Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What a Tangled Web We Weave (Tangle Attacks)

While I work to nail down Monster-Size I'm working on what's next. What's next is the thorny issue of Grappling and Tangle Attacks.

Tangle attacks are like Spiderman's web, a "glue gun" that wraps up opponents, and so on. Grappling (with intent to Hold) is what happens when you're doing Judo and you take someone down and basically contain them. Super-Grapples are like when you have tentacles, Telekinesis, or like Mr. Fantastic's stretching. These are all somewhat different but they all share some of the same problems.

There are, as I said, certain problems with Tangle/Grapple attacks. Let's enumerate:

  1. They can be boring. Having your super-martial artist encased in ice rather than beaten in a fair fight is pretty lousy in terms of a "way to lose." 
  2. They're not fair. Some characters (Bricks, in Champions parlance--super strong characters) come with a built in way to break out of tangle attacks (and they can grapple real well too) other characters (like "energy projectors" or martial artists) might be the same points--but more screwed: they didn't luck into a free, easy, anti-tangle power.
  3. They're just plain not balanced. Right now the "strong character" dukes it out fairly with the sword, gun, and blaster character. All is right with the world--but let's say that we assume the strong character will use his (overwhelming) grapple attack in a fight instead of punching. None of the other characters have any kind of grapple defense in the strong/trained sense of the word--so he'll be better at that. If that lowers his STR by even a few points suddenly duking it out is not an option: He's under-gunned. He now has to grapple. That's not the dynamic we want. At all.
  4. They break the DP economy. Right now how many DP a character has is really important to how they perform in a fight (I'll include ADP in here as well). Sure, Armor is great--but staying power comes from DP. The grapple/tangle rules bypass all of that. You can be super tough in 90% of your (DP-based) battles but if you aren't a good grappler/get-out-of-Tangler character then when one is deployed against you, you're helpless (maybe).
  5. They Don't Roll For Damage. Right now part of the (satisfying) nature of combat has the attacker rolling for damage of some sort after a hit. Grapple attacks ought to do this--but what do they roll against? Traditionally the target's Grapple Defense--but is that really right? What if you're trapping the target in a Force Bubble? Does that still count? Maybe? Maybe not.
  6. They're Complex. Tangle Attacks and Grapples are complicated. Firstly many of them have two ways to break out: the Escape Hold grapple move and just blowing the thing up (like blasting through ice-bonds). That's a lot of stats to keep track of for some of these attacks and sometimes a confusing number of options (if I'm not good at math how do I know which approach to getting out is better? Especially if there are negative modifiers involved)?
  7. They Have To Be In There. There's a scenario we're calling Conan is Captured by Nets which we think is almost necessary: a (fairly powerful) PC must be able to be non-lethally captured by sufficient forces because it's better than Conan-Refuses-To-Surrender-And-Is-Killed. If you can't capture a villain and slap cuffs on him the PCs will execute them. There are reasons this has to work and work reasonably well.
What Are We Thinking?
As near as we can tell there are actually three basic varieties of Tangle Attacks. These are:

  1. Fire And Forget. This is the web-slinger or glue-gun style attack. It's fired from the character and once it hits it tangles the target leaving the attacker free to walk away or entangle someone else. This is pretty much all tangle weapons (bolas, nets, whips, etc.). It is the most expensive and needs to be the easiest to break out of.
  2. Grapple Attack. A Grapple Attack is a traditional Judo hold. You must hit the target with a grab or grapple, take them down, and then apply a Hold. This usually takes 2 Rounds to achieve but can be done in 1. We believe that in a lot of cases the attacker will be overwhelming due to the fact that being highly resistant to this takes either (a) super strength or  (b) a specially designed character (wrestling, slick skin, liquid body, etc.). Conversely, characters with weapons (for example), will be especially screwed. This is the least expensive form of grapple/tangle. In fact, if you by super strength (or any AP STR) it comes for free (right now).
  3. Super Grapple. A super-grapple is an attack that grapples the opponent but does it quickly and, possibly, from range. Think characters with TK, tentacles, or stretching. These characters are like the above but more efficient and, as we said, ranged. Streaming Attacks such as Wind Blast can be used as a sort of Super Grapple since you can "pin characters" with the continuing stream. These have to be priced so that they are less expensive than, say, super strength which gives the ability to punch for damage.
Current State
The current state of affairs is NOT what we want. I'm not going to go into detail but shortly:
  • We think the "Pinned State" is probably a bad idea. Right now you can be pinned which removes all ability to attack. This gives attackers an "end state" which ends the fight--but we think that most super strength guys could pin a target in a few Rounds making it too good.
  • The modifiers for Hold need to be revisited.
Future State
There are some basic changes we are thinking of:
  • No "Pin" Move. At least not one that stops all attacks. Probably "Pin" will become a 5 REA move that simply makes escape a little more difficult than it was (raises the bar for a Break Grapple move).
  • Your average Hold will: 
    • Cost 5 REA each Round to Maintain if the character on the bottom is trying to escape.
    • Grant +4 to Blocks against the character held
    • Give the character on the bottom a -6 DM (with additional -1 per level, going up to -10 DM)
    • Give the character on the bottom a -2 Initiative score
  • Probably if you strike while performing a Hold the target gets some bonus to escape (unless you have extra arms or something). This is NOT true for super-grapples.
  • Characters hit by a tangle attack will probably get an immediate (but not free--a 5 REA action) attempt to break out. This can use either their grapple score or an attack power.
What Do You Roll Against Question?
When you are hit with a tangle attack (webbing?) it usually has to win a grapple roll to "lock on" to you. That's how you distinguish between a /great/ hold and a weaker one. This is good in that it emulates a "damage roll" but it's also complex. If you are going to shoot your way out of a grapple you still have to go through the grapple phase.

I want to simply use the amount that the attacker hit the target by as the determinant as to how good a "lock" on you it has. This approach is workable but: if there is no /damage/ segment to the resolution it's unsatisfying: getting hit and then ... being held would suck. On the other hand, I don't want to make the attempt a grapple roll since the target will already get a grapple roll to escape if they choose. 

Maybe I don't need a second phase--but I don't want to give up on it without thinking more about it.



  1. Just a comment about Grapples (this doesn't apply to fire-and-forget attacks for the most part, and probably only applies in a limited extent to a few Super-Grapple type attacks):

    Part of the problem I see with a lot of grappling attacks in a lot of systems (I know this is the case with BRP because our group just went over it a while back) is that not only is it often too effective, its almost always too _safe_. Grappling, in the end, requires getting in quite close to a person; even with an unarmed defender, there's a certain risk in doing this, and with an armed one there should be more upfront hazard than is usually the case. In a few cases (knife wielders) this probably shouldn't go away until you have complete control of the situation as a grappler.

    Just a thought.

  2. I agree completely: knife defense is said to be one of the scariest things in martial arts and I believe it.

    There are a few things to take into account:
    1. If you are not a trained grappler it's not going to work very well. Trying to get a knife out of someone's hands is fairly hard in JAGS if you are even-odds or even slightly better. Rolling to hit the hand is at -2 to your grab.

    2. It's expensive. If you grapple first you are reducing your AGI bonus to zero and spending 8 REA (usually) and it's a Long Action (you'll get stabbed before the Grapple hits).

    3. The end game of a grapple is usually either ground-and-pound (a Mount) or a Hold (or an arm-bar which is like a Hold but does damage). In the second case, while you'll have some very good defenses against their weapon you (generally, unless you have like a damage field or four arms or something) are not doing a lot of damage to the target.

    So it's kind of a hail-marry move.


  3. Fair enough. I probably should have read the Grapple rules more closely before opening my mouth. The Long Action part of that does make for considerable risk, given how JAGS actions work.

  4. I'm pretty proud of the grapple rules in the JAGS Revised book--but they need some work. There's no good explanation for how you move from one condition to another and the system is bad about deciding "who's on top" (and who can do what to whom).

    That said, I think it's largely there. We didn't have the simulator when we designed it so some of the things (Holds, Mounts, Throws) were not tested so much as "eyeballed" and we're reconsidering them now.

    However, all that said, I think we have one of the best working grappling systems I've ever seen. One of our goals was to allow you to "play the UFC" (kinda--the fight-times in JAGS are too slow) and we've accomplished quite a bit of that.


  5. Well fight times are a problem no matter what you do; its all too easy to make them too quick, too, because games don't account for the amount of time you spend either firing shots that do nothing, or circling around looking for an opening in melee. Its probably less of a flaw to make them a little too slow than too quick.