Role-playing design notes

Random notes on the design of Gods & Monsters, and maybe even Men & Supermen if I can remember what I was drinking when I wrote it.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Why is a crossbow basic but a normal bow not?

Jerry Stratton, March 18, 2006

This is less of a question with a yes or no answer than me trying to understand your thought process. Why is it that bows and longbows are warrior only weapons while a crossbow can be used by anyone? I would think the crossbow would be a more complicated weapon to use than a simple bow. I’m just curious what prompted that decision.

First of all, a crossbow can’t be used by anyone. As a basic weapon, it can only be used by thieves, warriors, or characters with a specialty that allows it. But your real question appears to be, why is the more complicated weapon usable by a wider variety of archetypes?

There are two answers to that question: the game-world answer and the game answer.

In the game world, and to some extent in the real world, the normal bow is easier to use but harder to aim. Successfully attacking someone with a normal bow takes more skill than successfully attacking them with a loaded crossbow. The crossbow’s complexity is that it separates the act of loading from the act of firing. This lets people of lower strength use the crossbow: loading the crossbow, unlike the normal bow, can be done in stages.

The major difference between a simple or basic weapon and one that only warriors use is a difference of how easy it is to successfully attack an opponent with the weapon, not how complicated the device is to use.

The complexity of loading and firing a crossbow, vs. loading and firing a normal bow, is handled by the number of actions it takes to fire the two weapons. A normal bow takes one action, and a crossbow takes two actions.

The game answer is that I wanted to encourage the use of crossbows by thieves and other malcontents. Historically, the crossbow has been seen as the weapon of criminals and the lower classes. Regardless of the accuracy of that perception, it feeds the fantasy sources that inspire Gods & Monsters. The crossbow was seen as a weapon that evened the odds against the knight and seasoned warrior.

This compares against our perceptions of the longbow, on the other end of the scale, which was so difficult to successfully attack with that governments passed laws requiring the nobility to practice using the weapon.

While easier to successfully attack using a crossbow, the crossbow is also less effective in some ways: it has a shorter range and it takes longer to load. The more useful weapons are saved for the warrior. Using weapons is the warrior’s job. Warriors get to use the most effective weapons; thieves the next most effective weapons, and then everybody else gets the rest. And while “the rest” can choose a specialty to give them access to basic weapons such as crossbows, only warriors get the more useful weapons.

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