Last Saturday night, I ran a somewhat short session of Chanbara for Michael, Dean and Alexei. I don't want to get into the details of play exactly (thinking of publishing this series of adventures in the future, so more on the actual adventure then). So I'll mostly be posting here about the system and how it fared during the game.
First of all, we spent most of the session RPing the aftermath of the previous session, and coming up with a plan to proceed. They set out and for the most part, again it was all RP. So like the first session, the rules were more invisible for most of the night. Then what I thought would be a short encounter on the way to their destination turned into a fairly major and involved melee.
The good thing is I got to try out my "tactical attacks" mechanic, and especially the grab/pin rules. And wouldn't you know it, they're clunky and not really satisfying. They're better (IMO) than 3E/d20 or 1E AD&D's grappling rules in that they are much simpler. The problem is, there's no way as stated for the grapple to end. There's no inescapable pin. So that needs to be changed.
One of the monsters they encountered was a rokurokubi, which because it's a monster, it has a special "grab" attack. The accompanying bakemono do not, so they had to settle for regular tactical attacks to grab and then pin the PCs. And the PCs' rolls were good enough for the most part to keep breaking the grabs or pins, but then the monsters, who outnumbered the PCs, would do it again. So it took a while.
Part of me is thinking, "Well, isn't that sort of like actual scrappy fight wrestling?" Another part of me is thinking, "Well, that wasn't as fun as it could have been for me or for the players." And that second voice is the one I know I need to listen to.
So, I need to rethink the Tactical Attacks rules a bit, and especially the wrestling rules.
I took a hint from Pathfinder for this. In PF, if you're not aware of the system, they have a special attack bonus and defense score for special maneuvers like trips, disarms, grapples, bull rushes, and the like. In Chanbara, I have a special defense score, Tactical Defense (TD), but the attack roll is just a normal attack like any other.
Usually, a tactical attack that hits works automatically. No saving throw, no nothing. So if someone tries to disarm you, and their normal attack roll is higher than your TD, you're disarmed.
In the case of the Grab, if a character is grabbed, they can make their own tactical attack to escape (their action for the round). If a character has been grabbed and the opponent succeeds on a second tactical attack, the character is pinned. But again, a tactical attack at a -4 penalty can allow them to break out of the pin. And they can keep retrying every round.
Either I need to put a cap on the number of retries, allow a third successful tactical attack to result in an "iron pin" that can't be escaped from, or have a pinned PC make a saving throw (Metal or Water would likely be appropriate). If they fail the save, they are in an iron pin and can't escape. If they succeed, they can make tactical attacks each round at the penalty to try to escape.
Alexei also mentioned something important in our end of session comments. A grabbed/pinned PC should automatically lose initiative. In that way, their attempt to break the hold is always at the end of the round. And if they break the hold and gain initiative the next round (rolling group initiative every round), they then have a chance to act - flee, strike with a weapon or spell, grab the grabber instead, etc. That's easy to implement.
I hope to run the next session in 3 weeks or so, and we'll hopefully (if they keep on doing what they're doing, and things go more or less according to my plans) finally get to do a bit of dungeon delving and see how things work in a dungeon scenario.
Oh, and one more thing worth noting - Alexei's rolls weren't nearly as good as last session, so his combat dice didn't seem overpowered at all. I'll still be evaluating them, though, especially if we get to the dungeon next time.
Finally, the RPOL.net game is about to get up and running. The character creation phase is just about complete, and I've got plenty of good hooks I can use to get them up and exploring Ghost Castle Hasegawa!