Crossbows on the Berk list [help]

Only being a lurker at the Berk list, and not even being as consistent at reading the abstracts, I've forgotten my loggin to get into the archives, so I wondered if anyone would be kind to help getting a copy off Timothy's Berk post on Crossbows - the one linked from the FAQ at this site.

[ARS] Erratum Suggestion: Crossbows
Timothy Ferguson tfergus at
Tue Feb 28 06:32:47 PST 2006

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The current rules for crossbows caused some concern on the mailing list. In
response players may find the following information useful.

  • The Initiative modifier on the crossbow is so much higher than that on the
    bows because it assumes the weapon is already loaded. If it is not loaded,
    it cannot be used in the first round of combat, and as such has no
    Initiative score.
  • The intention of the current rules was that most people, using a crossbow
    from a fixed position, should be able to fire once every two minutes. This
    delay falls to one minute if your character's bow has a winding mechanism.
  • It's very difficult to find good period data concerning the rate of fire
    of crossbows. The bows I've used in "Covenants" seem to antedate the
    period, and be on the higher end of power, which makes their rate of fire
  • The dates used are dependent, essentially, on "The Book of the Crossbow",
    by Ralph Payne-Gallwey. This is the classic touchstone text, but has come
    under challenge recently.
  • Even accurate data is problematic, because if converted directly into game
    mechanics, it would not balance the weapons already in place. The other
    statistics are not perfectly simulationist - so those for the crossbow
    cannot be.

For players wanting a more permissive set of rules on the crossbow, allow me
to take as my text an excellent article published after I had done my
research into crossbows for "Covenants". It's D Bachrach (2004) "Crossbows
for the King", Technology and Culture, v.45 iss.1, 2004. Available from
Proquest in electronic form.

Bachrach notes that the crossbows being used in England during the game
period come in two materials, and three spanning in types. The spanning
types he identifies are "one footed", "two footed" and "turnus". "One
footed" are bows with a stirrup for one foot, that are loaded with a belt
hook. "Two footed" he notes have stirrups large enough for both feet, but
does not say if they are loaded with a belt hook. Let us presume they are.
Last, he calls the "turnus" a winch, and notes that Payne-Gallwey calls it a
pulley system for which no evidence has ever been found.

In stated, direct opposition to Payne-Gallwey, Bachrach notes that there are
clear references to both wooden and composite crossbows in documents
suitable for the Ars Magica period, and quoted from these documents in a
most convincing way. Wooden bows are larger, cheaper weaker bows that are
easier to span. They are more resistant to damp that composite bows. On
small samples, he notes that: half of the single-footed bows seem to be
wood, the other half composite. There are more than twice as many double
footed composite bows than wooden ones. Turnus bows seem to be even more
likely to be composite.

A stonebow, added to the table, is not referenced in his article. It is a
crossbow with two strings, and a pouch of fabric between them. It is used
to fling stones at birds. It has little power, but might be used by magi
wanting to deliver a single-use magic item, like a potion, to a precise
place on a battlefield. A self-spaned bow is also essentially a hunting
weapon. In my attempt to reconstruct my research I did find reference to
Iberian mounted crossbowmen. I can't tell if they dismounted to reload or
used light bows like these.

This splits the class "crossbow" into a variety of weapons.
Type Init Atk Def Dmg Range Str Load Cost
Reload times
Stonebow 5 (-2)* 5 0 3 10 -1 1 Exp.
May fire every round
Hand spanned 5 (-4)* 5 0 5 20 0 1 Exp.
May fire every round
One foot 5 5 0 7 25 1 1 Exp.
Requires one round to reload
Two foot 5 5 0 8 28 1 2 Exp.
Requires two rounds to reload
Turnus 5 5 0 9 30 1 2 Exp. 1
Steel 5 5 0 10 35 1 2 ** 1
Larger variants exist, forming a continumn up to siege weapons.

  • Initiative in brackets for if weapon is unloaded

** Requires steel of a purity known only to magicians. See House Verditus.

Comaprable weapons

Long bow -2 4 0 8 30 2 2 Exp.

Short bow -1 3 0 6 15 -1 2 Std

Note that even these numbers are not strictly simulationist. A heavy bow
really takes longer, a light bow really takes less time.

As a note for players, a crossbowman, in Latin, is called a balistarius.
The term is used for siege engineers using what we'd call a balista.

Without naming names, one of the other authors of Covenants did express
similar views, and I quoted Payne-Gallwey to convince him a far simpler rule
was preferable. I apologise.

Note, since last posting I have dropped the rate of fire for two-footed
bows. Bascially this turns them into siege weapons, which answers my
question "Why would you ever have a one-footed bow under these rules?" A
turnus would be more than Expensive if there was such a thing.

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Cheers Ravenscroft!

Having recently committed completely to 5th edition, and even the combat system (which I've had my second thoughts on), I am soon to make a short list on HRs and this is one of the areas I knew had to be mulled over.

I don't read the berklist, but this sounds like it could be a nice fix.
Just checking though, all other weapons have their damage modified by the users strength, i'm assuming this isn't the case with crossbows. Anyone know?

I will post a wiki link just in case it is useful.
Timothy may better be able to answer your question.

In most of the games i have , Crossbows do not add extra damage based on the Strength of the user.
Though they do have a minimum Strength required to use as a weapon.

By the default Strenght would be added to damage and as there is no comment as not to. But on the other hand reload time is also influenced by Strength...

Making HR on crossbows and/or bows (to explain why Strength matter in terms of damage) I'd really advice anyone to first take a look at Andrew Gronosky's (aka SirGarlon) HR as he already did a splendid job.

I'd make one alteration to those rules: Characters stronger than the bows they're using get extra botch die - indicating a greater chance of breaking the bow - and should be able to use their strength - with the addition of even more botch die...