Copyright Mathieu Hatt © 2007

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"The strength of the archer is to be taken into account to determine the maximum range."


I. Introduction

Ive always wanted archery in Rolemaster to be more detailed and realistic. In this article, I first present new game mechanics for bows and crossbows. Then, I describe the different kinds of arrows that can be used. Finally, I describe how to handle the construction of bows from special woods in the Shadow World setting.

II. New rules for Rolemaster

In the Rolemaster system, range penalties are discrete modifiers that depend on the type of missile weapon usedthey are not continuous. As an alternative, a weapons range penalty can be continuous based on a range multiplier and point blank range for each kind of missile weapon.

Within a specific range, an archer gets a point blank shot bonus of +30 OB. Within twice this range, there is no OB modifier. Beyond this range, the range multiplier determines the range penalty (simply multiply the range multiplier by the distance to the target to obtain the OB penalty). The point blank range, the range multiplier and the maximum range are specific to each kind of bow.

In The Physics of Medieval Archery [1], Gareth Rees states that the best long bows of the Middle Ages were able to hit targets beyond 700 ft. However, such ranges are only possible when shooting at a 45° angle. These shots were only useful in mass battles where there was no point in aiming. Relatively heavy arrows were used for this kind of shooting. As far as aimed shots were concerned, the archer chose a nearly horizontal trajectory (slightly above the horizontal) for a precise hit. In this case the range was far shorter, but the archer could use lighter arrows.

The strength of the archer is to be taken into account to determine the maximum range. To be able to draw the bow efficiently, a minimum strength bonus is required (In [1] Rees, shows some impressive pull-values for the medieval long bows: between 110 and 180 pounds!). If the archers strength bonus is insufficient, the maximum range and range multiplier are modified accordingly (see below).

The quality of the material used to construct the bow also has a major influence on the range multiplier and the maximum range. According to Rees [1], this factor is extremely important. One must use a low density wood that can be easily deformed, without a permanent deformation, that has a large elastic coefficient. It seems the best wood is that of the yew tree.

As far as arrows are concerned, several observations can be made. As [2] suggests, we can take into account three parameters: the nock, the stock and the tip (all quotes translated from [2]).

A large and deep nock is perfect for the war because it offers a nice handle for fast reloading. However, a narrow and small nock is better for an aimed shot since it offers a better release of the arrow. In game terms, a war nock reduces the activity needed to reload the weapon (10% activity). A sharpshooter nock provides a +10 OB bonus.

The ideal stock must be strong to handle the power of the bow but also flexible to resolve the archer paradox and avoid breakage on the arrival at the target. Heavy and massive arrows are used for war (for better inertia) and light ones are mostly used for hunting and precision shooting. When an archer uses the wrong stock (e.g., using heavy stock for an aimed shot), he suffers a 10 OB penalty.

Tips can be classified into several categories: picks, blades and barbwires. There also exist some tips with very specific uses.

Picks: These are usually exclusively used for war, since their function is to perforate chain mails and plates. They are usually not fixed on the stock but simply forced into it. This way, when the arrow is extracted from the body, the tip stays inside, leading to difficult treatment on the battlefield and major infection risks.

Blades: They are used for hunting, as well as in war where their goal is to inflict large bleeding wounds on footmen with no or little protection.

Barbwires: They are used in war against footmen but also for hunting large beasts like bears or boars. Thanks to their large slashing sides they inflict very large bleeding wounds, and their mass allows for deep penetration. The barbs are here to render the extraction of the tip very difficult, and only specialists using very specific chirurgical tools are able to extract them without additional damage to the target. They were however much more difficult to build, hence their greater cost.

Incendiary tip: The four branches are used to hold the combustible in place, and the tip allows penetration into the target. The four branches are then squeezed by the impact to allow the incendiary product to come in contact with the building or the target to destroy [it]. It can also be used for biological warfare during a siege by shooting contaminated meat pieces that dogs will eat and then infect the people inside.

Cut-hock: This axe-shaped blade is used to badly hurt horses in order to disrupt cavalry heavy charges.

Picks Blades Barbwires Incendiary Cut-hock
Picks Blades Barbwires Incendiary Cut-hock

Pictures taken from [2]

The following table lists the arrows tips and their respective modifiers.

Picks +5 OB against AT 1120. Hits are halved against AT 110. If the arrows lodges in the target (GMs discretion with regards to the critical), a Hard First Aid maneuver is required to extract it without leaving the tip inside. If this maneuver fails, the tip remains in the target and a Hard Second Aid maneuver is required to remove it.
Blades +5 OB against AT 18. Every critical that causes bleeding is increased by 1 hit/rnd. Against other AT (920) the archer suffers a 10 OB penalty.
Barbwires +10 OB against AT 18. This heavy arrowhead inflicts double concussion damage. If the arrow lodges in the target (GMs discretion with regards to the critical) and the target moves (at more than a slow walk) he begins to bleed internally (d5 hits/rnd). A Hard Surgery maneuver is required to extract the arrow head. Failure results in additional bleeding (d5 hits/rnd).

The following tables list the various parameters for different kinds of missile weapons. The values here assuming a bow made of yew. For other materials, see below.

The minimum St bonus is the bonus required to use the weapon with maximum efficiency. For bows, if the archers St bonus is less than this value, decrease the maximum range by 20 feet for each point, and increase the range multiplier by 0.01. For crossbows, increase the activity required to reload the crossbow by 5% for each point.

Weapon Range Multiplier Point Blank Range Maximum Range Min. St
short bow 0.25 10 250 +5
composite bow 0.15 15 325 +7
long bow 0.1 15 400 +8
light crossbow 0.15 15 425 +4
heavy crossbow 0.1 20 450 +5

Examples: The penalty to shoot a target at 28 with a short bow is 282*0.25 = 7; there is no penalty with a long bow. The penalty to hit a target at 350 with a long bow or heavy crossbow is 350*0.1 = 35.


The Natural Archer talent should be modified accordingly: The maximum range for a missile weapon is increased by 25% and the minimum St needed to wield the weapon is reduced by +4.

Archer Precision (20): As the Precision talent, but it applies to missile weapons and Directed Ambush.


Directed Ambush (Subterfuge Attack): This skill is the same as Ambush, but it applies to missile weapons. The target must be unaware of the archer and the range penalty cannot exceed 15. Moreover, the target must be standing still or moving predictably (e.g., a guard on patrol). If the target is moving, the Directed Ambush maneuver suffers a penalty of 20 and any critical can only be modified by half of the archers ranks in Directed Ambush.

III. Special Shadow World materials

In the Shadow World setting, bows can be constructed from a variety of materials such as dir or hoen wood.

Material Range Multiplier OB Bonus Maximum Range
Standard wood +0.05 0 10%
Yew 0
Hoen wood +5
Dir wood 0.05 +10 +10%

IV. Bibliography

[1] Gareth Rees. The Physics of Medieval Archery.

[2] La confrérie de larc en main. Les Flèches Médiévales.