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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.


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