Monday, July 4, 2022

How to Read the AD&D Rules: Grappling with Non-Lethal Combat Part II

In my rush to pummel you with VATAPGOA last time, I overlooked some of the basics of unarmed combat. For instance, I kept calling it "unarmed combat." Of course that's not the term that was actually used in the original Guidebook for Masters of Dungeon-like Structures; rather, it was called "non-lethal and weaponless combat." Henceforth I shall call it some variation on that terminology. Or I'll make up another acronym.

I also failed to mention that there are three different forms of weaponless combat: 

  • Pummeling
  • Grappling
  • Overbearing

Pummeling is, obviously, punching, and grappling is wrestling--WWE style. Overbearing is that loud jackass who won't shut up about their stupid opinions. Yes, I included this list just for that punchline.

But D-Chux, what makes this combat non-lethal? 

I forgot to mention that only 25% of any damage inflicted from a punch or grapple is actual, "permanent" damage--50% of Overbearing damage is permanent, but overbearing tends to inflict a lot less damage than the other 2 forms of NLC (see, I made up another acronym). The rest will be temporary dmg which heals at a rate of 1 hp per round. 

So if you punch a guy for 4 dmg, he subtracts 4 from his HP total, but 3 of those pts are going in the temporary file, and he'll get one of them back next round. If he takes no more damage in the fight, he'll have all 3 temporary HP back in 3 rounds/minutes. He'll have to sleep off the last hit point over night. 

If you get knocked to 0 or less HP, you're out cold. You regain 1 HP per round, so if you get punched down to -3 HP, you will be conscious once you've returned to 1 HP, or 4 rounds. Unless your permanent HP have been reduced to 0, in which case you're dead. It can happen; non-lethal combat is not always non-lethal.

One more thing: First Attack Initiative is determined by following this order of operations: 

  1. surprise, 
  2. charging to attack, 
  3. higher dex, 
  4. higher die roll. 

It doesn't say what die to roll but presumably it's the standard initiative roll. There's also this weird sentence:

"Whichever first occurs determines the first attack for the round, so in most cases the pummeling attacker will go first in the first round." [L'emphasis est de moi]

Huh? Are pummeling attackers inherently more likely to surprise their opponents? To have higher dexterity? How does the second half of that sentence make any sense? If JB or someone can explain that to me I'd greatly appreciate it.

Next week we'll get into Grappling and Overbearing, I promise.


  1. Those rools r way too complex for me. In my game If you try to grapple an armed barbarian, then you get what you deserve: A painful but quick trip to Crom! Lol.

  2. Since you asked me specifically:

    I think this is typical Gary being Gary; i.e. it's more a clue into how his mind works, than any statistical certainty. Read that first paragraph again on p.72:

    "It is not uncommon for players to be weaponless at some stage of a game -- or for BETTER PLAYERS to wish to attack an opponent bare-handed in order to most effectively neutralize that opponent's potential."

    [EMPHASIS added]

    The first part of the (confusing) sentence is just the usual nothing-speak: whatever criteria (for determining initiative) occurs first is the one to use. The second part is Gary implying that individuals will be using non-lethal combat when it is OPPORTUNE to do so.

    Because remember that there is ONE MORE CIRCUMSTANCE (besides the four listed) that trumps 75% of those criteria and (sometimes) 100% of all "first attack determiners:" namely, DOES THE OPPONENT HAVE A WEAPON? From page 73:

    "If the opponent of a grappling, pummeling or overbearing attack has a weapon, the opponent will ALWAYS STRIKE FIRST UNLESS THE ATTACKER HAS SURPRISE. ...Surprised opponents with weapons have no chance...UNLESS THE ATTACKER MUST USE ALL SURPRISE SEGMENTS TO CLOSE to grapple, pummel, or overbear."

    [EMPHASIS added...remember that an unarmed attacker might achieve surprise, but might find him/herself at such a distance that precious segments have to be used for movement BEFORE the unarmed combat attempt]

    The vast majority of AD&D monsters have no DEX listed, so it's safe to assume average (10-11) or "n/a" (effectively, PC always has better DEX) if you don't want to do the Holmes Basic thing of randomly determining the DEX of every creature encountered.

    Regardless, however, I infer that Gygax is assuming the "better players" (as opposed to the truly desperate, naked prisoner types) will be utilizing these cumbersome rules when it is advantageous to do so: i.e. when they have surprise OR can charge and opponent AND the opponent does not have a ready weapon with which to fend off the attack. And in most of THOSE cases, the character wishing to engage in unarmed combat will thus "go first in the first round." Only if combat continues (beyond round 1) does the initiative order revert to the normal crapshoot roll.

    Hope that helps!
    ; )

  3. Thanks JB, I knew I could count on you.

    I actually interpreted it as meaning specifically pummelers would likely go first vs. other non-lethal and weaponless combatants (grapplers & overbearers). So John Cena is likely going to have to endure Mike Tyson's fists before he can close in to suplex him, which makes sense.

    Just thinking out loud here but it almost seems like there was, initially, a "reach" component built into the determinating factors for first attack that was dropped from the final draft without re-addressing the sentence about pummelers striking first.

    1. While that’s certainly possible (the unarmed rules, so far as I’m aware, appear in NO publication prior to the DMG), “height” IS taken into account re modifiers.

      However, even if height (or “reach”) were taken into account for first rat strike determination, my thoughts would be the same: Gygax is assuming PCs will “size up” the opponent and strike ONLY when it is advantageous. Otherwise, there are MANY cases where PCs (especially short demihumans) would be at a disadvantage in unarmed combats versus the various tall humanoids. Hell, even an orc is listed as 6’+ and probably has gangly arms (definitely in the Warhammer troped version of the species).

    2. Hmm…not sure why that says “first rat strike.” Should just say “first strike;” no rats needed.

  4. I am absolutely creating an AD&D-esque table for rat strikes.

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