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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Swords and Arrows

Another issue that occasionally comes up when people discuss ranged weapons is the difference between rolling to hit with a bow versus rolling to hit with a mêlée weapon like a sword. The attack roll in OD&D, as most of you already know, does not represent a single swing-and-miss with a weapon; it represents the chance that one or more of many attacks during a one-minute round turned out to be a deadly blow. However (the complaint goes,) this creates a disconnect between mêlée weapons and ranged weapons, since each attack with a bow, crossbow, sling, or any other weapon that uses ammo uses up one arrow, quarrel, slug, or bullet.

Thus, many people switch to short rounds of six-seconds each, and thus get bogged down in converting the original abstract combat to a more detailed blow-by-blow system. And, since no one can agree on what the details of detailed combat actually *are*, we pretty much get one combat system per GM.

But there's another option: keep the one-minute rounds and treat ranged weapons as one roll for multiple attacks, same as for mêlée weapons. At the end of the combat, roll 1d6 per volley to determine how many arrows were used. This has the bonus effect of making ammo a more important resource, and bundling all the bookkeeping together at the end of the combat. Seriously, how many players have ever run out of arrows under the "one arrow per attack roll" system? This way, they'll scramble to retrieve more arrows and weigh the benefits and costs of bring more arrows to begin with.

If you feel 1d6 per volley is too much, you could change it to two volleys. On the average, each archer will only lose about three arrows per combat.


  1. I have a somewhat similar system that I like:


    It hasn't really caught on with my players though, who seem to naturally fall back on counting ammunition.

  2. Seriously, how many players have ever run out of arrows under the "one arrow per attack roll" system?
    My players and I all the time. We are constantly having to scrounge ammunition of monsters and have hired henchmen specifically to carry extra ammunition in order to stave off the eventual empty quiver.

    Another option is implied by Holmes, which differentiates missile combat from melee combat. It is possible to interpret that missile combat stops once melee is engaged. Thus, using this interpretation, missile combat can represent individual shots while melee represents abstract chance to land a damaging blow.

  3. Wanna see how many arrows a D&D character would use in a 1-minute combat round?


    1. Yeah, if a D&D character were to fire arrows at a stationary target to unwind while the rest of the party was sleeping, it would be easy to empty an entire quiver in one minute. When you've got multiple targets, have to choose one, and decide on the best time to shoot, that's another matter.

      It does give me confidence that the 1d6 arrows per round is a reasonable house rule, though.

    2. See this:

      Test starts at 2:20, target shown at 3:20.

      He shoots 10 arrows in 51 seconds, so he could reasonably shoot 12 in one minute. As the target shows, he achieves a very tight grouping despite shooting very quickly.

      Just a thought.

  4. Don't most bows have à rate of fire of 2 or 3 shots by round?

    1. Only in AD&D, and if those rates are used some weapons are extremely overpowered and others are useless.

    2. They sort of get two shots per round in OD&D, depending on whether the GM is incorporating some ideas from Chainmail. If a bowman doesn't move, there are two shots, one at the beginning of the round, the other at the end.

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  6. I usually try to treat ranged combat thusly: if a ranged attack hits but does not reduce the target's HP to zero or less, I usually either depict the successful attack as "the arrow lodges in your shoulder" or even "the arrow narrowly misses you, but as you try to avoid it you stumble hard into a nearby column, and the collision leaves you shaken." So the result/"flavor" of the attack comes from me, to make it more than the "math" of reducing hit points. Of course, if the attack leaves the target at zero or less HP, then the arrow hit a vital area...