The Art of Fighting Section 5: Missile Weapons

Copyright Johs. Sondrup © 2011

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"There is a huge difference in how a bow is used by armies and how it is used by hunters and adventurers."

Editor's Note: The following is the fifth in a series of 13 articles that enhance the combat rules for Rolemaster (RM2). It is our intention to publish another article in this series every month for the next year. This month's article describes a variety of ranged weapons. Next month's article will describe two-handed weapons.

Missile Weapons

Missile weapons consist of bows, crossbows and slings. Starting with bows, there are four main types: The simple type, consisting of a single piece of wood, is called a self bow. A bow made from several pieces of wood glued together is called a built bow. A bow built with sinew glued on the back (the part that facing the target) is called a backed bow and finally a bow made of wood, horn and sinew is called a composite bow. When playing in a fantasy world, these definitions have a tendency to fall apart. Dragon horns make excellent bows, but there are many other fantasy materials that can be used to make bows depending on the world. For more information, I recommend Alchemy Companion.

Historically, bows (especially the English longbow) had a higher rate of fire than the one stated in the rules for Rolemaster. However, there is a huge difference in how a bow is used by armies and how it is used by hunters and adventurers. Hunters and adventurers usually consist of small group of people, shooting directly at a specific target, while army archers shoot volleys of arrows or bolts into a specific area. This means that the army archers are aiming in a direction and a distance, loosing their arrows high into the air, in a wide arc, so that the arrows would rain down on the enemy in great clouds, at a further distance than could be achieved by a straight shot. This technique is much faster than aiming at a specific target, allowing a trained military archer to fire between 12 and 18 arrows a minute (that's 2 or 3 arrows per RM round). This tactic requires massed archers and is not very useful for groups of less than one hundred archers. But, considering that one thousand archers can loft twelve to eighteen thousand arrows per minute, it was highly effective. There are plenty of historical battles where massed archers wiped out the opponent, especially when the archers were supported by spear or pike formations. When the enemy got into close range, the archers shifted to firing straight shots aimed directly at their opponents and this dropped their rate of fire to 6 shots per minute (1 shot per round).

If a player is not trying to hit anyone, but merely shooting an arrow in a desired direction (e.g., when shooting a message arrow), double the bow's range.

Missile Weapons

  • Apache Bow: A backed bow used by the Apache. It may be used while mounted.
  • Arcus: A composite bow used by the Romans. However, while the Roman armies did use archers, these were auxiliary units and not part of the regular units.
  • Assyrian Bow: A Composite bow used by the Assyrians. It had excellent pull and range.
  • Daikyu: A Japanese longbow used by the Samurai. This is an asymmetrical bow, where the grip is positioned at about one-third the distance from the lower tip, which enables this longbow to be used while mounted or from a kneeling position.
  • Egyptian Bow: A little taller than the Assyrian bow, the Egyptian bow was slimmer and had shorter range.
  • Gahk Goong: The traditional Korean bow. It is a recurve bow like the Mongol bow and is built with a core of sinew backed bamboo with oak at the handle and water buffalo horn on the belly. Over the sinew backing is birch bark imported from Northeast China.
  • Greek Bow: A simple self bow, it had limited pull and an equally limited range.
  • Hankyu: A Japanese short bow. Basically the hankyu is a smaller version of the Daikyu, but otherwise identical in both design and material.
  • Mohave Bow: Like the Apache bow, the Mohave bow could be used while mounted, but being a self bow it had limited pull and range.
  • Parthian Bow (a.k.a. Perso-Partian Bow): The Parthian bow is a recurve bow made of ibex horn, wood and animal sinew. The finished bow is then covered by bark, fine leather, or in some cases shark skin and laminated to keep out moisture. It was mostly used mounted and Parthian horse archers inflicted several humiliating defeats on the Romans, the first at the Battle of Carrhae.
  • Recurve Bow (a.k.a Mongol Bow): The recurve bow or Mongol bow is not as large as the English longbow, but it is just as powerful, while being small enough to be used while mounted.
  • Repeating Crossbow (Chu-ko-nu): Believed to have been invented in the first century, the repeating crossbow is a very simple design. A box on the top of the crossbow holds the bolts and when a lever was moved forward and backwards, a bolt would be dropped into place and the string would be strung. The drawback is that the chu-ko-nu did not have the power or accuracy of real crossbows, thus the range is very limited, and it did not have the power to punch through armor. However, they were often used with poisoned bolts, which greatly enhanced the deadliness of this weapon. A larger, wall-mounted version of the chu-ko-nu requiring a two man crew was also invented. This version was somewhat more powerful (and cannot be used by a single person). (In Rolemaster, both versions of the chu-ko-nu can shoot in Fire Phase A and in Fire Phase B, provided the shooter hasn't moved.)
  • Stone Bow: A bow that fires a sling stone instead of an arrow.
  • Stone Crossbow: A crossbow that fires a sling stone instead of a bullet.
Polearm Weapons Table
Name of weapon Type Wt Len F Table Range modifications (in feet)
1-10 11-100 101-200 201-300 301-400 401-500 501-600
Apache Bow MIS 1-2 2-3 4 Short Bow +15 0 -40 -75 -140 - -
Arcus MIS 3-4 2-3 4 Composite Bow +20 0 -35 -60 -120 - -
Assyrian Bow MIS 3-4 3 4 Composite Bow +20 0 -35 -60 -120 - -
Composite Bow MIS 3-4 2-3 4 Composite Bow +25 0 -35 -60 -120 - -
Daikyu MIS 2-3 6-7 5 Longbow +20 0 -30 -40 -60 -120 -
Egyptian Bow MIS 3-4 3-4 4 Composite Bow +20 0 -35 -65 -130 - -
Gahk Goong MIS 2-3 3 5 Composite Bow +25 0 0 -30 -60 -120 -180
Hankyu MIS 1-2 2-3 4 Short Bow +10 0 -40 -70 -140 - -
Longbow MIS 5-7 4-5 5 Longbow +20 0 -30 -40 -60 -120 -180
Mohave Bow MIS 1-2 2-3 4 Short Bow +10 0 -40 -80 -160 - -
Parthian / Sassanian Bow MIS 3-4 3-4 5 Composite Bow (+10) +30 0 0 -30 -70 -130 -200
Recurve Bow MIS 3-4 3-4 5 Composite Bow (+10) +30 0 0 -20 -60 -120 -180
Short Bow MIS 1-2 2-3 4 Short Bow +10 0 -40 -70 -140 - -
Sling MIS 1 2 6 Sling +15 0 -55 - - - -
Stone Bow MIS 1-2 2-3 4 Sling (+15) +15 0 -50 -100 - - -
Heavy Crossbow MIS 8-12 3-4 5 Heavy Crossbow +30 0 -25 -40 -55 -120 -
Light Crossbow MIS 4-8 2-3 5 Light Crossbow +15 0 -35 -50 -75 -140 0
Repeating Crossbow (portable) MIS 3-6 2-3 4 Armored Fist with Puncture Criticals 0 -30 -75 - - - -
Repeating Crossbow (mounted) MIS 9-16 4-5 5 Light Crossbow +10 0 -40 -80 -160 - -
Heavy Stone Crossbow MIS 8-12 3-4 5 Heavy Crossbow with Krush Criticals +20 0 -25 -50 -100 - -
Light Stone Crossbow MIS 4-8 2-3 5 Light Crossbow with Krush Criticals +15 0 -35 -70 -140 - -