Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Crossbow house rule for AD&D

One thing I never liked in AD&D was that crossbows are the much-poorer cousin to bows. Maybe Gary Gygax was really swayed by those accounts of Crecy, but it seems odd that crossows are basically slower, weaker bows. So much so that no one ever took them until I made some house rules.

Here they are:

Heavy Crossbow: 2-7 vs. S-M, 1-6 vs. L, ROF 1
Light Crossbow: 2-5 vs. S-M, 1-4 vs. L, ROF 2

Range, cost, etc. are the same.

The heavy crossbow is now a once-a-round weapon that does superior damage on that single hit to the bow. Still not as good as a bow, since 2 x 1-6 is better than 1 x 2-7, but it's not a completely inferior choice. Items like the Crossbow of Speed move this up to ROF 2.

I used to run it with ROF 1 for both of them, but I find the light crossbow needs some help to be a valid choice. And "Crossbow" is one proficiency in my games, such that proficiency matters.


  1. I think Rob Conley in his games gives a -4 to the foe's AC (in ascending AC games) to account for superior penetrating power. I gave crossbows a (2) armor divisor in Dragon Heresy because crossbows are weak sauce in 5e as well.

  2. In my 5e game the light x-bow stays as written, but I have heavy x-bows doing 2d10, action to reload (dwarven ones can shoot every round if you don't move).

  3. Unfortunately, if you use the Weapon vs. AC system then the heavy crossbow still isn't quite to the level of the bow. It's better than all the non-bows (except closs-range darts), but even the worst bow (the shortbow) is still better in a dungeon.

    There's some argument for using the heavy crossbow in the wilderness, however: it's got the longest range of anything around (24" vs. longbow's 21", sling bullet's 20"), and is one of two ranged weapons (the other being the longbow) that a Normal Man can actually use to shoot an AC2 target at long range. Crossbows and bolts are also much cheaper than bows and arrows, which isn't really an issue between character generation's end and the domain game's beginning but should probably be a consideration at that end.

    All in all, it kind of seems like they were intended more for mass combat than for PC use. Heavy crossbows cost the same as light in Chainmail, after all - you're just trading being able to attack every turn for attacking every other with increased damage and armor penetration.

    This is reflected in AD&D: it does more consistent damage to medium targets (1d4+1), more damage to large (1d6+1), and has just -1 vs. AC2 when most other weapons are -2 at best (and, in the case of the shortbow, -5). (Unfortunately, the one other weapon that matches it is the longbow.)

    It's just a bit of a shame since, well, Weapons vs. AC and mass combat are somewhat less-used systems (to say the least). Not that using them would help much, but the crossbow really can't catch a break.

    1. ...I should probably clarify that the first line is about giving the heavy crossbow +1 damage. Whoops.

      But yes, either way it's worse in those close confines than a shortbow. It's a sniper's weapon, really.

    2. As you note, the Weapon vs. AC is a less-used system. I may have used it once or twice, tops. It's so useless in a game where most of your opponents aren't using those weapons, and you're not using those weapons vs. foes with armor. A Dragon article tried to turn Weapon Type vs. AC into a broader system, but it's a lot of work for little benefit. Much simpler to just give a flat bonus. I'm not sure negating armor is something I'd do, but it does make some sense. I'm just used to GURPS where they do more damage, and Rolemaster where they do more damage . . . so heck, why not AD&D? So I ran it that way for a long time. More damage.


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