On the Original Grapple Rule

From the Strategic Review Volume 1: #2

"As they outnumber their opponent so heavily it is likely that they will try to over-power him rather than kill, so each hit they score will be counted as attempts to grapple the Hero"

Two of the 5 orcs that can attack hit.

"Two of the Orcs have grappled the Hero, and if his score with 4 dice is less than their score with 2 dice he has been pinned helplessly."

This is the fighter's Hit Dice (as indicated by the level title "Hero") versus the total of the hit dice of the creatures who successfully hit.

"If it is a tie they are struggling, with the Hero still on his feet, but he will be unable to defend himself with his weapon. If the Hero scores higher than the Orcs use the positive difference to throw off his attackers, i.e. the Hero scores 15 and the Orcs scored but 8, so the Hero has tossed both aside, stunning them for 7 turns between them."

It is unsaid, of course, that if the Orcs win, the Hero is captured. Obviously the level of success indicates the rounds of stunning divided among all participants.

This example includes a common technique that I use, of not dicing for monster hit points, till the monster is struck.

This grapple rule, simply put:

Grappling: Attack as normal, without weapons. The successful attackers and defender both roll a combined number of d6's equal to their Hit Dice.

On a tie, both parties struggle, neither able to take action.

If the defender wins, he throws off all the successful attackers. They are stunned for a round. He may take his action as normal.

If the attackers win, the defender is pinned and helpless.

And some optional modifiers:

Advanced Option 1: The difference between the defenders winning roll and the attackers losing roll is the number of rounds of stunning that may be divided among the defenders.

Advanced Option 2: Once overpowered, the defender may try to escape using half his hit dice, versus the hit dice of the creatures restraining him. On a loss he takes the difference as subdual damage.


  1. This really surprised me when I first discovered it. Gygax casually tosses the rule out in an example, almost like we should already know about a rule he never included in the OD&D books.

    This rule is far and away clearer than the grappling rules for AD&D.

  2. An interesting rule and one that never shows up in any form again. Also hidden in that example is the notion that a character gets multiple attacks if he has 4 times as many hit dice as his opponent. I guess that one went away when Gygax switched from having variable numbers of hit dice to hit dice of varying sizes.

  3. OD&D has some nice rules hidden in the bad layout. Clean and efficient. The only trouble I see with the Grapple Rule as written is that it means a 3rd level fighter can grapple identically to a 3rd level wizard.

    This is solved (and hinted at in the rule) by using actual HD to determine grapple, not "number of levels". In B/X or later editions the varied HD will make the difference between the classes apparent, while in OD&D the D6 progression should limit non-figthers (especially when tussling with monsters).

    1. @Gus L

      I don't see the trouble with a 3rd level fighter grappling identically to a 3rd level magic-user.

      I'm positive a magic-users to hit roll is not "the same move" as a fighter's method of striking his opponent. In my mind, they are using different methods to be successful to strike or to grapple in this case.

    2. @burnedfx

      Sure if that's the way you play that's the way you play. Personally I like my fighters to be better at fighting than my magic users. It creates variation. At 1st level they would all be roughly equal under OD&D rules (1d6 for MU/1D6+1 for Fighter), while at 10th it wound be more apparent with (5D6 MU/10D6+1 Fighter). This still means that a high level wizard is not a good fellow to tussle with, but he's not up to wrestling a pair of giants.

    3. @Gus L

      Ha! Until this post, I've never seen this rule. I'm not sure I would allow a fighter or a magic-user wrestle a pair of giants despite their level. That's assuming the fighter and the magic-user are still the same height they were at level 1. ;]

  4. "Subdual Combat" is one thing that J. Eric Holmes (editor of the first Basic D&D book) lamented as being missing from the D&D system. So, even he didn't find this rule. From his Dragon #52 article "Basic D&D Points of View:"

    "I think the present combat system lacks only one device common to sword-and-sorcery tales, but it is one so commonly used that I miss it in the game. There is very little chance for the hero to be knocked out and taken prisoner. Yet, that is so frequently what happens in a fictional battle. True, there is a provision in the rules for subduing dragons by "attacking with the flat of the sword," etc., which could be extended to other creatures. It requires declaring at the start of melee that one is trying for subdual, and it does not provide for "knocked out" as a result of ordinary combat. In ordinary combat you are either alive or dead! Perhaps inserting a "knockout" rule would needlessly complicate the system, but when I think of all the times John Carter or Conan was overwhelmed by enemies and came to in some sort of dungeon trap, I miss the opportunity to re-enact some of their situations."

    1. Great point, Tony. I'd seen this grappling rule before but when I saw it here today I was really struck by how well it would work with beginner's set like Holmes Basic, because it's so easy to remember.
      I've been playing Warlocks & Warriors lately which uses opposing 2d6 rolls to determine the winner of duels.

  5. So, grappling opponents with a good ac would be more effective then striking them with a sword?

    1. It depends on the hit dice I think.

      The strength comes from the fact that success is combinatory, and results in instant victory. I think low hit die creatures that are eaisly killed, and unlikely to do enough damage to kill, can alternatly grapple and take opponents out of the fight.

      4 gnolls might do 12 damage of they all hit, but of they grapple and all hit, they are rolling 8 hit dice to bring down our 4th level hero.

    2. That kind of works in a S&S emulation way though, right? It breaks down a bit if you consider DEX bonuses to AC, but gives a nice "capture him, he's no good to me dead" feel with large groups of mooks. They mob an opponent, trying to subdue him, but he's striking to kill, and takes down several of them before they beat him unconscious.

    3. I wish that it didn't rely on to-hit rolls. A character in plate armor should be easier to grapple (or as easy) as one without armor. Also, it doesn't scale well. For 1 HD creatures, it works ok as their damage tends to be close to their hit points so in order to capture a PC, they need to score more points than the PC has hit points which, if they had attacked normally, would have killed the PC anyway. However, larger monsters tend to do much less damage than their hit points (a 4 HD Ogre only does 1 die of damage or 1d10 if using greyhawk). So large monsters will always be better at subduing PCs than killing them, and giants significantly moreso.

      That's fine and might be more realistic but it is something to consider.

    4. Yep. I'm fine with it.

      Moreso, it seems to me that the classes that are generally better at avoiding subdual are also the more heavily armored ones.

      (I might double a monks effective hit dice)

  6. By pure coincidence (I swear I hadn't read this before), it's very much like my house rules. I don't know whether to be proud of this, or ashamed that I wasn't as innovative as I thought :)


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