I got to play Dragon Heresy in a game run by a young lady my own system on Friday. She’d either never or rarely GM’d before. She decided to run in my book, as her dad was a supporter of both the original Lost Hall as well as Dragon Heresy. My take-aways?

The Good

  • The world is compelling and immersive. She grabbed on to the details and hooks provided by the map of Torengar every bit as much as I’d hoped.
  • Northwatch really is a compelling spot on that map, and I’m glad my upcoming release will detail the heck out of it
  • The grappling system, also available as a stand-alone in Dungeon Grappling, really is that good. Everyone got it, everyone used it, no complaints. Seamless.
  • It was amenable to fast play in a two hour session by a new GM. So very accessible.
  • The final confrontation was not combat; she ran a nifty scenario where we had to play against Loki himself. I showed her the flyting rules after the fact, and she really liked them.

To be Improved

  • The real area that stuck out as a stumbling point was a stumbling point on remembering that a swift attack (like an arrow from a bow) is quite nasty: it only has to meet the lower Threat DC unless the target has a shield.
  • It didn’t come up much, but the decision to employ a Frantic Defense to avoid taking wounds if a target is attacked and its Hit DC is exceeded happens before armor is subtracted.
  • The ranged combat tweaks in general are more extensive than melee.

There’s an obvious fix for this: a short flowchart. Ideally something that fits on a 3×5 or playing card. Once you get the system, it’s very smooth. But a quick reference for ranged and melee combat that would fit on the back of a playing card is now on my radar.

All in all, she designed and executed a two-hour scenario that finished in two hours, which is amazing for a new GM, so well done to her on that.

As for my part, I kept my promise. I answered questions where prompted, she ran the game, and I shut up and played my character.

Good game.

The control point based rules in my various grappling supplements are good. But they can be adjusted to taste in various ways to increase the fun in grappling at your table.

TG: The History

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling evolved in the writing and testing, as all books do. Originally, DX penalties and ST penalties alternated with each increment in control points. First you’d lose a point in DX, then ST, then DX, then ST, etc. That was too complicated to track; the goal was “make each CP valuable” but this wasn’t the way.

Eventually, we decided that for two ST 10 foes (because you need to normalize DX penalties based on fraction of ST, blah blah) that every 2 CP was -1 DX and -1 ST. Because the more you’re grappled, the harder it is to apply your full ST effectively. The ST reductions were really important to the progression, and normalizing it (it took 4 CP to do -1 DX to a ST 20 creature) was also an important balancing act.

However . . . re-figuring ST on a point-by-point basis was cumbersome at best.

D&D and Dungeon Grappling

Making a super-simple application of the core control points principle for application in Swords and Wizardry, Peter Dell’Orto and I came up with the idea of control thresholds, based on ST. Each threshold had some impact on hit rolls, damage rolls, etc. But the advantage here was you only had to track breakpoints. This was lower book-keeping, each CP had value in your ability to spend them, and sped up play.

Applying this to D&D5e, the Pathfinder RPG, and fleshing it out and improving it for Swords and Wizardry was the point of Dungeon Grappling. I was able to make a two page “DG Quick Start” which appeared in Lost Hall of Tyr. So it was clear that at the core, simplifying a “Technical/Dungeon” grappling system for 5e (and therefore Dragon Heresy) was fun, fast, playable, and with the right approach, simply better than the existing stuff out there.

Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

When I got the license to turn Lost Hall of Tyr into Hall of Judgment, I also got permission to put in the simplified grappling concepts as alternate rules. I’d learned a ton about speed of play since 2011/2012 when I wrote Technical Grappling, and re-applying all of those lessons in a simplified form for speed of play at the table was both gratifying and, ultimately, successful.

The playtesters tweaked out the system until in most cases it ran smoothly. As always, when normal ST folks fight other normal ST folks, things work out OK. For most characters, Wrestling and the like are backup skills, but for “fighty types,” they tend to be in the 14-16 range. Credible but not dominating. Solid skill levels, but basically you’re looking at front-line ST (14-17) and Wrestling at DX or DX+1. That”s 1d to about 1d+3 control points per successful attack. Against a non-fighter type, a successful hit will mostly be in the -2 to -4 to DX range, with excursions to -8 if you get a good roll vs a weaker character. Against an equal-ST foe, it will take two turns to get to “Greater than CM” level.

Even so, it’s not that hard to have that first successful grapple take you from Wrestling-14 or Wrestling-16 to anywhere from Wrestling-6 to Wrestling-12; the upper one isn’t bad. The lower is in “death spiral” territory, from one attack.

Part of the reason the penalties were set the way they were is that the adjustment of ST was nixed. No longer would one be recalculating ST (and thus damage, encumbrance, etc) on a turn-by-turn basis. In fact, even the concept of adjusting ST at all was dropped, so that the answer to “what’s my grappling damage” is always “whatever it says on your character sheet” and even if that doesn’t work out, you can always just say “it’s your thrust, +1 per die if you have Wrestling at DX+1.”

If you have Wrestling or Judo at DX+4 or better, well, you really care about grappling and will have looked it up and written it down in advance. That’s “primary skill” level, not “close-combat backup.”

So the basic thought was -1 DX per Control Point, or ‘against typical DX, which is often in the 12-16 range, once you pass your control maximum you’re immobilized.’ So the upper bound was set at -16, which would immobilize just about anyone, even some of the characters I’ve seen played with weapon skills well above 20. Halving the penalties at each lower increment seemed good, it had a -4 (the usual GURPSy grappling penalty) in the realm of 4-8 control points (a fairly typical successful grappling attack), and it played OK in the tests.

That you maxed out at “you can’t apply more CP than your Control Maximum” helped a bit, but it was usually possible to get up to that point in a turn or two, and, well: death spiral. The point of grappling is a bit of back-and-forth struggle. And I hate “I win!” buttons. In many of the tests, “I win!” wasn’t present. But it didn’t take much to tip that scale.

Don’t Get Grappled?

Some of the things that we got rid of, like adjusting ST penalties, were for bookkeeping reduction. One of the things we nixed, which is penalties or bonuses to control points or effects due to size modifier differences, was a direct nod to the epic nature of the source material. Human-sized, mighty-thewed heroes could wrestle and contend with ogres, cyclops (cyclopses? Cyclopes!), and other giant creatures because they were epic, mighty-thewed heroes.

Having King Kong grapple you and poof you’re helpless is realistic. It’s believable. And it’s boring. It’s especially boring if the only response to fighting moderately strong creatures (or gaggles of small ones) is “don’t get grappled.”

So while the results on the as-published table aren’t wrong, there are many cases where fun can be increased by tuning things a bit.

Suggested Tweaks

If the existing rules don’t work for you, try the following:

  • Your Control Maximum remains unchanged, and equal to Lifting ST
  • Alter the Control Point Effects table as follows
Control Points DX Penalty
up to 1/10 Lifting ST
 Up to 0.5 x Lifting ST -2
>0.5xLift ST to 1.0xLift ST -4
>1.0xLift ST to 1.5x Lift ST -6
>1.5xLift ST to 2.0xLift ST -8
Greater than 2xLifting ST -12
  • You cannot apply more CP than your Control Maximum unless you All-Out Attack, which doubles your allowed Control Maximum

If you choose to not All-Out Attack, your CM drops and your applied control instantly drops to your CM if it’s greater, much like if you release a grapple to parry your grapple is instantly lost or diminished.


  • The penalties are gentler and extend to higher applied control totals. This will allow more back-and-forth between grapplers
  • Normal folks with 1d to 1d+3 control points per hit (1-9 CP, or 4-6 CP per attack on the average) will take four to six turns, or four to six seconds, of unopposed grappling to bring someone to -12 penalty, which will take most non-experts to either “can’t roll” or “you can only succeed in an attack if you crit or AoA)
  • King Kong or a Large Dragon at ST 50 will still be hitting you with 5d+2 control damage; that’s 19-20 points, which is enough to put most folks in the -6 to -8 penalty range in one shot; that’s believable
  • Maintaining dominating control of more than your Lifting ST requires All-Out Attacking; you’re certainly not doing anything else but “controlling the other guy.” This seems a worthy trade off for totally immobilizing someone of basically equal to your ST
  • The lower penalty rates will give an opportunity to counter-grapple. That’s not always present in these contests, and it should be.

More Tweaks

  • The -6 penalty line can simply be deleted. More than your Lifting ST in applied control points, and you’re at -8 to DX. Then for each additional multiple of your Lifting ST, take an additional -4.
  • You could halve the penalties, but at the -2, -6, and -12 levels (which would be halved to -1, -3, and -6), apply a -1, -2, or -3 per die penalty to control point damage on a successful attack. That would make a lot more ebb and flow in control points, as experts will be removing some control much of the time, and truly immobilizing someone is a constant struggle. This puts fiddle back, and “no, you’re just screwed” is a legit part of some grappling holds
  • Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is designed to work without many of the more complex grappling options from GURPS Martial Arts. Instead of All-Out Attack, things like Arm Lock might be required to increase control beyond the CM, so locking a joint opens up truly large penalties.
  • Applying pain, from Martial Arts, would be another way to apply large penalties without increasing CM, so that by moving up to your Control Maximum and then applying a Pain affliction to the foe, that would compound the effects without requiring All-Out Attack. Since Arm Lock and the like default to flat grappling skills anyway, “make a successful attack to apply pain” would not even be a deviation from the rules – you just can’t buy it up with the (non-existent in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG) Technique rules.

Parting Shot

Right now, the emergent behavior from the rules as written tend to be “who grapples first grapples best,” “don’t get grappled by big, strong foes,” and “bring friends,” since you might need their help to escape from grapples. Also, grappling is as fast and decisive as getting brained by a swung sword.

You’re just as “Save or Spectate” if a ST 21 guy with a two-handed sword and weapon master hits you: Swing damage for that is 4d-1, +3 for the sword and +8 for having your primary weapon at DX+2 or more. That’s 4d+10, or 14-34 points of cutting damage. That’s a one-hit kill on a human. Strong guys with grappling or strong guys with weapons are very dangerous, period. You can’t armor yourself much vs grappling, but it’s thrust-based, not swing based. Balances out.

None of these things are wrong or bad.

However, if you want grappling to be decisive but still allow for some good back-and-forth, try some or all of the tweaks above . . . and let me know how they go.

Rebuking and turning undead that still cling to a semblance of life is pretty much a fantasy RPG staple. It’s been part of Dungeons and Dragons since nearly the beginning – I believe Arneson added it as a foil to “Sir Fang,” and Gygax fiddled with it or dropped it in his games – there’s a nice history here at Hidden in Shadows by DH Boggs.

But this is an article about GURPS, specifically, the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS. It assimilates all of that old-school inspiration, plus more from rogue-like games and “stomp the bad guys!” games like Diablo III, and hones GURPS into a fairly high-power dungeon delving game. Characters start pretty optimized, begin at 250 points, and the social and in town aspects of the game are somewhere from “minimized” to “absent.”

It is ridiculous fun, and as I learned at GameHole Con 2018, is digestible by beginners if presented properly.

But about those clerics…

Turning in Dungeon Fantasy RPG

Let’s start off with as factual a description as I can bring to bear. This is important because as it turns out, I completely biffed it when it came time to run it at GameHole.

Even so: this turns it into a matter of degree rather than a binary “I win,” but some of the observations from GameHole still exist.

As a cleric with the Turning power (Adventurers, p. 21), anything “undead” and “truly evil” can be repelled by you if you Concentrate. You must win a Quick Contest of Will between yourself and each foe you might turn. This is impacted by the Rule of 16 (Exploits, p. 8). You add your Power Investiture, plus a bonus for the oomph of your holy symbol if you have one that’s +1 for blessed and +2 for High Holy. Another factor in favor of Clerical Awesomeness is that as written, Sanctity level doesn’t hinder the ability, so in an area of Low Sanctity (which is pertinent to the Hall of Judgment example), your Turning is still at full burn.

On the down side: Rule of 16 means that you’ll never roll vs higher than 16 (unless you’re very good and you foe is also very Willful), and you have to actually buy Turning, which is a 24-point opportunity cost.

It’s a 3d roll, and if your bad guys are anything but a Lich, Spectre, or Vampire (who all have Will 15 to 18, which is to say, “adventurer-class”) you’re looking at Will in the 8-10 range for our bad guys, and the distance they have to keep from Mister Cleric is going to be on the average about 6-8 yards, and that’s enough to keep the entire party more or less safe. On a good roll, say a 5 or 6, you’re looking at keeping the bad guys up to 15 yards away from you.

So What?

Part of the issue here is that Turning is pretty much designed to neutralize the impact of fodder undead, and what I’m complaining about is mostly that it does it too well. There’s also the fact that I made a few errors along the way in running it: in particular I play a lot with GURPS Powers: Divine Favor (still the best Clerical Powers system in existence). There’s a power in there called Protection from Evil which basically grants True Faith (the basis of the Turning Power), and an enhanced version gives a roll vs Will+10. So my cleric was rolling vs Will-24 to turn undead vs foes with Will-8 and Will-10.

In the end, I slapped on a -5 penalty for Low Sanctity (see above for why this is wrong), which for one of the groups made the usual roll vs Will-19; you can see, though, that for the pre-gen in question (Will-14, Power Investiture 5) that it made little net difference. Forgetting the Rule of 16 would have brought the radius in by an average of three yards.

So my errors were in magnitude but not in exists/don’t exist. Even so, I feel that the 24 points of Turning is a bit too much oomph as written. Continue reading “Turning Undead: “I win!””

GameHole Con 2018 – Con Report

Well, I survived! This was the first convention that I’d attended since my journey to GenCon 2017, as part of my first foray as being part of the con as Gaming Ballistic, LLC. I was, more importantly it turned out, also there as part of my Kickstarter rewards for backing the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (Powered by GURPS) at the “play the game with Kromm” level.

That’s important for this journey to Madison, Wisconsin for two reasons.
1. I played through what would turn into the linear adventure Lost Hall of Tyr (for D&D5e) there for the first two times
2. I got to know the Dungeon Fantasy RPG for the first time

My mission for this Convention, then? To demonstrate and run Hall of Judgment, the first licensed adventure or supplement of any kind for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. To talk with the SJG folks (Phil and Steve were both there) about further ideas for supporting GURPS. To get to meet in person folks like Matt Finch, Erik Tenkar, Jason Hobbs, and many others whom I’ve interacted with – and who have helped me so much – in getting my games off the launch pad. I simply could not have done what I did on Dragon Heresy and Hall of Judgment without an absolutely crucial hour or so with Zach Glazar, who pumped an incredible amount of InDesign Starter information into my head.

I also was hoping to sell a few copies of my product, which was a secondary goal but a real one.

Let’s recap. Continue reading “GameHole Con 2018 Trip Report!”

Foreword (Douglas)

This continues the actual play report by Simone De Bellis, the first session of which was transcribed here in a prior post (mildly edited by me), and here in the GURPS North America Facebook group, which thankfully is used by folks well beyond North America.

As before, he takes what I gave him in Hall of Judgment and makes it his own. Some of the changes – such as making the thurs (a kind of fae troll-kin) into minor jotuns are pretty inspired. The other is using the natural freedom of the setting to plunk down needed resources, such as a village he needs for reasons to be revealed later, I suppose!

It’s great to see someone so obviously having fun with the material.

Read on for details! And pick up a copy today – either from Warehouse 23, or my own webstore. Continue reading “Actual Play Report: Hall of Judgment 2 (Simone De Bellis)”

Foreword (Douglas)

Hall of Judgment was a successful Kickstarter that produced a – even if I do say so myself – fine, playable, good-looking product. Even so, it’s nice when a creator gets feedback, and my ego appreciates stroking as much as the next man. Even better than compliments on the book itself is that most Fremen of compliments: “Your plan worked, Muad’Dib.” In short, as Peter Dell’Orto would say: “Did it work in Actual Play?” So what follows is a bit of an instigated post. Simone De Bellis posted that he was playing Hall of Judgment with his group, and had gone through several sessions worth. I nudged him to write up a play report, and he willingly obliged. So here’s a Hall of Judgment actual play report!

He posted the results on the GURPS North America Facebook Group, and I’m reproducing that here. He’s not a native English speaker; I believe he’s from Italy, and I’ve done some editing, with his permission, for clarity.

What follows is an example of how to play Hall of Judgment while dropping it into a very unique and self-sculpted campaign world. He didn’t feel the need to conform to my assumptions of the world of Norðlond, and did things his own way.

This is as it should be.

Read on for details! And pick up a copy today – either from Warehouse 23, or my own webstore. Continue reading “Hall of Judgment: Actual Play report (guest post)”