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Similar to the this question, I've been trying to find a balanced way to improve the effectiveness of the whip. Instead of a feat, however, this homebrew feature is a Fighting Style. As such, the trade-offs and balancing criteria are somewhat modified. The feature is as follows:

Whip Specialist Fighting Style: You gain a +1 bonus to damage rolls you make with a whip. Additionally, when you hit a creature that is Large or smaller in size with a whip, instead of dealing damage you can choose to grapple the target (escape DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + Dexterity or Strength modifier) and you can pull the target 5 feet closer to you. While the target is grappled in this way, you cannot attack with the whip.

The following classes have access to this Fighting Style: Paladin, Fighter, Ranger.

Does this seem balanced? Specifically, would a whip user want to take this Fighting Style over the Duelist Fighting Style?


Here's a general list of considerations for this feature:

  • Most whip users opt towards the Duelist Fighting style, as the +2 bonus to damage rolls helps mitigate the low base damage of the whip (1d4).
  • The whip is a finesse (Dexterity-based) weapon, while grappling is normally a Strength (Athletics) based attack. This opens up the possibility of a Dexterity-based grappler.
  • The grapple is uncontested, meaning that the whip user simply needs to beat the target's AC. The flip side of this is that escape DC is also uncontested, meaning that the target need only beat the escape DC.
  • Unlike normal grappling, however, a whip grappler cannot attack with the whip while they are grappling a target, so they sacrifice damage for utility, unless they choose to attack with whatever they are holding in their free hand. This means that if they want to attack a grappled target, they must give up a "hand slot" to wield another weapon, instead of, say, a shield.
  • The pull only works on the initial hit. Perhaps, instead, it should require a bonus action that can be used any turn? I've also considered adding the option of instead tripping the target, making them fall prone.
  • Thematic: this fighting style invokes imagery of Indiana Jones, a suave, whip-wielder that uses his weapon to trip and capture his opponents.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why would the escape DC of the grapple be based on DEX and not STR? Thematically and realistically it should be STR. In your considerations you say a whip is finesse (DEX based). Finesse means STR or DEX. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10 '20 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Finesse does not mean DEX based. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10 '20 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eternallord66, NautArch's hunch is correct. The best knot is a knot that uses the forces trying to pull it apart to make it stronger. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 10 '20 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you aiming for a certain level of realism with this? I had assumed not given the Indiana Jones idea, but perhaps I'm wrong \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 '20 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I'm much more interested in the fantasy of a whip wielder rather than realism. Neither a whip nor a sword should pose a significant threat to an upright knight in full plate armor, but in 5e they can easily be slain by such weapons. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 11 '20 at 19:16
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Grappling from a distance is inherently broken

A whip has a range of 10 feet because of its reach property. You're suggesting that hitting with this weapon will enable you to initiate a grapple instantly, which has a DC of at least 10, and that is at level 1 and a 10 in your dominant stat, a very unlikely scenario. Let's assume instead that you went for 16 in one stat, a pretty reasonable level 1 character, for a DC of 13.

Now put this level 1 character against an Ogre, by themselves. Their AC is pretty easy to hit, you're going to be hitting on a 6+. At this point, you can either deal damage, or decide that you feel like completely ruining their day and that they're stuck outside of melee combat. Why would you ever want to pull them closer at this point?

The Ogre is stuck outside of melee range and it has to use its action to break free, with 45% chance (it needs a 9+) that it fails and wastes a turn doing nothing. This problem gets exponentially worse at higher levels, because very few monsters have skill checks that help them escape grapples.

You give characters the ability to completely lock down a melee-only creature's ability to do anything useful with their action on the next turn, you shut down their ability to use the Dodge action (because they no longer have a speed), you lock them in place until they escape, and all it costs is a fighting style and a single instance of damage.

And we haven't even tried to exploit it yet!

Let's assume we're a variant human. We'll take the Dual Wielder feat. We can now dual-wield whips, meaning we're able to grapple two creatures at the same time, at a range, without having to expose ourselves to attacks in melee range.

If you're a Battlemaster, you can use Lunging Attack to grapple somebody from 15 feet away, outside of the reach of other enemies with reach! If you combine an attack with Menacing Attack (this may be a world first where menacing attack is actually useful), they will have to break out of your grapple at disadvantage until the end of your next turn, and even if they do break free, they can't actually come closer to you that turn, so they can't do anything to prevent you from grappling them again from a safe distance next round.

Grappling is incredibly effective at keeping enemies in place and you've just made it far easier to do so without putting yourself in a risky position.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't make sense to grapple with a whip. Unless it is declared that you are wrapping the whip around the legs there would be nothing stopping someone from moving because of a puny flexible whip. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10 '20 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you're overvaluing the benefits of somebody being 10 feet away. They would have plenty of allies, and of they really have no ranged options then flight would be similarly utterly broken. They also have the option to attack the weapon or to disarm you of it if the GM allowed either of these things. (I've played with this ranged grapple ability and having somebody 10 feet away proved to be almost a non-issue) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 '20 at 16:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andrendire Here is a question on exactly that: "Is a Bugbear's Long Limbed reach also applied to shoves and grapples?" \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 '20 at 19:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are quite a few miniboss-esque monsters that lack reach and ranged attacks, but are extremely deadly once they make it into melee range. The official campaigns have quite a few of these guys, and they often come alone or with one or two mobs to support them. Take for instance this 4 armed troll: " Multiattack. The troll attacks five times, once with its bite and four times with its claws. If two or more claws hit the same target, the troll rends the target, dealing an extra 2d6 slashing damage." All his attacks have a reach of 5 ft. Zero way of dealing damage at a range. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Mar 12 '20 at 7:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ You are then suggesting that it is "no big deal" that you could completely lock this guy down, removing 5 attacks in a round, from a safe distance. Then if he breaks out and moves closer, you walk away, take one opportunity attack, and repeat the process, effectively removing 4 attacks per round, 5 if he fails to break out. All for the ridiculously low cost of a fighting style. Being able to attack weapons and disarming people are variant rules, you can't assume OP is using those rules and that it is therefore balanced. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Mar 12 '20 at 7:16
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It's Problematic

You have moved the grapple away from the standard mechanic onto an auto-grapple on a hit. You also move from using an action to grapple to allowing a grapple as part of any attack, which then lets it be used as a reaction. It could also be used with a Shield Master knock-down, which would be very powerful. Also, the grapple-on-hit mechanic tends to be limited to strong monster abilities or the equivalent Sentinel feat.

Next, you allow grapple to be based on Dexterity. This is also unique. You then allow the grappler to pull the target closer based on Dex. Do you really think a Strength 8 Dexterity 20 character could pull a horse if the horse didn't want to move? The escape isn't realistic either. A horse has +3 to Strength and a Mule has +2. At Level 9 we can expect a Dex character to have a DC of 8+5+4 = 17. Do you think a mule couldn't get away from a weak character 75% of the time? A mule would drag you across creation no matter how dexterous you are. Let's talk about grappling an Ogre with a whip. Just because its AC is 11 doesn't mean it could be pulled around like this. It's not realistic and changes too much in the grappling mechanic.

These new mechanics are worth much more than the extra +1 damage you would get from the Dueling fighting style. This feels closer to a feat. I think an appropriate feat would be:

Whip Master

You have gained exceptional proficiency with the whip. When using a whip for your attack action you gain the following benefits:

  • If you hit with your whip attack you can use your bonus action to immediately attempt a grapple with the target. The target must be no more than one size larger than you. A grappled creature can use its action to escape. To do so, it must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by your Strength (Athletics) check.
  • If the target remains grappled by your whip on your next turn, you can make a special melee attack to Whip-Shove the creature. The target must still be within your reach. Instead of making an attack roll, you make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). You succeed automatically if the target is incapacitated. If you succeed, you either knock the target prone or pull it 5 feet closer to you.
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fabian, Shield Master knockdown requires a prior attack. Grapple and shove have to be 2 different turns. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 11 '20 at 3:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your feat suggestion reminds me of this UA article \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Mar 11 '20 at 15:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm a bit confused why you're discussing realism when the OP says this is meant to evoke Indiana Jones imagery, a far cry from reality \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 '20 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you might be overvaluing the realism of 5e. To build on your example, a halfling is perfectly capable of grappling a mule, yet "realism" would follow that they'd be capable of little more than hanging off the mule as it ran off with them in tow. Even then, a fantasy whip wielder should be perfectly capable of ensaring a mule's legs. It wouldn't matter how strong the mule was or how weak the user, so long as the snare properly disabled its legs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 11 '20 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ So to be clear, a child-sized humanoid grappling a 1000 pound beast is considered realistic? Perhaps you're more concerned with internal consistency of 5e, which obviously this Fighting Style circumvents, as normally grappling is related to Strength. But that's the point of this--to go outside the bounds of what's normally possible in 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 11 '20 at 20:12
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I think you might be trying too hard to come up with a solution to a problem that isn't as bad as it seems.

The DMG already provides the disarm action (pg 271) which allows the player to make an attack roll (so it'd benefit from finesse) contested by strength (athletics) or dexterity (acrobatics) check. Success is a disarm and failure means nothing happens. Regardless of a success or failure, there is no damage or other ill effect (excluding the disarm) caused.

The PHB provides the grapple and shove action, allowing you to forego a damaging attack to instead grapple or shove the creature (the shove allowing you to either push back 5 ft or knock prone). Both of these rules state that you make a "special melee attack", and that it must be within your reach. This means that you can use your reach weapon (the whip) to perform the action (except you technically can't grapple, because the rules state you must use at least one free hand; we'll get to that in a second). When grappling, you can already move the grappled creature.

All that really needs to be done is adding the "Special" tag to the whip, and give it the effect:

The whip can be used to grapple a creature without the need for an empty hand. It can also be used to perform the shove action, but only for knocking prone (not for pushing). When performing either action, you may use Dexterity instead of Strength for your check.

This should be fairly balanced, and doesn't have odd loop holes like being able to use trip (shove) or grapple as a reaction. It allows you to use your finesse to perform the actions without having odd interactions with low AC but high Str creatures. Allowing "free" grapple and pull at the same time can get dicey with balance. Let the player do it as two actions if they want to do that. This also allows players who don't get fighting styles to still utilize a whip to do neat things if they want (Barbarian dual wielding a whip and axe?)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Tho i would take out the line about not being able to push, either make it pull, or leave it out. No reason to use the fighting style to remove an otherwise viable melee option. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 '20 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also considered adding a rule that allows the grappled creature to move closer, but not further, on their turn. Idea being the whip is wrapped around them, which might prevent them from walking away but wouldn't prevent them from getting up in your face next turn. But that seemed like venturing too far into "custom" territory with rule text that is too lengthy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doc
    Mar 11 '20 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for simplicity. I think a "rules-lite" approach is best for eliminating loop rules and maintaining the style of 5e in general. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 11 '20 at 19:25
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As other answers have pointed out, grappling at range is a serious balance issue, as is the fact that you're applying this grapple on hit without a contest, which is something that only certain monsters can do. Not only that, but the grappling rules prevent movement in any direction, and there's no way a whip would prevent the enemy from being able to move closer according to common sense, but RAW, that's what this rule would impose.

However, I don't think this is really what you're going for.

I imagine that, since you're trying to recreate a sort of Indiana Jones feel, being able to pull others around with your whip, I don't think that grappling is the right mechanic to use for this. I would suggest instead taking inspiration from the thorn whip cantrip (PHB, p. 282), which includes:

...if the creature is Large or smaller, you pull the creature up to 10 feet closer to you

This, along with the +1, would make it less strong than you've proposed, meaning still along the lines of what a Fighting Style should provide, but at the same time, you've avoided using the grapple rules, which is where most of the problems with your proposal lie.

Hence your fighting style would now look like this:

Whip Specialist Fighting Style: You gain a +1 bonus to damage rolls you make with a whip. Additionally, when you hit a creature that is Large or smaller in size with a whip, you pull the creature up to 10 feet closer to you.

Using thorn whip's "pull the creature up to 10 feet closer to you", you're not having any lingering effects from the enemy continuing to be grappled after your attack. Unlike a grapple, which persists until they break it, this just happens, and then is done with, all within your turn.

It might make sense to add a STR saving throw to allow the enemy the opportunity to resist being pulled around, but whether or not it needs that is something that playtesting might reveal, as I don't know whether that would be necessary without testing it myself (I mean, thorn whip doesn't, and it's a cantrip, so it's reasonable to assume that this fighting style doesn't need one either...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Thanks! I did consider that, but thankfully, you've answered that concern with your bugbear/battlemaster exceptional cases; sometimes 10 feet will be needed after all. Also, luckliy, thorn whip already uses the wording "... up to 10 feet...", so I can just use the wording as-is. \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Mar 11 '20 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed that the compulsory pull mitigates the balance issue of grapple-at-range. I still like the idea of being able to grapple with a whip, however, so what about this modification? "When you hit a creature that is Large or smaller with a whip, as a bonus action you can pull the creature 10 feet closer to you and immediately attempt to grapple them." That way we drop the auto-grapple and mitigate the range issue, while maintaining the thematic of a whip-wrangler. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 11 '20 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andrendire I think I'd then be more along the lines of Scott's answer; this feels more like a feat at that point. I'm thinking of the Tavern Brawler feat, where you can grapple as a bonus action after using an improvised weapon. I feel like tagging grappling on top of this Fighting Style would make it more powerful than a Fighting Style is supposed to be... \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Mar 12 '20 at 8:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andrendire It might be that you can use a feat in addition to what I've suggested to augment it further, and make it more geared towards grappling that way? \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Mar 12 '20 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good idea, I'll consider that. Might be better for balance if the final product is split into two components. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Mar 12 '20 at 15:59
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Whips can't prevent an enemy from getting closer

Considering that a whip is a flexible length leather or other material, unless you are able to restrain the creature's legs, that creature should still be able to move within the whip's range.

Perhaps it's worth considering a "special" type of grapple, where the creature still maintain's its walking/flying/swimming/burrowing speed, but cannot travel beyond the whip's range (10 ft radius).

Its technically possible to use a whip to prevent a creature from moving by restraining its method of movement (ex. wings or legs), but this gets a little complicated when considering large creatures or creatures with more than two legs (or don't have legs). For instance, you could arguably grapple the legs of a medium size humanoid preventing it from moving, but its hard to explain that a 10 ft whip can full wrap the legs of an Ogre from 10 ft away. In a similar vein, a giant spider or snake would be largely unaffected by this particular method of grappling.

Therefore, it would be a bit unbalanced and unrealistic to impose the full grappled condition on a creature (0 speed). However, it would make sense to instead tether said creature within your weapon's range. Since you you are forgoing damage on a hit it seems balanced enough to have this special grapple be uncontested.

Possible considerations for balancing

This might be entering Feat territory, but rather than a full grapple, perhaps the whip user could instead use a Bonus Action to attempt to knock the creature prone after a successful "grapple". This part should probably involve a Strength check contested by the creature's STR (Athletics) or DEX (Acrobatics). This would then allow the rest of your melee allies to wail on the enemy at advantage. You could also use this action to instead pull the creature 5 ft towards you.

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