Sunday, February 5, 2017

Even more CP-based Grappling Reflections

Yesterday I posted about our use of stripped-down Technical Grappling from a bookkeeping and complexity perspective in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Felltower.

But what about from a more technical perspective?

Why stripped down?

We basically stripped down TG to its bare bones to add to Dungeon Fantasy. This is largely because our Dungeon Fantasy combats are already stripped down. We use a subset of the combat rules, putting aside most things that add extra detail that seems extraneous in a game centered on fighting monsters in dungeons.

Grappling couldn't really be more nuanced or detailed than striking. So, for us it's not. All of those more fiddly bits in TG that allow a portrayal of grappling with more verisimilitude get shoved aside. It's the core mechanic I'm interested in - CP - so we centered on that.

How Stripped Down?

The core bit of TG to me is an effect-based roll for grappling. In Basic Set GURPS, you grapple, your foe gets an active defense, and if they fail they get grappled. Actions follow. In TG as we've implemented it, you grapple, your foe gets an active defense, and if they fail you roll a point-based effect roll that accumulates CP instead of reducing HP.

That's pretty much what we deal with - a roll, consequences, and move on.

It also has a useful sliding scale of awful that I find is critical for DF. As it stands in Basic Set grappling:

- Grappling is binary, and any grapple is a -4 to DX (subject to location rules).
- Breaking Free is binary.
- Pinning is binary and final.
- Grappling follow-up attacks either work or don't.

With DF-level heroes, these can feel a bit off. We had a fight with monsters stolen right from AD&D - ropers. They'd grapple, it was terrifically hard to stop them from doing so. Then, that was it. They could bite, but hey, the opponent has a -4 to DX and DX 14 and skill in the high 20s. -4? He accepts a -8 to -10 to hit just for Deceptive Attacks, so this just means your grapple is netting you a +2 to defend against his heavily deceptive multiple attacks. They couldn't really threaten much else without follow-on powers.

Equally, the PCs couldn't Break Free with any realistic hope of success. So they didn't bother. They'd complain about the rules, they'd groan if pinned. Getting pinned happened twice that I can remember in all of our years of gaming, and everyone complained then and now about it.

In TG grappling

- Grappling is on a sliding scale, meaning a grapple can inflict anything from no penalty to massive ST and DX penalties.
- Breaking free is cumulative.
- Pinning is a consequence of too many CP rather than a roll.
- Grappling follow-up attacks are more or less scary depending on how grappled you are.

What that's meant is that grappling isn't always going to inflict a -4 to DX, but it could be worse. It can get progressively worse. 8 CP on a ST 10 man gets you the standard -4 DX, but it'll be less on a ST 20 hero . . . yet that ST 20 hero might get grappled for 10, 20, 30+ CP. It feels both heroic to have a guy draped with grapplers still fighting on, but also fearing cumulative effects of ST and DX penalties.

The cumulative breaking free has meant you can eventually wriggle out of a hold, especially if your foe is distracted from just attacking to further control you. The drama of the CP effect roll is especially nice. So breaking free has been added to our games, basically. Before, people only did that as a perfunctory "I have no else to do so I'll try to break free" knowing they'd fail but having nothing else to do. Now it's a useful option, and it feels right that a good hold makes it harder and a good grappler can stuff your attempts to weaken a grip yet you can still get in benefits. Even when the CP are too high for you to get out from, lowering the damage your foe can inflict on you is very useful.

The "pinned and helpless" effect being from too many CP compared to your ST and DX just feels right. 10 HP of damage is lethal to a rat, fight-ending to a ST 10 human, and annoying to a HP 30 barbarian. So then is 10 CP fight-ending for a rat, seriously restricting to a ST 10 human, and annoying to the ST 20+ DX 13+ barbarian. Yet when it all adds up to too much, and you're helpless even with All-Out Attack (Determined) and Telegraphic Attack, you don't feel bad. It's not a "no, you can't" it's a "you could have, if you were stronger, faster, or kept a few of those CP off." That makes all the difference.

You can see this in the demon-ape fight, where grappling plays a big part but it's still dynamic, not yes-no grappled-free dead-fine. When PCs were grappled until helpless, it felt dramatic and like a normal consequence, not a "if I'd made that one roll, the fight would have gone differently" moment.

We've also had some "two can play at that game!" battles. Mo is especially fond of grappling those who've grappled him. Once he'd grappled one guy, got grappled by another, and even while being mauled choked the one he'd grabbed. You could do that with Basic Set, but the sliding penalties of CP made it work much easier.


  1. What I went ahead and did was put Grapple attack lines for most of my creatures. I calculated effective ST based on grappling skill, size, and obvious advantages or disadvantages (Constriction Attack). It's nice to just list this as one line, as it reminds me it's there as an option, and summarizes the effects. Indeed, if any grappling system could be summarized as a single line, we'd stop griping about grappling.

    1. Yeah, CP inflicted is just a stat line with TG, which makes it nice. Grappling-as-a-different-rules-subsystem just isn't necessary, and mostly when people say grappling sucks or is unfair they mean it's different and clunky. The same effects handled the same way as hitting and damage just feels right and fair.

    2. It's not GURPS, but using the rules in "Dungeon Grappling" with 5e basically has "grappling as stat line." Let me dig one out. Here's for the Cloaker, an aberration.

      Grapple. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit. Hit: 2d6+3 control damage. A creature, including the target, can take its action to detach the cloaker by making a grappling attack to break free; if control is reduced to 0, the cloaker is forcibly removed.

  2. "This is largely because our Dungeon Fantasy combats are already stripped down."

    Are they though? It was reading your uses of the extra bits from Martial Arts that made me sit down and read MA* to decide if I wanted all those extra bits (and I did).

    * I had initially thought 4e Martial Arts was like 4e Magic, 'merely' a reprint of 3e, not a host of new combat options and Maneuvers, and as I wasn't using styles in my games I was ignoring it.

    1. Yes, they are. We're using a subset of the rules in Basic Set, not all of them, and a subset of the options in GURPS Martial Arts, not all of them. Just because they're not stripped all the way down to the bone doesn't mean they're not stripped down at all.

    2. Besides bleeding what have you tossed out from Basic (if you had an article on this I've forgotten it)?

      Lack of Bleeding is all I've noticed as missing in your write-ups, but then there are likely details I'm missing and rules presuming you're using when you aren't.

    3. Bleeding, Extra Effort, cumulative injury for crippling, and critical hit tables come to mind offhand. The things we added tend to be universal simplifications or some expansions like multiple blocks and resisting Feint with your best skill or swapping feints for attacks. Those tend to speed and simplify as they change special cases to universal rules.

  3. Oh yeah, I forgot your neat critical success rework.

    1. It's just the rule from p. B326, that's all.


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