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.

If you’ve followed these pages, you’ve seen me working up to this.

I’m now taking commissions for these shields. Eventually, I’ll have these available for orders on the web store. For now, contact me directly and we’ll work out specs and final pricing.

Each shield is hand crafted, and “historical-ish.” Each shield is based on information gained from some folks I know at Asfolk, Hurstwic, and Dimicator doing extensive research into the subject. Any errors in historicity are mine, of course!

Each shield will feature:

  • Aspen planks butted together with hide glue
  • Hand-carved oak handles
  • Rose-head iron and/or copper fixation for the handle; copper nails and rivets for the boss
  • Diameter to user’s specification (pricing range is “up to 24 inches,” “24-36 inches,” and “36-48 inches”)
  • Optional distal taper on the outer edge; historical shields could be as little as 2.5mm of wood on the edge; I tend to make them to 4-6.5mm depending)

Optional Features include

  • Stitching with 12/3 linen thread around the circumference of the shield
  • Rawhide edging
  • Very basic painting (I’m a craftsman, not an artist)
  • Boss upgrades

Each Shield is Custom-Made

These are basically bespoke items, each one made to order. The user will specify the diameter (half your height tends to work out well), and we’ll talk about the shield profile. I can easily support “root” thicknesses (the thickness at the boss) of up to 7/16″ or so (11mm) and have created shields down to about 1/4″ (6.3mm) at the root. Because each is hand-made, these thickness guidelines are exactly that – guidelines.

We’ll work out what you want, and then I’ll get busy on it.

Pricing

The basic pricing structure is as follows:

Shield Blank

  • Child’s Shield (up to 24″ diameter, 1/4″ thick): $100
  • Standard Shield (24-36″ diameter, 1/4-7/16″ thick): $250
  • Giant Shield (36-48″ diameter, 3/8″ to 7/16″ thick): $275

There are up-charges for stitching ($50), rawhide edging ($100), or different shield bosses. If you have an existing boss, I can probably work with it as well.

Shipping

There’s no way around it: this is a big product and it will cost a lot to ship. The 36x36x4″ mailer that will likely be the shipping container will likely cost $80-100 to ship. I’m working on this.

If you order a bunch of shields – 10 to 12 – the FedEx flat rate shipping container becomes a very good option, bringing shipping down to a net of about $10-20 per shield.

Sample Images

These represent some of my earlier efforts. The unpainted shields on the left are blanks with full taper, ready for the boss. The rawhide-edged one is tapered with hide and stitching, 34″ in diameter, with a 22-gauge boss. A shield like that would be $450.

 

The post below is duplicated from Roland Warzecha’s Patreon page, which everyone should visit and support. If you are a fan of historical swordsmanship, you definitely owe yourself a visit his way.

Here is the completed illustration which I did for a role-play adventure written by Dougas Cole, that is currently campaigning on kickstarter, to attract as many backers as possible. (One of the stretch goals will be more art work such as this!)

The adventure is apparently set in a fantasy world, partially drawing on Norse mythology and culture. In the background, you can see a page from the Icelandic Codex Regius (the King’s Book) which is the oldest written source for the Poetic Edda. The typographic elements are verses from the Hávamál which is included in the Codex Regius. Naturally, I thought it appropriate to depict Viking arms and armour with the image’s leading character. Doug had suggested a female warrior, and so I created this heroine, which I named Sólveig Ravnsdóttir. Her first name can be interpreted in a number of ways, e.g. as path of the sun, mistress of the hall, power of the house. Her last name means Raven’s daughter.

Sólveig wears lamellar armour of oriental origin. Remains of this kind of protection have been found in the Swedish Viking settlement of Birka. It consist of small plates, so-called lamellae which are laced to form individual belts. These belts are laced more loosely to each other in such a fashion that they overlap and can move much like a telescope, assisting hinging motions of the wearer’s torso.

Her head is protected by a helmet with ”spectacles“ based on a Norwegian find from Gjermundbu, the only original Viking helmet ever to be discovered.

The account of an Arab chronicler who had met Eastern Vikings described them as being tattooed. Accordingly, I decided to show Sólveig being tatted in ornaments of the so-called Urnes style which became popular in the late Viking Age. Her sword with bronze fittings is of the typical late spate type that was widespread in Scandinavia and Russia. Its scabbard is mounted with an eastern bronze scabbard chape in the shape of a raven. Her arms are adorned with various bracelets.

The bottom hem of her wide tunic is tucked up above her thighs to allow for freedom of movement, as seen with a sword-fighter in the 9th century Utrecht Psalter, and some men wading through water on the late 11th century Bayeux Tapestry.

She has just deflected a spear thrust with her flat round shield, then turned the shield pushing forward its edge to keep the sear at bay and pin her opponent, at the same time striking a death blow.

Her adversaries are Hobgoblins which carry both bucklers as well as large Celtic style shields. They are armed with swords modeled on both Viking Age ones as well as late medieval ranges messer. One also brandishes a bearded axe. The helmets are so-called kettle hats based on late 14th and 15th century models. All Goblin arms are made from bronze, because they cannot stand steel, as Douglas explained to me.

Obviously, they have a weak spot for the same beard styles that I like myself, and it appears to be a custom with this tribe to put on war paint made from some local berries.

I have also picked kind of a motto for Sólveig which is based on a line from the collection of Hávamál verses that Douglas had provided me with: “Never slain shall she bow before sword.”See it somewhat concealed in the image above.

If you like this art work, keep an eye on the stretch goals suggested by Douglas for his kickstarter project.

A 300 dpi version of this image is available as a download for $7+ patrons.

What’s next? The up-coming weapon documentation and photo set will feature a late 14th/early 15th century type XIV sword from Switzerland which will be made available for $25+ patrons, with the full scale drawing to follow for my $35+ patrons.

New Reward Level – Dimicator Stythja

As you can see, the detail work in Roland’s piece is amazing. If you want to have your character illustrated by him, in this style . . . now you can!

I have introduced another reward level: the top-tier Dimicator Stythja. At this level, for $750 you will get a quarter-page illustration in the same style as the image featured above . . . or for a kingly sum of $2,000, a full page.

As with all of the Stythja (Patron) levels, the first task is to create a level 3-6 character that will either come from the SRD, or the Dragon Heresy preview chapter that I will send to the patron backer. Once the character is created, the patron backer will provide reference images, and I will provide art direction to Roland based on the character, the images, and our conversations.

I’m sure the result will be quite inspiring!

Roland just shared a sample of the art he’s providing for the Dungeon Grappling quick-start chapter for Lost Hall of Tyr.

If the hobgoblin looks familiar to you, there’s a reason. The final version has more details of what “grappling with weapons” can mean – she’s stepping on the hob’s spear to pin it in place, as well as using her own shield to trap his left arm.

Because it’s Roland, all of the equipment and stances are historical and accurate, modeled off of real pieces. The detail is phenomenal.

I simply cannot wait to see the entire full-page piece.

If we hit the bit stretch goals at the top end, there will be more of this type of illustration in the book!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t extra-point you to Roland’s Patreon, plus his awesome collection of informative YouTube videos on historical fighting and weapons.

I wanted to draw attention to a project a friend and co-enthusiast of mine, Dale Utt, is working on.

Attached to the historical weapons and armor manufacturerer Arms and Armor is the Oakeshott Institute. They’ve just launched a 3D sword modeling project, which will allow artists, enthusiasts, and scholars have detailed imagery of real weapons to see and be inspired by.

It’s a worthy project, and I encourage checking it out and perhaps supporting their efforts via their newly-launched Patreon.

(Shameless Plug: if you’re looking for RPG projects where realistic weaponry and tactics are a goal of the works, perhaps consider checking out my current Kickstarter Lost Hall of Tyr?)

 

I made my fourth or so kid’s shield today, and as far as efficiency and quality, I think it was my best yet. I figured I’d share how I did it.

Note: historical viking shields for adults were maybe 28-36″ in diameter, but were ridiculously lightweight, at 6-8 lbs. Maybe 7mm of wood on the core near the boss, tapering to maybe 2.5mm of wood on the rim, maybe give or take a mm or so. Added on top of that was 1mm of parchment-thick skin, and the edge was wrapped with similar material. So under the boss, where it fastens to the shield, it was maybe 8mm thick. At the rim, you’ve got 4.5 to 5.5mm of material, roughly half of which was wood. The shield clamps found in archaeological sites back this up – these things were very, very thin and light. Measurements of shields that are closer to 1″ thick tend to include the handle, according to my instructors.

Thus, what you won’t find here is advice to take a piece of plywood of any thickness (though if you were going to do it, use 1/4″ stuff) and then fix a boss to it. That’ll cost you about $7 for the wood, and then a few bucks more for the handle and boss. It’ll weigh about 2.75 lbs when you’re done for a kid-sized version. The ones I make are closer to historical methods and materials, ’cause that’s how we do it in the school I train at. If I wanted to go full-on historical, I’d have to be much more selective in the woods I use, and make the transition to hide glue. Plus get and stretch parchment.

So what I’m doing is a bit of a half-way shield. Not even close to full-historical (and those can be had from old-growth lumber with 100% as good as we know how to do for $600-1000 if you want the true real thing), but better than “cut it out of plywood.” There are reasons for that having to do with training with sharps where the grain orientation matters. And since most kid-training had best be done with blunt weapons, you want something more robust.

Still, I digress.

What You Need

I’m going to go with materials sufficient to make four shields, mostly because some of the bits really can be spread among several.

Wood: 2′ long, 1/4″ thick basswood. Plank width can be 3-6″, and 8 3″ wide x 24″ long basswood planks can be had for about $55 for four shields worth ($13.60 per shield). The grip is (for kids) also made from basswood, but you can use just about anything. I recommend 1/2″ x 1″ x 24″ pieces, found here, but you can find them other places too. $8.00 ($2.00 per shield)

Fasteners: I use 1.5″ copper nails, because they are soft and will “clinch” better. I even do this on my adult shields, though annealed wrought iron (well, faux wrought iron, ’cause real ones are very, very expensive) looks better. The annealed (heated very hot for a while to make them less hard) is important for the iron, and is why I used copper, since I don’t have an annealing furnace on hand). $20 for about 60 nails. (you might shop around; you’ll want one nail per board, more or less, and so might be able to get these cheaper). $3.50 per shield.

More fasteners: Brass split pins. The 1/4″ wood and the particular boss used won’t stand up to a properly clinched copper nail very well; these split pins, glued in place on the back side, make a nice alternative. $2.50 per 100.

Shield boss: Heh. Stainless steel salad bowl, baby. Scuff it up with sandpaper and paint it. Winco MXB-75Q 3/4 quart bowl. $5.30 each at amazon, but I swear I found ’em for 4 for $10, and restaurant supply stores have them for under a buck, but I’m not sure if you need to order 100 of them. I’m going to call this $5 each, but PLEASE shop around, because it really looks like you can do rather well here.

Spray paint: I really, *really* like the Krylon black hammered finish paint for the boss. Other colors are up to you, but I’m going to recommend two additional colors. I use burgandy and dark bronze hammered finish for my shields because it’s our school colors (red and grey), but they can be anything. Michaels sells this for about $11 per can; again, shop around. Call it $30 in spray paint, but you can assuredly do better.

Carpenter’s glue: $3

Bar clamps: I recommend 36″ clamps x 3, because you might want to make adult shields one day. $7 each if you shop around. These are durable. Call it $25, and you want some like I’ve linked that will lay flat, on their sides.

Total cost: $160 for four shields; $40 each, and you will have nails and spray paint left over, plus glue and your permanent bar clamps.

You will also very much want a jigsaw or thin-bladed wood saw, a compass of some sort (you can do this with a piece of string and a pencil), and I use a hand-held belt sander and cordless drill to make my life easier.

Making the blanks

The first step is the most tedious, which is making the 24″ x 24″ square “blanks” out of which you’ll make shields.

Take 8 boards (assuming 3″; you can do this with four 6″ boards, six 4″ boards, etc). Set two aside and line up the other six so the 1/4″ side is up.

Lay out two clamps on their sides, so that the outside edges are maybe 22″ apart. The third will be ready. Put a piece of waxed paper on each bar, which will prevent glue from bonding to the clamps.

Put glue on one 1/4″ side of two of the boards. These are your end pieces. Lay them flat on either side of your clamp base. But glue on both sides of the other six boards. Lay those into the base so you make a 24″ square, with no glue touching your clamps, and glue-to-glue bonding everywhere else. I always, always spread the glue with my finger. I can feel the tackiness of it that way. Personal preference.

Do a light tighten of both clamps so that the boards are compressed together, but don’t yet go nuts. Take the third clamp and lay it in the middle of the other two, and again, put a piece of waxed paper between wood and bar clamp. You’ll thank me. Light-tighten this too. The top bar pressing on the boards will prevent them from buckling upwards.

Then tighten each of the clamps a bit at a time. Don’t tighten so much you ruin your wood, of course. Just a nice, firm compression.

What I do is let it stand for an hour under clamps (minimum is about 30min), then take the board out and let it lean on something, grain oriented vertically, for the next day. Then I will make all my blanks at once, so I can just start with pre-glued 2′ x 2′ boards.

Cutting the Round

First, you’ll take the waxed paper off the boards if they’re stuck, and you’ll note the glue drips from the joins. My favorite tool for this is what’s called a curved scorp. But a sharp chisel can work, or a hand plane. In a pinch, you can sand it off; just use very coarse paper to blast it away. This will also serve to smooth any non-planarities in the joints.

Then you’ll mark the center. Just take a long ruler or T-square (or a piece of string) and go from corner to corner, marking where the string or ruler crosses the line between the middle boards (that kind of divides the blank in half, right?) for both corners. That’s the middle of your blank.

Draw a circle using a compass or string-and-marker (use a thumbtack to secure the line to the middle) to make a circle defining the outside of the shield.

Then measure the INSIDE diameter of the bowl. INSIDE. Can I say that again? INSIDE. Back off maybe 1/8 or 1/4″ from this just to be sure, and draw your inner circle from the same center point. For the bowls I’ve been using and the 24″ blank, my outer circle is usually just shy of 24″ (good for a child up to about 4-4.5 feet tall, more or less), and my inner circle is usually 2.5″ in radius, or 5″ in diameter. Way better to cut it small and then widen if you choose than cut it big and . . . oh, crap.

You’ve got your circles. Cut ’em out. The outer circle is easy. Inner one, just use a drill to make a hole, then finish it up. Try not to cut up your workbench.

This will give you a flat annulus; basically a circle with a hole cut out. A thin donut. Whatever. If you wanted to go nuts, you could plane down the shield from full thickness in the center to taper to quite thin on the edge, but for a child’s costume or training shield, I’d not do it. It’s very, very likely that they’ll be working exclusively with blunts, and for that, you want a more robust edge.

From there, you will want to carve your handle into a D-shape. I have experimented with many different styles of grip; the D-curve (flat towards the boss, curved away from the shield) is what has been found on period shields, and our ancestors knew what they were doing. Lots of ways to round it down; I use a draw knife and a belt sander. You could also use a router to round the edges. When you’ve got the D-shape on the entire back, in the 6″ that will be the center of the grip, smooth the corners a bit, and maybe make a gentle rounding where the hand will go. Sharp edges will make it no fun for small, young hands to grab.

Now take your mixing bowl, and use a hammer to pound the edge/rim flat if you like, to make a more-true flange. Don’t hit your fingers. It sucks.

Then remove the price tag, and scuff it up with sandpaper. Then paint it whatever color you want – I think the hammered black is gorgeous. But any metal – shiny or dull – would work. You needn’t even paint it. Scuffed steel is just fine.

Punch four holes in it 90-degrees apart with nails; I use roughly 1/8″ nails, but the hole needs to be big enough to push the split-pins through.

Almost done. Put the grip on the back of the shield-torus, so that it’s perpendicular to the direction the boards go. Use carpenter’s tape or something to fix the handle in place just enough that it’s not sliding around. Drill a hole slightly smaller than the copper nail through each board (so 8 boards is 8 holes; you’ll note I used only six boards in the shield pictured below, but used 10 nails. Too few nails might have issues if the top of the shield gets hooked with an axe; it might pull apart along the grain. Too many gets silly.).

Then push nails through the shield into the handle, so the nail head is on the shield face. Clinch the nails by pounding them over and ensuring you strike firmly enough to embed the sharp nail tip just into the wood, so no one gets scratched. Do this on a very flat, very hard surface, like a concrete floor. That will also serve to sink the nail heads into the shield face as you do it. Handy.

That basically fixes the handle to the shield.

Now paint the shield. You can find common patterns online, some are more historical than others. Our school’s symbol is the Ansuz rune (A), Odin’s rune (the school’s name is Asfolk, As, the ancestral people, the same As from Asgard, I believe), and that appears on every shield. The other side is more free-form. I used a dragon done in nordic/celtic knotwork. My eldest daughter got a reclining norse cat. My youngest daughter wanted a cat too, but I’d thrown away the stencil I used, so I made a new one, and then used that same stencil on the example shield.

Now set the boss so that it completely covers the hole, centered on the middle of the opening. I put my holes 45 degrees from the handle, so they’re well away from everything. Drill holes through the pre-punched holes in the boss right through the shield face.

Push the split-pins through the boss and face, then open them up on the back side. Pull them as hard as you can; I secure them in place after opening them up with hot glue. If you’re a costumer and you don’t have a hot-glue gun lying around, you are clearly a freaking wizard, because I hot glue everything, so it seems.

And that’s it. While doing the square shield blank takes a day, I did all of the steps above in about an hour, including painting, for the shield below. This example was 955 grams (2.1 lbs).

Live to Grapple. Grapple to Live.

  • Beowulf struggles with Grendel. Sinew parts, Grendel flees, dying.
  • A dragon plunges from above. It’s grasping talons seize the adventurers, bearing them away.
  • Mighty Ajax and Clever Odysseus struggle against each other, yet neither can throw the other, nor be thrown.
  • A python lashes out, grasping its prey first by the mouth, then its coils. It struggles weakly, then not at all.

From the first story ever told, to tales on the silver screen. They all have at least one thing in common: Grappling.

Grappling is thrilling, dangerous, and drives thousands of years of epic storytelling.

Dungeon Grappling brings those thrills to the oldest fantasy RPG with rules and examples for Swords and Wizardry (and other OSR-style games), the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and 5e.

Dungeon Grappling provides:

  • Simple, unified mechanics, using the same concepts as weapon strikes
  • Variable outcomes – grapples can be good or bad
  • Dynamic, tense stories
  • Weapons, talons, magic . . . they’re all in here.
  • Grappling just got scary again!

What’s in the Book

First and foremost, this book contains rules based on Open Gaming Licence content from several editions of the industry’s most popular RPG – explicit examples for Swords and Wizardry, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and Fifth Edition.

This is the printed, hardcopy version. 

Let’s look inside:

Introduction: How can grappling be as epic at the tabletop as it has been in stories throughout history?

Core Concepts: Dungeon Grappling shows that the same basic concepts that you use to smite a foe with your sword are perfectly appropriate when grappling. The attack roll, target number, and effect roll are all unified in the context of grapples to minimize special cases.

Grappling Effects: Dungeon Grappling presents a variable effect roll – using both “control points” as well as conditions to make grappling exciting and unpredictable.

Grappling Techniques: This section gives you options, from simply rendering them immobile, to tossing or dragging, to takedowns, throws, choke holds, grappling with weapons, using magical spells to grapple in a way that makes all of them follow the same basic principles.

Monstrous Grappling: Let’s face it. Grappling is for monsters. A dozen examples are provided to highlight how to calculate the attack bonus, grappling target number (the equivalent of armor class for grappling), and the grappling damage roll, as well as brief discussions of how such monsters fight.

Combat Examples: An example vignette and grappling-oriented combat is provided for each of Swords and Wizardry, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and 5e.

Quick Reference Sheets: All of the key calculations, tables, and concepts are summarized in three pages in the back of the book for easy lookups and rules checks.

Art and Layout: Laid out and illustrated in full color by a great team of professionals, the interior is as beautiful as the rules are elegant.

I was at GenCon’s 50th Anniversary this past week, and I had the honor of observing the first of Gaming Ballistic’s Dungeon Grappling demo games, and playing in the second. Here are my thoughts, for those that are considering its use:

Summary

It’s not as scary as you probably think.

Qualification

I have 20+ years experience with D&D in general, maybe five or so with Pathfinder, and a month or two with 5e. I have always felt like grappling, in general, has gotten less attention than it deserved in pretty much any system, including all editions of D&D, and have had characters/moments in-game where I’ve found myself grappling (with the rules and/or the enemy) and found them a bit awkward. At the point of the convention, I had not read the Dungeon Grappling book (and still haven’t as of this writing—but I will), though I am quite familiar with its spiritual-ancestor, GURPS Martial Arts – Technical Grappling, so I did have a basic understanding of how it works beforehand.

Observations

In my brief exposure to the Dungeon Grappling system, I found it to actually be very easy to understand and smoothly integrated. It uses the normal attack-damage mechanics. “Control” is just damage of a different sort, the accumulation of which inflicts one of a handful of “grappled” conditions. Those conditions are well-defined and sensible, using established mechanics. A character can “attack” to add more to his own control, reduce his enemy’s control, aid allies’ grapples—it’s very intuitive. It works the same against larger or smaller opponents. The book has all the right cheat-sheets in easy-to-find places. I know the book does delve into more detailed grappling situations—and I generally like the more crunchy stuff—but really, the little bit that I observed is all you need to make grappling in D&D a bit more interesting, and it’s simple enough that I couldn’t give anyone a good reason to not use it.

And, I’m told Dungeon Grappling addresses that burning question I’ve always had in D&D and never found and answer for: how far can you throw a halfling? 😛

Note from Gaming Ballistic: Pretty darn far if you’re an Ancient Red Dragon

My 2¢.

In my search for a method of making training swords that have the right feel, I’ve tried a bunch of things. Laminating wood together, drilling out for rods, and a few different woods (oak, ash, hard maple). I have, perhaps, finally found a method that hits the right notes.

This is a second crafting-and-weapons related post for the day. Figured I’d get ’em out of my system.

The first cool thing was making weapons out of purely hard maple. This is a remarkable wood, with a hardness of 1450 on the Janka scale – nearly twice as hard as its softer relatives. It’s 10-30% more dense, depending on what particular variety of maple you’re dealing with, as well, as the soft maple. Relative to common red oak, it’s the same density (44 lbs per cubic foot) and 20% harder. Relative to (white) ash, used in baseball bats: white ash is 42 lbs per cubic foot, and 1320 on the Janka scale. Hickory? Yeah, while there are a bunch of woods mixed together and sold as generic “hickory,” the true hickory woods like shagbark hickory are 50 lbs per cubic foot and 1,880 Janka.

As a by-the-way, the Janka rating is how many pounds of force it takes to drive a spherical ball .444″ in diameter into wood to half it’s depth (full diameter, then). Why .444″? No idea.

Anyway, that’s why hickory is king of the axe handles.

But two weapons are in discussion now. The first is my Training Sword Mk 5.

That one’s simply cut out of hard maple as a blank, rounded with a 3/8″ roundover bit, and sanded. The trick here was to see if I could carve a curved crossguard, for embellishment. Turns out I can. This sword masses about 550g, and has a 3.25″ grip for the pinch. I also cut the blade down from the model from about 30.5 inches down to 29″, which made it work better for my height. This one is now my personal training sword, mostly because of aesthetics.

The second was Training Sword Mk 6. This one was another laminate construction: 1/2″ ash core, with 1/8″ ash top and bottom pieces. I also embedded a 1/2 x 1 x 4″ piece of C360 brass near the base of the blade. That moved the center of balance about halfway between pure wood and an actual steel sword. The weight of the complete weapon is pushing 725g at the moment, and will increase a bit when I add a simple square cross-guard. The pommel could use more rounding; it cuts into the hand a bit. This particular sword is too big for me; it’s really designed for folks who are 6’2″ to 6’6″ in height. But the balance and pivot points are much closer to steel, while being roughly 75% the mass of an actual steel blade of the same dimensions.

Of course, I tried to get clever and carve a fuller into the second blade using a cove bit on my router. That . . . did not go well. I have an up-cut bit that went better (opposite side) and I know what I’ll do if I feel the need to embellish in that way in the future. In the meantime, it lets me show off the embedded brass.

This makes it an excellent training tool to build grip strength and correct motion dynamics without having to worry about $1,000 custom swords. There are many Viking-style, or rather, Frankish-style swords; most are not built to historical weight and dimension, as their grips are too long and the weight is too high, or the balance isn’t quite right. My instructor is an expert weaponsmith, and makes his own; I’m sure there are some out there that are right . . . but their creators rightfully know that they are and charge accordingly.

Thus for both reasons of economy and safety, I want to make wooden swords of various sizes.

I have a couple ideas for Mk 7 and maybe Mk 8, but that’s going to involve a spreadsheet. In particular, I want to break a hypothetical sword down into “weight from balance point to blade tip,” which will also account for the size of the blade, and give a “weight per inch” in that region. Then the same for the blade from balance point to crossguard, then the crossguard and pommel, which are typically solid chunks of steel, and a bit for the handle (which will be done by subtraction, as the composition is tang+wood handle).

That will let me scale the weight down by 25%, figure out how much metal I need to add in each segment, and balance accordingly. This will allow me to custom-craft swords of different sizes, from a short blade that might be a child’s weapon, to the beefy blades I make above. I might also see if I can find a nice model for a long seax that might be fun.

This is more than just aesthetics. A properly balanced blade proxy will teach the right motions and muscle memory for casting blows and casting thrusts. It will have enough mass to build strength while not allowing motions that you can do with a 200-250g “magic wand” that is too thin and too light and can be used inappropriately during training.

So, once I get past GenCon, I will sit down and create my crafting spreadsheet, and having found a good method for building these things, I will start the process of making enough for the instructor cadre to work the hell out of. Once we all find them worthy . . . I’ll probably set about replacing the rest of the training wands with something that looks like a real sword. It’s both more useful and more satisfying to train with a weapon that looks like a weapon.

My instructor brought a new authentic shield he’d finished to the pre-game show (so to speak) for Circus Juventas. The summer show, Nordrsaga (or more precisely, Norðrsaga) is strongly Viking and Old Norse themed, so the Circus reached out to Asfolk so we could provide a bit of pre-show entertainment. We teach brief lessons in sword and shield, and let folks throw axes.

Anyway, his shield is thin (historically thin) basswood, with an oak handle. It’s made of 4″ butted planks affixed with hide glue, has a spectacular hand-forged iron boss, and is faced on one side with parchment, as well as having non-stitched edge wrapping of the same parchment material. It’s very light.

But I want to focus on the handle. It was a D-shape, and for all the carving and special “ergonomic” handles I’ve been creating, well, our ancestors knew what they were doing. 

I should have figured this. I’ve used that line rather more than once myself. But that D-shaped grip, with the flat base and the rounded top (flat goes to the inside of the boss) really helps you keep the shield on line, and is much more comfortable than I’d have thought.

So I’ll re-cut my new shield with the D-shaped handle, and keep in mind as I re-create the equipment, once again: when it comes to blood and death, our ancestors were not stupid.