"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mistaken Synchronicity of Basic's Missile Weapons

I like to believe that the Moldvay, Cook and Marsh version of D&D is near perfect and everything in it was very carefully considered and forms a utopian synergistic whole. I also know that all it takes is to look for the description of the Detect Invisibility spell to blow that belief out of the water but let me dream.

Looking at the Missile Fire Ranges and Variable Weapon Damage tables in the Basic rulebook there are four missile weapons (not including thrown weapons):

Crossbow* Short 5-80, Medium 81-160, Long 161-240, Damage 1-6
Longbow Short 5-70, Medium 71-140, Long 141-210, Damage 1-6
Shortbow Short 5-50, Medium 51-100, Long 101-150, Damage 1-6
Slings Short 5-40, Medium 41-80, Long 81-140, Damage 1-4

* Two-handed weapon - always looses initiative.

Even though longbows and shortbows are not marked as two-handed weapons they obviously are. However, I like to think that this isn't a mistake or typo. I like to think this is a deliberate design choice to differentiate longbows and shortbows and allow them to follow the normal initiative rules.

This gives four distinct missile weapons:
1. Crossbows have the longest range, can be used by anyone except clerics but always loses initiative;
2. Longbows are in the middle for range, follow the normal initiative rules but can't be used by dwarves, halflings, clerics or magic-users;
3. Shortbows have only a slightly longer range than slings, follow the normal initiative rules and can be used by anyone except clerics and magic-users.
4. Slings have the shortest range, low damage and can be used by clerics.

Of course, then the Expert rulebook throws out this idealized belief of mine when it says that crossbows can only fire once every other round.

Oh well, I can ignore that if I have to.


  1. And the fact that Longbows have historically exhibited better range than crossbows (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_longbow#Range)

  2. Most modern longbows only have a 60 lb pull, while the ones used at the Battle of Agincourt had between 100 and 185 lb pull. Very few people are skilled enough with a bow and strong enough to manage something like that today with any accuracy.

    If you want a character with an Agincourt style longbow I think that would be a factor of:
    * High Strength
    * Class (Fighter? Or possibly "Archer" class)
    * "Race" (Human region or demi-human with Longbow as a cultural tradition)

    For the vast majority of people the Crossbow will give you much longer range and power.

  3. Detect Invisible? What's wrong with Detect Invisible?

    *flips to chapter 3*

    hmm,... Detect Invisible... Detect Invisible... Detect Invisible...


    (Odd I've never noticed that in nearly 30 years)

  4. Isn't the problem with crossbows at long range that elevating the crossbow blocks your line of sight to the target?

  5. I saw a documentary that suggested for a crossbow and a bow of equal pull, the crossbow fires at the same speed. But that the average archer can fire a crossbow that has a much stronger pull. And that a weapon with a stronger pull fires slower overall than an easier one.

    A heavy-pull bow and a belly-pulled crossbow should have equal damage and ROF.

    A very heavy-pull bow and a step-pulled crossbow should have equal damage and range, but lower ROF on the crossbow. However, anyone could use the crossbow while only very strong archers could use the bow. I'd put the step-pulled crossbow at 3/4 ROF (1 shot , 1 shot, 1 shot, then a reload round) unless the crossbowman is strong, in which case he could pull the crossbow like a belly-version and fire regularly.

    But the pull required for a cranked crossbow would be well beyond the capacity of a bow archer, and the crank-pulled crossbow would have higher damage and range, and half the ROF of a bow (1 shot, then a reload round, then 1 shot, etc). Nobody could achieve faster rates of fire unless of giant-strength.

    Of course, that's not what I really do. I just have crossbow and bow and sling, everyone does 1d6.

  6. like your new banner . . .

    The heavier bolt of a crossbow has superior penetration (more damage?). Although a crossbow has a slower rate of fire than a bow, it requires less training to develop proficiency.

    The longbow has superior range; however, it requires years of training to use skillfully (‘on mark’). The longbow’s body is shaped from a single piece of rare and highly-prized yew wood. The bow string is woven from flax or hemp.

    Hence, in the Middle Ages, mercenaries equipped with crossbows, padded armor, and bulky tower shields are common place while longbow men are rare and expensive.

  7. I've settled the crossbow vs longbow issue using a simple metric. Crossbows are wicked awesome, bows esp longbows are pansy elf weapons. Therefor xbow better than plain bow in every way. :)

  8. I've never used the rule that heavy crossbows can only fire every other round. It's just a fancy way of making sure nobody ever uses the things.

    I've also never applied the two-handed weapon initiative loss rule to any missile weapon.