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Cross about Crossbows [30 May 05] How to make the weapon better.

Well, sure, of course some weapons are better than others in Dungeons and Dragons. I would not say that every weapon should be an optimal choice. A dagger can't be the equal of a longsword, say, nor a javelin be the equal of a longbow.

But sometimes there are reasons to use daggers and javelins instead of swords and bows. It is easier to sneak a dagger into the King's throne room than a longsword. You can use javelins with that uber-magic shield, but the bow requires both hands. It can be fun to find an optimal use for a usually-ignored weapon, like I did in this screed, for tridents.

But there is really just no reason to use some weapons -- unless you are willing to take a game-power hit in order to make a role-play point. When was the last time you used a heavy pick or a greatclub? But if some weapons are more generally useless than others, does that mean you have to beef up the slackers? I suppose not, but the instinct to improve springs eternal. And taking a page from the Cranky Gamer, I thought I would rant a little about crossbows today.

On almost every level, crossbows are at a disadvantage compared with bows. Light crossbows take a move action to reload; heavy ones take a full-round action to reload; bows take a free action to reload! If you are an elf, you can use bows as a racial ability. The one and only real advantage is that a crossbow is a simple weapon, while a bow is a martial weapon. That means you can use a crossbow (but not a bow) if you are a non-elf monk, wizard, sorcerer, cleric, rogue, or bard. For these characters, the crossbow is a better option than the bow, just to avoid the non-proficiency penalty!

But these characters are doomed to being less effective than archers, because they fire their weapons less frequently. An archer can draw an arrow as a free action. To achieve the same ability, a crossbow user must take the Rapid Reload feat. Then the light crossbow approaches parity with the bow, although the heavy crossbow still can be shot only once a round.

Now let's consider the heavy repeating crossbow option. Can you use the Rapid Reload feat with a repeater? The feat is ambiguous. If so, you could fire two shots (assuming Rapid Shot feat or a +6 BAB) in round 1, then two shots in round 2, then one shot and reload in round 3. Not too shabby.

But the heavy repeater-with-feat option still does not give you the overall rate of fire that bow-without-feat offers, although it comes closer.

Actually, that's repeater-with-two-feats, since the repeater is an exotic weapon.

And don't get me started about the light repeating crossbow! I just don't see the point of that weapon! Why would anyone want a light repeater, when you could instead use the feat slot not for exotic weapon prof but for Rapid Reload? A light repeater requires one feat (exotic weapon prof) and gives you five shots until you have to take a full round action to reload. A light crossbow with one feat (rapid reload) gives you an infinite number of shots with no time out needed to reload. Very odd. There is just no reason to ever use a light repeater crossbow when you can just use a light crossbow with Rapid Reload. Put the light repeating crossbow on the shelf next to the heavy pick and the greatclub, please.

If you ask me, clearly, since the light crossbow and heavy crossbow are simple weapons, the light repeater and the heavy repeater should be martial weapons, not exotics! If you did not need to take the exotic weapon feat to use them, the price for efficiency is less. Or keep them exotic but make them racial weapons for gnomes and dwarves. I could go for that.

Feedback [10 June 05] From Nexx, the Cranky Gamer:

Just found your stuff about crossbows. I know you're a Gamist, but as a Simulationist, perhaps I can shed some light.

The fact that crossbows are slow is spot on; in fact, they made them quite fast, compared to historical models. However, what they do not model is the reason why they were banned for use against Christians: The can punch through armor with ease.

In 2nd edition (with Combat and Tactics; the heyday) this was modeled with a bonus to hit (+5 at short, +2 at medium, +0 at long), but only equal to the armor's AC. So, if I fired at someone wearing Leather Armor at short range, I would get a +2 bonus, because it would ignore the Leather's AC bonus. If they were wearing plate mail, I'd get a +5, because that's the highest the bonus goes (still, that makes your plate mail no more effective than leather, which is nice).

In 3e, you might try a reverse; in the 1st range increment, give them a +6 to pierce armor; a +4 in the second, +2 in the 3rd, and a +0 in subsequent range increments. It doesn't make them sovereign, but it does give a compelling reason to pick a crossbow over a longbow in some situations.

(Also, I can't remember if the rules reflect this, but a crossbow should be cheaper than a longbow; a properly made longbow takes a long time and a lot of work; a crossbow can be whipped out relatively quickly)

Cayzle adds: I could go for that! maybe a simple rule like: "Heavy crossbows ignore target armor bonuses, natural armor bonuses, and deflection bonuses to AC within the first range increment." Light crossbows need no such balancing rule, given the new Rapid Reload feat. Also, if you are going to be simulationist about it (hee hee), then if I am not mistaken, the crossbow should be easier to learn and use.

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