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The spell Entangling Staff (Spell Compendium p.83) states that once you are grappling from the effect of the spell:

If your grapple check succeeds, your quarterstaff's vines constrict your foe, dealing 2d6 points of damage (you can choose to deal nonlethal damage instead of normal damage if you wish). You then have two choices:

Release: You release your opponent from the grapple. Some vines remain clinging to your foe, leaving it entangled for the duration of the spell. You can attack different enemies in later rounds with the staff, potentially grappling and constricting or entangling them.

Maintain: You maintain your hold. In subsequent rounds, you deal constriction damage with a successful grapple check. You can then choose to release or maintain the hold again.

Does this spell limit the options available to the caster while grappling, or does it add options?

For example, if a hill giant druid uses this against a party and establishes a grapple, does that hill giant have to specifically roll a grapple check to do damage with the staff, or does the staff simply add constriction damage to regular grapple checks effectively giving the creature a lesser form of constrict?

If the giant must roll specifically for the staff to constrict, are multiple rolls allowed based on the creature's remaining iterative attacks, or can it only make a single check per-round due to the wording of the spell?

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The 3rd-level druid spell entangling staff [trans] (Spell Compendium 83), in part, says

If your grapple check succeeds, your quarterstaff’s vines constrict your foe, dealing 2d6 points of damage (you can choose to deal nonlethal damage instead of normal damage if you wish). You then have two choices:

  • Release: You release your opponent from the grapple. Some vines remain clinging to your foe, leaving it entangled for the duration of the spell. You can attack different enemies in later rounds with the staff, potentially grappling and constricting or entangling them.

  • Maintain: You maintain your hold. In subsequent rounds [i.e. after having successfully grappled the foe], you deal constriction damage with a successful grapple check. You can then choose to release or maintain the hold again.

Here's an example of how the spell works: Ekaj the druid 5 that possesses Str 10 takes a swift action to cast the entangling staff spell then takes a move action to make a normal move so that he's adjacent to the orc warlord. Ekaj makes a standard attack with his quarterstaff that bears the entangling staff effect against the orc warlord. Ekaj hits and deals 3 points of damage. Ekaj takes a free action to make a grapple check against the orc warlord. Ekaj's result is higher so the entangling staff effect deals 2d6 points of damage to the orc warlord.

Continuing Ekaj's turn, then Ekaj can either release the orc warlord or maintain the grapple with the orc warlord. Ekaj must make this choice right now; this is not an action.

  • If Ekaj releases the orc warlord, this round Ekaj can't make further attacks with the staff. (This likely includes attacks of opportunity.) The orc warlord for the entangling staff spell's remaining duration gains the condition entangled (Player's Handbook 308).
  • If Ekaj maintains the hold on the orc warlord starting on Ekaj's next turn, that round whenever Ekaj makes a successful grapple check—for whatever reason, even in response to his foe's activities—the enangling staff spell effect deals 2d6 points of damage to the the orc warlord.

    That is, Ekaj exercises If You're Grappling options freely (albeit likely without the +8 bonus from the entangling staff spell effect as that applies only "on grapple checks you cause by striking a foe with the entangling staff," and here Ekaj is grappling not striking, but that may be something to discuss with the DM). Then, after exercising one, some, or none of his If You're Grappling options, Ekaj can either end automatically the grapple with the orc warlord (a unique option afforded by the entangling staff spell effect) or maintain the hold. (And see the beginning of this paragraph.)

The language used by the entangling staff spell is similar to that of the extraordinary ability constrict: "A creature with this special attack can crush an opponent, dealing bludgeoning damage, after making a successful grapple check" (Monster Manual 307), making the core rules version of the constrict ability—and, similarly, this spell— extremely dangerous in the proper hands. However, the constrict ability operates differently if the table adopts the rules for constrict in the Rules Compendium (see this question), but whether the Rules Compendium's changes to constrict should be reflected in changes to the spell entangling staff is a judgment for each table to pass.


For completeness, I've addressed the question's actual questions. I've edited them a bit. I hope that's okay.

Questions and Answers

  • Does this spell limit the options available to the caster while grappling or does the spell add options?

    Neither. The spell effect adds an extra step: Make a choice between release and maintain.

  • If a caster establishes a grapple with the entangling staff spell effect, must the caster succeed on a grapple check specifically to deal the damage from the entangling staff effect? Or does the entangling staff effect deal its damage when the caster successfully makes any grapple check?

    The second one.

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The Entangling Staff spell could've benefit from more detailed description, that's true. But most likely it behaves in the following way:

If you connect with a staff, it is assumed that you will continue to use it for grappling. Generally it adds options, but to me, the spell is written with the intent to limit you somewhat in the same time. It is not very clear if you may grapple someone with a staff, and then, during following rounds, damage your foe as_if_with_unarmed_strike. On the other hand, I'm almost certain, you are allowed to execute 'move' grapple option for example. I think, RAW, you can do both.

So, if it is about killing its foes, your hill giant will roll a grapple check to constrict a grappled one, and that's just it. He may do it several times in a round. "You deal constriction damage" is the result of "a successful grapple check". Multiple successful checks will produce multiple results.


As a note, you should be aware, this answer uses an interpretation of Constrict that says, constriction damage applies only on successful grapple checks made to constrict and not on all grapple checks. For constriction damage to be a bonus damage, you should have Improved Grab and use 'damage your opponent' grapple option.

Also, yes, I do know that speaking about author's intent without a direct citation is generally frowned upon on RPG.SE. I just think it does no harm in this case.

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Constrict states:

A creature with this special attack can crush an opponent, dealing bludgeoning damage, after making a successful grapple check. The amount of damage is given in the creature’s entry. If the creature also has the improved grab ability it deals constriction damage in addition to damage dealt by the weapon used to grab.

Another way to phrase it is as follows:

Whenever a creature makes a successful grapple check, then after that check resolves, the creature deals additional bludgeoning damage. If the creature has improved grab, it deals the improved grab's weapon damage plus the constriction bludgeoning damage.

Nothing in the description of entangling staff would change that definition. Next we examine the actions allowed by entangling staff:

Release: You release your opponent from the grapple. Some vines remain clinging to your foe, leaving it entangled for the duration of the spell. You can attack different enemies in later rounds with the staff, potentially grappling and constricting or entangling them.

Maintain: You maintain your hold. In subsequent rounds, you deal constriction damage with a successful grapple check. You can then choose to release or maintain the hold again.

Compare those actions with those stated in the rules for grappling:

Step 4
Maintain Grapple. To maintain the grapple for later rounds, you must move into the target’s space. (This movement is free and doesn’t count as part of your movement in the round.)

Moving, as normal, provokes attacks of opportunity from threatening opponents, but not from your target.

If you can’t move into your target’s space, you can’t maintain the grapple and must immediately let go of the target. To grapple again, you must begin at Step 1.

The rules for entangling staff are simply restating the rules for grappling: you must either maintain the grapple or not. However, if you choose to release your opponent from the grapple instead of maintaining it, the opponent is left entangled. Note that by the rules listed here, you will only leave the opponent entangled if you release them from the grapple. If your opponent escapes the grapple, they will not be entangled.

TLDR: Conclusion:

Grappling with the entangle staff is identical to grappling normally with the following exceptions:

  1. The caster may begin grappling as a free action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity by striking the target with the staff
  2. The caster gets a bonus of +8 to its grapple checks only for grapple checks resulting from the melee strike with the staff (so enemies that initiate grapple with the caster or grapples the caster joins without striking with the staff do not get this bonus -- the opponent must be affected by the staff)
  3. The caster's successful grapple checks deal 2d6 constrict damage from the vines created on the staff when the grapple begins and on any checks while the grapple is being maintained
  4. If the caster releases the target from the grapple, the target is entangled for the remaining duration of the spell
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  • \$\begingroup\$ How about RC in general, and "a creature that has this extraordinary special attack can crush an opponent, dealing bludgeoning damage, after making a successful grapple check to deal damage..." part of Constrict description given in it? \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Sep 1 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp I don't follow \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock Sep 1 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ RC contradicts your 'another way to phrase' constrict (even if core definition could be read your way), don't you think so? Or maybe you just disregard RC as a questionable source of rules? \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Sep 1 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp I don't own the rules compendium, but I've never felt there was any controversy regarding how constrict works. It has a special interaction with improved grab that makes it do even more bonus grapple check damage than it normally would. If it's a contentious issue, maybe open a question? Note that constrict isn't a grape action that allows performance of a grapple check. It merely responds to a successful grapple check. \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock Sep 1 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Done. This Q/A is also on topic. There definitely should be more. \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Sep 3 at 18:23

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