Grappling with grappling

The single most difficult thing to design in a game, in my experience, is grappling. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Two people wrestling. It’s literally the world’s oldest sport. But in game after game, it’s ridiculously complicated. The first game I ever worked on, Gatewar, had a full page of tiny print describing it. We did our best with Bulletproof Blues, but I was never really happy with it.

Fortunately, with the new task resolution in 3rd edition of Bulletproof Blues, we were able to drastically simplify grappling.

This is a work in process, obviously: it may be a bit different when the book is published.


A grapple is a special form of close combat attack that does not inflict damage, but instead restrains the target’s limbs and prevents them from moving freely. The attack value (AV) of a grapple is equal to the attacker’s Brawn, and the defense value (DV) of the target is equal to the defender’s Brawn or Agility (whichever is greater).

If the attacker’s roll is greater than the defender’s roll, the defender is restrained. A restrained character is not helpless, but they can’t use normal movement until they break free of the grapple. Attacking a restrained character is easier, and a restrained character’s attacks are easier to avoid: a restrained attacker incurs a penalty die on all attack rolls and defense rolls while restrained.

A grapple is not normally able to inflict damage directly (like a punch), but the attacker may attempt to use leverage to hurt the grappled character.

Breaking Free Of A Grapple

To break free of the grapple, the restrained character must use a task action to roll their Brawn or Agility (whichever is greater) against the attacker’s Brawn. If the restrained character has XXX Telekinesis, they may use their Power for this roll. If the restrained character’s roll is greater than the grappling character’s roll, the restrained character has broken free of the grapple, and they may use their movement action for that turn. Alternately, the grappling character may release the restrained character at any time, without using an action.

Hurting A Grappled Target

If the attacker wishes to exert strength or leverage in an attempt to hurt the restrained character, they must use an action to make another attack roll against the restrained character.

Grapple vs. Grapple

If the grappled character succeeds in a grapple attack against the original attacker, both characters are considered restrained. Neither character can use normal movement until they break free of their opponent’s grapple. Both characters incur a penalty die on all attack rolls and defense rolls while restrained.

Throwing A Grappled Target

If the attacker wishes to throw the grappled character, the distance an attacker may throw the defender is based on the Brawn of the attacker and the mass of the defender. First, look up the mass of the defender in the “Lift” column (rounding to the nearest mass value), and find the corresponding Brawn for that mass. Subtract that from the Brawn of the attacker, and look up that resulting value in the “Throw” column. This is how far the attacker can throw the restrained character.

New task resolution in BB3

Bulletproof Blues 3rd editionIn Bulletproof Blues second edition, task resolution took the form of:

2d6 + action value vs. 8 + difficulty value

In Bulletproof Blues third edition (currently under construction), all rolls are opposed:

2d6 + action value vs. 2d6 + difficulty value

Why? Three reasons.

First, new players often forgot the “8” in “8 + difficulty value”, and would need to look it up. Having to look things up is no fun.

Second, when on the receiving end of an attack, players like to feel that they have some influence on the outcome. Although it makes little difference statistically, players feel more involved if they get to roll some dice when their character is attacked.

Finally, making the roll 2d6 vs 2d6 gives a more varied result. Compare the 2nd edition roll to the third edition roll.


Here’s a new advantage from Bulletproof Blues third edition (currently under construction): Sidekick!


The character fights more effectively when they fight alongside their mentor. If the sidekick is within short range (10 m) of their mentor, their attack value (AV) and defense value (DV) are equal to their normal values, or one less than their mentor’s values during that turn, whichever is greater. The character’s mentor must be chosen when this advantage is purchased, and should change very rarely, if ever.

On lethal damage and scary weapons

In the current version of Bulletproof Blues, there is no difference between the damage inflicted by a sword and the damage inflicted by a baseball bat. There is a simple reason for this. Aside from a handful of specially designed weapons, like rubber bullets and tasers, any real world weapon is lethal — and even tasers and rubber bullets can cause death or crippling injury.

However, in the comics that Bulletproof Blues seeks to emulate, there is a big difference: a character who carries guns and/or swords is not regarded in the same way as a character who carries a hammer or a ball-and-chain, even though, in the real world, these weapons would all be equally lethal. A character with guns is a killer. Guns are scary. Swords are scary.

Thinking about this, and how we might apply this distinction in the next version of Bulletproof Blues (which is a long way off), it occurred to me that there is a real-world equivalent for this phenomenon: the “assault weapon”. The term “assault weapon” was popularized in the late 1980s by an anti-firearm lobbying group seeking greater restrictions on civilian firearm ownership. This effort was successful, at least for a while. The U.S. Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 restricted ownership of “assault weapons” in the United States from 1994 to 2004. However, the distinction between an “assault weapon” and an ordinary rifle was a cosmetic one. This rifle…


… and this “assault weapon”…


… are functionally the same. They are, for most practical (rather than cosmetic) purposes, interchangeable. The difference is not in the weapons themselves, but in our perception of them. “Assault weapons” are scary looking… much like guns and swords in a superhero comic.

So what we are thinking about is a new power enhancement: Scary. “Scary” powers are not any more effective or lethal than other powers, but bystanders perceive them to be more lethal, and more dangerous… and the people who use such powers are perceived as more bloodthirsty, and more willing to take a life.

What do you think?