Ranged combat rules

Ranged combat rules

Hi everyone
Being new to this forum I have tried to read as much relevant information as I could find on the subject before posting this. Please forgive me if I am repeating stuff from other threads. The rules for ranged combat seem to raise a plethora of questions in 5th edition, some of which I hope to address under this topic. Please note, that the below are merely thoughts on how to attack different issues in relation to ranged combat – none of which are based on calculations or actual gametesting. Some of these issues have already been addressed in earlier topics, which is included in my comments below.

1 Damage
The rules state that strength is added to damage (with no actual exceptions). Some threads have discussed whether to remove the strength bonus to damage for thrown weapons, bows and crossbows. Personally I see no valid argument for adding strength to damage in relation to crossbows, and even with bows I find the arguments rather vague. Some discussions about Composite bows (mainly in relation to a setting in the Iberian Peninsula) that require more strength to pull, but deal more damage have been discussed with a very thorough comment by SirGarlon. I have taken the liberty of interpreting his wise words into some numbers:

Composite bow suggestion
(Ability) Bow, (Init) +0, (Atk) +4, (Def) 0, (Dam) +7, (Range) 20, (Str) +2, (Load) 1, Cost (Exp.).
As a comment one might note, that the expensive cost is the result of, and augmented by, the increased manufacturing period - so in addition to being expensive, it takes a long while to create and repair such bows. Also it takes craftsmen with specific skills even in the Iberian Peninsula, and it is probably an exotic weapon in e.g. France, while possible completely unavailable in England.
Furthermore, the design and small size of the bow means that it can be fired while mounted (or even fired by a Dwarf-sized character). This also means that the Composite bow is a separate specialization under the ability Bows. It still requires to free hands to load and fire, obviously.
One could argue that as a result of the ‘artificial creation method’ the composite bow could be designed to meet individual needs, such as making ‘lighter’ versions with attack reduced by 1, damage by 1, and range by 5 – but with a strength requirement of just +1. This suggestion would go the other way as well, making a ‘heavy’ version require strength +3, with attack and damage increased by 1, and range by 5. This mimics the system of the so-called Mighty Bows from D&D, as the heavier pull requires more strength to effectively use, but allows characters to add strength to damage results.

Regarding throws weapons; I find that I like the idea of a throwing axe causing more harm if thrown by a broad-shouldered Viking. Firing a sling shot, or throwing a dagger, might have more to do with technique that brute strength though – also when it comes to putting speed to the weapon (which is already covered in the combat skill and dexterity bonuses to the attack roll). Therefore I might be inclined to rule that thrown stones (and other blunt objects) are to be affected by 1 step in strength, javelins by 2 and throwing axes by 2 or 3. Note that this adjustment goes for both positive and negative strength scores, just as with melee weapons. Slings and knives are unaffected by strength, when discussing damage anyway.

2 Firing into melee
In 4th edition combatants suffered a -3 penalty to both attack and defense rolls for each of his currently engaged opponents in addition to the first. In our group this rule still applies in 5th edition, although the penalty has been lowered to -2. This penalty to the outnumbered defense score is based on the fact, that he will leave gaps in his defense, and can only dodge so many attacks each round. When firing into melee though, having more people engaged with your target is not necessarily a benefit for you. Looking at this ‘realistically’ one should probably rule to give an attack penalty and increase amount of botch dice, for each character above the actual target. This would probably result in people not firing into melee, which is probably also more realistic, but maybe takes away some of the fun.
Personally I might favor a rule that doesn’t incur any penalties to the shooters attack, but makes missing the shot potentially dangerous for allies: any attack that misses the intended target should be rerolled to check for botches. This means that archers will hit their intended target just as often, but in case of misfire, will have double the risk of botching. Furthermore, the GM should make both ‘original botches’, as well as the rerolled botches, often result in hitting allies (unless another botch opening, with a greater story flavor, is present).

3 Defending with ranged weapons and Melee combat
Personally I find the Defense rating of ranged weapon mysterious. The value ‘0’ is systematically, and therefore probably deliberately, chosen instead of ‘+0´ possibly suggesting that one cannot defend using ranged weapons. While I agree that it is nearly impossible to use a sling, or even a bow (modern bows might prove to be of some use though, but arguably less than in the hands of Jessica Biel in Blade Trinity) to parry attacks or keep an attacker at bay – I do believe in avoiding attacks aimed at you. A previous thread discussed dueling archers to use their Bow combat ability to avoid the arrows of their opponent, but what about defending in melee combat?
If we accept that the Bow ability covers all uses of the bow including loading, aiming and firing (possible also caring for) – it must result in the conclusion that all actions where the bow is not used, the Bow ability will not apply. In this sense, using the Bow ability to aid climb checks, because you are holding a bow in one hand is just as relevant as adding the Bow ability to defense rolls with a bow in your hand. I suggest using the Brawl (dodge) skills for all purposes of defending against incoming attacks (that can be defended), while equipped with a bow.
But what happens when wielding a bow, when your opponent is engaging you in melee battle? I would rule it is impossible to fire the bow with your opponent pressing you. Does anyone have any suggestions to the contrary? If we accept this ruling, then bowmen might drop their bows, and switch to another weapon – automatically and immediately (no extra rules here, let’s keep it as simple as possible still). Alternately, they might often choose to disengage, to get out of harm’s way, and again get to shooting range. In this case the above-mentioned defense-issue is very important; if we do not allow bowmen any defense, it will be impossible for them to disengage. Suddenly the brawl (dodge) skill becomes very important for archers.

4 Mounted combat
The standard rules state that mounted combatants can add their ride score to attack and defense (up to max +3). I, however, find it unlikely that throwing daggers from horseback would enjoy any overall benefits, where being fast-moving and elevated would be counterbalanced by the loss of steadiness. And even if one were to add the above-mentioned composite bow to the game (or simply allow firing from horseback with a standard bow), the actual benefits are possibly more questionable – and a penalty might actually be more fitting.
To keep things simple, I would probably negate the benefits for being mounted with ranged weapons in general.

5 Special circumstances (cover, aiming etc.)
In ARS 4th edition the calculation system for ranged weapons including elements such as being on higher ground, or target is taking cover. Also no rules describe hitting a target sprinting away from the scene or being attacked in an ambush (not defense roll). Since these elements are not described in the 5th edition rules, some common sense will probably have to be applied to defense rolls of the target and attack rolls of the shooter:

Target taking cover = defense +1 to +5 depending on the degree of cover
Target on higher ground = defense +1 to +5 depending on the degree of cover
Target moving (but not defending the attack) = attack -1 to -5 depending on the speed
Attacker on higher ground = attack +1 to +3 depending on the angle
Attacker taking aim = attack +1 per round spend aiming (to a maximum of +3)

The rules for aiming has also been discussed in an earlier thread, but I believe the suggested rule of adding the weapon skill to attack for aiming a round was to deadly an advantage. This does, however, mimic the rules for expending fatigue in combat (which according to the standard rules should still be applicable for ranged attacks). Other suggestions include spending a fatigue level and receiving a smaller bonus to attack, which I find much more balanced. In the above-mentioned ‘Attacker taking aim’, the attack bonus has a cap of +3, but is still limited to the shooters actual combat ability with the weapon. An untrained archer will gain no benefits for holding the shot for half a minute before letting go. Also, one might consider the ‘aiming action’ to cost the expenditure of a fatigue level, for added concentration, breath-holding and bow-string pulling.

6 Group combat
In our group we don’t really use the rules for group combat. Thus, I have no comments about adjusting the rules for ranged combat in relation to group combat. Some of the discussed rules will not have any effect on group combat though, such as the above-mentioned suggestion regarding rules for firing into melee, mounted combat and ranged defense. House rules for special circumstances and damage will affect the outcome of the group combat, however, and will need to be checked for balancing issue in relation to this.

7 Miscellaneous
I’m no bow expert, but as far as I can understand bows are typically unstrung when not in use. But in all RPG games I’ve played so far, all bows are considered ready for shooting at all times. Maybe one should consider the actual readying of a bow to take one full round (possibly allowing movement at the same time). If characters spend too much time with their bow stringed, they should suffer additional botch dice, whenever they roll a zero, as a result of the extra stress on the bow.
In my group our GM has decided to keep the ‘carry over’ rule from 4th edition, which means than the excess attacker over defense, can be added to next rounds attack on the same opponent – rather than adding damage and attempting to would. This makes single-hit kills for more often and changes tactical aspects in the game drastically. I’m not suggesting a discussion on this rule here, but simply stating that ranged attacks should obviously not be able to use ‘carry over’.
Another aspect that often seems to be forgotten is arrow quantity. We always remember them, if they are magic arrows, of superior quality or licked with poison – but the standard arrows we don’t count. That’s fine I guess, to keep the math to a minimum, but if an archer character finds himself launching 20 arrows in each encounter, maybe he should run out of arrows on occasion. Usually we consider the characters to have ‘enough arrows’, but when do we start counting loads for arrows? Although I have nothing to base this on, I’d say a quiver of 30 arrows could easily weight as much as a javelin (which has a load of 1). For reasons of flavor, the archer character I’m creating is taking well care of his arrows. He creates them himself (with some handy variants), and tenders to their feathers at all times – especially around the campfire. Thus, he appreciates good craftsmanship, and collects most of his arrows after battle, so as to not run out of arrows, or being forced to buy ‘farmer-made arrows’.

Sorry for this ending up a lot lengthier than I was expecting. As I mentioned, I’m not expert in the medieval, physics, game-mechanics or ars magica in general. That’s why I’m writing you guys to give me some expert advice and general comments on my thoughts and ideas. Hope this can stir up a healthy discussion that will lead to clarifications and interesting house rules for my game – and possible other’s as well.

  1. The description of the Dodge 'Weapon' (AM5 p.176) says : simply getting out of the way of opponents, without trying to do damage. So I would say that if a character with a bow in hand find himself engaged in melee, he can either try to shoot his bow anyway and take the 0 defense (because his opponent can take advantage of the moment where he pretty much has to stay immobile) or he can just get out of the way and use his Dodge instead, but then he won't fire. Or if he actually wants to bash his opponent on the head with his bow, well, then it counts as a bludgeon, which cover 'any improvised bashing weapon', and which again has 0 defense.

Si in your scenario of the bowman just disengaging, they are clearly dodging. And if they want to stay and fire anyway while someone is trying to open their skulls with an axe, they can try and hope the attackers trips on his own feet and completely misses them: if they win initiative they heroically get their shot off before the axe fall on their skulls, if not, well, maybe the attacker will botch his roll.

4 I tend to agree about attack, but being mounted and fast moving is actually a pretty good defense even if you happen to be firing a bow.

7 I agree about the bows being typically unstrung, because otherwise the bowstring would go lax and useless anyway (and that goes double if it rains). For that matter, no one usually wore armor while traveling unless they were seriously expecting an attack, something most people in most RPG are just happy to ignore. But then, there is something to be said about keeping rules light. The same goes for counting arrows, but if you are making an archer character, of course this is suddenly more important (as opposed to counting how many arrows the NPCed shield grog is carrying)
That said, this is Ars Magica. If your character is launching 20 arrows in an encounter, I have to wonder what the mage is doing in his copious free time (since he obviously isn't taking care of the foes).

Reading a book, of course, while the grogs sort out the bothersome real world.

True :slight_smile:
Also I've come to play quite a few encounters where magic was not an option, or where there were actually no Magi present.