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Getting a Grip in Hand-to-Hand Combat

One of the things that first attracted me to The Fantasy Trip as a role-playing game is its tactically interesting combat system, in which facing, mobility, adjusted DX, weapon choice, distance, line of sight, obstacles, and talents and spells all come into play to allow complex, exciting battles with meaningful choices every turn. From my perspective, the weak spot in the combat rules is section on Hand-to-Hand; HTH is just a little too coarse-grained compared to standard combat. Inspired a bit by what grappling guru Douglas Cole did for GURPS with GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling and Fantastic Dungeon Grappling, I’ve developed some house rules that offer more detail and clarity to HTH, especially through the new option of grappling, creating richer tactical melees with only a modest increase in complexity. They add to tweak the list of options found on ITL 102 and 103, expand and refine the HTH rules beginning on ITL 116, and completely replace the Pinning a Foe section on ITL 117.

Updated Conditions for HTH

The conditions specified on ITL 116 are expanded to include “… initiating HTH combat, if (a) the enemy has his back to an impassible hex, or is lying down, prone, or kneeling, (b) the attack is made from the target’s rear, (c) the enemy is already grappled by the attacker (see below), (d) the attack is made as a Charge Attack, or (e) the enemy agrees to HTH combat.”

Initiating HTH is an Attack

In this set of rules, initiating HTH combat is considered an attack, and, as such, always happens during the Action Phase, comprising one’s action for that turn. For this reason, figures who wish to make a normal HTH attack on the same turn they initiate HTH are making two attacks in one turn and thus do so at a penalty to both attacks, adding 1 to the die roll to initiate HTH, and suffering -6 DX for the second attack. If the attacker is attempting to establish HTH under condition (d) and their MA is not higher than their opponent’s, add 1 to the die roll to determine the success of their attempt (only an unmodified roll of 6 results in a free hit).

A New Type of Attack: Grappling

Grappling is a new attack option for all engaged figures (and those in HTH) with at least one free hand, tentacle, huge mouth, etc. (note: some monsters may have longer reach so as to be able to grapple while disengaged). Most grappling holds do not inflict direct damage, but instead subject victims to a DX penalty based on the relative size (in hexes) of the attacker to the defender: -2 DX if they are roughly the same size (see chart below). Grappled figures may not disengage. Since grappling and developing a grapple (see below) are attacks, they comprise one’s action for that turn.

Grapple Penalty Imposed
If attacker’s relative     Penalty
Size is at least*
1/3x opponent’s           -1 DX
2/3x                               -2 DX
2x                                  -3 DX
3x                                  -4 DX
4x+                                -5 DX

*Holds by figures less than 1/3 the size of their target impose no DX penalty, but several small grappling figures could be determined to be equivalent to a figure sizable enough to impose a DX penalty.

The roll to establish a general grapple, or hold, is identical to a standard attack roll with one exception: a roll of 16+ results in the defender getting a free attack (not a free hit!) on the assailant. A figure may attempt to target limbs or the head with their grapple attack (in most instances, head holds should only be allowed in HTH, and leg grapples only by someone kneeling, prone, or very short), using the aiming penalties on ITL 121, and with the following effects replacing those listed under Aimed Shots:

  • A figure with a grappled arm suffers -4 DX generally, and attempts to use item in grappled arm are -6 DX
  • A figure who has at least half of their legs grappled must roll 3/DX or fall
  • A figure with at least 3/4 of their legs grappled must roll 5/DX or fall
  • A figure whose head is grappled suffers -6 DX

Any established hold can be developed on a later turn by a quick ST contest modified for the attacker by a.) a penalty/bonus equal to the size-based grapple DX penalty, AND b.) by +/-1 penalty/bonus for Brawling or per difference in Unarmed Combat level. A figure with Brawling or UC may roll against adjDX with the same modifiers, if that is more advantageous. A figure who successfully develops an established hold may, each turn until it is broken, do one of the following as their action, as appropriate:

  • any grapple: inflict additional size-based DX penalty (minimum 1). When a figure‚Äôs adjDX goes below 3, they are considered helpless, see ITL 126.
  • limb grapple: deal to limb armor-bypassing ST-based damage modified by -1/hex the opponent is larger.
  • limb grapple: wrest an item held by a held arm for their own use or cause it to be dropped.
  • head grapple: develop grapple into a choke hold to deal armor-bypassing unarmed ST-based fatigue damage modified by +/-1 per hex larger/smaller than opponent, each turn until the hold is released. A figure may opt to stop dealing fatigue when the victim loses consciousness.

Grapples may be broken by the defender by succeeding with a quick contest identical to that used to develop a grapple.

In a quick contest to make or develop a grapple, a figure rolling 3 or 4 triples or doubles the hold’s effect, respectively. Failing an attempt to develop a grapple breaks the hold. A roll of 16 automatically fails, a roll of 17 results in -4 DX for 1 turn, and roll of 18 results in the figure suffering 1 to 3 points of armor-bypassing damage (to reflect muscle/sinew damage).

Changes to Options

Option (b) on ITL 102 is changed to read “CHARGE ATTACK. Move up to half its MA and attack with any weapon except a missile weapon, or attempt to to grapple or to initiate HTH.”

Option (j) on ITL 103 is changed to read “SHIFT AND ATTACK. Shift one hex (or stand still) and attack with any non-missile weapon; attempt to establish, develop, or break a grapple hold; or attempt to establish HTH.”

Option (o) on ITL 103 is changed to read “ATTEMPT TO INITIATE HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT. During the movement phase, the figure stands still or shifts; when its turn to attack comes, it moves onto the hex of any adjacent enemy and makes a roll to establish HTH.”

Option (t) on ITL 103 is changed to read “HTH ATTACK. Attempt to hit an opponent in the same hex with bare hands or, if dagger is ready, with the dagger; or attempt to establish, develop, or break a grapple hold.

The material presented here are my house rules intended for use with the The Fantasy Trip system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games. The Fantasy Trip is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy. The art here is copyrighted by Anthony Shostak.


Published by antoshos

I'm just a guy who likes uilleann pipes, games, hard science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, the outdoors, astronomy, and cats. I studied painting and drawing, which, miraculously, somehow provided me with the skills from which to eek out a living as a museum curator.

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