Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Grappling with Pathfinder!

G'day, I'm not gonna be long with the introduction. I started DnD in my high school days, 3.0 then 3.5, then Pathfinder came out when 4.0 arrived and shot DnD in the face. I took a few years off, then in 2014 began my own campaign that has been running for a year now.

This blogger is all about giving you the simplest way to understand the obviously complex and supremely far reaching rules in Pathfinder, hopefully making it easy enough to "just run with" during a session, so you aren't bogged down reading rules mid-fight when the Dwarf Fighter decides it wants to start wrestling the T-rex, hoping to hog-tie it.

This blog starts with Combat Maneuvers, and it's up to you to let me know how straight forward and simple the answer was -- if it's too lax then I need to add more, but the idea IS to present the bottom line on How To in Pathfinder. If you want something specific looked at just email me.

Now, roll for initiative!

Combat Maneuver Bonus (CMB or "combat bonus")

The bonus represents your ability to throw someone, strangle them, etc. It's a characters Base Attack Bonus and Strength score. If you're a Halfing or Gnome (any small race) you get -1 to this check. Ever thought you could escape your parents grasp as a kid, but they scooped you up anyway? Yep, -1 for size.

Strength (+2) & BAB (+1) & size mod (-1) =   +2 in total.

Combat Manuever Defense (CMD of "Combat defense")

Your Combat Manuever Defense starts at 10. Just like your AC does. Next add your Base attack bonus, Strength and Dexterity, seeing you're trying to wiggle away from your opponent, the T-rex, etc, AND your size mod again. Getting Dex to defense is like adding Armor to your normal AC, only you can't wear "+2 CMD Full plate Armor" because that's lame.

Base (10) & BAB (+1) & Strength (+2) & Dexterity (+3) and size mod (-1) = 15.

That's the basics of the numbers you want. CMB is alway smaller than CMD because you don't add your Dex score. Unless you've taken Dex damage, but that's a niche situation. Next we look at HOW the fighting actually works.

Combat Maneuvers

For starters, a 20 is always a success, and a 1 is always a fail. Much like Skills. Every Combat Maneuver is a STANDARD ACTION which replaces an Attack

Bull rush

You do this when you want to push someone off a cliff, into fire, into a position to be flanked by the Rogue, etc. Roll your CMB and see if you beat their CMD -- if you did, you move them 5 foot minimum, plus an extra 5 foot for every 5 points by which you beat their CMD. Examples:
Roll 14, +2 from CMB: 16. Your opponent's CMD is 14. Your Bull rush is a success, and you move them five feet! Now the Rogue takes our their kidneys. Another:

Roll of 19, +2 from CMB: 21. The same opponent has CMD 14. You beat them, and easily got 5 points beyond their CMD (19 was all your needed, so you passed with 2 points to spare) so we move them back 5+5 squares, or 10 foot total.

That's the simple part of it. To get rulesy
+You provoke an attack of opportunity when you don't have Improved Bull rush as a feat. You ran 30 ft, screaming at them -- of course they're going to chop at your arms, or legs, or whatever you're using to Bull rush them.
+Moving them doesn't give your allies an Attack of Opportunity, you're too clumsy for them to not hit you instead with all your biting and kicking.
+You can Bull rush at the end of a charge, with +2 from charging. This is relevant seeing you can push someone back depending on the number you roll, it's not just "success" or "fail" like with many other rolls in Pathfinder.
+If you can move someone 15 foot, and hit someone else at 10 foot, you need to make ANOTHER roll against the second opponent, at full bonus -5 (so in the above case at -3). If you win, keep moving BOTH opponent's. If not, you stop in the square you're in.
+You can have your Bull rush provoke attacks of opportunity for your allies if you take the GREATER Bull Rush [pg 125] feat (different from Improved Bull Rush [pg 126]). Taking either feat will add +2 to the check, and stack with one another (+4 if you have both).
+You can only Bull Rush someone your size +1, so a Halfling could Bull Rush a Human or Elf easily, but not a Horse. The Horse itself could Bull Rush a Huge or smaller creature.


James Bond loves this one, how many times does Connery kick the gun from random bad guys hands? Disarm makes your opponent drop whatever they're holding, your choice. Don't like that shield? Disarm. Want that Orc-Double Axe? Try and grab it.

As usual you roll your CMB against their CMD. If the numbers match, they drop an item of your choice, even a two-handed weapon (lance, great sword, staff). If you beat their score by 10 they drop what's in both hands (sword and shield, mace and dagger, etc). Do note a two handed weapon will be dropped if neither hand can hold it, so Disarming a Bastard sword only needs you to beat their CMD, not beat it by 10.

Again you will provoke an attack of opportunity (unless you have the Improved Disarm feat) because you need to get close and personal with your opponent, who knows you're not after dealing damage when they see your eyes enlarge like Gollum as you stare at their held objects.

If you try and Disarm an opponent while unarmed yourself you get -4 on the roll, seeing you have to get that much closer. This doesn't apply to Monks, whose Fists always count as a manufactured weapons. If you fail to beat the opponent's CMD by 10 or more you DROP YOUR WEAPON, you clumsy nit. However if you do go for the unarmed attempt, AND succeed, you can immediately pick up the dropped weapon.

+If a weapon has the Disarm quality that adds +2 to your Disarm check, like a Dire Flail. It's heavy, it's chain, it's easier to wrap around your opponent's sword/shield and simply YANK outta their grip.

So it's fully possible to throw your weapon at your opponent, then close in and steal their weapon the next turn. Who said a Fighter couldn't be a ranged close combat Rogue?


Now this one makes the most headaches. It's a lot of book keeping, and who's winning, who's not, so I'm going to make a chart that hopefully expresses it perfectly. I suggest running with what you think works during a session, but otherwise reading the rules on page 199 when you have downtime/in between sessions.

For starters, you will provoke an attack of opportunity against a foe if you don't have Improved Grapple. You may have noticed a theme here, and yes ALL COMBAT MANEUVERS have this basic "provokes an attack if you don't take the Improved Whatever" feat. Grapple is a little different, in that having the "Grab" special ability (monsters everywhere have this) don't provoke attacks of opportunity either. A Snake that bites your opponent and gets a free Grapple attempt obviously Has Made Contact, and you get no chance to "see them coming" and take a free swing.

Second, you want two free hands. If someone wants to chop, then Grapple (as part of a full round action, say) they'd need to drop their weapon first. If you don't, you get -4 to the Grapple. Two hands, 10 fingers, means you've got the best grip, where you need it, to Grapple someone successfully.

Assume success, your CMB beats their CMD. You both gain the grappled condition (see the box below) and you have to spend a Standard Action (replaces a normal attack) every round to maintain the grapple. If you grappled them at a distance pull their piece/model/representation base to base with you. This is mostly used when a big opponent grapples you successfully, like a Dragon grappling a Medium Human Ranger, or a T-rex grappling our Dwarf Fighter from before. In both cases you can "see" the monster reaching out, biting a part of our hero and bringing them closer to body, to keep chewing on, deciding how to eat them, etc. (IF there is no free space around the entire base of the grappling monster, the grapple FAILS!)

Now we'll split your options in to two. Did you start the grapple, or were you the one being grappled?


Congratulations, you get +5 to maintain the grapple on top of everything you normally get. You still roll your CMB against their CMD every turn, but check out those Grappled condition mods -- you both lose your Dex which makes it easier to maintain the grapple! (Remember, their Combat Manuever Defense relies on their Dex mod too!)
Also, as the person winning the grapple, you can release the grapple as a free action. You get to hold them, have an easier time of maintaining the grapple, and when time comes to run outta there (the Rogue stole the jewel, the Ranger's down and your team needs to fall back, Pa'bio, the most beautiful Halfling in Ecrathon is after your partner) you'll still have a Standard and Move action to get outta there. All your stats:

To START the grapple

CMB = BAB (+2) & Strength (+3) & Size (+0) +5 total; vs CMD = Base (10) & Strength (+1) & Dexterity (+2) & Size (+0) = 13.

To MAINTAIN the grapple (you're both embraced against one another, and have the Grappled condition)

CMB = BAB (+2) & Strength (+3) & Size (+0) & I-Won-The-Grapple (+5) +10 total; vs CMD = Base (10) & Strength (+1) & (grappled) Dexterity (+0) & Size (+0) = 11.

Notice the changes there! D20+5 to beat a CMD of 13, compared to D20+10 to beat a lowered CMD of only 11! The person starting the Grapple now only loses if they roll a natural 1!

Once you manage to maintain the grapple, you can do one of the following:

MOVE. Up to half your speed, so a Halfling can move 10ft, a Human 15ft. This means you're dragging your Grappled captive with you, and you can place them in any space adjacent to you when you stop moving, like over a pit or into a pool of acid. IF you DO, however, they get an immediate free attempt to break the grapple with a +4 to their CMB against you! Who would go calmly into that sticky green death?

DAMAGE. You can hit with your unarmed strike (Monks, Clerics or Irori), a natural attack (Raging Barbarians can get a Bite attack, or Orcs can take the Razortusk feat (bite attack), attack with Armor Spikes (what a hug!) or a light/one-handed weapon. This can be lethal or nonlethal, as normal, and still attacks their AC like normal, so don't forget to minus their Dexterity to AC. This is not LOSE of Dex bonus, so Rogue's can't go around Grappling everyone just to get more sneaky Sneak Attack damage with super-close range Rapier attacks.

PIN. Your opponent becomes pinned, while you remain only grappled. This will cost you your Dex score in total though (not just the -4 that being Grappled normally implies) as you're using your Dexterity to maintain your pin, not to avoid incoming attacks. Being Pinned is awful, you can't do, like, anything!

TIE UP. If you've got the opponent grappled, then pinned, you can tie them up. Why not? It lets you go hug someone else into submission. This works the same way that pinned does, but the DC to get out of the tie-up is huge, 20 + your CMB. This is because you're basically "leaving" your CMB to hold your opponent in place via the rope tieing, so it's Bonus rather than Defense: the opponent can't do anything to you now, you've just left them permanently tied up with your superior wrasslin' skills.

Okay now, all THAT is if you're winning the Grapple.


Sorry if you're grappled, but lets get you outta this! You can make a Grapple check against your opponent's CMD as a Standard action (replacing an Attack) or by making an Escape Artist check against your opponent's CMD. Eitherway their CMD is the same, so use your Combat Maneuver Bonus or Escape Artist check, whichever is higher. You know how you grabbed that kid once, but they threw their arms straight up and just slid outta your grip? That's how Halfling Rogues and Gnome Sorcerors do it.

If you succeed with that grapple check/Escape Artist check you've got two options.

+You can break the grapple and act normally. Do remember that it was a Standard action to do break the grapple, so at this point you've got a move action/free actions left. Move behind a fellow Paladin, perhaps?

+BECOME the Grappler. This swaps your from the I LOST THE GRAPPLE to the I WON THE GRAPPLE range of options, but the best bit is that your opponent now can't just "break the grapple" as a free action, they have to beat you! That costs a Standard action, gaurenteed, next turn, leaving them with a Move action at best, even if they break free of your grapple. The rest of your allies can get ready to beat them up, while you're keeping them distracted. Well done!

Say you don't want to win or reverse the grapple? Then take any action that doesn't take 2 hands. Cast a spell, attack (with a light or one-handed weapon) someone in range, make a full-attack action? You've seen plenty of movies where someone being grappled can full a knife and poke their opponent to make their escape easier, right? Same thing here, you're grappled by that just means you're REALLY CLOSE.

That's it for grappled, beyond Multiple Creature Grapples.

If there's two creatures grappling an opponent ONLY ONE MAINTAINS the grapple, while the other helps via the Aid Another action. This means they roll a check against 10, and if they make it, they add another +2 to the actual Grapplers check. Likewise you can have creatures help their ally break free from a Grapple in the same manner - by being adjacent to the grapplee, and using Aid Another. If they beat 10 then the grapplee gets a further +2 on their CMD. (I'm not sure if that would apply to someone breaking from a grapple with an Escape Artist check. Can you aid another who's simply trying to squeeze outta some hulking idiots arms?)

I won the grapple!

You're Grappled! -4 Dex, -2 on all attack rolls, and Combat Maneuvers that aren't Grapple!
You can break the Grapple as a free action!
You get +5 to maintain the Grapple every round. You must spend a Standard action to maintain it.

If you win:

  • You can drag the opponent half your speed. 10ft for Small, 15ft for Medium.
  • Damage your opponent with an Unarmed Strike, Natural Weapon or light or one-handed weapon.
  • Pin your opponent. They gain the Pinned condition, but you stay Grappled.
  • Tie up a pinned opponent.
  • With a tied up opponent you've tied them up with rope or similar. They have a worse condition of Grappled, and must make a Grapple attempt against your ropes, DC = 20 + your Combat Maneuver Bonus. This leaves you free to go harass someone else.

    I lost the grapple...

    You're Grappled! -4 Dex, -2 on all attack rolls, and Combat Maneuvers that aren't Grapple!
    You MUST break the Grapple to get out of it.
    Standard action to Grapple against the opponent's CMD.

    If you win:

  • You can break the Grapple and you're free! With a move action left.
  • You can reverse the grapple so you get the +5, and your opponent cannot simply break the Grapple as a free action.
  • Alternately ignore trying to break the Grapple at all.

  • Cast a spell. (Concentration check, DC = 10 + Spell level + opp's CMBonus).
  • Do anything that doesn't require two hands (go on, take a selfie).
  • Attack with a light or one-handed weapon as a full attack action if you like! (Don't forget your grappled condition when doing so, -2 to all attacks, -4 Dexterity as well).

  • Overrun

    As a Standard action you can run through an enemies square. You must be moving to Overrun, so you use this during a Move action, or with a Charge (this just gives +2 to your CMB, you don't get an Attack at the end of the Charge). You can only Overrun someone your size +1, so Halflings can Overrun Humans, but not Horses. Horses can Overrun both Humans and Horses, but not Clockwork Dragons. Likewise, if you don't have the Improved Overrun feat then whoever you're running into gets an attack of opportunity against you.

    If your CMB doesn't beat their CMD then you stop in the square just before them. If there's creatures in the way then you stop in the closest free square towards them. This may happen if your allies let you pass to get to the opponent, but you still fail your check.
    +When you make the Overrun your opponent can choose to avoid you. Easy! Don't make a check, you scared them silly and can continue your movement. If they do resist you make your check now, and beat their CMD! If you do, you pass through their square, sweet! If you beat their CMD by 5 or more you actually knock them prone, too. That's very good for Rogues.
    Do note: basilisks, spiders, Grindylows, etc, all get a +2 to avoid Overruns because they have EXTRA LEGS. This is +2 per extra leg, so a Centaur (four legs) gets +4 to resist, while a Spider (eight legs!!) gets +12.

    When is Overrun useful? When there's a henchmen blocking your charge at the big bad Necromancer, and your think your Barbarian Strength will overcome them easily! Or when you're a Halfing, cornered, but NEED to get outta this corner of the room.


    As a Standard action (this replaces an Attack) you can break anything your opponent is wearing, a weapon, armour, a pretty tunic they wouldn't give you, their fancy hat, etc. If you don't have Improved Sunder (see, I told you!) they get an attack of opportunity against you first.
    Otherwise roll your CMB against their CMD and win! Nothing special here, you either hit the weapon/item worn or you don't. Then roll for damage normally. An items hardness and health can be found on page 175, while "broken" is described in Appendix 2 on pg 565 (in short: broken weapons deal -2 to hit and -2 damage [while only Crit on 20s and only x2], Armor provides half the Armor bonus (round down!) but doubles it's Armor check penalty and Staves use 2 charges (!) per use. Stave is the plural of staff.


    You can trip someone your size +1, so a Halfling can't trip a Horse but can trip a Human, while a Horse can trip an Ogre but not a Colossal Goblin (who cast THAT spell?). You need Improved Trip to not suffer an attack of Opportunity, or to be wielding a Trip weapon.
    You roll your CMB against their CMD, and if you succeed, they're knocked prone. On the floor, +4 to melee hit them, +4 AC for them against ranged attacks, Sneak Attack active for Rogues. HOWEVER if you miss their CMD by 10 or more YOU are knocked prone. You were so eager to knock them over you threw your own balance off and fell on your arse! If you have a trip weapon however (Sickle, Flail, Trident, Heavy Flail, Guisarme, Halberd, Scythe, Kama, Whip, Spiked Chain, Dire Flail and gnome hooked Hammer) you can choose to drop the weapon instead, leaving you unarmed but upright.
    Again, any monster with more than 2 legs gets +2 for each extra leg, so an Octopus gets +12 to resist, while a Dog gets +4. Some monsters, like blobs and Oozes and flying monsters, creatures without legs, can't be tripped, but it will say that in the Bestiary entry anyway. Just make sure your PCs aren't tieing down and sneak attacking Gray Oozes, okay?


    Feinting is the most different from the other combat maneuvers, but probably my favourite. Make a Bluff skill check. This is you pretending to attack left, before you strike right and take off an arm. The number your skill check has to beat is 10 + your opponent's base attack bonus + plus their Wisdom modifier. UNLESS your opponent is trained in Sense Motive, in which case you must beat the opponent's Sense Motive bonus + 10. If your opponent has both, you must beat whichever is HIGHER, you can't choose which one to roll your CMB against.
    If you're Feinting against a nonhumanoid (Kobolds and Goblins, fine. Dire Wolves and Rat Kings, no!) then you get -4 to the check, because you're not Rat or Wolf shaped, so your intent is less clear to them. If you're Feinting against a creature of animal Intelligence (1 or 2 only) you get -8 (you can't bluff an idiot, you know?). If they don't have an Intelligence score (Zombies?) then you simply can't fool them, they haven't got any brains to trick.

    Assuming all that is good, and you succeed on your roll, your target loses their Dexterity bonus (against you only) until the END of your next turn, so you can hit them easier, and apply Sneak Attack if you're a Rogue.
    And in this case your opponent won't get an attack of opportunity against you at all -- you look like you're constantly attacking and aware -- but taking Improved Feint will reduce the Feint to a MOVE action only, allowing you to Feint and ATTACK in the same turn. It's thrilling, I do suggest it!

    And that's it for Combat Maneuver Bonuses and tricks! There are more maneuvers in the Advanced Players Guide and other PF books, but I'm not addressing anything from them, this is for new GMs, or players who want something simply explained better.

    Let me know whether this helped or not, I'm passionate about the game, any role playing, and nerds in general, so all the help I can provide I will. Also you can find me on FaceBook, but I only use it to refer back to this blog.

    Cheers for reading,
    Charlatan Fox.

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