Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bows, a comparison between Era and D&D

As a game designer I want you to take full advantage of a bow's design to leverage the attributes and training of your character. You've trained your character, improved his attributes, now you want to see all this manifest itself in the adventure. Sounds fun? Read on.

I'm going to do a quick overview of the bow mechanics in D&D and how they're changed in Era to allow a more realistic experience and better character expression as a player.  We'll be looking at the range, damage and firing rate of the longbow, short bow and composite bow.

D&D has four types of bows: short, short composite, long and long composite. The main difference is range and damage. The shortbow has a range between 60 and 70 ft while the longbow has a range of 100 to 110 ft.  Damage is 1d6 for short and 1d8 for long. There are damage modifiers for strength that can be applied and a minimum strength to use a composite bow. If your character doesn't have sufficient strength the composite is used at -2 and the strength bonuses can only be applied composite bows. Finally I'd like to point out that they have a fixed amount of attacks per round. I play with 2 shots, other GMs may vary. Range affects aim and it's a to hit modifier.

Now in Era I want to make this more realistic without necessarily making it more complicated.  I want you as a player to be able to build a custom built bow that takes your character to the fullest potential as a marksman. Making use of Era's unique fatigue and combat mechanism to do so.

So I'll start with a few definitions:

a) A composite bow is one which is made of different materials so to have different draw-weights as the archer draws. "Almost all composite bows are also recurve bows as the shape curves away from the archer; this design gives higher draw-weight in the early stages of the archer's draw, storing somewhat more total energy for a given final draw-weight. It would be possible to make a wooden bow that has the same shape, length and draw-weight as a traditional composite bow, but it could not store the energy, and would break before full draw." (1)

b) What really matters is the draw-weight and stored energy.  The amount of stored energy in the bow is what sends the arrow flying faster and thus further and with more penetrating power.


As a player you want the bow to be an distinctive aspect of your character. As you move through the forest and stumble upon a group of unaware goblins you want to put as many arrows into them as quickly as possible. As you ride over the grasslands, guiding your horse with your knees, you want to shoot at passing orcs and take them down from their mounts. You want to take the evil knight at long range as he charges to your position.  The bow must feel like something awesome in your character's hand. Something that makes him stand out from the rest of the party.

Yet range, rate of fire, damage and size all seem opposing design factors.  How to put this into play in a simple way and also in a balanced manner, so the bow doesn't become an arrow Gatling gun with mega range?

In comes Era's fatigue combat mechanism and a few changes in the weapons description.  The combat mechanism factors in strength, endurance and dexterity.  If your character has higher strength he can carry more weight and be less loaded.  Endurance dictates how fast the character gets tired, as mechanism allows for more than one attack per round, the cap being the character's dexterity divided by two.  Era makes use of the term dynamic encumbrance or DynE, which represents the work required to move a weapon.  The heavier the weapon the higher the DynE.  The higher the DynE the quicker the character wears out as DynE eats away from the endurance.

So how does this apply to bow modeling in Era?

I'll put strength to be related to draw-weight.  The more strength the character has the higher the pull the bow can have and still be used by the character.  A character with a strength of 12 can pull a 20 to 25 lb bow.  One with 15 strength can pull 60 lbs, etc.  The draw-weight sets the damage and range.  In Era damage drops over range as the arrow slows down.  A higher pull bow will have more damage than a lower pull one, arrow being the same.  A higher draw-weight bow would also have a higher DynE, requiring more energy to fire and thus wearing the character's endurance faster.  A character may be able to get 4 shots off with a light bow before becoming fatigued in that round.  A heavier bow may allow only one shot per round or two at most, but will have higher range and damage.  Take note that DynE is independent of draw-weight and it is more a measure of power than force. A lower pull composite bow that packs more energy into the arrow will require less strength, but a higher DynE.  Because DynE is the amount of work your character's body needs to do to "power" the weapon.

As a player you can now decide how to build your character's bow.  To make it unique to that niche function you enjoy playing and in doing so leverage as much benefit out of it as possible.  Do you want a normal self bow made out of a single material.  It is cheaper, but it won't have the same pull and energy transfer as a composite.  This weapon may do 2d6 damage at short range (20m) with your characters 14 STR.  It would also have a DynE of 4 making it relatively easy to fire.  Now turning into the more expensive composite bow may grant a higher range doing 2d6 at 30m with a DynE of 6.  This will give you slightly less shots per round as your character's endurance is tolled higher.  Any of these weapons will give you anywhere from 5 to 8 shots per round (10 seconds) if your dexterity is high enough.  With this type of bow your the quick marksman.  Your character carries a small maneuverable bow that isn't very effective at long range, but a real killer at short range.  It may not have enough punch to break through full plate, but face it, how many encounters are against full plated knights?  That's not your character's niche.  He's quick, agile, stealthy, or maybe a swift horseman that gets in and out before the heavy and slow warhorse and knight can catch up.  So who needs that much power when you've got speed?

On the other if you want higher range and more power then your character can use the English longbow.  Pulling near 100lbs it would require constant training and a strength of 16 or higher.  This bow can deliver an armor piercing damage of 2d10 or 2d12 at up to 50m.  Having a much higher DynE of 10 or 12 it will require an extremely well fit character to fire continuously.  A horseman could easily cover 50m in about 15 seconds.  So getting as many arrows on target can be a live or die situation, but firing a lot of low power arrows won't get you anywhere if the knight is full plated.  So using a bow like this which allows two or maybe three shots that could kill is definitely the way to go in this scenario.  It's not a job for a rogue though, you need the strength and endurance of a professional soldier to do this. It is also not a bow you'll fire while mounted. Exposing your character to a charge and leaving him with no clear exit strategy. But with a good defending front line this could be the only way to stop this type of threat.

Thoughts? Any archer scenarios you've always dream of playing, but never quite manage to get that realistic feeling? With which of these do you identify better?


In the next article I'll talk about the mechanics of crossbows vs bows.  How character attributes factor in as well as skill, training and mastery of both weapons. Stay tuned.


(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composite_bow#Advantages
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/101942/Historically-archers-used-the-longbow-crossbow-and-composite-bow
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