Using Ranged Weapons In Melee Combat

One rule that I’ve never been happy with is the firing ranged weapons into a melee quagmire. Honestly, I haven’t been able to develop a better system.

As stated in 2e rules, the DM makes a die roll and assigns a value to each person in the melee. Tiny figures get 1/3 pt. Small ½, medium sized gets 1 point, large 2, huge 4, gigantic gets 6. All of the numbers are added together and whatever dice works best, you throw it. THIS IS CRAZY!!! It might work fine when fighting a giant, but who is going to miss a gigantic character that is towering over all of the fighters?

In my current campaign we are using guns, and we’ve still got to keep to this insane rule, regardless of the fact that it is much easier to aim and fire a gun accurately then it is to fire a bow. So far it’s only come up once. A character fell on top of a large creature, and a fellow adventurer accidentally shot him instead of the Carrion Crawler, GOOD TIMES! This I felt to be accurate, however what do you do in situations where you’ve got a gun slinger, and he fires into a struggle? There should be some way of determining friendly fire that accounts for skill, but is really quick to compute during a round.

Of course I am open to all suggestions. I haven’t ever read any rule system above 2nd Edition so maybe they developed something better, but for right now, I’d like to brainstorm on the subject with you.

There should be some factors involved, well of course there should be judgment. A definite need to use this rule to begin with. I don’t use miniatures, but I think that if a monster or person is being swarmed by 3 people or things, then it’s time to use the rule. I guess that it will take place any time a clean shot can’t be taken.

The Dexterity Factor

DEX should play a factor in this, anything over a 16 gets a bonus, but that is only to hit with ranged weapons, we really don’t have a solid system for accuracy. I really do like ability checks, no matter how many levels a character gets, these rolls always stay the same. Now we just have to ask ourselves what to blend with it, because it isn’t just Dexterity which guides us so that we don’t paste our close friends in combat, it takes Intelligence to remain cool under pressure. Most of the time our friends aren’t just standing there chatting with bad guys about the weather, they are normally getting chewed on, or being hit by sharp pointy objects. We have to keep our cool and remember what to do to handle the situation, but we also need to use our Wisdom. If we aren’t wise, then we won’t see a clean shot when it presents itself to us. So, to determine our first roll we’ll add DEX+INT+WIS and divide it by 3. This will give us our ability check to see if we can accurately take a shot at the intended target.

Now, the problem with this is that if a monster is intelligent enough, or mean enough, he may not give a ranged fighter an opening, especially if he is using the victim as a captive, but then we’ll use a different rule set of cover and concealment, for this article we’ll just be focusing on firing into a melee.

Now that we’ve got a number that we can work with, we can determine if the fighter can get a clean shot on his intended target. It’s up to you if you want to make this roll yourself, or let the player do it. Success means that they think that they can see an opening and can attack normally. A mild failure means that they cannot find an opening, a bad failure means that they think that they can find an opening, but they really can’t and their target is generated randomly, per the old rule.

The Dexterity Problem

Now, the problem with this system is that we don’t always know what the ability scores of our NPC’s are. We might have some clues! Intelligence is listed in the Monster Manual, and we can usually safely assume that their Wisdom will be compared to that number as well. For DEX, we just look at their AC and try and determine how much can be attributed to high dexterity.

Some problem creatures with this system are Skeletons, they are listed as having 0 intelligence, but have high dexterity. Standard AC for them is 7 which could be because they are made of bone, but in the movies, these things are really fast! I think that it is safe to say that they have a base DEX of at least 16, and since they don’t have INT or WIS we won’t worry about them and just do a standard DEX check to see if they can take a shot on who they want to.

For humans, we can just assume they have average abilities of 8, or you can roll up the number itself according to your standard method of generating the scores.

Proficiency & Specialization

Proficiency with the weapon is a necessity to qualify for the above rules, specialized characters should always be able to fire at their intended target, however they might not be able to fire all of their shots into a really crowded melee, for situations like that, cut their number of attacks in half, but they always get at least 1 attack.

Noneweapon Proficiency

Alternatively we can go the route of creating a new NWP.

Sharp-shooting is listed under Warrior; it costs 2 NWP slots, and is treated automatically.

Sharp Shooter: This skill indicates that the character has devoted a great deal of time and effort to the mastery of a specific ranged-weapon. A ranged weapon must be selected when the skill is purchased. A Sharpshooter may be skilled with more then one weapon if a proficiency slot is allocated for each weapon.

Initially, this skill adds a +1 bonus to the intended target’s points when the DM is determining the actual target. This skill can be bettered by spending additional Noneweapon Proficiency slots on it, which would each add a +1 bonus to the intended targets points, making him easier to hit.

The Problem with NWP

Not every character can do it, and if a character is specialized this would be some of the fancy stuff that he should be able to do normally. Perhaps if specialization in, say, the Long Bow, is indicated by the Fighter, then it would increase the point value of his intended target to x2. If he spends more points on specializing with the bow, it increases to x3, x4 or however many weapon slots he wants to spends on it.

If we go this route, then we can move the Sharp Shooter NWP to Priest and Rogue and increase it’s initial cost to 3. A fighter who can’t specialize, or chooses not to specialize on a ranged-weapon should also have access to it for 2 points.

An example in play

Rath is a thief who is a sharp shooter with a crossbow. His party is fighting a harpy, and he has two of his party members blocking his shot, a human fighter, and a dwarven fighter. He has decided that he is going to use his ability to fire into the melee.

Now the Dwarf will mess our entire system up, as he’s only worth ½ a point, thus he will be worth 1 point and that will double everybody else’s point values. The human fighter will now be worth 2 points. The harpy is listed as a Medium Sized Creature of 6 foot, so normally it would be worth 2 points too, however since the thief is a sharpshooter, he’ll gain a plus 1 bonus to hitting it, thus making it worth 3 points.

3+2+1=6 so we’ll be seeing who his actual target will be by rolling a d6 and we’ll put the intended target right in the middle. Thus, a roll of 1 will target the dwarf, a roll of 2,3, or 4 will target the harpy, and rolling a 5, or a 6 will target the human fighter.

Let’s do another one. This time Rath is a fighter who is specialized x2 in his crossbow, and the same party is fighting the same harpy.

The Dwarf is still worth 1, the fighter is still worth 2, but the harpy, because Rath has spent 3 weapon proficiency slots on specializing in the crossbow, is now worth 6. The trouble now is discovering what die to roll because it is a weird number 9.

A d10 is in order, we’ll just reroll any result of 10. If we roll a 1, then he’ll accidentally target the dwarf, if we roll a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or a 7, he’ll target the harpy, and if we roll an 8 or a 9, then it will be the fighter.

Editing the Original Content

The DMG says that we are suppose to add all of the combatants up when trying to find the actual target, but personally I’d argue that the most people that will ever be in your way will be around 3. We are TRYING to aim at a specific target, in our example above, it was the Harpy. If we expand the rest of the melee we find another harpy and 3 more warriors making a total of 7 total combatants, however if Rath specifies an exact target, the Harpy that the Dwarf and the Fighter are fighting, then we can just ignore the other combatants because they are out of the picture. At least I will argue as much. Thus, you should only add the characters that may come between the attacker and his intended target, or anybody who says that they are going to attack that specific harpy with a melee weapon.

Handling Misses

Just because we know what target that the character is aiming at doesn’t mean that the others are out of danger yet. This is only effective if the character actually HITS his intended target, but what if he misses? The arrow has to go someplace, and that someplace might be into one of his party members.

This will require the judgment of an actual DM, verses some guy who simply read the DMG a couple of times. Depending on the amount of failure, determines how far out the loose missile went. The DM needs to determine, first, if the loose missile is dangerous or not. This can quickly be established for with another attack roll, but first we’ve got to find out what the new target is . . . If any.

If the character misses it by a point or two, it can probably be considered a near miss that the harpy dodged and it flew behind him, but for greater misses, it will put our Dwarf and Fighter back at risk. We’ll roll the dice again, and we’ll keep the same values, but if we roll up the harpy again, then it designates a safe miss, however if the target changes to either the dwarf or the fighter, then we’ll roll up an attack real quick, attacking their backs and see if it hit’s the new target.

A loose missile hasn’t got any bonus modifiers unless the missile itself is enchanted. It wasn’t intended to go were it did, thus it will also lose any bonus modifiers for establishing damage as well.

Now, if a 1 was rolled, we could judge it to be a really loss arrow and add up the totals of all of the combatants engaged in the melee!

The Dwarf still has 1, and the fighter still has 2. Our intended target still has 6, but now we give 2 points to the other fighters, and 2 points for the other harpy, we’ll put their numbers in the order that they are standing in.


Now, we’ll pick up our handy dandy Percentile Dice to determine where the stray arrow goes. Because the Harpy was our original target, we’ll want to keep it as centered around 50 as possible, and assign the points in their order at that second.

This is going to look complicated, but just remember to count up or down from 50 to determine if anybody was hit.

Miss (01-36)
Fighter #1 (37-38)
Harpy #1 (39)
Fighter # 2 (40-41)
Harpy #1 (42)
Fighter #3 (43-44)
Miss (45)
Dwarf (46)
Miss (47)
Initial Harpy (48-53)
Miss (54)
Human Fighter (55-56)
Miss (57-00)

Notice how I tabulated the 3 fighters attacking the Harpy #1, there is less space between them then there was around 2 on 1 which Rath was assisting. If the initial harpy is again identified then it was a clean miss. This will cut down on friendly fire, at least for those that are skilled at firing into melees. I just can’t see Robin Hood who was skilled at the bow, as having to randomly fire into a crowded combat melee and suffer the same odds of attacking his party as an average Joe doing the same thing.


Actually, I am pretty happy with this, it looks ready to be play tested, which I’ll do come game-day. It still seems abstract enough to actually be functional, but in theory it doesn’t look like it takes too much time to calculate. No slower then the old way of determining the actual target anyway.


James Mishler said...

I use a system for 1E and C&C that is a bit more complex but I think more realistic. It only really works if you are using miniatures or draw up a combat situation map.

First, it is -2 to hit an enemy target per ally in melee with the target. There is no penalty to hit a large-sized creature engaged with medium and small-sized allies, unless it is large and low to the ground (like a snake or scorpion).

If the shot hits, it hits the intended target; if the shot misses, I use a variant of the Grenade Miss System.

First, roll per range increment to determine how far off the shot was, i.e., 1d6 for point blank, 1d12 for short, 1d20 for medium, and 1d30 for long; halve the result for thrown weapons; this measure is always in feet, even outdoors. Then compare that with the d8 roll for the direction. This is where the missile strikes the ground and comes to rest if it misses all targets.

Draw a line between the missile user and the spot determined by the result. The arrow or bolt or stone or what have you then targets every creature, ally or enemy, the line falls upon, in order from the user of the missile to the endpoint. If it fails to hit any of these targets, it instead strikes the ground. If it somehow passes through the original target creature (such as on a "long (over)" result), do not roll another attack against it.

Note that if it passes through a tree, wall, or similar object, it automatically strikes the tree or object.

I also use this system when combat is crowded, not just when the target is engaged in melee... missiles always hit *somewhere*, after all...

James Mishler said...

I should note that the quick and dirty sub-system of the above system is to only roll an attack against any creature actually at the point the missile comes to rest... lots fewer rolls and, in the case of missiles that must pass through an arc such as arrows, perhaps more realistic.

Ripper X said...

I'll have to try that one out too, however I don't use miniatures, but I do draw out battle maps so that everybody can be on the same page during big drawn out fight scenes.

My current problem is with firing guns, the campaign takes place in the 1890's, a great time but it is really pushing the core rules to the limit, and I felt that it pushed the way that missiles are treated TOO far, and broke the system.

Thanks for your input James.

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