Missile Weapon Ranges and how they have changed

We were playing our Monday game, and the subject of weapon ranges came up, we were outside and range became important. So I got to looking and studying the weapon ranges and I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. I was studying my old handbook, the 2e manual with the Warrior on the horse, and was just amazed at how crappy and bad the ranges were. First we talked about how this was listed, if its by feet or meters, but we figured that it must be yards. I tried to find the answer but wasn’t able to at the time.

A sample listing was Dagger, 1/2/3 which baffled me. I can throw a knife more accurately then that! And a spear had the same thing. WHAT?!?!

So, we settled on yards, or 3 feet, which was also wrong, but it got me interested in how range works in the different books that I have.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Axe, hand: 1/2/3
Bow, composite, long: 6/12/21
Bow, composite, short: 5/10/18
Bow, long: 7/14/21
Club: 1/2/3
Crossbow, heavy: 8/16/24
Crossbow, light: 6/12/18
Dagger: 1/2/3
Dart: 1½ /3/4½
Hammer: 1/2/3
Javelin: 2/4/6
Sling (bullet): 5/10/20
Sling (stone): 4/8/16
Spear: 1/2/3

This is the original 1st edition. These scores are terribly inaccurate.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2e (1989 print)

Arquebus: 5/15/21
Blowgun: 1/2/3
Comp. Long bow, flight arrow: 6/12/21
Comp. Long bow, sheaf arrow: 4/8/17
Comp. Short bow: 5/10/18
Long bow, flight arrow: 7/14/21
Longbow, sheaf arrow: 5/10/17
Short bow: 5/10/15
Club: 1/2/3
Hand crossbow: 2/4/6
Heavy crossbow: 8/16/24
Light crossbow: 6/12/18
Dagger: 1/2/3
Dart: 1/2/4
Hammer: 1/2/3
Hand axe: 1/2/3
Harpoon: 1/2/3
Javelin: 2/4/6
Knife: 1/2/3
Sling bullet: 5/10/20
Sling stone: 4/8/16
Spear: 1/2/3
Staff sling bullet --/3-6/9
Staff sling stone --/3-6/9

There are more weapons added, and the Dart was streamlined to make it easier to use, but the numbers are all still confusing. There are no hints about what units we are talking about on this page.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2e (1995 print)

Arquebus: 50/150/210
Blowgun: 10/20/30
Comp. Long bow, flight arrow: 60/120/210
Comp. Long bow, sheaf arrow: 40/80/170
Comp. Short bow: 50/100/180
Longbow, flight arrow: 70/140/210
Longbow, sheaf arrow: 50/100/170
Short bow: 50/100/150
Club: 10/20/30
Hand crossbow: 20/40/60
Heavy crossbow: 80/160/240
Light crossbow: 60/120/180
Dagger: 10/20/30
Dart: 10/20/40
Hammer: 10/20/30
Hand axe: 10/20/30
Harpoon: 10/20/30
Javelin: 20/40/60
Knife: 10/20/30
Sling bullet: 50/100/200
Sling stone: 40/80/160
Spear: 10/20/30
Staff sling bullet: --/30-60/90
Staff sling stone: --/30-60/90

Now, THIS is an improvement. This list even states above it that the stated numbers are in yards. So this would mean that all of the stats listed in the previous editions were listed in tens of yards. Why they couldn’t state this on the charts themselves I honestly have no idea.

PLAYER’S OPTION: Combat & Tactics (also printed in 1995, but complete in 1994)

Arquebus: 10/20/60
Blowgun: 2/4/6
Comp. Long bow, flight arrow: 12/24/42
Comp. Long bow, sheaf arrow: 8/16/34
Comp. Short bow: 10/20/36
Club: 2/4/6
Hand crossbow: 4/8/12
Heavy crossbow: 16/34/48
Light crossbow: 12/24/36
Dagger: 2/4/6
Dart: 2/4/8
Hammer: 2/4/6
Hand axe: 2/4/6
Harpoon: 2/4/6
Javelin: 4/8/12
Knife: 2/4/6
Sling bullet: 10/20/40
Sling stone: 8/16/24
Spear: 2/4/6
Staff sling bullet: -
Staff sling stone: 6/12/18

Out of curiosity, I also included the rarely used and often forgotten handbook of optional rules. This is just a sampling, much more is listed in the book, and is for some odd miniatures rules, and one has to turn to a page prior to find that this is measured in squares, each square equaling 5 feet. Where they got these numbers from I have no idea. Perhaps from the Battle System which came out years and years ago, that I’ve never played neither.

* * *

Looking over the numbers, I see, once again that the reprint which came out in 95 is clearly the better book. The odd thing about it was that I refused to get it, and when I had to buy a Player’s Handbook, I always avoided the reprint. I prefer how the original is laid out, and absolutely LOVE the art inside, but as far as information goes, the winner, at least in this comparison.

I am interested in knowing what 3.0, 3.5, and 4th editions vary from the tables show. Are they the same, or better organized? I just don’t have access to that information.


Pastor Bill said...

Yeah, it was a really strange holdover from the old miniatures rules that ranges were listed in inches which you had to convert to tens of feet underground and tens of yards above ground - it about drove me nuts back in the day...

Timeshadows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

3E used Range Increments. In 2E you had no penalty up to the first Range number, then -2 up to the second, then -5 up to the third.
In 3E they just had one range number. A bow might be 100 feet? I forget exactly. But for every full range increment you suffer -2. So a weapon with range 30 fired at someone 100 feet away would be at -6 to hit. And as I recall the maximum range was x10, though it might have been x5 for thrown weapons (sounds like we houseruled that though).

Ripper X said...

Problem solved! Thanks Pastor Bill, I find your reply deeply interesting, and it does answer a lot of questions about how they arrived at these strange numbers.

Thanks for commenting Timeshadows, I take it that that is the ranges for the new classic system that you're working on?

Anonymous, I appreciate you adding this data. I don't have access to it, and I was interested on how it varied with the older editions. I'm such an old fart that I find much of 3e to be completely beyond me.

Timeshadows said...


I just didn't want to drag the books out.
--Here it goes:

Range Increment-
* Dagger: 10'
* Club: 10'
* Shortspear: 20'
* Spear: 20'
* Crossbow, Heavy: 120'
* Crossbow, Light: 80'
* Dart: 20'
* Javelin: 30'
* Sling bullet: 50'
* Axe, Throwing: 10'
* Hammer, Light: 20'
* Trident: 10'
* Longbow: 100'
* Long-Composite: 110'
* Shortbow: 60'
* Short-Composite: 70'
* Sai: 10'
* Bolas: 10'
* Hand Crossbow: 30'
* Crossbow, Hvy. Repeating: 120'
* Crossbow, Lgt. Repeating: 80'
* Net: 10'
* Shuriken: 10'

^ At or less than the above: No penalty
^ Each Overage iteration: -2
^ Thrown weapons have a 5x max. Increment
^ Projectile (bows, etc.) 10x max. Incr.

That's 3.5's PHB Ranges

Ripper X said...

Thanks Timeshadows, I'm surprised that nobody else jumped on this, considering how many times I've been told that I should be playing 3.5.

These numbers are even more interesting, I find them harder to understand and it would take longer to calculate for me. Plus, why would the ax be improved, but the dagger didn't?

I just never realized this stuff before. Thanks again:)

Timeshadows said...

You're welcome, Ripper X,

Whatever you're most familiar with... :)

My guess why the axe would be better than the dagger is due to its Heft. A heavier object (but not too heavy) travels further due to Momentum, once its Inertia is overcome. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. :D

Brooze the Bear said...

I am aware of a single peculear stat from our own mortal mundane world that hasn't changed over time. At times of the war of the roses, a British archer was required to fire 12 arrows in 60 seconds at a target 150 yards away and seven of those had to hit. Modern minimum qualification for an infantry man are approximately the same - fire 12 shots from an assault rifle at a human silhouette target 150 yards away and a minimum of seven shots ahve to hit. Small change for a footsoldier except that it is easier to kill people and to keep them alive thanks to miracles of modern technology. Another fascinating statistic: When Ancient Romans were invading British Isles whenever they were doing it, the casualty ratios of Roman legionnaires to whoever was fighting against them in the British Isles was approximately 1:19. Amazingly, approximately the same ratio was achieved by the US troops in Vietnam in firefights with the VCs and NVAs. This is just from firefights. Other forms of attack (air bombardment, artillery, traps) made casualties higher for both sides.

In so far as it affects my D&D game, I tweaked the range table for the Longbow to have its Long range start at 151 yards. And all the other rangers were tweaked accordingly. I did the same thing for the Crossbow, I don't remember off hand, but it may have dropped for some, definitely dropped for the Chinese Repeating Crossbow down to 45 yards (actual range achieved by the real world Chinese repeating crossbows).

EndlessSlug said...

A year later he posts...

I like this thread. Another example as to why anything written after around 1993 is crap. Those range numbers are, in fact, for 10's of feet or yards (thanks Pastor Bill). The inch system from 1e was setup for mini's gaming and works very well - the inch just refers to a 10' area on a grid. A dart with a short range of 1.5" simply means 15' or 15 yards, depending on whether you're indoors or out. You can even translate it to a meter system using the same number! In 2e, the dart should have ranges of 1.5/3/4.5, meaning 15'/30'/45'. The only problem folks really ever have is remembering to check the missile type vs. armor chart for further modifiers. For those unfamiliar, every missile has modifiers depending on armor type as to whether or not it will effect the target. For example, a composite long bow firing at someone in chain or banded mail has no modifier (other than range) but it has a bonus to hit someone in lesser armor (+1 hide, +2 leather) and a penalty for heavier armors (-3 full plate, -2 plate). Thus, hitting a full plate mailed opponent in long range might have a -8 penalty, while an unarmored opponent might have only a -2 at the same range. The range modifiers and such are part of a larger integrated system of missile combat. Keep in mind, firing missiles into melee groups is also a complete crap-shoot making the situation more hazardous for everyone.
In all this 3e/4e stuff, the idea that a missile modifier is improved with each range increment is defeating to basic reality of the loss of inertia over time and effects of the environment the further that certain types of missiles go. Most weapon statistics from the older editions follow the linear progression, which is probably why they used it as a normal base, but instead of having fifteen exceptions to a base rule, why not just have the original range numbers which were really much easier to work with instead of placating new role-player rants? Once again, an excellent demonstration of the ineptitude of the people who wrote these new editions. All hail 1e/2e and down with the 2.5e+!
Also, for Brooze, right on man! The earlier editions have a great flexibility for alterations to the statistics of the weapons as we learn more about the real things, with minimal, if any, required calculation. "Long bows are 15M now? ok cool, I'll change that." Immediately, a player can have a sense in the mind of how far that is.

Biff Strong said...

The D&D numbers were in inches for miniatures so it was a scale. So 1" was actually 10' in the same way that your base 12" movement was 120' in the dungeon. The information is all there but you have to read everything. As you see the 1/2/3 range for your dagger is actually the same as 10's of feet indoors and tens of yards outdoors. It was a game built out of a miniature medieval war game and so that anachronistic scaling was left in.

Ripper X said...

Howdy Biff Strong, WOW this one is old, and it is funny because I had forgot that it was even here! It is one of those windows where I could definitely write a better article now.

Little heard of book? Funny little system? I've adapted all of this stuff into my game when I run into a situation that warrants it.

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