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Mar 19 '18 at 2:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ You are misinterpreting what the game calls a "grapple". A "grapple" in 5e is not a wrestling move to restrain a target. ALL a "grapple" is, in 5e, is grabbing the target with a hand of appendage so it can't run away. That's it. ALL there is. Finito. It isn't a choke, or a way to prevent any activity other than movement. Which was the point of my answer -- what you are looking for is "restrained". \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Mar 19 '18 at 3:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman Game isn't that granular for the simple grapple. The feat gets closer to what you have in mind \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 19 '18 at 3:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhilBoncer I agree and I think you could be more descriptive in your answer to make that clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Luke Mar 19 '18 at 3:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Grappling (PHB 195) does say "grab a creature or wrestle with it", so there's some argument to be made here. I'd still agree with you that it should require restrained though, you'd have to have the target fairly immobilized in a guillotine choke hold or something of the sort. \$\endgroup\$ – Bobbito Mar 19 '18 at 8:24
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There is no existing rule that allows grapples to prevent speech or verbal components of spells. Your DM is welcome to house-rule it as such if they want.

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This is the RAI as explained by 5e rule designer Jeremy Crawford:

Grappled & restrained—these conditions interfere with a spell only if it has a somatic component and the caster's hands are bound. #DnD

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Ben, and welcome. Thanks for adding this tidbit to the answer-base. I'm going to go ahead and replace it with the text-version, so that it's searchable. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 5 '18 at 14:36
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This is covered under the Ability Checks section of the PHB, and complemented by Reactions.

PHB pg. 173, emphasis mine:

An ability check tests a character's or monster's innate talent and training in an effort to overcome a challenge. The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results.

For every ability check, the DM decides which of the six abilities is relevant to the task at hand and the difficulty of the task, represented by a Difficulty Class. The more difficult a task, the higher its DC. The Typical Difficulty Classes table shows the most common DCs.

And then there's this:

PHB pg. 190 under Reactions, emphasis mine:

Certain special abilities, spells, and situations allow you to take a special action called a reaction. A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else's.

As DM it's certainly your prerogative to rule that the situation is appropriate to allow for a reaction, followed by a contest to attempt to stifle the verbal component of the spellcasting.

Now, I would caution against allowing just any grappled creature from being able to be stifled. It's very situational, as I've highlighted here. Just because I grabbed onto a sorcerer's cloak as I closed with him/her doesn't mean that I'm in a position to stop them from talking. Whereas if I walk up behind somebody at a bar who's trying to start a fight with my friends, a grapple can easily be described as a chokehold, putting me in a situation where I could easily stifle any verbal components.

This will encourage descriptive roleplaying, and I think it will encourage your players to be very creative in their contests to see if they can leverage things towards opening up opportunities. I've had a lot of success with encouraging descriptive combat in my games, but always ensuring that players are aware of the limitations of each of their abilities. For instance, a player can't do a grapple and subdue verbal components with the same action. If the player wants to initiate a contest after the grapple, they'll have to use one of their other attacks or an action/reaction later to do so. No preemptive reactions off of no triggers.

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