It's a common joke that nobody understands the grapple rules, but in reality it's only two or three pages of the PHB. What is it about these rules that has caused so much confusion and annoyance?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The other 60 questions we have on 3.5 and grappling seem like a good start. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Nov 8, 2019 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a problem we've been grappling with for years... \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Nov 8, 2019 at 15:04

2 Answers 2


Almost-certainly not a comprehensive list, but some issues that come to mind for me immediately:

  1. They are rarely used. Grappling is a fairly ineffective tactic, requiring specialized feats and at best only causing problems for a single target—and there are a lot of ways to get out of it.

  2. The process is very particular. There is a very specific sequence of steps, each with their own ramifications and limitations, which means it’s a very dense “two to three pages.”

  3. “Two-to-three pages” is a lot to look up in the middle of combat when it suddenly comes up. You might not memorize all of the details of a given spell, either, but spell descriptions are usually a paragraph or two.

  4. Grappling is very unlike all other forms of interaction in 3.5e. That makes it very difficult to keep track of, because human brains remember things by association and pattern. All we have for grappling is that it’s different.

  5. Being different also robs us of any confidence or sense that we “get the gist.” It doesn’t match up with our intuition of how things proceed in 3.5e. It may not be counter-intuitive, per se, but it isn’t intuitive, either.

  6. But if we’re being honest, there are things in there that are counter-intuitive. The interactions and conditions applied to each side at different steps in the process have a lot of implications and some of them are not at all what you would expect.

For what it’s worth, I’m still apologizing to the last DM I made look up the grapple rules. We laugh about it, but it prompted some pretty absurd situations, and also took a ton of time to figure out in the middle of a session. It was not good for the game, no matter how much it was the “right choice” for my character at the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While we're building a list, i think the fact that those particular 2-3 pages were right in one of the middle chapters of a very thick book made the reference time even worse - too short a set of rules to easily find by flipping through \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2019 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, there are some grapple-adjacent rules (like rake attacks, constrict attacks, and a number of the modifying feats) that are important to grappling optimization, spread over a number of books, often not particularly clear on first reading, and have further counter-intuitive interactions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Nov 8, 2019 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Absolutely agreed; constrict was definitely high on my mind when I wrote point 6. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 8, 2019 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point was more that it's not just "two to three pages in the PHB", especially when it comes to trying to optimize. There's stuff that comes out of all sorts of other places that are important. They're also often somewhat poorly-written or confusing, and may not interact well with one another. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Nov 8, 2019 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also: when a grapple happens, it then modifies pretty much every action involving either of the characters in the grapple. Want to attack, move, cast a spell? Gotta look up how that works in a grapple. Also also: because there are multiple grapple statuses (grappler, grapplee, pinned). \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2019 at 3:08

KRyan has a lot of good points directly from 3.5e, but Grappling, in general, is fraught with difficulties, and D&D has had its share. In AD&D, grappling was based on ability scores and size, which meant even the mightiest warrior feared being grabbed by a group of Ogres. AD&D 2E had percentile-dice grappling that determined what would happen.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, I think even a mighty human warrior should fear being grabbed by a whole group of ogres.... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2019 at 1:42

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