Non-Lethal Attacks vs. Armed Foe?

One of the meanest tricks that a DM can pull on his players is forcing them to fight an armed enemy without any weapons of their own. Try it! It’s hilarious!

There are lots of reasons why you have to do this from time to time. Most of the time it is because you need information, or intelligence which you can’t get from a dead enemy. Other times, spells can cause your own party members to suddenly freak out, and attack everybody around them! Try to fight a villain honorably, those guys can be just plain dirty! Not to mention kidnapped by wolf-weres, stripped naked and told to run while they hunt you, ever happen to you? Anyone? No?

Well, anyway, the core rules, of course, support this sort of thing. A player has three different options in getting this done, they are: Punching, Wrestling, & Subdueing.


Now, I am just going to assume that you already know how to run punching and wrestling, but for those who don’t, here are a few tips.

  • Ignore most of the table, it is worthless unless you are a dungeon master, the only thing that you need from it is KO%
  • Bare fisted fighting does 1d2, brass knuckles and gauntlets do 1d3
  • Strength bonuses apply
  • Fumbles are impossible, even a 1 hits
  • Record fighting damage separately; only 25% is real damage, & 75% is temporary.
  • Wrestling does require you to use more of the table as it has holds that can only be broken by a successful throw or gouge
  • A character who reaches 0 hp is effectively knocked out
  • If you state at the beginning of the round that you are going to pull your punches, then all damage is temporary.

It is always a good idea to review any rules before the scenario is handled, wrestling is a lot different then punching. This core rule is prime real estate for fixing with house rules which work better for your group. If folks are looking for clunky 2e mechanics, they should look no further then the fighting table.


This is much easier then beating the hell out of a guy. Over-bearing is simply one or more characters hoping on a guy and holding on for dear life. No attempt is made to make a specific hold, there only goal is to bring the defender down and pin or restrain him.

The rules are pretty straight forward, each difference in size grants either a +4 or a –4 to the attacker for each category. If the attacker is one category bigger then the defender is, then they get a +4 to their attack roll, but if they are trying to over-bear and pin a creature 2 sizes larger then they are, then they have an attack penalty of –8.

# of legs of the defender also matters. For each set of legs beyond 2 the attacker gets additional penalties of –2. Having 0 legs doesn’t effect this at all.

Of course, one person can try to overbear another, but it is much better if several people try to over-bear one defender. In cases like this, all of the above modifiers are used, the parties size is factored by the largest member of them, for each person in the attacking party, a bonus of +1 is applied to the attack roll, and only one attack roll is rolled, the THACO that you’re going to use is the worst of the party, since he is the weakest link and your success or failure depends completely on him.


Finally, with that out of the way, we can talk about the real meat of todays topic. All of those rules above are fine and good (or goodish in regards to the clunky attack table), but how often are you going to run into goblins with no weapons?

Unless you are sick of playing the character and want to roll up a new one, I really wouldn’t recommend fist-fighting an armed foe. Wrestling, on the other hand, is possible.

When this comes up, the armed person always attacks before the unarmed one, and the unarmed defender will get a +4 to hit because the attacker has no weapon to parry off his attack. If the attacker can survive this initial blow, he can now start wrestling, a little secret? Highly armored individuals can’t wrestle for the life of them! By wrestling an opponent, you are making his weapon impossible to hit with because you are too close, he must either try and wrestle you, or attack with a small weapon of size S.


When a 15th level fighter encounters a 1st level punk whose honor is hurt, it is considered bad form to just hack him to pieces simply because you can. It is possible to pin (if you’ve got the right weapon to do it) or pull your hit so that you don’t do any damage. Basically, you are just proving your awesome skills to your opponent, in hopes that he will reconsider his actions so that you don’t have to kill him.

The only rule to this is that you have to have a weapon which allows you to control the force and the damage you deliver: A sword or an axe is perfect because you can hit flush and not with the blade, but other weapons like warhammers are impossible to pull your punch with.

Because this is clumsy, you have a –4 to your attack roll, you don’t have to add your strength bonus, provided that your sword is light enough to manipulate it effectively, but the opponent does take damage. Damage is rolled normally, but recorded to the side because only 50% is real damage, the other 50% is temporary.

ART BY: Jeff Easley


Brooser Bear said...

I don't know. To me AD&D is about storytelling and improvisation. Guy wants to fight unarmed? he tells what he wants to do and rolls to hit. If he succeeds, he gets what he wanted - punches the guy, closes in, grabs the dagger arm. No damage. If he loses, th armed guy attacks him next. If he hits and the armed guy can not swing a weapon, the armed opponent's next action will be to disentangle or to regain balance, if punched successfully. If a crit hit is scored armed opponent loses the next initiative. Crit hit os scored and confirmed, the armed opponent is knocked off his feet, the uarmed party grabs a hold of the weapon, etc. Why make tings more complicated and it makes the player stick closer to the narrative.

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