May 27, 2011

Grapple-How I Loathe Thee

Grapple is one of those sub-systems that too many RPG games feel inclined to include in their rule set. D&D is the poster child of everything ever wrong with Grapple. (Why is Grapple capitalized? Because in my mind it is a proper noun and thus I can direct all my hatred upon it much the same way I can with any person I also have hatred for.) When it was first introduced as an option its rules were clunky, cumbersome and more of a hindrance than a help. It has been this way through multiple editions as it subtly and not so subtly changed in each edition. In 30+ years of RPG gaming I have never used any system’s Grapple rules.

(Begrudgingly, I will admit that I do in fact use the grappling rules for 4E, but I will also contend that grapple in 4E is different enough from the standard concepts of Grapple in every other game that uses it. All grapple does in 4E is immobilize the opponent, much the same way many, many other powers in 4E do. It does not render an opponent unable to act as Grapple does in so many other systems.)

What is Grapple good for? Nothing! Some will contend it adds another layer of simulation to combat. I say hogwash! The act of grappling is part of the 6 second fight. The majority of RPG rule systems abstract a round of combat wherein a single attack roll is not in fact a single swing or punch. Instead it is a series of punches and blows that culminate in an overall effect distilled down into a single die roll. I contend the act of Grapple is a part of this series of fisticuffs.

Take a look at cinematic fight scenes. Often there are measures of Grapple taking place during them. One opponent tries to grab another and the other punches him in the face to elude the Grapple and thus the fight goes back and forth. The actual effect of the Grapple, gaining control over your opponent so that he is incapable of doing anything, actually happens after a prolonged series of attacks and counterattacks. In RPG terms the opponent is down to 0, or lower, hit points. It is not a case of the opponent suddenly making his Grapple roll; it is more a case where the opponent wore down his target (loss of hit points) until the target was rendered incapable of further action. Grapple is less of a single attack type and more an end result of combat itself.
Grapple should only be used as a descriptive term. This would be much in the same way a fight is described with punches, swings, kicks, elbows to the face, etc; Grapple is just another expression similar to all of those.

Why do players even want a Grapple rule? It allows them to remove an opponent from a fight before the loss of their hit point pool (or levels of injury or whatever system that simulates hit points). It is a way to circumvent the standard fight mechanics, a short cut to the end. In effect, they are trying to cheat the system.

So, no, I do not allow for formal Grapple rules in the games I run (other than 4E). I find it is not worth it. How do you feel about Grapple? Are there other game sub-systems that are a part of many RPG rule sets that you despise?


EvilDM said...

It is a shame that 'Grappling' is shunned and sometimes avoided altogether by some DMs. Personally I've used a very basic principle for fisticuffs, mainly for light entertainment for my players, reducing it down to initiative, reflex and strength and a D6 halved for non-lethal damage (armour taken into account). But I mainly ran Dragon Warriors and AD&D (usually 1st edition). But you do raise a very interesting point - and well written, might I add.

But if pushed I would have to say that 'Traveller' was my least favourite melee system for grappling.

Joshua said...

Maybe because I don't tend to use systems with big pools of HP, but I don't see grappling that way at all. Almost always when players try to grapple in the games I've played it's been to try to deny the opponent the ability to use their weapon, or to move, or to hinder their defense against an ally's attack, or to wrest an object away from them, which all seem to me to be legitimate tactics.

I'd agree that it's silly to have rules where it's quicker and easier to defeat an armed opponent by wrestling them into submission than sticking them with a sword, but whether or not you call it "Grapple" there ought to be some legitimate way in the rules for a character to do any of the things I mentioned.