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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Catapults and Crossbows

Another thing I'm thinking about for catapults: giving a "to hit" bonus equal to the dice of damage. A small catapult (2 dice damage) would have a +2 to hit, a large one would have a +3. Furthermore, I might give a +1 to crossbows as well. Why? A couple reasons:
  • The heavy crossbow is the only "slow" personal weapon, firing every other round. In no-supplement OD&D, there's thus no benefit to getting a heavy crossbow; the +1 bonus is at least something.
  • They're all machines, eliminating one variable in the use of the weapon. A +1 per die of damage is a tiny acknowledgment of the technological improvement.

Most other people creating house rules or mods prefer to increase damage to reflect better technology. This doesn't fit with my personal aesthetic, however; to me, the 1d6 damage roll represents how lucky a potentially killing blow is, compared to the average human warrior, just as the 1d6 hit die for a human warrior represents how lucky the warrior is against the average potentially lethal blow. The bonus to hit for catapults may not be that big a deal, although it helps o-level catapult crews be more useful. For hand-held crossbows, though, they represent the fact that a killing machine is going to be a little more likely to kill people than melee weapons, because it was deliberately made to be more lethal.

It's going to matter a lot more for games where I use guns. Because yeah, pistols and rifles are only going to do 1d6 damage (the horror!) What distinguishes them from other weapons is the increased likelihood of doing that damage, plus maybe a few other special characteristics, like piercing armor.


  1. The really heavy bolt throwers will be hard to track with if the target is moving fast, or is close.

  2. That's more a matter of re-set times for large machines, though. What I'm thinking of here is the variability of force in things like bows (archer pulls back a smidgen too much) versus machines applying a consistent force every time. There are still variables involved (misjudging distances, effects of wind, timing of shot,) but the bolt thrower will have just a tad better chance to hit on that first attack, and subsequent attacks if aiming at a stationary point.

  3. I should think so.

    But if the target is moving, then it ought to be much harder. Almost like you need a minimun range vs moving target.

  4. I think all you need to do rules-wise is emphasize that you are creating a "kill zone" with large killing machines, rather than tracking a moving target. It doesn't matter whether a target is moving within the kill zone, only that it *is* in the kill zone. The attack roll becomes more of a saving throw, then.

    Someone crossing a kill zone at max speed should have a reduced chance of being hit, maybe the same bonus as a shield if Move/3 > width of zone, or double if it's more than twice the width. But perhaps that's more math than is good for something meant to be quick and easy.

  5. Crossbows are interesting weapons. They take a bit of getting used to, but you can definitely adopt the idea of a volley to create a serious killzone such as you describe. Even a single crossbow can seriously threaten anyone facing it within a restricted area. The more powerful steel arbalests were especially nasty--using sheer brute force to drive a bolt right into a target in a very wince-inducing impact, just to observe it.
    Have you considered multiple-bow contraptions? Someone will attempt it, probably a PC...

  6. @Netherworks: The kill zone part of my response is aimed (hah!) at zornhau, who is talking about siege weapons that work basically like a crossbow. The main post is about *any* mechanical weapon, including personal crossbows; I think I'd like to give them the mechanical bonus, but they'd still otherwise be ordinary missile weapons, no kill zone.

    I hadn't been thinking about PCs strapping together multiple crossbows for a "sub-siege" level anti-personnel device (a polybolos?), but I'd probably just use the same bonus I mentioned for guns with a high rate of fire: the more bolts a mechanized crossbow contraption can fire simultaneously, the higher the bonus, up to the point where it's easier to just call it small siege weapon and give it an area of effect.

  7. Multiple crossbows used in a volley, as longbows are used, only with a much flatter trajectory. Volleys are devastating. It only gets more horrific once you introduce gun powder...