Tactics and Tips02/21/2006

Fightin' Dirty (Part 2)
A Focused Look at Alternative Combat Tactics

Looking for the best ways to infuriate your enemies? Make 'em look left while you go right! Or get in close and give them the squeeze. Last time we looked at the benefits of two special attack forms: bull rush and disarm. This time, we focus on two other alternative tactics: feint and grapple. These rules can both be found on page 155 of the Player's Handbook.


Feinting is a way to mislead your opponent into making a wrong decision, then hitting them while they are off balance. Bards and rogues, the premier deceivers, excel at attempting this little-used tactic.

When and Why You Should Feint: Feinting works best when you're facing an opponent that relies heavily on his Dexterity bonus to augment his Armor Class. Feinting is a nasty combo when combined with a rogue's sneak attack ability, because if she succeeds at feinting, her opponent is denied his Dexterity bonus to his AC, thus opening the door for additional damage via sneak attack. Ouch!

Remember that feinting is a standard action and the bonus it grants lasts only for the next turn. You don't have to possess the Bluff skill to attempt this skill. Beyond rogues and bards, characters with an inherently high Charisma score, such as sorcerers (who conveniently have Bluff as a class skill), and strangely, paladins, are better at feinting than most. And don't worry, using feint in combat does not violate the paladin's Code of Conduct!

Because the defender gets to add his base attack bonus to his Sense Motive check, fighters, barbarians, and other classes who have high base attack bonuses, but who lack Sense Motive as a class skill, are on par with the other classes. Sorcerers and wizards are still the most vulnerable to feints, since they have low base attack bonuses and don't have Sense Motive as a class skill. Although attempting a feint against a high-level rogue or bard is difficult (since they have relatively high base attack bonuses and also have Sense Motive as a class skill), a successful feint denies them one of their most treasured things: their Dexterity bonus. This becomes even deadlier if you combine this with a flank attack. Let your rogue or bard feint the opponent, allowing your flanking fighter or barbarian follow up with a devastating Power Attack.

House Rule Alert!: I have a variation of the feinting rules in my game, where a character performs the classic "throw sand in their eyes" technique. As a move action, a character can scoop up dirt, sand, or the like and then attempt the feint as normal. The character can do this only in the right sort of terrain (DM fiat here). If he succeeds at this feint, the target makes a DC 10 Reflex save or is blinded for 1 round. I also allow this tactic to work only once during a single combat -- I assume that no one would fall for it twice in a row and that any of the opponent's allies would get savvy to any further attempts.


As anyone who has used the rules for grappling can tell you, this special attack isn't necessarily the easiest to use or comprehend. Grapple has been discussed at length in various Rules of the Game articles. You may want to read through those articles first, just to wrap your head around how to make grapple go smoothly in your game.

When and Why You Should Grapple: In most cases, a PC attempts a grapple because he wants to keep an opponent from moving from a given spot, or to prevent him from attempting some sort of action. Grappling a spellcaster makes life extremely difficult for him to cast spells, especially because -- if you pin him (see page 156 in the Player's Handbook) -- you can even prevent him from speaking, denying him any spells with a verbal component.

Or, have your fighter or other high-Strength character grapple an opponent, making it much easier for your spellcaster to hit him with a touch attack spell (in the wacky world of D&D physics, you don't get electrocuted while holding on to someone getting zapped by a shocking grasp spell). You can deal damage when grappling someone as if you were performing an unarmed strike. Monks, by default, make excellent grapplers, since they can both keep an opponent from moving and deal substantially more damage than other classes while doing it. If you're really intent on grappling an opponent, have your sorcerer or wizard cast enlarge person on you, which grants you an immediate +4 bonus on grapple checks for being Large size.

If you're planning on including grapple in your stable of tricks, make sure your character wears a spiked gauntlet. That way you'll always be armed, can't be disarmed, and can make unarmed attacks that deal lethal damage against your grappled opponent. Also, this is where armor spikes (page 124 in the Player's Handbook) are allowed to shine. Although expensive at lower levels at an additional 50 gp to a suit of armor's cost, armor spikes both deal damage when grappling and make someone think twice before attempting to grapple you.

Grappling is also handy if you want to pick someone up and put her somewhere specific. Grapple your opponent, then toss her into a well, lake, over the balcony, or down the stairs (see Fightin' Dirty, Part 1 for more details on this).

Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.

About the Author

Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Races of Destiny, and Monster Manual III. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Green Ronin Publishing, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.

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