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Here's the situation:

An ally is being restrained, and grappled by a NPC. The NPC is dragging the character.

My Four Elements monk character, seeing this, decides to use the Water Whip on the ally. He's going to take some damage, but since he's restrained, he will have disadvantage on, and likely fail the Dexterity saving throw and I will be able to retrieve him.

The Way of the Four Elements monk's Water Whip elemental discipline (PHB, p. 81) states:

You can spend 2 ki points as an action to create a whip of water that shoves and pulls a creature to unbalance it. A creature that you can see that is within 30 feet of you must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 3d10 bludgeoning damage, plus an extra 1d10 bludgeoning damage for each additional ki point you spend, and you can either knock it prone or pull it up to 25 feet closer to you. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage, and you don’t pull it or knock it prone.

Since this situation is somewhat different, my DM ruled that there would be a "tug of war" that took place instead of the typical Dexterity saving throw. The NPC dragging the character would instead make a Strength saving throw against my Ki Save DC. Essentially turning my Water Whip into a lasso.

His logic was that you couldn't use Water Whip on a creature restrained, and chained, to a wall and expect it to work.

So, essentially my question is:

Is it reasonable to make Water Whip a tug of war, requiring a Strength saving throw against my character's Ki Save DC, in situations where a target is being restrained?

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It's definitely against the rules, but not unreasonable

The scenario as presented is fairly reasonable, but the ruling isn't RAW, and if this irritated you it's completely justified.

Plainly put, forced movement breaks grapples, and it doesn't care which creature is moved.

PHB pg. 290 under conditions, Grappled:

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.

On top of that, Water Whip is a Dexterity save, not a Strength save. It also doesn't have an escape DC, which is telling. Like Thunderwave or Thorn Whip, when something gets moved by it, the magic is what's doing the moving and the only way to avoid that is to pass your Dex save and dodge it, or to use magic to counter it.

So in this scenario, your Water Whip should have torn the restrained party member from the grasp of whatever was dragging him. It doesn't matter that he's grappling the target. If the DM didn't want the thing to let go, the DM should have had it get dragged along with the restrained character. As a DM myself, when I do play a character and I'm escorting something I've restrained, I make it a point to tie myself to the creature I've restrained specifically to prevent scenarios like this from ever happening. I also keep a tether on my weapon for the same reason.

As for this:

His logic was that you couldn't make a Water Whip to a creature restrained, and chained, to a wall and expect it to work.

This is actually bad logic. This is called a false equivocation fallacy, where the scenarios are not discussing the same thing. Walls and chains are unyielding, inanimate objects anchoring the target because they're fixed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have, as a druid, thorn whipped a cleric out from a gelatinous cube. (Funnily enough, I think I did more damage to the cleric than the cube had up to that point! But I maintain I prevented much worse damage from occurring) \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Oct 14 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't both the grappler and grappled in a thunderwave, both getting blasted, also be a false equivalance? Since the whip is wrenching away from the grappler, whereas a thunderwave is sending them both away. \$\endgroup\$ – Warcupine Oct 14 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "the scenarios are not discussing the same thing. Walls and chains are unyielding, inanimate objects" -- how does that constitute false equivalency? (I don't think you meant "equivocation"...that's something entirely different.) The only justification for claiming it's "false" relies on assuming the very thing you want to prove in the first place (which is itself a common logic fallacy, "circular reasoning"). This is especially true if, as it appears, you are granting that Water Whip cannot move a character restrained by chains. If that's the case, then the only ... \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Duniho Oct 14 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ ... material difference between a character restrained by chains and one restrained by a creature is the strength of the restraint (obviously, with enough force, one can remove a creature restrained by chains...whether that destroys the creature or the chains depends on the strength of each, but it's obviously possible). Alternatively, if Water Whip acts by magically removing the target from its restraint, then that would work whether the target is restrained by a creature or by chains. The equivalency doesn't seem false at all to me. Indeed, it seems contrived to not consider it valid. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Duniho Oct 14 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Water whip doesn't remove it from it's restraints. The equivocation issue here is that there's a difference between restraints that tie up a character, and restraints that secure a character. While there isn't a game term, you and I would both acknowledge that manacled hands and feet is a minimal restraint that wouldn't impeded movement, whereas crucified would be an extremely restrictive restraint. Either way, the question becomes, "Can the target be moved?" Magic simply moves things if there's no contested Strength in the spell. Physical creatures do not simply move things, they have to act. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Oct 14 at 20:15
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It's a good ruling

Either your GM didn't know the RAW ruling at the time, in which case he came up with a ruling off the bat that he thought would be balanced, coherent and believable, or he did know the RAW answer and chose to ignore it, as I would have.

The problem I have with the RAW ruling is that it clashes with my view of the scene. A strong NPC is holding onto a PC, someone pulls with a Water Whip and suddenly the PC is moved without any consideration given to the NPC's muscles ? That feels off to me, it breaks my verisimilitude. So I rule otherwise.

And that's the very role of the GM. If the point was to apply rules all the time, a computer could do it. You need a human at the wheel because only a human brain can create a fair, consistent and believable world. Otherwise you end up with ridiculous situations like in @Lino Frank Ciaralli's answer, where players tie themselves to NPCs or to their weapons in case someone tried it on them.

As for the ruling itself, it's a good one. The NPC is trying to prevent the PC from pulling the ally, so a Strength contest happens, and since the Water Whip spell already gives a DC, why not use it instead of the PC's Strength ?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Tying pieces of equipment to you isn't ridiculous. That's why my rifle when I'm in battle dress has a combat sling. So I can't drop it in combat when I want to free up my hands instantly. All I have to do is let go and it dangles ready to be picked up against instantly against my hip. That's real life, and you think a sword tether is ridiculous? \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Oct 14 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli I don't have first-hand experience wielding swords but it seems a bad idea to me to keep one attached to me. Seems like a great way to cut yourself or get a broken wrist. A sword isn't a rifle. \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Oct 14 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli Sword knots were used with cavalry sabers to prevent the loss of the sword. They were wrapped around the wrist. Significantly different attachment point and complications than a rife sling as swords get swung around. \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Oct 14 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PierreCathé - If you don't have firsthand experience, why would your opinion be relevant? Please understand I don't mean that aggressively. For example, I don't know anything about farming, so I'm not about to jump onto the agricultural stack and start lending my unqualified and inexperienced opinion on something. The point I'm making is that depending on the type of blade and fighting style, a tethered blade can be preferable. And if we want to get pedantic, there's an entire fighting style revolving around a blade on the end of a chain. So, no, not ridiculous in the least. Also, nunchucks. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Oct 14 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer could use more references to the rules to justify why it's okay to ignore the rules in this circumstance. I don't necessarily disagree, but I think there needs to be more appropriate support for why a rule should be broken, more than it breaks the GM's subjective verisimilitude. \$\endgroup\$ – Yvihs Oct 14 at 22:09
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Is it reasonable to make Water Whip a tug of war, requiring a Strength saving throw against my characters' Ki Save DC, in situations where a target is being restrained?

The specific ruling is probably not RAW, but could be entirely reasonable IMO. There is good precedence in the case that a target is only grappled, then any forced movement should still take effect and break the grapple. The difference here of being restrained is an important distinction.

The restrained condition represents something more powerful than a typical grapple - e.g. it is a trait of creatures with specific anatomy such as tentacles, of moderately powerful magic, or of physical objects such as chains and manacles.

This is assuming that the restrained condition has been applied to your ally without any pre-conditions, not clear from your question. A common rider on grabby monsters is a phrase like "whilst grappled, the target is restrained". If that is the case, then it seems clear by RAW that anything that would normally break a grapple (including forced movement) would also break the restraint. In which case your attempt should have automatically succeeded.

Even without RAW support, I would not have a problem with the DM being generous and letting your attempt be automatic, because both you and the target have spent resources (Ki and hit points) to achieve the effect. As noted in the comments, it may also be reasonable due to the power of the Water Whip effect, to end up with other results, such as the enemy being pulled/knocked down if the supposed grip they have your ally in is that strong (e.g. imagine the two were somehow chained together physically).

Going with your DM's apparent rationale for now, the usual save DC against Water Whip is applied because the target is assumed to be resisting the effects of your attack. The game rule represents the situation concisely, giving a single roll for result. However, that rule is designed around the most common use of the spell - when you start improvising and using it to do cool stuff that the original author did not cover, the DM also has to start improvising. In your case, it is clear that the enemy holding your ally would resist the effect, and has better hold of the target than a typical grapple, is seems entirely reasonable for the DM to substitute their save for your ally's. The switch from dexterity to strength as a save choice is arguable, and depends on how the group visualises what is going on.

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