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Am I correct that specific beats general in this use-case, or is there an interaction/exclusion I'm overlooking that prevents this scene from playing as described? If I'm correct, what rules complications can arise from this edge case?

That's the question, here's the frame-up.

Needed rules for reference

The Tavern Brawler feat says

When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.

The Arms of the Astral Self monk class feature says

You can use the spectral arms to make unarmed strikes. When you make an unarmed strike with the arms on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.

The Grappler feat says

You can use your Action to try to pin a creature Grappled by you. To do so, make another grapple check. If you succeed, you and the creature are both Restrained until the grapple ends.

'Standard' Grapple attempt specifies

The target of your grapple must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach.

I am aware that unarmed strikes do not substitute for grapple attacks, which are special melee attacks that can be substituted in place of one or more unarmed strikes but that do not themselves count as unarmed strikes. Following this logic, I am then aware that arms of the astral form will not let me grapple (by itself) at 10 feet using my action because I only have a 5 foot reach when making a standard grapple check.

However, "specific beats general."

After activating Arms of the Astral Self, I can make unarmed attacks at 10 foot range. If I use this to attack a foe at 10' range, and hit, I provoke the trigger for Tavern Brawler, which says that if I hit a creature with an unarmed strike I can grapple the target of my 10 foot reach attack as a bonus action. This is a specific bonus action grapple that triggers on-hit. For this specific triggered attack, reach is fulfilled. If this isn't the case, then a T-Rex's triggered grapple does not work at 10 feet because it doesn't have free(any) hands that can reach the target. Specific beats general.

If I then use my bonus action to attempt to grapple and hit, then when my next turn comes around, assuming the opponent has not escaped the grapple, this now provokes the trigger of Grappler, which says I can use my action to pin a creature grappled by me. It then details making another grapple check, with the only printed requirement for this grapple check being that the creature is currently grappled by me. Specific beats general.

If I then succeed in the pin check, we're both restrained, but I'm at 10 foot range. If there are more creatures within 10 feet of me, it would seem that I can do this at 10 feet twice and then at 5 feet twice for a total of four creatures pinned simultaneously, with the optimal case being that I grapple them all first to avoid the restrained penalties on as many grapple checks as possible.

I can see the obvious argument that the hand only extends your reach during your unarmed attack, but once target is grappled, I don't see a convincing argument that "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." This trigger should never go off, else a T-rex loses its triggered grapple for not having a hand that can reach its victim from 10 feet away, by the same logic. Specific beats general.

As a final thought in this vein, it seems worth pointing out the specific wording of "from the reach of the grappler or grappling effect." If the grappling effect is the result of an attack that occurred at 10 feet of range, then it seems to me that the reason the T-Rex's grapple effect works is that a triggered grapple effect uses the triggering attack's reach (and other game statistics) as the discriminator, rather than the creature's personal reach with what may be non-existent free hands that are mandatory in a 'normal' grapple. This seems to suggest that the grapples engaged by Tavern Brawler and Grappler are "grappling effects," with their own implicit qualifications.

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3 Answers 3

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[...], with no mention of reach requirements. This is not a standard Grapple Action, it is a specific bonus action grapple that triggers on-hit. Specific beats general.

No.

You don't get to pick and choose which parts of the Grappling rules you overwrite.

You can to use a bonus action with this setup, instead of the Attack action/special melee attack. That's it.

All the following still apply when attempting to Grapple:

  • Reach requirement
  • Creature size requirement
  • One free hand
  • Making a grapple check
  • On success, apply grapple condition
  • Conditions that end the grapple

If your logic is that since it doesn't mention reach requirements then those reach requirements don't apply, then by the same logic none of the above requirements or effects apply, as they aren't mentioned either.

You can't pick and choose what isn't included in this "specific" type of grapple.

Your spectral arms cannot grapple

The above argument aside, there is another issue. Note the "One free hand" requirement I listed above. Specifically, the rules say

Grappling rules

Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target

However, the spectral arms granted by this feature (TCoE p50) list out a series of benefits, none of which at all imply any kind of grasping ability with the hands. (Technically it doesn't even mention hands at all, but I won't try to argue for arms that don't include hands, especially since it states you decide their appearance.)

To grapple, you need a free hand that is capable of seizing something. The spectral hands in no way shape or form imply that you have that ability. They are spectral, not telekinetic.

Even if someone agrees that the bonus action retains the extended reach and so meets that requirement for grappling, I see nothing that indicates a seize-capable hand being available at that extended reach distance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You don't think the narrative has anything to do with this? The bonus action clearly represents someone punching and grabbing hold at the same time, the bonus action is just a mechanic to fit it into the action economy. Or is it raw way or the highway? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 27, 2022 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri The OP tried to make a step by step logical argument. I pointed out what I saw as a glaring hole in their logic. As for narrative? How many tavern brawlers do you "see" with ghostly arms giving them extended reach. The monk's class feature contains nothing implying that these arms can be used for anything other than unarmed strikes. It even has them dealing force damage, which is described as pure magical energy. For it to grapple someone would imply a telekinetic effect. Nothing in the feat or feature implies that should be possible. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 27, 2022 at 22:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WillemRenzema I had a comment here that elaborates on my confusion about your answer, but when I realized it was a contributing point to my question I deleted the comment and edited the question to include it. Would you consider taking a sec to review my edit and see if it prompts any revisions or thoughts on the subject? Grapple gets used a lot with other forms at my current table and this has some reaching implications... SMH, I noticed the pun after I typed it, so it stays. Sorry. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 27, 2022 at 22:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2022 at 4:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that "it doesn't work because it doesn't specifically say that it works" is a strong argument here. \$\endgroup\$
    – tuskiomi
    Dec 2, 2022 at 17:45
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There are several aspect to consider in your articulate question, and I find 4 being of main interest for the scope of what you are trying to understand. I list these four down below, with their short answer. Since this answer requires a fair amount of reasoning/writing and references, the detailed motivation are reported after the short versions.

  • Can I grapple some foe at 10 ft using my Astral Arms? Yes, since most of the requirements are fulfilled (making an attack, being within the reach, one free hand available). The size requirement depends on the opponent.
  • Once I attacked an enemy at 10 ft. with the Astral Arms, can I activate the Tavern Brawler feat? Yes, since the unarmed strike requirement is fulfilled.
  • Suppose that I succeeded in grappling an opponent at 10 ft. with the Astral Arms: can I use the Grappler feat? Yes, since all the requirements of this feat are satisfied.
  • Can I grapple (and pin) up to four enemies, two at ten feet and two at 5 ft, using this combination? This depends on the reading of the Astral Arms feature, and hence it is up to the DM.

Can I grapple using my Astral Arms?

The rules require

  • taking the Attack action
  • the target being within the reach
  • having at least one free hand
  • the target being no more than one size larger than the grappler

When the Astral Arms are activated, the monk can use them to make unarmed strike: if the monk take the Attack action and attacks with their unarmed strike, the first requirement is fulfilled. When using the Astral Arms for unarmed strike, the reach is increased by 5ft:

When you make an unarmed strike with the arms on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.

Hence the reach of the attack with unarmed strikes granted by the Astral Arms is 10 ft. This means that, once the Attack action is employed, you can reach enemies at 10 ft with the unarmed strike, and you can substitute the unarmed strike with a grapple attempt.

The last requirement is to have a free hand: so the question is "Do the Astral Arms have hands?" It is not explicitly stated, but the description says Astral Arms, not Severed Astral Arms nor Astral Stumps. Moreover, at 11th level the monk gets the Body of the Astral Self Feature:

When you have both your astral arms and visage summoned, you can cause the body of your astral self to appear (no action required). This spectral body covers your physical form like a suit of armor, connecting with the arms and visage.

In particular, the term "body" is used, not "part of the body". As final proof, the image next to the description of the Astral Arms depicts a dragonborn monk with their Astral Arms, together with their hands:

Dragonborn monk with their Astral Arms, complete with hands.

The next question is: are the hands usable for something different from unarmed strikes? The answer can be inferred by the description of the feature:

You can use your Wisdom modifier in place of your Strength modifier when making Strength checks and Strength saving throws.

In particular, a monk with its Astral Arms "activated" can use the WIS modifier for STR checks, such as grapple checks. This means, for example, that they can help themself with their Astral Arms in climbing a slippery vertical surface, in both cases of having the Arms surrounding their original ones or having them hovering over the shoulders. The monk is not using, in this case, their strength (STR mod) but their power of will (WIS mod).

The last requirement, about the size difference, depends on the facing opponent.


Once I attacked an enemy at 10 ft. with the Astral Arms, can I activate the Tavern Brawler feat?

Everything works fine: indeed, as you quoted, the requirement to activate the Tavern Brawler feat is to hit an enemy with an unarmed strike. The sequence is hence

  • Take the Attack action
  • Use the Astral Arms for making an unarmed strike at 10 ft.
  • If the strike succeeded and there is a BA available, then the monk can attempt to grapple.

Suppose that I succeeded in grappling an opponent at 10 ft. with the Astral Arms: can I use the Grappler feat?

Yes, since the sole requirements of the Grappler feat are to use your Action and to have an enemy already grappled: the previous steps show that it is possible to grapple an enemy at 10 ft. via the Astral Arms (and eventually using the Tavern Brawler feat), hence, if the grappled was successful, the monk just needs to have an action available.


Can I grapple (and pin) up to four enemies, two at ten feet and two at 5 ft, using this combination?

This depends on the interpretation of the Astral Arms at your table: the description of the Astral Arms say:

For 10 minutes, these spectral arms hover near your shoulders or surround your arms (your choice).

It is not clear if you have 4 independent arms or if you command the Astral ones with your natural upper limbs, i.e. as it happen with the Arcane Hand spell. I think this should be discussed with the DM once the monk achieves the 3rd level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "When you make an unarmed strike with the arms on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal." -- How does this increase your reach for the bonus action grapple? \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Dec 2, 2022 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @smbailey 1/2 You're on track for the crux of why I accepted an earlier answer, but one step too soon. While with an incredibly narrow reading I could see your approach, I feel the narrative intention of Tavern Brawler is clearly to engage a grapple utilizing the successful strike that prompted it, and that strike is at 10 feet of range. Where the approach falls flat RAW is that once the attack is over your reach shrinks back to five feet, and 'arms no longer long enough to reach foe' qualifies as an effect that removes you from reach in my eyes. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 2, 2022 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ 2/2 Personally, I think it's okay to rule that a stretchy appendage doesn't have to shrink until it loses its grip, but that's a houserule, not RAW. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 2, 2022 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @smbailey The grapple granted by Tavern Brawler depends on a successful unarmed strike, and hence the reach is the reach of the attack that allowed this bonus action. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Dec 2, 2022 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheFallen0ne Just recall that you can reconsider your choice: you can un-accept the answer and select another one that you think better answers your question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Dec 2, 2022 at 21:30
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No, this does not work

First of all, there's no point in trying to argue based on a comparison of PC's abilities with a stat block of a monster because they both follow completely different rules and the abilities do not convert between each other. "Target is grappled on a hit" is a very common effect that a lot of monsters have and it has no effect on what a PC can or cannot do.

Second, the Tavern Brawler feat allows you to make a Grapple attempt using your bonus action where usually you would have to use your main Action for that, that is the benefit it confers, it does not waive any of the normal requirements for a Grapple attempt. It does not allow you to make a Grapple attack on a target that wouldn't otherwise qualify.

The Arms of Astral Self allow you to make unarmed attacks at 10ft. range and if you hit, that does meet the conditions of Tavern Brawler, which are

When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn (…)

It still does not satisfy the requirement for reach though, the Arms extend the reach of unarmed strikes you make with them but your Grapple reach is still unchanged. To further illustrate this point, improvised weapons explicitly state that they can be used at range, if you threw a bottle at someone 20ft. away, would you also expect to be able to grapple them on the basis that this meets the conditions of the Tavern Brawler?

Moreover, Arms of Astral Self cannot grapple. Nowhere in the description does it say that they can do anything else than unarmed strikes, therefore that's all they are capable of since things do what they say they do. There's a few other abilities worded as "you manifest spectral/astral/etc. [something] that [does something]. They all do what the description says they do and no more. You can only grapple with your arms and optionally with any other appendages that are stated to be capable of grappling (e.g. Loxodon's trunk explicitly can grapple).

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