Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Technical Grappling + DF = Awesome

I mentioned a couple times that we're using Technical Grappling for Dungeon Fantasy.

At first glance, this must seem odd, especially given my emphasis on stripped-down combat for DF.

But actually, it's not that crazy. Admittedly, we're using a stripped down set of rules from TG, not all of the bells and whistling going with all of the rules for realism turned on.

But we basically aren't doing any of the cinematic rules for it, either.

The key here is the basic utility of the underlying mechanic - Control Points (CP).

First, realize that TG in DF is for the monsters. It's not for the PCs. It's not a way to make a grappling badass who choke-slams and arm locks monsters two per second - although you can do that. It's a way to make grappling monsters both scarier and a more nuanced foe.

We had a fight with crushrooms last time. ST 40, 4d crushing bite, Constriction Attack. By the Basic Set rules, a graby by that is game over - it bites for 4d, it holds on, and crushes you to death while you hope you and your friends can kill it. It misses, nothing. That binary switch (grappled & hosed, not grappled & fine) is so coarse it means when they hit people assume they're dead. Or at least, suffer -4 DX and wait for the crushroom to do a Takedown (easy) and Pin (easier) and end it.

But with CP-limited grapples, even with the massive CP they can inflict (one did 34 CP on Vryce, enough to reduce a normal map to total immobility almost twice over), there is a cap to the badness. Even as the penalties for being grappled are so much more harsh (Vryce was at -17 ST and -8 DX at one point) the ability to treat a grapple as a progressively counterable effect is dramatic. A few good rolls by Vryce and he whittled the CP on his arm down until the crushroom's grinding constriction was merely dangerous instead of potentially lethal - that added to a sense that trying to get free is worth it even when the odds are against you. The direct correlation between the quality of the grapple and the ability to act despite it is also crystal-clear with TG.

So there is a chance of a marginal grab. There is utility to using Break Free to whittle away at CP so a hold is progressively loosened, without the non-drama of "I roll vs. ST 20, it rolls vs. ST 40, oh look, it won!" There is the chance for a so-so grab to merely slow you down in your monster-killing.

But at the same time, a grab-specialized monster can now inflict ridiculous top-end effects. No longer is being grapples by 6 tentacles from a tentacled horror just "-4 to DX and I can't Retreat" but it could take you all the way to effectively pinned and helpless in seconds, all because you couldn't stop its initial grab. Running CP so that toothy maws grabbing onto your plate armor and - despite not penetrating - holding on means bite-based grapples suddenly become a continuing problem even if their damage is too low to be a direct means of killing you.

So monsters that grapple now have a wider breadth of lethality - not just yes/no. Counters to being grappled are now set so even weaker PCs can slowly work out of the grasp of monsters, so attempting to break free is much more often a useful exercise.

The change from a binary grappling system to a CP-based system has made grappling better. What's more, it makes the game flow more smoothly. No one argues, or tries to explain why they can somehow pull off X or Y despite being grappled, or groans that they'll need a new guy because they missed that Dodge roll vs. the crushroom bite. It's all clear, nothing is insurmountable, and the effect-based rolls for grapples fit smoothly into how GURPS does things otherwise.

All in all, using TG for DF is why the crushroom fight last time was such a fun one and a dramatic one, not an excuse to sigh that even ST 40 gets you nothing special when you chomp and hold on. Oh yes, it really does. But with a CP pool to whittle down, it's not the end of the fight.

Good stuff. It's improved my game.


  1. That sounds interesting. I wish there was something like that for mental combat. I a wizard cast charm person on a PC it might be cool to have some way to break the control other than a quick contest of skills where if you fail your PC is out of play.

    1. I'll tell Doug there is a market for GURPS Thaumatology: Technical Mind Control!

    2. Let's just say that Benjamin isn't the first to think of this. And let's just say I heartily endorse the results, whenever it shows up, should it show up. Somewhere. Not written by me.

    3. But really mind control powers like mind control magic and powers are no fun to have inflicted on PCs. It would seem more exciting from a players stand point to have something like Technical Grappling to try to resist the mind control power than nust to say sorry your PC can do nothing because he failed his resistance roll.

    4. I agree. Another author agreed. He wrote an article. I've seen it, and it is good. More than this, I cannot say.


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