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Smackdown! Wrestling Moves in D&D

“The bugbear chief raises his falchion and points it at Chance. With a prideful sneer, he growls, ‘You’re next.’ That takes us to Chance’s turn. What do you do?” I asked.

“I dig my heels into the ground and begin to sprint in his direction. About ten feet from where the chief stands, I leap and stretch out…spearing him right in the middle.”

I tell him to roll an Athletics check (to see if he is able to make the jump and make contact with the bugbear). It’s a 17. “You leap and catch the bugbear in his midsection, knocking him over. Roll to grapple.” Chance rolled a 15. With his strength bonus, that’s 18. The bugbear also rolled a 15! But his bonus is only 2. “Your shoulder slams into the bugbear’s stomach. He doubles over as your arms wrap around him and momentum carries the both of you to the ground. You roll a couple of times and when you come to a stop, you’re on top of him. Roll for damage.”

Grappling is nothing new in D&D, though in 5e it is something that some view as ‘in need of love.’ And it’s no surprise that players might want to see their characters performing some of the same spectacular moves that the Superstars of WWE execute in the ring. The rules even use the keyword in the grappling description!

Grappling (PHB): When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple. If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.

This topic was brought up in the DMR group by David P.
David wrote:
One of my players, a level 2 half orc barbarian, Goes out of his way to use professional wrestling type moves like suplexes and piledrivers as his attacks on humanoid creatures whenever possible. Obviously this is awesome and something everyone loves, but I feel like I’m winging it with how to rule damage. I have him and the enemy do a strength contest first to see if the attack hits, and I’ve been having him roll a d8 + strength mod for his damage. Does this seem fair/balanced? Any other ideas to make it more so or more flavorful?

As expected, the advice flowed freely. Many of the members felt that including wrestling moves was nothing more than narrative flavor for the grapple rule. Others agreed that a modification in how these moves deal damage was in order.

Brandt S. “I would still call it an unarmed strike. But I would allow a little bonus to the damage for flavor and creativity.”
Brandon J. S. “Due to his creativity and the fun it brings, a D6 + mod sounds about right, due to the frequency of use. With a D8 I'd have the NPC make a dex save for 1/2 or something because other martial classes have to work to achieve that dice total.”
Audie W: There is a fighting style in TCoE I believe that allow fighters to do superior unarmed damage. If they take the battle master subclass they could easy pull off some wrestling moves, RAW, and still be effective against other types of targets.

(Indeed, Audie W, there are several Battle Master options that could compliment the ‘pro wrestler’ concept. See the Brawler, Pugilist, and even the Bodyguard archetypes under Battle Master in TCoE for more details.)

Damage modifications seemed to be one of the biggest concerns. Balance is a key factor, as it should be. Are we just adding in a bunch of color and flavor to the unarmed strike or grapple rules or are we looking at ‘wrestling moves’ as something more? Do you, as the DM, feel that the 1d4+str mod is enough or do you think that a piledriver would do more damage than a left hook? The group had a lot of ideas about this. Suggestions on increasing the damage dice to a 1d6+str or 1d8+str were tossed around. Others insisted that RAW dictates that it is just an unarmed strike in terms of damage (other conditions are added if there is a successful grapple, or restraining, etc). For the most part, none of the suggestions were bad or ‘game breaking.’ It seems that wrestling moves are a fun way to add flavor to your game, and if you or your DM sees fit, a way to add a touch more damage. The biggest take away from the group discussion, however, was that as long as everyone is having fun, play the game your way.

Lawrence P: If the target is really only taking damage (not knocked prone, pushes, grappled, etc.) then it's mostly just flavored damage.

Will you allow wrestling moves in your games? Will they be ‘flavored’ unarmed strikes, or something more? Who at your table will become the Players’ Champion? Can you smell what the DM is cooking? Whatcha gonna do, brother, when ten thousand screaming D&D players are comin’ for you??

Alright…that’s about enough of that. If you need me, I’ll be writing wrestling encounters into my campaign.

Luke Newman is a best selling fantasy author, father, veteran, and a Level 2 DM (his players leveled him up in their most recent campaign. It’s ok to be jealous.) When he’s not writing his novels, preparing for a game of D&D, or playing D&D, he’s probably sleeping. (I mean, there are only so many hours in a day.) You can check out Luke’s books, The LEGENDARY Series, on Amazon. Grab his books and follow him here:

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