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I wonder if I am missing something or failing to understand the rules. Please, can someone explain to me: When and why should someone use disarming and grappling in a melee fight? Or why not at every opportunity? It does not 'feel' like a consistent combat rule system. I am asking as DM, but I try to keep the players side in mind, too.

First of all, I ask on the assumption that both fighting options are generally available for NPCs and monsters alike (of course, it individually depends on intelligence and body).

Here's the disarming rule from the DMG (p271), which will be the main focus of my questions:

A creature can use a weapon attack to knock a weapon or another item from a target's grasp. The attacker makes an attack roll contested by the target's Str (Athletics) check or Dex (Acrobatics) check. If the attacker wins the contest, the attack causes no damage or other ill effect, but the defender drops the item. (...)

Note: As I read it, the attacker can try to disarm for each of his own weapon attacks, so a fighter on 5th level can do this twice per round, correct?

In some fights (well, in most fights) the adventurers choose their weapons by their effectivity; large weapons with a lot of potential damage or weapons with a damage type or magic that the opponent (in the following, this term refers to NPCs and monsters) is not immune/resistant against.

So, any (at least minimum intelligent) opponent enduring (or fearing) severe damage by such weapons should try to disarm the wielder of that weapon. If that is successful, the effective (!) challenge rating of this encounter may rise - all of a sudden: Think of a vampire that successfully disencumbered the adventurers of all their magic weapons. Or a flesh golem ... This strategy would give the opponents quite an advantage.

On the other hand, if I (as DM) start to disarm the characters regularly (or try to), they will pick up the idea pretty soon. Most opponents don't carry an arsenal and many don't have special acrobatic or athletic skills and, therefore, the disarming attempt is quite likely successful (and I strongly dismiss the idea of having to keep the inventory of each opponent up to date) . In the end, most opponents will be far more easily conquered if without appropriate weapons. So, in the end, the game balance would swing to the other side; the players will have the advantage, and because of that, I fear to integrate this disarming option into my games, although of course, players ask for this now and then.

Any attacker with a decent attack bonus can hope to disarm its opponent. (And in situations when damage immunity or resistance is important, it's well worth trying several times to disarm the fatal weapon.) If it succeeds the weapon should be kicked away (free action) so that the disarmed opponent can't take it up again with a free action in its turn without running to it (maybe it is better for the attacker to 'place' the weapon on his own tile (AKA 'step upon it'), in order to 'guard' the weapon? But otherwise kicking away may offer an attack of opportunity ...) Of course, the opponent might have more weapons on him, but in most cases those will be of lesser use / inflict lesser damage and so on.

I don't want to make disarming more difficult, but how can I prevent disarming to become the main strategy, in particular for the players? And I don't think they would have solely humanitarian reason for doing so.

As with grappling, its mechanic seems very similar to me in general, but the question is reversed: Why should someone grapple someone else? Some differences are:

  • It requires a dice contest: Str(Athletics) vs. Str(Athletics) or Dex(Acrobatics) - that looks like the average chance of success is about the same as with disarming.
  • Escaping the grapple requires an action (opposed to a free action to pick up or draw a new weapon) - that's a real disadvantage, but ...
  • ... since being grappled doesn't prevent a creature to attack, this is really an advantage compared to being disarmed.

Unless one of the effects of having the opponent grappled (opponent has speed 0 and is dragable) is important to the attacker, grappling seems to be useless. Although I admit that the ability to drag the victim CAN be very important, grappling is not a requirement to shove an opponent over the edge of a cliff (PHB p198, 'Shoving a Creature', and DMG p272, 'Shove Aside'). Pushing an opponent to the ground (making it prone) doesn't require to grapple it neither (see again 'Shoving a Creature').

Grappling would make more sense if fighting with weapons (except small weapons like daggers, knuckles) while being grappled would gain disadvantage at least, but that I cannot find in the rules.

Here the circle closes: I would think, that an disarmed (or unarmed) opponent faces an armed attacker, it will try to grapple the attacker in order to get into a close-combat situation (wrestling, fist fighting, ...) where weapons can't help much - or to flee completely.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It only applies to disarming, but may be useful to know that disarming is an optional rule unless your party has access to Battle Master maneuvers. You can simply not allow it if you believe it is too powerful. That doesn't really answer your question, however, since it seems like you want to allow them, but not abuse it. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 30, 2023 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ The dynamics of grappling and disarming are different enough that this would be better split into two questions to allow for more focused and comprehensive answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 30, 2023 at 15:52

5 Answers 5

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How can I prevent disarming to become the main strategy, in particular for the players?

You probably don't need to. If you look at a typical adventure, most of the dangerous enemies do not depend on weapons in the first place, so disarming them isn't even an option. You can't disarm a wolf, a black pudding, a dragon or a demilich. Even in cases where disarming may hamper the opponent, you have to consider that this means up giving an attack. Which means giving up damage. Which means delaying the opponents demise. And being dead is far more crippling to most creatures than being disarmed, especially considering most enemies that do use weapons carry more than one, and even if they didn't there are still things they can do without weapons... like trying to get their weapons back. Merely kicking the weapon away a couple of feet isn't going to seriously hamper them, at best you'll maybe get an extra attack of opportunity out of them. Other weapons being "weaker" also rarely matters, since for most weapon wielding creatures the majority of the damage comes from bonuses, not the weapon damage die, especially for stronger enemies.

Why should someone grapple someone else?

In a one-on-one fight there's little reason to, as you've outlined already. But that's not a typical situation in D&D. The main reason you'd grapple someone is to keep enemies in place to keep them from reaching objectives, avoiding harm, or most commonly to prevent them from charging past the frontline and munch on the squishy wizard of the group. It not giving any disadvantages to the attacker other than not being able to move isn't really an issue, because typically the one doing the grappling would be a character that can afford to take some hits, because they have high AC, high HP or both. In fact, grappling comes up far more often during fights than disarming, contrary to what you seem to believe, because unlike disarming it does actually work on most creatures.

A character with an especially great strength advantage over their opponent can make even more use of this by also shoving their opponent prone – meaning they'll have disadvantage on melee attacks, melee attackers having advantage against them, and until the grapple is broken they can't stand up either. And of course even if they do break the grapple and stand back up, this uses their action and half their movement for the turn so they can't really effectively fight back or run away once they're in this situation.


TL;DR: You're overestimating how useful disarming an opponent is, by a lot, by failing to take into consideration how many opponents will be unfazed by a disarming attempt. You're underestimating how useful grappling an opponent is, by a lot, by failing to take into consideration how many options the grappled victim loses if they weren't planning on melee attacking the grappler already. I think you may have a skewed perspective because you're imagining a lone low level character fighting a lone low level humanoid enemy; In that situation the relative value of disarming and grappling and such may be different but that's not something you typically see in D&D.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ranged attack rolls have disadvantage on prone targets from more than 5 ft away, so shoving prone has big downsides if you have ranged party members without have good options that rely on saving throws instead of attacks (like Sacred Flame or Blight instead of Fire Bolt). Unless the party's going to focus-fire a different target while the grappler "tanks" one. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes yes, that’d be the idea. Take the target down with something other than ranged attacks, or otherwise deal with something else first. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Jul 2, 2023 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. Disarming and grappling are occasionally useful, in situations where you're trying to minimize violence, or have a target difficult to engage directly. But the vast majority of situations, you're much better off just stabbing them. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 23:18
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    – biziclop
    Jul 3, 2023 at 8:39
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How would I lower the usage of disarming

The simplest way I can think of this is to introduce more enemies with natural weapons. If the opponents arms are their arms, then there's only 1 way to disarm them. If you have a specific theme with your enemies that requires them to be humanoid and have hands, then make some of the more disciplined/trained ranks have some sort of weapon-keeping bonus or immunity. Altering stat blocks is free and expected of DMs.

When would someone need to grapple

When the situation calls for it. In your question you said

Unless one of the effects of having the opponent grappled (opponent has speed 0 and is dragable) is important to the attacker, grappling seems to be useless.

In my mind, grappling is important, not because it can do these 2 things, but because of the implications of these 2 things can have. This comes from creating situations where grappling isn't the end goal of an encounter, but a means to a goal. Why would a player want to grapple someone? Give them a reason to.

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In my experience, neither special attack is used particularly frequently.

(This does come from a table where fights tend to be PC party vs. a force 2-4 times as numerous, so please take that experience bias into account.)

Grappling only does what it says it does: reduce speed to 0. If the grappler has the Grappler feat, they can attack their grappled target with advantage (among other things), but there is no additional rule saying there is any other effect on attacks for either creature. You are perhaps thinking of the restrained condition (PHB 292):

A restrained creature's speed becomes 0, and it can't benefit from any bonus to its speed. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature's attack rolls have disadvantage. The creature has disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws.

Since it only affects movement, grappling in a regular brawl-to-the-death is seen as fairly useless, you're right about that. It's a method used when the fight has unusual circumstances, e.g.:

  • You want this one alive after the fight to interrogate (or arrest, or similar)
  • You have an ally with a concentration damage spell on the field and you want to hold this enemy in a spot where they will take repeated damage (and don't have any better options, possibly due to damage resistances/vulnerabilities)
  • You are in a confined enough space that grappling this one helps you block the easy melee path to your squishiest ally
  • Your fight has an additional goal aside from "kill them before they kill us" and preventing free enemy movement will help you reach that goal

Remember grappling is only possible with a free hand. If the grappler is a weapon-and-shield melee fighter, they have to drop one to do it. If they're a two-handed weaponry fighter, they can't use that weapon to hit the grappled creature.

Disarming is similarly infrequent, though. For best results, it requires:

  • a humanoid-enough enemy to use weapons (or a magic focus),
  • whose damage output or combat effectiveness rests heavily on that one item,
  • who does not need two hands to hold the item (imposes disadvantage on the disarmer),
  • who is not at least one size category larger than the disarmer (imposes disadvantage on the disarmer),
  • enough action economy to successfully keep that weapon or item from being picked back up, which usually means the enemy doesn't have a significant numbers/action advantage

Note that while disarming just takes a weapon attack, meaning ranged characters can try too, the party still needs someone to go in close if they want to keep the item away from its previous holder.

In my experience, it's a Boss Fight tactic, and only comes up in cinematic moments when the party needs the Evil Wizard to drop the MacGuffin of Doom currently powering an ongoing effect, or the Vampire Knight to drop his blood-drinking sword that heals him when he hurts you. Even then, it's frequently Plan B over something simple like "Paladin divine smites to try and make Evil Wizard lose concentration" or "Druid packed sunbeam today, everyone make sure she's not hit", since, as @Cubic put it, dead is more crippling than disarmed.

In most D&D fights, either it's not worth the loss of an attack which might kill something or the enemy isn't disarm-able. The DM also has power to rule on how hard it is for a creature to wrestle its weapon back from someone guarding it, or the chances of even managing to keep a giant's greataxe from it once it has been dropped.

If your fights fall within the lines of both "it's possible to disarm opponents" and "it's efficient to disarm opponents without damaging them", then consider adding some more variety to the enemies you're fielding! Players only overwhelmingly favor one tactic when they get favorable results every time they use it.

(And, in a cinematic moment where the party is facing a big bad, you have options for making the disarming check harder and the resulting keep-away more tense than you otherwise would. Lean into the theater of the moment!)


The hypothetical you pose (a disarmed foe grappling an attacker for an advantage) wouldn't happen, since the only close combat situation where weapons don't help requires other conditions usually achieved by magic (restrained, stunned, paralyzed, etc.). The enemy would either go for their weapon and use their turn trying to get it back, use another option, or flee if you decide it has given up the fight and now just wants to survive.

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When you look at the make-up of your average adventuring party, you will usually find one or two characters you absolutely don't want to see in any kind of melee combat.

This is manageable when you're fighting in a confined space where melee fighters can block the way to the members of the squishy community but in a more open battlefield, grappling and the ability to move opponents where you want to (and in turn, stop them moving where they want to) is very useful indeed. Especially if that squishy character is concentrating on a spell.

So there's your answer for grappling: its usefulness is situational. Sometimes it's a good trade-off to give up an attack for the chance of controlling your opponent, at other times it isn't.

My answer to the disarming part of the question is a single word: monk.

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Unless one of the effects of having the opponent grappled (opponent has speed 0 and is dragable) is important to the attacker, grappling seems to be useless.

Sure, that's tautologically true.

So reversing it: grappling is useful when you benefit from making an enemy's speed zero, and/or being able to drag them. Where does this come up?

Enemy's speed is zero

One major factor I haven't seen mentioned yet is the rules for the prone condition, and specifically how you stand up:

Standing up takes more effort; doing so costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed. For example, if your speed is 30 feet, you must spend 15 feet of movement to stand up. You can't stand up if you don't have enough movement left or if your speed is 0.

Someone who is prone, and grappled, has no ability to stand up. They have to make all their attacks at disadvantage, and all melee attacks against them are made with advantage. This is a significant detriment to apply to an enemy that relies on attacks; one that they will almost always "cure" themselves of at the start of their turn by standing up, but grappling removes this option. (Many enemies will/should spend their action trying to escape the grapple rather than attacking with disadvantage, making this similar in power to a save-ends stun: it burns their entire turns until they succeed.)

And as others have mentioned, there are many cases where left to their own devices an enemy would choose to move: a ranged enemy with bonus-action Disengage (or similar); an enemy that notices they're not doing much to your AC 22 frontliner with resistance to their attacks, so would love to go and stab your squishy allies; an enemy that's trying to get to the alarm bell to ring it/escape through a portal or other door you can't follow/stop your ally escaping with or activating the McGuffin/etc.

Any case where an enemy would want to move, and you're able to remove that option, is giving you an advantage. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a massive one. (Admittedly, if the player's DM just has enemies rush the nearest player and swing until they're dead, this is less applicable.)

Enemy is draggable

In some ways this is the opposite of the earlier point: the enemy doesn't want to move, so you force it to anyway. There's lots of parallels with the previous section in fact (enemy is in melee range with a squishy, so you drag them away; enemy is about to pull a trap lever/activate the evil McGuffin/etc. so you pull them away).

You can obviously use this to drag people into harmful areas and (since they're grappled) hold them there: lava, erupting geysers, advancing spiky walls, etc. Drag mages back into the zone of a Silence spell that they walked out of last turn. But you can also use this preemptively to group enemies up for your allies: drag the stray enemy into range to get Fireballed on your sorcerer's turn; pull an enemy adjacent to your Great Weapon Master ally so on crit or kill they'll definitely have a target for their bonus action attack; arrange enemies in a nice line for Lightning Bolt, etc.

It's also worth noting that dragging (and the grappling that precedes it) aren't damage, and thus won't wake up enemies that are under the effects of Sleep, Hypnotic Pattern, etc. So you can rearrange enemies while they're incapacitated to reshape the battlefield to your choosing for when they wake up.

Personal experience

I played a Fighter/Bard with the Unarmed fighting style, Shield Master feat and Expertise in Athletics. He was an absolute menace for the DM team; all it took was a single turn to grapple (+7 modifier at level 1, +11 modifier and two attacks/tries by Fighter 6) and then bonus action Shield Bash to prone (using the same Athletics modified), and that enemy was probably going to spend the rest of the encounter on the ground, getting dragged to wherever was worst for them. (Being a Bard helped create these "bad" zones, including casting Silence on the now-grappled mage with Action Surge - or for sheer inevitability, casting Enhance Ability (Strength) on himself.)

This wasn't a high-op character by the numbers, but he was by far the biggest pain-in-the-butt for my DM when it came to neutering single strong enemies.

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