Understanding Grappling

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This tutorial covers how to handle a grapple, both from the perspective of being grappled and if you're the person doing the grappling. Credits for this content go to Pyroclasm, with a big thanks for all the time and effort he put into this!

There are also some Pathfinder-community created Grapple Flowcharts:

What Grappling Looks Like

Grappling has changed from 3.5. In words from the designer: "I think folks need to remember that the grappled condition is not as severe as it once was. You are no longer draped all over the target. It is more like you got a hold on them, typically an arm (hence the restriction). The pinned condition is more of your greco-roman wrestling hold."

How to Grapple

To grapple, follow these steps.

1. Do you have improved grapple?

N -- eat an AoO; if the AoO succeeds, you take a penalty to your CMB equal to damage dealt
Y -- proceed

2. Are both hands free?

N -- roll at -4
Y -- proceed

What are the grappling size modifiers?

Size Size Modifier
Colossal +8
Gargantuan +4
Huge +2
Large +1
Medium +0
Small -1
Tiny -2
Diminutive -4
Fine -8

3. Roll your CMB vs the target's CMD.

4. If successful, both of you gain the grappled condition, but only the grappler can let go as a free action. They may do so on their turn only. See below for what the grappled condition does.

Multiple Creatures: Multiple creatures can aid grappling or aid breaking free with Aid Another. Each success contributes to the CMB roll.

To Continue the Grapple

As a standard action, you may make new check each round to maintain your hold--if the opponent doesn't break free, you get a +5 circumstance bonus to the roll. If your maintenance roll fails, they break free.

While you maintain your hold, you can do one of the following as part of your action:

A) Move both of you at up to 1/2 your speed--if you move someone somewhere dangerous (like a wall of fire or off a cliff), they get a free chance to break free at +4. Location must be adjacent to attacker.
B) Do damage as a standard action, lethal or non-lethal, equal to:
i) an unarmed strike
ii) a natural attack; or,
iii) an armor spike or a light or one-handed weapon
C) Pin -- give opponent the pinned condition, at the cost of your Dex bonus to AC
D) Tie-up with rope -- If your opponent is pinned, you may tie them up. Escape DC = 20 + your CMB. (If opponent is only grappled, roll at -10 to tie up, instead)

If You are Grappled

You may not make AoOs. In addition...

If you're grappled, you can try to break free as a standard action by:

A) rolling CMB vs CMD; or,
B) rolling Escape Artist against a DC equal to the opponent's CMD
Items that might alter your CMB and CMD: While grappled, remember that you at a -4 penalty to Dex. If you are holding onto a weapon with one hand and are humanoid, apply another -4.

If this succeeds, you can:

A) Break free and act normally
B) Become the grappler, grappling the other creature (meaning that the other creature cannot freely release the grapple without making a combat maneuver check, while you can)

Alternately, instead of making a grapple check, you may:

A) Take any one-handed action
B) Make an attack or full attack with a one-handed, light weapon (or a natural weapon) at -2; you may attack any creature in reach (though you may not take AoOs)
C) Attempt to cast a spell by making a Concentration check with a high DC (DC 10 + grappler's CMB + spell level); if this check is failed, you lose the spell. Note that if you take damage while casting, you may be required to make another roll. The DC for this roll is per the damage rules: 10 + ½ the damage that the continuous source last dealt + the level of the spell you're casting.

Stealth and Invisibility: If a grappled creature becomes invisible, they gain a +2 circumstance bonus on CMD to avoid being grappled, but receive no other benefit. Nor may a grappled creature use Stealth to hide from an opponent even if certain abilities, such as Hide in Plain Sight, might allow them to do so.

Spellcasting, Spell-Like Abilities, and Grappling: If you want to cast a spell or use a spell-like ability, you need to roll a Concentration check with a DC = 10 + grappler's CMB + spell level. Failure means loss of the spell. Note that if you take damage while casting, you may be required to make another roll. The DC for this roll is per the damage rules: 10 + ½ the damage that the continuous source last dealt + the level of the spell you're casting.

What the Grappled Condition Does

The Grappled Condition

During a grapple, both parties gain this condition. That is:

  • they each cannot move (outside of the grapple)
  • they each take a -4 to Dex
  • they each take -2 to all attack and CMB checks except to grapple or escape a grapple
  • they each cannot take any action that requires two hands, can't take AoOs, can't use stealth (but if they do become invisible, they gain +2 to CMD against the grapple).
  • they cannot cast spells with a S component, and all materials must already be in hand; in addition, they must succeed at a concentration check in order to cast the spell, failure means they have lost the spell

What the Pinned Condition Does

Pinned: Pinned is a condition that be inflicted in a grapple, and is a worse version of "grappled." A creature under this condition:

  • Has no movement
  • Is denied their Dex bonus
  • Takes an additional -4 to AC

They can:

  • Try to Escape (using a combat maneuver check or Escape Artist check)
  • Take Mental actions (such as cast spell-like abilities)
  • Take Verbal actions (such as cast a V component only spell)
  • Use a spell or SLA with no S or M components (however, a pinned character who attempts to cast a spell or use a spell-like ability must make a concentration check (DC 10 + grappler's CMB + spell level) or lose the spell)

They can NOT:

  • Use a spell (or spell-like ability) with S or M components.
  • Use all supernatural abilities. They may however, use supernatural abilities that are only Mental or Verbal.

Pinned is a more severe version of grappled, and their effects do not stack.

Developer Help

Pathfinder developers have weighed in over the years, and written a few blog posts! Their collected wisdom is shown below. There are also blog posts, referencable on the Paizo site.

From Stephen Radney-MacFarland

Subject Re: one of my players, grappled

That is not the total answer I gave him. I referred him to the pinned condition on page 568 of the Core Rulebook and noted that the condition limits your actions with the following exceptions:

  1. Escape
  2. Mental actions (such as cast spell-like abilities)
  3. Verbal actions (such as cast a V component only spell)

Pinned is not the same as helpless. Pinned is its own condition. You can do more things and suffer fewer penalties when your are pinned.

I hope that helps.

Note, from the original poster: he did the last Grapple FAQ, player sent me an email stating an answer from him so I sent a confirm, prior to that I had sent one to Jason Buhlman


Aside from verbal and mental actions, the only action a pinned creature can usually take is to attempt to free itself. Attacks are not listed as an action they can take.

Jason Bulmahn
Lead Designer
Paizo Publishing

When asked if a lich could use its paralyzing touch supernatural ability when pinned, response given by Sean K. Reynolds was:

Making a touch attack is neither a verbal action nor a mental action. That is self-evident.