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In a recent game at my table, the cleric wanted to use his shield to pin a ghoul against the wall in order to stop it hitting people and make it easier to hit.

The player was thinking of it like a grapple or pin, but those mechanics didn't make sense -- the grapple only stops a creature, but doesn't really inhibit its ability to attack or make it easier to hit; and the pin is only available with a feat the player doesn't have.

But it was a good story beat that I didn't want to refuse, so in the moment I just mechanically called for a shove to knock the ghoul prone, and in the narrative he had the ghoul pinned against the wall with his shield instead of actually prone. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but it was the closest thing I could come up with.

How should I mechanically represent crushing an enemy against a surface like that?

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Prone was an excellent choice

You said that the cleric wanted "to stop [the ghoul from] hitting people and make it easier to hit." The prone condition has the following two applicable features (PHB, p. 292):

  • The creature has disadvantage on attack rolls.
  • An attack roll against the creature has advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature. Otherwise, the attack roll has disadvantage.

It might seem like the "prone" condition doesn't apply because the ghoul is not splayed out on the ground. But keep in mind that "prone" does not always mean knocked down: it's a spectrum of conditions that make movement awkward and inconvenience a creature at short range (while making it harder to hit at a distance). As an example, consider the following rules on Flying Movement (PHB, p. 191):

If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls unless it has the ability to hover or it is being held aloft by magic, such as by the fly spell.

This text indicates that a flying creature can be "prone" while still (magically) flying, which wouldn't make much sense if "prone" only had its traditional meaning.

Jeremy Crawford has described the various ways that the Shove action can be interpreted as something other than a "shove" (like "a throw, slamming into the other person, and so on.") Similarly, "prone" condition could cover a number of conditions that are analogous without actually requiring the creature to be lying down on the ground.

There are other options

If the Cleric was trying ensure the ghoul was not only inconvenienced but also trapped, he could have tried to both Shove the ghoul prone and Grapple it. For example, if he had the Shield Master Feat, he could use the Attack action to grapple the ghoul (with a free hand), and then a bonus action to Shove the ghoul into the wall with your permission that this would mechanically make it prone. This would stop the ghoul from simply using half its movement remove the prone condition. Or if the cleric had the Grappler Feat, he could attempt to "pin" the ghoul to the wall, if it was already grappled by him (again, with a free hand), causing both him and the ghoul to become restrained.

But if the cleric didn't have a Feat or special ability that would permit him to render the ghoul restrained via an Action, I'd be hesitant to let him do so. You'd essentially be giving the cleric the ability to do with one attack what other characters can only do with several (or a Feat). If the cleric had only one attack available (as most classes of cleric do), I think that your decision to declare the ghoul to be "prone" was completely appropriate.

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Grappled was the right choice

Grappled:

  • 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.

Using official rules, you can take an action to grapple an opponent:

When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them. (...) Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making a grapple check instead of an attack roll: a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check

In addition to grappling, you can give the ghoul disadvantage on its attacks, as it is pinned against the wall, and give attacks against it disadvantage, as the cleric is in the way. In the rules (thanks David Coffron), it says:

The GM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

This covers all the effects you were intending, follows all the rules, and is balanced.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, your homebrew solution is not homebrew. It's just the grappled condition with attention to this rule: "The GM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result." \$\endgroup\$ Feb 4, 2019 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Thanks, I added this to the answer \$\endgroup\$
    – Juicetin
    Feb 4, 2019 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ This suggestion is essentially giving the player the grappler feat. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Sep 30, 2021 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GcL Grappler feat is usable always. This seems more like taking advantage of the environment, quite situational and also usually encouraged. Also, if the shield is used to pin an enemy, it's pretty clear it's not being used to block attacks, and should not be included in the AC. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 5:56
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It was a good call, but there are options you could have discussed

First off, you did the right thing by talking to your player about what the effect of their action was supposed to be. That's an excellent start, because the narration of what they are trying to do is more important than the mechanics behind them.

But let's see what was going on now that you've got time.

"Pin the creature against wall and make it easier to hit and harder for it to hit"

The problem with this request is that there are two mechanical effects that the player wants to create with one action: Pinning (not moving) and Making them easier to hit/harder for them to hit. There really aren't options that do both of these things, so at this time I would have asked the player what their primary desire was for the pinning action. Did they want to keep them in one place, or did they want to make them easier to hit/harder for them to hit.

Pinned in place

For this, the Grappled condition makes the most sense. To initiate the grapple, those rules are clear in the Athletics check of the pinner vs the Athletics/Acrobatics of the pinee.

Harder to hit/easier to be hit

For this, the solution lies in the Prone condition. The way this would work is a Shove attack to put them 'prone'. While not traditionally prone, narratively it is similar. For this, you should remember that ranged attacks against prone creatures are at disadvantage, so other party members may not be able to hit the creature as easily as those in melee. Additionally, I would consider some cover for the target as they are pinned and blocked by the creature doing that with their shield. But I'd be willing to not do that for the sake of narrative.

Restrained

This is the condition that does both, but there really isn't a way for a generic attack to provide this without the use of a feat like Grappler. I would be very reluctant to provide feat access without the feat, but other tables may not have that issue.

The above should all work

Talking to your players when they initiate the action to figure out the best outcome is always the direction you should head - but that can take time. I like the decision you made during the game but you can absolutely talk more about it with your players in case they want to do it again and present the options above.

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Maybe grappled plus squeezing

... would have also been a possible choice. The creature was grappled (couldn't move until it freed itself from the grapple) and since it was stuck between the wall and the shield it was squeezing, which imposes disadvantage on attacks and dex saving throws, and gives its enemies advantage on attacks against it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please don't just generate ideas. If this is something you've used or seen at a table, a description of how it went and any commentary would turn this into a good answer. But just suggesting ideas is a -1. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Sep 30, 2021 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused. The other answer ("Grappling was the right choice") didn't comment on how it went for them. Is it because they cited the supporting rules while I paraphrased them? \$\endgroup\$
    – RHS
    Sep 30, 2021 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope, you're right. Doing the same there . \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Sep 30, 2021 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just trying to understand why my answer is singled out \$\endgroup\$
    – RHS
    Oct 1, 2021 at 5:35

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