Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Savage Archery: Overview and design insight

Savage Insider volume 2 issue 2 has been released, and it includes my first "officially" published article: Savage Archery. Here's an overview of my article, for anyone who's not yet bought a copy of Savage Insider, along with some insight into the weapon design guidelines.

Savage Archery gives an overview of ranged combat, along with some tips and tactics for creating and playing an archer. There are also three pre-generated starting characters: Egil, Robin Hood, and William Tell.

After that comes a two-part weapon design system: Choose a type of bow (self, composite or compound) or crossbow (standard, arbalest, repeating or pistol), and then apply a draw-string pull (light, medium, heavy or great). The section finishes up with several archery accessories, such as tabs, bracers, and sights.

The next section covers arrows, which consist of a shaft (wooden, footed, fiberglass, aluminum, or carbon), head (pile, soft, bodkin, broadhead, blunt, fire cage, forked, signal, bowfishing, or quarrel) and fletching (handled as cosmetic trappings, to give each archer a unique flavour).

Edges come next (Born to the Bow, Crossbow Speed Shooting, Fast Shooter, Improved Fast Shooter, Precision Shooting and Stab and Shoot) along with a Hindrance (Reckless Shot).

Finally there's a section on botches, which includes a critical failure table for archers.

Backward Compatible Bows

One of my design goals with the bow and crossbow creation system was that the weapons should be backward compatible with those in SWD. This was a bit tricky, because the English longbow costs $200, while the standard bow costs $250. After some consideration I realised that it's never specified what type of bow the "bow" is - if it were a composite bow, then of course it would make sense for it to cost more. Following that assumption, each weapon can be created as follows:
  • The default "bow" would be a medium-pull composite bow, using soft headed arrows with wooden shafts. The medium-pull grants the 12/24/48 range and the Strength d6 requirement, as well as the weight and price.
  • The "English longbow" would be a heavy-pull self bow, also using soft headed arrows with wooden shafts. The heavy-pull grants the 15/30/60 range and the Strength d8 requirement, as well as the weight and price, however the price of self bows is reduced to 40%.
  • The "crossbow" would be a heavy-pull standard crossbow, using square-headed quarrels (AP 2 for a heavy-pull weapon). They'd be a bit less likely to break than the SWD bolts, but that's the only difference. The heavy-pull grants the 15/30/60 range, but crossbows always reduce their Strength requirement by 1 die step (in this case to d6) and double their weight (to 10).
But of course you're no longer limited to those three weapons. You could create a medium-pull self bow for example, it would have the same stats as the regular bow but cost only $100, however it would be long and cumbersome, and therefore difficult to use from a mount. Or you could create a heavy-pull composite bow for $500, it would be as as powerful as the English longbow but smaller and easier to carry around (a great choice for a mounted archer).

You could even create a medium-pull standard crossbow - it would have range 12/24/48, require Strength d4, have a weight of 6 and cost $250, but the quarrels would only have AP 1 (due to the weaker pull).

Superior Arrows

I choose to justify the AP of the crossbow through its quarrels rather than as an innate bonus of the weapon itself - so the quarrel is what gives the crossbow its AP 2. This means an archer can also gain AP (by using hardened bodkin arrowheads). However arrowheads only provide their full bonus when using a heavy-pull bow, and most people are only strong enough to use heavy-pull crossbows (because of the lower Strength requirement).

While the archer can raise his Strength to d8 to utilise a heavy-pull bow, the crossbowman can use that same advance to take the new Crossbow Speed Shooting Edge, so I think the two options (archer and crossbowman) should balance out.

Disclaimer: The compound bow also reduces the Strength requirement in the same way as a crossbow, however it's a modern weapon, and should therefore be compared with modern crossbows (which can be fitted with optic scopes).

Repeating Crossbows

Right from the beginning, I knew I wanted to include rules for Chinese repeating crossbows, however I wanted them to be at least reasonably realistic. An article I'd read suggested that a repeating crossbow could fire 10 bolts in 15 seconds, which is an average of 1 bolt every 1½ seconds. A round in Savage Worlds lasts 6 seconds, which meant the repeating crossbow should be able to fire 4 bolts per round.

The Automatic Fire rules state that the Rate of Fire (RoF) is multiplied by the number of Shooting dice to determine how much ammunition is actually used. Thus by giving the repeating crossbow RoF 2, it will indeed fire 4 bolts per round.

However the article also described how the repeating crossbow could be modified to fire 2 bolts at a time. While the Double Tap maneuver might seem a thematic fit for such an option, I felt it would make the modification a no-brainer, so instead I had it give a slight damage increase along with a range decrease.

The modified variant also allowed me to justify the Suppressive Fire maneuver. Suppressive Fire uses five times the RoF of the weapon, which in this case would be 10 bolts in a 6 second round. While that's fine for guns, the Chinese repeating crossbow is simply not able to fire bolts that fast - however the modified version can shoot twice as many bolts (8 in 6 seconds), which I felt was close enough.


Savage Archery was a fun article to write, and quite a lot of thought went into the weapon design system. If you like my other fan stuff then I think you'll enjoy this article as well.

But of course that's just one article, and Savage insider is packed with loads of excellent content by a number of different authors. Please do check it out if you haven't already.