Raw grappling and technical grappling: Grab him!

In the previous post, I proposed a high-level descriptive model for grappling. Like all models, it’s wrong, but hopefully useful ( “All models are wrong; some are useful.” G. E. P. Box).

The steps were basically

  1. Grab him
  2. Grab him better
  3. Achieve a dominant position
  4. Win

So, how does this work in GURPS? 

Grab the Guy

The first course of business is to put your meaty paws on your opponent. A lot of this discussion will focus (for the moment) on the attacker’s progression and oscillation through the stages, and short shrift will be given to the defender’s options. We’ll cover that later.

Raw Grappling: Grab him

The first thing you have to do when grappling in GURPS is grab the other guy. In the rules presented in the Basic Set, this is one-way street. That is, you grab your foe, and he suffers all the pain and restrictions of that grab, mostly. If he wants to grab you or do techniques on you, he must attack you back, at a penalty. 

Unless you do Hand Catch (Martial Arts, p. 84), most grapples, even those enabled by parries, are resolved by an attack on the attacker’s turn. Hand Catch allows an attack roll right after you parry, and your foe does not get a defense against it! It’s a cinematic technique, though, as listed, so there you go.

To grapple, you make an attack roll using DX or your best grappling skill (Judo, Sumo Wrestling, Wrestling, or with a weapon at -2 to skill). Your foe may use any legal defense, including block, parry, or dodge (with or without a weapon). If they retreat and still fail their defenses, I believe they do not actually get to take that step back (either that, or you can move your guy to follow, but I think the “he doesn’t get to step back” is the RAW answer).

Once you succeed in an attack roll, and your foe fails his defense, he’s “Grappled.” He’s at -4 to DX, and can’t move unless you’re strong enough to simply treat the foe as encumbrance.

The default grapple is two-handed, but you can grapple with one hand. Or using your legs at a penalty. The default grapple also targets the torso, but you can (and indeed, to get some of the nifty techniques properly set up, you must) grapple other body parts.

In any case, the way it works (again, high level) is that the DX of the impacted, grappled body parts goes down. When looking at breaking free, your effective ST is modified by how many hands you’re using, and other things.  But even a very low ST creature that grapples a very high ST creature hits him with that DX penalty unless he breaks free. This is resolved as one of my least-favorite things: a Quick Contest of ST.

Ultimately, though, the answer is that to get a grip using the RAW, make an attack roll. If you succeed (with success also implying your foe fails his defnese roll), he suffers a DX penalty.

Instant Awesome
Some advanced techniques such as Choke Hold are also attacks, and are a bit of a two-fer. If you succeed in your attack roll, you’ve not only grappled him about the neck in a way that inflicts the grappling penalty (“you apply the hold, which counts as a grapple”), you can then proceed to choke the crap out of the guy on your next turn.

Likewise, Arm and Wrist Locks allow rolling directly against the technique in question in order to capture the arm and lock it up immediately following a parry. Given that Arm Lock can be improved as an Average technique for up to +4 or +6 with a GM nod to Technique Mastery, this is one of the reasons that Arm Lock can be so terrifying. A decent combatant can trade that technique bonus on top of a good Judo or Wrestling skill to make that initial attack roll to lock the arm a very, very high percentage technique, as they can pile on a lot of deceptive attack to facilitate a failed defense roll.

It’s hard to say whether this represents a really, really good “Grab him” stage, or if it is best characterized as “you just did Step 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, in one fell swoop” type thing. Either way, you’re getting a lot done in one roll here.

Technical Grappling: Grab him


Really, this part isn’t that much different. You make the same attack rolls and your foe has the same defensive options. If you succeed, though, you have an effect roll, measured in Control Points. This is based on the ST of the limb or limbs used.

This roll is based on your ST, and if you use one hand, you will roughly do half the CP. You can get a poor or a good grip on any given attack depending on how well you roll. A critical hit can drastically increase your CP total if you get one of the “max damage” or “2x damage” results.

The effects of a successful grapple are a bit different as well, but not hugely so. The Control Points impact both the ST and DX of the targeted locations. The DX-penalty equivalent of a grapple that’s -4 to DX is 8 CP against a normal strength foe of ST 10 and DX 10. This will also inflict -4 to ST. In fact, the ST loss is always -1 per 2 CP applied.

Since CP use the thrust column of the damage table, you need to be “Trained” ST 23 to do this 8 CP grapple on an average roll, and Trained ST 17 or higher to do it at all (one time in six) without taking attack options such as All-Out (Strong). That’s pretty strong, which means more typically you’re going to be looking at CP rolls in the 3-5 range, or only -2 to DX and -2 to ST for a ST 10, DX 10 foe (the higher the opponent’s ST, the more CP it takes to inflict a DX penalty).

Even a very low CP grapple is still a grapple, though, and allows follow-on attacks or even skipping to Step 3 to try positional and postural improvements if you get lucky and get a high CP roll.

Technical Grappling: Grabbing Parry


Silly me, I forgot one. While the RAW allow you to proceed right to grapples such as Arm Locks after any successful Judo Parry, TG insists that you first grapple the limb. This can (and often will be) done with a Grabbing Parry, a modification of Hand Catch. Make your parry accepting the penalties for hit location and the parry itself, and if successful, you score CP based on a weak grapple. You’re not going to render someone helpless with this on the grab, but it does allow the kind of Parry-Arm Lock-Win awesomeness that is more or less the default with RAW.

Parting Shot

This is truly resolution at the cost of complexity. It scales a bit more naturally, but the fact that it does involve an effect roll and different effect levels depending on what limbs your using, how many, and how much training you have means there’s more work. Much of this is during character generation or on the character sheet (or can be put there). But not all, and that won’t work for everyone.

Ultimately, though, without the cinematic switch doubling CP turned on for TG (which will bring the initial grapple more in line with the RAW in terms of debilitation of the foe), the Rules-as-Written provide for a binary grappled/not-grappled switch. If the -4 to DX isn’t enough to get the job done (and against high-power characters like Dungeon Fantasy archetypes, or even worse, Monster Hunters, it won’t be) then this initial grab is likely only good enough to provide a gateway drug to Actions After a Grapple.

With Technical Grappling, you can eventually rack up (by the baseline rules) as many CP as you have Trained ST, which for a ST 13 warrior with Wrestling at DX+4 will be 16. This is enough to slap another ST 13 warrior with -5 to DX at 13 CP (if you don’t round numbers), or (by “normal rounding conventinos) -1 t DX for every 3 CP. If you do like +Peter V. Dell’Orto wisely suggests, ST 10-ST14 is -1 per 2 CP. What does all that mean? At maximum unarmed CP, you can rack up -8 to DX against a weaker foe, or -5 to DX against someone your size. You will also, regardless of the ST of the foe, impart -8 to his ST, which is -4 to thrust damage and -8 to swing. The thrust damage means his attacks to grapple back are weaker as well.

Grappling matches can be turned into protracted struggles to achieve a dominant position, likely resulting from someone making a mistake (rolling a crit) or you just getting lucky a few times if the foes are evenly matched. 

In terms of which is “better,” that obviously depends on what your goals are. The TG method allows a big, strong monster (or character) to automatically impart a higher ST/DX penalty on a grappled foe, and provides the right level of instant asymmetry one would expect from this matchup. It also means strong guys can mostly ignore weaker grapples, since they can defensively attack back to break the grapple and their worst CP roll will overcome their foe’s best.

Tracking CP by hit location is less trouble than it sounds by reading it, and Peter and I have worked out a great method to make it even easier that we hope to have see print one day.

For Rules-as-Written, the lack of nuance is a feature.  You attack, you grapple, you impart the same -4 to DX for everyone. Boom. Done. If this bothers you, you may be a good candidate for either TG in its entirety, or perhaps taking a look at Fixed Effects from Pyramid #3/61, Coming to Grips with Realism, on p. 32. 

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