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Say I have a Stunned opponent, and I roll to grapple them. Stunned says this:

Stunned

  • A stunned creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can’t move, and can speak only falteringly.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

And the rules for grappling say this:

Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making a grapple check, a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use).

Contests seem to be mentioned exactly once in a sidebar, and seem like they're just two regular Checks. By the strictest interpretation, grappling a Stunned opponent would still be contested.

However, characters also automatically fail their STR and DEX saves when Paralyzed, Petrified, or Unconscious. Only the peeviest DM would rule a Petrified character could make DEX checks, right?

Do the rules clarify this interaction at any point, or have the designers? If I make a grapple attempt on an unconscious foe, does he roll DEX to turn over, or what?

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Although contests are RAW, how to run a contests is explicitly made the DM's responsibility via their own good judgment of the specific situation at hand. That means that, RAW, as soon as a contest is on the table (so to speak), it's in the DM's hands to make any and all adjustments necessary for it to make sense.

In this way, the rules are — again, by RAW — not telling the DM how to do it, only giving them a basic tool to riff off as necessary. Some situations will call for using that judgement to give a stunned character the chance to oppose a grapple, while most situations will probably not.

It might have been nice to have corner cases like this nailed down instead of punted to the DM, but relying on DM judgement is intended to be a feature of 5e, so this is quite intentional. DMs are smarter about the situation in front of them than a rulebook could ever be, and 5e's design intent is to harness that constructively.

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Honestly, I would say a stunned character could still resist a grapple. Stunned isn't unconscious or unable to move one's muscles, it is a momentary bout of daze coming from a blow to the head or a flash bang effect. The character may not be able to initiate a grapple, resisting one takes a lot less ordination.

I could however see a DM adjudicating that a stunned character might have disadvantage on the Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, given the nature of the stunning effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Part of being Stunned is being Incapacitated, which says they can't take Actions or Reactions. To me, that suggests they're temporarily incapable of reacting to anything well enough to resist. Your decision is reasonable enough that I'd comply if you were DM, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Tigt Mar 20 '15 at 5:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ But the Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks aren't in the mechanical category of Reactions. Reactions are a once per initiative pass action, not unakin to 3.5 attack of opportunity actions, assuming no one can get combat reflexes. When you have a means to use your Reaction, such as from the Defensive Dualist Feat, and the trigger comes up, you may expend it to activate the listed effect. The Grappling rules don't say that the check the defender makes is a Reaction, rather it's a natural Defense, like having to beat someone's AC to hit them. \$\endgroup\$ – The Amused Muse Mar 20 '15 at 5:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a fair point. I'll see what my DM thinks, since on the one hand, you autofail saves, and on the other, classes with Unarmored Defense still keep their DEX modifiers. \$\endgroup\$ – Tigt Mar 21 '15 at 4:24
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The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

versus

contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check

A saving throw is not a check. The condition means they fail saving throws it has no impact on checks.

Being incapacitated prevents them taking actions and reactions; opposing your action is neither so they are still entitled to the check.

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The rules are pretty straightforward about check contest of grapple and don't mention in any way that the target of the grapple uses up a reaction while the attacker uses an action. But since the target is stunned thus incapacitated, and cannot take reactions, he must not also roll for a check contest. Instead, I would use his passive check against the attacker's Strength (Athletics).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm having a hard time following the logic of this answer. What do reactions have to do with opposing a grapple? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 20 '15 at 15:53

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