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Author Topic: A Comprehensive Critique and Critically-Considered Correction of Crossbows  (Read 147 times)
TKDB
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« on: July 03, 2015, 06:39:52 PM »

It's pretty well-known that crossbows in Fantasy Craft, as-written, are uniquely underpowered. While basically every other weapon has its own mix of pros and cons that make it at least a viable option, ideal for certain uses and broadly useful enough to justify picking over other options (even if it's not, overall, the absolute best weapon), the crossbow basically has no use that isn't better served by other weapons. This issue has been discussed in some length in this thread, from which I will excerpt the mathematical breakdowns I did there weighing crossbows against conventional bows and guns:

(click to show/hide)

In short, while crossbows do have some advantages over conventional bows, those advantages are far too narrow and minor to make up for the issues posed by low rate of fire. Unless you're comparing only a single shot (not even a full round of attacks), the conventional bow's higher rate of fire lets it match or exceed the overall performance of the crossbow in spite of lower range increment and threat range.

Not much discussed in that thread, but repeating crossbows -- while considerably better than those with load times -- are also somewhat underpowered. They do get the indirect quality, which is certainly useful and unique, but they pay for that with heavy drawbacks compared to bows. Compared to a longbow, it has the same range, lower threat, lacks AP, and costs 33% more; comparing to a reflex bow, it's 10 ft longer range, but costs more than three times as much; comparing to a short bow, it's twice the range, but lower threat range and more than double the cost. And compared to all bows, it has the advantage of indirect fire, but the inaccurate drawback. While certainly not lagging as badly as the load-time-limited hand, light, and heavy crossbows, it could certainly use a boost.

I'm going to walk through a process of evaluating changes to bring crossbows up to a level that justifies their use as a viable option. To begin with, I'll examine crossbows under a suite of changes that I've seen commonly proposed:
  • Make longbows an exotic weapon: It's a small step, but one that will help a little bit. With its longer range and built-in AP, the longbow is the closest to edging in on the crossbow's niche. Making it an exotic weapon, requiring forte to use with proficiency, lets us compare only against the less-powerful reflex and short bows when considering the crossbow as a backup weapon for a non-specialist (assuming no investment beyond mere proficiency and the acquisition of the weapon itself).
  • Reduce load quality for non-repeating crossbows by 2: Some have proposed this in the form of an upgrade or an extra item (akin to the bandolier for black powder weapons), but I think it should be a change to the base stats of the crossbows themselves. Crossbows are pricey enough to begin with, so charging extra for something that's necessary to make them worthwhile to use doesn't strike me as fair.
  • Increase the base damage of non-repeating crossbows: I would do this by adding a new weapon quality to the hand, light, and heavy crossbows:
       Mighty: This weapon increases the damage for its ammo by one die (eg, when firing ammo normally dealing 1d4, it deals 2d4, ammo dealing 1d6 deals 2d6, etc). This does not increase any additional damage modifiers, such as sneak attack or the damage modifiers from Superior or Crude materials upgrades.
  • Drop the inaccurate quality from repeating crossbows: While indirect is a really cool ability, I think the lower threat range and significantly higher price tag should be sufficient to balance it out compared to bows, without adding an additional penalty.
  • Exclude Handle Item actions from the usual rule that you may not take a Bonus 5-ft. Step in the same round you take a Movement Action: The inclusion of Handle Item actions among the things that preclude taking a 5-ft. Step always struck me as more of an artifact of the action type classifications than an actual intended limit, and at any rate is both unnecessary and excessively restrictive.
  • Prohibit bows from use while prone, but allow for crossbows and guns: I'm not sure if this ought to be framed as an explicit rule, as it seems to me more like a common-sense ruling that I imagine most would use even if otherwise using bows & crossbows as-written, but I figure it's worth noting here.
  • Call for Resolve/Concentrate checks to use a bow when adjacent to an opponent, but not not for crossbows or guns: I've seen this framed as a Campaign Quality, but to me this (like the issue of shooting while prone) seems to be in that gray area between ruling and rule, given the open-ended nature of when to use Concentrate checks. At any rate, I will assume this to be the practice in my further analyses of the pros and cons, whether it's considered a hard houserule/campaign quality, or simply a consistent policy on how to apply the existing Resolve/Concentrate rules.

The higher damage and lower load times give the crossbows an intermediate position between bows and guns -- slower to fire and harder-hitting than bows, but faster and weaker than guns. I'll compare each kind of non-repeating crossbow to bows and guns, both for use as a fire-and-forget backup weapon (taking a single round of actions to fire) and for sustained use over several rounds. Repeating crossbows will be compared only to bows, and only as a primary weapon, as the functioning of the two is fairly similar. In all cases, I will use the assumed example stats I did in my analysis quoted above from the old thread: A matchup giving the wielder a 50% base chance to hit.

(click to show/hide)

In conclusion: Running the numbers, it turns out that these changes actually work quite well to give crossbows a viable niche for entry-level users. A bit too well, in fact, for the hand crossbow, which probably should get either the reduced load or the mighty quality (depending on whether you prefer the idea of hand crossbows as fast plinkers or slower weapons with more punch), but not both.


Finally, since it's relevant to the topic, I'll post my take on Bits's Crossbow B/M/S feats from this thread -- modified somewhat since my post there, for use in conjunction with these houserules and generally based on my own evolving ideas on the topic. Acknowledgements are also due to a poster on another forum, whose own take on a Crossbow B/M/S chain I also borrowed from.

CROSSBOW BASICS
Slow and steady wins the race.
Prerequisite: Bows proficiency
Benefit: You gain double the normal bonus from Aiming with bows with the load quality. Also, you gain a stance:
  Thinking Ahead (Stance): When you Aim, Anticipate, Reposition, or move no more than half your speed with a Standard Move, you may make a single Handle Item action to reload as part of that action. You may remain in this stance even when becoming prone (but not when becoming sprawled).

CROSSBOW MASTERY
Keep on the move, keep 'em guessing.
Prerequisites: Crossbow Basics, Bows forte
Benefit: Your attacks with bows with the load quality deal additional damage equal to your Int bonus (minimum +1) as long as your last ranged attack was made at least 10 ft. from your current position. If you attack while benefiting from 1/2 or better cover, this damage bonus is doubled. Also, you gain a trick:
  Head-Spinner (Bow Attack Trick): With a hit, the target must also make a Fortitude Save (DC equal to the damage dealt) or become Sickened for a number of rounds equal to the weapon's Load quality.

CROSSBOW SUPREMACY
Sometimes, one shot is all you need.
Prerequisite: Crossbow Mastery
Benefit: Your threat range with bow attacks increases by 1. If your bow has the load quality and you are Aiming at the target, your threat range increases by an additional 1 (total +2). Also, you gain a trick:
  Deadly precision (Bow Attack Trick): You inflict 2 additional dice of sneak attack damage. If the target is flat-footed, this attack also gains keen equal to 4 x your bow's load quality.


I suspect this would probably make a dedicated crossbow sniper better at that role than a sniper using a longarm, given that the Black Powder B/M/S feats don't do a great job of taking load time issues into account, but that can be fixed with a suitable Sniper B/M/S feat chain or the like catering to gun-users.
(I'd actually initially thought about making a generic Sharpshooter B/M/S that would be equally usable for crossbows and guns, but thinking about it I came to the conclusion that it would better fit the general design philosophy of keeping weapon groups play differently if they used separate feat chains, with the crossbow chain geared toward a sneaky, mobile style while guns might take a different tack, perhaps focusing more on range and raw damage. The assumption that a corresponding chain for longarm snipers was actually the main force behind changing the Supremacy trick from all sneak attack, as in my original proposal in the old thread, to a mix of sneak attack and keen -- I figured overwhelming damage should be a gun thing, but the crossbow sniper still needs a way to get potent, decisive strikes in, and keen is a good way to do that.)
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paddyfool
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« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2015, 12:26:59 AM »

Comprehensive indeed!

I don't think I like mighty for the hand crossbow. It's just too small to have that kind of punch.

As a further way to boost damage output, what did you think of the forum discussion of feats granting abilities for weapons with Load to punch through a target and hit the guy behind? (As an alternative to blackened sky etc).  I came up with a trick for one that seems fairly simple:

Line them up (ranged attack trick): when you successfully target the closer of two adjacent opponents with a weapon that has Load but not spread, you may also deal half the damage, with half the AP, to the more distant of the two opponents.

(Basically granting a more limited version of Spread...)
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TKDB
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« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2015, 12:54:04 AM »

As a further way to boost damage output, what did you think of the forum discussion of feats granting abilities for weapons with Load to punch through a target and hit the guy behind? (As an alternative to blackened sky etc).  I came up with a trick for one that seems fairly simple:

Line them up (ranged attack trick): when you successfully target the closer of two adjacent opponents with a weapon that has Load but not spread, you may also deal half the damage, with half the AP, to the more distant of the two opponents.

(Basically granting a more limited version of Spread...)
Definitely fitting! I actually considered that sort of effect for the Mastery trick, but I felt that a debuff would be more appropriate for the sort of "guerilla" style I had in mind for the crossbow feats. It would definitely be a good fit in a Sniper B/M/S chain for black powder weapons with a "long range and overwhelming impact" theme like I'm thinking of, though. Or maybe in a more general feat chain intended as a counterpart of sorts to Angry Hornet/Blackened Sky for load weapons.
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Desertpuma
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« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2015, 01:41:04 AM »

I like most of this without reservation.

For my upcoming home game in FC, I can the reduced load quality, base damage increase on Light and Heavy crossbows, and the Resolve/Concentrate checks when adjacent (which I consider similar to using a rifle point blank in SC2.0).

I like the feats too.
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« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2015, 03:24:30 AM »

Incidentally, I think the Arbalest would easily deserve a damage upgrade too, if we're handing them out. (It's basically a crossbow variant, after all).
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2015, 07:50:42 AM »

Any revision of bows should include draw rating -- Strength (mod) above the rating allows you to add damage, strength beneath the rating takes damage away. Crossbows have it too, so if you're stronger than the draw, you can shave off load time (or add it on if you're weak).
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« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2015, 10:05:11 PM »

Any revision of bows should include draw rating -- Strength (mod) above the rating allows you to add damage, strength beneath the rating takes damage away. Crossbows have it too, so if you're stronger than the draw, you can shave off load time (or add it on if you're weak).

If you're going for realism, sure, absolutely. It doesn't have much bearing on the issue of bringing crossbows up to par (perhaps if it were all-upside for crossbows and all-downside for conventional bows, but if it's allowing for damage bonuses on bows then it's just making them stronger, which is really quite unnecessary), and I personally don't mind the break from reality in bows not caring at all about Str one way or another, so it wasn't much on my priority list.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2015, 11:07:18 PM »

The Crossbow vs. the Longbow in the Medieval Period

Medival crossbow vs longbow

Longbows are always drawn by hand, and therefore limited to the strength of the archer using them. Crossbows allowed a wider range of ways to draw them including mechanical devices, trading off strength vs. speed.
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TKDB
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« Reply #8 on: Today at 08:12:41 AM »

Not to be rude, but I've already acknowledged that I understand the real-world facts of the matter but simply don't find them helpful or necessary for the in-game representation of the weapons. Why are you posting facts about real-world bows and crossbows?
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