Over at The Dragon’s Flagon, the wayfarer penned something about grappling. Naturally, since I’ve had a few things to say about it myself, I was drawn in as the proverbial moth to the flame.

He’s writing a “fantasy-heartbreaker” RPG. What is that? I had to look it up, and found this definition over on The RPG Museum:

“A fantasy heartbreaker is, essentially, a Dungeons & Dragons knock-off. Ron Edwards coined the term to describe a species of games published in the RPG boom of the 1990s, long after their purported innovations could be considered original. The term usefully describes games which are mired in preconceptions arising from the D&D paradigm. A criticism of the term is that it implies dismissal of the idea you can make “D&D, but better,” which might be a desirable goal for some designers.” 

Here speaks Ron Edwards: “The basic notion is that nearly all of the listed games have one great idea buried in them somewhere…. That’s why they break my heart, because the nuggets are so buried and bemired within all the painful material I listed above. – Ron Edwards, 2002”

So  he’s making a D&D-like system that is a variant on the standard. Some examples from reading his combat overview:

  • The Combat Roll inflicts damage, capped at a maximum, based on margin of success (the degree to which the combat roll exceeds the Armor Class of the foe).
  • You can optionally apply your combat rating to defend instead of attack. This can be thought of as either soaking potential damage, or getting out of the way/parrying more effectively. The result is the same – either less or no damage on a one-for-one basis.
  • He’s got some very interesting combat options built in – forcing movement on the battlefield, or using a long weapon to keep a foe at bay (this is a very useful addition, in my opinion).
  • All of the combat options are usable by anyone. I like this – fighters can do fighty-stuff better, but anyone can try. That might be my GURPS showing – or my WEG d6 Star Wars – but it’s my favorite option setup in RPGs.

OK, so grappling. Here we go. I will likely refer frequently to my post on Rules for Grappling Rules, which still stands up well as a good way to think about designing a grappling system, or an RPG subsystem in general.

Goblins and Greatswords: Grappling made simple(ish)


Right away, we have this:

The first phase of a grappling attack is resolved with standard combat rolls.

In short: Yes. Grappling is combat, likely older than using striking or weapons in most worlds, and the more natural form of fighting and playing. Not having to break out a new system to do something this basic is a key part of making grappling not relegated to something that is a disruption in game flow.

A defender may be either unarmed or armed.  (Included in standard G&G combat, if I haven’t mentioned it already, is a rule that attacking unarmed against an armed opponent incurs a -2 penalty to AC; thus grappling an opponent with deadly weaponry is more hazardous than grappling an unarmed one.)

You’re signing up for increased damage against you (lower AC on the attacker’s part) if you grapple someone armed. Hrm. Interesting.

Both combat rolls have their normal effects, inflicting damage if they exceed the opponent’s AC.

This is interesting, and avoids one of the classic grappling traps: that attempting a grapple is always a really poor tactical choice relative to bashing someone with an axe (this is the Make it Interesting sub-point of my article). A grappling attack does the usual damage (if desired) if you exceed the foe’s AC; if you don’t but still beat his combat roll, you can get a grip with no damage. Presumably, if the player wants to, he can exceed the AC and elect to do no damage to the foe.

So you never have to choose between bashing your foe with an axe or grappling – you can always do both. That sidesteps the “pointless” question.

The question I’d ask is: why not, in this case, grapple every turn? Other than a slightly lower AC, what are the down-sides? 

The answer may well be “there are none,” which will see combatants locked in close combat more often than less – this strikes me as an entirely plausible outcome. 

Holding on to an opponent means that the combatant is maintaining its grip on the opponent and avoiding the opponent’s attacks.  One common tactic is to hold the opponent from behind, or in the case of a larger opponent, to climb on and cling to its back.  While holding, the grappling character’s combat rolls against the opponent are made at +2, while the opponent’s combat rolls against the grappler suffer -2.  Additionally, attacks by other creatures or characters against either grappler or grappled are made at +2 to the combat roll, as their ability to dodge and parry is limited.

So AC doesn’t change (unless the grappler is unarmed fighting an armed foe, at which point he’s at -2 to AC). He gets his die rolls altered, giving +2 to his combat roll (which is the same as +2 to damage so long as AC is exceeded). The defender has his die rolls lowered. So he’s less likely to fight back by about 10% for hit, and will do two points less damage than otherwise.

There are some “Rule Zero” interpretations allowed, too:

At the GM’s option, holding onto certain opponents may render some attack forms impossible and others more likely to succeed.  For instance, a grappled medusa may be unable to turn and use her gaze attack on the grappler, but the grappler would be extremely vulnerable to the bites of the writhing snakes on her head.

Every round, a new combat roll is made (is this done on each combatant’s turn, one roll per turn, or is the rolling per round, simultaneously? Ah, from the examples, it looks like the contested combat rolls are made simultaneously, as in “how effectively did the combatants face each other this round?” Interesting.

If a grappled character wins a combat roll, he can grapple back or break free.

What can you do?



So you’ve grappled your foe. What can you do?

The basic one is the overpower, which is a 1d6 contest modified by Might (good, Strength gets an influence) and the combat rating (that represents skill). If you win, you can do extra damage, reduce your foe’s damage, move the foe, or break free. 

Solid options there; you can only pick one per round, and a new Overpowering roll is made each round.

Personally, I’d consider this one a point of departure from the “use what’s there” rule. I’d have to see how it plays (1d20 rolls may well be too swingy and allow too much damage potential than 1d6). The basic combat contest is both players roll 1d20 plus bonuses, and margin matters. An Overpower contest is both combatants roll 1d6 plus bonuses, and margin matters. 

The Overpower contest clearly favors skill and might, and will be less swingy than the normal contest. 

Again based on the examples, though, you do both. You get a combat roll as usual, and an Overpower contest every round. I’m really not seeing a good reason not to close and grapple here!

Other possibilities once you’ve got a grapple include disarms and tackles. You disarm by winning two “reduce damage” Overpower actions in a row. Tackling (or pouncing) adds +2 to an initial grappling attempt. 

There are rules for dogpiling and grappling multiple foes at once, as well.

Parting Shot

Overall, the Goblins and Greatswords grappling rules virtually beg you to close in and come to grips with your opponent. Of course, if you’re weaker and less skilled, this will not go well for you. If you are stronger and more skilled, it will. This will be a go-to strategy for the bigger, nastier foe. 

The nice thing here is that you don’t give anything up, ever, by attempting the grapple. You still make your combat roll every turn against your foe, with the usual results. The grapple contest is a bet that closing with your foe and engaging in the 1d6+Modifiers roll will, on the average, work out better for you than it will for him. It’s a layer of flavor that stacks with, rather than replacing, the basic combat set.

Two options that might be added here are the “throw the foe to the ground” option – some sort of positional advantage – as well as the option to deny actions to the foe. 

That second one might be implicit in “reduce damage,” though. If I basically use a victorious Overpower roll to limit the damage done to me by a grappling foe, he’s basically wasting his turn each time. The 1d6+Bonuses type roll seems to be on the order of 1d6+1 to 1d6+6 in the examples, so a good fighter might basically inflict the equivalent of -10 to damage (which is also -10 to a combat roll, sorta, due to margin of success) each round – that’s a lot of useless flailing on the part of the foe.

Are there reasons to avoid grappling? Sure, especially if you are lower in Might (the STR equivalent), and your only weapon is a largish one (only small or natural weapons can be brought to bear in an Overpower contest). 

This, right there, gives mechanical support to using two weapons of dissimilar size in a fight as emergent behavior. Neat.

I think the real innovation here is making grappling additive, rather than a replacement, for the regular combat sequence. That’s clever.

7 thoughts on “Grappling at The Flagon

  1. I saw that article and I forgot to link it over to you last night. I'm glad you found it.

    My big questions are, is grappling back "free" (it happens not matter what, even if you're distracted, attacked by surprise, etc.), and what do you do with multi-opponent grapples? They may be answered in the post, I read it but I didn't really read it as closely as you did.

    1. If your foe's combat roll exceeds yours, he can either grapple you back or break free, his choice.

      The multi-opponent grapples are there too – basically you take the highest scores (or maybe the highest combined score) for Might and combat expertise, and then add +1 per additional grappler if you're dogpiled.

      There might be better ways of doing that, but it's at least covered.

    2. Hmm. So three minotaurs or one minotaur and two goblins = one minotaur +2?

      As for the first part, that's not really what I meant. I meant, do you always get that combat roll when you are grappled? Is it the net/net of a "turn" or "round" worth of struggle? Do I get it when surprised? Do I get it when grappled from behind? That's what I didn't find.

      Like I said, though, I didn't read it in-depth. But since you clearly have, you get my questions!

    3. Yes, it would appear at first blush that your minotour/goblin analysis holds water.

      For the combat roll, I think based on the examples you get it by default every round. I don't see anything in the three posts I've read on the subject dealing with surprise.

      You DO get the combat roll when grappled from behind, subject to Rule Zero. An example from his post: "At the GM's option, holding onto certain opponents may render some attack forms impossible and others more likely to succeed. For instance, a grappled medusa may be unable to turn and use her gaze attack on the grappler, but the grappler would be extremely vulnerable to the bites of the writhing snakes on her head."

    4. A straight copy/paste of my reply on my original post:

      To the minotaur/goblin gang question, I'd tentatively say yes. I did think about adding more for higher HD gangs, but it quickly gets fiddlier than I like. My basic assumption here is that additional hands are of greater importance than additional bulk, though that's certainly open to debate. Maybe add their entire HD, so the bulk and strength of the extra grapplers matters, but only the skill of the first one? Something to ponder.

      A combat roll does represent the net effect of a round of struggle, so you'd get one unless you're surprised or just choose not to make one for whatever reason. In that case, I think I'd allow the grapple to succeed unless the grappler rolled a natural 1.

      Of course, all this needs a lot of playtesting. I'll post results whenever I'm able to get my group together and try it out. Thanks for your analysis! It reveals some potential holes, and highlights some things I had only given cursory thought.

      Afterthought: Maybe half HD for each additional grappler. Bulk and strength matter, but it doesn't fully stack. Math is straight and easy enough, too.

    5. GURPS does something similar – highest ST of all the grapplers, plus a fraction of the others added on top. So extras always count, but better extras count more.

      Overall I liked the ideas a lot, and I'm glad Doug took the time to do the writeup. He's got this thing for grappling systems, you see. I just have this thing for simplifying his ideas. 🙂

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