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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...

Assuming one is already in a grapple, how should one read it?

  1. Each time you make a successful grapple check, Constrict activates, and constriction damage is added to any other results of that successful grapple check. If that is the case, should grapple checks made to oppose enemy's actions which succeed also trigger Constrict?
  2. You make a grapple check specifically to activate Constrict. The result is constriction damage dealt. If that is the case, what action does it require? Should it be made in place of an attack?

Also, the Rules Compendium on Constrict states:

A creature that has this extraordinary special attack can crush an opponent, dealing bludgeoning damage, after making a successful grapple check to deal damage. The amount of damage is given in the creature’s entry...

Bold mine

Does the Rules Compendium change something or clarify things maybe?

  • When you make a grapple check to deal damage, can you deal damage equivalent to an unarmed strike (plus any strength modifier) in addition to constriction damage under Rules Compendium variant?
  • Or does Constrict let one deal bludgeoning damage given in the creature’s entry as a result of a successful grapple check to deal damage and nothing more?

I would appreciate the most an answer which addresses both cases: when Rules Compendium is in play and when the game is played based on SRD definitions. This is mostly because some people doubt Rules Compendium authority to state rules.

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The Rules Compendium changes constrict

The original description of the extraordinary ability constrict says

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. (Monster Manual 307 and emphasis mine)

This means that, per the core rules, a creature that possesses the extraordinary ability constrict deals damage according to its constrict ability after each and every successful grapple check it makes. As answers to this question note, that's incredibly dangerous as that even includes successful grapple checks the creature that possesses the constrict ability makes in response to its foe's actions in the grapple.

For example, the core rules would have an opponent that attempts to escape from grapple make a grapple check that's opposed by the constricting creature's grapple check. If the creature that possesses the ability constrict wins, the opponent is dealt the creature's constrict damage. This can occur even if the opponent attempts to employ the skill Escape Artist to exit the grapple and fails; the skill check is opposed by a grapple check! As comments mention here, this may make lead to situation wherein trying to kill the constricting creature is safer than trying to escape its grasp.

The Rules Compendium on Constrict says

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

Thus the Rules Compendium makes the extraordinary ability constrict much more conservative. Presumably, that to deal damage means that to deal its constrict damage a creature that possesses the extraordinary ability constrict must exercise the grapple option Damage Your Opponent (Player's Handbook 156). Other options—like the opponent initiating an opposed grapple check in an attempt to exit the grapple—won't trigger the creature's constrict ability.

Specific issues

  • Using the Rules Compendium when a creature makes a grapple check to deal damage can it deal its unarmed strike damage plus its Strength modifier in addition to its constrict damage?

    Typically yes. In fact, both in the core rules and using the Rules Compendium, a creature that exercises the grapple option Damage Your Opponent deals both its unarmed strike damage and its constrict damage ("Make an opposed grapple check in place of an attack. If you win, you deal nonlethal damage as normal for your unarmed strike…" (PH 156)). In both cases, the unarmed strike damage occurs then the constrict damage is dealt. (By the way, the unarmed strike damage and the constrict damage are not summed; they must separately overcome DR, for instance.)

  • Does the damage from the constrict ability replace the creature's unarmed strike damage when the creature exercises the grapple option Damage Your Opponent?

    Typically no. Damage dealt by the special ability constrict is dealt either after and in addition to whatever happens because of the successful grapple check on the part of the creature (in the core rules) or after and separately from the creature dealing its unarmed strike damage from having used the Damage Your Opponent grapple option (if using the Rules Compendium).


Note: There is some controversy as to whether the Rules Compendium can actually change the core rules rather than just fill in where the core rules are silent. (See this question.) It seems that in the asker's campaign that the Rules Compendium can, in fact, change the core rules so this answer was composed with that in mind.

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As stated in the srd:

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.

Let's break this down:

A creature with this special attack can crush an opponent [...] after making a successful grapple check.

This statement defines all of the timing rules for constrict. Those rules are, "after making a successful grapple check."

It does not grant a new type of grapple action allowing for a grapple roll. It simply happens after a successful grapple check. "After" is actually important here, because it both clarifies that constrict doesn't require its own grapple check and sets timing for when constrict damage happens, should it be important.

Look at the rules for grappling. For example:

Damage Your Opponent
While grappling, you can deal damage to your opponent equivalent to an unarmed strike. Make an opposed grapple check in place of an attack. If you win, you deal nonlethal damage as normal for your unarmed strike ...

This, like all other grapple options, defines the timing for how to use it:

  1. One must make a grapple check to perform this action (vs options requiring no grapple check)
  2. This grapple check takes the place of an attack
  3. One deals unarmed damage when the successful check is made

Every single grapple action is similar and will provide all of that information if the full entry is read. The phrasing varies slightly, but the info is there.

Compare this to constrict, which:

  1. Does not make one take any kind of action
  2. Does not happen when a grapple check is made (instead happens after)

By srd rules, constrict damage happens after every successful grapple check is resolved. And it's certainly not just damaging checks -- it will be for move, draw a light weapon, pin your opponent, even escape from grapple, among others. It will also happen whether one successfully defeats an opponents' attempted grapple action with a grapple check, thus providing incentive for opponents less-capable of grappling to attempt other actions not requiring a grapple check.

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