RAW Grappling and Technical Grappling: Achieve a Dominant Position

A repetitive but useful introduction: 

In previous posts I talked about grappling from the perspective of someone totally unfamiliar with the concept and application. 

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

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. In the previous post to this one, I discussed an interpretation of what I considered “Step 2: Grab him better,” again looking at RAW vs. Technical Grappling.


In this installment, we talk about the third step, which is achieving a dominant position. I’m going to borrow a definition I used in Technical Grappling, which in turn is based on the corresponding real-world concepts:

In Technical Grappling, positioning is defined by changes to a grappler’s posture, facing, orientation, and relative facing.

  • Posture means the same thing as it does in the RAW. Standing, kneeling, crawling, and lying face-down or face-up are all postures.
  • Facing is basically what hex-side your head is pointing at on a battle map. This isn’t always perfectly clear in close combat.
  • Orientation defines what parts of your body are in close combat, and which are not. Basically orientation accounts for which hexes a multi-hex figure (including a prone SM +0 human) occupies on a battle map. 
  • Relative Facing is the close-combat equivalent of front, side, and rear arcs, and are defined the same way. Two fighters both facing “north” on the battle map and with commoon orientation and posture might still be facing each other (in each other’s front arcs), facing away from each other (mutually in each other’s rear arc), one facing the rear, the other facing away (bad mojo; this is rear mount), or other combinations. Relative facing is new with Technical Grappling, but important for describing grapples.

Only posture and facing are present in the Basic Set and Martial Arts.


Dominant Positions – RAW

The concept of step 3 here, where you achieve a superior position relative to your foe, can only really leverage (explicitly) the rules for posture and facing if only using the Basic Set and Martial Arts. Some of the Actions After a Grapple make reference to ideas that are made more nuanced when orientation and relative facing come into play explicitly.

Positioning Before the Grapple: Facing


As always in GURPS, if you can attack from the rear (best) or the side (still good), you have a certain amount of awesome going for you. This initial bit of facing (and technically relative position in a standing way) dictates if you can get in a free shot (attack from your foe’s rear hex) or a hard-to-defend one (from the side) before the grapple starts. 

This is pretty much all there is about facing: make the initial attack from a good one if possible.


Positioning Moves in RAW

In the previous post, I went through all of the potential options enumerated in RAW and classified them as Step 2, 3, or 4. Some cross over a bit. I’m going to skip all the ones I already talked about as being “improved grapples,” and focus on the ones that are based on achieving a dominant position.

As before, I’ve color-coded the option titles, and Step 3’s are bold/blue. 

Using the Basic Set:

  • Takedown: Bear your opponent to the ground using the Quick Contest from the Basic Set. Note that unless you have also bought up ground fighting, and your foe has not, this may not even be an improvement. The basic penalties – without house-rules – apply to both the grappler and the grappled if you’re both on the ground. I validated this with +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Sean Punch. The note about when DX penalties apply that is in the box Using Your Legs, Martial Arts, p. 79, likely grants mild reprieve from posture penalties when the legs are used to attack a target that is also not standing.

    But it bears repeating: under canon rules, if you want to put your foe at penalties to attack and defend, throw him to the ground and he’s at -4 to attack and -3 to defend without special training. However, so are you should you choose to go down with him.

    However, moves like sweep and judo throw, and especially throws from locks, can put your foe on the ground while you remain standing (and even retain your grapple), which is the goal for which you’re striving.

Moving on to “After a Grapple” options from Martial Arts . . . 

  • Shoving People Around: This is an improvement in position, especially if you pay close attention to what you can do with it – literally shoving people around is one move, but you can also move either of you to achieve a position where you’re at his back. This is also a great way to leverage a lock or hold, since bonuses are substantial (MA, p. 118)
  • Sit on Him: While the pin is definitely Step 4 from the perspective of the person you’re fighting, you can also use your legs to pin your foe while still leaving your arms free to fight – or more likely defend against – other combatants. This special “after you win” effect is still an improvement in your position, especially relative to the long list of “you can’t do that, you’re grappling” items that exist before you succeed in a real pin. This frees up hands and stuff to deal with other foes, or rain death and destruction down on an already-pinned opponent.
That’s about it.

Dominant Positions in the RAW: Summarized


There’s not terribly much you can do with the rules-as-written, which is in keeping with a broad, somewhat condensed set of grappling rules. You can toss their butt down on the ground, rotate them (or you) in place to take their back, or free up hands by sitting on him if you have already won the Regular Contest of skill to achieve a Pin.
Dominant Positions – Technical Grappling

Positional grappling gets a lot of love in most actual grappling classes. Collegiate Wrestling and many non-submission grappling contests are won and lost effectively by positioning. 

Technical Grappling piles on by allowing all of the position-based options to have game-mechanical merit, and probably represent the largest expansion on the rules as presented in the Basic Set and Martial Arts.

Positional Options in Technical Grappling

There are some primary options to add a positional advantage in TG that amplify, expand, and add to the options presented in RAW. Since things like “takedown” have themselves been expanded, you won’t find any of the RAW options in the list below.

  • Change Position: This is an expansion and adaptation of Shoving People around. It can be used in several ways to establish a positional advantage. You can move to your foe’s side or rear arc (change relative facing), alter your own absolute facing, or you can rotate your body and change your orientation in ground fighting (say, put your legs out of reach of his right arm and both his legs), or establish a weight advantage by winning a Quick Contest of each fighter’s Trained ST or Change Position technique. It can be done either as an attack by itself, or combined with any maneuver that allows a step, so if you want to apply an Arm Lock while stepping into someone’s side or rear arcs – the way mostly this technique is actually trained – you may do so.
  • Weight Advantage: If you are more than 6x your foe’s basic lift, he’s going to be at a penalty to move you around if you’re on top of him or otherwise purposefully bring your body weight to bear. If you are more than 8x his basic lift, you even impart Dodge penalties and impact skills that require mobility, such as Karate, Judo, and fencing skills. Against a ST 10 man (Basic Lift of 20 lbs), a 160-lb. foe can inflict a weight-based penalty of -4; a 225-lb person hits you with -8. Being trapped under something heavy sucks.
  • Force Posture Change: This is the expanded version of Takedown. You can force your foe to a lower posture (at a penalty for each step down a posture progression from standing to lying face down), but for each step down you also go, you get a bonus. This obviously hits both of you with posture penalties, so you’d have better have purchased Ground Fighting or Low Fighting.
    The posture change can also be part of a Sweep, Judo Throw, a throw from a lock, or other knock-down move, just as in the RAW. The bonuses you can claim for dropping your own posture using Force Posture Change may also be claimed for Judo Throw.
  • Sprawling Parry: A special defense against someone trying to grapple your legs, it trades a posture change for you in exchange for the ability to partially mitigate positioning or hit location penalties.
  • Pass Limb: This unique option allows you to maintain a position already achieved by trapping a limb against something unyielding, such as your torso or a wall. It is what grapplers do when they take a foe’s (for example) arm and immobilize it by putting it between their two bodies as they grapple the neck with both of their own arms. Or pushing a fighter up against a wall, or kneeling on someone’s neck. It allows very powerful grapples, once established, to be maintained while freeing limbs for other uses.
Dominant Positions in Technical Grappling: Summarized

TG includes the basics of posture and facing, and expands this to explicitly include more options for relative facing and two-hex orientation. It also provides more mechanical support for using your weight against your foes. Most of the moves provide penalties to skill or limit the attacks that can be used against you, though some of them may require some interpretation.
To make this discussion relevant to Arm Lock, instead of the usual RAW progression, a powerful arm lock can be obtained by a sequence like the following (assumes a ST 13 attacker with 1d CP but 1d+1 using Arm Lock).
  • Using a Grabbing Parry on your foe’s turn to get a (usually low CP) grip on your foe’s arm. Let’s say this gives you 1-2 CP.
  • Stepping into close combat, accepting a penalty to Arm Lock to acquire your foe’s side arc. CP are increased by a successful attack using Arm Lock, and the joint is now locked. Let’s say this is another 4-5 CP, for 5-7 total. -3 to DX and ST in the standing lock to that arm (it’s slightly more complicated than this: see TG, pp. 5-6).
    Your foe cannot use the locked limb in order to break free, and initiating grapples and strikes into the side arc can only be done as a Wild Swing: -5 to hit, maximum effective skill of 9.
  • On your next turn, use Force Posture Change to make him go face down. Of course, like a good grappler, you have bought up your Ground Fighting and are unpenalized as you kneel beside him. His penalties to all actions are now -7 to attack, -4 to defend, attacks are wild swings.
  • Now, kneel on his neck while taking his rear arc. This is an attack using one leg at -2 for using the legs and -4 for taking the rear arc. Go ahead and do it Committed/Telegraphic, and attack at no penalty, and he’s still at a net -2 to defend. If successful, you’ll add 4-5 CP to his neck and be in his rear arc. Oh, claim weight advantage while you’re at it. If you’re ST 13 and 180 lbs, that’s 9x your foe’s basic lift, and so your foe will be at -6 to mass-based moves, including attacks to break free of this maneuver.
  • If you’re feeling mean, use Pass Limb to keep the locked arm secure, while freeing your hands to grapple him even more if you like.
At this point, you’ve racked up 9-11 CP on various parts of him (-5 to ST and DX, more or less), plus an additional -4 to attack, -3 to defend due to posture. He can’t attack you because you’re in his rear arc, he can only try and break free. 
When attacking to break free, he adds -6 to that because you’re kneeling on his freakin’ neck. So attacks to break free of your grapple are at -15, defenses against you are at -5. The “pin” might have been removed formally from TG, but that doesn’t make this guy any less pinned.
If you do this step-by-step, it’ll be over and done with in four seconds. Fewer if you’re a lot more skilled and can use Extra Attack or Rapid Strike, more if he successfully struggles for a bit.
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 a whole bunch more potential penalties that can stack up very quickly for intelligent use of weight, posture, position, and orientation.

The Basic Set can be leveraged mechanically to accomplish some of the goals above. You can do a takedown to get your foe to the ground, Shoving People Around to rotate him face-down. You can’t really leverage sitting on him explicitly, but you can shift arms for legs and gain +2 to ST, which is sort of the same thing.

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