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If Grapple can prevent Plane shift, who needs to be grappled, and where on their body?

As I understand the rules, denying a caster the use of BOTH arms would DEFINITELY prevent casting plane shift or any other spell with a somatic component (also, the caster can't grab a material component they aren't already holding). Can a grapple prevent a caster from using one or more arms?

If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

...

Casting some spells requires particular objects...

A spellcaster must have a hand free to access these components, but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components. (PHB p.203)

The spell Plane Shift has some additional requirements, though:

You and up to eight willing creatures who link hands in a circle are transported to a different plane of existence. (PHB p. 266)

Those are some specific targeting requirements! I can think of three additional ways that the Grappled status might cause problems: Zeroed movement, mis-identified targets, and precluded hand-holding.

Zeroed Movement

As I understand the rules, the fact that a grappled creature "can't move" does NOT prevent transport to another plane. See Does the Blink spell break grapples?

Misidentified Targets

The targeting requirements of plane shift looks for grasping hands. The Grappled status involves the grappler's hand grasping the grappled target. Will plane shift attempt to target a creature that grapples either the caster or one of the creatures in the hand-holding circle?

Precluded Hand-Holding

The Grapple rules don't dictate what body part the grappler grabs. If the plane shift caster or one of the spell's intended targets has one of its arms grappled, though, it seems likely that it will not be able to comply with the requirement that all plane shift targets be holding hands. By the RAW, can/will a plane shift fail if the caster or one of the circle targets has either of its arms/hands grappled?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are at least two questions in this question: "What are the exact requirements of plane shift?" and "Does grappling prevent plane shift?". You should focus on one of those questions here, and ask the other one in a separate question. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Apr 14 '18 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire, question modified per your suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Faust Apr 14 '18 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ grappling/restraining BOTH of a caster's arms ... I suggest that you identify where in the rules you found that assumption. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 14 '18 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'm trying to figure out how to respond to this in a constructive way. The Grapple rules are pointedly vague about where on a body a grapple occurs, but this is D&D. In the editions whose DMGs I've read, there have always been rules along the lines of, "It's a game. Make it fun. If no rule applies, make one up." There's a rule waiting to be invented that determines, for example, whether a fighter standing to the right of a mage grapples said mage by his right arm or by his right nipple, just for that occasion when the party is trying to stop the mage from Plane Shifting. \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Faust Apr 15 '18 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ But there I feel unsure whether I'm wandering away from the point of this site. On the one hand, I'm suggesting that there's an implied fleshing-out of what the rules actually say (so it's not RAW). On the other hand, it's D&D; the Rule of Fun is part of the RAW (or if it's not, then the RAW are wrong). \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Faust Apr 15 '18 at 1:29
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The Grappled condition and the Grappling subsystem don't restrict the use of arms

It doesn't matter how many people you have grappling a target, the target will always be able to use their somatic components. If you want a system to model grappling as physically restraining an opponent's limbs, you'll need to develop one. 5e doesn't provide anything there. Since you can't grapple a limb, there's no situation where you'd need to figure out if it interferes with hand-holding, and no rules are provided.

Spells target whoever the caster wants them to target

The spell does require a caster to target a circle of willing creatures, but the caster, as usual, chooses what valid target to select for spellcasting. 5e does not have any system in place to make the players of spellcasters unable to choose the targets they'd like to select from the information at hand. A caster could choose a circle that included a grappling opponent, if they wanted to and the grappler was willing and the GM ruled they had linked hands properly, but they could also choose a circle without said grappler as long as it's a valid circle. The caster, not the spell, chooses the target.

Basically, grappling is not at all an effective way of shutting down spellcasting of any kind, least of all teleportation effects (including Plane Shift). Even if you take the Grappler feat so you can retrain an opponent and even if you also have Mage Slayer and have taken the three rounds worth of actions it takes to grapple a mage, shove them prone, and restrain them, they can still totally Plane Shift away no problem. You can't even hit them with your attack of opportunity, unless they decided to take you along for the ride (you get the attack after the spell happens).

Worst of all, with Plane Shift in particular, the spellcaster can, if they like, cast the spell on you instead, which will kill you if they succeed at a melee spell attack (that they make without advantage or disadvantage if they are restrained, since you are also restrained), since you will then find yourself in a random location on the Deadly Plane of Death and Very Slow Time with no way to return unless you also know Plane Shift.

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Grappling does not prevent plane shift at all.

First, nothing about ordinary grapples prevents spellcasting whatsoever. Neither the grappling section (PHB 195) nor the grapple condition (PHB 290) says anything about the target's hands. You can imaging a scenario like this where the grappler grabs their target around their waist, for example: in that case, the target still has both hands free, even though they are grappled. Even creatures with the Grappler feat, which imposes the restrained condition, do not stop the target from casting spells.

A DM can rule a situation in which someone tries to pin down one or both arms to prevent spellcasting, but that's firmly in the realm of DM rulings. However, as your quote points out, creatures only need one arm to do the somatic components of spells, so pinning down one arm will not prevent a plane shift.

As you can see, there is no interaction between grappling and plane shift at all, by RAW.

That version of plane shift won't take unwilling targets.

As for "off-target" effects, we can look at the portion of the spell you cite:

You and up to eight willing creatures who link hands in a circle

I read this as saying that "you" are always targeted, as well as "up to eight willing creatures...". Therefore, if you can manage to cast the spell, "you" are always targeted--there is no circumstance where you can cast the spell but you fail to be plane shifted.

Moreover, a grappling target is ostensibly not willing, and since that form of the spell only targets willing creatures, it does not plane shift them. It's worth noting that you can plane shift unwilling creatures, but it requires a melee attack roll:

You can use this spell to banish an unwilling creature to another plane. Choose a creature within your reach and make a melee spell Attack against it. On a hit, the creature must make a Charisma saving throw. If the creature fails the save, it is transported to a random location on the plane of existence you specify.

If you could plane shift a grappled target, this portion of the spell would be redundant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I just realized there's an ambiguous modifier in the quoted portion of Plane Shift. Is it: "[You and up to eight willing creatures] who link hands in a circle" or "You and [up to eight willing creatures who link hands in a circle]". I was interpreting it the first way: The caster is part of the circle, and a self-only casting of the spell would require the caster to hold his/her own hand. Your interpretation feels more likely (the modifier is still technically ambiguous, but thus is English): We imagine a ring of people, and the caster touches them (spell range is "touch"). \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Faust Apr 14 '18 at 19:53

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