I'm theorizing a use of a spell to get out of grapple/restrain, for potential use in upcoming game. I'm playing a Warforged Artificer/Wizard and have low STR. When I am restrained by a grapple, if I use Watery Sphere on myself (I don't need to breathe) and the grappler fails its save, will I be taken out of the sphere with the grappler, or will they be shunted out without me?
Not particularly well
Watery sphere can certainly move your grappler, but it is by far not your most efficient way to break the grapple.
Conditions specify what things end them
In this case, if someone has grabbed you, you are subject to the grappled condition. The grappled condition can be ended when
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.
Does moving your grappler away from you remove you from their reach? I would say no, because it is the grappler and their reach that are being removed from proximity to the grappled, but doing so does not remove the grappled from the reach of the grappler, as required by the rule about ending a grapple. The result certainly ends the same, with the grappled out of the reach of the grappled, but it does so in a process that does not fit any definition of the grappled having been "removed from".
If the rules had meant that moving either the grappler or the grappled could break the grapple, they should have said so, such as:
[suggested] The condition also ends if an effect results in the grappled creature no longer being within the reach of the grappler or grappling effect, such as when either creature is hurled away from the other by the thunderwave spell.
Grammatical pedantry1 and action economy implications2 aside, however, it does seem to be RAI that moving the grappler can break the grapple. In response to the question "If you Shove/Push a grappler grappling an ally, does it break the grapple (because of reach)...?", Jeremy Crawford has responded:
Leaving the reach of a grappler does, indeed, end the grapple, as stated in the third bullet of the grappled condition (PH, 290).3
Answers on both this question and others assume that moving the grappler does break the grapple, and your DM may agree. At the very least, this is a pragmatic ruling because it tells us what to do next4.
So, for the remainder of this answer, let's assume that moving the grappler does break the grapple, at least as RAI if not RAW. Even in this case, however, watery sphere is not a good strategy.
Even if it moves the grappler, where do they land?
On a successful save, a creature is ejected from that space to the nearest unoccupied space of the creature’s choice outside the sphere. A Huge or larger creature succeeds on the saving throw automatically, and a Large or smaller creature can choose to fail it.
Of the twelve spaces outside your sphere, five of those spaces are still adjacent to you, and your grappler gets to choose which one they land in. If they really want to maintain their grapple, you might be able to eject them from the sphere but have them land with you still in their reach and not having broken the grapple. Even if for some reason all those squares are occupied, if they really really want to maintain their grapple they can just choose to fail the save and thus remain inside the sphere with you.
You just made yourself a target
You are worried about breaking grapples because you have a low Strength. If you have a low Strength, you are more likely than your grappler to fail your save against the watery sphere - in which case you will be restrained by it. Once you are restrained, all of your opponents, the grappler and all of their allies, melee and missile, now have advantage to hit you at least until the end of your next turn. That's not going to end well. You may have broken the grapple, but at the cost of making yourself very vulnerable.
There are better ways to do this
Watery sphere takes both a 4th level slot and your concentration. Even if you are so concerned that you are willing to invest those kinds of resources to break a grapple, there are cheaper ways to do so. As an artificer, you have access to armor of magical strength, which should help keep you from getting grappled in the first place as well as helping you break free. This would require an attunement but not a spell slot. If you are going to use your concentration, why not a second level slot for enhanced ability (bull's strength or, if your dex is better, cat's grace) to get advantage on resisting the grapple to begin with and breaking it if you fail? Or use your artificer's resistant armor to protect yourself from fire, and then cast heat metal on it - anyone that tries to grapple you will take damage, drop you on a failed save, and even if they maintain their grip will be at disadvantage when you next try to break free. I'm sure there are many other solutions, most of them cheaper than a 4th level concentration spell. You yourself suggest misty step which is cheaper as a second level slot, and good action economy as a bonus action, although it will break only one grapple per cast.
1In the phrase "Remove from", 'from' is a preposition, and has an object. 'Remove' is a verb, and has an object. If the king is wroth with a petitioner and commands his guards to "Remove him from my sight!", the guards could pick up the throne and carry the king out of the room. As a result, the petitioner would no longer be within the king's sight. But we would not say that the guards followed the king's command, or that the petitioner was removed from the king's sight by their actions. In English, syntax matters. 'Remove him from my sight' is not the same as 'Remove my sight from him'.
It is dangerous to assume that a creature moving out of your reach is exactly the equivalent of you moving out of your reach to them, when that equivalency is not explicitly stated. For example, consider the rules on opportunity attacks:
You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach.
If a hostile creature moving out of my reach is the same as moving myself out of my own reach to them, then I can move in to attack as normal, and then back away to give myself an opportunity attack as well. My allies could also grant me an opportunity attack by pulling me out of combat. That is clearly not intended; my opponent leaving my reach is not the same as me moving or being moved out of my own reach to them.
2This distinction between moving the grappled vs. moving the grappler has important implications for action economy when the grappled has Extra Attack. One of the effects of the grappled condition is that your speed becomes 0. One of the things that ends the grappled condition is "A grappled creature can use its action to [attempt to] escape." So a grappled creature can't move itself, and can only escape a grapple by using its full action to do so. If we permit the grappled creature to also escape the grapple by moving the grappler, then when it makes Shove attacks on the grappler, it has a chance to end the grapple. If it has Extra Attack, it can make multiple Shove attacks. We thus enable a strategy for escaping the grapple that is better than taking the 'escape the grapple action'; it has more chance to succeed, and if the first Shove is successful the grappled still has attack(s remaining in its Attack action.
3We can take JC's tweet at face value for the intent of the ending the grapple rules. As argued above, however, moving the grappler does not in fact meet the RAW conditions for 'removing the grappled from the grappler's reach'.
4The biggest problem with insisting on the RAW of what the grappling rules actually say, is that one then has no direction for what to do when the grappler is moved. Do we allow this to break the grapple, even though that's not what the rules say? Do we allow them to be moved, but to drag the grappled along with them? The full distance? Half the distance? As Groody says in their answer, "There is no rule that states the grapple is broken, and no rule that states the grapple is not broken for this specific situation." That being the case, it falls to the DM to make a ruling, but there is no RAW resolution because RAW does not cover this situation.
The grappler cannot take you with them
Being moved, such as by your Watery Sphere, is not the same as moving and the grappler can’t take you with them. A grapple ends “if an effect removes the grappled creature from the reach of the grappler or grappling effect”. It doesn’t matter whether it's the grappler or grappled that is moved; if the grappled ends up outside the grappler’s reach, the grapple is broken.
This may work, but in a different way
The grappling rules say:
If you succeed, you subject the target to the grappled condition (see appendix A). The condition specifies the things that end it,
There is nothing in those rules that says the grapple is broken if the grappler is moved. There even is a rule that if the grappler moves, they can drag their victim along.
Now being moved is not the same as moving, but the grappler being moved away also is not the same as the grappled creature being moved away. There is no rule that states the grapple is broken, and no rule that states the grapple is not broken for this specific situation.
My take is that without any rule that changes the situation, the default is the situation will remain unchanged. So, the creature is grappled, and will remain grappled, when the grappler is moved.
Only the grappled creature (in this case, you) has the grappled condition, and it tells you what ends it:
- The condition ends if the grappler is incapacitated (see the condition).
- The condition also ends if 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.
Watery Sphere only restrains its targets, it does not incapacitate them. So the first bullet does not apply. The second does not apply to your grappler, as they are not grappled in the first place.
However, it might work to apply it to you yourself: you are grappled, and when you make the save, you are ejected which will free you, and you fail the save while your grappler does not, you can use your action to make the sphere move you away from them, freeing you from the grappled condition.