Unarmed Combat

There are times when a character wants to defeat another being without killing it. A companion may have been charmed into attacking his friends (and his friends don’t want to kill him to save themselves); an enemy may have information the PCs can get only by subduing him; characters may simply see the monetary value of bringing back a real, live monster. Whatever the case, sooner or later characters are going to try.

There are four types of unarmed attacks—punching, wrestling, martial arts, and overbearing. Punching is basic bare-fisted fighting. Wrestling is the classic combination of grappling, holds, and throws. Overbearing is simply trying to pull down an opponent by sheer mass or weight of numbers, pinning him to the ground. Martial arts is a slightly more sophisticated combat form, common in the eastern realms, using the whole body for strikes, rather than just the hands. All characters know basic punching, wrestling, and overbearing. Martial arts requires a separate weapon proficiency to learn.

Punching and Wrestling

These are the most basic of combat skills, unknowingly practiced by almost all children as they rough and tumble with each other. Thus, all characters, regardless of class, are assumed to be somewhat proficient in both these forms of fighting.

Punching occurs when a character attacks with his fists. No weapons are used, although the character can wear an iron gauntlet or similar item. Wrestling requires both hands free, unencumbered by shields and the like.

When punching or wrestling, a normal attack roll is made. The normal Armor Class of the target is used. If a character is attempting to wrestle in armor, he suffers a penalty to his attack roll equal to one-half the AC bonus of the armor (round down). Normal modifiers to the attack roll are also applied. Penalties for being held or attacking a held opponent do not apply to wrestlers. Wrestling involves a lot of holding and twisting as it is, and the damage resolution system for punching and wrestling takes this into account.

If the attack roll is successful, consult the table below to find the result of the attack: Cross-index the character’s un-modified attack roll with the proper attack form. If, for example, a character successfully punched with an 18, the result would be a rabbit punch (if he rolled an 18 on a successful wrestling attempt, the result would be a kick). The type of maneuver determines the chance of an automatic knockout (see “KO” below). Characters specialized in these combat forms may modify the roll to determine the maneuver used.

Attack Roll Punch Wrestling % KO
20 Haymaker Bear Hug1 10%
19 Wild Swing Arm Twist 1%
18 Rabbit Punch Kick 3%
17 Kidney Punch Trip 5%
16 Glancing Blow Elbow Smash 2%
15 Jab Arm Lock1 6%
14 Uppercut Leg Twist 8%
13 Hook Leg Lock1 9%
12 Kidney Punch Throw 5%
11 Hook Gouge 10%
10 Glancing Blow Elbow Smash 3%
9 Left-Right Combination Leg Lock1 10%
8 Uppercut Headlock{1] 9%
7 Left-Right Combination Throw 10%
6 Jab Gouge 8%
5 Glancing Blow Kick 3%
4 Rabbit Punch Arm Lock1 5%
3 Hook Gouge 12%
2 Upper Cut Headlock1 15%
1 Haymaker Bearhug1 25%

1 This hold can be maintained from round to round until broken.

Punch: This is the type of blow landed. In game terms, the type of blow has little effect, but using the names adds spice to the battle and makes the DM’s job of describing the action easier. Bare-handed attacks cause only 1d2 points of damage. Metal gauntlets, brass knuckles, and the like cause 1d3 points of damage. A character’s Strength bonus, if any, does apply to punching attacks.

Punching damage is handled a little differently than normal damage. Only 25% of the damage caused by a bare-handed attack is normal damage. The remaining 75% is temporary. For the sake of convenience, record punching damage separately from other damage and calculate the percentage split at the end of all combat. If a character reaches 0 hit points due to punching attacks (or any combination of punching and normal attacks), he immediately falls unconscious.

A character can voluntarily pull his punch, not causing any hit point damage, provided he says so before the damage is applied to his enemy. There is still a chance of a knockout.

% K.O.: Although a punch does very little damage, there is a chance of knocking an opponent out. This chance is listed on the table as “% K.O.” If this number or less is rolled on percentile dice, the victim is stunned for 1d10 rounds.

Wrestling: This lists the action or type of grip the character managed to get. Some wrestling moves are holds maintained from round to round, unless they are broken. A hold is broken by a throw, a gouge, the assistance of another person, or the successful use of a weapon. (Penalties to the attack roll apply to weapon attacks by a character who is in a hold.)

All wrestling moves inflict 1 point of damage plus Strength bonus (if the attacker desires), while continued holds cause cumulatively 1 more point of damage for each round they are held. A head lock held for six rounds would inflict 21 points of damage total (1+2+3+4+5+6).


Sometimes the most effective attack is simply to pull an opponent down by sheer numbers. No attempt is made to gain a particular hold or even to harm the victim. The only concern is to pin and restrain him.
To overbear an opponent, a normal attack roll is made. For every level of size difference (1 if a Large attacker takes on a Medium defender, for example), the attack roll is modified by 4 (+4 if the attacker is larger; -4 if the defender is larger).

The defender also gains a benefit if it has more than two legs: a -2 penalty to the attacker’s roll for every leg beyond two. There is no penalty to the defender if it has no legs. A lone orc attempting to pull down a horse and rider would have at least a -8 penalty applied to the attack roll (-4 for size and -4 for the horse’s four legs).

If the attack succeeds, the opponent is pulled down. A character can be pinned if further successful overbearing attacks are rolled each round.

If multiple attackers are all attempting to pull down a single target, make only one attack roll with a +1 bonus for each attacker beyond the first. Always use the to-hit number of the weakest attacker to figure the chance of success, since cooperation always depends on the weakest link. Modifiers for size should be figured for the largest attacker of the group. A giant and three pixies attempting to pull down a man would use the pixies’ attack roll, modified by +3 for three extra attackers and +8 for the size difference of the giant (Huge) and the man (Medium).

Martial Arts

As described above, everybody knows how to punch and wrestle. Martial Arts, however, are another matter. Not every character in a normal medieval-style campaign will know how to utilize oriental-style Martial Arts.

The Martial Arts described in this section aren’t any real-world fighting style; they’re a combination of “generic” martial-arts maneuvers in the tradition of martial-arts movies. To learn Martial Arts at its basic level, the character spends one Weapon Proficiency slot on Martial Arts. Once he has spent that slot, he can use Martial Arts in the same way that other people use Punching and Wrestling.

At its basic level, Martial Arts skill is used just like Punching and Wrestling. Martial Arts combat occurs when a character attacks with his bare hands, feet, and even head. No weapons are used. A character can hold a weapon in one hand and nothing in the other, attacking with his weapon one round and with his Martial Arts skill in the next, or making unarmed attacks with his off-hand (using the normal rules for fighting with two weapons).

When attacking with Martial Arts skill, the character makes a normal attack roll against the normal Armor Class of the target. If he hits, he does 1d3 damage, plus any bonus from his Strength score. As with Punching, damage from Martial Arts is handled in a slightly different fashion. The damage from any bare-handed Martial Arts attack is broken into two parts: 25% of the damage from the attack is normal damage, while the remaining 75% is “temporary” damage. Like Punching, Martial Arts attacks also have a percent chance to KO the victim.

If the attack roll is successful, the attacker consults the table below for the result of the attack. If, for instance, the character rolls a 13 on his attack roll, the result is a Body-Punch.

Attack Roll Maneuver % KO
20 Head Punch 15%
19 High Kick 10%
18 Vitals Kick 8%
17 Vitals Punch 5%
16 Head Bash 5%
15 Side Kick 3%
14 Elbow Shot 1%
13 Body Punch 2%
12 Low Kick 1%
11 Graze 1%
10 Body Punch 2%
9 Low Kick 1%
8 Body Punch 2%
7 Knee Shot 3%
6 Side Kick 5%
5 Head Bash 10%
4 Vitals Punch 10%
3 Vitals Kick 15%
2 High Kick 20%
1 Head Punch 30%

Weapons In Nonlethal Combat

As you might expect, weapons have their place in nonlethal combat, whether a character is defending or pressing the attack.

Weapons in Defense: A character attempting to use unarmed attacks against an armed opponent can do so only by placing himself at great risk. An armed defender is automatically allowed to strike with his weapon before the unarmed attack is made, regardless of the initiative die roll. Furthermore, since his opponent must get very close, the defender gains a +4 bonus to his attack and damage rolls. If the attacker survives, he can then attempt his attack.

Those involved in a wrestling bout are limited to weapons of small size after the first round of combat—it’s very difficult to use a sword against someone who is twisting your sword arm or clinging to your back, trying to break your neck. For this reason, nearly all characters will want to carry a dagger or knife.

Nonlethal Weapon Attacks: It is possible to make an armed attack without causing serious damage (striking with the flat of the blade, for example). This is not as easy as it sounds, however. First, the character must be using a weapon that enables him to control the damage he inflicts. This is impossible with an arrow or sling. It isn’t even feasible with a war hammer or mace. It can be done with swords and axes, as long as the blade can be turned so it doesn’t cut.

Second, the character has a -4 penalty to his attack roll, since handling a weapon in this way is clumsier than usual. The damage from such an attack is 50% normal; one-half of this damage is temporary.

Unarmed Combat

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