My brother Tom is an engineer and loves tinkering with rules. I used to bug him about starting a blog or something to post his ideas but he has neither the time nor interest in writing. He’ll post things on online forums once in a while but that’s it. So now and again I steal his ideas for house rules and post them here, especially when they are so damn good they ought to be shared.
Most recently we were discussing grappling.
I told him about an idea (source now forgotten — maybe Delta’s D&D Hotspot?) where it was suggested that PCs and monsters roll their level or HD in d6s and add them up. So if five 1HD orcs try to mob and tackle a 3rd level fighter, the orcs roll 5 dice, the PC rolls 3 dice, and high score wins (orcs get the tackle, fighter breaks free). Easy peasy.
But what about adding STR mods — surely Hercules should have a better chance than Pee Wee, and all that. We were ready to ignore STR mods, then hit on the idea of both sides rolling HD (d8s for most monsters, d4, d6, or d8 for PCs in B/X). Now fighters and dwarves have a decent chance of resisting being mobbed but M-Us will be in a lotta trouble. We thought about adding a die for each STR mod (up to 3 then) and other tweaks but then Tom suggested using the effective ‘Attack bonus’. Like d20 and many retroclones and LotFP, I’ve been adopting an AB rather than THACO for my game. (I base mine directly on Labyrinth Lord’s to-hit progression which is a little kinder to PCs than B/X, and I give monsters an extra +1, so up to 9 HD or so it equals HD+1.)
House rule: All monsters roll their AB x d6 when grappling (monsters generally get HD+1 as AB). PCs roll melee or ranged AB (so that STR or DEX mod adds) x d6. High roll wins the grapple. If multiple monsters try to grapple a PC (or vice versa) add all rolls together. A zero level human (or anything else) with a +0 AB gets one die.
While grappled, you can’t cast spells, but you can attack (-4 with a weapon or -2 with a dagger or fist), or try to break free.
If you have grappled someone, you can hold them and go for a pin (test again next round; grappler wins = pin, grapplee wins = break free), or beat on the victim with +2 to hit. Monsters with rending hands (zombies, etc.) attack while grappling at +4; animals & monsters with claw/claw/bite can make one attack (bite) with an automatic hit. You can also carry off your victim (if strong enough), push them 1 square (5′), deposit them in any adjacent square (5′), knock them to the ground, or switch places (= forcing your way past them).*
Many predators will carry off a victim to eat at their leisure, but if it struggles too much they may give it a few good shakes (bite attacks) to kill it.
If you lose two such tests in a row you are pinned and helpless. Predators tend to carry off or kill the victim rather than going for a pin.
Example: Roger the 4th level Fighter is swarmed by three 2HD zombies. Zombies roll 3d6 each, = 9d6, to grapple him. Roger gets his melee AB (+3 for being a 4th level Fighter, and +2 for his 16 STR, so +4) = 5d6. If the zombies roll higher, they have grabbed him and will attack next round (rending with their hands at +4); Roger can try to break free (roll again) or fight back (rolling at -4 with any weapon larger than a dagger, or at -2 with a dagger). Obviously a lower level PC will quickly be torn apart by zombies.
Example 2: A tiger with 6 HD pounces on Roger. The tiger rolls 7d6 against Roger’s 5d6. If the tiger wins, next round it will begin biting, automatically hitting each round. I hope Roger has some back-up.
Example 3: Five morlocks (2HD) mob Roger, trying to capture him to eat later. The five morlocks roll 15d6 vs. Roger’s 5d6. They will almost certainly win. If he fights back as he is carried, they may stop to pin him and tie him up, or just begin attacking to eat him there. Poor Roger.
Example 4: Roger and his buddy Gargomel (5th level the Magic-user, 13 DEX, ranged AB=+3) are struggling with their friend Hugh Garse, the Dwarf (level 4, STR 17, AB=+6) who has gone berserk. They want to just pin him rather than kill him. They combine their 5 and 3 dice for 8 versus Hugh’s 6 dice. If they win the first round they’ve grappled him, and next round they could try to pin him.
Example 5: Roger tries to force his way through a line of foes. He rolls his 5 dice versus the soldier’s 1 die (he is a zero level human). No problem! If the foes were in a shield wall or other wise “locked together” the DM may make Roger roll against the foe and all adjacent men in the rank, or similar. Roger wins and switches places with the foeman.
So, I like this rule because it gives me a ‘grappling’ stat without actually adding a slot to the character sheet or a stat to the stat block; and it makes unarmed monsters and animals a lot more dangerous, and encourages players to avoid being surrounded even by minor foes. I guess you’d want to limit how many kobolds or orcs or ogres can grapple one PC. I guess about 9 small, six medium, or two large creatures at a time? One less for small PCs like halflings?
*Yeah, I use minis and a battlemat, which is a constant danger to my old school cred. If you’re too good for minis, ignore the mention of “squares” and just think “five feet” or something.