In the basic rules for Exalted a successful clinch allows the attacker to do the all of following:

  • Squeeze the target for damage
  • Reduce the targets DV to zero
  • Changes the tick on which the target acts
  • Disallows other actions until the clinch is broken


  • Allows the attacker to throw the target

The rules have caused balance issues in the game I'm running, as it basically makes single antagonist fights trivial for the Circle. One player can simply grapple the enemy, using an excellency to hit, and then everyone else sucker-punches the clinched bad guy until he dies. While the visual is interesting, this tends to make for pretty dull combats.

I've considered a few potential fixes:

  1. Remove or reduce the DV penalty
  2. Disallow (or somehow increase difficulty) clinches on significantly larger targets
  3. Require some kind of opposed check after hitting before the attacker really gains control of the clinch
  4. Disallow clinches on armed targets

What have you done in your games to fix these rules and keep clinches useful, but not the sole focus of a fight?

  • \$\begingroup\$ A bunch of people ganging up on a single opponent manages to trivially beat them to a pulp? I'd expect that. Sounds like more big-A Antagonists need to recruit some underlings to watch their back. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18, 2011 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Come now, its a genre-classic to have the party going against something singularly powerful. Does Ligier really have to have a bunch of goons to put up a reasonable fight? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rain
    Apr 18, 2011 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm mostly being a smartass. To compensate, I did vote the question up at the time. :) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18, 2011 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Had the same problem with 7th Sea. Fortunately in that case banning grappling characters entirely was a lot more feasible. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Apr 18, 2011 at 18:48

4 Answers 4


Grappling is often a problem in games and there are some approaches which help to lessen the pain and increase player options, while not lessening the severity of the situation:

  • Carefully consider the effect of differing sizes and disallow the clinch if the variance is too great
  • Require specificity in description of character placement in order to control the number of additional assailants that can effectively launch attacks (typically 1 if the victim is fully immobilized)
  • Establish a rule that the prevention of actions is versus the clinching character only, and that attacks or weak defenses may be made versus other characters as allowed by the nature of the clinch (head/arms leaves legs free, legs/pelvis leaves arms free, etc)
  • Require intent when the clinch is attempted: does the player seek to immobilze, choke/crush, or throw? While systemically they are the same, narratively they are not. Consider having full immobilizations require something like going to the ground, have chokes/crushes be versus vital areas (leaving a limb or more free for some sort of desperate action versus another character, or to interact with the terrain), and perhaps require throws to be launched immediately or within a short span of time (for example).

Implementing controls like these on the arrangement of the scene will heighten opportunities for roleplay and intraparty interaction during the combat, reducing the issue of boredom, and will also provide for more cinematic options to enter scenes with clinches such as using the leverage of a chokehold to launch a double kick at another attacker, or grabbing on to a piece of scenery for dear life and inexorably dragging your choker into a position where you can break free.

As these will apply equally to your own players, there should be little to no objection, and you may find that the sudden ability to interject more detail will increase their enjoyment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To add a comment to an old post: Not sure I agree with disallowing clinch on large targets. The whole cannon on Solars is that they were able to wrestle behemoths and heckontire to the ground (I'll even make the argument that functionally eliminating their DV was one of the few ways they could defeat them). I, personally, like to allow excellencies to rolls to break grapples, and even perfects on a grapple. I think that is far LESS rule damaging than disallowing grapple. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beaker
    Jul 30, 2015 at 8:54

I'm going to have to go with not changing the clinch rules at all. Combat in Exalted is deadly. A lot of times I have seen characters die in one hit, because they used a charm and then couldn't use a perfect defense.

Now, there are a couple of things you can do to mitigate the problems you are having with a single opponent getting grappled and then killed. One of the solutions involves the hearthstone that makes you totally immune to grapples (It's called the Freedom Stone and is in the 1st book). Another is looking at what kind of DVs your bad guy has. Hero A still has to get over the DV in order to grab the baddie, and there are plenty of ways you can make that higher while the attack is going on (or use a perfect, which your Celestial level opponent should probably have).

For Dragon Blooded, remember that they have reflexive Excellencies, that do not count as a charm use, and they do actually have "perfects" but they're really weak (the Parry only works against non-charm supplemented attacks, the dodge is a bit better). They also have Anima effects that cause damage. A fun proposal would be a Fire-Aspect gets grappled, but he has a hearthstone which increases the damage of his anima effect by 4, and he already adds his essence into that, and suddenly he's doing 7L environmental damage that can only be soaked with Stamina...and someone is holding on to him! (Also fun is the Mask of Winters does 1L per tick to everything within 10 yards automatically and has a scene long perfect dodge. :D)

Some other things to remember with big bads that don't have perfects. Spirits have a really good extra action charm, that can generally be used to pummel a single opponent into the ground, which you could use on the martial artist. They can also dematerialize.

I'm rambling now, but I think the point is that there are many ways you can counter a grapple without cheeseballing things, you just have to get a little creative with it.

And finally, Exalted is an epic game. The players are epic and they fight epic things, so don't be afraid to give your baddies some nifty artifacts (Perfected Kata Bracers are super nice for Martial Artists, btw).


Four part statement

  1. Have clinches deny your dodge DV but keep your parry DV. This makes them useful still but doesn't utterly cripple the person within a grapple.

  2. In addition, give throw a damage and/or a stun effect- there's no reason to ever throw your opponent unless a cliff or pit of fire is mentioned which is why no one does.

  3. Environmental effects.

More important than this, however...

4. Exalted isn't really built for five on one combat.

Generally speaking in almost all systems 5 on 1 is going to amount to chunky salsa on the behalf of the 1 because generally speaking 5 anythings can usually do a fine job of beating up 1 anything. The only exception in Exalted are creatures that have perfect defenses that aren't charm uses - which include Deathlords, very high level Exalts, and the Incarnae. Single antagonist fights are significantly more trivial than all GMs expect for this reason; less so in D&D but really so in Exalted... well, WW in general.

The balance is supposed to be that your CLENCHER is also denied their DV and enemies 2 through infinity are going to end up attacking that clenching person because they're also penalized AND an ally/friend/lover/co-worker of theirs is getting attacked. So, I'd encourage you to seriously consider for whether or not one-on-five fights are necessary for dramatic tension and instead consider adding some back up.

Everything in Exalted understands how deadly a clench is; gods will dematerialize, creatures with a PD will almost always use their PD... but you're going to get into a situation with 5 on 1 wherein all people are doing is hitting it without charm use and waiting for someone to foolishly NOT use their PD and then gang-piling all their charm use. Even 2 on 5 frees up one NPC to guard and the other to fight or both to fight and break that wait for a lack of PD chain.


I don't have the mechanical knowledge to know how well your fixes might work, but I do know some of the reasons why clinches are supposed to be deadly and how beings in universe are supposed to avoid them.

First, Exalted is balanced around the concept that you either have a defense against something that stops it from doing anything, or you don't and you're screwed. (See some of the crazy things you can do with shaping attacks for evidence of this.) There is a hearthstone which completely negates clinches; I believe it's this one from the official Exalted wiki. At three dots, it would be reasonable to make a charm or artifact that duplicated its effects, particularly one the players would have difficulty getting or keeping for themselves.

Second, as I understand, it was a specific decision that clinches should be lethal. This was so that a group of martial artists are a threat to an early party, and because the action the clinch represents should screw somebody caught in it.

Hopefully, this is enough to try other things to see if you really need house rules.

EDIT: An example from the official forum about the sort of things I've been talking about is here.

EDIT 2: Also don't forget that stunting lets you violate the rules, and also that npcs can stunt. So, for instance, the giant tentacled behemoth can stunt that just because its clinched by the little man doesn't mean it can't still attack him with it's tentacles.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It always seemed a little implausible to me that many major antagonists would have artifacts that make them immune to clinches. Plus, my goal is to adjust it- I want them to be good, just not game breaking. Perfect defenses go a little ways towards solving that, but unfortunately it leaves non-dragon blooded NPCs with the option of only using perfect defense charms or with only using combos. On top of that many major antagonists (e.g. Behemoths, 3rd Circle Demons) don't have perfect defenses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rain
    Apr 19, 2011 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rain, in optimized exalted combat they should already be using perfects, and changing that behavior is complicated enough that no fix for it yet exists. \$\endgroup\$
    – sebsmith
    Apr 19, 2011 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ is right, Exalted, especially 2nd edition, is very much a perfect or die sort of game. \$\endgroup\$
    – mirv120
    Apr 23, 2011 at 5:03

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