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Introduction

I am dissatisfied with the rules for grappling in 5e. Well, it's more that I'm dissatisfied with the fact that there's no way to restrain someone in 5e via grappling.

The rules, as they are (if I imagine two humans having a fight) are better to describe someone grabbing someone's arm, or by the scruff of the neck, which may prevent them from moving (unless they "break the grapple"), but otherwise doesn't prevent them from doing anything else, because the Grappled condition simply reduces the grappled creature's speed to 0.

If that is the player's intent, then those rules work fine; you use an attack (not Action, just a single attack) to try to grab someone, with a contested check. If you win, now they can't run away. That's fine.

Problem

However, what about if someone wants to restrain someone? I can imagine it would be easy enough to grab around someone such that their arms are pinned to their body, making them effectively Restrained. However, RAW, there is no way the average PC can do this; they need to have taken the Grappler feat, and even then, it takes two attacks to do so (so unless you have Extra Attack or Action Surge, it takes two turns to actually restrain someone).

The problem I'm seeing here mainly concerns new players who just want to grab the enemy and restrain them, but the best option that's available to them is the grapple, which doesn't do anything like what they're imagining. For this reason, shoving and other alternatives do not solve this problem because that's not what the new player wanted to do, despite the fact that anyone can try to restrain another human IRL. They'd be like: "What? I could restrain you, and I'm not even that strong, so why can't Conan the Barbarian restrain that bandit without taking a feat?"

Since I don't like the fact that a PC cannot attempt to restrain someone, despite the fact that it seems like a reasonable thing to attempt, I've tried to come up with something to make restraining a target possible, especially for new players for whom trying something like this might seem intuitive, but then the RULES get in their way. The amount of times I've seen a new player try to grapple the enemy, thinking it'll actually do something, only to find that in practice it did nothing and the creature just attacked them anyway without penalty, and without giving anyone else the advantage they were expecting it to...

Proposal

Anyway, my proposed house rules are that, on top of the existing rules for grappling, you can also:

  • spend your Action (not an attack, your full action) to attempt to Restrain a creature.
  • Not just any creature, only a humanoid creature, or a creature that is roughly humanoid (like, say, a zombie, which is "undead", but a normal person attempted to restrain one would still intuitively understand how to do it).
  • Both creatures are then restrained, as per the Grappler feat, but this is something anyone can do.

The reason for the restriction on humanoid (or humanoid-like) is because I, personally, could give restraining another human a pretty good go, but I wouldn't know how to go about restraining a dog (note: I do not own dogs, so maybe dog owners would know how to), let alone a Basilisk or a Spectator or something that one might encounter in the D&D universe.

Note that my proposal is not intended as an alternative to teaching new players how grappling actually works, but simply providing a way to do something that basic grappling doesn't quite cover (specifically restraining someone).

Grappler feat

Of course, this seriously nerfs the Grappler feat, so I've adjusted that too.

  • Firstly, it should lift the restriction above; a "trained grappler" should know how to restrain a dog, Basilisk, Spectator, or whatever else can be grappled RAW.
  • Secondly, they can restrain someone with an attack, not action, which is also an improvement on the RAW Grappler feat, which takes two attacks (potentially two turns, although most likely a character that would take the Grappler feat is also one who is likely to have Extra Attack past level 5).
  • I was also considering adding "able to grapple (just a normal grapple) as a bonus action", possibly instead of the previous point (so you can restrain using your bonus action and one "attack"), but I was wary of treading on the toes of the Tavern Brawler feat, so I'm not sure...

Question

Given my proposed house rules, I hope that it:

  1. gives an option to players (I mostly have new players in mind who don't know obscure rules like how grappling works) to be able to sacrifice their turn to restrain someone,
  2. for it to be balanced rather than a "strictly superior choice", and
  3. to still have the Grappler feat be a worthwhile investment for a "grapple build", such that it's not a "must-have" that out-muscles any other feat, but also not that it's basically useless with my new "Restrain as an Action" house rules.

Are there problems with my proposal that I'm overlooking that will make my new "Restrain" Action massively overpowered, or my revised Grappler feat massively over- or under-powered? I just want a sanity check on what I've come up with before it "goes live" in my games.

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to still have the Grappler feat be a worthwhile investment for a "grapple build"

This assumption is only true in some fairly specific circumstances, so most guides that give builds for grappling tend to ignore/discard the Grappler feat. My reading and experience tells the same, "Grappler" is not the first (second, third, fourth) choice of feat for a grappler. The enemy is only slightly more inconvenienced, while the grappler is taken out of the fight in the same way (For example, no dragging enemies around). It would take a bigger change to make it worthwhile for grapplers.

On the change

As the Grapple + Shove is already a part of the game, I don't think giving the generally inferior option of Restraining to everybody would change the game balance outside of some fairly specific party types. That makes the feat an even more inferior choice, as it would basically let you do something a bit better than what you could do without a feat and good action choices. So instead of option 3, I would try giving to the option to Restrain on a bonus action, which would mean the extra attack is freed to bash the enemies head in (or succeed in grappling). The feat would still be pretty weak though, but it would give the character a chance to fully restrain in a single round.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I'm understanding where I went wrong with this, and this explains those comments too; I assumed that "grapple builds" would definitely want the feat called "Grappler", but I'm learning that this isn't true. In that case, what I meant by "worthwhile investment for a "grapple build"" should probably be changed to "not make the feat useless (regardless of grapple build or not)"; however, I won't change the question now that you've answered it (especially since it's this answer that got me to see that). Thankfully, your second half also answers what I would have asked instead :) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 10 at 12:04
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Clarification

For starters, I'm not quite clear on whether you're proposing that a character can restrain a grappled creature in one action without having the feat, or whether a character can both grapple and restrain another creature in one action. It reads to me more like the latter is intended, but I'm not sure.

In any case, it doesn't seem overpowered

Restraining in one action without spending another attack to grapple first is more powerful than pure grappling options are now. It would give both the advantage on attack rolls for everyone that Shove gives (notably without the disadvantage on ranged attacks) and the reduction on speed to 0, however still at the cost of being restrained yourself (which I assume would be the case since you say "as per the Grappler feat" where this is stated as such).

So we get a more powerful Shove with a drawback that makes it tactically dangerous (if there's multiple enemies they can now attack you with advantage) and higher cost (if you have Extra Attack it doesn't help you while Shove can replace attacks). While better than standard grapple, I'd say that's still pretty fair. Skipping Grapple to restrain directly may make Grapple itself less common, but since Grapple+Shove is still mechanically superior (as you can still move and enemies don't have advantage against you) restraint would be more situational except for the early levels before Extra Attack when it's twice as fast as Grapple+Shove. Still, I think being restrained yourself balances it out.

This does however also mean, that if you missed the part in Grappler about being restrained yourself and don't want to include it I'd say this is too strong unless I misunderstood you and you intend for the restraint to only work if the creature is already grappled.

About the feat

Restraining as an attack instead of a full action seems fine, however if you want to make Grappler attractive to all characters who use grappling it makes more sense to address one of the major weaknesses instead of focusing too much on the special actions themselves. Think about options like being able to grapple creatures more than one size category larger than you as an example issue that grapplers tend to face.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To your first part, yes, the latter. For your second part, end of first paragraph, "as per the Grappler feat", yes, you assume correctly again. Third paragraph of second section is therefore unnecessary, since I did intend on the drawbacks you point out in your second paragraph of your second section. In short, you did understand my question correctly :) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 10 at 13:30

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