The Dragon Warriors Bestiary is a trove of lore on the beasts of Legend, but also tucked within its pages are many new rules with application beyond the specific case mentioned against a specific creature's entry in the Bestiary. In this essay, I look at how grappling is covered in the Bestiary and how this could be applied more generally within a Dragon Warriors game.
The Bestiary mentions a couple of different types of grapple attack - those of the tentacled beasts, like Pythons (p28) and Obsidiaks (p43), and those of the Swamp Folk (p24). (N)PCs are unlikely to have the specialised physiques to be able to emulate a Python or Obsidiak attack, so the Swamp Folk's rules will be used as a starting point.
In summary, on a successful hit, a Swamp Folk successfully grapples its victim. If the Swamp Folk's Strength is higher than its victim's on two successive rounds, the victim is drawn underwater and drowns (presumably, by that point, the victim is helplessly pinned). The two-successive-rounds rule also aligns with the rule for subduing a Hippogriff (p37) as part of breaking the creature to use as a mount (is this a grapple?), so this feels like there is some consistency that is worth incorporating into our general grappling rules.
But let us look at the Swamp Folk more closely...
The rules state that the average of all of the attackers' Strength is compared to the victim's, so if 2, 3, 4, or even 8 Swamp Folk each with 10 Strength attack someone, it is no more difficult for that person to resist the Swamp Folk's grapple as if they were only fighting off a single Swamp Folk. Additionally, the rules do not require any combatants to test Strength, only have a higher score, so a victim with a Strength of 11 will automatically resist the grapple attempts of any number of Swamp Folk if the suggested Strength of each Swamp Folk is used.
Clearly, there is room for improvement.
Grappling Rules for General Play
- To initiate a grapple, the attacker must succeed in a normal melee hit roll (Attack vs. Defence).
- If the hit roll is successful, instead of rolling armour bypass, both combatants must test Strength on a d20.
- If the attacker succeeds by more than their victim, the victim has been grabbed. Being grabbed means that the attacker does not need to make a hit roll next round to attempt to pin the victim (although must still test Strength).
- As with the Python and Obsidiak attack, it seems reasonable to grant the victim a Refelexes check (on a d20) to see if he retains his weapon. If he does, he may continue to attack his attacker until pinned.
- If the grapple is successfully maintained the following round (i.e., the attacker and the grabbed victim test Strength and the attacker succeeds by more than the victim), the victim is pinned and may no longer attack. On subsequent rounds, the attacker and victim may continue to test Strength, with the attacker doing 1 HP damage each round that the attacker succeeds by more than the victim - note that the attacker could choose just to continue to pin his victim; causing damage is optional.
- If multiple attackers co-operate to grapple a victim, the strongest attacker's Strength score is used to for the test, with a +2 modifier for each additional attacker. Note that each attacker must still succeed a hit roll to initially grab the victim for their Strength to contribute to the final result.
- The grapple ends if the attacker fails two successive Strength tests. Until then, there is nothing the pinned victim can do except hope his companions free him before his joints are dislocated and his bones snapped by his attacker.
Grappling is a great option for characters looking for non-lethal combat options - to capture and subdue an opponent, rather than injure or kill them. These rules, however, may make grappling too attractive an alterantive to traditional combat - a strong character could quickly disable an opponent. But this should not necessarily be discouraged, as holding a pin also takes that character out of a wider combat. Plus, would the PCs be comfortable killing a helpless opponent, or would they then be forced to capture or release them? That, in itself, can lead to all sorts of ongoing problems for the PCs in the future, as could crossing the line from being heroes to being murderers.
Lastly, these rules are necessarily simple and do not account for niche cases, such as grappling non-humanoids or grappling significantly stronger opponents whose strength cannot be measured on the 3-18 human scale (e.g., giants and titans). Hopefully, this essay will help GMs resolve grappling attacks with more consistency and confidence but there will always be those cases in which the GM must use judgment to create the most compelling and fun narrative for the players and not depend on the rules for the answer.