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To start a grapple, the attacker specifically must use a touch attack. Are there any feats or other methods that would allow the attacker to start the grapple with a successful unarmed melee attack instead?

I'm specifically looking for something that a player using only core PHB races could utilize (i.e. not improved grab).

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    \$\begingroup\$ What exactly is and isn't allowed here? Core PHB races, feats (core-only feats? Any feats?), class features (none, core-only, or all?)? You've said not Improved Grab, but what if you can get it from a feat? \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Jan 23 '19 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman It just needs to be official/not homebrew, and it needs to be something that can be used by at least one of (elf/dwarf/human/half-elf/halfling/gnome/half-orc). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23 '19 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I would even be fine with a 3.0 rule that hasn't been officially changed with a newer version but just isn't find in 3.5 literature. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23 '19 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are there any other limitations? It seems like your just shopping for a feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Jan 29 '19 at 3:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o yes, that's really all this was. I searched for a long time and could not find anything. I believe A_S00's answer will be useful to other players wanting to have a tough grappler character, too. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 30 '19 at 1:29
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There are ways to do this, but not very many of them.

I know of three ways for a PHB race PC to initiate a grapple upon hitting with an unarmed strike. All of them are similar to or based on the improved grab ability; I'm writing this answer assuming your injunction against this ability is based on wanting to play a PC race rather than playing a bear or something, but if your objection is to improved grab itself, you might be out of luck.

Options:

  • Scorpion's Grasp (Sandstorm, p. 52): This feat lets you initiate a grapple attempt when you hit an enemy with a light or one-handed weapon, or with an unarmed strike. It works pretty much like improved grab, but includes some extra options for carrying a creature smaller than you around in your off hand.
  • Geomancer (Complete Divine, p, 41): This class lets you select "Drift" features, beneficial mutations that give you special abilites. One of the options for level 4 Drift (available at Geomancer 7 at the earliest) is the improved grab ability. Unfortunately, Geomancer overall is a pretty terrible class (it requires both arcane and divine casting but advances only one of them, and there aren't very many good Drift options). If you're interested, you might check out this old Iron Chef competition using Geomancer as its secret ingredient. My entry was a grapple specialist, so might be worth mining for ideas.
  • Shapeshifting: Many shapeshifting abilities (e.g., Polymorph, Wild Shape) will grant you extraordinary special attacks, which typically includes improved grab. This might not be what you want, since while you can start as a PHB race, you'll only have the ability while you're in the form of something else (e.g., a bear). If that's a deal-breaker for you, you could conceivably use the Infinite Variety class feature of Master Transmogrifist (Complete Arcane, p. 51) to pick up Improved Grab while otherwise in the form of a creature that doesn't normally get that ability (e.g., a core PC race). This is only worth doing if the idea of playing a Polymorph specialist appeals to you, though; Master Transmogrifist is a messy class that mixes crippling weaknesses (it loses a ton of caster levels) with potential for game-breaking cheese (the Polymorph line is one of the most notoriously unbalanced parts of 3.5). Run your plans past your DM if you go this route.
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