Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unarmed Combat

It occurs to me (given what is happening with the campaign blog) that I've never published these house rules.  It is about time I did so.  I hate the complicated (and virtually useless) rules from the DMG ... so I fixed them.  These have worked for me for quite awhile:


Grappling describes an attempt to wrestle an opponent to the ground, in order to subdue, disarm or otherwise overpower the grappled creature. In typical combat situations it is not an effective ploy when used in one-on-one situations; however, if several creatures attempt to grapple a solitary defender at the same time, it can be useful in overcoming those whose armor class makes them virtually invulnerable to ordinary combat. This is because grappling is a question of dexterity and weight.

When grappling, the attacker drops or sheaths weapons in order to use both hands; grappling with one hand is possible, but incurs penalty modifiers. A d20 is rolled as always, but only the opponents natural armor class and dexterity is considered. Natural armor class for most human races is 10; this may be modified by magic rings, bracers of defense and defensive spells, but not by magical cloaks, ordinary or magical armor and so on. This is because grappling is not an attempt to strike at specific points in the body in order to cause a wound, but at the body as a whole—which is obviously much easier to hit.

Additionally, the attacker gains a +1 to hit modifier for each 50 lbs. of weight above 100 lbs. which the attacker weighs. If the attacker is holding a light one-handed weapon, a penalty of –2 to hit is given; a heavy one-handed weapon gives a penalty of –4, and a two-handed weapon held one handed while grappling gives a penalty of –6 to hit.

Fighters or monks who have multiple attacks against opponents attempting to grapple receive a +2 to hit for every additional attack. Thus, a monk with two attacks per round would receive +2; a fighter with 3 attacks every 2 rounds would receive +1; and so on. All other to hit modifiers also apply.

A successful grapple indicates that 1-4 hp of real damage will be done (this may vary, as claws or weight consideration may potentially cause more damage). Strength bonuses apply.

Attackers who attempt to grapple, who then fail, suffer a –3 penalty to their normal AC.

Once grappled, the defender may attempt to resist by breaking free. This is accomplished by rolling a save vs. paralyzation. Defenders gain a +1 modifier to this save for every 50 lbs. of weight above 100 lbs. If successful, the defender may also attempt to strike that round with fist or weapon, whichever might be available. If unsuccessful, the defender can take no other action. The defender may attempt to resist one grappling attack per number of attacks which the defender possesses. Thus, if a fourth level fighter is resisting against six goblins, the fighter can attempt to resist four times (attacks against zero levels).

The defender might, instead of resisting, attempt to grapple also; in which case, the attack is exactly the same as above. Opponents may thus continue grappling from round to round.

However, once one of the opponents is stunned, that opponent is considered to be pinned, and may only take the “resist” option. Failure to resist all grapplers indicates the defender is still “pinned.”


Overbearing is an effort to force back opponents from positions of defense, so that they must move backwards while an attacker moves forward. Success in this is entirely a condition of weight; a heavier opponent is more likely to push back a lighter opponent. There are considerations, however.

The base chance of success is a hit against AC 10 (regardless of the defender’s AC). The attacker has a modifier of +1 per 50 lbs. of weight above 100 lbs. which he possesses, and a modifier of –1 for every 50 lbs. of weight of his opponent. Armor is considered as part of overbearing weight, but equipment is not.

Thus, Abner the fighter wishes to push Jacob the fighter back one hex. Abner’s overbearing weight is 240, giving him a +2 modifier; however, Jacob’s defending weight is 197, so Abner really only receives a +1. Abner attempts to hit AC 10, and succeeds. Jacob must back up one hex while Abner may move forward (the movement penalty for overbearing provides for the necessary movement ability).

However, if Jacob were not able to push back, because Jacob’s back was to a door, the overbear attempt would fail. However, if Jacob were fighting at the edge of a cliff, and the overbear succeeded, Jacob would need to make a dexterity check to grab the edge (at +4 on the die roll) or fall.

It is possible to overbear and fight normally in the same round. If a creature is simultaneously overborne and stunned in the same round, the creature will give two hexes as a result (but the attacker would only advance one hex).

If riding a mount, the mount’s weight is included in attempts to overbear—and will allow up to two opponents to be overborne in the space of one round. Thus, a light horse weighing 400 lbs. would gain a +6 to overbear (a horse typically weighs 67 lbs. per hit point; horses with less than 5 hp are considered immature). Note, however, that a heavy warhorse, with barding and bearing a rider in armor, could easily top 2,000 lbs.

Another important consideration is the depth of defenders. If attempting to overbear a defensive position composed of two lines of men, one behind the other, the attacker must successfully overbear the weight of the opponent and of two defenders buttressing from behind. Thus, while it might be easy to overbear a 75 lb. goblin, this becomes more difficult when three goblins weighing 225 lbs. are faced. For deeper lines, a pyramid of opponents supports the front…thus a line three deep would mean six goblins to be pushed back, a line four deep would mean ten goblins to be pushed back and so on. In this way it is possible for a sufficiently supported line to withstand a cavalry charge.

Overbearing causes no damage. See overrunning.


Overrunning indicates when a charging attacker knocks down and tramples a defender, thus continuing to move past and potentially attacking more rearward members of a standing army. In order to successfully overrun an opponent, the attacker must be in the second round of continuous forward movement (at least three quarters full movement in the first round) and be presently moving at a speed of at least seven hexes per round. The trajectory of the charging attacker must be a straight line.

If, under such conditions, the attacker successfully overbears the front opponent, overrunning will occur. There are bonuses to overbearing if the attacker is in motion; weight is effectively increased by 50 lbs. per 10’ feet of speed above 25’ per round (per two hexes of speed above five hexes per round). Thus, if a charging man weighing 175 lbs. attacks at a speed of nine hexes per round, his weight is considered to be 275 lbs. for overbearing purposes.

Once having successfully overborne an opponent at a run, the attacker reduces his speed by 25’ (five hexes) per round and causes damage to the trampled opponent. This damage will be equal to 1-4 for attackers with an overbearing weight under 200 lbs.; 1-6 with a weight of 201-400 lbs.; 1-8 with a weight of 401-700 lbs.; 1-10 with a weight of 701-1,100 lbs.; 2-12 with a weight of 1,100-2,200 lbs.; and 2-16 damage for all heavier creatures. Additionally, it should be noted that in overrunning creatures, normal combat is also carried out, so this is damage added to that which may ordinarily occur.

In overrunning an opponent, the attacker may lose his or her footing, so a dexterity check must be made to remain upright. This check is at +4 for creatures moving at treble their movement, and +8 for creatures moving at quadruple their movement. Note that as speed increases the overbearing weight of the attacker it potentially increases damage also.

Attackers who are still moving at the minimum speed necessary to overrun a second opponent may do so, provided it does not occur in the same round and provided this does not require any change in direction.


Pummelling indicates striking with the fist rather than with a weapon. It can be an effective action prior to regaining a dropped weapon. Notably, attackers who choose to have both hands free (and sufficient dexterity) may attack twice or more (depending on their combat ability) per round.

For most humans and demi-humans, pummeling damage equals 1-3. There are exceptions, in that halflings and other races are small enough to cause only 1-2 damage, while some half-orcs, humans or dwarves might weigh enough to cause 1-4.

Pummelling is carried out exactly as normal combat, with the exception that a strength bonus is not allowed unless the attacker’s fist is armored with a guantlet; even then, the strength bonus is halved (an ordinary strength bonus of +1 equals zero, a strength bonus of +2 or +3 equals +1 and so on. Thus a hill giant’s strength bonus when pummelling would only be +3, and only while wearing a guantlet).

Monks using open hand damage are in fact pummelling. Monks as a class are not permitted to use guantlets, and thus have no strength bonuses. The monk ability to ‘stagger’ (stun as listed in the Players Handbook) opponents cannot be done by other classes through pummelling.

An unarmed opponent facing an armed opponent suffers a modifier of –1 to their armor class, as they are unable to properly parry attacks. Monks are not considered to be affected by this rule.

Combatants with multiple attacks may strike with both fist and weapon.  In cases where an attacker has three attacks every two rounds (such as a 7th level fighter), the fist may be considered a half attack (thus, the fighter could attack with fist and weapon every round). This can also apply to monks who may choose to use weapon and open hand simultaneously. Note that characters with a high dexterity may also employ the fist as an option to a second weapon—the fist acting as the secondary weapon, and receiving one less than the penalty indicated (a 17 dexterity where the secondary weapon hits  with a –1 would have no penalty if the secondary weapon was a fist).


The Rusty Battle Axe said...

Simple and useful.

Anonymous said...

I have heard about grappling but never used it in my entire life. I would like to appreciate you for sharing a such an informative post with us.
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