Grappling techniques in Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

GMs using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling (FDG for the remainder of this article) in games other than DFRPG or even GURPS Dungeon Fantasy often encounter questions about using various grappling techniques from Basic Set and Martial Arts. Having a technique-happy player create a grappling character for my recently started campaign, I had to answer many such questions myself, so I decided to take a look at all techniques presented in Martial Arts. In this article I will address how those techniques could be treated under FDG as well as how to improve them.

Arm or Wrist Lock, Choke Hold, Finger Lock, Head Lock and Leg Lock are all treated the same way in FDG: grab the desired body part (or just the torso, if the extra -2 to DX for grabbing a specific location is of no concern to you), generate CP, and then convert those CP to damage via Injure the Foe. Any differences originally present between them are below the resolution of FDG.

Grabbing a specific hit location can be improved as a targeted attack with a grab, for example Targeted Attack (Wrestling Grab/Face), while applying injury would require its own targeted attack, e.g. Targeted Attack (Sumo Wrestling Injure the Foe/Arm).

Throws from locks are, as per the example given for a neck lock under I Grapple His Face! on FDG p. 8, simply damaging takedowns. They can be improved as, to give an example, Targeted Attack (Judo Takedown/Neck).

Targeted attacks for grabs use the grappling hit location penalties found at the start of FDG p. 3, which are half of the standard hit location penalties. Those for inflicting damage of any kind use the standard ones. Note that unlike the original grappling techniques, these targeted attacks may only remove half (round in your favor) of the hit location penalty. If closer resemblance of the original techniques is more important to you than systemic consistency, you could allow for these targeted attacks to improve their penalties fully, but this moves FDG away from its concept that grappling should function in the same way striking does.

Hand Catch and Hand-Clap Parry simply become Grabbing Parry as presented on FDG p.3. Improving them would be a separate hard technique for each hit location being grabbed (weapons would count as one).

Armed Grapple is unchanged. It is in fact the Armed Grappling Attack on FDG p. 2 and can be improved as a hard technique. The penalties for grappling a specific hit location can additionally be bought off via targeted attack, for example Targeted Attack (Axe/Mace Grab/Neck).

Bind Weapon is treated as a Weapon/Shield Bind from FDG p. 3 and requires no improvement.

Entangle and Hook are Armed Grapples (above) with a whip or a hooked weapon, respectively, using Long-Distance Grapple from FDG p. 3.

Handcuffing can be treated as grappling the hands, with the extra -2 to penalties using those limbs remaining in place even if you switch your grip to other body parts. The victim should also be flat out unable to take specific actions depending on the position you cuffed them in; while they may be able to wield a weapon at -2 if you cuffed their hands in front of them, they should not be able to do so at all if you cuffed their hands behind their back, for example. Similar GM discretion should be exercised while  handcuffing; you should only be able to cuff a person behind their back if you’re standing in their rear hex. All other special considerations from Martial Arts should be disregarded (yes, the victim can parry your attempt to attach a cuff to an inanimate object – by yanking the chain). To remove the handcuffs, the victim must use the Escape skill. Handcuffing can be improved via Targeted Attack (Judo or Wrestling Handcuffing/Hand).

Judo Throw is treated as an attack on the turn immediately after a successful parry but as a quick contest after a grapple in Martial Arts, even though Basic Set treats it as an attack in both cases. DFRPG follows suit so this move does not require any special treatment under FDG. You may want to decide on how to treat a damaging throw, because it does not exist in DFRPG and it works differently between Martial Arts and FDG. The former assigns an additional -1 penalty to the attack roll and thrust-1 damage without bonus for skill, while under the latter as per Kiss the Wall on p. 8 there is no attack penalty but it does thrust-2 damage with the standard FDG high skill bonus. I would recommend the FDG approach.

Leg Grapple is simply a grapple targeting a leg.

Neck Snap, Wrench Limb and Wrench Spine lose their special status of being ST-based techniques and become simple cases of causing injury to a specific hit location after a grapple. They can be improved with, for example, Targeted Attack (Wrestling Injure the Foe/Neck).

Sacrifice Throw… mechanically speaking, I see very few cases where you’d want to use this technique instead of a normal All-Out Attack judo throw. Maybe you’re counting on your opponent parrying instead of using any other defense, or maybe landing on top of them is of critical importance to you. A deceptive attack judo throw from an All-Out Attack (Determined) is strictly superior otherwise. If you wanted, you could transfer the special effect of this All-Out Attack variant into FDG verbatim and it would work without issue. The downside is the added complexity which you probably don’t want if you’re running FDG in the first place, especially since you can increase your skill (to perform deceptive attacks, for example) via CP expenditure. So unless you’re really into the details, just do a normal judo throw with the desired attack options.

Scissors Hold is just a case of grabbing the opponent by their leg(s) using your own, and can not be improved other than via Targeted Attack (Wrestling Grab/Leg). Use the same posture restrictions as in Martial Arts.

Sweep becomes the iconic example of Sweep the Leg! from FDG p. 8. It can not be improved and does not take any kind of penalty to its attack.

Trip works as described in Martial Arts. It is not really a grappling move, but I’ve included it here for the sake of completeness since it’s a technique for the grappling skills.

Backbreaker is covered under I Grapple His Face! on FDG p. 8.

Binding should be treated similar to Handcuffing. If using cuffs, the only difference is you can also target the victim’s feet. If using a rope, you can also target their arms and legs, but the victim automatically removes the rope from all bound hit locations if they reduce their CP to where they no longer suffer any DX penalty. The exception to this is if you bind all of their limbs; they can then only get rid of the bindings using the Escape skill. Binding can be improved via Targeted Attack (Judo or Knot-Tying Binding/Arm, Hand, Foot or Leg).

Piledriver is just a variant backbreaker targeting the skull instead.


And that covers all of the grappling techniques from Martial Arts. It just shows how Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is both streamlined, flexible and comprehensive.

Thief buffs for Dungeon Fantasy

After I announced the Martial Artist buffs to my players, I got asked to fix Thieves too. Sucking in combat in comparison to other professions is not the only thing they often catch flak for, but it’s what I wanted to focus on. I originally wrote this article an entire year ago, but put it in a drawer due to wanting to playtest it first… other things took priority after the playtest and eventually I forgot about it. In the meantime ideas on how to make Thieves better have become more widespread in the community so some of this may be old news to you, but amplifying the signal never hurts.

1. Perfect Balance is now an optional advantage for Thieves, not a mandatory one.

Opinions are divided on this advantage. It can certainly be useful, but for example over the course of 16 sessions in my current DF campaign so far there were exactly zero opportunities where it would have enabled a Thief to do something cool, something other professions could not, or would have a hard time trying. Its bonus to Acrobatics and Climbing is nice, but very point inefficient if the Thief doesn’t encounter many tight spaces to walk on (such as in a fully dungeon-based campaign like mine). Hence, making it optional to make space for some other traits dearly needed by Thieves to be more viable.

Update: since I originally wrote this article my DF campaign has run its course over a total of 42 sessions and I still can’t remember opportunities for Perfect Balance to justify its point investment. A part of this is on me since I didn’t really think about providing said opportunities, but if something like this happened in my campaign it is bound to happen in others as well.

2. Trim the skills required by the profession template.

It is a rather common argument that some of the obligatory starting skills for Thieves such as Filch or Smuggling don’t get many usage opportunities in typical Dungeon Fantasy campaigns, or that they should even be rolled into other skills. I personally prefer Peter Dell’Orto’s variant which saves 7 points by dropping some skills to optional and merging others.

3. Weapon Master (Knives), up to 10 levels of Striking ST (Only on surprise attack) and Backstabber are now a core part of the profession template as optional advantages.

These were previously listed as Thief power-ups in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11 so some players may have missed them, but they are in fact found on the Thief template in DFRPG (except for Backstabber). This is just getting them in the front row, to make good mileage out of the next item on the docket.

4. Use the Disappearing and Sniping rules from GURPS Action 2 (reprinted in GURPS After The End 2 with additional detail).

These allow Thieves  to backstab more than once per combat, as well as to “backstab” with ranged weapons. The Disappear technique included in Backstabber applies to both Disappearing and Sniping, but the First Strike perk still applies only to the first attack in a fight.

5. Heroic Archer and Throwing Master are now optional advantages for Thieves.

This ties into a topic for another day (why is Scout the only capable archer in the game?), but it has been requested often enough and I certainly think it makes sense. Throwing Master is a Krommpost, by the way, and is an analogue to Heroic Archer.

6. The Animals, Faeries and Hybrids specialties of the Physiology skill are now background skills on the Thief template.

Thieves need access to vitals to do their best work. Sure, the skull hit location is mostly where expected on any creature, and armor chinks are another viable option, but vitals are much easier to hit, especially if a Thief is unable to backstab. This lets them do so against many more foes beyond humanoids but still within the bounds of what is established for the stereotype. Physiology is a hard skill, but Thieves have IQ 13 per default so they’re able to use it just fine.


The above changes are relatively conservative and unlike my adjustments to Martial Artists, they mostly bring attention to already existing components and give players more options. Due to their minimal divergence from DF as published and requiring almost no effort, they would be my preferred start to fixing Thieves. Developing interesting Power Ups would be the next step , and for my future DF campaigns I will likely use one of the several popular reduced swing damage campaign switches. They solve more problems than just bringing Thieves’ combat capabilities up to par.

First impressions: Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

After about 10 games using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling I thought I’d share some of my impressions. This is not a review; if you’re unfamiliar with this excellent DFRPG supplement by Gaming Ballistic (works perfectly well with GURPS as well), I’ll just say that it aims to bring grappling mechanics closer to the way striking is handled: making attack rolls which opponents can defend against and rolling for effect (called control in this case) if a hit connects.

I have to point out that all of the games were part of either a 275-point Dungeon Fantasy campaign including a Wrestler (Pyramid #3/111)  in the party, or a 400-point cinematic Star Wars game with a specialized grappler (albeit a bit less capable than the Wrestler due to characters in that campaign being more broadly trained). In most cases grappling happened between a grappling specialist PC and a rather beefy opponent, so I don’t yet know how bouts between more normal people look like. With that out of the way, on to my impressions:

  • What a specialized grappler touches, gets defeated in 2-5 rounds, no ifs buts or discussions. Only exceptions are if the victim is itself a similar specialized grappler or has ST in excess of 2x the amount of control the attacker can keep on the victim. The latter case is the breakpoint between the victim getting -2 and -4 to DX, which in my experience is a difference between “not ideal but can manage” and”oof we have a problem”.
  • On first glance the above timeline is not very different from that of a capable weapon master engaging a similar opponent, but in my experience tough opponents can withstand more strikes than grapples before relevant penalties sink in and send them down the death spiral. If an opponent has High Pain Threshold the only penalty due to the loss of HP is the halving of dodge and move below 1/3 HP, but with grappling the penalty to DX sets in right away. Consequently, a bad guy getting pummeled by strikes has the potential to be relevant for a longer time whereas with grappling it has often been the case that they were completely neutered after a couple of rounds. So it is working as expected I guess, since the point of grappling is disabling someone at the cost of not being able to swiftly dispatch multiple foes.
  • I had fights vs ST 30 and 40 demons with decent but not specialized grappling skills. They had a chance, but luck was not on their side. After getting hit by the grappler, they weren’t successful in countergrappling and the grappler could withstand their attacks long enough to either accumulate enough control and convert to injury, or for the rest of the party to easily dispatch the penalized victim.
  • I had a fight vs a ST 70 dinosaur. It had skill of 14 or thereabouts. The grappler could not get it to -4 and it had 70 hit points so converting CP to damage was not very effective either, but the dinosaur had absolutely no chance of either shaking off the grappler, or grappling the grappler himself.
  • In default GURPS a big, strong monster without great skill could put up with and outmatch a specialized grappler due to its ST and most grappling moves being contests of ST. In FDG it doesn’t work that way for the most part; while ST is important to get enough control, skill is king much the same as in combat with strikes. So unless you change your expectations, “big, strong monsters” could be rather disappointing unless they have the very highest end of ST normally encountered in GURPS games, and even in that case they won’t be able to grapple a trained grappler effectively themselves.
  • The above points showcase that you really have to design monsters with grappling in mind when running FDG. Skilled fighters who are not at least competent in grappling can get defeated that way without much effort.
  • I haven’t yet had a character use a weapon attack and spend control on it to increase damage so I can’t really comment on how that performs. My suspicion is that it could be a very useful tool for fighters otherwise not specialized in grappling, and that a swinging weapon in the hands of a specialized grappler will be much more horrendous than a DF barbarian with Weapon Master.
  • FDG works seamlessly with DF monsters that grapple automatically on a hit (just let them inflict control as well as damage), and also rather elegant with very little head scratching needed in special situations such as monsters that can engulf opponents (just inflict maximum control).
  • I would say that FDG is an even better addition if you also use Conditional Injury because it can be used to exceed the usual “damage caps” if you find your attacks not being able to inflict severe enough wounds on your opponents. I have a veritable tank in my current party who is very hard to injure even when he gets hit in the vitals or other sensitive hit locations because very little damage gets through the DR, but he was inflicted with a severity 1 wound after 3 rounds of grappling by a competent grappler (15 control converted into 5d damage ignoring DR).

That’s it for now. I look forward to more games using FDG, and I already know I’m never going back to the default GURPS grappling rules.