When All You Have is an Arm Lock . . .
From the (backers only) Kickstarter comments came a note that bears, um, noting:
Hey Douglas — what would you recommend when grappling a creature that has a paralyzing attack? Classic example is probably a Ghoul. I would think only a suicidal player would attempt to grapple something like that as it seems like an automatic hit and save required every round. Any thoughts on that?
I think he’s hit the nail on the head there in his own question.
There’s a song by Jim Croce “You don’t mess around with Jim,” where the advice is
“You don’t tug on superman’s cape;
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger;
And you don’t mess around with Jim.”
I think wrestling a ghoul falls into that category!
More seriously, just as hitting something with an axe isn’t always the best answer to every provocation, just because there are (hopefully!) good rules for grappling doesn’t mean you should play to a monster’s strengths.
If you MUST grapple a ghoul, use a ROPE (a lariat, for example, or a whip if your GM lets you make a grappling attack with one). Or a web spell.
Or bash it to death with a pollaxe, because sometimes that is the right answer.
In closing: grappling is another, and obviously I would add crucial, axis of conflict that GMs and players can bring to the fight. You can go for immobilization or you can go for pain or you can go for strangulation or crippling injury. But it’s not always the best answer, and figuring that out can be part of the challenge. There are Norse monsters like draugr that can only be overcome by first grappling it back into its grave.
And then there are paralyzing ghouls one would be unwise to touch.
A Monster’s Strengths
That brings up a general philosophy statement that is very much enabled by the Dungeon Grappling rules.
“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
This was given great visibility in the Pathfinder playtest that was run to test that set of rules. A few high-level guys went up against basically a grappling demon, and got chewed up pretty badly (literally, actually) when they struck at what was strong, closing in with a the demon, who did nasty things to them.
A ghoul is basically a grapple-monster. If a touch paralyzes, even a hit that does zero control damage will probably cause a big issue. If a creature is so large and strong that they can crush or rend you simply by picking you up (4d8+7 control damage, for example, vs a creature with a Control Maximum of 20), and a single hit will incapacitate . . . don’t do that.
When you force the players to make those choices, when you simply can’t just walk up to the frost giant and whack it with axes and trade HP of damage until someone drops, and he can throw boulders or ice javelins or whatever at you at range . . . well, now it’s not just a battle of attrition. Now you need tactics and strategy.
And sure, I’m being a bit dismissive and reductive about the thing in question. It’s not like fight tactics didn’t exist before Dungeon Grappling. They assuredly did. But another axis of attack and defeat, separate but no less lethal than hit points in the end, just makes the fight that much more interesting.
When Atli was fighting Þorgrímur (as is told in chapter 21 of Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings), Atli saw he was making no progress in the fight. He threw away his sword and slipped under Þorgrímur’s guard and threw him to the ground. [from Hurstwic]