... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crossbows... Shall Be Fired!

I’ll have more to say on the topic of random dungeon generation, but I thought I’d make a brief aside about crossbows. There’s an RPGNet forum thread about problems with the crossbow rules in D&D. I’m not going to get too far into it, but I’ll certainly note that crossbows ought to be more used, for the simple reason that, historically, it took less effort to train soldiers to use crossbows than to train someone practically from birth to be an archer.

But every scheme I’ve seen to make crossbows more attractive focusses on the numbers. Give ‘em a +2 for this, or more damage for that. That way leads to a focus on the system, an attitude I’ve ranted about before. If only there were a rule that was more like Shields Shall Be Splintered, which encourages shields to be more important without mucking around with numbers at all.

How about this:

Anyone can fire a crossbow at short range with no penalty, regardless of training.

Short and sweet. At longer ranges, crossbowmen need practice, because there’s more involved than “point and shoot”. But in the dungeon? Get extra crossbows for your hirelings, and for the M-U. Everyone can be useful.
Written with StackEdit.


  1. I've become a fan of damage die type by class and weapon size. On my table, crossbows do 1d8 damage for all classes. That makes it the highest damage output weapon for magic-users and thieves. It's a good trade-off for the slow rate-of-fire.

    1. That's exactly the kind of number fiddling I'm complaining about. I don't want players making decisions based on system strategy. I don't want them thinking "which weapon has a higher DPR?"

    2. Your suggestion (if I'm understanding correctly) is that normally you don't give attack bonuses based on level to non-fighters, but you'll allow their level bonus for crossbows at short range.

      This is essentially a +X to attack.

      A +X to attack is a small increase in DPR.

      So your suggestion is also a "number fiddle", just a less clear one than changing the damage die. And your explicit purpose of this number fiddle is to get people to use crossbows more...

      So it seems a little strange to me that you say you don't want players making decisions based on system strategy when you're incentivizing a weapon choice by upping its DPR. The only way to avoid players making choices that take into account the system is to not let the players know the system.

    3. Charles: You are only looking at the effect's equivalent.

      I am looking at what the player uses to make a decision.

      If you tell a player "At my table, you can use a crossbow even if you aren't trained," the player makes a decision on whether to buy a crossbow based on game world factors.

      If I tell a player "You get a +2 when using a crossbow", the player makes a decision based on the system. Doesn't matter if the math behind the scenes is essentially the same; they are thinking about numbers, when I want them thinking about "do I want to be Merlin the Crossbow-Wielding Magician?"

  2. This is very similar to what I am using in my "weapon training" OD&D hack (for context, using a weapon without training imposes a -4 penalty to the attack roll, and all weapons do 1d6 damage).


    There are no penalties for using a crossbow without training. There are also no benefits gained from training or mastery. Given this ease of use, the crossbow is a weapon for the masses, and is renowned for its value against heavily armored troops. As such, crossbows are often controlled munitions, and will usually be forbidden to all other than those in official uniforms.

    +2 vs. armor, +4 vs. heavy armor, requires a round to reload

    In the little bit of play these rules have seen, I liked them a lot.

    1. As you well know, however, I have a big aversion to specific bonus numbers like +2 and +4, or penalties like -4, so I've been weeding them out.

      My rule for untrained weapons is that Clerics, Thieves, and M-Us use untrained weapons at 0 Level, regardless of actual level. I haven't entirely settled on armor effects, but I might go with "Heavy weapons like the Heavy Crossbow shift armor down one step."

    2. In this case, +2 and +4 are just restatements of shifting armor down one or two steps, respectively. I agree with you in the larger sense, but I don't see any issues with operationalizing advantages using a specific bonus number. (Also I prefer ascending AC and no lookup tables, so that could be part of it.)

      What is the numerical difference between attacking as a zero level character and, say, a first level fighter in the way you run? I don't think that shows up in Men & Magic.

    3. Side note: it might be more elegant to restate the -4 as worst of two attack rolls and the bonus against armor as best of two attack rolls (like 5E advantage and disadvantage).

    4. Yeah, I've been getting sick of fiddly, specific numbers as well. I was thinking of just saying you don't get your usual attack bonus when using weapons you're not proficient in, though that seems a little small for low-level M-Us and such, so I've been thinking about boosting attack bonuses and ACs a few points. This would make using outside material slightly harder to use, but the conversion's pretty simple, and I'd have to mess with things anyways considering some of the other changes I'm making (like no DEX bonus to AC, even for fighting-men)

    5. Brendan: At the moment, "zero-level" for me means no bonus from hit dice at all, since I use a modified Target 20 (d20 + AC + HD => 20.) However, I might just make it equal to 1st level, in which casse the only difference between trained and untrained is that trained people get better as their hit dice increase, and maybe no special features like "Swords Shall Be Splintered".

  3. It seems that you don't give attack bonuses to non-fighters for "untrained weapons", but the default assumption is that everyone already can use a crossbow without penalty...

    And you only need extensive training to use a longbow, as they had incredibly high draw weights (>100lbs). You could take someone who's never held a bow and, in a week of training, get them useful with a lighter bow (50-75lbs). It just wouldn't have the 200-400 yard range of a longbow, but that's fine, since you can't possibly hit a man-sized target at 200 yards with a bow anyway.