[RPG] How to adjudicate attempting to put manacles on an unwilling creature


I have a player in my campaign who has recently wanted to use manacles. While the Player's Handbook entry for manacles describes in a pretty detailed way how difficult it is to escape from manacles, it doesn't give any indication as to how difficult is to put them on an unwilling creature, particularly in the chaos of lots of things happening at once that we call combat.

But that's okay: I'm a DM, and I can make something up. But I feel that I'm not really sure how to assess the difficulty of this, especially as I have no idea about how manacles actually worked in the medieval era that D&D is inspired by, beyond a general idea that "it's an old-fashioned form of handcuffs". Here are a few ideas I have:

  1. Treat this as an improvised-weapon melee attack roll. While there really isn't a "called shot" mechanic in D&D 5e, this may be roughly the difficulty of trying to hit somebody with a stick, or maybe impose disadvantage due to the difficulty of needing to specifically get the manacles over the wrists. I'd probably require a separate attack for each wrist. That is, when a hit with manacles happens, one wrist gets enclosed in the manacles rather than it dealing damage.
  2. Treat this as a contest similar to a grapple. The rules specifically call out that grappling is just an example of a type of contest one can do. Using Strength for the character attempting to place the manacles makes some amount of sense as it's trying to "apply brute force" to solve a problem, though allowing use of a proficiency in Athletics seems a little odd as it's not really a "wrestling" kind of move, and in fact the finesse needed to place the manacles where needed might almost make sense as a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check instead. For the creature attempting to avoid getting the manacles, opposing with their choice of Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) as in a grapple still seems to make sense to me. This probably would also require a separate contest per wrist.
  3. Maybe manacles aren't just "slap them on" like modern handcuffs might be. I should just disallow any attempt to put manacles on an unwilling or unrestrained creature.

How should I handle players attempting to put manacles on an unwilling creature during combat? I know that this may be a bit subjective, and I can ultimately do anything reasonable here without the world ending, but I'm hoping there are some Good Subjective answers out there of people who can "back it up" with their experience of handling either manacles specifically (as I'm guessing this isn't the only group with a player who saw manacles on the equipment list and started getting ideas), or at least experience with creating new "contests" that inhibit opponents.

Best Answer

About your ideas

  • From both a mechanical and intention point of view, certainly the first one doesn't make much sense. The main reason for me saying it is that the AC includes different things that make harder to hit someone. The person being in heavy armor shouldn't make it harder to put a manacle on him though. Mechanics that add to Attack Roll or to AC also don't make much sense here.
  • Your second idea is closer to it. But, if you think in the actual process of putting the manacles on someone, "grappling" them is a first step. After that you put the manacle. So, it should be harder than a grapple check - and it would probably take more than one turn. The main reason I don't like it being a contest is: it feels like it should be harder than even a contest with disadvantage against advantage, honestly.
  • Third idea: Although I don't love (correction: I HATE) to tell my players "you can't do it", this is how I would proceed if they ever attempted it. In particular, I would require the creature to at least be restrained before allowing them to do it. If you want a lesser restriction, require a Grappled condition.

My backing up is simple: this is how I see manacles from Medieval Era:

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After putting them in the wrist or ankle, you have to pin it with a (thing like a) nail. It doesn't simply close itself.

It seems, to me, almost impossible to achieve against a resisting character. Heck, even modern days handcuffs aren't easy to put in someone before they are restrained.

That said, I never had player attempting it, but as I said, I simply would tell them that's a task too hard to accomplish and it's probably easier to drop the enemy unconscious and then put the manacles on. If they insist, the character tries, but simply fails.

As a note, we have a similar question about Force-feeding potions, and personally I like this answer.