I made mention of the bow briefly during the discussion of hunting, which technically by my own rules I should not have done. However, I only gave it a few lines, so certainly there will be no trouble expanding here.
In the game Civilization IV, the archer is the first practical military unit your civilization develops. Early in the game, enemy archers, while defending, prove to be a significant pain. To feel secure, it is necessary to build them quickly and have them distributed about your kingdom.
There were bows in early history, coinciding with the rise of the town and proving their considerable worth with the rise of large social entities such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. While the early bow was developed some 18,000 years ago (consisting of arrows with blackened, charcoal tips rather than imagined stone arrowheads).
The plain bow was a single piece of flexible wood, seasoned and shaped so that the tensioned string would cause it to bend in a regular curve. The shaft was as straight as it could be made; sometimes the point was barbed, to retain the arrow in the wound, and sometimes blunted, for shooting birds. Much later (and not applicable to the early bow), shafts were given fluted, waxed section points for the penetration of armor.
The strength of a bow is usually given in the pounds of force necessary to pull the string. Modern target or hunting bows usually pull at 40 to 80 lbs, or sometimes 100 lb. Military bows in the middle ages could exceed that considerably, up to 150 lbs. or more. The range of a short bow was probably about 220 yards.
To increase the amount of possible pull, composite bows were developed, consisting of several pieces of wood glued together and mounted with horn at the points where the string was attached. Animal sinew was incorporated for strength – initially, these were ‘short bows’, from 3 to 5 feet in length. The Japanese would develop this one further stage, so that the center of the pull would be higher than the actual center of the bow – which gave the power of a long bow without the necessary dimensions.
Prior to the Norman Conquest (and before the age of Robin Hood), the bow was seen as an auxiliary weapon, not intended for open-field battles, but for skirmishes and attacks from ambush. Siege operations, too, allowed for short range application of the bow from movable towers, to create an effective barrage on a wall – or its equally effective defence.
Because the addition of the long bow in Civ IV occurs along with Feudalism (which I will be concentrating on at that time), I’ll go ahead and talk about the long bow as well, just to get the whole subject out of the way.
It is likely that the best archers in Europe in the 11th century were the Norse and the Normans, who had a long history of the bow’s use, and who developed advanced tactics in its use. The policy developed into the English longbow, the most powerful weapon of the 13th to 15th centuries – in which case it was used as a shock device prior to melee.
I would like to make a point about the distances at which bows can be fired. While the long bow can be fired to distances exceeding 700 yards, I have to emphasize that players who imagine they can hit targets accurately at this distance are woefully misinformed. Most well-trained men can fire a short bow to a distance of 250 to 300 yards, a long bow to a distance of 500 to 700 yards – but this was done without targeting an opponent, but by launching volleys at the enemy with the expectation that a great many of the fired missiles would miss.
Practical target shooting is another thing altogether. Clout shooting, a historical practice, consists of a target some 48 feet across laid flat upon the ground, and fired at from a distance of 180 yards. Typically, the contest allows competitors to shoot 36 arrows. Wand shooting, derived from Robin Hood’s feat of splitting a willow wand at 100 paces, is done with 36 arrows at a distance of 100 yards. Shooting at the ‘butt’, a mark placed on an earthen backstop, was typically done at 50 yards.
The more traditional target shooting (such as that done in the York Rounds), allows 72 arrows fired by competitors at a 48 inch target from 100 yards.
In D&D terms, that is considerably less than 210 yards granted by the Player’s Handbook, p. 38. By the same table, short range with a long bow (in the outdoors, though I’ve never understood why players are weaker indoors) is 70 yards ... suggesting that first level fighters have a 55% chance of hitting an unarmed person (a mere 20 inches in diameter) at that distance. This would make every fighter in the game an Olympian, when compared with the measurable success present day athletes have at target shooting.
Typically, the range that some players might be familiar with, a distance of 800 yards or more, was accomplished by use of the ‘flight arrow’ ... useless for battle, but effective for producing greater range. Such arrows were developed for contest purposes. Typical D&D arrows would be ‘hunting arrows’.
The best bows are made from Osage orange, yew, lemonwood and Tennessee red cedar. In the United States, other woods used included sassafras, black locust and hickory.
The best arrows are made from varying cedars, Norway pine, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce. Native Americans used birch almost exclusively, but it is not a superior wood (it was, however, plentiful in the eastern continent).
One last point, with regards to firing speed. The Pope-Young Hunting Round is a contest in which the speed of the shot is placed above target shooting. Contestants are given 36 arrows which are then shot at six targets at six different distances, with a 45 second time limit for each six arrows. That is effectively 6 shots in 7 D&D rounds ... most notably while the contestant is not taking part in a melee.
Once every other round is perfectly fair.