After some great feedback from goodguy5 and linksassins on my first version of this homebrew (Original post Is this homebrew Path of the Totem Warrior for grapplers balanced?), I did a lot of revising. Please, check this out and let me know if I'm there or at least getting closer to balancing this Totem Spirit option (or perhaps just a homebrew Primal Path) aimed at the players looking for more grappling options.
Totem Spirit Serpent v2.0
3rd level – As the Serpent constricts around its prey, every effort to escape only tightens its grip. While raging each attempt an opponent fails on a Grapple check to resist you or to escape your grapple on them, inflicts damage equal to your str+rage.
I went back and forth on this one for a while, between it being an attack one could make after having a successful grapple with 2d6+str+rage, or even 2d8+str+rage being the giant constrictor snake does 2d8, and a grapple can't crit. Thought maybe having damage like that would also balance out if it was restricted to requiring both hands free. But in the end, the feedback I received on my original post pointed out that if damage was going to be involved, it needed to be cantrip level damage. Bottom line here that I am looking for, is for the players that want to grapple as damaging attacks and not really crowd control, can do so and not feel completely left in the dust by the damage from the rest of party. So adding some damage while still being able to crowd control, happy medium maybe? To sum up my question here, does what I settled on above seem balanced?
6th level – The Serpent didn’t seem all that threatening, until it began to wrap around its victim’s neck. While not wearing armor and having both hands free, you count as one size category larger when you grapple or are being grappled.
I’m not sure if this deviates to much from the rest of the out-of-combat utility theme for the rest of the level 6 paths or spirits. I don’t want this totem spirit or path option to outclass the others, just wanting it to be a different flavor of play. The goal with this is so a player isn’t boned wanting to be a pure grappler when up against much larger category creatures. An archer can still shoot any size creature, a melee can still whack any size creature, a caster can still sling spells at any size creature… but a grappler simply cannot. With this ability the only thing out of their grasp is something Gargantuan, which could also be overcome from a race pick or enlarge spell, keeping your grappling barbarian always in the fight doing what they made their character to do. I figured it would be best to add that both hands need to be free and no armor can be worn for this, so a player can't grapple two adult dragons, one in each hand, nor can they wield a weapon, shield, etc. I thought that gave good balance to offset the power this ability gives.
10th level – You commune with your Serpent spirit that grants you a serpent’s vomeronasal system, being able to smell and track prey by picking up chemical information with your tongue. You can cast Blindsight on yourself for one hour, but only as a ritual.
Yes, I had to google vomeronasal systems, lol. But Blindsight for an hour isn't unbalanced, is it?
14th level – A coiled Serpent is always ready to strike. While not wearing armor and having both hands free, you may now use your bonus action to initiate a grapple instead of your attack action. In addition, when a creature within 5 feet of you hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to initiate a grapple.
For this level 14 ability, my thought here is to pull in reactions and bonus actions into the grapple arsenal. My thoughts on why it would be balanced here are that both reactions and bonus actions are only usable to initiate a grapple, not do damage, nor maintain a grapple, or shove, or pin, those still require attack actions. For those players trying to play just a grappler, not wanting to use weapons, they can now use reactions and bonus actions to grapple. So a player wouldn't be able to use a bonus action or reaction to initiate a grapple if they already a grapple going with one of their hands. Is this balanced?
All in all, I think by default it looks stronger than the other options for a barbarian, but with the added restrictions it makes it a focus to only those players that are wanting to play a character that just uses their bare hands and grapples everything. Or is it still too powerful?