Unarmed Combat

This post is inspired by Daniel Norton (of Bandit’s Keep fame) whose recent podcast tackled unarmed combat in old school RPGs.  https://lnns.co/LJavwRYoqcU

I’ve tried my own hand at trying to reconcile the rules from the 1st edition DMG pp. 72-73; the 2nd edition DMG pp. 59-60; and Old School Essentials Rules Tome - Unarmed Attacks (pg. 122).  What I was shooting for was something like the game Swashbuckler - the ancestor of The Dragon and Flagon.  What I ended up with is somewhat more crunchy.  FWIW, here is the current state of it.  I hope to have some play testers run through this as a one shot later this year.

Non-Lethal and Weaponless Combat
Only PCs, NPCs, and intelligent monsters may use these weaponless combat techniques.
Non-lethal damage is restored at the rate of 1HP per round (even while still in combat).  This is in addition to any magical healing or regeneration.

Targets with melee weapons
If the opponent of a grappling, pummeling, or overbearing attack has a melee weapon, the opponent will always strike first unless the attacker has surprise.
Any weapon hit does NOT damage, but does indicate that the attacker trying to grapple, pummel, or overbear has been fended or driven off and the attack is unsuccessful.  The weapon-wielder then has a chance to strike at the weaponless one “for real” when his/her normal attack is resolved in the initiative order.

Targets with natural weapons
The natural weapons of a creature are always usable.

  • This attack form is aimed at battering an opponent into unconsciousness.  It can be used with fists or dagger pommel (as in pummel).
  • 25% of the damage from a pummeling attack is non-lethal.  
  • Attacks are resolved using the standard “to hit” / THAC0 scheme as well as a d100.  If the attack hits, resolve the damage.  Then roll d100.  If the number on the d100 roll is equal to or less than the value of damage done, the opponent is knocked unconscious.
  • Attacks with a mailed fist or pommel do 1d3+str bonus points of non-lethal damage.
  • All other pummeling attacks do 1d2+str bonus points of damage.

  • This attack form is aimed at holding the opponent and rendering him or her helpless.  It is best employed when the attacker is wearing light armor and the target is wearing heavy armor.
  • Multiple attackers cannot wrestle the same target.  Use overbearing instead.
  • 25% of the damage from a grappling attack is non-lethal. 
  • A held opponent is vulnerable to other attackers - often this has lethal results for the person being held helpless.  For example, an attack can be made with a melee weapon and the held target will receive maximum damage upon a successful “to hit” roll.  Similarly, a coup de grace can be delivered as a full round action.  
  • Attacks are resolved using a d100.
  • Those involved in a wrestling bout are limited to weapons of small size after the first round of combat.  It’s very difficult to use a sword against someone who is clinging to your back trying to break your neck!  For this reason, nearly all characters will want to carry a dagger or a knife.
  • A hold is broken by a throw, gouge, or the successful use of a weapon (sometimes the target receives outside assistance, other times the short blade will do the job!)

Modifiers to Grappling
  • Subtract 8 from the attacker’s armor class.  Multiply the result by 10. This is the base modifier.  
    • Example: Argo the fighter is wearing chainmail and wishes to grapple with Doug the Dwarf.  Argo will have a base modifier of (5-8)*10=-30
  • If the target is wearing chainmail, add 10%
  • If the target is wearing plate mail, add 30%
  • Add the level/HD of the attacker and subtract the level/HD of the target.
  • A PC versus an NPC or a monster has a +5% modifier.  
  • An NPC or a monster versus a PC has a -5% modifier.

Grappling Results Table
Under 21% Clench/Trip
21-31 Smash/Bite/Kick/Knee - Apply 1HP+strength bonus of damage 
41-61 Throw - Apply 2HP+strength bonus of damage.  Breaks a hold.
61-65 Eye gouge - Apply 3HP+strength bonus of damage.  Breaks a hold.
66-86 Bear hug - Apply 2HP+strength bonus of damage
86 or more - Hold or Lock (choke, head, arm, wrist, ankle, knee) Apply 1HP+strength bonus of damage.  Hold/Lock (and damage) continues until broken.

  • This attack form aims at quickly taking the opponent to a prone position, incidentally inflicting damage, and allowing a follow up attack (potentially lethal as the target is held helpless).  Sometimes the follow up attack is a pummel or grapple though.  
  • Multiple attackers are possible
  • 50% of the damage from an overbearing attack is non-lethal.
  • Attacks are resolved using a d100 with modifiers.

Modifiers to Overbear
  • Multiple attackers - up to one attacker per target limb (excluding head and body) can cooperate to overbear.  Assume a 10% bonus to results per each additional attacker.  If attackers coordinate, their attacks are resolved as a whole.  The attacker with the greatest strength and dexterity is considered the primary attacker.
  • Add the primary attacker’s strength and dexterity and then subtract the target’s strength and dexterity.  This is the base modifier. If the strength and/or dexterity is unknown, roll a substitute value using 3d6 per missing attribute.
  • Add the levels/HD of all attackers and subtract the level/HD of the target. 
  • Add 10% per limb seized.  Note: a single attacker can, at best, tie up 2 limbs.
  • Large attackers are penalized 10% against small opponents.
  • Ignore armor for attackers and defenders.

Overbear Results (d100)
Under 21% - attacker(s) shaken off/avoided.  Opponent may counter with any type of non-lethal attack or ready any weapon!
21-40 Attacker seizes a limb. 
41-60 Target staggered - loses ability to strike back this round.  Apply 1HP+strength bonus of non-lethal damage
61-80 Target knocked to knees. 2+str bonus of non-lethal damage
81-00 Target knocked to hands and knees. 3+str bonus of non-lethal damage
00+ Target knocked flat / stunned (loses ability to strike back this round and also loses an attack next round).  Apply 4+str bonus damage

Additional Effects
  • Attackers who are overbearing a foe lose their shield and dexterity bonuses and are unable to use weapons.  
  • If they wish to return to melee they must end the overbearing attack and draw/ready a weapon; disengaging like this is a full round action.
  • Targets of an overbearing attack cannot use their melee weapon until they shake off the attack.  If they shake off they attack, whatever weapon was in hand before the overbearing began is presumed to still be in hand unless he/she was explicitly disarmed.
  • If the limb seized has a weapon in hand, that weapon can be disarmed on the next round by an attacker with no need to resolve the chances using dice.  Note, this is best used when there are multiple attackers but there are circumstances where the weapon may be so powerful that a single attacker may be willing to use this disarm technique and burn their entire round’s action.