The Alexandrian

Untested Numenera: Grappling

December 6th, 2013

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesGRAPPLE: You can attempt to physically wrestle and restrain an opponent by attempting a Might task. Once a grapple has been successfully initiated, all physical actions are treated as opportunity actions requiring a Might task to attempt. A character can attempt to break out of a grapple by succeeding on a Might task as an action (without needing to make the opportunity check). Characters in a grapple defend at +1 difficulty.

(So if you’ve been grappled and wanted to throw a dagger at someone, you would need to first succeed at a Might task in order to gain the opportunity to throw the dagger. If you’re grappling someone who wants to punch you in the face, you would get an opportunity action to attempt a Might task to prevent them even trying to punch you.)

If multiple characters are grappling a single opponent, you can use the standard rules for helping. (The bonuses from helping would also affect the Might task for the opportunity action.)

FOCUSED GUARDING: If you’re attempting to stop a specific character from attempting a specific action (“I tackle him before he can run out the door!”), you can attempt a Speed task at -2 difficulty. On a success, the character you’re targeting will be prevented from taking the indicated action.


There are no rules for grappling presented in the Numenera rulebook. The closest you’ll get is a special ability possessed by a monster called a chirog, which looks like this:

Chirogs do not use weapons or tools, usually attacking with a savage bite. However, they can also grapple a foe, which is just like a normal attack except that rather than inflicting damage, it holds the foe immobile. The foe can take only purely mental actions or struggle to get free (a Might task at difficulty 4). Both the grappling chirog and the grappled foe are easier targets for other combatants, with attackers gaining a two-step modification in their favor.

At first glance, this looks like a decent place to start if you’re looking to make a ruling for grappling in Numenera. Unfortunately, upon reflection it turns to be fairly unbalanced as a generic mechanic. For example, the chirog’s ability is even better than stunning an opponent: Stunning means that you can’t take an action next turn and you defend at +1 difficulty. Chirog-style grappling means that you can’t take an action next turn, you defend at +2 difficulty, and are at risk of having the effect continue unless you succeed on a Might task. There is a trade-off insofar as the person initiating the grapple also suffers a +2 difficulty to defense, but since stunning also requires a much greater expenditure of resources than the single action required by chirog-style grappling it’s pretty clear that chirog-style grappling would be broken as a generic mechanic.

So I instead took chirog-style grappling as a loose guideline and improvised on a similar theme. When I was done I discovered that I had inadvertently created something pretty reminiscent of my Super Simple Grappling rules for D&D.

The rules for focused guarding are a bit more experimental. My basic thought process there is that, by the rules as written, a character can perform a Guard action which allows them to specify an action and prevent anyone from attempting it by making a Speed roll at -1 difficulty. Ergo, I’m concluding that stopping only a specific character from preventing that action should be easier. (So you can stop that one specific guy from running through the door, but all of his friends will still be free to do so.)

It may be too powerful, though. I’m specifically eyeballing the scenario where the PCs are fighting a solo monster. I’ve suddenly made it flat-out easier to counter that monster’s actions. So something to keep an eye on.


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7 Responses to “Untested Numenera: Grappling”

  1. Neal says:

    @ Justin,

    This grappling iteration looks like a good subsystem that might be adaptable for lots of other general purpose gaming systems. Which is a nice side-benefit.

    If I’m understanding, once you’ve been grappled, and you are using Might task to break out of it, it’s effectively a saving throw after the fact at a cost. I’m not sure how the opportunity cost might come into play for this?

    Re: the Focused Guarding at a speed check of -2. At the end of the article you mentioned these might be too powerful, if focused on the big bad guy. If it has any value, why not make this specific ruling less generic and tie the roll more directly to your speed vs. big bad guy’s strength, or other key attributes? So, a base -2 for speed, and more minuses added for whatever the boss’ strength to break through your body blocking the doorway? If it’s another action, make a ruling for whatever the opponent’s stat in that particular action would apply.

  2. Brotherwilli says:

    I like this rule set. I’ve had several scenarios come up where the PCs want to wrestle someone to the ground. The only guidance I had was pg. 91 of the rulebook: “Similarly, an attempt to tackle a foe and wrestle it to the ground is
    still just a roll against the foe’s target number.” Once said foe was tackled, though, it was just a might action for a PC to maintain the grapple. I like the idea of a PC or NPC struggling to perform some other action whilst wrestling with their opponent.

    Have you considered a broader “combat trick” system?

  3. Justin Alexander says:

    @Neal: After some preliminary testing over the weekend, I think the focused guarding thing needs to just be thrown on the trash heap. The balance is wonky.

    But to answer your specific question: The way Numenera works, the opponent’s ability is always calculated in because the difficulty of the check is always based on the opponent’s level (or their effective level at that specific task if it differs from their overall level).

    The balancing issue is that a generic guarding action in Numenera is a Speed task at -1 difficulty. So if I’m dealing with a big group of enemies trading off so that I’m only stopping ONE of them with a Speed task at -2 difficulty is an actual trade-off; but if I’m dealing with only one opponent there is no trade-off and all I’ve done is to make guarding easier than it probably should be.

  4. Justin Alexander says:

    @Brotherwilli: To some extent, Numenera already comes with a broad “combat trick” system.

    When I designed a stunt system for Legends & Labyrinths I wrote that:

    Not Everything is a Stunt: “I want to stand on my mount, grab a limb, and swing up into the tree!” “I want to run up the stairs, leap from the balcony, grab the chandelier, and swing across the other side.” Are these stunts? Nope. They’re just skill checks. Skills can be used for all kinds of awesome stuff. Stunts are useful when characters are specifically affecting other combatants or themselves with penalties or boosts.

    Similarly, the process for resolving an action in Numenera is so flexible and easy that any example of trying something awesome is trivially handled.

    The stunt system in L&L existed specifically when characters wanted to affect other characters by applying a bonus, applying a penalty, forcing movement, disarming an opponent, or applying a specific condition (like flat-footed, prone, shaken, slowed, stalled, or stunned).

    The generic helping and distraction rules for Numenera are flexible enough to handle the first chunk of that stuff. The optional rules for trading damage for effect (found on pg. 113 of the core rulebook) provide a fairly decent structure for the latter.

  5. Hautamaki says:

    I’ve always done grappling as opposed rolls. Characters with the expert grappler feat can add their BAB to these rolls; otherwise it’s pure strength. Optionally if a nimble character merely wants to evade/avoid being grappled he can use dexterity instead of strength if he wishes.

    If both characters are standing, a successful check results in a takedown, or if the winner wishes, he can instead toss the losing character to an adjacent square, releasing him. Characters with the expert grappler feat can deal d6+STR slam damage, or throw the losing character a number of squares equal to their STR bonus.

    On subsequent rounds, if the winner of this roll does not release his enemy, he is considered to have the advantage in the grapple and can initiate all further actions (one per round) with further grappling checks–to disarm the enemy, stab the enemy with a dagger (or use unarmed attacks, claws, etc), hold the enemy vulnerable to an ally (causes the ally to hit on anything but a natural 1, and doubles their crit threat range), or other logical type actions if the player wishes. Losing this check allows the grappled foe to escape to standing in an adjacent square, or reverse the position and gain the advantage; otherwise the character with disadvantage in a grapple can take no action. If the grappler with advantage doesn’t want to do anything more than simply hold the opponent down, he gains Advantage to the opposed roll (as in, he can roll 2d20 and keep the higher). Of course he can also always simply release his opponent and stand up in any adjacent square; the enemy remains prone and must wait for their initiative to come up again before they can also stand.

    In the case of multiple characters grappling 1 target, they can each roll a d20 and the highest roll is kept, PLUS, all of their bonuses are added together. This can mean that a group of 3 or 4 lowly goblins have a decent shot of taking down even a raging barbarian if they get the courage up to all grapple at once. They can then hold him down while their buddies with spears automatically hit and frequently crit. It makes large numbers of puny monsters a more formidable threat for the mighty PCs.

  6. ariklus says:

    About guarding: I have always assumed that after stopping the first foe from doing something your action is spent and you don’t get to try preventing someone else. You grab one of guys running through, but the rest slip by as you wrestle with their comrade.

  7. Justin Alexander says:

    @Ariklus: A few reasons why I disagree with you.

    First, the description of the Guarding action doesn’t limit it to a single guard.

    Second, your interpretation would make the Guarding action almost strictly inferior to simply taking the Wait action.

    Third, the guarding action as written is specifically designed to eliminate the “I can’t actually stop you from doing something” problem found in most RPGs. Your interpretation immediately discards that advantage and goes right back to the “it’s pointless to guard anything because you’re physically incapable of doing it” problem.

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