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Hold Me Closer, Tiny Grappler I [26 Aug 2016] Why we need a happy medium between D&D3.5's prohibition on tiny grapplers, and Pathfinder's choice to let them warp space and time.

Under the D&D3.5 rules, you simply cannot grapple a creature more than one size bigger than you are. In Third Edition, grappling is a two-step procedure: first you try to grab, with a touch attack; then you try to hold, with an opposed grapple check. You can certainly grab someone if you are little, but not hold: the rules say, "You automatically lose an attempt to hold if the target is two or more size categories larger than you are." Being able to grab but not hold is a distinction that makes no difference -- your grapple fails, and you accomplish nothing.

This means a halfling cannot grab onto an ogre. Nobody can grab onto a massive foe and just hold on. Ever wanted to climb an elephant like Legolas in the LotR movies? Ever wanted to jump on a wild whale and hitch a ride? Sorry, no, can't do it. This fails the realism test because of course you can grab onto a foe!

Now, Pathfinder combined these grab and hold checks into a simple grapple check vs Combat Maneuver Defense. That's good. And there is no auto-fail if you are littler than your target. And the modifiers for size are much smaller. So under Pathfinder, you CAN grapple if you are little.

The problem here is that sometimes the simplified rules lead to absurd results. If a halfling grapples a dragon, then the dragon cannot move unless it wins an opposed grapple check. And the grappled penalties apply equally to a cat grappled by a halfling and to a dragon grappled by a halfling. This fails the realism test because of course you can jump a dragon, but the dragon should not be much bothered by that!

I was once baleful polymorphed into a diminutive thrush, and lacking any other course of action, I grappled (as a thrush) the mage who cursed me. For realism-seeking players and DMs, a teensy birdie should not have the same effect on a grappled target that a burly half-orc would have.

And there are times when you just really want to grab onto a big foe. Okay, you do not expect to put a T-rex into a half-nelson and pin it, even if the Pathfinder rules allow you to do so. But you want to grab on, climb up, and stab it in the gut. That's reasonable right? And while you're doing that, should the T-rex be more than mildly inconvenienced -- at least before you half-gut it? Probably not much.

And what about the comedy trope of horde of midgets piling on somebody? Sure, one little guy may not be able to do much, but surely a whole horde of them should be able to slow you down? That's the idea behind a scene in The Simpsons, when Homer is tackled by a gang of cleaning product mascots:
Homer attacked by cleaning products
Art credit: Bart gets an Elephant (The Simpsons, Season 5, Episode 17)

So what to do about this dilemma. Too restrictive under D&D3.5, too liberal under Pathfinder. I offer a quick and dirty fix as well as a more detailed proposal. Here's the qucik and dirty:

Use the Pathfinder rules for grapples, and in addition ... When a grappler is two or more size categories smaller than his or her target, then the little grappler may not use the move-the-grapple option or the pin option. Moreover, a big creature being grappled by a little foe may use move actions to move about freely, carrying the little grappler along for the ride.
That offers a fix for those whose suspension of disbelief is blown away when a little guy grabs a big guy.

But what about when lots of little guys are all jumping on you, like the cleaning products dogpiling on Homer up there? Another great example from the comedy canon is the Black-Tentacles-like trap that captures Mr. Incredible in Pixar's wonderful superhero movie, The Incredibles. As the hero attempts to flee, guns shoot small sticky balls of goop at him. Pile on enough clinging gobs, and cumulatively they slow him down. For situations like that, you need more complex rules. And for the people who prefer greater realism, I offer a new special attack to complement Grappling. Let's call it ... "Clinging."

This is the first part of a three-part series on little guys grappling big guys. Please check out Part I: Rationale, Part II: Clinging Rules, and Part III: Extras.

I am indebted to my good friend Mark B for suggesting the idea of "Cling" as a new special attack, and for the clever "Hold Me Closer, Tiny Grappler" title for this series of posts. Thanks Mark!

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