Total Control: Simplified effects for GURPS TG

So, one frequently looks back at older projects with more-experienced eyes and says: “Ugh. I could do that better now.”

My very first book, GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling is no different. It’s the original basis for Dungeon Grappling, and that of course was the basis for my adventure Lost Hall of Tyr.

One if the things that’s built into the book is a way to figure out what happens to folks if you grapple them by different body parts. If you grab an arm and a leg, well, you should be impeded. But maybe not as much as equally-strong grapples on the head and torso. In any case, the main book has an admittedly complicated method of resolving these secondary effects, called “referred control.”

It’s a good idea . . . in theory. At the game table, it’s fiddle. Frankly, it’d be awesome with an app or spreadsheet. The prevalence of cell phones and PDAs would make that easy, actually.

But games mostly shouldn’t require an app. You should be able to roll-and-shout if you wanna.

Peter Dell’Orto and I worked out a simpler system a while ago, that gets very nearly to the same place as the main TG book, and is even easier. We’ve since done more work on it, but also moved on to other projects and focuses. The conversation on the GURPS Forums made me want to pull out my hair in a “what the heck was I thinking?” way, so I figured I’d offer up a small glimpse as to a simplification possible that makes for faster play.

Effects of Control Points

To determine the total control inflicted on an opponent, sum the CP for any locations being grappled, and apply the following:

  • All regions actively grappled are penalized based on the total CP to the entire creature. The whole-body skill penalty is also based on this same figure.
  • Every other body part is treated as grappled for 1/2 the total CP; practically this means halve all penalties, dropping fractions.

As always, the whole-body DX penalty is halved for parries and blocks, and quartered for dodge. In most cases, the whole-body penalty (and thus total CP) is all you need; only resort to referred control and figuring the half-CP penalties if something odd comes up, like one character trying to pry a sword out of the off hand of a monster while a fellow Barbarian is grappling that monster to keep it immobile.

Here’s an example that highlights a few changes, including a tweak that bases all grapples on one hand, since the most likely situation for a dungeon delver puts a weapon in the other hand.

Example: Honus Honusson (ST 17, DX 14, Striking ST 2, Brawling-15, Sumo Wrestling-16, SM+1, one-handed Trained ST 10 thanks to Sumo Wrestling at DX+2, for 1d-2 CP) grapples a troll (ST 20, DX 13, Wrestling-15, also SM+1; assume a one-handed grapple of 1d CP, -1 DX per 4 CP) by the neck with one hand and rolls a 6. That gives him 4 CP on the troll’s neck, for a -2 ST and -1 DX on the neck and for whole-body actions including skill use; half penalties on the rest of the body, giving the troll a -1 ST and no DX penalty for actions taken only with those limbs.

The reduced DX penalty is due to the troll’s high ST increasing the number of CP required to inflict a penalty to DX (Bigger and Stronger, Technical Grappling, p. 9). The troll grabs Honus right back, with both arms (for +3 per die) and a bite to the torso, and hits with both despite the -1 DX to whole-body actions. Honus fails to defend against either, and suffers 5 CP from the arms and 5 basic damage and thus 5 CP from the bite (which fails to penetrate his DR, and inflicts 0 damage.) The troll now has 10 CP on Honus’s torso, giving Honus -5 ST and -3 DX (his ST 17 means -1 DX for every 3 CP rather than 2).

On his next turn Honus grabs the troll’s left arm with his free hand, and rolls well again, getting a 5 and scoring 3 CP. The troll has suffered a total of 7 CP, giving him a -3 ST and -1 DX on the neck, the grappled arm, and for whole-body actions and skill use. The rest of the troll’s body is at -1 ST and no DX penalty for actions.

Parting Shot

The method presented takes a lot of the calculation out of the issue. You have total control points, you know which limbs or body parts are grappled, and which are not. Most of the usual stuff can be calculated with the whole-body total CP (-1 ST and DX for every 2 CP for a ST 10 target) and then if a player says “but why can’t I kick with my un-grappled leg?” you can assess close combat penalties, apply the “half penalty” rule for un-grappled parts, roll and shout, and move on.

There are ways to simplify things even further, and a proper redesign of the TG system that retains “attack, defend, roll for damage” as the basic mechanic (which it should) would go even farther towards using the same type of systems found in the basic GURPS or DFRPG games for when bad things happen to you. For one, rather than the constantly sliding ST score, one would calculate a Control Maximum as I did in Dungeon Grappling, and as GURPS/DFRPG and many other games do with Hit Points.

As you grapple, if you pass thresholds you get certain conditions applied to you. More than 30% of your control Maximum and all damage rolls are at -1 per die and you’re at a 30% penalty to DX, lather/rinse/repeat at 60% and 85-90% for two more thresholds, and if you exceed the Control Maximum the foe is pinned and helpless (this would mean they’re at 0 ST and -100% to DX, meaning they can’t even roll anyway).

Simpler is better, and while the core of Technical Grappling is very solid, the presentation and flow of the material isn’t what I would be able to do with it today.

4 thoughts on “Total Control: Simplified effects for GURPS TG

  1. Yup, that’s definitely better. I have not been keen to use TG in GURPS, as player or GM, because of the complexity and a lack of pressing need. It seems like something for a campaign that’s mostly about martial arts.

    More clean-up along these lines (as “Intermediate Grappling”?) could make the core mechanics much more widely usable.

  2. I like this a lot better too, really good simplification that still gives a reason to grapple more than just the torso.

    Quick question, is there any official guidance to what constitutes a “whole body action” verses just a limb action? To me, most strikes require the torso and legs too, but not all (like a foot stomp, knee to the groin, head butt, etc.). Likewise, I assume grapple attempts are not whole body?

    Thanks!

    1. One of the things that I am tempted to do is say that all actions suffer the full penalty, except by special request of the game master who will then make an on the spot judgment for that particular incident. Listing all possible actions would be impossible in a open ended game Saturday GURPS, but by and large this is an area for the game after tank a judgment as to what requires the cooperation of the whole body. It’s not a great guideline, but certainly dodge, most proper swung weapon actions, Movement, big motions like throws, which is of course an example of a skill use, stuff like that.

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