Assume that my character has Improved Unarmed Strike (to threaten squares nearby) and Improved Grapple (to prevent getting AoOs from grappling). Now, an enemy provokes attack of opportunity. Rules of the Game Pt. 4 states that attempting to grapple is an attack, so it can be done as an attack of opportunity. Thus, my character decides to grapple instead of just attacking. My character hits the melee touch attack, and now he can grapple the opponent.

My question is:

  1. SRD states that holding by making opposed grappling check is actually a free action, which can be done only in my turn. Normally this shouldn't be a problem, but since this isn't my turn, it means I cannot perform my opposed grappling check. Does this mean I cannot maintain grapple until I get to my turn? Or, should I disregard the "free action" thing?
  2. If I successfully grab an opponent casting a spell with somatic component (via an AoO), what happens to the spell? I know that spellcasters cannot start casting spells with somatic component, but what happens to a spell that was being cast?
  3. This may be ridiculous, but can I grapple an opponent trying to grapple (without Improved Grapple) as an AoO?

3 Answers 3



  1. Until you can't follow the normal grapple rules, you follow the normal grapple rules (PH 155-6). Your foe provokes an attack of opportunity from you. You take the attack of opportunity, make the touch attack roll to grab, don't provoke an attack of opportunity yourself because of your feat Improved Grapple (PH 95-6), succeeed on the touch attack roll to grab, and then stop because you can't take the free action that's required to make the opposed grapple check.
  2. The foe has been grabbed (and released because you couldn't start the grapple), not grappled, and has taken no damage, so according to the RAW, the foe continues casting his spell without penalty.

    • Were I DMing, I'd probably house rule that such an interruption mandates a Concentration skill check (DC 10) from the foe, but only because you've devoted resources to being able to make an off-turn unarmed touch attack that doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity, and that's a fairly hefty investment... but you've still just touched a caster while casting, and although that's annoying, it's not like you're a storm-tossed ship or a galloping horse or an earthquake; instead you've essentially hit him for 0 damage. I'd even let you force multiple Concentration skill checks if you've iterative attacks (on your turn versus a foe casting a spell with a 1-round or longer casting time) or if the creature provokes multiple attacks of opportunity.
  3. You can get all the way up to making an opposed grapple check versus an opponent who provokes an attack of opportunity by attempting a grapple, but you can't make the opposed grapple check--and thefrefore won't be able to do more than grab and release him--unless it's your turn or you have an off-turn free action available from another source; it's still a free action to make the opposed grapple check to get the hold.

Here's why.

Free Actions Can't Be Taken When It's Not Your Turn

Of course, a creature can take a free action to speak when it's not the creature's turn because the game says, "In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn't you turn," but even then the DM's totally allowed to say no if he wants.

However, in all other cases, "Free actions don’t take any time at all, though there may be limits to the number of free actions you can perform in a turn," says Free Actions on PH 144. According to the Glossary a turn is "[t]he point in the round at which you take your action(s). On your turn, you may perform one or more actions, as dictated by your current circumstances" (PH 314). There's an argument that the Glossary's definition of free action, which reads, in part, that "one or more such [free] actions can be performed in conjunction with actions of other types," means that if a creature can perform even one off-turn non-free action (or sometimes, the argument runs, performing a free action just doing something different from another free action), the creature can also perform a DM-limited number of free actions. Technically, this means combining an immediate action with free actions (one type of action and another type of action) is a thing, but combining free actions with attacks of opportunity isn't; attacks of opportunity aren't actions. (They're not under any header on Table 8-2: Actions in Combat on PH 141 nor are they given an action type in Attacks of Opportunity on PH 137).

"You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally," says PH 139. Broadly, what normally means in the context of D&D is wide open for debate, but here, given the rest of the text, I take normally to mean on your turn--if, for example, speaking off-turn were normal and not the exception the PH needn't've pointed it out. Thus mute or gagged creatures aren't at a combat disadvantage because they can't combine speaking with other free actions, and yelling, "Hey, Scooby!" doesn't somehow also allow a creature to drop to the floor when it's not the creature's turn. Although that's funny.

The Problem with Immediate Actions
The PH wasn't written with immediate actions in mind; creature's turns are supposed to be discrete--the only off-turn things creatures're supposed to do according to the PH are speak (if the DM allows it) and take 1 or more attacks of opportunity. The immediate action rules changed that, adding an other type of action that interacts oddly with free actions. According to the RAW, if a creature has an immediate action available, it can take that immediate action and combine it with free actions. That means, for example, a creature can cast the spell ruin delver's fortune [trans] (SpC 178) and drop to the floor off-turn.

This Makes Some Folks Very Angry
A creature can take free actions beyond speaking off-turn is a hill some folks are willing to die on. I don't know why. I bring this up because if the DM allows creatures to take off-turn free actions besides speaking, and you raise this issue, it's possible you'll be shouted down, drawn and quartered, or even expelled from the gaming group. It's that contentious, and folks will bleed over it. If the DM allows off-turn free actions, and you're okay with it, I strongly suggest you roll with it rather than bringing up the arguments I've just made. It's just safer that way. Further, so you know, I have no horse in this race (seriously, whether or not free actions can be taken off-turn in D&D 3.5 is not that important to me in the grand scheme of things)--I am merely putting forth the rules as I see them, so if you think them totally wrong-headed, that's okay.


An ambiguous official rule

You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally.

As HeyICanChan mentions, this is fairly ambiguous on the subject of attacks of opportunity (as they are not really actions of any sort). I disagree with him that this implies only on your turn, however; an immediate action is pretty clearly “another action” and the full text on immediate actions explicitly allows it (but then one could argue that that explicit allowance is an exception to the usual rule, so it’s still kind of ambiguous).

Thus, I suggest the following:

Houserule Suggestion

After declaring intent to take an attack of opportunity, but before actually making the attack of opportunity, a creature may take free actions even if it is not its turn. It may continue to do so during the actual attack, and also immediately after the attack, before ending its interruption.

If you feel it necessary, I suggest also inserting “or immediate action” into the appropriate places in that rule.

This provides us with a fairly clear ruling that we can go off of. In effect, an attack of opportunity becomes encapsulated inside its own “mini turn” before and after the actual attack, to allow things like grappling, quick-drawing a weapon, and so on.1 I can’t think of anything this breaks, and there are a few cases where the rules seem to expect that you can do this.

With this houserule clarifying things...

Now grapples as an attack of opportunity can function as expected: you make a touch attack, then as a free action, you attempt to grab hold as a grapple check. Since the target is now grappled, they (for example) cannot cast spells with somatic components (note that attacks of opportunity explicitly happen before the provoking action; this is why you cannot trip someone trying to stand from prone, for example). The target would now have to rethink their action in terms of what they can or can’t do in a grapple.

Since all members in a grapple are equal (both are “grappling,” there is no “grappler” or “grappled”), grappling as an AoO in response to an un-Improved grapple only gives the guy two opportunities to establish the grapple he presumably intended to start anyway. If you both lack Improved Grapple, well, then that’s just silly.

1 Note that because you can only declare intent to take an attack of opportunity if the provoking creature is within your threatened area, you still cannot take attacks of opportunity unarmed with Quick Draw, unless you also have Improved Unarmed Strike. I personally would strongly consider explicitly adding a clause to Quick Draw about threatening areas you could reach with a weapon you could draw, though, just because it seems really cool and Quick Draw’s not that great a feat (can be replaced with a 500 gp lesser crystal of readiness per weapon, for example).

  1. While grappling is a free action, neither free actions nor that description restrict it to being done only during your turn.

    The relevant SRD section on grappling.

    Hold. Make an opposed grapple check as a free action.

    And the SRD description of a free action.

    Free actions don’t take any time at all, though there may be limits to the number of free actions you can perform in a turn. Free actions rarely incur attacks of opportunity. Some common free actions are described below.

    Those are the descriptions of the action required to make the grapple check and of a free action, there are no limits to when you can do this beyond being in a position where you can physically make that check.

  2. Strictly speaking, by RAW, Attacks of Opportunity do not by themselves prevent the spell from being cast or completed. That the damage of an attack of opportunity forces a concentration check is a rule separate from the other concentration to cast a spell rules.

    That said, a successful grapple attempt does inflict damage, furthermore, spells that take one or more full rounds to cast do require you to keep up your movements until the last full round action to cast it, and so it would be an entirely fair ruling that each of those full round actions requires the ability to cast a spell with somatic components, which you can't during a grapple.

  3. Yes, you can. It works just the same as always, and effectively means he takes the unarmed damage from the initial grapple check if you succeed. If you don't he still gets to make his own attempt. Either way, if one of you succeeds, on your next action you get to do the grapple actions like usual.


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