Monday, August 24, 2015

There: Now You're Legolas

I know this is going to make some of my players happy.

There has always been a disconnect between the sort of fast-shooting archery videos we've all seen on youtube and the rules I employ in my D&D campaign.  I have spoken about this subject before, but let me cover the basics.  I'll restrain myself from getting into the errors of archery videos - Anna Maltese has already done that.

I believe very strongly in the argument that the bow can only be effectively fired by an ordinary combatant once every other round.  Since my rounds are 12 seconds long, this means a bowman can only fire one arrow every 24 seconds.  For many players, this seems ridiculous, given that we watch videos on youtube where a speed-shooter fires 24 arrows - obviously, I'm being unfair about how many arrows a character is allows to fire.

My first argument has always been playability.  If the archer's speed at firing arrows is pumped to the point where players are entitled to fire an arrow a second, then very quickly the only weapon in the game will be the bow and everyone who isn't able to use it will find themselves disgruntled and cast out.  I'm not interested in allowing a single weapon to dominate my game just because trick shooters on youtube have figured out a way to half-strength fire arrows at highly prepared targets, then try again and again until a successful attempt at this gets caught on camera.

Secondly, I argue that loading and firing an arrow during combat isn't the only thing the combatant is doing.  If the archer gets to make a decision when their turn comes around that they're going to pick which target on the battlefield they wish to fire at after all the combat that has happened is resolved to that point, then I will argue that the archer has been paying attention the whole time.  It requires effort and awareness to pay attention, so we have to assume the archer is pausing at some point to judge the battlefield and make a decision.  Moreover, the same archer possesses an armor class - one that we presume will be there when an arrow from the enemy attempts to hit that archer or the archer needs to make a saving throw.  Therefore, this is more awareness that is required, as the archer must try to be conscious of being a target as well as a shooter.

Thirdly, none of the trick shooting displays we see on youtube - or anywhere else - are taking place during combat.  None of these participants are in fear for their lives, none of them are experiencing extreme adrenaline or fear of death, so tunnelling, or tunnel vision, has not asserted itself as a stress response.  Target shooters are free to comfortably focus on a target without needing to concern themselves with anything else going on around them; however, an archer in a combat cannot do so.  Yes, perhaps they can fire 24 arrows in 24 seconds at a completely meaningless patch on the ground.  They cannot fire arrows that fast while terrified for their lives at selected targets at will.  This notion would be highly ridiculous.

So, what is this post about?  Why this title?

I made a concession a few years ago that if an archer wanted to fire an arrow every round - that is, physically load it and then loose the arrow almost as quickly, then I would allow it.  However, the action would include a -4 penalty to hit.  Having made the concession, I added the rule to my list of action points, recently added to my wiki (and still needing notes written regarding the things a character can do).

This made some players feel more comfortable with the potential for their archery speed.  Note that I don't use rules from the Dragon, 2e or 3e that allows multiple weapon proficiencies in the same weapon (which I thought was hugely player service and a sign of the downfall of rule-making in the game, coming out in the late 80s).  Therefore, there were very few ways for a character to 'get faster' with a weapon.

So I incorporated a rule about a year ago where lower level fighters could attack more often (the reader had better be familiar with this post before reading further).

This naturally led to questions about the one arrow a round rule - if a fighter could attack twice in a given round, "Does that mean that the -4 penalty applies?"  I ruled that it did not.  If a fighter could attack twice in a given round, then it was reasonable to me that the fighter could load and fire in one round - specifically the round where two attacks were allowed.  This was very much appreciated by the players and at the same time, it did not especially overbalance the use of the bow in my world.

It does help, in any case, that as a fighter goes up levels, that -4 means less and less.  Looking at this table, pulled from one of the linked posts above, it can be seen that by 7th level a -4 to hit against AC 4 (chainmail and shield) isn't bad at all:

The 7th level fighter still has a 35% chance of hitting a foe armed in chain mail even with the -4 to hit.

Something that did not come up - probably because my players expect me to think of these things before they do - is the question, "Does that mean I can fast load my bow twice in one round with the original penalty?"

Well, I've set the precedent . . . and though no one has asked this question, the answer is quite reasonably yes.  In the light of my earlier arguments, the character at a certain level will have gained enough combat experience to be less affected by their body chemistry than would a lower level combatant; and the fact that they already get multiple attacks demonstrates their skill at situational awareness, identifying threats and being prepared for them; and game play already has demonstrated that the penalty balances game-play.

So.  A player with two attacks in a given round should be able to load a bow and fire the bow twice in that same round . . . but because I'm a prick, I'm going to make it a -5 to hit penalty instead of a -4.  For reasons.  Just an inherent feeling based on experience in making this sort of rule work.

Players will appreciate being able to fire an arrow twice, even if it does lower their THACO.  At 9th or 10th level, they will hardly notice that lowering.  They will like it.

It will make them feel like Legolas.


  1. Mmm...caving.
    ; )

    I'd disagree with the answer being "quite reasonably yes;" even with combat experience increasing awareness and whatnot, it would seem there are limits to how fast one can draw aim and fire while in actual combat (speed shooting videos and Legolas impressions aside). But I suppose it just results in ammunition being expended faster anyway...and it'll make the players happy.

  2. On some level, I am certainly stretching - I'm not sure a cave-in can happen over the space of years.

    If it unbalances the campaign (this being the holy grail) then I will claw it back. I do not think it will, however, otherwise I would not risk it. I am careful in the changes I make, just as I describe in my How to Run book. And technically, the precedent is set - if 1 attack/2 rounds without penalty can be shortened to 1 attack/round with penalty . . .

    Then it follows that 1 attack/round without penalty can ALSO be shortened to 2 attacks/round with penalty.

    It's math.

  3. This kind of -4 ruling works well for your games for a few very good reasons. I think the -5 will work as well.

    1. It doesn't require investment. The option is just there.
    2. In your games magical equipment is uncommon.
    3. There are many cases where your opponent's AC doesn't scale. Lots of foot soldiers, big HP buckets and so on...
    4. Ammunition is tracked

  4. This is true, Oddbit. The overall structure of all the rules I play do tend to hinge together, so that no one pin can seriously undermine the whole frame. If magic were a commonly possessed item, then there would be reason to restrain the players from having additional approaches to combat - they would already be walking through enemies and simply destroying them.

    I always bristled at the tremendous piles of magic that turned up in the original modules put out by TSR. Ridiculous amounts. And this by the same people who warned the players against "Monty Haul" games (does anyone still remember that reference?).

    I've played my games with minimally available magic since the beginning and I strongly believe that while magic is a great addition for players (most have two or three pieces) it is very important not to let the magic be the combat strength, but the character experience via class.


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