Sunday, August 30, 2015

Grappling Rules, Compared

I've been noodling with an Ancient Greek seacrawl. And you can't have Ancient Greeks without Pankration, and you can't have Pankration without grappling rules.

There isn't a standard OSR approach to grappling. Holmes and  B/X don't address it, and AD&D presents what I assume is a Gygaxian prank.

So, here, I've collected and broken down into constituent parts all the grappling rules I found close to hand, with the thought of cherry-picking the best ideas. It includes two sets of houserules by Douglas Cole, who has written quite a lot about grappling. Not included here are the grappling rules he and Peter V. Dell'Orto wrote up for Tim Short's The Manor. Hurry up, postman.

Nature of the Contest: How Grappling is Initiated
5e Basic: STR check vs. Target STR or DEX. This doesn't apply terribly well to OSR, since NPCs don't have attributes.
AD&D: Oh, man. Oh geez. Ohohoho. Forget it.
AD&D Dragon #61: Melee attack vs. AC 5 (+DEX mod, any magical bonuses, +3 for a shield, and Speed Modifier that requires a chart).
Bloody Basic: Melee attack.
Blood & Treasure: Melee attack against a Difficulty Class of 14.
Douglas Cole’s 5e Houserule: STR check vs. Target STR or DEX.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Melee attack
DCC: Opposed melee attacks: Each side adds Agility or Strength mod (monsters add HD).
Delving Deeper: Melee attack required to engage if Target is armed or non-humanoid. Roll 1d6 per HD for each attacker; compare total with defenders 1d6 per HD.
LotFP: Contested roll: d20 + melee bonus + STR bonus. High number wins. Ties broken by contested DEX roll.
Mazes &Minotaurs: Melee attack
Swords &Wizardry Core: Melee attack to initiate grappling. Success is determined by everyone involved on both sides rolling 1d6 per hit die. The side with the highest die result wins.

Effects on Target once Grappled
5e Basic: Cannot move, act, or react.
AD&D Dragon #61: Attacker and Target each roll 1d12. If attacker wins by: 1-6, the target is held (in one of seven different holds, each with different repercussions); more than six, then escalating damage is dealt, as determined by another chart.
Bloody Basic: Adjudicated by the GM.
Blood & Treasure: Target is held and suffers 1d3 dmg.
Douglas Cole’s 5e Houserule: Multiple successes increase result: 1st Success: Grappled. Target cannot move. Takes 1 + STR bonus dmg.; 2nd Success: Restrained. Target cannot move and attacks are disadvantaged. Attacks on Target are advantaged. Targets takes 1d4 + STR bonus dmg.; 3rd Success: Incapacitated. Target cannot act except to speak and takes 1d6 + STR bonus dmg.; 4th Success: Paralyzed. Target cannot act and takes 1d6 + STR bonus dmg.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: 1d2-1 dmg.; can attack Attacker, but at -2
DCC: Cannot act except to attempt escape.
Delving Deeper: If Attacker wins: Target is pinned. If Tie: Struggle continues next round. If Target wins: Attackers are thrown back 1” and cannot participate for next combat turn.
LotFP: Attacker chooses: Immobilize Target, Disarm Target (one handheld item), or Release Target. Target must Save vs. Paralysis to resist Disarming. After 3 rounds, Target is pinned and unable to act.
M&M: Cannot act except to attempt escape.
S&W Core: If Attacker wins: Target is pinned and helpless and can be killed next round unless external help interferes. If Tie: Ongoing struggle; no one can attack with weapons. If Target wins: Attackers are beaten back and stunned for a number of rounds equal to the amount of their loss on the die roll.

Effects on Grappler, if any
5e Basic: Can move at half speed.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Attacker can attack Target at +2 for 1d2+bonuses dmg.; Second successful grapple results in opponent being pinned.

Means of Escape from Grapple
5e Basic: Contest STR or DEX vs. STR.
AD&D Dragon #61: If the Target rolls higher on opposed d12s, the hold is broken.
Bloody Basic: Target gets a Saving Throw.
Blood & Treasure: Fortitude Saving Throw to avoid being initially grappled. After that, the Target must make their own successful grapple attack to escape.
Douglas Cole’s 5e Houserule: STR or DEX vs. STR. Each success reduces the effects of the Attacker’s cumulative successes by one.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Successful attack on Attacker.
DCC: Another grapple contest.
Delving Deeper: Part of the collective Xd6 roll.
S&W Core: Depends on result of Xd6 roll (see above).

External Attacks on Grapplers
DCC: Any failed attack has a 50% chance of striking the other grappler.
LotFP: Grapplers respond as Surprised if attacked.

Dogpile: Handling Multiple Grapplers
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: +2 for each additional grappler.
Delving Deeper: Affects the Xd6 roll (see above). No more than 6 human-size Attackers can attack a single human-sized Target.
LotFP: Each grappler rolls, using the best roll with +1 for every grappler on that side.
S&W Core: Affects the Xd6 roll (see above).

Handling Size Differential
5e Basic: If Target is half attackers size, attacker can move at full speed.
AD&D Dragon #61: A matrix comparing opponent's sizes provides bonuses and penalties to the Attacker's d12 roll.
Blood & Treasure: Attackers one size smaller can only entangle an opponent (reducing them to quarter-speed). Attackers two sizes smaller cannot grapple.
LotFP: Creatures with any sort of inherent advantage in grappling get +1 per HD.
DCC: Attacker twice size: +4. Three times size: +8. Four times size: +16.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Relative size bonuses: +4/+2/0/-2/-4

Also: Tuvan wrestlers!
Let me know if I've missed any good rules, or if I've misrepresented any of the above!

As written, my favorite grappling rules are from Delving Deeper/S&W Core. I also rather like the four-stage submission of Douglas Cole's 5e Houserule. 

While most of the time, a straight melee roll vs. AC seems like the simplest and most logical way to initiate grappling, there are clearly going to be times where it doesn't work. I need to look through various monster lists and see how the various exceptions work out, but the obvious one is humanoids in armor. An orc in plate isn't anymore protected from grappling than one in street clothes.

A good rule of thumb might be to use Melee vs. AC most of the time, but to have a handy alternate formula for when that model doesn't work. Some possibilities, depending on system, and possibly depending on beast:

  • Melee vs. 10 + HD
  • Melee vs. 10 + (1/2 HD)
  • Melee vs. 10 + STR bonus
  • Melee vs. 10 + DEX bonus
  • Melee vs. STR or DEX

If I were to write up a Pankraitist class, I would probably make it a Fighter who gives up armor in exchange for extra hit dice. The hit dice would both ameliorate the loss of armor and model the Pankraitists grappling expertise. At level five, their bare hands count as magic weapons and maybe they can wrestle insubstantial foes.

I might let either STR or DEX modifier the Attacker's Melee roll.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alternate Character Class Round-Up

Apropos nothing, here, from the great swirling surfeit of alternate classes available on the Internet, are a few I'm especially fond of.

Timothy Ide
Delving Deeper: The Illusionist (free pdf)
No shortage of contenders out there for the spell-casting variant, the Illusionist. This one is unique, and wonderful. Rather than a magician who specializes in a particular type of spells, this Illusionist is a straight-up fraud. But an effective fraud. Instead of spells, he prepares tricks—chemicals, gadgets, sleights of hand—to mimic the appearance of magic.

F'rinstance, this first level "spell":
FOG (affects: 4" diam, duration: 6 turns + 1 turn/level, range: 6") The illusionist mixes two ethers that immediately produce a thick bank of fog 4" in diameter (or any equivalent dimensions) and up to 20ft deep. It is impenetrable to sight.
Some of the contrivances for the fake spells are more convincing than others, but it's not important that each spell hold up to practical scrutiny. Once the class's schtick is sufficiently established, I think we can all allow some hand-waving on how exactly some effects are achieved.

Interestingly, some of the higher level spells actually do cross over into actual magic, as Illusionists begin to tap into some sort of shadow plane. Rather than undercut the conceit, I think this implies that, in a magical (that is to say, analogical) environment, a convincing enough lie becomes the truth. It's all very Gene Wolfe.

Beyond the cleverness of the conceit, and the potential for role-playing (imagine the rivalry between an Illusionist and an actual spell-caster within the same party), something I really like about this class is that assumes that magic is not so quotidian that there is still profit to be made from faking it.

Mattias Adolfsson
Anomalous Subsurface Environment: The Robot (link)
So, obviously, all right-thinking nerds want to play a robot at some point in some game. But robots are tricky as PCs. They skip over so many of the basic human frailties that they can really, ah, short-circuit an adventures challenges.

Patrick Wetmore's Robot starts out very frail: a spongy positronic brain in an acrylic case perched on top of a spindly mechanized armature. As they adventure through the gonzo wastelands of the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, they scavenge parts to upgrade and accessorize themselves.

This is an admirable solution. It takes a character concept that typically has been a rough fit for level advancement and makes it work absolutely perfectly. IN fact, it makes leveling-up work so perfectly for robots that they almost don't seem right for non-robots.

My only complaint with the Robot is that the advances are set in stone. At level 5 you will get a plasma cannon installed in your chest, end of story. You can excuse this by thinking of it as a hard-wired upgrade and maintenance schedule. But it'd be fun to expand to a menu of upgrade possibilities, to reflect the randomness of scavenging and the proclivities of the individual.

EDIT: My wish has been granted! Stan Rydzewski has written a version of the AES Robot with upgrade options!

Goblin Punch: The Bug Collector (link) (and also) (further also)
Every morning, while the cleric is praying and the wizard is studying, you dig around in the underbrush, looking to add to your bug collection. You roll a random assortment of collected insects based on what sort of ecosystem you find yourself in, and can expend the bugs (often by eating them) to access spell-like effects.

The class is a really fun class to play, especially in a campaign that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a work-progress, though. Bug lists have only been worked out for a few levels with smattering of suggestions for where to go from there. But we're a DIY community, right? We're not afraid of filling in the gaps. Especially when working with as inspired an idea as this.

The Land of NOD: The Gourmand (link)
John Stater is the poet laureate of character classes. He brought us the Canting Crew and the Master Blaster. His Bloody Basic books are finely tailored rulesets with wonderful classes specialized for given settings.

The Gourmand is less interesting because of his mechanics (his cooking can heal and his reputation can score the party seats at fancy do's) than for his motivation—which is to travel the world finding new things to eat. I haven't played a gourmand, but, inspired by this class, I did play a fire-and-brimstone cleric who felt it was the mission of the Righteous to consume evil and purify it through the digestive process. I really liked that character. Died from friendly fire, fighting some tender-looking orcs.

Erol Otus
Dyson's Dodecahedron: The Gibbering Mouther (link)
I'm half-hoping that my necromantic sabbat-satyr dies in the deep pits of a dungeon, because it would be the perfect chance to replace him with a Gibbering Mouther!

Erol Otus' shoggoths hold a special place in the nightmares of my generation of geeks, and it was a stroke of absolute genius on Dyson Logos' part to turn them into a playable race. Basically, you are a writhing blob of screaming eyes and teeth. You drool, you ooze, you screech, you chatter incessantly in unnerving tongues, and you spread madness to friend and foe alike. And you just keep growing bigger.

I made my own, more dapper version of the Shoggoth for a Microlite20 ASE hack. But I really want to play the straight Dyson version, sometime. Soon. Now.

EDIT: check out this great variation: The Impressionable Young Shoggoth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Let's Ride!

Just had a fun evening with the kid, using +Benjamin Baugh's B/X supplement: At 5th Level, Everybody Rides.

The idea is that, just as you get a fancy house when you enter upper-level domain-style play, you get an epic mount when you reach the point where B/X introduces wilderness exploration. And who doesn't want an epic mount?

The kid had been asking if his lizardman fighter could catch a hippocampus. I pulled out Benjamin's rules, and the kid forgot entirely about any fish-tailed horses, and instead rolled:

GHOSTLY, the undead coal-fired cyborg horse-fox-spider chimera!

Ghostly is a walking nightmare, ridden by a lizardman with a flaming sword. My seven-year-old is metal as fuck.

And so, of course, we didn't stop there:

Lisa, the rabbit cleric, rides high atop a tiger-striped wooly mammoth that can sound the heavenly trumpets with his trunk.

Bochen, the griffon wizard, doesn't need a mount, because he's a griffon. But he gained a companion: a spectral crab that floats behind him, focusing Bochen's magic and nibbling at anything that catches his interest.

And Durgan, the rustic bear pankratiast, plods along on Wilmore, a grumbling rhinoceros beetle.

In just a few pages, Benjamin packed a lot of goods. There's enough die-roll randomization to spur your imagination, but enough choice that you end up with a mount that feels right for your character.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thinking about Attributes


That's about as simple as you can get with abstracted quantitative measures of pretend humans. Some might say that you don't need Heart, but they're probably not much fun to play with.


These six attributes are like a beautiful nerd haiku. They not only carry tremendous nostalgic weight, but they're pretty brilliantly flexible. This is the porridge Goldilocks ate.


Yech. Anytime an attribute list gets too long, I start backing away. This is a more accurate depiction of the sort of competencies I test for in my games, though.

Á la Carte Expendable Additions

Depending on the campaign, one or more of these might be helpful. These can be used as roll-under attributes, but points from them may also be expended. F'rintsance, You may roll Resources to generally see if you can acquire the items you need, but your castle burning down may cost you several points, or you might willingly spend points to acquire something rare and remarkable, like a magical artifact. And, of course, you lose Sanity points when you fail a Sanity check, and can probably spend Sanity to gain insight into horrible things.

Minimalist Divided
Body (Strength/Dexterity)
Mind (Awareness/Knowledge)
Heart (Social/Will)

This takes a page from Star Frontiers, with its paired attributes.

Roll 3d6 for each root attribute. Exchange as many as two points between attribute pairs. Maximum of 18.
Assign 8, 10, and 14 to each root attribute. Move as many as four points from one half of a pair to another. So the maximum spread might looks like:
Body: 8
     Strength: 4
     Dexterity: 12
Mind: 10
     Awareness: 14
     Knowledge: 6
Heart: 14
     Presence: 18
     Will: 10

Just thinkin'.