Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Eternal Pain of Grappling

It's a word to send shivers down a Referee's spine: grappling. Ye Auld Game has been plagued throughout it's history by no-good punks trying to fight without weapons. Man, this is a game about swords and sorcery! You dig? Pick up a stick and fight like a man! Or an Elf! Or whatever!

Forgive me, hypothetical readers, if I lose my usual erudition in this post, but grappling does that to me. I have never seen seen rules for this that have made me happy. Scratch that, I have never seen rules for this that did not make me decidedly unhappy. I recall looking at those rules in the 1st edition DMG, scratching my head, and then turning to look at that sad-eyes Succubus again. Why is she so naked and so sad? Mostly, I have always screwed shut my eyes and hoped that weaponless combat would go away and, by and large, I have been successful in this over the decades of my gaming life.

So what should happen during the second fight of my Under the Dying Sun play-test? Not one, but two players try to grapple! And both attempts were--darn the luck--clever. Sot Sojat, the Scorpion Man, finding himself without a second weapon to use in his third hand, asked if he couldn't use that free appendage to grab a monster and hold him in place for a targeted attack. "Damn," thinks I, "that's smart". Then Khalid al-Khazan, the Desert Man Sorcerer, finding himself not too successful with spell or weapon, wants to pull a beastie off a companion before it eats her shoulder. "Hmn," think I, "that's a good idea."


For the Bug-Man, I let him make an attack with his fist, saying that it would do no damage if successful, but would give him a +2 on his weapon attack. That wasn't bad, actually. I can live with that. After all, it isn't going to come up too often and it's a nifty little trick that only a four-armed alien can do.

But the other left me stumped. Do I follow the pattern, roll an attack with a fist, and specify that it won't do damage? But the Attack Chart makes it very hard to succeed in attacking with a fist because it presumes that you are trying to hurt something. That's okay for the grab-and-hit thing, but not really right in this case. Do I run some kind of opposed STR vs. STR roll? That works in a lot of games, but really doesn't fit into the S&S rules-set without some straining.

In the end, I said that the monster would have to make a STR Save to resist being pulled off. But I'm not really satisfied with that. And if it comes up twice, I really need to have some way to deal with it. Because it totally makes sense in this setting, to imagine that people are going to pull hair, kick in the vitals, and do all sorts of things like that.



  1. Take a look at the boot hill unarmed combat rules? I think they're reposted on Greyhawk Grognard.

    I tried using Zak Smith/D&D w/PornStars "Lucky Number Kung Fu" system last session and it worked out pretty good during a piledrivin' Cactoid put out of the fight.

    The Wrestling post on Planet Algol has a link to a seemingly decent 2d6 based grappling system as well.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. fixing typos

    Assign a %.
    What do you think the probability would be for the sorcerer to complete the task?
    The real old school method. I seem to be leaning this way more and more lately.


    2d6 + mods (maybe the Str vs Str you mention)
    2: it turns out very badly for the sorcerer - critical failure sort of thing
    3-5: fail
    6-8: gets his hands on the beastie but doesn't pull him off
    9-11: pulls beastie off
    12: Crit success - pulls the beastie off and punches it in the face!

    This is what I would typically do in my B/X games.

  4. For the pulling off of a horse situation, I'd implement it in 2 steps:

    1. Does the character grab the opponent? Roll to hit against AC 9 minus any dexterity adjustments you use.

    If the PC doesn't grab the opponent, their turn is over.

    2. If the PC "grabs" the opponent, then can he pull the person off?

    Roll opposed STR checks. Whoever rolls the highest # under their STR prevails.

  5. Check out Chgowiz's OSRIC Grappling Rules. They're what I'll be using if I ever get off my rear and get a game together.

  6. The number of Grappling attempts just goes to show how difficult this thing is. Pretty much all the systems mentioned ar great but not for my needs.

    For instance, any system in which the Grapple is rolled as an attack has a problem when using Chainmail-derived combat. It's very, very difficult to hit someone without a weapon that way becuase the system assumes yuo are trying to hurt someone.

    Zak's system is wacky keen but so random that it really doesn't address either of my situations. it's more of a bonus thing than an anctual tactic.

    Riffing off of the Reaction Table is kind of keen really. I may think about that one, although I was trying to avoid any new kind fo chart. My OSR Heresy is that I actually like unified mechanics. :)

    I guess I might just have each feller roll a STR Save and high roll wins. That way armour is irrelevant.