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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); an enemy could have information the PCs can get only by subduing him; characters might simply see the monetary value of bringing back a live monster. Whatever the case, sooner or later characters are going to try to defeat something without striking a fatal blow.

There are three types of non-lethal attacks—punching, wrestling, 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.

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, the modifiers on Table 42 are used (these are penalties to the foe's attack roll). Normal modifiers to the attack roll are also applied.

Table 42: Armor Modifiers for Wrestling

Table 42: Armor Modifiers for Wrestling
Armor Modifier
Studded leather -1
Chain, ring, and scale mail -2
Banded, splint, and plate mail -5
Field plate armor -8
Full plate armor -10

Table 43: Punching and Wrestling Results

Table 43: Punching and Wrestling Results
Attack Roll Punch Damage % KO Wrestle
20+ Haymaker 2 10 Bear hug*
19 Wild swing 0 1 Arm twist
18 Rabbit punch 1 3 Kick
17 Kidney punch 1 5 Trip
16 Glancing blow 1 2 Elbow smash
15 Jab 2 6 Arm lock*
14 Uppercut 1 8 Leg twist
13 Hook 2 9 Leg lock
12 Kidney punch 1 5 Throw
11 Hook 2 10 Gouge
10 Glancing blow 1 3 Elbow smash
9 Combination 1 10 Leg lock*
8 Uppercut 1 9 Headlock*
7 Combination 2 10 Throw
6 Jab 2 8 Gouge
5 Glancing blow 1 3 Kick
4 Rabbit punch 2 5 Arm lock*
3 Hook 2 12 Gouge
2 Uppercut 2 15 Headlock*
1 Wild swing 0 2 Leg twist
Less than 1 Haymaker 2 25 Bearhug*
* A 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.

Damage: Bare-handed attacks cause only 1 or 2 points of damage. Metal gauntlets, brass knuckles, and the like cause 1d3 points of damage. A character's Strength bonus, if any, applies 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 lasting 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 damage (or any combination of punching and normal attacks), he immediately falls unconscious.

A character can voluntarily pull his punch, not causing any lasting 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.

Wrestle: This lists the action or type of grip the character managed to get. Wrestling moves marked with an asterisk (*) 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. A head lock held for six rounds would inflict 21 points of damage total (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6). Remember, this is the equivalent of pressing hard on a full-nelson headlock for roughly six minutes.


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 defending creature 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. For pinning purposes, do not use the prone modifier to combat (from Table 35).

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).

Weapons in Non-Lethal Combat

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

Weapons in Defense: A character attempting to punch, wrestle, or overbear an armed opponent can do so only by placing himself at great risk. Making matters worse, an armed defender is automatically allowed to strike with his weapon before the unarmed attack is made, regardless of the initiative roll. 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 a knife.

Non-Lethal 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, lasting one turn after the fight is over and causing unconsciousness (never death) if the character drops below zero hit points.

Non-Lethal Combat and Creatures

When dealing with non-humanoid opponents, a number of factors must be considered. First, unintelligent creatures, as a rule, never try to grapple, punch, or pull down an opponent. They cheerfully settle for tearing him apart, limb by limb. This, to their small and animalistic minds, is a better solution.

Second, the natural weapons of a creature are always usable. Unlike men with swords, a lion or a carnivorous ape doesn't lose the use of its teeth and fangs just because a character is very close to it.

Finally, and of greatest importance, creatures tend to be better natural fighters than humans. All attacks for a tiger are the same as punching or wrestling. It's just that the tiger has claws. Furthermore, a tiger can use all of its legs effectively.