Brawler/Grappler/Wrestler (Open)

The Brawling skill represents the dangerous no-holds-barred type of skill gained by those who practice fighting with their fists, grappling in barroom brawls, wailing away with whatever is at hand in alleyways, and so forth. However, this skill also represents an entire body of knowledge of how to close with an opponent, seize him by weapon arm or otherwise, disarm and/or immobilize him, drive him to the ground and master him so he lies at the character’s mercy. These techniques were taught by every fighting master who had an interest in teaching in the period of the game. This is why most members of the Warrior trades get a bonus to their Brawling AV, as noted at the end of the skill description.

Having this skill can indicate a history as a serious or habitual scrapper, but it can just as easily mean that a character has been well-trained in the arts of combat by a professional who knows what it takes to survive when faced with a life-and-death struggle in battle.

The presence of such a skill in the game itself, mechanically, does not mean a character must have it in order to engage in this sort of combat, however. Like a few of the other skills, Brawler is one of the Open Skills, but a very important one to trades such as those of the various types of Warriors. Being an Open Skill, those who don’t have it can still engage in this sort of activity, it is simply a matter of those who do have it being better at it and enjoying a greater degree of success, especially against those with no such skill. Like any other Open skill, a character can develop skill as a Brawler at any point in play so long as he has a skill slot available for it.

The skills of Grappling and the art of Wrestling have a long legacy in Europe. Wrestling, both with and without weapons and armored or unarmored, is featured heavily in the early fencing treatises. “Close-in” techniques for seizing opponents and throwing them or knocking them off-balance, trapping their weapons, locking up their weapon-arms or otherwise immobilizing them – to wit, Grappling, Wrestling, and Brawling – were all common to combat in the medieval period of the game and far into the Renaissance.

“These … exercises please me best … fighting, wrestling, running and jumping as bodily exercises … give to the body free, agile and strong members, and wonderfully preserve the health.” Martin Luther, Protestant Reformation leader (1500’s)

While larger weapons were commonly abandoned on closing in, during the ensuing attempts at Over-bearing one’s opponent to the ground daggers were kept in hand or drawn during Grappling and Wrestling in order to deal the most deadly blows at the first opportunity, at close range where they could hardly be missed. Closing in to strike, to grab or trip, to throw or push an opponent down is seen in countless Renaissance fencing manuals from the cut-and-thrust style swords of Marozzo in 1536 to the slender rapiers of Giovanni Lovino (1580) and of L’Lange in (1664).

These practices formed a vital foundation for all established systems of defense. Indeed, Grappling or Wrestling were considered by many masters engaged in teaching the skills of combat to be the basis of all fencing. The common manner in which battles were still fought over such a long period of time is one of the reasons behind the inclusion of some of the weapons that would otherwise have been excluded for being too late in period according to the focus of the game.

The no-holds-barred style of Grappling, Wrestling, and Brawling, whether armed or unarmed combat may be called desperate by some but it is a style of fighting that belongs to an arena of battle in which winning, or even basic survival, is paramount, as opposed to personal combat and the arena of formal duels with rules which slowly evolved from the 1500’s to the 1700’s out of the practice of judicial duels as a part of the social arena of the noble and wealthy, based on concepts of “honor” that were all-to-often manipulated and resorted to on the flimsiest of circumstances in order to make a name in society. Both these types of combat were taught by fighting masters throughout Europe. The former was practiced at every level of the society whether the combatants were clad in armor or not.

Though not a formal weapon skill, being a Brawler will aid the character in grappling and wrestling an opponent and in the use of such unorthodox weapons as chairs, table or chair legs, tables themselves, beer steins, bottles or flasks, and the like, as well as in bare-fisted combat, or “fisticuffs” as they were referred to in the 1800’s. Almost any sort of attack not covered by a formal weapon skill will at the very least be aided by this skill, if not directly covered by it. The use of unorthodox weapons like those mentioned will, at the least, allow the character to inflict full base impact damage, though broken bottles and especially heavy or club-like weapons will have DM’s like common weapons (GM’s discretion).

Unless he intends to kill his opponent and face the consequences, the PC should avoid picking up objects to use as weapons in brawling, for it is all too easy to split a head or break a neck without meaning to when one has a weapon in hand, whether it is a formal weapon designed for that purpose or not.

Historical accounts of armed combat where Grappling, Wrestling, and Brawling moves were employed are numerous, while fencing texts from the period almost always included sections detailing such techniques. There were even entire written works devoted to them. The written evidence goes so far as to include even kicking, empty handed strikes, joint locks, and nerve pinches. This applied to rapier fencing almost as much as it did to the earlier forms of cut-and-thrust swordplay.

“If you are engaged with a ruffian or stranger, be watchful that he does not throw his hat, dust or something else at your face which may blind you, upon which he will take the opportunity … and if he misses, trust to his heels. I would not advise you at any time to do the last mentioned, but with a bravo or ruffian, I would throw anything in his face to blind him, and then take the advantage of it : such fellows as those, often carry dust in their pockets, or something on purpose for that end; but no gentleman ought to use such methods; unless with such people who often carry pocket pistols about ‘em, so to prevent the worst to oneself, I think ‘tis not amiss to get the better of them as soon as possible, by blinding them, or by any other means whatever, before they show a pistol, for fair play is what they ought not to have.”

By employing these methods, the combatants make larger weapons useless, even to the point of throwing them aside in favor of the smaller sidearms, the dagger or poniard, hence their popularity.

The Marquis de Beuvron and Francois de Montmorency, Comte de Boutteville, (a notorious rabid duelist and bully), fought a duel together (1626) in which both attacked “each other so furiously that they soon come to such close quarters that their long rapiers are useless. They throw them aside, and, Grappling with one another, attempt to bring their daggers into play.”

In the early 1500s, many soldiers, scholars, priests, and nobles wrote to say how important Wrestling was in preparing aristocratic youth for military service. The detailed illustrations of unarmed techniques in many medieval fencing manuals (such as those penned by Fiore Dei Liberi and Hans Talhoffer) demonstrate how well known and important those techniques were historically, and accounts of Wrestling and Grappling abound in descriptions of tournaments and judicial contests of the 1400’s.

A tournament fight of 1442 in Paris “with weapons as we are accustomed to carrying in battle” included in its fourth article of stipulations “that each of us may help each other with Wrestling, using legs, feet, arms or hands.”

From the description of a duel by a Giraldi Cinzio, in which an old fencing master named Pirro fought with a young former student, Sergesto, at Beneveto (c. 1564), Pirro struck the younger man on the back of the knee with the flat of his blade, pushed him to the ground, disarmed him and seized his throat, commanding him to surrender.

English knightly tournaments as late as 1507  allowed combatants “To Wrestle all maner of wayes” or to fight “with Gripe, or otherwise”.  The fencing master Pietro Monte even recognized Wrestling in the 1480’s as the “foundation of all fighting”, armed or unarmed. Albrecht Duerer’s Fechtbuch of 1512 contains more material on Wrestling than on swordplay, yet the relationship between them is noticeable. According to Heinrich Von Gunterrodt (1579), the oldest known fencing text, treatise MS I.33 of the late 1200’s, even stated,

“For when one will not cede [surrender] to the other, but they press one against the other and rush close, there is almost no use for arms, especially long ones, but Grappling begins, where each seeks to throw down the other or cast him on the ground, and to harm and overcome him with many other means.” 

In the 15-1600’s and earlier, swordplay was a contest often between two people (judicial duel) commonly (but not exclusively) with swords in which one fought by any means to win, often to the death, or in a pitched battle, or in response to sudden assault in an urban setting. Armed fighting in the period of the game and considerably later ranged from all manner of encounters, between two people (inc. judicial duel) by any means to win, often to the death, or in a pitched battle, or in response to sudden assault in an urban setting, and with all manner of weapons.

It is relatively safe to say that ALL historical armed combat (Medieval and Renaissance, cutting and/or thrusting) involved SOME degree of Grappling and Wrestling – or Brawling – techniques.

Intentionally closing-in to resort to brute strength and hand-to-hand fighting might seem antithetical to the very nature and advantage of wielding a weapon in the first place, when in fact developing the skill to do so requires considerable practice and skill to execute and was considered an advanced technique, not primitive at all.

Being skilled in Grappling, Wrestling, and Brawling can make a fighter a more well-rounded and much more dangerous opponent to face in combat. In the early 1500’s the Italian solider-priest Celio Calacagnini listed Wrestling as an exercise required for preparing noble and wealthy youths for military service.

The historic record is full of quotes confirming the importance of hand-to-hand combat in regards to fighting techniques.

” it is of the highest importance to know how to wrestle, since this often accompanies combat on foot.”

Baldassare Castiglione, courtier, 1528

“There be divers maners of wrastlinges” … “undoubtedly it shall be founde profitable in warres, in case that a capitayne shall be constrayned to cope with his aduersary hande to hande, hauyng his weapon broken or loste. Also it hath ben sene that the waiker persone, by the sleight of wrastlyng, hath ouerthrowen the strenger, almost or he coulde fasten on the other any violent stroke.”

Sir Thomas Elyot, English scholar & diplomat, 1531

(There be diverse manners [methods] of wrestling” … “undoubtedly it shall be found profitable in wars, in case that a captain shall be constrained to cope with his adversary hand-to-hand, having broken or lost his weapon. Also it has been seen that the weaker person, by the sleight [skill] of wrestling, has overthrown the stronger, almost or he could fasten on the other any violent stroke.”)

“our very exercises and recreations, running, Wrestling … and fencing”.

Michel de Montaigne, philosopher, essayist, & courtier, 1575

“Fencing is a worthy, manly, and most noble Gymnastic art, established by principles of nature … which serves both gladiator and soldier, indeed everyone, in … battles, and single-combats, with every hand-to-hand weapon, and also Wrestling, for strongly defending, and achieving victory over.”

Heinrich Von Gunterrodt, 1579

In the notorious duel between the nobles Jarnac and Chastaignerai (1547), Jarnac was so concerned at Chastaignerai’s well known skill as a Wrestler (not to mention fencing) that to avoid the chance of a close struggle, he insisted both parties each wear two daggers. Of a judicial combat between one D’aguerre and Fendilles,

“D’aguerre let fall his sword, and being an expert wrestler (for be it understood that no one in those days was considered a complete man-at-arms unless he was proficient in the Wrestling art), threw his enemy [Over-bearing], held him down, and, having disarmed him of his morion [helm], dealt him many severe blows on the head and face with it …”

1549, Vulson de la Colombière

Ritterakedemie or “Knight’s Academy” was set up in 1589 at Tübingen, Germany, to instruct aristocratic youths in skills which included Wrestling, fencing, riding, dancing, tennis, and firearms. The techniques Joachim Meyer offered in his compendium based on the teachings of the Liechtenauer tradition of the 1300’s contained significant elements of Grappling and Wrestling along with swords in his Fechtbuch (1570) and the French general Francois de la Noue supported Wrestling in the curriculum of military academies (1580’s).

Brantome, a famed chronicler of duels, reported that Wrestling was highly regarded at the French court.

He related a judicial duel in the mid-1500’s wherein the Baron de Gueerres fought one Fendilles. Having received a terrible thrust in the thigh, the Baron availed himself of his Wrestling skills and “closed with his antagonist and bore him to the ground (Over-bearing); and there the two lay and struggled”.

He also recorded a sword & dagger duel between the Spanish Captain Alonso de Sotomayor and the knight Bayard. After some fighting Sotomayor missed a thrust to which Bayard responded by deeply piercing his throat that he could not withdraw his weapon. Even pierced in the throat as he was, Sotomayor was still able to Grapple with Bayard so that both fell (Over-bearing), where Bayard then managed to again stab Sotomayor, this time in the face with his dagger.

At the turn of the 1600’s in France, the celebrated rapier duelists Lagarde Vallon and Bazanez fought the renowned “duel of the hat” in which after being pierced by several thrusts from Lagarde, Bazanez knocked him to the ground (Over-bearing) and fell upon him, stabbing him 14 times, during which time Lagarde fractured Bazanez’s head with the pommel of his sword and took a chunk out of the man’s chin by biting him.

The Englishman Richard Peeke fought with a Spaniard named Tiago in a rapier duel at Cadiz (1625), defeating the man by sweeping his legs out from under him after first trapping (Binding) his blade with his hilt. 

Lelio de Tedeschi, a fighting master of Bologna, even produced a manual on the art of disarming a foe (1603).

In Montreal, Canada, an affray took place between Lieutenant de Carion and Ensign de Lormeau (1671). While walking home with his wife, de Lormeau was confronted by de Carion who was backed by two friends. Provoked into fighting by de Carion, both men drew swords and exchanged blows. De Lormeau was wounded 3 times, including wounds to the head and arm. Both wrestled briefly before de Carion struck de Lormeau repeatedly on the head with his pommel. They were then separated by some 5 passing onlookers and both combatants survived

Paris de Puteo (1470’s) noted that in a formal duel if a sword was broken he might properly continue fighting by twisting his opponent’s arm, or biting him, or the like. By 1553, however, the Venetian Antonio Possevino stated that to purposely discard a serviceable weapon in favor of fist fighting or to engage in Wrestling, kicking, biting, or the like, was dishonorable because the contest should be a test of skill, of strength not of the body. Such actions were deemed appropriate for dueling gentry only if resorted to within the course of an armed struggle, in other words, it was allowable only so long as they were still armed.

In a formal duel sanctioned by the Grand Duke Alphonso in Ferrara, Italy, where the challenged party attempted to wear armor with sharp projections at places where an adversary would typically try to take hold, in an obvious attempt to prevent Grappling. The Duke objected that such was not the proper manner of armor worn by knights in war and summoned a smith to file down the offending points.

George Silver advocated “gryps and seizures” (Grappling) in swordplay (1599). His work describes situations quite familiar and reasonable to practitioiners of modern rapier fencing with more inclusive guidelines for intentional close-contact. In fact, the rapier’s excessive length actually allows for close-in fighting without much fear because there is little threat to prevent it once the point is displaced, according to Silver. Due to its length, once the opponent has stepped within its reach it cannot be brought to bear again without withdrawing to reestablish the distance between combatants, or throwing the opponent back to achieve that space.

He described what typically happened when the fighters both rush together,

“When two valiant men of skill at single rapier do fight, one or both of them most commonly standing upon their strength or skill in Wrestling, will presently seek to run into the close … But happening both of one mind, they rather do bring themselves together. That being done, no skill with rapiers avail, they presently grapple fast their hilts, their wrists, arms, bodies or necks, as in … Wrestling, or striving together, they may best find for their advantages. Whereby it most commonly false out, that he that is the best wrestler, or strongest man (if neither of them can wrestle) overcomes, Wrestling by strength, or fine skill in Wrestling, the rapier from his adversary, or casting him from him, wither to the ground, or to such distance, that he may by reason thereof, use the edge or point of his rapier, to strike or thrust him, leaving him dead or alive at his mercy.”

In section 34, “Of the long single rapier, or rapier and poniard fight between two unskillful men being valiant”, Silver contrasts the content of section 31,

“When two unskillful men (being valiant) shall fight with long single rapiers, there is less danger in that kind of fight, by reason of their distance in convenient length, weight, and unwieldiness, than is with short rapiers, whereby it comes to pass, that what hurt shall happen to be done, if any, with the edge or point of their rapiers is done in a moment, and presently will grapple and wrestle together, wherein most commonly the strongest or best wrestler overcomes, and the like fight falls out between them, at the long rapier and poniard, but much more deadly, because instead of close and wresting, they fall most commonly to stabbing with their poniards.”

George Silver also wrote of an “Austin Bagger, a very tall gentleman of his hands, not standing much upon his skill” whom Silver describes as having with his sword and buckler fought the “Italian teacher of offense”, Signior Rocco, with his two-handed sword. Silver relates how Bagger “presently closed with him, and struck up his heels, and cut him over the breech, and trod upon him, and most grievously hurt him under his feet.”  Which can translates to mean that he charged forward, swept the man’s legs out from under him, slashed his rear, and then stomped on him a few times while he was down. Hardly sporting, hence the fall in popularity of such tactics among those of gentle blood, but highly effective, nonetheless.

Philosopher John Locke wrote that an unskilled fencer who was skilled in Wrestling has the “odds against a moderate fencer” (l. 1600’s).

In step with the rest of the fathers of that time, Locke believed that a man must prepare his son for duels,

“I had much rather mine should be a good wrestler than an ordinary fencer; which the most any gentleman can attain to in it, unless he is constantly in the fencing school, and every day exercising.”

The master Salvatore Fabris in 1606 depicted a range of close-in and off-hand actions even showing a closing to take down the opponent by grabbing him around the waist.

In 1772, a duel between Richard Sheridan and Captain Mathews, after missing with pistols, they closed with small-swords, which were each broken on the first lunge. “They then fought with the broken parts until each received many wounds, Sheridan some very dangerous ones.  They at last fell to the ground and fought until separated by their seconds, Mr. Sheridan being borne from the field with a portion of his antagonist’s weapon sticking through an ear, his breast-bone touched, his whole body covered with wounds and blood, and his face nearly beaten to a jelly with the hilt of Matthews’ sword.”

To Strike with the hilt and especially the pommel of the sword is a very common and effective tactic. Despite the fact that it is a part of a formal weapon, it is not the use for which the weapon or that particular part of it was designed to be used, and so it must fall under the character’s Brawling skill.

In manuscripts of the early 1600’s, the illustrations of rapier use in the treatises by Pedro de Heredia, a cavalry captain serving the King of Spain and a member of His Majesty’s war council, include depictions of several effective close-in actions that hark back to similar techniques of Marozzo and Fiore Dei Liberi (1410) almost 200 years earlier.

Given the range of techniques and actions in the historical accounts, a pattern to the use of those techniques is discernable :

In a 1613 rapier duel between Sir John Heidon, the Earl of Dorset, and Lord Bruce, Heidon not only put his opponent on the ground, but jumped him afterward. Heidon wrote,

“And there we wrestled for the two greatest and dearest prizes we could ever expect trial for – life and honor. Myself being wounded … I struck … passed through his body, and drawing back my sword, repassed through again … I easily became master of him, laying him on his back, when, being upon him … I could not find in my heart to offer him any more violence, only keeping him down”.

The foe having been mastered on the ground, the decision must be made whether to put an end to one’s foe or not. The point of the weapon and the fray in the first place is to master the foe in whatever manner isst preserve one’s own life. Once life has been preserved, it is time for the character to give a moment’s thought to the Virtues … and the Vices. A character’s actions under circumstances such as these are the ones that define the quality of his character.

In single combat during the English Civil Wars, Scotsman Sir Ewen Lochiel (chief of the clan Cameron), fought a valiant English officer after several moments and exchange of blows, Lochiel finally disarmed his antagonist and they wrestled until they fell to the ground Grappling. The Englishman gained the advantage but Lochiel managed to get his hands free, grabbed his foes collar and “fastening his teeth upon his throat, brought away a mouthful of flesh, which, he said, was ‘the sweetest bite he ever had in his life.’”

There is little question that a swordsman in the period of the game and even much later had to be fully trained and skillful, not just for facing gentlemen formally, il duello, but for a fight a’ la machia or duel a’ la mazza (in essence a private less formal clash out in the woods by either noble or commoner). He also had to be ready to defend himself against any unexpected onslaught, sudden ambush, or assault by strangers. He had to draw his weapon, size up the situation, face multiple attackers and survive or provide himself an opportunity to safely flee. In other words, he had to be able to fight those who were NOT playing by “the rules”. A great many did not. There are numerous accounts of gentlemen in the heat of anger vengefully surprising their rivals.

Affairs of honor in which the adversary stood proud and politely announced, “En garde, sirrah!” was the exception NOT the rule. There were certainly customary protocols to virtually every aspect of medieval (and Renaissance) society, and courtesy as an aspect of chivalry was a large part of the martial sport of knightly tournaments as well as the ritual combat of judicial duels. But personal armed combat in these periods were a violent, brutal, and bloody affair with little room for niceties and artificial etiquette. While social norms have always influenced ritual elements of close combat among different social classes, such as within duels, the chivalric literature of the period largely reflected an idealized manner of courteous combat that generally took place between noble social equals which was utterly contradicted by the harsh reality of the demands for survival in the violence of combat.

Fencing masters and authors on combat teachings or dueling codes made clear that a fighting man was free to use whatever worked within individual combat. The historical record of battlefield fighting, judicial combats, street-fights, ambushes, sudden assaults, and duels firmly establishes this. While episodes of noticeable mercy, compassion, and fair-play are known, so too are ones of unscrupulous deceit, duplicity, and underhanded tactics.

The German master of arms Johan Georg Pascha revealed an extraordinary range of unarmed techniques (which have been said to resemble styles of Chinese wing chung kung fu) in his 1657 work on rapiers, weapons, and unarmed combat. Pascha was also a rapier master, but there is no doubt he utilized these unarmed techniques in his fencing method.

A fighter always uses all of his resources, whatever he knows.

Seizures or binding, disarms, close-in grabs, and left-hand parries are always tricky, and always require practice in all types of weaponplay, not just fencing. These are advanced techniques and even for accomplished combatants may not always work perfectly – what technique does? If the circumstances are correct and they fail, it is the fighter who is at fault, not the technique. He needs more practice.

In the period of the game, if a fighter can kill or defeat his adversary by skill with his blade alone, he surely will. That is the point of having the weapon in hand, after all. But, if opportunity presents itself and circumstances demand it, he will utilize every option in his repertoire to achieve victory. In addition, having knowledge of Grappling, Wrestling and Brawling will make it that much harder for those types of techniques and maneuvers to be successfully used against him.

Against a lighter, shorter weapon, these actions are harder to use, but that only means that the character must be careful in the attempt. Referring to French military duels with “skewers” (epees) of the 1880’s, one author related “If it were not for the prospect of that pointed rapier before them these soldiers might sometimes kick and maul each other to death.”

Brawler/Grappler/Wrestler will give the character another avenue of approach for providing Block and Parry defenses in regards to the use of any unorthodox objects available, and the Grappler/Wrestler aspect will provide a whole set of other tactics to be considered.

The players are encouraged to take what ideas they can find under this heading and allow them to fire their imaginations for similar or even new ways to utilize the opportunities they will find in the battles and especially the resources in the settings in which they will take place and take the best advantage they can from their Brawling, Grappling & Wrestling skills. This text should give the players and GM alike a little more insight and inspiration in using the information presented in Chapter 4. Tactical Play & Combat in Part III. The Rules of the Game, under the headings “Brawling” and “Move-By’s”.

The AV’s for Brawling, Grappling, and Wrestling are all based on the same SL, while the att. mod’s for the various sorts of attacks which may be made through this skill are generally based on some combination or STR, AGL, and STA, or one of those individually, depending on the specific action attempted (GM’s discretion) and is discussed in some detail in “Tactical Play & Armed Combat.”

The bold-faced text in the quotes above has been added by the author for emphasis, and is not original to the quotes in which it occurs.


GM’s Notes

Because this activity is open to all characters, regardless of whether they have this skill or not, the notes regarding the specific activities covered by it, all the various aspects and uses of Brawling, Grappling, and Wrestling are discussed in Chapter 4. of Part III. under the sub-head “Brawling” and “Move-By’s” with the balance of the player’s copy regarding those activities, which would otherwise have been included in the skill description above.

While this skill is listed along with the Trade skills, any character should be able to engage in the sort of scrap that the skill encompasses. The Warrior trades and those associated with them are simply better trained and prepared for that sort of combat. Brawling is simply provided as a means to express a character’s experience and skill in hand-to-hand combat. It is not as exclusive as are the rest of the Trade skills. A discussion of the nature of Open Skills and their place in the game system can be found under its own heading.


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