I am playing a monk in our Oriental Adventures campaign, and recently we had a situation where another player was grappling a wu jen spell caster. We thought about breaking her neck to quickly get rid of her, but the only mechanic I could think of is coup de grace, which required her to be unconscious and would take a full round to execute.

Are there any other official mechanics or some interesting house rules which can allow you to kill someone with a grapple, whether one is a monk or not?

Alternatively, I am looking for other ways of having unarmed combatants eliminate opponents in a grapple, not necessarily killing them. Strangling until unconsciousness or other things would be nice too.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Point the first: The rules state that a character that's in a grapple is denied their deterity bonus to AC against attacks originating from creatures outside of the grapple, and is therefore vulnerable to sneak attacks. Point the second: When attacking creatures in a grapple, you don't get to choose which creature you hit. For some reason, this does not prevent precision damage. Point the third: Most grapples a rogue encounters will involve at least one party member or ally. Conclusion: Sneak attacking a grappled opponent can end badly. I discovered this the hard way. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Feb 21 '12 at 3:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ "You don't get to choose which creature you hit" is only true for ranged attacks, per PHB 151. \$\endgroup\$ – Noumenon Feb 22 '12 at 3:01

Grappling and pinning an opponent makes it much easier to hit them; but, a grappled opponent is not considered helpless. You can not coup de grace an opponent who is grappled or pinned. (See the Condition Summary, DMG pp. 300-301). Note the penalties that each of these conditions apply:

Grappling: Engaged in wrestling or some other form of hand-to-hand struggle with one or more attackers. A grappling character can undertake only a limited number of actions. He does not threaten any squares, and loses his Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) against opponents he isn't grappling.

Pinned: Held immobile (but not helpless) in a grapple.

From the PHB (p. 153):

A helpless opponent is someone who is bound, sleeping, paralyzed, unconscious, or otherwise at your mercy.

If you're engaged in the grapple, or pinning an opponent, you can strike the opponent using a light weapon, or deal unarmed damage. Binding a character takes 1 minute (per the Use Rope skill, PHB p. 86); but, it would render the character helpless.

As a DM, I might override the rule and say that another character standing could maybe coup de grace a character pinned by an ally, depending on the circumstances. Strictly by the book, though, it's not allowed; the rules are quite explicit, on this point.

You could create a house rule: Spycraft has the concept of "mooks", who are the disposable, non-plot-critical NPCs that are often gunned down quickly in movie gunfights, or beat up in droves by kung fu masters. If you were trying to "neck snap" a mook-type NPC, the DM could opt to use the Spycraft rules.

When a mook takes damage, the mook gets a damage save against the number of points of damage taken. (I think it would use the character's Fortitude save bonus?) If the mook fails the save, the mook instantly dies (or is knocked unconscious). As the mook continues to survive and take damage the save DC is cumulative; so if the mook takes 12 damage, then 9 damage, his first save would be at DC 12, and his second save at DC 21.

Again, it would be up to the DM to decide if it's appropriate to borrow this rule.

There are rules for execution in Book of Vile Darkness (p.39):

The condemned must first be secured by being tied in place, pinned in a grapple, or successfully restrained in a stationary execution device. If restrained in an execution device, the condemned can make a[n] Escape Artist check every round.... If grappled, the condemned can attempt to break the grapple normally.

Once the victim is secure... The executioner makes a Profession (executioner) check against the DC given.... If the check is successful, the condemned is slain.... If the executioner fails, the execution is botched, and the executioner can make another check the following round.

For a Headsman's Axe, the Execution DC is 18, and a botched attempt results in a Coupe de Grace. Using this rule, it's possible to have one or more characters pin an opponent in a grapple, and have another PC perform the execution (using a headsman's axe). It's up to your DM whether he wants to allow this in his games... and whether he wants to allow other weapons to be used.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There aren't rules for strangling in the PHB; I would suggest using a grapple check each round in conjunction with the Suffocation rules (DMG p. 304). \$\endgroup\$ – RMorrisey May 8 '11 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RMorrisey The rules intent is probably more likely to be making subdual damage attacks while grappling. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 8 '11 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ That works, too. \$\endgroup\$ – RMorrisey May 8 '11 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Intersting point with rope. I realized that you can simply unarmed hit for non-lethal damage (Can't remember how it is called) but with non-monk character it would take dang long time. Strangling as per suffocation rules have also this proble that even weak mage (Con=8) will be able to survive for 16 rounds, which is more than using a rope and, most likely, more than Unarmed strike knocking-out would take. It's nice thing to know, though, if you are in a situation where you can take the time. \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy May 9 '11 at 11:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Added in the rules for execution using a headsman's axe, from the Book of Vile Darkness. \$\endgroup\$ – RMorrisey Jun 30 '11 at 5:54

Oriental Adventures book has a feat that does exactly what you want:


You have learned the correct way to apply pressure to render an opponent unconscious.


Improved Unarmed Strike, Improved Grapple, Stunning Fist.


If you pin your opponent while grappling and maintain the pin for 1 full round, at the end of the round your opponent must make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your level + your Wisdom modifier). If the saving throw fails, your opponent falls unconscious for 1d3 rounds.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Should add that you can then perform a coup de grace after the opponent is unconcious. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Jun 1 '15 at 9:19

By default, D&D 3.5 does not cover the "neck snapping" situation very well. It simply runs counter to how the system was designed... Hit points are explicitely in place to prevent instant kills, and there are very few abilities which circumvent that.

In general, there are two mechanics that sort of represent what you're looking for:

Damage during grappling: You can make unarmed attacks against a grappled opponent. Eventually, these attacks will render the opponent unconcious or dead.

In addition, grappling and (especially) pinning restrict the ability of a spell caster to cast spells... While they aren't dead, they may effectively be out of the fight.

Sneak attack: The rogue's sneak attack class feature is intended to simulate the trope of popping out of the shadows and quickly dispatching a mook.

Beyond mechanics, you can also call on the opponents to surrender. In general, intelligent creatures who are not fanatics should attempt to surrender or disengage in the face of certain defeat.

DM fiat may also be appropriate here, if the fight and antagonists weren't important to the plot, or as a more spectacular means of having the opponents "surrender."

Finally, you can impose a house rule allowing grappled characters to have their necks snapped. Be very, very, careful with this. It magnifies the power of grappling (a mechanic which is available to most classes, and which is much more effective for monsters than PCs) greatly. And having it used against you will inevitably feel somewhat lame ("Okay, the monster grapples you, and... You're dead. Roll up a new character").

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    \$\begingroup\$ yea, neck snapping without special ruling would be a suicide. It sounds like something which would fit Paranoia though :). \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy May 9 '11 at 11:06

From pg.76 "Complete Warrior" Prestige class Reaping Mauler has a tailored solution on how to make a grapple more Lethal. Provides options for both choking to unconsciousness and for choking victim to death as you see fit.

Sleeper Lock (Ex): At 3rd level, a reaping mauler learns how to render an opponent unconscious with pressure. If the character pins his opponent while grappling and maintains the pin for 1 full round, the opponent must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + the reaping mauler’s class level + the reaping mauler’s Wis modifier) at the end of the round or fall unconscious for 1d3 rounds. A creature with no discernible anatomy has immunity to this effect.

Devastating Grapple (Ex): If a 5th-level reaping mauler pins his opponent while grappling and maintains the pin for 3 consecutive rounds, the opponent must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + the reaping mauler’s class level + the reaping mauler’s Wis modifier) at the end of the third round or die. A creature with no discernible anatomy is immune to the effect of this ability.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Looks like you've got it. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 12 '12 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I've been reading all the answers hoping ho-one but me was able to remember the Reaping Mauler except for the infamous bonus feat at lvl.1 \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Aug 23 '12 at 20:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reaping Mauler actively makes you worse at Grappling, since the only way to be good at Grappling is to increase your size and Reaping Mauler prevents you from doing that. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 26 '13 at 0:21

Coup de grace is the most appropriate option here, but it requires that the victim be helpless, not necessarily unconscious.

A helpless opponent is someone who is bound, sleeping, paralyzed, unconscious, or otherwise at your mercy.

With my GM hat on, I'd probably rule that an NPC being under the effects of a grapple from a PC, and with PCs able to come to the aid of the grappler, then the NPC would be helpless. (I'd problem bypass the rules for damage with coup de grace (unless there was a time restriction, or story reason to give the PCs a chance to botch it) and just go straight for death)

Mid-combat, OTOH, the situation would be different, but having PCs being able to run around insti-killing anything with a neck feels a bit unbalancing.

For colour purposes, saying "And you snap their neck" when they hit zero hit points is great though.

While I'm not familier with Wu Jen, being grappled sounds like it would do a good job of reducing any spell casting capability. Being pinned more so.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, she was helpless but four guards were still fighting. Our warrior was grappling, my monk was taking arrows to his chest to save a little girl who almost died during a fireball, and the rogue/assasin had no firepower, so, more or less, we were pretty much helpless too. I am not looking for a magic power of necksnapping, but nevertheless I was wondering if there are some interesting ways to make non-unarmed combatants be able to quickly eliminate grappled opponents. \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy May 8 '11 at 13:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Maurycy -- Note that "helpless" in the context of a coup de grace has a specific game meaning. Characters who are grappling or pinned are explicitely not helpless in this context (although they may not be able to cast many of their spells). \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 8 '11 at 17:05

There aren't specific "neck snappy" or strangley rules for a good reason - the rules already handle this, and a more effective special case would end up being unbalanced.

You can already kill someone in a grapple. It's simply dealing damage while in the grapple. You make a grapple check and that deals unarmed damage - nonlethal, or lethal for a -4 on the grapple check. So if you have a hapless mage in your stranglehold, you get to deal damage to them and eventually "their neck snaps."

I will note in the much more streamlined Pathfinder grappling rules, you can tie up someone you have pinned with an additional check; they would then count as helpless.


If I was the GM, I'd rule that you couldn't neck-snap (unless the baddies were rolling all over the group). Here's why:

  1. Doing a neck-snap would be a called shot if you weren't grappled.
  2. Since the two characters are already grappling/wrestling, you need both hands on the bad guy's head and neck. If you are trying to immobilize the opponent, then you can't easily move both hands into position to do the neck-snap.
  3. If the character gets a critical hit, I'd rule that the grappled opponent moved in a way that allowed that narrow opportunity to move both hands. At that point, the neck-snap would NOT be fatal (unless it also reduces hitpoints either below 0, or where Fortitude saves are necessary -- can't remember how many hp needs to be in 1 blow).

However, I also tend to reward outside the box thinking in my games, so if player1 was grappling the opponent and player2 wanted to do the neck-snap, then I'd probably allow it (and player2 would get lose hp when opponent bites the player as an attack of opportunity). So, if Player2 has about d6 (I think) hp to lose on the bite, I'd allow it.

Other unarmed kills or instant immobilizers:

  1. stranglehold (use grapple rules to establish the grapple, then it's suffocation rules for the lack of oxygen). Realistically, if you choke-hold for something like 10-20 seconds, sweet dreams; 30 or so seconds, unconsciousness; a minute or two, time to call a lawyer and hope for an understanding jury. (I believe these times are somewhat accurate and are for illustrative purposes only. Don't kill/maim/choke people for fun. Do not hold me liable if you DO choke someone and they die. I'm advocating that we all give peace a chance in real life. And that all lawyers who would try to sue me for their client's killing someone else needs to go bankrupt.)
  2. submission holds. You can do non-damaging, but VERY painful moves on just about any joint in the body. wrists were meant to bend up/down, not left/right. Push to an extreme, and you can break bones and dislocate things. However, before that happens the victim gets in a very painful place and is largely immobilized. However, after the attacker lets go, the pain goes right away. Arm bars bend the elbow backwards and pull the arm back at the shoulder. Knee locks move them sideways or backwards and hurt like heck, as does ankle twists.
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with that quick choking (2-3 rounds) is that it takes away the "heroity" of DnD: "I CAN HAZ SURVIVE PLAINE CRASH" with 10 level warrior. The same problem appears with de-jointing the joints (I suck at puns), but this could be expanded into a very nice mechanics. Using grapple to do temporary damage which reduces some rolls (twisting wrist: -2 Att/Dmg rolls; angle: -1/2 movement speed; etc). I will surely expand at it if I can, unless someone already did it. \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy May 9 '11 at 17:07

I don't know about strangling, but I just group necksnapping in with sneak attack damage. In my campaign, if the rogue can grapple a flat-footed opponent from behind, then I just let the rogue deal automatic sneak attack damage even if she didn't technically do the thing where you deal damage in a grapple.

However, if you would strangle someone, then I would be fine with using suffocation rules. I think someone said something about people being able to last too long in these circumstances, but it seems fine to me. When needed, the average human can hold their breath for a little less than five minutes, so a weak mage being able to do it for a minute and a half seems perfectly reasonable.


Generally as a DM my neck-snapping rules revolve around using modified and significantly more realistic suffocation rules... How well can someone really hold their breath while having the tar beat out of them (or better yet, having their neck yanked around)? Say you're healthy enough to hold your breath for 2 minutes -- Well that's just fine when you're just standing there, but if someone runs up and kicks you in the gut, then how much of those 2 minutes are you really gonna have left before you need to take another breath?

Basically, I rule that the con-based suffocation rules are still in effect, but any damage you take (lethal or nonlethal) instantly sucks those rounds out of you at a 3:1 ratio, and if after the attack you have 0 rounds left, then bam, you're out of air, and the next round you're unconscious at -1 HP and open for a coup-de-grace. As for grapples, I rule that a grappler can roll another grapple check against an already-pinned opponent to establish a stranglehold, which forces the opponent to either hold their breath or suffocate as normal.

FOR EXAMPLE: Aleria the fighter is battling a human bandit. (Round 1) Aleria rolls a grapple check vs the bandit and wins, establishing a grapple. On the bandit's turn he tries to escape her grapple and fails. Still grappled. (Round 2) Aleria rolls a 2nd grapple check vs the bandit and wins again, establishing a pin. On the bandit's turn he tries to escape the pin and fails. Still pinned. (Round 3) Aleria rolls a 3rd grapple check vs the bandit and wins again, establishing a stranglehold. On the bandit's turn he tries to escape the stranglehold and fails. Still being strangled. Bandit has 11 Con, giving him 22 rounds of air if he avoids taking damage. (Round 4) Aleria rolls an unarmed strike and totals a 3. Bandit takes 3 nonlethal damage and loses 9 rounds of air (3:1 ratio). He tries to escape the stranglehold and fails. Still being strangled. (Round 5) Aleria rolls another unarmed strike and totals a 5. Bandit takes 5 nonlethal damage (but is still at positive HP) and loses 15 rounds of air. Since he is at less than 0 rounds of air left (22 - 9 - 15 = -2), he immediately runs out of oxygen. On his turn he makes a final attempt to escape, but he fails the grapple check, and he falls unconscious. (Round 6) Aleria performs a coup-de-grace on the unconscious (and therefore helpless) bandit and snaps his neck, killing him and ridding the world of his vile bandity ways and yadda yadda.

This method is highly tweakable for the DM. For instance, you can change the damage-to-air-loss ratio to something higher or lower, or you can be even more realistic and rule that if someone tries to escape a stranglehold, the effort drains even more rounds of air than if they'd have just sat still and conserved their energy. Another realistic approach is having the strangled opponent roll a reflex save when the strangle is established, and if they don't beat a certain DC, then they don't manage to get in a full breath and thus start off with less than their max. There's all sorts of ways to adjust the system I use to suit your personal DM tastes... it generally just revolves around a more realistic approach to the suffocation rules.


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