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According to the Grappling rules, once all the initial checks and movement are resolved, there's no distinction between "grappler" and "graplee", at least that's how I've always interpreted this:

Regardless of who started the grapple, while you’re grappling, you can perform only the following maneuvers.

That would mean you can't just release a grappled opponent, because he's grappling you too, you'd need to escape his grapple. There is one exception, you can release an opponent from a grapple if you Pin him first:

You can release a pinned opponent as a free action. If you do so, you’re no longer considered to be grappling that foe (and vice versa). You finish by moving into any unoccupied space adjacent to that in which you were grappling.

But I found recently that the Rules Compendium lists "Release grappled or pinned opponent" as a free action in the table Actions in Combat (p.8), but not in the Grappling section (p.60). And searching the internet I found a lot of people argue in favor of allowing this. Is this a typo, or else why isn't this mentioned anywhere else?

If true, this would lead to exploits like a creature with multiple natural weapons (for example, 12 tentacles), low BAB, improved grab, and constrict, making several attacks and constrictions per round by releasing whoever they grappled immediately after doing constrict damage and attacking again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jul 8 at 6:47
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No. (but ...)

The entry in the Actions in Combat table in the Rules Compendium really is confusing, since we find nothing in the grappling section that would indicate that it‘s possible to release a grappled opponent as a free action. So it is either a typo on page 8 or they forgot to add the appropriate rule on page 60.

As you already pointed out, once a grapple has been started, the only ways to cease from grappling are either to release a pinned opponent as a free action or to escape a grapple by winning a grapple (or escape artist) check. It doesn't matter who started the grapple.

You can escape a grapple by winning an opposed grapple check in place of making an attack. You can make an Escape Artist check in place of your grapple check if you so desire, but this requires a standard action. If more than one opponent is grappling you, your grapple check result has to beat all their individual check results to escape. (Opponents don’t have to try to hold you if they don’t want to.) If you escape, you finish the action by moving into any space adjacent to your opponent(s).

Although the line Opponents don’t have to try to hold you if they don’t want to seems to refer only to a combat with multiple opponents, it should probably also be true, if there are only two of them. So it is possible to release an opponent (with no action at all needed), but only if that opponent is just trying to escape the grapple.

Also, you automatically "release" an opponent, if you are unable to maintain a grapple because you are unable to move into the target‘s space (starting a grapple, step 4). The rules don‘t say whether or not you must move if you are able. I think it‘s reasonable to assume that you are allowed not to move and consequently immediately let go of the target. Since moving in is a free action letting go should also be a free action. A creature with the Improved Grab special ability doesn‘t have this option, though.

When a creature gets a hold after an improved grab attack, it pulls the opponent into its space.


In his Rules of the Game articles Skip Williams suggests an optional rule for releasing an opponent in situations when both (or all) involved in a grapple are willing to give up the fight.

Release Your Hold: Curiously, the Player's Handbook says nothing about voluntarily relinquishing your hold on a foe, so here's a rule to cover that. You can release your foe as a free action. You are still considered to be grappling, however, unless your foe also decides to release you at same time. If your foe does not want to release you, you can escape by winning an opposed grapple check that you make instead of a melee attack. (...)

This rule would also let you get rid of the unpleasant grappling condition immediately (on your turn) if your foe is unconscious, dead or otherwise unable to conduct a grapple.

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