IN THE MAIL: Dungeon Grappling by Douglas H. Cole

Sunday , 5, February 2017 2 Comments

Okay, Doug and I go way back. The first time that really came up on his radar was way back when I wrote a negative review for one of his GURPS articles from Pyramid. Hard to believe that was 2011! And yeah, I was stunned when my rotten tomato was turned into a point of pride… immortalized in a signature that would emblazon every single one of his posts over at the Steve Jackson Games forums.

Fast forward past countless blog posts, interviews, game sessions, and game design discussions… and we have now reached a significant transition. Doug Cole now has an LLC and his first big product is on the market: Dungeon Grappling.

And yes, it does look really good. Just like with Cirsova #3, the pictures you see on the internet do not do it justice. And I’ve seen a lot of game publishers try to do what Doug is doing here: ie, making the artwork express something significant in tandem with the rules instead of just being filler. Doug does it better.

And I admit, I did have a bit of a sinking feeling when I placed my order. Doug’s no purist. He’s no Don Quixote type, either. He’s here to serve the market as it is, not convert people to pulp reading vintage gaming malcontents! So yes, it was with some trepidation that I flipped through the book noting the healthy support for both 5th Edition D&D and the Pathfinder games.

But the OSR retro-clone Swords & Wizardy gets first class treatment as well. (And that shouldn’t be a surprise given how the earliest versions of these rules were developed!) Basic style D&D like the Moldvay and Mentzer sets also get a nod here and there. And best of all… the cleave rule from ACKS gets a shoutout here as well: dragons, for instance, can now grab multiple people into their clutches in a single action!

And as much as I love the old games, I have to say… the grappling rules in basically everything in the bad old days were just plain garbage. Just like with old school mega-dungeons and the AD&D domain game, it’s taken a surprisingly long time to sort this out. You’ll probably want two copies, though: one to use with your big pile of ACKS books… and one to loan out to your new school acquaintances! (And I have to say… this book really does set off the ACKS line rather nicely…!)

Check it out!

  • I should note that ACKS’ use of proficiencies and penalties, rather than Feats and Advantage/Disadvantage, makes a nuanced grappler even more doable than in the two more mainstream games. Pathfinder has nice penalty scaling that can go as low or high as you like, but the Feats tend to be broad and very powerful. The use of CMD and CMB as the basis for grappling was a decision I decided not to undue, based on my design mantra of “use what’s there” when it comes to working within existing systems.

    5e’s initial grappled condition is pretty mild (restrained is much better), and while I find the advantaged/disadvantaged mechanic elegant and fast for “roll and shout” play, it also means that the only bonus/penalty worth dealing with is effectively a +/-5, meaning to say “as big as having STR 20.”

    ACKS has the “give penalties” scaling of the old-school games, but has the proficiencies customization options that would allow classes to pick up different aspects of grappling over time, which is really quite cool. I should approach Alex about an ACKS-specific book. I suspect that having broken even on the basic creation of the game through the Kickstarter, that dedicated “pick the book that goes with your edition” subsets would be fairly easy for even me to lay out, and would please the “but I only play Game X, not those other similar but infinitely inferior versions!” customers that only want a book that speaks to their particular game.

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