Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Crossbows in D&D 5e and in general

Crossbows (and similar weapons) have been bad choices in most editions of D&D despite being rather iconic. This is a recurring theme in 5e, where the system itself seems to work very well in general but there's a few options that just don't quite work well. Supposedly crossbows're easy to use (point and click) but have a longer loading time, which makes them reasonable for wizards but not other less skilled users, but bows are often superior. Combat & Tactics allows them to ignore up to 5 points of legit armor, making them actually viable in late 2nd edition because you've got a reasonable to-hit bonus over bows which are multiple shots. Let's ignore the fact that bows also require strength and longbows shouldn't be used by Str 8 characters and focus on the crossbow though.

The whole "realism" thing in D&D is rather odd, because up until Combat & Tactics rounds were 1 minute each, so attacks and HP and AC were all rather abstract (like you'd really only make one or two attacks in one minute or legit 1.5 attacks a minute so on even rounds of combat you get an extra attack). Fast forward to third edition: loading takes either a move or a full round, perpetuating the idea the they're slow but powerful. Except they're higher crit range than bows (19-20 vs 20) and damage (1d10 for heavy vs 1d8 for a longbow) and simple weapons (longbows are martial) but longbows have a bigger crit multiplier (x3 vs x2 for crossbows). So there's benefits of crossbows but they don't seem that big.

I wish the loading property in 5e came with a rider that loading weapons did an extra die of damage (or extra d12) at 5th, 11th, and 17th level to counteract their incredibly limiting loading property (or perhaps only if you have the extra attack feature). Slow but powerful, but once/per/round like a cantrip.. 2nd edition made that happen eventually with the Combat & Tactics upgrade, plus a larger damage die meant more in 2e I think. But then 5e went and ruined this by making the crossbow expert feat which lets you ignore the loading property, and my proposed loading property fix isn't going to play nicely with the rogue who doesn't care about extra attack right off the bat.

As far as I can tell, the crossbow expert feat does exactly what feats shouldn't do: this feat is basically required for any warrior-type who would be using a crossbow to make use of their extra attack feature (but rogues and clerics don't need it as badly as they don't get extra attacks). In essence, if you want to play a crossbow using ranger, you need this feat. Its also ridiculously abusive, if it was meant for a drow assassin to be able to attack once with the short sword and once with the hand crossbow, because in practice people use it to dual-wield hand crossbows. This just kinda breaks the versimilitude for me. But whatevs, that's how its written.

Can crossbows be fixed here? I think they can with a little slight of hand. This needs to be a D&D style fix though, so it can't be as simple as an alternate weapon system like in 13th Age or Dungeon World where your class determines weapon damage (which is a mighty fine solution, just not D&D). First, remove the loading property from the light crossbow. The feat give it that wonkiness and rogues get it, and removing the loading property will fix the rogue problem. Any rogue can now use it off-hand for a bonus action attack but the ranged attacks while engaged disadvantage will make it less-than-ideal still. Technically any rogue could also dual-wield these, but they could also toss an off-hand dagger so that's not much of an issue. Still ridiculous, but meh. Next revise the loading property: if you are entitled to an extra attack with a weapon with the loading property due to the extra attack feature, it deals an additional die of weapon damage per extra attack you are entitled to. If you ignore the loading property, you ignore all the loading property, because a level 17 fighter making extra attacks is probably better than getting a pittance more damage. This also clandestinely fixes slings in the process. And maybe blowguns, its not clear what an extra die of damage looks like when a weapon's damage "die" is just 1 point. I'm torn between saying an extra die of damage or just an extra fixed damage like a d10.

By the by, I'm still torn on trying to fix strength by removing the ability of Dex to add to damage, or capping it at +2 to damage (i.e. a finesse weapon adds strength to damage or a max of 2 points of dex bonus, whichever is higher). It would nerf dex-based characters a bit in terms of damage, making strength a bit more appealing, but might have other implications that I haven't explored yet.

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