[Update: Douglas H. Cole (Dungeon Grappling’s author) has posted a reply to my review with his further thoughts.]
Both as a player and a DM over the years I’ve encountered times where the wrestling or special hand-to-hand options during combat didn’t cover exactly (or cover at all!) what I or a player wanted to do.
There’s that thrill of inspiration for a cool move to try during combat, and then the crestfallen “oh” when told the rules just can’t do it. I imagine many folks reading this have experienced the same situation and are now either literally or mentally nodding their heads.
The game I currently play the most, D&D 5th Edition, as much as I love it (and I think it is a fantastic edition) basically has no rules for wrestling or special combat moves, just a “grappled” condition that is woefully inadequate… I have actually wondered why they even bothered to put it in in its current form. It’s one of my only gripes with 5E. I actually feel a bit embarrassed as a DM when a player new to the game asks about a grappling move and I awkwardly tell them what their, er, option is.
Enter Dungeon Grappling, which is gaming author and designer (and the guy behind Gaming Ballistic) Douglas H. Cole’s answer to the problem. Recently Kickstarted and then delivered in a swift and professional fashion, does Dungeon Grappling take it to the mat like an expert or do we need to tap it out?
I’m not one for suspense in reviews, so I’ll say right off the bat that I feel this is a good product and especially so given this is the author’s first RPG effort that I am aware of outside of articles and supplements for other games.
It offers a rich, alternative and, for the most part, non-lethal combat system that runs in parallel with the existing combat systems in D&D, Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry.
It doesn’t replace the existing system, nor does it add moves, abilities and feats to the existing system… it’s a parallel combat system that uses it’s own attack, defense and “hit point” system alongside the existing rules.
But will YOU like it?
What it really comes down to, regardless of how good or comprehensive Dungeon Grappling may be, is whether something like the following formula gets you excited or makes you want to hide.
Take a good look:
Truly, this is the litmus test of whether Dungeon Grappling is for you and your group. There’s math and formulas. Old school, nigh-GURPS level math and formulas.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is what it is. For the rich system Cole has brought to the table (so to speak), there’s really no way around it.
One must calculate the attack rolls, difficulty classes (the “armor class” of the grappling system) and control maximums (the “hit points” of the grappling system) for the players, monsters and NPCs. It’s possible you may need to do this in the moment if a grappling situation comes up spontaneously.
These are in addition to whatever combat stats are already calculated for the system in play. In other words, your attack roll to hit with a melee weapon might be different than your attack roll to grapple while the difficulty class to hit in grappling can be different from armor class.
Also, as mentioned above there are rules for S&W, Pathfinder & D&D… so depending on how many of those systems you might be playing there are different formulas for each.
In offering options, Dungeon Grappling by necessity needed to increase its complexity.
A Rich System
Yet, as with most things in life, with effort comes reward.
Dungeon Grappling is an excellent, rich grappling / wrestling combat rules system that opens up an entirely new arena of possibilities in your RPG gaming. For me, and I suspect many others, it’s definitely worth the time investment.
Again, this is a parallel combat system that exists alongside the regular combat rules. It does not replace or enhance them. For example, you can grapple someone into total submission and overcome all of their control maximum points and never do a hit point of damage to them.
Dungeon Grappling also isn’t a splatbook full of additional abilities and feats that you add to your existing system. In some ways it’s a mini-RPG, albeit for combat rules.
These rules are for player characters, NPCs and monsters, with all of them receiving equal love. In fact, monsters receive their own section on how to calculate the necessary Dungeon Grappling numbers given Monster Manual (or equivalent resource for the respective game system) stat blocks. Imagine a roper utilizing a vastly expanded grappling combat system with all the tentacles flying at you and you get an idea of the power Dungeon Grappling brings to your game.
The rules are grounded somewhat in reality. Dexterity is factored in, but strength has the edge. Sorry, but the most dexterous halfling isn’t taking a dragon down in one move. The control points you inflict on an opponent (“control” is the damage in Dungeon Grappling) operate on a progressive scale, it’s not all or nothing, up-or-down like hit points in D&D. The more control you achieve, the more dominance you have over your opponent all the way up to complete incapacitation.
You can trade control points in for cool moves like stunning throws and takedowns. You can wrestle for an item, inflict pain to force submission, or take things a step further and actually convert control points to hit point damage.
But wait, as they say, there’s more. There are rules for dragging, flinging, and shoving. Grappling with weapons in covered. So is magical grappling (spells that have grappling use or effects).
Get the point? This system is well thought out, including benefits from RPG-system specific abilities and feats. If you want to grapple and grapple well, Dungeon Grappling has you covered.
The Package & Price
Lest I forget to mention, Dungeon Grappling looks great, from the cover to the interior art to the layout and design. When the Kickstarter first began it was digital only but a pledge level was added for a print version and I’m glad that was done. The paperback version feels good to hold and flip through.
At under $10 for a PDF copy and under $20 for a print copy I think it’s reasonable for the rules you get, and the professional package it’s contained in.
I personally think this is a reference that fantasy RPG groups should have in their toolkit, either for constant use or for those periodic “what if I try this?” moments when folks are in an experimental mood.
I’m introducing Dungeon Grappling at my D&D table for players that want to take advantage of it. However, I’ll leave it up to each player whether they want to and not force them into the extra rules depending on their own taste.
Some of my players will glom right on to it with a passion, others show up each week and practically need to be reminded which dice to roll. They’re probably not going to get a firm, er, grip on Dungeon Grappling (and honestly probably won’t want to). For those of us that do, however, I suspect this will add a cool new dimension to play.
How Do You, Er, Grab Your Copy?
Dungeon Grappling is available in PDF, Kindle and paperback. I went for the paperback because I’m a grognard like that.