Design Journal (and Theorycrafting) – Unarmed and Non-Lethal Combat

Design Journal (and Theorycrafting) – Unarmed and Non-Lethal Combat

I’ve watched a couple of videos recently, both dealing with the Unarmed and Non-Lethal Combat rules in D&D, etc.
The topic also came up at my table, where a PC in a recent session wanted to grapple with an NPC. I was unaware of any Unarmed Combat rules for LFG, so I grabbed the AD&D DMG and turned to page 72.

The AD&D unarmed combat rules are a bit complex, with a multitude of variables. It also relies on a set of d% tables rather than d20. It takes a little bit to get through the lists of modifiers.

Well, I decided that while the results were cool, and had some narrative flair, there might be an easier way to get there. Something more along the lines of a To Hit roll, then a Damage roll.

I suppose I’ll be burned at the stake for this, but I’m not playing AD&D or LFG, strictly speaking, so please bear with me.

Non-Lethal Damage

The amount of non-lethal damage your PC can withstand before losing consciousness (notwithstanding a lucky Knock Out punch) is equal to their HP. All Fighting Man classes (in the World of WeirthTM) can add their experience level to this total.

Strength is important in unarmed combat, and your PC’s STR score is an indication of relative size and burliness. A PC may be able to ignore the first one or two non-lethal hits they take, as indicated by their STR Bonus. Also, the PC’s STR Bonus will be applied to any To Hit roll for Pummeling, Grappling or Overbearing.

Any To Hit roll for Pummeling, Grappling or Overbearing that scores a Natural 19 results in an immediate check for a surprise KO, with a 5% chance of success. If it is a Pummeling Attack, the Attacker rolls d6+2 for Effect, and gets to strike again.

Any Modified To Hit roll of 20+ will add +4 HP to the strike.


Pummeling just means hitting the other guy with your fist (or foot, I suppose). FRP combat is already abstracted into HP (that’s a discussion for another time!) and semi-narrative Combat Rounds, so why not abstract the Unarmed Combat Rules a little bit?

For a Pummeling Attack the PC will roll To Hit vs Armor Class as normal. The Attacker receives a +2 bonus if the Defender is already Stunned, and an additional +2 bonus if the Defender is already Grappled.

If the Attacker has a successful To Hit roll, they will then roll a d6 to determine the Effect.

d6 + Modifiers Non-lethal Damage
1-2 Ineffective Defender may Counter
3 Glancing Blow Strike Again
4 Glancing Blow Defender Off Balance 2 + STR bonus
5 Effective Blow Strike Again 4 + STR bonus
6 Solid Punch Defender Off Balance 6 + STR bonus
7 Solid Punch Strike Again 8 + STR bonus
8+ Smashing Blow Defender Stunned 10 + STR bonus

These damage figures are taken straight out of the 1e DMG.


grappling rulesWhen Grappling, a PC is attempting to get a grip on their opponent, leading to a limb-lock or head-lock, possibly dragging them to the ground in the process.

The Attacker will roll a d6, modified by their STR bonus. Add a +1 bonus if the Defender is Off Balance and a +2 bonus if the Defender is already Stunned.

The Defender will also roll a d6, modified by their DEX bonus.

Compare the two rolls according to the following chart, Attacker result on the left column, Defender result in the top row.

Grappling and Overbearing Chart

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 A A B B C D E
2 A A A B B C D
3 B A A A B B C
4 C B A A A A B C
5 D C B A A A A B
6 E D C B A A A B
7 F E D C B A A A
8 G F E D C B A

Reference the letter result on the following table:

Result Effect Lock Attack Modifier Damage
A Grip or Waist Clinch +1 0 + STR bonus
B Hand Lock +1 1 + STR bonus
C Arm Lock +2 2 + STR bonus
D Take Down & Grip +2 0
E Take Down & Arm Lock +3 3 + STR bonus
F Head Lock +3 4 + STR bonus
G Take Down & Head Lock +3 5 + STR bonus

On the 2nd and any subsequent round, apply the Lock Attack Modifier to the d6 roll for effect, in addition to any other modifiers.

Once a Grapple has succeeded the Defender may attempt to break the Lock with a HARD STR or DEX to escape. A result of a Natural 1 on this Break check gives the Defender a chance to immediately attack the grappler.


Overbearing is essentially just trying to bum-rush and knock the other person over.

It will work very much like Grappling, with an opposed roll of a d6, modified as follows:

 Attacker Modifiers  Defender Modifiers
 + STR Bonus + DEX or STR Bonus
 +1 if Larger than Defender +1 if Larger than Attacker
 -1 if Smaller than Defender -1 if Smaller than Attacker
 +1 if Charging or Leaping -1 if Stunned
  -1 if Off Balance

Consult the Grappling and Overbearing Chart, above:

Move down one line if the Defender is already Grappled

A Bounce off or avoided, Defender may Counter
B Slip down and grab leg
C Defender Staggered, Attack again 1 + STR bonus
D Defender knocked to knees 2 + STR bonus
E Defender knocked to hands & knees, Staggered 3 + STR bonus
F Defender knocked flat, Staggered, Attack again 4 + STR bonus
G Defender knocked flat, Stunned for one round 5 + STR bonus

There we go. Pretty simple to execute, with enough detail in the results to create a workable narrative. And with proper formatting it will all fit on one page for your GM Screen

This is version one, we’ll be playtesting it this week. Feel free to borrow it and run it for yourself, I’d love to hear your results!

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