Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Archery - a physical or a mental sport?

What Stats for Archery?

While finalising the details of the next section of the rules of Explore I had to grapple with a simple but fundamental question for the game - is Archery primarily a physical or a mental sport?

The English Longbow from the Middle Ages required great Strength to use and reputedly archers trained from childhood, so undoubtedly Strength is an important factor. In Explore I model that as adding your Strength bonus to your damage as Strength allows you to shoot a heavier bow.

In D&D bonuses to hit for bows came from Dexterity, and most games since have followed this example. Although loosing an arrow requires finesse, with a Medieval Bow there are few aids to the archer and their judgement becomes far more important - choosing the angle to aim at to account for wind, range, and a possibly moving target - so for the single stat to provide a bonus I instead chose Intuition. One added advantage of this is that it differentiates Archers from other Warriors as they gain their to hit bonus in Melee from Agility.

So Strength gives a damage bonus, Agility gives a to-hit bonus - which prompted the question that's been facing me this last week - should Archers put their highest stat in Strength or Agility?

System Mastery

People talk of "system mastery", and while I'm not keen on the concept of being at a disadvantage for not mastering the rules of an RPG, I do think that it's incumbent upon me to understand the implications of the rules; if one choice is "better" then I need to understand that.

So what's the benefit of a bonus in Intuition for an Archer? It gives you a bonus on to hit, and nothing more. What's the benefit of a bonus in Strength for an Archer? It gives you a bonus on damage, but also it counts in Melee - which is likely to be of some use. Since I know a bonus on to hit or on to damage is equivalently effective in Explore, it is thus clear that the "better" choice is to put your best bonus in Strength.

Quotes like this one from Fitness for Archery:
archery is not usually seen as a sport requiring high levels of fitness
made me reluctant to have Strength the prime stat, but this conflicted with the view of the super-strong Medieval Archer.

I decided to go back to reality to find the answer - which might be more important to a Dungeoneering Archer?

The Life Of a Dungeoneering Archer

Strength is clearly important to a Medieval archer because they need to shoot a heavy arrow a long way, and when shooting at an opposing army accuracy is not that much of an issue.

For an Olympic Archer, Strength is not that important - modern bows are light to pull - and accuracy is everything.

For the Dungeoneering, Monster Hunting, Ambushing, Shooting-into-combat Archer both are important. But if you don't hit - what does it matter how much damage you could have done?

It doesn't matter how hard you shoot if you miss

Archery has one big advantage over Melee attacks - you can attack from a distance - but in Explore this gives fairly hefty penalties. In fact you are quite often going to be shooting with less than a 50% chance of hitting. In this situation an oddity occurs in the statistics for Explore - the rule that all bonuses in combat are equivalent does not hold if  you have less than a 50% chance of hitting or of doing damage. In this case the bonus is much more effective placed in what you're worst at.

This observation made me realise that Explore is by happy accident modelling real life:

If an Archer is planning on frequently being involved in Melee combat they need their biggest bonus in Strength.

BUT... if instead they plan on keeping out of Melee combat and want to excel in an Ambush, then they need their biggest bonus in Intuition.


  1. Anything that makes different stats useful for different thing in combat makes sense and in the context of archers who are skirmishing and shooting into melee Intuition makes a lot of sense as the proper stat.

    For Strength to give a damage bonus with a bow it would seem the archer would need a bow with a heavy pull. So they wouldn't get the bonus with a lighter bow and, on the other hand, a person with a low Strength couldn't fully draw the strong archer's bow and probably couldn't string it.

    The first literary example of this is in the Odyssey when none of the suitors are able to string the bow of Odysseus.

  2. Yes, in Explore bows have to fit the archer for the reasons you mention. I'm not sure how much to focus on this as a DM - do I insist someone has to get a stronger bow before they can make use of their newly improved strength? Or just hand wave it and assume they got one. I did decide to wave it for the effects of the spell Strength - that does give you a bonus to all damage including arrows (but not crossbow bolts!).