Simplified Grappling

It seems I’m not the only one looking to simplify grappling. It’s too complicated - even I still get it wrong.

Here’s my own attempt at simplified grappling rules.

Treat grappling as a normal attack roll opposed by the opponent’s attack roll. (Armour doesn’t help you avoid a grab, but being a skilled combatant does.) If successful, you deal unarmed strike damage, and are now grappling with the opponent, and thus move into his square. By succeeding at an opposed attack roll, anyone in a grapple may perform their action: deal unarmed damage as an attack, draw a weapon, move half speed along with opponent (as a move action) or break from the grapple (as an attack), amongst other actions.

To further simplify, we ignore pinning. Initiating a grapple provokes an Attack of Opportunity, unless you are considered armed when unarmed (Improved Unarmed Strike). The feat Improved Grapple gives you a +4 bonus on all opposed attack rolls made in a grapple. Size bonuses still apply, as do the usual restrictions of grappling: no big weapons, no moving, and no Dex to AC from other non-grappling opponents. In addition, since you’re touching your opponent you can ignore miss chances such as blur and displacement.

Disarm and sunder can be treated much the same way - straightforwardly, opposed attack rolls. No attacks of opportunity are made, but you suffer a -4 penalty if you do not have the required feat. Like grappling, however, attempting this manoever when unarmed still provokes an attack attack of opportunity like any attack does.

How do these rules change the game? Aside from simplifying things for players, this grappling rule gives advantage against opponents who have particularly high Armor Class, have weak melee attack, or rely on large weapons, Dexterity to AC, or high mobility. The disarm and sunder rules meanwhile should see much more common use, especially against numbers of weaker humanoid opponents, when disarming or destroying their weapons to cause a rout may prove a convenient and heroic way to save a few hit points.

Comments (8)

ChattyDm (October 1st, 2007)

I decided to abandon Grappling for the time being and just plain ignore it. Like I do for Bull Rush, Sunder and other fun things.


John (October 4th, 2007)

While your simplifications make sense up to a point, I’m not sure how good they are for game balance. The proposed change to Disarm is very minor, since it’s already an opposed attack roll. Your system eliminates the AOO for not having the feat, which weakens the feat a lot, but that’s not too major. What’s more significant is removing the bonuses and penalties associated with using a light or two-handed weapon. To me, at least, those bonuses definitely made sense. However, when all is said and done, that’s not too significant.

More important is the change to Sunder. The difference between Disarm and Sunder in the current rules is simple - Disarming is an automatic success once you win the opposed attack roll, but your opponent has a chance to recover the weapon (and it’s still available as treasure later). Sunder, on the other hand, requires you to do damage to the weapon after you pass your opposed roll - which can be very difficult, especially for larger two-handed weapons. This is offset by the fact that the weapon is entirely unrecoverable (and useless as treasure). By eliminating the step of doing damage to the weapon, Sunder is made FAR more powerful. Against enemies with low-value weapons, sundering becomes an incredibly effective tactic - all you have to do is win the opposed attack roll and your opponent is permanently denied his weapon for the rest of the combat. According to these rules, a bare-handed fighter could relatively easily grab a Balor’s +5 Vorpal Adamantine Greatsword, and easily snap it in half.

Finally, the original topic - Grapple. Removing Pinning is I think a terrible idea, as in many cases pinning your opponent is a primary motivation for getting into a Grapple. A very powerful technique with the default grappling rules is for a character with a high initiative bonus and a high grapple check to ambush an NPC, grappling with him in the surprise round and pinning him in the first round of combat, before the NPC has a chance to do anything. Once the NPC is pinned, the player has the option of forcing him to remain quiet - great for dealing with guards. Or, you could interrogate him - much easier when he’s essentially helpless, unable to do anything but try to wriggle out of your grasp. Finally, you can tie him up for capture or simply to keep him out of the way. While you can still do many of these things by bludgeoning the target into unconsciousness, generally that will take much more than one round, giving the target time to cry out.

Beyond Pinning, using just an attack roll instead of a separate Grapple check opens up other problems. Does it make sense for a dexterous finess character with low strength to be good at grappling? Escaping from grapples, absolutely - but just because you are nimble doesn’t mean you can effectively wrestle with an opponent - sheer strength is a necessity. How about other bonuses to grapple beyond strength, size, and BAB? Many monsters have specific bonuses to grapple, but not to melee attacks.

Finally, why remove the touch attack necessary to initiate a grapple? Doesn’t it make sense that it’s harder to seize an invisible or displaced foe than one that isn’t?

The grapple system is definitely complex, and could definitely use some revision - especially in the case of creatures with natural weapons. However, I think what you’ve proposed is overly simplistic, and ends up making Grappling just another gimmick, rather than an unique tactic with unique applications.

Jonathan Drain (October 4th, 2007)

@John: Note that I haven’t mentioned anywhere that sunder automatically destroys a weapon. You still need deal damage against the weapon; with hardness and hit points in play this could be simplified even further, but dealing damage against hit points and it’s really only a matter of looking up on the table or memorizing a handful of values.

Removing the touch attack was quite deliberate. Do we really need that such detail that armour doesn’t protect you from grabs, at the cost of simplicity? In all of my years DMing third edition I’ve seen grapple used once, maybe twice. Between the AoO, the feat and the poor damage, fighters are usually better off simply fighting, so when a nonspecialist tries a grapple, it’s a slow and overcomplex rule to work through. At the end, the result is still going to be “big, strong combatants grab and hurt opponents best”.

I should clarify perhaps that miss chance should apply as normal when seizing invisible opponents, even though it’s an opposed roll. Potentially, armor class itself could be opposed rolls, either applying all or half of Base Attack to AC (affording fighters much needed armour) or instituting a Defense Roll system. I’ll leave that to game masters seeking more complexity rather than less.

Glug (October 4th, 2007)

WoTC put up a 4-page article on grappling that’s pretty helpful in their ‘rules of the game’ section:

Page 1-4

Part of the confusion certainly comes from a lack of regular use. I’m sure it would help if you culled through those articles, and made pertinent notes that simplify the process.

Let’s try it..
(Round 1a) - Grab your opponent: melee touch attack, provokes AOO, if it damages you, the grab fails.

(Round 1b) - Make opposed grapple check. Highest total wins, tie goes to highest total modifier. Success: deal unarmed strike damage, and you are GRAPPLING with your opponent. Fail, and he avoids.

(Round 2+) - On your turn, you can make an opposed grapple check to accomplish some task. Failure does not release your foe.

You can use an opposed grapple check on your turn to:
Activate a magic item
Attack with a light/natural weapon or unarmed strike
Cast a spell
Damage your opponent
Draw a light weapon
Escape from a grapple
Move (with your foe)
Retrieve a spell component
Pin your opponent
Break a pin
Use opponents weapon

All of those actions take an opposed grapple check, from either of you (since you’re BOTH grappling). Read each of them to see any special rules, like using Escape Artist instead of grapple for your check to escape, or how moving with an opponent works.

Next, what to do when you are pinned:
If the person pinning you is covering your mouth, you can’t speak.
You can make an opposed grapple/escape artist check to escape the pin (which puts you back into a ‘grappling’ status)

What to do when you have someone pinned:
You can cover their mouth, freely.
You can disarm a secured weapon from him, without AOO.
You can release him, and end the grapple entirely, at your decision.
Also, from above, you can Damage an Opponent, Use his weapon against him, or Move him.

The last section of the article deals with monsters and multiple opponents. But.. I think that the rest of this is not that complicated and you could fine-tune the crap above to make a nice little how-to-grapple reference.

touch attack -> Status: Grabbing
opposed grapple from Grabbing -> Status: Grappling
opposed grapple from Grappling -> Status: Pinned
opposed grapple from Pinned -> Status: Grappling
opposed grapple from Grappling -> Status: Free!

Then it’s a matter of listing the actions you can perform while grappling or pinning.

Jonathan Drain (October 5th, 2007)

@Glug: See? Unless your character is going to specialize in it, grapple is remarkably complex.

Glug (October 5th, 2007)

Well, certainly not the simplest thing in the world, but a short blurb explaining it would make it barely more complex than when my wife tries to figure out her attack bonus and damage depending on if she’s raging and/or power attacking with her two-hander, and if someone then hits her with a bulls strength, she’s almost sad for it. :)

Glug (October 12th, 2007)

Kirshar (December 27th, 2007)

I know I’m weighing in kinda late on this, but I was tasked with tweaking grappling in my own D&D group. I’m looking to give the option of adding your dexterity modifier instead of strength in the grapple check since quickness, agility, nimbleness, etc. does play a large role in grappling, especially when your dealing with a stronger opponent.

I took out the touch attack to grab and just went with the opposed grapple check to start the grapple just because to me, its like saying you grab someone, then roll a check to grab them better. I guess I just see a grab and a grapple as being similar enough that one check would work in this instance. And I took out the initial damage from the grab/grapple attempt, cause you dont really hurt someone when you grab them.

And finally, I added more options for grapplers such as a throw attempt, called shots to the eyes or crotch to blind or stun, and choke holds and arm/leg locks to pinned opponents for unconciousness or extra damage. Granted, I adapted these moves from a few feats already out there, but to make grappling a little more exciting I chose to burn the feats and just add more moves. Oh yeah, and I made the Improved Grappling feat a prerequisite to perform the arm/leg locks and to add damage to a throw attempt, kinda make it a slam.

How does thsi sound to you guys? By all means, critique me on all this………

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