Conversely, Grappling has one truly cool trick, and it takes so long to get off the ground that it's simply not worth doing - and it's not even that bad (hitting one guy with another - plenty of feat chains give AoE effects to weapons) balance wise.
See, this isn't an argument to change grappling. It's an argument to put screaming club somewhere else.
have just "one truly cool trick." That's the problem. It has one trick that folks think is sexy on top of a GAME-BREAKING, FIGHT-ENDING BASELINE EFFECT
. It's the baseline effect you have to design for - the rest just isn't as important.
Where is the cool stuff - like broken bones, choking people out, and small joint manipulation? It's not even hard to write balanced options for these things, either - broken bones is a trick that forces a fort save vs broken limb critical injury, Choking out just has "inflict subdual damage, if the save is failed they fail two" small joint manipulation gives an attack penalty - these things exist in similar form elsewhere, so it's not even a huge leap.
We could include all of this and it wouldn't matter because grapples simply cannot be as easy as attacks, or even close to as easy - because the baseline result - ignoring any trick you can imagine - ends fights and lives. Ends
them, full stop. It borders on godly powerful unless it's very, very
I disagree here - Gracie was a true master of the art. And not even that well rounded - so a master of a single focused thing. He should win at it.
Even if that means that he can win any fight - entirely, and without rebuttal - with the same number of rolls it takes an opponent to inflict, say, 6 points of damage? End that fight. Entirely? To the point where he can choose to kill his opponent at whim? That's balanced?
Just like the guy with Knife B/M/S, TWF and Ambush should totally tear an unaware opponent to shreds. He shouldn't be the baseline example of the action though (just as a guy with 8 feats dedicated to killing the unaware shouldn't be the basic example of a "Sneaky fighter"). The system can support both - that's what feats and class abilities are for. It's not like a guy with a knife is overpowered from the start - but 3 feats deep and there's plenty of people who think they might be (as evidenced by the concern of newer converts in some of the knife threads).
So you're suggesting that pins only be possible through feats and class abilities? Because the baseline pin is the problem. It's the death blow.
Let me ask a general question because I'm curious (and because I'm actually going somewhere with this, even if I can't tell you where that is - not for a while yet, anyway)...
For a second, imagine a system where the base grapple rules don't include the option to pin someone. It simply isn't possible. You can grab them and hold them for a time but there's zero chance to do so for more than a few seconds, and grabbing someone is mainly a gateway to a laundry list of cool effects you could apply. At the end of the day, however, pinning someone - or really, doing anything with grapple that prevents your opponent from acting freely on his initiative - is off the table without some incredibly difficult add-on process, above and beyond merely grabbing someone.
Pinning and denial are actually so much more difficult than baseline grabbing and its effects that you only consider the option when a) it's your character's schtick (i.e. you've invested heavily in it via class abilities, feats, and so on), and b) it's vital to the current situation.
In this alternate system, Pin might even be a separate action entirely, and again, far more of a gated property in the rules.
So... In theory and without hard mechanics to consider, would that be an acceptable approach?