Less-Technical Grappling (GURPS)

Even when GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling was published, there were ways to simplify it, and some of those were included in Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior. The basic premise is, of course, both sound and fun: why treat grappling that differently than other melee attacks, especially in systems (such as D&D) where the level of abstraction is very high already.

On the SJG Forums, a poster threw down a few simplified rules that also tried to bridge the distance between the fairly bland basic grappling rules of GURPS (all successful grapple attacks are a -4 to DX) and the full-on glory (ahem) of Technical Grappling.

They’re pretty cool, and I’ll quote them here (plus a follow-up) before I talk about some other things you can do to tame the system, some of which have matured and already been incorporated into Dungeon Grappling.

Gratuitous plug: both Dungeon Grappling and GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling are available in PDF format at W23, Steve Jackson Games’ web store. There’s no print version of Technical Grappling, but hardcopy versions of Dungeon Grappling are available at my own web store, DriveThruRPG, and Warehouse23.

Minor Tweaks to Grappling Rules (phayman53)

The poster phayman53 came up with a couple really good suggestions that should be both fun and playable, and worth sharing.

1) Grappling any hit location penalizes DX by -4 for that location and -2 for every other location.

This one’s a straight-forward extension of the referred control rules from Technical Grappling: you take full penalties to the grappled location, and half penalties to other places.

A good concept, even with a simple halving like that. Another poster pointed out that Martial Arts clarifies that if you’re grappled, you take -4 to all attacks (and by extension, though unmentioned, -2 to Parry/Block, and -1 to Dodge, by virtue of the DX penalty), and simply can’t use any limb in an attack that is grappled directly.

Both of these concepts are simple and good. The broad application of penalties regardless of location greatly simplifies tracking, and either the reduced penalties or, even better, the “you can’t touch this” approach both incentivize grappling harder targets than the torso.

2) Once a target is grappled, penalties to target any hit location with a strike are halved, round up (as per penalties to grapple hit locations).

Half penalties on strikes by the grappler seems a fair trade for “I spend CP to lower hit location penalties” and incentivizes the grapple/strike combo, which is to the good. It’s a double-whammy, though – it’s both easier to hit funky locations, and harder for your foe to both attack and defend. Again: this doesn’t seem crazy-town, and at the more-abstract level that the rules changes provide, makes both game-mechanical sense and provides verisimilitude.

3) Institute the Pass Limb rule on pg 24-25 of Technical Grappling except that instead of maintaining CP, a success results in being able to free one limb while maintaining full ST score for ST based affects and any bonuses you had accumulated against attempts to break free (like +5 for using 2 hands and +4 for an arm lock).

Pass Limb could also be used to add a second location to the list of those at -4. So you could (say) grapple the torso (-4) and limbs are -2 . . . but if you pass limb, you can either free one of your own limbs, OR you can (say) have the torso and right arm at -4, and the rest at -2. One limb per attack. So eventually you could have the arms, torso, and legs (cradle position) if you’re willing to spend the attacks. That’d be the equivalent of a Pin.

This variant in particular is fun, and shows an excellent understanding of the concept animating my various grappling rules: they should not be an “I win” button, they should not be “one-and-done,” and they should be interesting. Being able to slowly pull more and more of the foe into your clutches is dramatically cool, and gives a good reason to re-attack.

Even with all that, you could also add the ability to continue to simply attack to grapple again, ratcheting up penalties by an additional -4 per successful attack. This would replace the (already replaced in TG proper) Regular Contest that leads to the Pin. That regular contest is annoying (to me) for several reasons. One is that regular contests are not the best mechanic in GURPS, lacking drama at the table, and precluding the possibility of partial progress by making it both “all or nothing” as well as being an “I win” button.

Allowing -4 per successful grappling attack means that you can bypass all of that. Each successful attack has an effect, it’s not all or nothing, and it still takes longer to achieve than the basic grapple.

Good stuff.

Reductions in Dynamic Annoyance

The Control Point metric has a lot of merit to it – notably that a point of control is exactly the same as a point of damage (generated from the same skill and ST progressions as weapons and fists). The entire point of what in Dungeon Grappling is referred to as the “control” damage type is that it’s just damage, either the direct application of injury (striking) or the potential for injury (grappling).

However, the two big effects of control points are, in GURPS, reductions in the ST and DX attributes. DX is scaled to ST, and ST is shaved off at a constant rate of -1 to ST for every 2 CP scored.

At the table, what this means is that the foe’s ST and DX are highly dynamic – they change from turn to turn. That’s nifty in theory but annoying in practice, as it drives bookkeeping and ‘what are my stats this turn?’ type behavior.

There’s a way to fix this, though, by recognizing that there are natural breakpoints that make sense in GURPS, and also that the flat penalty to ST, but scaled for DX, can be easily altered to a simple chart.

Breakpoint Fu

The real key here is to just look at the breakpoints for GURPS damage, which are the -1 per die chunks. Doing so provides a table that has limited scope and broad applicability: it’s concise enough to be easily listed on a small card or a character sheet, and applies to every creature with ST and DX scores.

If we realize that 2 CP are -1 to ST, then when you get to -1 per die (-30% to ST) you have achieved CP equal to twice that level – in short, at -1 per die to ST, you’ve achieved control points equal to 60% of the creature’s ST score. At -2 per die, you’ve achieved Control Points equal to 120% of the critter’s ST score, and so on.

That make these tables possible:

CP Accumulated ST/DX Impact Damage Effect
Greater than 60% ST -30% -1 per die
Greater than 120% ST -60% -2 per die
Greater than 170% ST -85% -3 per die
Greater than 200% ST Pinned No Damage
Example ST 14; DX 12
CP Accumulated ST  Damage Effect DX 
Greater than 8 9 -1 per die 8 (-4)
Greater than 16 5 -2 per die 4 (-8)
Greater than 23 2 -3 per die 1 (-11)
Greater than 28 Pinned No Damage Pinned

So, as it happens, the DX penalty for this fairly typical heroic warrior for that first grappled level mirrors the -4 to DX you get with the regular rules. Knock-on effects are the reduced ST score for when it matters in contests and stuff, and you can just use your regular damage rolls, but at -1 per die.

Why bother keeping track of CP at all, then? For one, the equivalency between CP and damage is preserved, and that’s useful. For a giant creature, say ST 50 and DX 10, the table will look pretty different in the specifics of it:

Example ST 50; DX 10
CP Accumulated ST Damage Effect DX 
Greater than 30 35 -1 per die 7 (-3)
Greater than 60 20 -2 per die 4 (-6)
Greater than 85 7 -3 per die 1 (-9)
Greater than 100 Pinned No Damage Pinned

If you wanted to simplify even further, just treat each level of grappled as -4 to DX, which hews a bit closer to the rules as written, but loses some detail in how penalties scale – a trade that many will feel is more than justified enough!

Mostly, the effects can probably be simplified to the damage reductions and the DX penalties for each level, which makes it even simpler to adjudicate. The ST reductions will only come up when calculating things like encumbrance and contests of ST (a grappled creature may be less able to deal with the weight of their own equipment, plus less able to resist the weight of creatures dogpiling him.

Direct Variable Penalties

One of the issues with the current grappling rules is that every grappling attack has exactly the same effects: -4 to DX. And only one step allowed unless you decide to go for the pin.

However, that’s really, really easy to fix. If we assume that the typical warrior will be reasonably strong and reasonably skilled in grappling (about Trained ST 14), then that column on the thrust table is 1d, which conveniently averages out to a roll of between 3 and 4.

Great: so when you hit with a grapple, roll your base thrust damage, and just apply that as the DX penalty. Every -4 to DX is -1 per die to damage. Go ahead and keep attacking until you pile up an insurmoutable advantage.

If you want to pull in the Pass Limb rules from the first section,  booyah. Choose between immobilizing a limb of theirs, freeing one of yours, or doing extra penalties (“damage”).

Want to do extra injury? Trade +1 per die for a -4 in penalties.

This will start to get annoying at low ST values, as two ST 4 characters, like cats, won’t be terribly effective at grappling each other as they roll 1d-5 control points each – it will take six seconds on the average to earn the first control point. For this, scaling might be the best bet, where control point rolls and effective CP required to earn each “level” of a grapple are both increased to a level where something interesting is happening each turn.

Tapping Out

In a perfect world, I’d have a chance to take everything I’ve learned since TG was published and improve it in a new edition. In practice, unless I were allowed to do all the work myself, SJGames has better things to spend money on than my book. Still, there are some great speed-of-play enhancers that could be brought to the table, more than enough to make the variable grappling effects even a part of a “simple” game like the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

For now, the concepts above will have to do.

5 thoughts on “Less-Technical Grappling (GURPS)

  1. B456’s house cat doesn’t need coddling. They aren’t designed as grapplers, which must be why they have a Brawling skill but not a Wrestling skill…

    Although I see TG9 already suggests inverting the “Bigger and Stronger” rules for small creatures. Rodents are -2 (5 divided by 2 rounded down) DX per CP while cats would be -1 (5 divided by 4 rounded down) DX per CP. I guess it still doesn’t deal with the “1 in 6” chance of getting a CP, but does create greater problems when it happens.

    Yeah ST 4 is only 1D-5 thrust, but they have Brawling 16, so if they go All-Out Attack or Dedicated Attack, they can generally opt for a +2 or +1 to damage/CP instead of a+4 or +2 to skill.

    AOA would increase to 1d-3 (50% chance of inflicting CP) while DA to 1d-4 (doubling to 1/3 chance of it)

    But anyway, striking skills like Brawling CAN be used to Clinch per TG4. While TG29 says it is against standing opponents, you can still ‘stand’ on 4 legs. I think it would make sense to buy this perk for a grappling-oriented cat.

    Since Brawling uses average progression for trained ST, since their DX is 14, that means they have Brawling at DX+2, per page 48 this means a +1 to ST. So this means we’re working with a ST 5 base if you get a clinching perk for a housecat! This increases CP rolls to 1d-4, meaning 1d-3 (50%) on DA and 1d-2 on AOA (2/3 chance of CP)

    Also according to TG27, legs are stronger and inflict 0.6 x ST per limb, so 2 paws = 1.2 x ST, meaning we’re now working with ST 6 if using two limbs.

    The table on TG47 doesn’t cover 4 legs, but 2 legs + 2 arms is 1.5 x ST, so 5 should increase to 7 (assuming you round down 7.5) but I would probably say ST 8 since legs are stronger and that should be just enough to round up.

    Not really sure why the table doesn’t include more options, or guidelines on how to operate on limb combinations not covered. Some giant spider with 8 legs for example, no idea what his ST multipler would be…. I think TGp7 if I understand it…

    ST x 0.7 for leg with prehensile feet, which I think claws function as… so we need the basic lift of 3.5 ST, BL for 3 is 1.8, so x 4 = 7.2, equivalent to ST 6 !

    Huh… not sure if that’s right, since 6 is what I got just for doing 2 limbs, a cat using 4 limbs to grapple should have better ST but I can’t get that result.

    Their high skill also means they should be able to do a Dual Weapon Attack (-4) more easily, for more chances to land some CP. If anything I’d think a cat should be able to make a Quadruple Weapon Attack by trying to grapple or cut with all 4 paws simultaneously…

    Plus a cat can also Mighty Blow for +2 damage/CP and their HT 10 means they can do that several times. That’s just if you don’t want to do all-out attacks.

    They also have Sharp Claws and Sharp Teeth, which bypass control resistance.

  2. I just wanted to say thanks for this! I missed this thread, and it’s exactly what I was hoping for. Peter mentioned once he used a streamlined grappling, and I wanted badly to find a compromise (my players are more the “can I grab the halfling and throw him?” style) to the full TG, which is awesome, but more than my game needs.
    Thenk ya sir, Thenkya verra much.

    1. You’re welcome, and for the record, this isn’t Peter’s system either. Just some extrapolations and simplifications that were drawn from my design work from when TG was written to now, plus of course Phayman’s concepts, which served as a springboard to the entire post.

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