November 23, 2014

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming)

I finally return to Pyr#3/72 (after Pyr#3/73 is already out!) to finish up my review of this issue, Alternate Dungeons.

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there's plenty more where that came from, but let's go with what we have.

Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming (+Christopher R. Rice )

Summary: Christopher goes for a two-fer, in that either the Imitator template or the video game achievements sub-sections are basically complete article concepts as stand-alones. The Imitator concept takes multi-classing to a mechanical extreme, allowing selection from a number of templates. The video game sub-section presents several (more than 10) plot devices from games and implements them mechanically in GURPS.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The Imitator template, powers, new power-ups, and detailed full-page under the hood box make me almost give up my default distaste for the GURPS template format as a nod to how complete it is. Almost. The other video game tropes are short and to the point, but clearly understandable representations of the desired ability. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  The video game tropes were my favorite part of the article, as any of them might make a good "oh, you've come from a video gaming background, we can emulate that style with . . . " switch. The Imitator concept is interesting, but one can get the breadth needed simply by waiving the need to build from templates; if the GM says "templates mandatory" approach, consider this a cheat code. Even if you don't like the concepts themselves, the rigor with which the powers and abilities are designed is worthwhile. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  The video game tropes section contains rules switches that are utterly drop-in. The Imitator template might only be available at the start, but between the under the hood box and the detailed workup of the base Imitation power and Emulation ability, this can be obtained piece by piece if needed. All of them can drop into an existing DF campaign. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. Two articles for the price of one, almost. All of the concepts presented can be found in some of the video games that inspired the Dungeon Fantasy series and concept even more than Dungeons and Dragons. Being able to borrow explicitly, rather than implicitly, from these progenitors is an interesting take on the genre, and new to me since I was never much involved with those games. The template is well presented (my own biases aside) but a concept made necessary only by the usual enforcement of "must use templates" for Dungeon Fantasy. The ten-or-so other mini-tropes are each of them interesting, and I really need to revisit the soul eating thing. That one is a fascinating alternative to character points that would take a game in an entirely new direction - and yet still fall within both the DF genre and respectful to the computer games from which it sprung (and which co-exist with it on PCs and consoles today).

Would I use it? Mostly. The Imitator template and power set isn't for me, but that's because I use templates less as niche protection and more as cheats to save time. If someone wanted to free-form design a character, I'd probably let them. Three of the tropes (the mini-map, leveling up your sword, and the supremely cool soul eating section) are good choices for how I like to play games. That's more than enough to make this a worthwhile read for me.

Biases Aside: I'm going to start adding this to my reviews. This is an alternate scoring if you're approaching the article as not-me.

  • Dislike of Template Format: I more or less loathe the GURPS Template presentation style (though I'm very, very fond of templates as implemented with GURPS Character Assistant; I just can't stand reading them). I cannot think of a better way to execute a template concept as it's presented, other than +Sean Punch's Pointless Slaying and Looting that is found within this very issue. If you love templates and your eyes don't glaze over reading the giant wall of stats, the writing score would go up to 1 point.
  • Mandatory Templates: If you run a game that enforces templates, as I would not, then the drop in utility of this article goes to 4 points. 
  • Limited Selection: Of the video tropes section, there are three I love, and the others I'd probably not use. If you also don't like templates and are disinterested in some of the options, you might hit Background, Inspiration and Eiphany and Drop-in as 2 points; I can't see how you go lower than 3 on Drop-in; everything in it is available for this purpose.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: As high as 9/10 if you don't share my views on things, or as low as 5/10 if video game emulation or stealing ideas from it are not your cup of tea.

November 21, 2014

Return to the Mad Archmage

After a six-week hiatus, +Erik Tenkar , +Peter V. Dell'Orto , +Tim Shorts , +Joe D , and a new player Reece, playing Bronan the 3rd level fighter.

We carefully negotiate the 5% slope, assuming Bronan the level 3 fighter (yay, more meat shields!) cannot detect it.

After securing healing potions and whatnot, we head to something that looked like a New Yorker flipping a bird to the dungeon, and find a 20x20 room. With a letter in it.

We head back the other way, because as Peter says, everything in his dungeon marked with a letter is "Capital A" bad.

We need to open a door, so Rul and Mirado biff it, but Minister "he who rolls 1's" . . . rolls a 1 to open the door. There's glass on the floor, broken bottles and such. We search the room while Mirado waits outside for the rest of us to be teleported elsewhere.

We search to no avail, and move on.

We keep searching, find a door or three. We start kicking again, and once again Rul and Mirado wimp out. The freakin' STR 17 Cleric/Mage kicks in the door. 

Shouldn't you be studying spells or praying or something?No, today is legs day.

We find orange cones, yellow tape, and it looks like a storage room. We decide we'll set up coins in a "lane change" configuration into a spiked pit, and just level up while we sleep as they all go right into the pit. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

We go find more doors to kick down, and this time, we find stairs down!

We decide to head downstairs, where the monsters are more badass and the experience points will pile up. If we live.

We enter a room with nine guys wearing blue surcoats and mail working out, all engaged in fight training. We debate whether actually talking to them would violate our idiom. We send Reece in there to "get massive." And we go in and talk. 

They notice us, and slowly arm themselves. One of them goes and bangs on a nearby door.

We ask if they don't mind if we do a set? No? They summon a half-orc, who says "volunteers for the arena?" We stutter and stammer a bit. More warriors come from the south. We stall. Another voice from the back (that would be Joe D's halfling). He steps forward. They ask what color we're fighting for, and if not, what the f**k are you doing here?

Mirado tries to ask about the arena, finds out that this is the blue team (no surprise there). They ask him if he's a good fighter. "Better than you," he says, hefting his ogre head.

Oh, it is so on.

First blood or first death? Death first, shouts the halfling.

We place bets within ourselves on whether Peter gets killed. Ours is a different kind of party. 

They tie for initiative, and someone tries to cast a spell on Mirado, but he nails him with a solid hit roll and hits for 8 HP. They trade blows for a bit. They seem evenly matched at first, but we note that he's adding +9 to his roll for level. 

"Do you yield?" the blue haasks?

"No!" Mirado shouts. 

The blue guy tags him again; even against Peter's AC 18, this guy has a 55% chance to hit, and Peter's dice are not with him. 

"I take no pride in beating my lessers," he asks Mirado, who has already taken 26 HP of damage. He yields, and Roscoe (Joe D) collects his 10 cp. The foe takes Mirado's silver dagger in tribute . . . and heals him for 5 HP. Fighter and some sort of spellcaster too. 

At this point, there are about a dozen humans, two large trolls wearing blue tabards.

We decide that we're going to beat the trolls to death with the halfling. It's traditional

There are four factions. The blues, greens, reds, purples, and whites. The blues are the only ones who would have spared us, and the purples are those looking to hire, perhaps. 

Mirado: We're happy to fight. For gold.
Blue Guy: The gnome (halflng) can work concessions.
Roscoe: I just won money off of this shit, I'll run your m********f***ing concessions stand for you.
The purples are the most likely to embrace us rather than enslave us. The blues don't need us. 
Oh, what the hell. We'll follow that railroad.
We go find the arena, which is impressive as hell. Rare hardwoods, stadium seating. Nothing's currently going on.

We do a reconnoiter to see if we can get back to the stairs without crossing through blue territory. We find a split corridor, but they do join up, so there's an escape.

We ignore the challenge of battle in the purple arena, and start kickin' in doors. Minister heals up Mirado to 35 HP. "35HP is plenty," says Mirado, tempting fate. We continue to explore, finding lots of variously colored rooms, color coded to the factions they belong to. We also find a betting parlor and a heavily locked door.
"Hey, hey, hey. Let's try the subtle way," says our halfling. He rolls 97. "Have at it, meat puppets."
Minister casts a Knock spell, but the door is cursed, but he saves. We find lots of loot: 6,000sp, 4,000gp, 19 gems, and 2 pieces of jewelry. 

The curse would have been 1 HP per day until the treasure was returned. Ouch.

We debate leaving, because the jewelry could be worth a ton, but instead keep on. We find a statue of the God of Atheletics (who we decide is His Lord Ahnold).

We wander and explore a bit, and come to a door, and all the high-ST people and all the rest of us beat on the door, and are defeated. We pour acid on the door, and Bronan busts it open. Finally.

This is a jail, or at least cells. A giant scoprion, a bonesnapper, a clacker, a panther that fades in and out - a phase panther, and a gnome and a half-elf handling the panther. The panther is outside the cage. Yeesh.

They threaten us. we threaten back. The halfling wants to pet the phase panther. Mirado pays for the broken door, encouraging tyranny.

We move on, and wander for a while more. We find another tiny door. We go through it, and find a colony of 12 "eye-killers." This is not good. We try and withdraw, successfully. We keep looking, and find skeletons instead. Rul pulls out his +3 vs undead sword.

The halfling is first, and he tags one for 3HP. Rul hits for 10HP. Bronan pushes his way in, and hits for 12 HP. Minister goes for the funky undead turning, which does not work.

Our halfling gets tagged for 4HP, and that's the extent. We whittle away a bit more at the skeletons.

Next round, we kill them all, and look for treasure. We find a 2-foot diameter copper disc on the back wall, with etchings on it - it looks magical. Minister sees the equivalent of a scroll of lighning bolt, etched into the copper foil, 7th level equivalent.

We decide to hit one more door. Rul kicks in the door and finds a turkish bath.

We bail. Heading back to the surface to cash out.


So we killed two skeletons, but stole a bunch of money.

3800gp for the gems, 2,500gp for the jewelry. 6,300 gp for gems and jewelry, 600gp in silver, 4,000gp. Total is 2180gp, 2159 XP for rooms and combat. 4339XP each, bonus pushes to 4,990XP and 2180 gp.

So all in all we had a gigantic amount of fun, but it was a fairly lousy run given where we are in required XP for leveling up. Bronan does level up, though, as does Roscoe.

November 20, 2014

Melee Academy: Arm Lock in detail

Arm Lock as a combat technique has had a long and somewhat storied history in GURPS. As a result of a Forum thread (that I'm not going to link to here; it's not the point) I went back and looked at commentary and execution on the technique since 4e came out in 2004.

It's worth looking at - what actually happens in this technique.

Arm Lock in the Raw

So, firstly, I want to note that the use of standing arm locks has a long and well documented history. The pictures to the right are from Fiore, I believe (I really need to get the original works on that one). 

All of them invoke the same basic principles: put the joint in a position where further motion is injurious, and apply leveraged force such that your foe has very limited ability to actually apply his strength, both due to unfavorable angles as well as the position of the muscles and joints being difficult for the locked person to apply significant muscular force. Some of these moves are quite painful as well, though pain can be ignored and doesn't impact everyone equally.

There are two ways to apply an arm lock in broad strokes - offensively and defensively, and this is reflected in the GURPS rules for applying them. In nearly every case, you first must be in contact, if not control, of some part of your opponent, most often the arm (but a shoulder lock can cut that pretty finely at times).

The broad strokes are basically

  • Make contact with the limb and secure a grip
  • Move either yourself, your foe, or both into the proper position; this can be quite dynamic depending on what both of you do
  • Apply force to the joint. Slow force will usually produce discomfort, then pain, then a break or (more likely) a dislocation. Fast "vibratory" force will break or dislocate the joint pretty instantly. 

There is often movement associated with such locks. This is both for positioning, as in step 2 above, or to get the heck out of the way of a return strike. You can see in the six images to the right that in five of them, the unlocked arm is basically out of play (the bottom left is a maybe/maybe not). The other option is some sort of leg stomp, though the availability of that move will vary widely depending on what both fighters are doing. No guarantees it can be done.

Defensive Standing Arm Locks with the Basic Set and Martial Arts

Some say this is the primary way that this technique is used in GURPS, and I won't necessarily disagree. The basic pathway here is straight-forward:

  • Parry an incoming blow with Wrestling or Judo (or another skill if you have the right gateways, such as Technique Adaptation) when your foe throws his attack. This happens, obviously, on your foe's turn.
  • On your own turn, step into close combat and attack using Arm Lock; your foe defends as usual. If you succeed, his arm is trapped and locked. This counts as being grappled.
  • Your foe may try and break free, but you're at a significant advantage (+4 because he's locked, and you're at +5 if you have him with two hands), and every failed attempt nets another penalty.
  • On the turn after that, if you want, you can rock his world. Apply pain or injury, try a throw from a lock, or whatever. This is almost always a Quick Contest, but that may depend on the technique you use. You get ST bonuses for Wrestling and such, but it doesn't look like the +4 for Arm Lock and +5 for grappling with two hands applies here - that's only for breaking free. The injury is based on the Quick Contest, with damage equal to margin of victory
  • If your foe is standing, you can also employ the ridiculously nasty Throws from Locks (Martial Arts, p. 118). It's resolved as a quick contest; win it and do swing crushing, plus damage bonuses for Wrestling if you have them, to the limb. This can include the neck, if you have him in a Head Lock. That damage is swing, x1.5 for hit location. It's basically like hitting him in the neck with a shortsword in terms of injury, and flexible DR is not effective here. Yowzers.
Instead of injury, you can also apply pain with locks, which will impair him as well as hurt his ability to break free.

The real hell about this "defensive" arm lock is that while it does require a Wrestling or Judo Parry, there's no additional penalty associated with this. You parry, and the next turn you can slap on that lock maneuver by rolling what is often (if you're wise) your unarmed grappling skill +4 or +6 (the +6 is for those with GMs that don't beat you with their +Peter V. Dell'Orto 's DMG for asking for Technique Mastery on Arm Lock, and allow it).

So let's look at how that works, with a focused build:

Mr. Lockenkey: ST 12, DX 12, Judo-14 (DX+2), Arm Lock-18 (DX+6).
For 4 more points and GM permission, pick up Technique Mastery (Arm Lock) [1], Arm Lock-20 [2 more], and Power Grappling, which is so evilly useful I suggested eliminating it in TG.
We'll put him against an unspecialized but not-sucky fighter.

Mr Dodeca: ST 12, DX 12, Combat Skills-12, HT 12.

Since we're basing this fight on a defensive Arm Lock, I chose Judo. You'll see why in minute. 

If he can, Mr. Lockenkey goes first and takes All-Out Defense. Technicall this would count as "Turn Zero," and I'm granting him the benefit of that move, since that's the way I've actually seen Arm Lock experts (in GURPS) behave.

Mr Dodeca [starts his turn] steps into close combat to punch (punches are Reach C!). He will hit 75% of the time.

Mr. Lockenkey actually hopes Mr. Dodeca does hit, and when he does, he does a Judo Parry, +2 to Parry for the All-Out Defense, and +3 for a retreat, because that's one of the real benefits of Judo. His Parry is 15, so barring a critical miss, he's going to successfully parry. He is now at Reach 1.

Mr Lockenkey [starts his turn] having parried Mr Dodeca's punch, steps back into Close Combat to roll his Arm Lock-18, unpenalized, He chooses to make this attack Deceptive at -2, for -1 to his foe's defense. 

Mr Dodeca has Parry-9 or Dodge-9. Depending on his skill, he may well elect to retreat, giving him a net (including the -1 for Deceptive Attack) Parry-9 with Wrestling, Sumo Wrestling, or Brawling, or Parry-11 with Boxing, Judo, or Karate. Dodging, he'll be at Dodge-11.

Mr Lockenkey will capture the arm 2 times in 3 against a fighter that isn't trained in one of the superior retreating skills, or 1 time in 3 against a foe that dodges or is trained.

If the arm is not parried, they are now in close combat, and Mr Dodeca can just punch, and Mr. Lockenkey's defenses no longer benefit from the +2 for All-Out Defense, dropping him to Parry-13, still a successful Parry (and thus an opening for an Arm Lock) five times in six.

Let's assume Mr. Lockenkey successfully captures and locks the arm, using both hands to do so.

Mr Dodeca [starts his second turn] now is in an Arm Lock. He must attempt to break free, using a Quick Contest of ST. He is ST 12. Mr Lockenkey is also ST 12 . . . but gets +5 for grappling with two hands and an additional +4 for having a lock on Mr. Dodeca. This is ST 12 vs. ST 21, and Mr. Dodeca has a 2% chance of breaking free. This is basically hopeless, and should not be attempted.

Mr Dodeca's only opportunity here is likely to try and punch Lockenkey in the face or body. Per Martial Arts, p. 119, all attacks, not just the ones with the grappled body part, are at -4 when you are grappled. So he's starting at Skill-8. He may well want to go Committed Telegraphic here, to bring that up to Skill-14, or even All-Out, for Skill-16 - targeting the face to try and force a knockout or stun. The only other option is to either AoA(Double) to attack and break free (but it'll still be ST 12 vs ST 17). He AoA's to the face for the attempted stun. 62% chance to hit, less the 50% chance Lockenkey gets for his Judo Parry-10 (no retreat, no All-Out Defense). So about 1 time in 3, Dodeca will hit the face. He will roll 1d-2 for damage, and 1/3 of the time, no damage will result. 2/3 of the time, enough injury will be done to invoke a shock penalty and stun roll, which will (again) only fail 1/3 of the time.

So, let's see: 62% chance to hit, 50% chance to fail the defense, 66% to roll enough damage to cause a stun check, which fails about 25% of the time. Chance of success: 5%. Still better than the 2% chance of winning that quick contest, though.

Mr. Lockenkey [starts his second turn] is now able to apply injury via a quick contest of Arm Lock vs. ST or HT, which in this case are both 12. On the average, Lockenkey will, on the average do 6 points of damage, which is neither crippling nor a major wound. Success by 7+ will be both.

At that point, Dodeca is at -4 to ST and DX for breaking free in addition to -4 to DX for being grappled. He's basically toast. Lockenkey will cripple his arm eventually (likely next turn).  

Lockenkey could also have invoked Throws from Locks, which is again Arm Lock-18 vs. Dodeca's omnipresent 12. Swing damage of 1d+2 will result - actually less damage on the average than the lock., and here Wrestling at DX+2 would increase this to 1d+4, which on the average would cripple the arm.

Offensive Standing Arm Locks

Basically, this is the same thing, but first the aggressor has to grapple the foe. Not grapple the limb, but the foe. It's perfectly cool to grapple the torso on your first turn, resist his breaking free (he's at -4 to DX for being grappled, you're at +5 to ST for grappling with two hands), then use Arm Lock to capture the arm (again, he's at -4 to DX for being grappled), then injury as usual. It takes an extra turn for the attacker.

Ground Fighting

To do this well, you obviously need the Ground Fighting technique (MA, p. 73) and spend th 5 points required to buy it off completely. You also want Wrestling rather than Judo or Sumo Wrestling in this case. You won't be doing a ton of retreating, and that ST bonus is sweet sweet goodness.

Here, you grapple your foe (likely on the torso), and perform a takedown, which is skill, ST, or DX vs. your foe's skill, ST, or DX. In the example above, that's Judo-14 vs 12, winning about 2/3 of the time. Once you both are on the ground, unless your foe is similarly trained, he attacks at -4 and defends at -3, while you attack at no penalty and defend at -1. Combined with the generic -4 for being grappled, and a downed foe attacks at -7 and defends at -5, which is a whole lot to overcome - even Skill-18/Defense-12 becomes Skill-11, Defense-7.

Parting Shot

This workup obviously doesn't touch much on Technical Grappling. I'll save that for another post. The differences are subtle but important, and worth going over in detail.

Ultimately, against a less-skilled foe, especially an unarmed one, the Judo Parry/Arm Lock combination is really, really dangerous. Where it falls down a bit is against weapons. Not a knife or Reach C weapon, since that will follow the pattern above (though only Judo defends at no penalty vs. weapons). The smart Reach 1 fighter (such as with a sword or mace) will keep his distance, likely using a combination of Wait and Committed Attack (Two Steps) to keep the Arm Locker from stepping into close combat to grapple with him and lock him up. Attack from Reach 1 and then step back to Reach 2, and he'll have to do a Committed Attack (Two Steps) to chase you down. If you take two steps, attack at Reach 1, and back off to reach 3. Now even if he parries you, he can't close in and lock you up without a pretty hairy move. Plus, of course, successful active defenses against Mr. Lockenkey do damage to his limbs unless he's smart and wears armor on his arms.

Which he'd better if he want to try this sort of tricksiness in lethal combat.

The other thing that Dodeca and his like can do is bring friends. Note that even in the most advantageous case, Lockenkey is in close combat with Dodeca for at least two turns, inviting indefensible attacks from the rear, or forcing him to use movement or drop hands from his grapple to defend. You can only parry once per limb, so it's possible to saturate defenses to the point where Lockenkey has to release his kraken or take hits.

November 19, 2014

Tenkar's Hirelings

+Erik Tenkar asked about hirelings. +Peter V. Dell'Orto wrote about them as well.

A comment over on Erik's blog feed made me think back to a campaign I ran (the Blasingdell campaign, the origin of Sterick the Red). It was a Fantasy game, before Dungeon Fantasy was a GURPS line. It was a map centered on the town of Blasingdell, and it had the fun of being started off by a "prequel adventure" which was an unabashed railroad ending in a set-piece battle that left all but one of the PCs dead, and the paladin possessed by Sterick's spirit. The Big Bad was back.

Anyway, fast forward to the actual campaign, and the PCs had hirelings. Lots of them, actually. They had some basic fighters, as well as a small line of archers and/or crossbowmen. Since I'd out-and-out ripped off the cosmology from The Deed of Paksenarrion, they were probably Yeomen of Gird or followers of Tir.

That was a time where I never knew how many players would show up at my table. I ran the game out of my basement, with a 4x8' sheet of plywood on take-apart legs as my stage. I think I could have as few as four and as many as fifteen players around the table on any given day. People would use the game to introduce their friends to RPGs, and so when they showed up (and I almost always knew them - the group was mostly connected through the Hwa Rang Do Minneapolis Academy, but not all) I'd hand them a henchman fighter. If they came back, I'd buff them up a bit.

The inclusion of henchmen allowed for - nearly made mandatory - some decent idea of formation tactics. It also allowed me to throw in some real numbers into the opposition.

The utility of such guys - though not nearly to the extent that Peter's DF game has used them - was pretty high. They could protect you if you went down. They gave a shield wall to anchor offensive and defensive actions. And they provided a ready-made way of getting new players into a game by virtue of a pre-existing sheet, with some history.

November 17, 2014

Raw Grappling and Technical Grappling: Defend yourself!

The quickie follow-on post to what happens when someone grabs you.

Active Defense

This one's easy: they attack, and you defend. Just like any other move, you may make any legal active defense against a grapple. This includes a parry with a weapon (which will have the usual injurious effects), a block (if your foe is trying to enter close combat, you absolutely can stuff your shield in his face), or a dodge. Retreating is not precluded, though if the grapple winds up succeeding, you don't get your step back; you're held in the original position.

Breaking Free

If your defense fails, you've been grabbed and grappled. All is not lost - you can still try and get out.

Breaking Free in the Raw

With the Basic Set, once you're grappled, you can try and Break Free (p. B371) by winning a Quick Contest of ST vs ST. If you have Wrestling or Sumo Wrestling at high enough to get a ST boost, you get it. If you have Power Grappling (Martial Arts, p. 51) you can roll ST-based skill (yow!). The grappler is at +5 in the Quick Contest if he's using both hands.

Note that posture penalties are to skill, not ST, so being on the ground or whatnot doesn't seem to have an impact.

This does mean that for two grapplers of equal skill and ST, the attacker is significantly advantaged: that +5 is, to paraphrase, a big freakin' deal. I'm not sure if the bonus is mutual, such that if you grapple your foe back the bonuses equalize. I get the feeling that just means you two are locked together, each with a +5 against your foe's ST to stay clinched.

Boot to the Face

Anther way to break free is to knock your foe out. If you can use a free limb (you can't use grappled limbs) or your head, if you can render your foe unconscious, he'll let go, effectively giving you a Flawless Victory in the contest to Break Free. Strong blows to the head might be a valid option here. 

This remains an option for TG as well.

I think if you stun your foe, he might let go of a grapple as well; I remember writing a rule or note on this one, somewhere. The pitfalls of writing 450 posts. Even Google fails me.

Technically Breaking Free

Using TG, escaping from a grapple means using a grappling skill to attack the grapple itself. You may use a grappled limb (with penalties) to attempt to break free. If you succeed, you roll with your effective Trained ST (reduced for your foe's grapple) to remove CP directly from the foe's grapple. If his CP total goes negative, you're out.
Simple Example: I grab Peter by the torso with both hands, rolling 4 CP to do so; let's say this makes him at -2 to DX and ST. He will attack me to break free. He's strong and a good grappler, so normally he'll roll 1d+2 CP on me, but the ST penalty drops his CP roll to 1d+1. So he rolls to attack at -2 for the DX penalty. I try and defend. If I fail, he rolls 1d+1, and if he rolls 4 or higher, he's totally out. If he rolls 1-3, he'll remove 2-4 CP from my grapple. If he removes 4 CP, I still have a 0 CP hold on him; it's a grab, but he's not impaired in any way. Let's say he rolled a 2, removing 3 CP. The 1 CP I have left isn't enough to penalize him in any way, but I could (notionally) spend it for something, like the Quick Contest on a Takedown (Force Posture Change).
Mostly, I want you to wriggle

Bad me, I completely forgot about a useful addition to Technical Grappling for the purpose of breaking free: The Escaping Parry.

It's basically a grappling version of Aggressive Parry (Martial Arts, p. 65) where you fend off an attack and attempt to escape from an existing grapple at the same time.

It's implied that you're defending against a grappling attack, but it's not stated, and I don't think it'd break anything if you allowed it if you're being grappled and pummeled at the same time.

You won't remove many CP, but if you can absorb the penalties (or spend the 3 CP to buy it up to full Parry) there's no reason not to use it on every grappling defense. It even says so in the book: Grapplers will often attempt every parry using this technique; they are taught that the entire point of defense is to create space – reducing your foe’s CP – for a counterattack.

Parting Shot

That's really it on the defense at this point. You can either break the grapple or grapple back. In RAW, it's going to be hard to do unless you're much stronger than the other guy, and if you're not out, you're fully grappled. On or off.

With TG, tracking Control Points means you can struggle to increase or decrease control and restraint over your foe. You can have "partial credit" and wriggle free enough to reduce penalties, but not enough to be totally free.

It really depends how much detail you want to have.

Are there ways of having the variable effects provided by CP without actually tracking CP? It would be pretty easy to make it that way, but I'd rather you buy my book. Hey, every two copies means I get a mocha at Caribou! And we all know how important buying overpriced caffeine and chocolate is.

November 16, 2014

Raw grappling and technical grappling: Grab him!

In the previous post, I proposed a high-level descriptive model for grappling. Like all models, it's wrong, but hopefully useful ( "All models are wrong; some are useful." G. E. P. Box).

The steps were basically

  1. Grab him
  2. Grab him better
  3. Achieve a dominant position
  4. Win

So, how does this work in GURPS? 

Grab the Guy

The first course of business is to put your meaty paws on your opponent. A lot of this discussion will focus (for the moment) on the attacker's progression and oscillation through the stages, and short shrift will be given to the defender's options. We'll cover that later.

Raw Grappling: Grab him

The first thing you have to do when grappling in GURPS is grab the other guy. In the rules presented in the Basic Set, this is one-way street. That is, you grab your foe, and he suffers all the pain and restrictions of that grab, mostly. If he wants to grab you or do techniques on you, he must attack you back, at a penalty. 

Unless you do Hand Catch (Martial Arts, p. 84), most grapples, even those enabled by parries, are resolved by an attack on the attacker's turn. Hand Catch allows an attack roll right after you parry, and your foe does not get a defense against it! It's a cinematic technique, though, as listed, so there you go.

To grapple, you make an attack roll using DX or your best grappling skill (Judo, Sumo Wrestling, Wrestling, or with a weapon at -2 to skill). Your foe may use any legal defense, including block, parry, or dodge (with or without a weapon). If they retreat and still fail their defenses, I believe they do not actually get to take that step back (either that, or you can move your guy to follow, but I think the "he doesn't get to step back" is the RAW answer).

Once you succeed in an attack roll, and your foe fails his defense, he's "Grappled." He's at -4 to DX, and can't move unless you're strong enough to simply treat the foe as encumbrance.

The default grapple is two-handed, but you can grapple with one hand. Or using your legs at a penalty. The default grapple also targets the torso, but you can (and indeed, to get some of the nifty techniques properly set up, you must) grapple other body parts.

In any case, the way it works (again, high level) is that the DX of the impacted, grappled body parts goes down. When looking at breaking free, your effective ST is modified by how many hands you're using, and other things.  But even a very low ST creature that grapples a very high ST creature hits him with that DX penalty unless he breaks free. This is resolved as one of my least-favorite things: a Quick Contest of ST.

Ultimately, though, the answer is that to get a grip using the RAW, make an attack roll. If you succeed (with success also implying your foe fails his defnese roll), he suffers a DX penalty.

Instant Awesome
Some advanced techniques such as Choke Hold are also attacks, and are a bit of a two-fer. If you succeed in your attack roll, you've not only grappled him about the neck in a way that inflicts the grappling penalty ("you apply the hold, which counts as a grapple"), you can then proceed to choke the crap out of the guy on your next turn.

Likewise, Arm and Wrist Locks allow rolling directly against the technique in question in order to capture the arm and lock it up immediately following a parry. Given that Arm Lock can be improved as an Average technique for up to +4 or +6 with a GM nod to Technique Mastery, this is one of the reasons that Arm Lock can be so terrifying. A decent combatant can trade that technique bonus on top of a good Judo or Wrestling skill to make that initial attack roll to lock the arm a very, very high percentage technique, as they can pile on a lot of deceptive attack to facilitate a failed defense roll.

It's hard to say whether this represents a really, really good "Grab him" stage, or if it is best characterized as "you just did Step 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, in one fell swoop" type thing. Either way, you're getting a lot done in one roll here.

Technical Grappling: Grab him

Really, this part isn't that much different. You make the same attack rolls and your foe has the same defensive options. If you succeed, though, you have an effect roll, measured in Control Points. This is based on the ST of the limb or limbs used.

This roll is based on your ST, and if you use one hand, you will roughly do half the CP. You can get a poor or a good grip on any given attack depending on how well you roll. A critical hit can drastically increase your CP total if you get one of the "max damage" or "2x damage" results.

The effects of a successful grapple are a bit different as well, but not hugely so. The Control Points impact both the ST and DX of the targeted locations. The DX-penalty equivalent of a grapple that's -4 to DX is 8 CP against a normal strength foe of ST 10 and DX 10. This will also inflict -4 to ST. In fact, the ST loss is always -1 per 2 CP applied.

Since CP use the thrust column of the damage table, you need to be "Trained" ST 23 to do this 8 CP grapple on an average roll, and Trained ST 17 or higher to do it at all (one time in six) without taking attack options such as All-Out (Strong). That's pretty strong, which means more typically you're going to be looking at CP rolls in the 3-5 range, or only -2 to DX and -2 to ST for a ST 10, DX 10 foe (the higher the opponent's ST, the more CP it takes to inflict a DX penalty).

Even a very low CP grapple is still a grapple, though, and allows follow-on attacks or even skipping to Step 3 to try positional and postural improvements if you get lucky and get a high CP roll.

Technical Grappling: Grabbing Parry

Silly me, I forgot one. While the RAW allow you to proceed right to grapples such as Arm Locks after any successful Judo Parry, TG insists that you first grapple the limb. This can (and often will be) done with a Grabbing Parry, a modification of Hand Catch. Make your parry accepting the penalties for hit location and the parry itself, and if successful, you score CP based on a weak grapple. You're not going to render someone helpless with this on the grab, but it does allow the kind of Parry-Arm Lock-Win awesomeness that is more or less the default with RAW.

Parting Shot

This is truly resolution at the cost of complexity. It scales a bit more naturally, but the fact that it does involve an effect roll and different effect levels depending on what limbs your using, how many, and how much training you have means there's more work. Much of this is during character generation or on the character sheet (or can be put there). But not all, and that won't work for everyone.

Ultimately, though, without the cinematic switch doubling CP turned on for TG (which will bring the initial grapple more in line with the RAW in terms of debilitation of the foe), the Rules-as-Written provide for a binary grappled/not-grappled switch. If the -4 to DX isn't enough to get the job done (and against high-power characters like Dungeon Fantasy archetypes, or even worse, Monster Hunters, it won't be) then this initial grab is likely only good enough to provide a gateway drug to Actions After a Grapple.

With Technical Grappling, you can eventually rack up (by the baseline rules) as many CP as you have Trained ST, which for a ST 13 warrior with Wrestling at DX+4 will be 16. This is enough to slap another ST 13 warrior with -5 to DX at 13 CP (if you don't round numbers), or (by "normal rounding conventinos) -1 t DX for every 3 CP. If you do like +Peter V. Dell'Orto wisely suggests, ST 10-ST14 is -1 per 2 CP. What does all that mean? At maximum unarmed CP, you can rack up -8 to DX against a weaker foe, or -5 to DX against someone your size. You will also, regardless of the ST of the foe, impart -8 to his ST, which is -4 to thrust damage and -8 to swing. The thrust damage means his attacks to grapple back are weaker as well.

Grappling matches can be turned into protracted struggles to achieve a dominant position, likely resulting from someone making a mistake (rolling a crit) or you just getting lucky a few times if the foes are evenly matched. 

In terms of which is "better," that obviously depends on what your goals are. The TG method allows a big, strong monster (or character) to automatically impart a higher ST/DX penalty on a grappled foe, and provides the right level of instant asymmetry one would expect from this matchup. It also means strong guys can mostly ignore weaker grapples, since they can defensively attack back to break the grapple and their worst CP roll will overcome their foe's best.

Tracking CP by hit location is less trouble than it sounds by reading it, and Peter and I have worked out a great method to make it even easier that we hope to have see print one day.

For Rules-as-Written, the lack of nuance is a feature.  You attack, you grapple, you impart the same -4 to DX for everyone. Boom. Done. If this bothers you, you may be a good candidate for either TG in its entirety, or perhaps taking a look at Fixed Effects from Pyramid #3/61, Coming to Grips with Realism, on p. 32. 

November 13, 2014

What is Grappling anyway?

Over on the SJG Forums, a thread emerged that has started to wind down with an interesting question. GURPS (and other systems) author Bill Stoddard asked a basic question. Acknowledging that his real-world experience with grappling was basically zero, and his familiarity with the goals and methods and lingo was limited enough that, well, let's use his own words:
My immediate sense of bafflement comes from having read the Basic Set rules for grappling two or three times, and not being able to say, "Okay, I see why you do this, and then you have this option and this option." I don't have a Gestalt for what's going on that would match my Gestalt for striking blows.
I'm interested in the actuality of grappling primarily as an aid to understanding the game mechanics
OK. So with that in mind, what is grappling? That should lead to a productive discussion of game mechanics allowing for an entire range of complexity in both mechanics and effects.

Where I would like to start is "what is the tactical logic of grappling combat?"—that is, what are the objectives and what are the means by which it's attained? [ . . . ] I think I need to have a focus on the very basic issues before delving into the technicalities.
A fine place to start.

Restrain yourself. Actually, no. Restrain someone else

OK, at the broadest sense, grappling and wrestling are about restraint. You are attempting, in a grappling-based fight, to restrict your opponents movements to the point where the only allowable actions your foe can take are those which you allow him. 

Such restrictions can be:

  • He cannot use his hands (handcuffing, for example, is grappling with a mechanical aid)
  • He cannot run (bearing your opponent to the ground and sitting on him, or leg-cuffs, or gluing feet to the floor all qualify)
  • He is restricted to a position that you want him to be in, and cannot easily change that position (a wrestling pin, a police officer putting a suspect on the ground and kneeling on him)
  • He cannot speak (putting a hand or object over the mouth and jaw)
  • He can do what he likes, but you're dragging him with you (alligator!)
  • He cannot breathe, or have blood flow to his brain (choke and strangle holds)

The science and art of grappling is one of applied and denied leverage. You are going to use your own body weight, strength, and position, plus environmental and positional factors such as the walls and the floors, your relative positions to minimize the required effort to achieve the above restrictions, and also minimize the effectiveness of his own attempts to resist your restrictions. 

Take the oft-mentioned example of an "arm lock." Now, there are a zillion types, but most of them pit either major body parts or muscle groups of the controlling grappler against a foe who is really out of position to fight back. 

The classic grounded arm bar position, for example, puts both arms, legs, and the core of the controlling grappler all against his foe's arm and elbow. The "victim" cannot usually bring any of his major muscle groups to bear; his arm is hyperextended and unable to apply leverage. His motions are restricted by the attacker's legs.

A more weapon-oriented example would be that of defense by grappling the arm of someone trying to stab you with a knife. Immobilizing the arm with the knife in it - or even better taking that weapon away - would seem an obvious goal. As such, you want to put as much restriction on that movement as possible, while denying your foe opportunity to regain control of his weapon and the initiative with which to attack you again. Which is why idealized knife defense ends up in positions like the aikido image to the right.

This is why - to segue into game mechanics for a moment - I chose to apply not just penalties to DX (as with RAW) but to ST as well.

Most of grappling consists of ways to achieve this sort of restraint on your foe while avoiding restraint on yourself. This is not always possible, especially with two skilled combatants. In fact, in many cases, grappling is fierce, mutual, and may have an outward appearance of near-stasis that either participant would characterize as anything but static!

But tell me: who's winning or advantaged in the picture to the right?

They're both going for chokes and restraint applied through the cloth of their uniform jackets on the neck. 

They both have restricted the motion of their opponents. The standing one by using his weight and standing position to keep the other in place. The person on his back . . . may not be that disadvantaged. In fact, he may well be winning, as he may have both sides of the collar, and is restricting his foe's ability to escape with both legs (the technical term is "he has the standing foe in his guard."

So again . . . what is grappling?

Grappling is basically a process. And in broad strokes, I look at it like this (and as a by-the-way, I'd love to hear other ways of explaining this process from other grapplers and teachers). Note that I wrote about the basics of grappling as discussed in GURPS Technical Grappling from a game-mechanics point of view a while ago. There's a whole section on this blog devoted to grappling combat (though I haven't updated it in a while. Bad Doug!)

First: grab the guy. Or vice versa.

It might be obvious, but it's worth repeating - grappling involves some level of sustained contact. It can be quite brief, such as this example with Rickson Gracie and Ed Norton from Incredible Hulk. 

But the first thing you need to do is get a hold of your opponent - and that can include his grabbing you. Many self-defense moves are initiated by using your foe's grip as the starting point.

Second: Get a better grip

While some grapples might start out awesome, many more start from so-so to pretty good but then have to be developed. This can be fast or slow, grounded or standing up. 

But basically, at this part of grappling, you are working your foe to try and have him offer you the opportunity to improve your position more and more. Where you stop "improving" and move on to something else depends on what your goal is. If you're trying to do something like not get killed then your goal might simply be to get your foe into a good enough grip that you can throw him down and then run away. If your goal is to win a sporting contest according to a specified set of rules (say, College Wrestling or Submission Fighting or Sumo Wrestling) then you're probably trying to get him into a position where you can apply one of the allowed "fighting-winning" techniques.
If you are engaging in a lethal fight to the death against an armored opponent, your goal might be to get him off his feet onto his back or face so that you can apply a finishing move through a gap in the armor.

But that brings us to the third phase.

Third: Get the right position

Some contests, such as collegiate wrestling, can be won simply (not easily!) by developing your grip to the point that your foe is more or less immobile, but only if he's in the right position. This "pin" pr "fall" is accomplished by one fighter holding both of his foe's shoulders or shoulder blades to the mat for one or two seconds (two in high school, one in college). 

So . . . if you start standing, you're going to have to get your foe down on the ground, flip him on to his back, and get his shoulders on the ground.

If you're in a lethal fight, or a self-defense situation, your goal might be to get on top of, or behind, your opponent so that you can prevent him from attacking you, perhaps while attacking him back (or to simply escape).

Still - you're looking for an advantaged position, where you are grappling things you care about, in a way where your foe's options are limited to those you chose for him.

Sometimes, you may need to bear your foe to the ground to do this. Sweeps, takedowns, throws - these can be the beginning or (in, say, sport Judo or Sumo) the end.

Fourth: win.

After you get a grip on the guy, after you improve that grip to the point where you've got sufficient control over your foe, after you wrestle or throw or trip or roll or shuffle yourself into a superior position, then you need to end the fight. 

This again depends on the goals. 

  • Win a bunch of "points." This might be through many position changes to demonstrate superior skill. Common in junior sports grappling or some types of wrestling. Get enough points, you win.
  • Get a fight-ending position. The pin or fall discussed earlier. These positions may or not be practical - in college wrestling, being face-down is not a losing position (though you may be getting your face ground into the mat in unpleasant ways), but being on your back is. 
  • Change your foe's position suddenly. Judo throws and Sumo matches end this way.
  • Inflict pain. Submission wrestling and many contests of machismo or dominance end when you bend the person into a pretzel and he says "Ow! You win!" Choke holds, arm bars, shoulder and knee bars and locks, finger locks, pressure points. They're all good.
  • Render him unconscious. Some versions of submissions can be by restricting blood flow to the brain. If you black out (this can happen in only a few seconds with the right technique), you're done.
  • Injure him. Most moves that will submit can also be used to cause permanent injury. You can also, if fighting for life rather than grappling for fun, engage in a bit of judicious beating the bejeeezus out of your foe. The classic "ground and pound" from MMA, where you leverage a position on top of your foe to repeatedly beat him in the face is an example here.
  • Kill him. Choke him until brain death. Break his neck. Strike until he dies, with or without a weapon.
These goals can change as the fight changes, of course.

Parting Shot

The basic moves here, get a grip, make it better, achieve a sufficiently dominant position, end the fight, are reasonably descriptive and yet overly simplistic. Rarely will a grappling contest go quite like that. A super-skilled combatant - a real life or cinematic Jason Bourne or Natasha Romanov - may well do multiple steps at once. The initial grab is powerful enough that it doesn't need to be developed. The "achieve superior position" and "incapacitate your foe" moves might be all in one. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the initial grab can be broken, so that you have to start over again. You can grab your foe, start to improve it, but make a mistake and find yourself on the receiving end of having a grapple or position change put on you. 

Most often, the combatants are both striving for a good grapple and position, and both are succeeding and failing at different things at the same time. One grappler is going for a choke hold, while at the same time trying to fend off his foe's attempts to put him in a wrist lock or achieve a takedown. Or both grapplers are standing, pushing and pulling in a mutual grip to find a moment of weakness or imbalance to exploit.

But for a basics - to answer the original question of a heuristic that allows one to consider a branching if-then-else (or more likely, a CASE statement for grappling!) decision tree of what to do, the presented version is probably a good start:
  1. Grab him
  2. Grab him better
  3. Achieve a dominant position
  4. End the fight