Rules I Don’t Use, Replace, or Revise

I used to play a heavily house ruled GURPS variant for a long time (alternate attributes, different skill progression scheme, 3-second combat turns with completely different combat mechanics, etc), but a bunch of years ago I decided to return to the roots and get some experience in running vanilla GURPS. After some games, something clicked for me, and I didn’t see a point in all of those house rules anymore – I’ve been running GURPS with very few house rules since then. I don’t think any I use are made out of whole cloth, it’s just simplifications or slight tweaks to published rules. I don’t feel “full” house rules are needed at all, since GURPS offers so many dials you can turn to get the experience you like.

There’s a whole bunch of published rules I don’t use though – but most of them are optional anyway. It would take forever to enumerate all of them because most are just small things, so I’ll just talk about a few notable ones.

The Hit Point System

I only use hit points in pickup games and other games which are intended for a “public” audience. For what I call my “private” games, I use the Conditional Injury rules from Pyramid #3/120. Actually, I’ve used a similar system in the aforementioned heavily modified GURPS variant I used to run. But Conditional Injury is much more elegant. I use such systems because I was never a fan of a death by a thousand rat bites, and sometimes they’re more survivable and feel more “heroic” than the default HP rules, both of which are a plus in my book.

I’ve developed a way to make using Conditional Injury quicker with rapid fire attacks, and I apply one other slight tweak to it: instead of using the Robustness Threshold and Wound Potential tables as published, I just use a straight SSRT progression. Most of my house rules are like that – if possible, try to find an already existing element of GURPS and apply it.

Grappling

I’ve been using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling ever since it came out, and never looked back. I even use it in my pickup games because it’s extremely simple and easy to understand. There are some situations where it takes a bit adjusting to (a couple of which I’ve outlined here), but I don’t see a reason not to use it in every game ever. Much simpler, and even cooler than the default GURPS grappling rules.

The only house rule I use was borne out of a discussion with the author – stronger characters have a bonus equal to the the ST difference on their attack rolls to break free.

GURPS Magic

Much like hit points, I only use this in my “public” games and only DF(RPG) ones at that. I vastly prefer magic as powers otherwise, taking elements from both Sorcery and Psionic Powers, though lately I’ve started experimenting with RPM a bit which I’ve otherwise avoided due to it being a completely new system and its tendency to upstage all non-practitioners.

GURPS Spaceships

While I like these rules in theory, in practice they suffer from two big problems. The first one is mostly due to my style of play – I need to flip so many switches to make the ships survivable enough and for the combat to work the way I want that I don’t feel the effort is worth it. The second problem is that the combat system is a completely new set of rules which I’ve found many players have no interest in learning.

I don’t run many games involving spaceships or other vehicles, but for when I do I’ve decided to use a modular ship construction system which is a mix of the Modular Mecha article from Pyramid #3/51 and vehicles as characters. As for the combat system – when I ran a mecha game I just treated the mecha as humans and used the default combat rules. Didn’t even bother mapping some of their stats to real world values because it wasn’t relevant. How fast can the mech run? I dunno, it has Move 6, the other mech has 5, you’re not interacting with other combatants anyway. I’ll use something similar for other vehicles if the need arises.

Oh – Conditional Injury is perfect for vehicular damage, and Mailanka has some great crippling rules on his Wiki which make it irrelevant to know which exact systems a vehicle has. He also has a great Action Vehicular Combat set of rules based on chases from Action and the Spaceships combat rules, but I don’t use those because of the same reason I don’t use the Spaceships combat system. Otherwise I would since they fit my requirements perfectly.

Cover

As written, the cover rules are very plausible and realistic. Can’t shoot a guy in a body part that isn’t exposed, and an exposed body part suffers a no greater to hit penalty than if it were targeted when its owner isn’t in cover.

Except this creates some perverse gameplay incentives that are noticeable in all but the most grounded, realistic of games. Why take cover so you can’t be hit in your torso armor, which is thicker than your face or hand armor? Why incentivize losing your arm, or skull shots by making the default, easiest target (torso) unavailable? Yes, other hit locations are harder to hit, but they offer commensurate rewards so taking anything but full cover isn’t really a win-win situation as one might expect. Especially against skilled opponents.

I haven’t done anything about this yet because the tug of plausible rules based in reality and my desire for few house rules is strong… but I might just say that any kind of partial covers gives the same penalty to hit all hit locations as it does to hit torso. Like, you don’t need to fully expose your hands and face to shoot, just partially. If your attacker suffers a -2 penalty to hit your torso, but a -4 penalty to hit your arm or a -9 penalty to hit your skull, taking cover is always a net benefit for you which is what I desire from such a defensive option. This is basically a simplification and abstraction of the existing cover rules from Basic and Tactical Shooting.

Active Defense vs Area Attacks

If you’re caught in the middle of an area attack and there is no cover nearby and your step isn’t enough to get you out of it… you’re outta luck. I mostly run cinematic games where this is completely inappropriate. So I mostly just say you can always dive for cover even when there is none… you find some microcover or whatever.

There’s another problem to this – due to the +3 to dodge while diving for cover, characters will generally always succeed at this. Yes, this makes them prone which is its own can of worms. It often turns area effect attacks into non-damaging setups for subsequent attacks. This isn’t a kind of incentive I like, but similar to cover I haven’t done anything about it yet due to my desire to keep changes to a minimum.

Honorable Mention: Unavoidable Damage on Getting Your Natural Attacks Parried

I just ignore this, it doesn’t fit the kinds of games I run. Monsters cheat. Players of characters with claws and sharp teeth like it too.

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.

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.