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Doing Shots — Archery in Pathfinder versus real-life Robin Hoods

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

C: So Angela, earlier today—by which I mean about four minutes before we started this discussion—you were telling me about a discovery you made with respect to the longbow. And I should stress that right now we’re talking about the world of humanity and reality—that is to say real life, IRL, non-D&D, not Pathfinder, etcetera.

A: Yes. I was doing research into the distances bows can shoot. It turns out to be a really, really long way.

C: I think we should also mention that the fountain of your knowledge for this, the site where you are currently looking up the answers to your longbow questions, is Yahoo Answers.

A: It is indeed.

C: Which, I would say, is a solid one out of two on reputability. Though I probably trust it on this topic.

A: I want to say that the answer I’m looking at has been written by 'archerdude'; he has the word ‘archer’ in his name.

C: And he’s a dude, as opposed to just a “guy” or a “fella”, which, among my people, conveys a pretty thorough degree of respect.

A: And his sources are ‘my own knowledge of archery history’, which I think is pretty good, or at least better than my source, which is the internet.

C: Okay, I’ll accept the credentials of archerdude. What’s he got to say?

A: So this isn’t for an accurate shot, but the furthest recorded distance an arrow has ever gone in modern times is 1,222m.

C: Oh boy. That’s a lot of metres.

A: Right. And then the official, furthest accurate shot ever recorded, according to the Guinness Book of Records

C: The Yahoo Answers of books, as it were.

A: Is 283m, or 930 feet.

C: Okay!

A: And in the D&D/Pathfinder world, longbows normally have a hundred foot range.

C: You can get composite bows. I think every composite bonus adds another ten feet.

A: So you could get up to 150, I guess, if you were a super dexterous and strong character. But that’s still 780 feet short.

C: I have two immediate takes on this. Take One is that D&D sometimes ends up being too simplistic or less accurate than it could be because the game is essentially designed for balance rather than realism in order to let people have a fun and complete experience. Yes, people can shoot further in real life, but if archers in D&D could all shoot that far, they would have an enormous advantage over all other combatants, and that’s not that fun or fair.

A: Right.

C: And Take Two is: let’s plan this out logistically. Could we get a D&D archer up to 930 feet?

A: Yeah, I was wanting to focus on the second option. There are a lot of minor discrepancies and inaccuracies in D&D weapons, like the fact that a greatsword and a dagger are both considered to have the same reach. But I’m okay with the reasons why that is; this wasn’t me wanting to be like, ‘dammit, D&D’s broken, and here’s the proof’.

C: Yeah. Just checking, because that would have been a very different conversation.

A: So what do you think the actual realistic furthest shot could be?

C: In D&D? Or just in real life?

A: In D&D. We already have the real life one.

C: Right. In the Guinness Book of World Records and in the report by archerdude, who I have to infer is the person who fired that shot but did so anonymously, building up his legend a little more—

A: Oh, I can tell you the record holder’s name. Sorry. He’s called Matt Saltzman. We should a hundred percent acknowledge that he is good at archery.

C: Alright, regardless of what Matt 'archerdude' Saltzman has discovered in real life, we’re here to discern the logistics of a D&D master marksman. There are a couple of things we need to consider right out of the gate. Number One: there is a -2 penalty made to attack rolls made whilst shooting over range. So if you shoot at a target 400 feet away with a longbow, you would take a -8 malus on that shot.

A: -6. It’s three times over the range.

C: -6, my math isn’t so great. And there’s the feat Far Shot which brings that penalty down from -2 to -1. So you would only take a -3 malus on your 400 foot target.

A: You need Point Blank Shot first, but yeah, we can have sunk several feats into this shot.

C: Why would you need…nevermind, that’s another conversation. Now, I’m expecting that Mr Saltzman, aka archerdude, aka Robin Hood 2018 edition, has a fair few levels in a class which is proficient in use of the longbow—since he made that excellent shot and all.

A: Yeah, I think we can assume our archer is proficient with longbows. And we’re giving him a composite bow, I assume? Since modern longbows are probably the equivalent of D&D composites.

C: Sure.

A: Let’s give him a +3 composite. Oh wait. Looking up longbows, all composites get a range of 110 feet regardless of their bonuses. So 110 has to be his base distance.

C: I still think we can do this. Let’s make this guy a level 6 warrior so that he’s the same level as the party currently is in my game; that gives him a base attack bonus of 6. And he probably has a decent dexterity modifier as well based on the fact he’s an archer. So that gives us a fair few pluses to add to our shot.

A: True. I think we can give him a +4 Dexterity modifier, since that probably would be his highest stat.

C: So we’ve gotten him his levels, and we’ve figured out his feats, stats, etcetera. Now we need to do the enemy—let’s give it an AC of 15. That feels reasonable.

A: Okay, and then distance. So a target 880 feet away would be at -7, and 930 would be -8. And in the positives we have his BAB of +6 and his dex of +4 for a total of +10. So he would be adding a total of +2 to the dice roll.

C: Which, if the average roll is 10, and the enemy AC is 15, isn’t great, but isn’t terrible.

A: Thirty five percent hit rate. We could give him the Dedicated Adversary feat so that he gets a +2 against favoured enemies. That would almost get it to hitting fifty percent of the time, if it was against a target he hated.

C: True, but either way, it’s still adding something to the dice roll, so not bananas bad by any stretch of the imagination. 930 feet is definitely possible in D&D as well as in the real world.

A: I now want to make a witch-ranger with the fly hex. She will zoom hundreds of feet into the air and then take potshots at you guys.

C: It’s also worth noting that the limitation on arrow distances are not the longbows, it’s the size of our table. Or the ceiling, I guess.

A: Yeah, there are practical reasons why you can’t do this in game. But I’m glad we worked it out. And I learnt about Far Shot which sounds like a good feat.

C: Yeah, it’s great when you’re building NPCs. When we’ve done a couple of battles in my campaign where the party has just been a small section of a much larger skirmish; I added in archers on both sides with Far Shot and Volley Fire to create that big-battle feeling. The implication wasn’t that those archers were a hundred feet away from one other, but rather that that they were shooting at each other over range.

A: Right, although I was actually thinking of throwing daggers, which I guess it also works for.

A: Because my campaign doesn’t actually feature that many bowmen, but I do have a ton of people with daggers. My setting is this wealthy town full of rich witches—who are basically trained in no weapons—so a lot of NPCs don’t openly carry longbows or spears or the like, but they can all legitimately have fruit knives. So now that I’ve learnt this new feat, that’s pretty neat.

C: All your characters just throwing Ikea ceramic knives at people. Why not, right?

A: My new boss is Chef Louis from The Little Mermaid.

C: Chefs with Distance Thrower—that could actually make sense; I mean, think how high they need to flip pancakes.

A: And barmaids get Throw Anything, right?

C: Yeah.

A: I’m going to go design a killer bar where all the patrons are normal but it turns out that the staff are incredible.

C: Isn’t that sort of how your campaign started a little bit?

A: Yeah, but they weren’t very good. You defeated them.

C: Well, practice makes perfect.

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