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.

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