If I want to play a grappler, I'm going to take Explorer 1.
....aaaand there's my problem, in a nutshell. Has anyone ever seen an Explorer who didn't completely ignore Athletics lose a grapple? Ever? Immediate violation of Point 1 (Is it interesting/fun?), do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
Yes I have as it happens. While the ability stacks things in your favour, all it does is guarantee that you're not going to completely suck by giving you a minimum, not that you're going to insta win. The most common scenario -- because, seriously, how many people actually stick to a base class and don't either multiclass into another or an Exc -- is that over the life of the character your non-error minimum will remain static at somewhere between 21 and 24.
I would expect a GC to allow a pro-grapple character to grapple to their heart's content, in the knowledge that all you need to do to stop them in their tracks is to spend 2 XP to drop Tomb Raider on an NPC.
While I like the idea of a level of general competency -- and as such, would hate to see grappling treated as a proficiency which would only make it harder to access under the current construction of the rules1 -- people have made the conscious decision to make and play characters who aren't physical powerhouses in order to be good at something else, so they have zero right to complain when they come up against other characters capable of exploiting those deficiencies. Nerds tend to get seriously pwned by jocks. If you want to fight back, you need to make the choice -- yay origin skills -- to undertake the specific training to do so.
I will never ding someone for specialization.
Who's dinging? It's a direct consequence of a player's choice, not a punishment, and looking at it any other way strikes me as folly. The whole point of being strong in one area is that you're correspondingly weak in others. It's why you have a team that comes together to be stronger than its individual members.
If there are no consequences for our choices, why make them in the first place.
But we don't have a system right now that rewards specialization equally - I have never seen another character talked to death (like shooting themselves or walking off a cliff), but I sure as hell have seen characters grappled to death...or to the point where it was a blanket party for the rest of the party. Bo-ring.
Part of the problem is that there's something of a schizophrenic approach to design where you have some options that specifically differentiate between PCs and NPCs/mundanes and specials, and others where the attitude is "you can't do that, because it means you can do it the PCs". Why? Main characters live in grossly unbalanced worlds all the time where things that harm ordinary folk have little if any affect on them.
So maybe you can't directly talk someone to death. You sure as hell can talk them out of killing you, or talk someone else into killing the person for you. Being able to wrestle a bear means nothing if the nuclear warhead isn't disarmed or the spell to cast the demon king back into the abyss isn't performed.
And good luck trying feint or distract or what have you in a fight if you don't have any points in the right skills.
So the question is whether to reduce the stakes of a grapple (no more auto-lose/auto-die) while compensating by making them more interesting, or to make competence for everyone more accessible (This, by the way, precludes making a Wrestling proficiency make you better, as that just amplifies the one-sidedness problem). Lowering the stakes IMO accomplishes more - grappling is less of a default go-to action for the Athletic character, and those 98 lb weaklings needn't quake in fear if they have no ranks in Athletics, but it does give the Athletic character more options and opportunities than the weakling...seems to be a fair trade. So long as Grappling remains useful and rewarding for those who specialize in it, I bet we're good.
Ugh, this again. People keep trying to make grappling sound like a universal cureall and it isn't. It's an brilliantly useful strategy against a single opponent you want to stop from doing something (or want to beat goblin to death with another goblin). But if that person has friends, going into a grapple is just begging those friends to do horrible painful brutal things to you unless you have friends of your own. Which as it happens being in a party means you generally do.
And again, you can't be coup de graced while pinned; that action specifically requires you to be helpless. While it makes it easier for them, an enemy still has to grind you down to 0.
It's not the fault of the rules that this kryptonite exists, it's the fault of the GC who chooses to use it to fatally gimp you. Which most generally won't.
As an aside, I find it funny to hear you make that argument in this thread, considering your stance in other threads on self-imposed GC managment
Not really: I like to turn complexity on rather than off (auto regenerating pools is totally a non-complex alternative to actively demonstrating you should be given them).
And maybe I'm crazy in that from a gamist perspective I expect that the GC and players should have the same victory condition: the PCs win.