Monday, July 20, 2015

The Grappling Post

Okay, this one has been a longtime coming. It's mostly about grappling, but also about other things as well. In particular, this post is about RPGs incorrectly "balancing" certain actions characters take in-game so as to make them un-usable.

Case-in-point: grappling.

Grappling has been maligned as a supermove by game designers for years. Why? Well, I just have no idea, because in all the incarnations of D&D that I've played, grappling sucks major balls. You get nowhere, fast, with grappling. Anything even remotely useful that can be attempted by/while grappling is a result of a half-dozen feats or very specific class features.

Let's take 5e D&D as an example. Grappling your opponent does two things in 5e: it reduces their speed to 0, and lets you move them around how you like. So, until the target escapes from you, which they probably will on their turn, they cannot move of their own volition.

Now, in a combat system with opportunity attacks, which already penalize combatants for trying to move around, not allowing someone to move is kinda lame.

Even more lame, is how difficult it is to do. You have to make a strength ability check, opposed by your targets strength check, in order to grapple them. No proficiency bonus, no advantage for True Strike, nada. Really, it's a 50/50 chance given that you and your opponent will likely have very similar strength bonuses. You may have a +7 to attack rolls, but you're shit outta luck when it comes to grabbing a guy.

You wanna pin a guy? Well, that requires a feat...

And the worst part is that this is by far the EASIEST (not including 4e) grappling system to date! In previous editions, you had to do a rain dance, then make seven athletics checks opposed by knowledge religion checks, followed by a sacrifice of your first born, after which you could see if you make contact with up to 1d4 fingers, then you rolled an attack roll per finger that touched, and if your total number of attached fingers after that was equal to or greater than the square root of your target's Hit Dice, you grappled.

And they still escaped next turn anyway....

Game designers need to calm down and just treat grappling like what it is: an attack. Maybe it isn't your best attack, since grabbing a guy's arm and snapping his elbow is much harder than swinging an axe at his head, but it is still an attack. Sure, picking a guy up and body-slamming him takes a little longer than shooting an arrow. Fine, make body-slams a two turn process. Grapple attack, then slam attack. The point is, you pay for attempting an attack by needing to roll a random number that determines your success. Grappling isn't any more or less effective as a means of beating your enemies than an attack, so why does it need special prerequisites to perform?

I use this Super-Simple Combat Maneuvers System in my game. And if you are saying, "Hey, isn't that broken because there is no reason to ever NOT try a combat maneuver on your turn, except maybe if you really want that critical hit damage?"

To which I say, no, and yes. No, it isn't broken, but yes, players are better off trying a maneuver than not, 19 times out of 20. And let me say, THAT'S GREAT!

Let me point your attention to this video of Aragorn again, where he grapples guys all the time, as well as disarms, trips, stuns, etc., as often as he has the opportunity to. The combat is cinematic, interesting, and non-repetitive because of that. You can only swing a sword so many ways...

And the even BETTER thing about this simple system is that it works for NPCs too. If your bugbear goes to grab your fighter, but rolls a measly 3 damage, the fighter will probably take the hit, no problem. But if the bugbear is about to deal 13 damage, the fighter may be inclined to let the bugbear get a grip. Now things get interesting. There is a micro give-and-take sort of gambling involved in combat now, because many damage numbers come with an "...OR you can suffer (insert maneuver here)."

10 damage, or drop your sword?

14 damage, or be stunned for 1 round?

8 damage, or fall prone?

You can even do it with spells, if your system uses magic attacks. Have the wizard attempt to knock enemies over with her fireball spell. "They can either take 12 fire damage, or be knocked prone by the concussive blast."

As far as I'm concerned, if your characters aren't rolling around on the ground, flailing for dropped weapons, and toppling over like Humpty Dumpty all the time, you aren't doing combat right.

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