Wrestling with Technical Grappling

by mshrm

At this time, I can say for certain that the future of the Dungeon Fantasy game will include some form or subset of the rules presented in GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. It’s all just a question of figuring out the sweet spot of rules to use and rules to ignore for speed. I would be a lot more skittish about the change without the evidence provided by reports based on actual play, like this one over at Dungeon Fantastic, and examples like “Technical Natasha” over at Gaming Ballistic.

I’ve been going through the PDF, start to finish, making mental notes of neato stuff. There’s a lot there, more than we can use at the moment.

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I love the idea of Grip CP — “CP” being “Control Points”, a central concept for these rules, representing how much control one exerts over the thing being gripped, grappled, wrestled over, or wrung out — as presented on page 12. Effectively, anybody wielding a weapon has a grip on that weapon, with a rated strength. Under the basic rules (B370), two people wrestling over control of a weapon would engage in a Regular Contest of ST. Under the TG rules, they would attack the grip, modifying the Grip CP as they go. As the current grip varies from turn to turn, the weapon might be hampered but still usable, or retained but unready, and control can pass back and forth depending on who is doing better at the time.

As I look at the equivalent basic rules, it occurs to me that there doesn’t seem to be an option to force an opponent’s weapon to become unready:  if you win the Regular Contest, you take the weapon away; if you lose the Regular Contest, you lose your grip on the weapon; while the Regular Contest is being contested, the weapon is grappled and apparently the wielder apparently suffers a -4 DX when attempting to use it.  Unless there’s something I’m overlooking, under those rules, anybody trying to grab Gabby’s rapier is just setting themselves up for trouble. She won’t be wrestling for control, she’ll just be happy that you’re standing still and perforate you at an effective 15 skill. Offhand, that sounds like “Telegraphic Attack to the vitals” and “stabby-stabby-stabby” to me.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and the proper way to interpret the basic rules is to say that while the Regular Contest is going on, the weapon is flat-out considered unready. (Doubt it.) However, that means anybody who can make the initial grab can take away a person’s weapon, at least for a moment, and we’ll never, ever see (say) a kobold (ST 8) wrapping all four limbs (Grip ST 12) around Alric’s axe in an attempt to slow him down, only to have Alric eat the penalties and keep on swinging. That image alone is enough for me.

TG takes that Regular Contest, and injects a bunch of fresh nuance and options. It seems like it would just feel more like slowly peeling the enemy’s fingers off the grip, one by one. It offers the chance for more descriptive combats — “Since two hands aren’t doing it, I’ll add my teeth!  I bite his thumb!” — rather than just rolling until somebody fails.

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More options for the light fighter types. The basic books don’t seem to support armed grapples, only unarmed. GURPS Martial Arts appears to be where the Armed Grapple technique appeared, but I wouldn’t expect either Needles or Gabby to be much interested in it. Now, under TG, they’ll be receiving a bonus to their Trained ST — well, Gabby will, anyway, and I’m sure Needles will be raising his skill higher in time — which should help offset that reluctance.

Furthermore, I’m toying with the idea of having Trained By A Master and/or Weapon Master (and/or Heroic Archer, if anybody ever decides to pick up a ranged weapon and take to pinning bad guys to the walls by their clothes…) turn on one of the cinematic switches, and double inflicted CP.

It seems appropriate to me that a quote-unquote “Weapon Master” would be just as much bad news grappling as they would striking. At the very least, a master of nets or the like, weapons that entangle without damaging, should get some benefit equivalent to the normal damage bonus. It seems appropriate for other masters as well. Many’s the time, in movies and cartoons, I’ve seen the teacher snag the student’s collar with a weapon and drag ’em around.

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Bolas. Oh, goodness. I used to hate bolas. If they weren’t such a weird, off-brand weapon, I bet there would be more talk about ’em. One of the characters in the old street-level supers game (not the Supers 1200, but an earlier, 500-point attempt) was a pseudo-Batman-knockoff who used bolas, among many other weapons. Made sense, what with the less-than-lethal nature of the weapon. But in play… gah, they were horrible.

By the rules on B410, if you hit, and they try to Parry, you have a good chance of taking away their weapon.  If they fail to defend, you’ve just taken away the target’s next three actions. If you manage to entangle both their hands, they’re… I dunno, I guess they’re stuck until somebody comes along to free them. There’s no provision for escaping through ST or skill.  (Which is odd, since Escape would be available if someone were tied up carefully with a bola, but not if one is thrown at them.) If someone tried to entangle Rhino like this, I would just have him start doing thr-1 damage against the weapon itself until he broke free, which wouldn’t take very long at all, but that’s not very helpful for characters of high but still near-human strength. All else being equal, I would expect Conan’s superior strength to free him faster than the normal soldier beside him.

Conan’s probably got more Luck, too, which helps, but that’s beside the point.

At any rate, TG removes all that magic and turns them into just another entangling weapon, works the same way as everything else, by inflicting CP. A skilled user, one dedicated enough to slam the points into it, can still pull off crazy stunts… but the weapon itself isn’t an instant-win. It’s possible to get a bit of a hold on a target, enough to hamper but not enough to drop ’em. It’s equally possible for the skilled or lucky wielder to get massive CP and put a target down indefinitely, rather than having an upper limit of three DX rolls’ worth of inactivity. That’s win-win, as far as I’m concerned. It puts a lot more distance between the master and the student.

Funny thing about the Batman-knockoff:  over time, he used the bolas less and less, preferring to use a taser when seeking live prisoners. The taser was pretty darn effective, but not nearly as much as the bolas: it didn’t work on robots, and Rhino often likes a HT-based rolled better than three DX rolls, even with a steep negative modifier. It was almost as if the player became embarrassed at using such an annoying weapon.

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The rules concerning the differences between a wrestler wearing loose clothes and a sturdy backpack versus one wearing a loincloth and covered in oil (TG7-8).  When TPoTKotBO ran his experimental GURPS fantasy game, I played a wrestler, name of Dog, who made a habit of making sure he had a good coating of olive oil at all times. The GM allowed me a level of Slippery to account for this, which was cool of him, but the TG rules add some necessary spice. They don’t just have slipperiness making it harder to grab a character. They actually make it possible to lose CP over time, as the target slides from one’s grasp.

Makes me want to run a greased pig competition. Douglas Cole already outlined how to do a tug of war. If somebody writes up some good rules for bobbing for apples, Tembladera might have to have a fair.

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Spending CP to reduce hit location penalties with a strike. Simple and elegant, and it covers a bunch of moves with a single mechanic. Grabbing the head to set up a headbutt. The old trick with a hand on either shoulder and a knee in the natural place for a knee to go. From behind, one hand on the forehead and a blade across the throat. The smiling assassin, taking a handshake or a friendly hand on the shoulder and turning it into a grapple and a yank onto the concealed dagger.

Know something else you could adapt it to, I betcha?

Bishop, performing surgery.

Bishop, performing surgery.

You can do something similar with CP using Grab and Smash (TG24, updating MA118), where you make two attacks in a single turn (by whatever means), start off with a grapple, and then spend some or all of the inflicted CP to increase damage. (Some of those examples above could be played out this way, too.)

Hmm. Seems like you should be able to spend your CP’s to reduce the penalties for someone else’s attack, like when one guy puts the victim in a full nelson and the other guy punches the victim in the jaw. On the other hand, that could just be the active control penalties at work. Plus the All-Out Attack that sets ’em up for a surprise kick from the victim…

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The options under “Muscling It” (TG26) look like they’d come in quite handy, if we ever go back to playing any kind of supers. They’re also a key piece to running a rodeo in GURPS. (There’s that greased pig again…)

I’m inordinately fond of any set of rules that opens up a weird new kind of campaign. When GURPS Social Engineering came out, it made me extraordinarily happy that I could now set up a campaign around one character’s run for President. In a similar vein, I’ve been known to threaten a Matlock-based game, after a couple of drinks. I wouldn’t rule out a modern-day game based around rodeo competition, with or without the optional solving of mysteries or battling against supernatural menaces on the side.

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The One Foe option, where the character concentrates on one enemy, to the exclusion of any others, to get a benefit in defending against that enemy. It’s never, ever going to see use in the average dungeon brawl, of course, but it’s just the thing for one-on-one fights.

Who knows, maybe TKotBO will get his honorable duel one of these days…