RAW Grappling and Technical Grappling: Grab Him Better

Finally getting back to the four steps of grappling. In previous posts I talked about grappling from the perspective of someone totally unfamiliar with the concept and application, which was sprung from a SJG Forums thread on the topic. I followed with a note about how to achieve an initial grab using both the Rules as Written (RAW), as well as my expansion, GURPS Martial Arts, Technical Grappling. Along the way, I digressed into defending yourself from grapples and while grappling.

I proposed what is effectively a loose four-step model. Like all models, it’s wrong, but hopefully useful ( “All models are wrong; some are useful.” G. E. P. Box).
The steps (and the post titles) are:
  1. Grab him
  2. Grab him better
  3. Achieve a dominant position
  4. Win
Grab Him Better – RAW

The concept of step 2 here, where a grapple is improved, hinges very importantly on what rules you are using. Improving  the grapple has limited meaning using the basic rules, since any successful attack with the intent to grapple toggles the “grappled” state. When your options are “zero” and “one,” can there really be “one, but better?”

Turns out yes, in some cases, but definitions might have to be a little tortured to get there.
The Moose in the Room: Pin Him

I’m going to come right out and say it. I consider winning the Regular Contest of ST between the two grapplers (you succeed your roll and your opponent fails his on the same turn) an application of Step 4: Win. 
If you succeed in this task, you have rendered your foe completely helpless for ten turns. Most GURPS combats don’t last that long. The fight is over at this point. You can rain blows down on him free of charge for ten seconds, stab, twist, fold, spindle, and mutilate with no real restrictions during that time. Oh, sure, the GM might impose a little reality in there if he’s feeling like it, but this is the ultimate “I win” button.
Ergo, Step 4.

Grapple Quality in RAW
So what might it mean to improve a grapple other than to pin the guy? Given the mechanical choices available to the grappler, let me go through options without regard to whether they properly qualify as a “better” grapple just yet.

I’ve color-coded the option titles. Step 2’s are bold/green. Step 3’s are bold/blue. Step 4’s are bold/red. 

Also, some notation [Follow-on] means that the benefit of the improved grapple is a follow-on technique, such as Arm Lock enabling pain or injury. [+ST] means it gives a bonus to a Quick Contest of ST, or improves damage. [+CP] will mean that it enables adding CP to an existing grapple. [-DX] means that it inflicts additional DX penalties. Note that [+CP] implies that it gets additional ST and DX penalties.

So, what activities – other than the already-disqualified Pin – qualify under the Basic Set and Martial Arts as “grab him better?” Let’s look at Actions After a Grapple, p. B370 to start.
  • Arm Lock: Addressed in much detail in another post, this definitely qualifies as an improved grapple. When you have successfully trapped your foe’s arm in a lock, you get a boost to your ST for the purposes of breaking free, and you have access to crippling and painful options for Step 4: Win. [Follow-on][+ST]
  • Choke Hold: This one’s a fatigue attack and requires the same “improved” grapple as the prior entry, Choke or Strangle. See p. B404, but note that you can simply attack the neck directly at a penalty that depends on what skill you’re using (Judo makes it easier). [Follow-on]
  • Takedown: Bear your opponent to the ground. This falls, in my taxonomy, under Step 3, Improving Position. It doesn’t really improve the grapple, though it does improve the effectiveness of grappling (due to large penalties that accrue if you’re prepared for ground fighting and your opponent is not). 
  • Neck Snap or Wrench Limb: Yep, again this is an “I Win” move, not an improved grapple.
  • Choke or Strangle: The Choke/Strangle itself is part of Step 4: Win. But in order to do it, you must have first grappled your foe by the neck. The act of moving from a general grapple of (say) the torso to the more specific neck grapple can be considered an improved grapple. So there’s that, but that’s best qualified as Shift Grip, below.
Moving on to options from Martial Arts . . . 

  • Inflict Pain: Found on p. 119, but referencing p. B428), applying pain while grappling is one of the few things that ratchet up the DX penalties beyond the usual -4. Total penalties of -6 for Moderate pain to a whopping -10 for being grappled while in Terrible Pain. Inflicting Agony is similar in game-mechanical effect to a Pin. [-DX]
  • Using Your Legs/Switch Arms for Legs: While this is done at a penalty (the usual -2 to DX or skill), it gives a ST bonus that’s good for +2 to ST where it matters, or +1 damage where that matters, such as Throws from Locks (swing damage) or offensive Judo Throws (based on thrust, I believe). [+ST]
  • Adding Hands: Definitely improves the grapple, if you didn’t start with a two-handed grapple anyway. A two-handed grapple is +5 to ST relative to a one-handed one in the Quick Contest to Break Free. [+ST]
  • Shift Grip: The genesis for Technical Grappling’s rules on attacking locations are found here – and you can improve your location by attacking the new one, with slightly modified rules. As noted, if you start by grappling the torso, hit locations using these rules are irrelevant; this is not the case in TG. [Follow-on]
  • Shoving People Around: Not an improvement to the grapple, but may be an improvement in position for Step 3.
  • Sit on Him: This frees up hands and stuff to deal with other foes, or rain death and destruction down on an already-pinned opponent. This nearly qualifies as a Step 2/3 that somewhat paradoxically follows victory!

But not really. Step 1-4 are conceptual, and are not always a linear sequence – this applies both to GURPS grappling (where you can go right to an improved grapple following a Judo Parry) as well as real life.

  • Bear Hug: This is a victory move, part of Step 4 . . . but also references something that is important for improving grapples.

There are other RAW/Martial Arts options, but these are the main ones.
Improved Grapples in the RAW: Summarized

Basically, an improved grapple either enables a follow-on technique such as a throw, lock, or crush, or boosts your ST in appropriate places. There are other position-based “improvements” that might occur, such as a Takedown, but the big two game-mechanical effects are here.
Grab Him Better – Technical Grappling

The entire purpose of the Control Point mechanic in TG is to allow grapples to vary in effectiveness. Against a ST 10 person, every 2 Control Points (CP hereafter) give -1 to DX . . . and the new thing is they also impart -1 to ST. You can not use your full power effectively when restrained.

It’s quite possible to have a reasonably strong, reasonably trained guy (say ST 12 and Wrestling at DX+2) “only” rolling 1d for Control Points on any successful normal attack. The usual roll will be 3 or 4 CP, which is either -1 or -2 to ST and DX

The original rule in my first draft was to have odd CP totals give DX penalties, and even ones give ST. So 3 CP would be -2 to DX and -1 to ST. The playtesters and I killed that as a concept varying between a speed bump and treadles (picture right) pretty quickly, instead favoring the “divide by 2 and drop fractions” rule, which is simpler in play.

Since a RAW grapple is -4 to DX, one can make a gentle equivalence that an 8 CP grapple is roughly equivalent to the grapple in the Basic Set – at least on a normal human (DX penalties are lower against much stronger creatures; 8 CP against a ST 20 guy is -2 to DX, -4 to ST, not -4 to both).

In any case the question of grapple quality in TG is pretty straightforward: did your CP total go up?
Grapple Quality in TG

In addition to the options that I’ll cover again for completeness, there’s the first, obvious option for improving the quality of the grapple . . . attack.
Attack Again: You can (and should!) make repeated attacks to increase your CP total against a foe. Eventually, you can achieve the equivalent of a Pin by stacking up so many penalties that your foe cannot roll dice if you’re strong and skilled enough (the book suggests a CP limit equal to Trained ST, so if you’re Trained ST 16, you can’t amass and retain more than 16 CP, which of course will bring a normal guy down to ST 2 DX 2, and he can only attempt a skill at all if he’s got it at DX+1 or greater. [+CP]
Attack to Regain CP: Because CP must be spent to cause injury in the basic rules (house rules do exist to eliminate this), it is often necessary (or at least desirable) to alternate between rolling for (say) Arm Lock damage or applying a blood choke and amassing more CP to retain a high level of restraint on your foe. I’ll admit this isn’t the most elegant mechanic, but it does produce mostly realistic effects, jives with my personal experience in grappling more or less, and makes the choice to cause permanent injury have some risk to it. [+CP]
So, here we go again, in a very brief TG-centric version:
  • Using Your Legs/Switch Arms for Legs: This one is also a fall-out of the CP mechanic. Adding limbs allows you do more and more CP, based on the combined Basic Lift of the body parts. [+CP]
  • Adding Hands: As above, attacking with more hands gives more CP, improving the grapple. Especially on the ground adding hands – or more likely, adding both your legs to your two-armed grapple, increases your ST by 1.5x. That’s the equivalent of just shy of +2 per die to your CP roll (which is actually about +60%).  [+CP]
  • Shift Grip: Moving to a different hit location is a gateway to other moves, and qualifies. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Choke Hold: Again, the hold itself can be considered an improved grapple by virtue of the neck hit location and that the attack includes it. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Arm Lock: This is very specifically an attack (as it is in RAW) that requires the limb to be locked to already be grappled. However, the Arm Lock attempt does additional CP as well (it’s an honest-to-goodness attack, with the special effect of locking the limb). Once locked, that limb can’t be used for anything other than attacking to Break Free. and immobilizing an limb is generally somewhere between “improved grapple” and “I Win,” but closer to improved grapple. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Inflict Pain: Still there, and still nasty. Now referenced to CP spent, but locked limbs get double benefit, so a fairly low CP lock can cause really awful penalties – and those are whole body penalties, not limited to just the limbs being torqued. [-DX]
  • Takedown: Nope. Still not an improved grapple.
  • Shoving People Around: Not an improvement to the grapple, but may be an improvement in position for Step 3.
  • Sit on Him: Basically a Leg Grapple that takes advantage of the rules for weight advantage, which is really Step 3.
  • Choke or Strangle: Grappling specific hit locations and “paying” full penalties for them is now a thing. Still, the move itself is part of Step 4.
  • Neck Snap or Wrench Limb: Not an improved grapple.
  • Bear Hug: Still a victory move
Unique Options for Technical Grappling

Some of the usual options above still apply, some don’t, plus there’s the whole Control Point concept. But there are a couple of options for improved grapples that are unique to TG.

  • Grappling of  Stability Points: TG introduces the concept of stability, where if you amass enough CP against a limb, it no longer counts as providing full support, and CP spent on balance-upsetting moves have double effect. The practical upside of this is that if you grapple a leg of a standing man for (say) 6 CP, for -3 to ST and DX, he’s unstable. He might only be at -1 to ST and DX for the rest of his body (see Referred Control and Whole-Body Actions, pp. 5-6) but if you spend 4 CP to take him down, he’s at -8 in that Quick Contest rather than the (TG-usual) penalties to DX and ST imparted only by CP. [Follow-on]
  • Armed Grapple: The addition of leverage, especially with sticks and flexible weapons like garrotes, gives a per die bonus to CP. Grappling using a short stick can be very, very nasty, as not only does it multiply the CP imparted by an attack, but it greatly increases the maximum you can do. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Attack Maneuvers and Options: You can apply more CP to a move, thus improving the initial grapple, by selecting options such as All-Out Attack (Strong) and Committed Attack (Strong). Not having a variable effect mechanism for grappling makes these attack variants pretty meaningless in the RAW. [+CP]
Improved Grapples in TG; Summarized

The short version is you increase the grapple quality by racking up more CP, causing pain, or grappling something like a limb that allows a cool follow-on move or a a magnified impact (such as stability-impairing grapple of a limb).
Parting Shot
Improving your grapples in the real world is based on posture, position, selective and cumulative advantage in restriction your foe’s limb use, and applying leverage and weight to deny movement.
Technical Grappling was designed to allow nuance in all of those, so there’s an explicit mechanic in the form of control points for improved grapple quality, and the usual implicit ones in things that enable a grapple to be more nasty. The bonuses to ST you get to resist your foe’s attempts to break free are replaced by penalties to his ST, which will remove fewer CP from his attacjs to break free, plus the DX penalties that make a successful Break Free attack less likely to begin with. Embrace the death spiral of grappling!
In the Basic Set, the implicit improvements are still present, and the explicit ones tend to be found in pretty substantial bonuses to ST for Contests.
In either case, it is possible to make a grapple “better” once one has occurred, as well as follow a strategy of a less-advantageous initial grapple leading into a more-advantageous one.
And all of that is without considering posture and position – which is coming next.

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