Grapple in Pathfinder RPG: How it Really Works [2022 Guide]

Have you ever watched a wrestling match? Like a real wrestling match? Not saying that stuff like WWF/WWE isn’t entertaining, but that is a different conversation.

Wrestling has been around for about 15,000 years based on cave painting walls and is largely thought of as being the first real combat system developed by mankind.

So, of course, Pathfinder attempts its best to represent this fighting style in rules form.

Grappling has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to follow or explain. That is why I am here to help you out fellow adventurers! 

Grapple Mechanics

Much like many other conditions and systems in Pathfinder, there are some differences in the way Grapple works between both editions.

Let’s break down how it works in each individual system.

Grapple Mechanics in Pathfinder 1st Edition

Like always, let’s take a look at the Grapple rules from the d20 SRD:


 As a standard action, you can attempt to grapple a foe, hindering his combat options. If you do not have Improved Grapple, grab, or a similar ability, attempting to grapple a foe provokes an attack of opportunity from the target of your maneuver. Humanoid creatures without two free hands attempting to grapple a foe take a –4 penalty on the combat maneuver roll.

If successful, both you and the target gain the grappled condition. If you successfully grapple a creature that is not adjacent to you, move that creature to an adjacent open space (if no space is available, your grapple fails). Although both creatures have the grappled condition, you can, as the creature that initiated the grapple, release the grapple as a free action, removing the condition from both you and the target.

If you do not release the grapple, you must continue to make a check each round, as a standard action, to maintain the hold. If your target does not break the grapple, you get a +5 circumstance bonus on grapple checks made against the same target in subsequent rounds.

Once you are grappling an opponent, a successful check allows you to continue grappling the foe, and also allows you to perform one of the following actions (as part of the standard action spent to maintain the grapple).

So what does this huge block-o-text mean?

Basically, you can take a standard action on your round to launch an attack to initiate a grapple or in technical terms: start wrastlin’. 

First, you need  to roll your Combat Maneuver Bonus for CMB: Base attack bonus + Strength modifier + special size modifier (Fine –8, Diminutive –4, Tiny –2, Small –1, Medium +0, Large +1, Huge +2, Gargantuan +4, Colossal +8) versus the target’s Combat Maneuver Defense or CMD: 10 + Base attack bonus + Strength modifier + Dexterity modifier + special size modifier (same as above) + miscellaneous modifiers (AC bonuses like deflection, dodge, insight, luck, morale, etc)

If you manage to beat the CMD of your target, then you’ve managed to grapple them! This means you both have the condition Grappled. Though, you can end it as a free action on your round.  

While you have a target grappled, you can take a suite of actions, but we will get into those when we discuss how to use Grapple.

Grapple Mechanics in Pathfinder 2nd Edition

From The Pathfinder 2e SRD:



Source Core Rulebook pg. 242 2.0

Requirements You have at least one free hand or have your target grappled or restrained. Your target isn’t more than one size larger than you.

You attempt to grab a creature or object with your free hand. Attempt an Athletics check against the target’s Fortitude DC. You can Grapple a target you already have grabbed or restrained without having a hand free.

Critical Success: Your target is restrained until the end of your next turn unless you move or your target Escapes.

Success: Your target is grabbed until the end of your next turn unless you move or your target Escapes.

Failure: You fail to grab your target. If you already had the target grabbed or restrained using a Grapple, those conditions on that creature or object end.

Critical Failure: If you already had the target grabbed or restrained, it breaks free. Your target can either grab you, as if it succeeded at using the Grapple action against you, or force you to fall and land prone.

In this instance, you use your Strike action (or attack action) to roll an Athletics Check against the target’s Fortitude DC (10 + the target’s DC save). If you succeed by 10 points over their Fortitude DC, you get a critical success.

If you fail by more than 10 points, you critically fail the roll.

How To Use Grapple

Cool, you have someone grabbed…Now what?

Pathfinder 1st Edition

Each round afterward you have secured the grapple,  you have to take your standard action to maintain your grapple. Roll against the target’s CMD again, except this time you get a +5 bonus to maintain it.

If you manage to maintain the grapple, you can take one of several actions:


You can move both yourself and your target up to half your speed. At the end of your movement, you can place your target in any square adjacent to you. If you attempt to place your foe in a hazardous location, such as in a wall of fire or over a pit, the target receives a free attempt to break your grapple with a +4 bonus.


You can inflict damage to your target equal to your unarmed strike, a natural attack, or an attack made with armor spikes or a light or one-handed weapon. This damage can be either lethal or nonlethal.


You can give your opponent the pinned condition (see Conditions). Despite pinning your opponent, you still only have the grappled condition, but you lose your Dexterity bonus to AC.

Tie Up

If you have your target pinned, otherwise restrained, or unconscious, you can use rope to tie him up. This works like a pin effect, but the DC to escape the bonds is equal to 20 + your Combat Maneuver Bonus (instead of your CMD). The ropes do not need to make a check every round to maintain the pin.

If you are grappling the target, you can attempt to tie him up in ropes, but doing so requires a combat maneuver check at a –10 penalty. If the DC to escape from these bindings is higher than 20 + the target’s CMB, the target cannot escape from the bonds, even with a natural 20 on the check.

In addition to the Improved Grapple feat, which protects you from Attacks of Opportunity when grappling, there are a suite of feats that can improve or add effects to your grappling moves.

Feat NameTypePrerequisitesEffect
Body ShieldCombatImproved Grapple, BAB +6Gain cover against attacks while grappling
ChokeholdCombatImproved Grapple, BAB +6 or monk 5May pin grappled opponent one size category larger than you
Deadly GrapplerCombatDex 13, Improved Grapple, Improved Unarmed StrikeYou have learned to leverage a grappling creature’s weight against it. While you’re grappled, attacks you make against the grappler using armor spikes, a light or one-handed weapon, a natural weapon, or an unarmed strike deal damage as if the strike or weapon were one size category larger than it actually is.
Grabbing StyleCombat, StyleImproved Grapple, BAB +6, brawler’s flurry, or flurry of blowsTake no penalty for grabbing a foe one-handed, retain your Dex bonus to AC when pinning
Grapple, GreaterCombatImproved Grapple, BAB +6Maintain your grapple as a move action

This is just a small selection of feats though. There is a huge bevy of options on the SRD to build a complete character based on Grappling alone. 

Pathfinder 2nd Edition

In 2e Pathfinder Grappling does much less on it’s own, but can still be a game changer.

When a grapple succeeds, the target is considered Grabbed:


Source Core Rulebook pg. 620 2.0

You’re held in place by another creature, giving you the flat-footed and immobilized conditions. If you attempt a manipulate action while grabbed, you must succeed at a DC 5 flat check or it is lost; roll the check after spending the action, but before any effects are applied.

This can lock your target down and keep them from moving or taking actions without having to specifically kill them (or knock them down to 0 HP).

If you happen to get a critical success, the target is caught in an even worse position I.E. Restrained:


Source Core Rulebook pg. 622 2.0

You’re tied up and can barely move, or a creature has you pinned. You have the flat-footed and immobilized conditions, and you can’t use any actions with the attack or manipulate traits except to attempt to Escape or Force Open your bonds. Restrained overrides grabbed. 

This is like Grabbed above, but in this case there isn’t even the option to use the manipulate action at all. 

Being Grappled in Pathfinder 2e really sucks.

Pathfinder also has an Archetype built on grappling: the Wrestler which gives options for feats that Damage your opponent outright or do things like hinder and hobble a foe, all the way up to even twisting them so hard they can’t even polymorph anymore !

Just make sure that if you Suplex anyone, you either do it from the turnbuckle, or make sure it’s a Phantom Train.

Happy Hunting Pathfinders!