I went to see Haywire yesterday, starring MMA celebrity Gina Carano*. Apparently, these days Mixed Martial Arts is all about various forms of grappling, and the movie features quite a lot of it. It got me thinking.

Grappling is historically one of the most difficult-to-implement combat systems in RPGs (famously so in the case of D&D 3.x). People naturally look at all the crazy stuff that goes on and want to make sure it’s accurate. But accurate wrestling is not necessarily cinematic wrestling. In the movies, when two characters wrestle, the language of the fight requires that there is a constant shift in control of the grapple. In a lot of grappling systems, it’s pretty hard to lose dominance if you’re even a couple points better at it than the opponent. Making a system to account for frequent turnover could wind up being even more complicated.

But do most players that want to initiate a grapple really want a dedicated and complex ruleset? Or do they just want to accomplish a few of the things that grappling gets used for in the movies, namely:

  • Keep the target from getting away
  • Keep the target from using a deadly weapon on you
  • Disarm the target of said deadly weapon or other carried item

Anything else that goes on in a grapple is probably something that can just be played out with the normal combat system and different descriptions. The back and forth of control of a grapple is pretty easily handled by the normal back and forth of attacks during a fight. Theoretically, in any given system, you could model grappling mechanics much more simply if you just came up with an easy way to accomplish the above three tasks.

So my main questions are:

  • Am I missing any other important reasons why a player might want to start a grapple?
  • How much additional complexity do those important reasons above justify in the grappling rules? That is, is the advantage of locking down a target and control of wielded weapons significant, or could it just be something that a grappling-focused martial artist is just allowed to do?


* The way Soderbergh cuts movies is weird, so I’m still digesting how much I liked it. But the action was pretty good, as you might expect when casting an actual martial artist as your lead. If you’d like to see more women in action movies that aren’t 100 pound models using waif-fu, there are probably worse things you could do than see this so Hollywood’s more willing to look to female leads like Carano.