Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about advanced grappling techniques.
Just when you thought that the world’s Japanese School Students were safe, we’re back to talk AGAIN about grappling! In last week’s article, I went over the basics involving the grapple combat maneuver as well as how the most common abilities that modify it function. Today, we’re digging a bit deeper (I can’t believe I just typed that) into even MORE esoteric grapple rules! You may not have known this, but one of the things that makes grapple one of the most complicated combat maneuvers in existence is the fact that there are BUCKETS worth of feats that modify it. LITERAL BUCKETS. Let’s go over them, shall we?
Improved Grapple and Greater Grapple
Every combat maneuver has a set of feats that go along with it, an improved feat and a greater feat, and grapple is no exception. The first feat in the chain is pretty simple: normally when you initiate a grapple attempt, you provoke an attack of opportunity. Improved Grapple says, “Nope!” while giving you a +2 bonus on checks made to start a grapple, as well as to your CMD against grapple attempts. This is pretty good, but its not necesscarily a must-have feat for monsters, that have a plenty big enough bonus and often have abilities like grab that render Improved Grapple somewhat meaningless. (However, grab relies on an attack roll while the Improved Grapple feat allows you to go straight for CMD, which is often easier to beat than AC because less modifies it.
Greater Grapple is where the monsters get jealous, because in addition to giving you another +2 on grapple attempts, Greater Grapple allows you to maintain a grapple as a move action instead of a standard action. This means that you can effectively maintain a grapple, do one of the nasty options that we discussed last week to a PC, and still have a standard action left over to do something else. Most NPCs use that action to attack, whether it be against the grappled target or a completely different creature. This is awesome for humanoid NPCs, but monsters that rely on grab in order to start grapples are often a little apprehensive about going for this feat because of one of its prerequisites; Improved Unarmed Strike. This feat does absolutely NOTHING for a monster, so we’ve got on neutered feat (Improved Grapple) and one worthless feat (Improved Unarmed Strike). What’s a wee beastie to do?
This feat is worded a bit oddly, but what it is trying to say is this: whenever you maintain a grapple as a move action, you get to make another grapple combat maneuver at a –5 penalty. This means that you have a chance to inflict up to two different “nasty options” to the target of your grapple, whether that means you do unarmed strike damage twice, move twice, pin him and then immediately tie him up, whatever you want, really. This feat requires a minimum of 9th level, but its pretty darn powerful for what it offers.
Greater Whip Mastery
This feat basically allows you to grapple people with a whip, provided you’ve sunken enough feats into the chain. Greater Whip Mastery has some wonky rules attached to it, but for the most part its fairly clear assuming you know the standard rules that we went over last week fairly well. The really nice thing about Greater Whip Mastery is that it doesn’t penalize you for using one hand to maintain the grapple; the hand holding the whip is basically all you need, as far as the feat is concerned. Also, you deal whip damage to your target whenever you maintain the grapple, so stacking special riders and modifiers onto the whip’s damage comes in handy here. (You can do that to unarmed strikes too, but between class abilities and weapon features, there’s a lot more options available to a whip as opposed to a fist.)
If you keep someone grappled for a number of rounds equal to their Constitution bonus (minimum 1 round), you can attempt to knock that opponent unconscious. This is a better NPC tactic than a PC tactic in my opinion; both NPCs and PCs are likely to have good Constitution bonuses, but with the number of huge monsters with massive Constitutions out there, this seems like a poor investment for a player who isn’t expecting to run into a bunch of creatures that use it. But against a group of PCs? You could easily take out a whole bunch of PCs with enough distractions and difficult terrain.
Weapon Focus and Subsequent Chained Feats
Did you know that you could pick grapple with Weapon Focus and the like? Sort of weird, right?
Grabbing Style Feats
From the Advanced Class Guide, there’s actually an entire combat style feat chain devoted to grappling. The first feat in the chain, Grabbing Style, allows you to ignore the penalty for attempting to grapple an opponent with only one hand AND it allows you to keep your Dex bonus to AC when pinning an opponent. These are awesome, awesome benefits if I do say so myself.
The second feat in the chain is called Grapping Drag, and this feat allows you to move whomever you’re grappling up to your full speed rather than half speed. This feat is VERY powerful if you need to move a grappled opponent somewhere. Where? I have no idea, but I can picture terrible things involving strix, this feat, and a pleasant drop downwards.
Grabbing Master basically takes the whole, “use one hand to grapple an opponent” thing to the next level. Technically speaking, two hands means two grapple attempts, which means you can grapple up to two creatures. Grabbling Master basically allows you to move or damage both grappled opponents with whenever you successfully grapple an opponent instead of just one.
Oh? ONE grapple-focused combat style wasn’t enough for you? Well then, might I introduce you to the KRAKEN STYLE?! With Kraken Style, whenever you succeed on a grapple check, you deal damage to your opponent equal to your Wisdom modifier in addition to any other damage you would normally deal, AND you gain an additional +2 bonus on combat maneuver checks to maintain a grapple.
With Kraken Throttle, you add +2 to the amount of damage that you deal to grapple opponents with Kraken Style and you can slowly suffocate your opponent. This doesn’t auto-kill the target; it works like a creature holding its breath underwater, so you’d have to maintain for a couple of minutes before you actually have a shot of killing your foe. Not a great tactic, but the +2 damage bit is as good as Weapon Specialization (grapple) so it’s a bad feat at all.
Kraken Wrack, the final feat in the chain, adds ANOTHER +2 damage to the damage dealt by Kraken Style AND you gain the ability to crush any opponent that you grapple, which basically allows you to sunder anything that the target is holding or wearing while bypassing half of the item’s hardness. Not bad, chief. Not bad at all.
Hamatula Strike and Hamatula Grasp
A potentially out-dated feat, this fantastic feat further cements why Cheliax: Empire of Devils is an absolute TREASURE of a Player Companion if you can find a copy floating around. With Hamatula Strike, whenever you damage an opponent with a piercing weapon (ANY piercing weapon), you can immediately make a grapple attempt to impale your foe, which is basically a special kind of grapple that is limited to damaging the opponent early. Hamatula Strike has several downsides; for one, maintaining the impale effect requires an attack action, and therefore isn’t subject to modifiers like Rapid Grappler or Greater Grapple, but the ability to grapple without needing to use your hands is a pretty nice benefit for a not-monk.
If that wasn’t enough, you can also take Hamatula Grasp to further improve upon your impaling powers. In addition to reducing the penalty on grapple checks that you take when using the grapple action to maintain the impaled effect, you also deal an extra 1d6 points of damage should you succeed. More damage and easier to do; sounds like my kind of ability!
Whenever you maintain a grapple and choose to deal damage, you can use a swift action to also deal your sneak attack damage to the target. This is VERY nasty if you’re a strangler brawler, or if you’re the odd rogue with Improved Grapple. That said, a grapple-focused rogue can very quickly put the hurt on an opponent, especially a wizard or another mid-BAB character who can’t fight off the grapple as easy. Truly, though, this feat was MADE for the strangler brawler. MADE for it.
Not convinced that you’re dealing enough damage when you grapple? Try the Pinning Rend feat, which deals bleed damage equal to your unarmed strike damage or the weapon that you attacked your opponent with, whenever you succeed on a grapple combat maneuver check.
When you use a grapple check to maintain a grapple against an opponent with the pinned condition, you deal double damage whenever you choose to use the check to deal nonlethal damage to that opponent. Ouch!
When you successfully attack an opponent while you are grappled with an appropriate weapon, your weapon deals damage as if it were one size category larger. It is VERY rare to see non-magical abilities that increase effective size, and this feat SHINES because you don’t have to be the one initiating the grapple; if something grapples YOU, you can use it. That takes a relatively situational feat and makes it MUCH more useful because let’s face it; if you’re a melee character and you’re playing Pathfinder, you WILL be grappled at least once in your career. No question about it.
Jawbreaker, Bonebreaker, and Neckbreaker
This feat chain, heralding from Ultimate Combat, allows you to do some truly nasty things to your victims while grappling them, mostly revolving around imposing status conditions on your opponent. It isn’t until the final feat in the chain, however, that we get an ability that works with grappling. The Neckbreaker feat basically allows you to make a special Stunning Fist attempt that basically allows you to deal an amount of Strength or Dexterity damage that is SO massive that there’s a good chance that creature isn’t going to be able to move any time soon. Best part is that if you manage to reduce the creature’s Strength or Dex to 0, extra damage is dealt to its Constitution score. The other feats in the chain allow you to use your Stunning Fist in other, horrible ways, none of which require saving throws. So if you want your Stunning Fist to pull more weight, this is a good way to do it.
While somewhat esoteric, this feat basically allows you to make a free grapple attempt after successfully knocking an opponent prone with an overrun maneuver. All you have to do is fall prone yourself while using it. What’s really nice about this feat is that it doesn’t need Improved Grapple or Improved Unarmed Strike; if you have Improved Overrun, you’re good, and making the free grapple doesn’t even provoke attacks of opportunity.
Beartrap Bite and Bear Hug
You KNOW you want a feat called “Bear Hug,” right?! Beartrap Bite allows you to psueodo-grapple any opponent that you critically hit with your bite attack while Bear Hug lets you ACTUALLY grapple such an opponent. These feats aren’t terrible, but they’re nowhere near as effective as Flying Tackle, even if that feat does knock you prone. The problem is that critically hitting with a bite attack is super uncommon, and needing two feats to sometimes grapple when you bite isn’t great. Furthermore, the fact that these feats ignore the usual Improved Unarmed Strike / Improved Grapple requirements is actually a bad thing here, as you likely won’t have the CMB bonus to actually make that grapple, should you actually critically hit something with your bite.
If something tries to bite you and misses, you can use an immediate action to attempt to grapple that opponent’s mouth shut. You take a sizable penalty, but if you succeed, your opponent can’t use its bite attack, breath weapon, or do anything that requires a verbal component. FYI, this feat was designed so you could try and close a dragon’s mouth; that in and of itself is pretty freaking sweet.
This feat has some bizarre prerequisites, and overall it isn’t great. You get a +1 bonus to maintain a grapple and your opponent takes a –1 penalty to escape a grapple. Unlike Improved Grapple and Greater Grapple, you can’t use this to actually start grappling an opponent (which is vital) and it doesn’t provoke any neat secondary effects to go along with it. But if you absolutely NEED a bigger bonus and/or higher CMD, this feat will work. Its just not a very good one.
The last feat that I want to talk about today is quite possibly the most powerful; Dirty Fighting. Basically, when you’re flanking an opponent, your combat maneuver checks don’t provoke. If they already wouldn’t provoke, the flanking bonus that you would gain on your attack rolls increases to +4. That is an excellent feat, but that isn’t why it is the best. Dirty Fighting is so freaking powerful because it basically allows you to flat-out ignore the Improved Unarmed Strike, Combat Expertise, Int 13, and Dex 13 prerequisites of virtually every other combat maneuver feat in the game for the purpose of taking combat maneuver feats, including Improved Unarmed Strike. Now, Improved Unarmed Strike isn’t a painful feat to take, but an extra +2 bonus on grapple checks combined with an easy access to Improved Grapple is not bad at all, especially for Roguey McGrapplestab as well as any monsters that want to take these feats. A shogoth with Dirty Fighting, Improved Grapple, and Greater Grapple is sounding extra scary right now, isn’t it?
There are plenty more feats out there that interface with the grapple rules, but I I’m going to stop here. I feel like I’m pushing my luck with six pages of content. So, what do you think? What grapple feats do you think combo up the best with other class abilities and monster powers? Which of these options do you think is the best? How about the worst? Is there anything else you’d still like me to cover regarding grappling? Leave your answers and questions below, and I’ll see you on Friday for an all-new Iconic Design!
And remember, friends, OCCULT OCTOBER IS COMING!!!!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.