Theory Crafting optimization time:

Your attack bonus on a grapple check is:

Base attack bonus + Strength modifier + special size modifier

Is this a complete replacement of the attack modifier system - or an overlay where modifiers are added to it Afterwords like in a normal attack?

Are there legal abuses we could employ to offset or circumvent a penalty normally associated with one mechanic by relying on the Grapple Check instead of a normal attack?

After you initiate a successful touch attack the character initiates an opposing grapple checks to determine the outcome of the hold. Grapple checks are also used to determine damage delt and pin progression.

What combat modifiers from feats affect the grapple check itself. We are not concerned with the touch attack, as normal modifiers apply.

For example:

After achieving a hold or Pin - can one use Expertise to increase the characters effective AC. They make one singular attack at -5 (-9 with the normal grapple penalty) to hit to gain a +5 to AC until the start of their next turn, then use any remaining attacks in their attack chain to make unaltered grapple checks without penalty.

Are there any specific bonuses out there that do improve or worsen the grapple check itself or the damage dealth from the unarmed strike?

A very short list of specific examples I would like considered (Plus whatever else you guys can come up with):

  • Expertise

  • Power Attack

  • Exalted Bonuses (Or other natural/inherent +plus bonuses to attack and damage)

  • Weapon Focus (natural attack)

  • Weapon Specialization (natural attack)

  • Weapon Finess (To use Dex instead of STR when grappling)

  • Can you use a grapple check in place of a normal attack to attempt a Trip or Stunning Strike special attack?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The clearing up of stuff like this is why I liked the move to pf1, fyi :). *points at pfsprep.com/e107_files/public/… *. You might want to talk to DM about houseruling some stuff to make it make more sense, given the confusing state of the rules as @KRyan reported \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Alan On the whole, Pathfinder 1e is at least as confused about things as 3.5e. Just look into the nonsense around flurry of blows or mounted combat. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 6:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Flurry from what I saw seemed to have gotten cleaned up with the Unchained monk. I never got around to mounted combat rules. I'm definitely not claiming perfection from the system, but I guess my subjective view of the frequency of confusion is different. Just the whole merging of all the special attacks into one system was nice. The other thing I really liked when I was active in Pathfinder was that the Paizo boards were active with actual real internal official clarifications given \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 6:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Alan Those “clarifications” were exactly the problem: because of the insistence on pretending there was no flaw in the rules, they had to “clarify” that the rules said things they didn't actually say—and as a result gave contrived, nonsensical rulings that kept breaking other parts of the game. As for combining special attacks in a unified mechanic, of course that is a good idea—but as was issued the case, they executed it poorly, and the math behind it didn’t work out well at all. All those mechanics were unified in being nearly unusable in higher levels. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 13:53

1 Answer 1


Official rules sources

A grapple check is like a melee attack roll.

(Player’s Handbook, pg. 156)

A grapple check is like a melee attack roll, but it’s modified by your grapple modifier.

(Rules Compendium, pg. 60)

That’s all we’ve got. Properly speaking, you have to ask your DM exactly how much “like” an attack roll a grapple check is.

Wizards’ rule explanations and answers

Wizards of the Coast published an FAQ and a series of “Rules of the Game” articles that are supposed to explain the rules. Unfortunately, neither is very reliable—both have numerous cases where they are distinctly incorrect about the rules—and that makes them problematic to use for much of anything. See What is wrong with the D&D 3.5 FAQ? for more details.

So these should be seen as maybe-possibly sources of evidence to suggest one ruling or another to a DM, but cannot really be relied upon.

Rules of the Game

Often provides more useful explanation and examples that might indicate intent. Does not here; it just repeats the same things other sources have said. Worded slightly differently in a way that maybe suggests that the change to the size modifier is the only difference, and otherwise the grapple check works just like an attack roll?

A grapple check is just like a melee attack roll, except that a special size modifier replaces your normal size modifier.

(Rules of the Game: All About Grappling, Part 1)


The FAQ comes down explicitly on the side of “a grapple check is not an attack roll,” repeatedly; for example:

When using Combat Expertise or Power Attack, does the penalty you take also apply to opposed attack rolls (such as when you are involved in a disarm or sunder attempt)? What about on grapple checks?

Yes and no. Anything described as an attack roll (even an opposed attack roll) can be affected by Combat Expertise or Power Attack. A grapple check isn’t an attack roll, so you can’t use Combat Expertise or Power Attack in conjunction with it.

(v.3.5 Main D&D FAQ—note, .zip file download with .pdf inside)

The problem with this is that it does not justify this claim in any way: it just states that it is so, despite the ambiguity of the actual rules. Frankly, considering the Rules of the Game description, I was rather leaning the other way on it.

And this particular example is especially problematic, because you don’t use Combat Expertise or Power Attack “in conjunction with” an attack roll—you use Combat Expertise when you use an attack or full-attack action (which you definitely do to grapple, at least in almost-all cases), and you use Power Attack “before making attack rolls for the round.” Both effects last for the rest of the round (that is, until the start of your next turn). So you can definitely use them, and they are definitely in effect, when you’re grappling. The FAQ kind of implies you can’t use them at all, and that’s definitely wrong.

And if you do use them, under this ruling, the attack penalty does not apply to the grapple check—but the bonus to AC or to melee damage rolls would apply. The FAQ seems to be suggesting they would not, but there is absolutely no ambiguity in the rules about that, unless (in the case of Power Attack) you want to suggest grapple damage isn’t “melee damage.” Even if you do, Combat Expertise doesn’t even have that much ambiguity about it: you definitely get the AC bonus. So this ruling is either wrong (or, actually, it’s definitely wrong, but more wrong), or lets you get full Combat Expertise AC or Power Attack damage for free. That does not exactly inspire confidence.

In practice

Personally, I have always ruled that pretty much everything that applies to attack rolls applies to grapple checks, with the obvious exception of the usual size modifier. I don’t really feel like there is a really good answer to the questions about Combat Expertise or Power Attack or similar otherwise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW Pathfinder specifically makes it an attack roll and says "Add any bonuses you currently have on attack rolls due to spells, feats, and other effects." \$\endgroup\$
    – martixy
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 1:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @martixy Yeah, but unfortunately, Pathfinder redesigned grapple entirely from the ground up. Aside from the general concept of what it’s trying to model, nothing about grappling is all that similar between the two systems. For some other things, what Pathfinder has done could be relevant to 3.5e, but this is a poor candidate for that, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 3:24

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