Dragon Heresy: The Last 48 Hours

As always, the last 48 hours of a Kickstarter are crucial. One can frequently match the first two days’ funding totals in the last two days, and for Dragon Heresy, if we did that, we’d be seriously flirting with the big stretch goal at $16,000 for an offset run with sewn binding.

We are currently sitting at roughly $11,000, with the initial funding goal having been $3,500.

But let’s back up a bit.

What is Dragon Heresy?

Dragon Heresy is a stand-alone Fantasy RPG based on a grittier take on the Fifth Edition game engine. It uses a two-level target hit roll, and differentiated between skill and endurance (“vigor”), injury (“wounds”), and retains Fifth Edition’s excellent use of Conditions, including Exhaustion. You do NOT need other Fifth Edition books to play the game; character generation, combat, social standing, flyting, grappling, wilderness and survival, and monsters are all in the book.

The setting is strongly Norse-inspired, which influences the cultures that are playable, but also the mechanics, since the vikings’ use of lightweight, buckler-gripped shields as very nearly the primary weapon heavily influenced the combat rules options.

Finally, it integrates one of the best grappling mechanics written for such games, making grappling interchangeable with striking on a blow-by-blow basis. One new player played a dragonborn berserker whose primary weapon was a net with no slowdown in play, full use of the rules, and outstandingly fun outcomes.

Tell Me More

No problem. I’ve done a lot of that – here are some additional resources for those who wish to check out the project

Podcasts and Video


There have been two reviews of the pre-release copy of the game (it’s fully written).

  • Follow Me and Die! took a look and liked what he saw
  • Moe Tousignant is in the middle of a truly comprehensive review, and allowed me to host his first two sections on my blog
  • James Spahn (White Star and other games) took a look at a pre-release copy and liked what he saw.

The Kickstarter: What You Get

There are only a few pledge levels

  • At $5 you get a stripped down version of the combat rules in sort-of edited PDF format, with minimal layout and no art. It’s for taking the combat rules for a test drive
  • At $20 you get a full-color, hyperlinked, layered PDF
  • At $50 you get a Black and White POD hardback and the PDF
  • At the $100 sponsorship level, the hardback is upgraded to color
  • At $500, you get everything from the $100 level and I will hand-make for  you an authentic viking shield if you live within the USA. It will be fit to you up to 35.5” diameter, with hide-glued planks, Painted striðskjold battle shield with linen stitching and custom paint job1oz hide edging, linen stitching, and a hand-carved oak handle. This is basically “buy the shield and get the game for free.”

What Can You Do?

Obviously, the best thing for me is for you to head over and pledge. It’s a great game, with a great layout, and even if I do say so myself, the initial book block (the interior pages without the binding) from the most likely vendor unless we hit the big offset print goal are simply superb.

If you are interested in the game but can’t pledge, I’d ask that you share it on social media so that others that might be interested might see. Like Fifth Edition rules but want more grit? You’ll like what you see here. Like Norse mythology and vikings? You’re a prime candidate to love the game.

48 hours to go. Please check it out, and pledge if you can!


I was on a lot of podcasts this week. All different. Our discussion with Eric F on “martial arts in old-school games” was a different type of discussion than the “get deep into the mechanical weeds” with Chris S. Matt and David were both very interested in specifics on shields, while the second part of my discussion with Derek was about getting into, and staying into, the game design space.

A friend of mine told me that he was impressed I managed to cover substantially the same general territory with enough differences to make each podcast worth listening to without being repetitive.

Of course, that has a lot to do with my hosts . . .

Podcast Palooza

Each of these is pretty worth listening to, even if I say so myself.

First, I was on The Established Facts with Derek Knutsen-Frey, whom I’ve gotten to know through the IGDN. We had a long chat divided in two parts: a bunch on Dragon Heresy, and then 45 minutes on game publishing as a business.

The always-awesome James Introcaso hosted me for a while on Table Top Babble, and we mostly talked about Dragon Heresy

Chris Sniezak and I got deep into the depths of the game mechanics

Jason Hobbs had me and Eric Farmer on at the same time, and our take was more broad. Can you do “martial arts” in Old-School systems? What does that even mean?

Matt Finch and I had a great chat, and he was absolutely enthusiastic about the materials, construction, and use of period weaponry, and egged me on effectively.

Finally, I was on with Nerdarchy Dave for a live discussion and chat, and I had a great time talking with him and taking questions

Murder-hobos. Heavily armed vagrants, wandering from town to town. Tempers flare, and corpses lie still on the barroom floor. Like a samurai granted kiri sute gomen, the permission to cut and depart, only the presumed wailing of friends and relatives is left in their wake. Weeks later, they return, bloodied themselves, with heaping mounds of gold and treasure. They may glow visibly with newly-acquired power. And still they provoke the inhabitants of the town, who probably treat with them anyway, and take their gold, give them lodging. And as the Chitauri master (?) said: “The humans? What can they do . . . but burn.”


A really active facebook thread about what do to about murder-hobos got me thinking about the why and the what of the phenomenon. I’m not going to try and solve it her, per se, but I do have a few thoughts.

Free Action is not Consequence-Free Action

The biggest solution to what happens when things in town (or on the trail, or . . . ) go horribly awry is always the same: have the perpetrators treated like there are consequences for their actions. People remember when they draw axes during an intense political conversation at Ye Olde Pubbe and kill some folks. They won’t be served, at least. The town may just bar the doors to them. No service for you. No corselet, no sollerets, no service, so to speak.

Writing Dragon Heresy got me thinking about this more, though, because if you kill some random chap in Viking culture, if the cause wasn’t just – and the culture seemed to have a pretty good idea of ‘just’ and ‘unjust,’ or at least ‘he brought it on himself’ or ‘that was uncalled for,’ then the family of the deceased had not just the right, but the obligation to pay you back in turn.

And that wasn’t relegated to “oh, a 1st-level schlub gets to try and revenge himself on a 17th-level guy named Sir Cuisinart.” No . . . it extends a few relations over. They might kill your brother. Or your third cousin twice removed, or something. I believe there was a limit to the distance of the relations, but things would happen. They would, if I understand it right (and I’m still learning), happen at the Thing, (pronounced ting, I think). During this moot of the karls and jarls, a claim of grievance would be lodged, and folks would basically say whether the claimant was in the right for wanting vengeance.

Here’s the kicker: if it was deemed so, that just meant the wronged party got a nod that whatever they did was within the bounds of justifiable homicide. It was up to them to recruit friends, neighbors, and relatives to try and do the deed.

I might have that wrong; I’d love reference to validate.

But in any case: the culture supported quite a bit of give-and-take on violent retribution, and the expectation that not just you (hey, I’m high level), but your brother Bernie (Berndred? Bernr?) might get offed in vengeance. If you had a house, it might be attacked and burned, and if you were in it, so much the better. If not, that’s good too.


That’s easy, though. The key bit is not having it happen to begin with.

Restrained Dispute Resolution

Sometimes I wonder if the reason a lethal escalation to violence was so very common (is very common) is the lack of alternatives that are, for lack of a better word, fun.

It can be fun to roleplay a loud, boisterous, beserker shieldmaiden that will insult the town gentry, finish off three chickens and a cask of wine, and challenge the local tough guy to an arm-wrestling contest. But if some local hotshot goes for an inappropriate pinch . . .

. . . no question he’s gonna deserve a smackdown. But brawling is frequently slow, or geared to be not that much less lethal than weapons. Grappling makes folks flip the table over in rage in many cases, as I noted when writing Dungeon Grappling.

And yet, and yet.

Having Gudrun backhand said offender across the face, then wrestle him into a pretzel until he squeals for mercy is not just satisfying narratively, it should be fun to play out. Dragon Heresy does this with the addition of better rules for grappling that allow everything from conditions to applying pain. You can, with solid mechanical support, make poor Robert the Pincher squeal for mercy. And then have your part skald sing songs about it, renaming him Robert the Squealer. Telling the tales of His Yelpiness far and wide.

That’s a combat-oriented but non-lethal avenue that provides satisfying and decisive mechanical support for a narrative outcome that doesn’t involve entrails.

A Flyting Victory

Again with the Vikings! The stories and sagas, eddas of prose and poetry, show a particular kind of “combat” that was basically a contest of insults. Called Flyting.

Now there’s something neat. Engaging in a contest of insults would be pretty spiffy. It would give mechanical support to non-spellcasting combat that focuses on CHA and INT instead of STR, DEX, and CON.

love this idea, it’s culturally apt for the Dragon Heresy world, and I can completely see how to do this within my ruleset. So much so that I’m actively looking for a place to put it.

But again: defeat your foe in a formal contest of insults, have skalds on hand to sing the song of said stinging victory with cutting words. Your fame grows (Egil was renowned as both a lout, a brawler, and a poet) and your star rises . . . all without having to figure out where to dispose of the spare liver.

And maybe skalds could actually turn that into actual injury. Fairly sure they can do that anyway, through magic, but having this level of support for it would be pretty spiffy.

Parting Shot

So two things, really. I think that in many cases “murder-hoboism” is played out because there’s mechanical support for it (combat rules are usually the most detailed), it’s the most fun (it’s a fantasy game based from a wargame in many cases), and there is little consequence for it (social, physical, or otherwise).

With Dragon Heresy, you’ll be able to engage in robust grappling to provide full-on combat experience with no fatality unless you mean it. The new flyting rules (gotta write those Right Now) will allow for an entirely different axis of combat.

And I definitely need to put in some reputation based rules for such, because your fame and honor need to come into play. Including a rep that turns you into “very dangerous, kill on sight.” And with enough arrows, you’re going down. Your’e certainly not getting into town to sell your loot and buy your supplies. And if the Thing votes you Outcast and Thrall . . . you’re not even a person. You can be killed and rolled off a cliff like so much trash, provided your assailant(s) has the might, or lots of people where quantity has a quality all its own.

But the more non-impaling axes one has to resolve disputes, and the more clear the consequences for murder-hoboing, the more easily players will engage with both story and rules to avoid it. Just make it fun.

It goes both ways, too. If the players can avail themselves of such avenues if a powerful NPC gets all in their face, that’s just juicy fun.


Viking, Shields, and Design Intent

Over the weekend and the last few days, I filmed a bit of “Doug talking, mostly about Viking” as something like a “Designer’s Notes,” or really, just talking about the inspiration for the game.

In this particular case, shields had to be more useful than the +5-10% decrease in hit chance that game stats show. I decided to try and find some Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) classes local to me to find out, and lo and behold, I found Asfolk. Not only was it “using a shield,” it was “using a Viking shield,” which fit in with the themes I was exploring for Dragon Heresy.

I talk a lot about shields on my blog, both for D&D5 type games, as well as GURPS, and general principles as well.

I think you’ll find Dragon Heresy adds just the right amount of cool options to go along with the shield in the game.

A Nice Compliment

David Pulver is a prolific game writer, and we’ve corresponded about things for a while. Heck, he’s working on a game with Gaming Ballistic, called Venture Beyond. In any case, he has seen some of the early rules and layout work, and he dropped this nice little compliment on my blog. I repeat it with his permission:

“I’m very pleased this is happening at last!

When you showed me the manuscript, one thing besides the new combat options that I was really impressed with was the new rules you added to 5e for marching, exposure, hunting, and so on – I liked the strategic options (trading speed for stealth, etc.) which is good game design. They seemed a lot more detailed and interesting then I recall from D&D (and a lot more playable than anything similar in GURPS). I suspect I might use them even if I wasn’t running a Viking game…”

Next Stretch Goal

Well, we’ve pretty much crushed the $3,500 basic funding goal. I like crushing goals.

The next two are kinda out there. The $10K goal is definitely within reach, and while projections are always uncertain, if we have a few more good days like we just did, we’ll pass the “more content” goal mid-campaign.

If we do, I’ll send out a poll and let folks force-rank what additional inclusions there will be. There are three more extra races, at least a dozen backgrounds, and of course both classes and archetypes/sub-classes ready for inclusion in that sweet spot from Level 1-5. If the time comes, the backers choose the new content!

Beyond that, there’s the offset color print run, hanging out there at $16,000. Truth be told, that’s the one I really want to hit, because I’ve always dreamed of Dragon Heresy getting the kind of quality print job that Symbaroum, ACKS, or the Dracula Dossier’s Director’s Handbook got.

Talk to you guys soon!

An update: turns out I had more wood than I thought.

1x Poplar experiment. Could be up to 36″ in diameter, good for someone up to 6’4″ tall. 
2x 33.5″ aspen. Good for 5’5″ to 5’11”
4x 35.5″ aspen. Good for 5’9 to 6’3″ tall

The smaller shields are going to be donated to the Cyprus Classical Academy silent auction. I will paint one with the Cyprus Logo, and the other in purple, white, and gold, and call it Vikings Squared.

Leave a comment or drop me an email if you’re interested. Tons of pictures of prior examples below the break, as well as a few details on materials.

Continue reading “Shield Blanks waiting to be built”

A nifty question on the GURPS Forums about fighting with a one-handed spear.


On the one-second time scale of GURPS, the grip change needs to be handled with higher resolution.

When I fight with a one-handed spear in my viking martial arts class, shield in the other hand, I use a sliding technique to reach out. I thrust with the spear, and let it slide in my hand until it reaches the bottom of the haft. I then have to yank and recover it back (Ready maneuver). This is with an underhand grip, which is my current preference because I haven’t trained up overhand yet. I hear good things about it. The sliding technique works there too, though.

Basically, you thrust with the spear and “throw” it, sliding in the hand to the limit of the spear range, typically about 6 feet. When it hits or gets as far as you like, you re-grip. Typically the spear is then over-balanced and way the hell out there. When that’s been done to me, I’ve occasionally knocked down (parried) the cast spear and then stepped on it, to take it out of play. Defender is forced to drop it and draw their seax, if they have one.

The “anyone can play” resolution that does the least violence to the rules would be to just allow anyone with training in spear to do it, but the attack causes the weapon to become Unready. A technique at Spear-1 might do it (I think it’s easier than Armed Grapple, which is at -2) and still be able to be bought off with a 1-point perk, which feels right.

This gives you Reach 2 at the cost of having to re-ready. If that one-point perk allowed you to fast-draw (spear) or Spear-4 to recover as a free action on the next turn, that would not bother me at all.

Another way to go would be to model it as a Committed Attack that is Determined and uses the “attack and fly out” option, but with a 1-point perk that lets you basically attack at full skill to Reach 2, *without* moving your feet and actually attacking and flying out in time-of-the-body.

The penalties to defense (can’t parry with the spear) make complete sense in this case, and the fact that you actually are back to Reach 1 at the end of your turn without a ready is a bit cinematic, but it’s awesome. In my experience, the sliding attack takes a turn, and then you recover the weapon on the next.

Dungeons and Dragons

Eh. With the six-second turn of D&D, you can do all of the above multiple times in a turn. The simplest way to do it would be to allow an attack to higher reach, and then recovery to low-reach as a bonus action. Or just assume all of that sliding is below the resolution of the rules, give even a one-handed spear Reach, and have done with it.

I’ll have to check to see what I did with Martial Spear Fighting in the Dragon Heresy manuscript. Make sure that the Reach change is both allowed and as simple as possible.

I’m gearing up to play in a DFRPG/DF game (I think DF) with Christopher Rice. My character will be a classic Elf Scout, with an extra 100 points baked in from the start for Reasons. He’s definitely a bad-ass.

That being said, the way that you pick disads in GURPS can be rough. You need a lot of them even by default at 250 points, with the basic templates calling for-50 points in disads, which could be as few as 3 15-pointers, or as many as 10 5-pointers. That can be a lot of boolean menu-picking.

The issues usually comes in, for me, in the number of them I have to play. The current guy has about 100 points of disads. Some of them are racial and have to do with the campaign background as an elf. Some are job-related as not just a warrior, but a leader of warriors. Some of them are pure characterization. Each one adds something to the character, but there’s a lot to keep track of, and many are similar.

Aspects of Pointless Dungeons!

This won’t surprise anyone. Similarly-themed disads are a LOT like Aspects in Fate. They define how you act, both good and bad. In “Pointless Looting and Slaying,” Sean Punch put in “Heroic Flaws,” of which you take five. Each is a short, pithy statement that is basically a weak Aspect. As I know Sean either plays or has played Fate, I’m somewhat sure this was intentional.

But the concept of having 3-5 things that drive your character makes a lot of sense if you’re forcing yourself to write down or codify your behaviors for the purposes of tracking in a point-buy system. If OSR guys find themselves grunting “just roll 3d6 in order and go kill some orcs, for f**k’s sake,” this is me acknowledging the value of your character is what your character does, go play it.

Still, what I realized as I looked at my paper dude is that he really has a few archetypes going on here.

Duty and Honor. He feels honor-bound to respect, protect, and watch out for friends and foes, within limits. As a soldier, he trusts  comrades in arms with your life, and expects the same. He will fight to kill any enemy, but respects opponents nonetheless, acting with honor even among extreme violence. His blood-kin are his lifeline and reason for living, and strives to be worthy of the respect they’ve given you”

High Strung and Lethal. Combat is for keeps, and he’s been born and bred for it. He’s impulsive and bloody-minded, and has run into too many foes that regenerate or otherwise won’t stay down to not ensure that each foe is down, permanently. Living and training among a society of powerful magic-users means he uses injurious techniques without much thinking about it, since, well, when he was a kid, the training master was a ridiculously powerful mage that would just make it all better.

Damn Elf. Dragons and their kin hate me, and I hate them right back. I glow with unmistakeable power, and that power makes me think I can do anything, and especially do more than those damned city-dwellers. I’m right, of course, but with patient teaching, one day they’ll learn something. One day. For some reason, this attitude rubs folks wrong. Who knew?

The first and third each encompass something like 40 points in traits; the middle one is maybe 20. But they’re a darn-sight easier to remember than the traits that make them up individually.

Pointless Redux

Sean’s article from Alternatte Dungeons (Pyr #3/72) may be one of my favorite GURPS articles of all time. The general concept in reducing the required granularity of choices by making each one more meaningful (and “Under the Hood,” the component GURPS parts are all there) is something I would have LOVED to see as a different way to approach the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

For Disads, treating each Aspect or Heroic Foible (to borrow both from Heroic Flaws from #3/72 and a term for something similar Christopher used in the Ceteri campaign) as basically the equivalent of a 25-point cluster of disads, and scoping them so they’re about that influential, means that you can create memorable characters with a minimum of fuss.

Indeed, the division in Pointless Looting and Slaying of stuff you can do into Major and Minor abilities (roughly 20-25 and 10 points, respectively) keeps the flexibility and modularity that is GURPS, but greatly reduces the front-loaded chargen for which it’s justly (in)famous.

I liked it then, I like it now, and when it comes to sitting at the table, I know that I will be able to reflect my character’s actions in the three traits above in every scene and interaction.

Now I can go slay some dragons. Best if I find ’em and do ’em first. I’ve got my Elvish Longbow chucking quarter-pound arrows for 2d+5 impaling damage each. Or I bring the armor-piercers at 2d+5 (2) pi.

It’s the only way to be sure.

In the Pyramid Article “The Last Gasp,” I introduced Action Points to GURPS. They are a short-term fatigue store that must be managed in order to fight and move. They were designed as a solution to the “just spam the attack button” behavior that is endemic to the GURPS combat model – at least in my experience. There’s just no downside to it, and much upside. GURPS rewards you for going first, hitting first, and of course not being it. Best way to not be hit? Kill the other guy first (or incapacitate).

Really, for most combats, that’s both fine and realistic. As Emilio Estevez once said: “Two hits. Me hitting you, and you hitting the floor.”

But sometimes, combats are a bit more epic. Or more than a bit. And fighting is tiring. There are sagas and stories of troops so exhausted they are unable to fight. GURPS usually handles this after the fact, through Fatigue Point loss . . . but FP recover at 1 per 10 min, which means that much like the DnD short and long rest, you’re “all better” after a rather brief pause. Even the Long Term Fatigue points introduced after The Last Gasp but written LONG before it (due to odd schedules in GURPS since Ogregeddon) don’t quite get you there.

Regardless, Action Points originated with the car-thought: what if you had to spend an action point every time your rolled the dice? From there, it got modified (you can quickly see where that breaks down) into the form that appeared in Pyr 3/44. The key point is that you spend these short-term points to attack and defend, or even move a lot.

Also in the car, because I always do my best thinking where it’s potentially fatal for me to write things down, I thought about Rapid Strike and multiple parries and defenses. In GURPS, they’re heavily penalized. Rapid Strike is -6 per extra attack. Dual-Weapon Attack is -4, but you only get one. Extra Attack is 25 points and applies to all weapons rather than just your favorite one (if you want to strike twice, buy extra skill if you only use one set of weapons, Extra Attack is if you want to use multiple sets with poor defaults, like a grappling skill and a weapon skill). On the defensive end, each additional parry is -4; extra blocks are -5.

Aside: Having now trained in HEMA as well as Korean martial arts . . . I seriously question the defensive penalties. A properly executed parry requires very little movement with the weapon, as it’s always supposed to be held in a way that covers the vital line. Shield use is no less subtle and quick, and the vast swath of attack angles blocked by a medium shield makes for very effective denials. That is represented by the Defense Bonus, but still . . .

In any case, the thought occurred to me. If using action points, perhaps the exhaustion factor of burning them in order to defend is penalty enough? Or at least enough to make it so that the gigantic -6 to each additional attack (in ranged combat, not entirely analogous, -6 means that what you used to be able to hit at 100 yds you can now only hit at 10yds; Skill-12 at 75% chance to succeed/25% fail goes to 10% succcess/90% fail) and substantial defensive penalties are too much pain?

If you attack twice and have to step and defend twice, you’re looking at 4-7 action points in one second. Given most fighters will have 10-12, and heroic ones might be in the 14-20 range, you’re still looking at a burst capacity of only a few seconds before you have to recover a bit. Recover will only take a second or two . . . but that’s the whole point of the system. To have those couple of second pauses show up as emergent behavior.

Anyway, to the point. No solutions here, because I think it would need playtesting. But I have to wonder if the AP costs of defending make lower penalties make more sense. Defend all you want (or at least more easily), but you’re going to get tired quickly. The foe can still saturate your defenses (well, multiple foes, anyway), but you get tired. The free defenses you get with All-Out Defense will also become more attractive.

On the attack, I think you still need some sort of penalty, and it should scale upwards a LOT as you throw more attacks. I mean, two attacks – quick ones – in a short span isn’t crazy, especially using both hands. But as you use the same thing more and more, you start to get below the limit of reaction times, and that requires cinematic/superhuman abilities fast. But fact is, if you attack four times in a second, you’ve just spent a lot of your AP reserve.

In fact, that would be another way to go, which is forget the penalties to skill (though rushing an attack will cause some), if AP costs per attack went up, that sort of bursty movement would exhaust you so quickly that it would also self-regulate.

The other question that came up in casual discussion there would be the impact of things like Extra Attack and Altered Time Rate impact AP use and recovery. Mostly recovery.

I think Altered Time Rate works well enough as is. Just use more recovery actions as part of your ATR. Attack, then Recover (or vice versa), and use the law of averages to outlast your foe. Burn huge amounts of AP in a one-maneuver burst . . . then recover them. So that probably works well enough.

Extra Attack, though, is tricky. Well, perhaps not. I’ve always rather not liked the “must use two hands” thing, and found Multistrike to be inelegant. Extra Attack should just be an extra attack, period, as it should be better than +6 to skill (24 points). But . . . if Extra Attack also boosted your Recovery Roll by +4 (giving you on the average one extra AP per recovery action) that might be about right. You’re still likely to be burning AP faster than you recover them, though, so Extra Attack is less valuable than it was (sure, you can attack once more per level of Extra Attack, but unless you can recover that faster, it just means you tire faster). A more simple solution might be that each level of Extra Attack gives you +2 AP back on any successful recovery roll. Something like that.

Of course, if you did away with some of the penalties for attacking and defending quickly, then the best way to spend those 25 points might actually be some limited form of AP recovery, and recovering at HT/10 per second is also 25 points.

So Extra Attack is tricky, and to minimize the already substantial bookkeeping load of The Last Gasp (honestly, it would be a fantastic, always use it kind of thing except for the bookkeeping, especially on the GM’s side) it really ought to be something like a bonus to AP recovered.

Or hell, just say that much like All-Out Defense gives you 2AP you can only spend on defenses, Extra Attack gives you 1 or 2 AP that can only be spent on attacks. Probably 1. That’s simple and sidesteps too much additional bookkeeping: “the first N attacks, where N is your level of Extra Attack, are free.” Now THAT makes Extra Attack worthwhile in a way that just getting higher skill isn’t, which is cool.

One day I hope to play in a game that uses The Last Gasp, but lacking a computer to track AP (and I know that at least one Bot has been written to do so), the accounting load has proved too daunting except for Mailainka’s Cherry Blossom Rain campaing . . . where it worked precisely as intended, so he says.

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.


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.


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.