30 min read

Introduction

Bows have been around for 10 to 15,000 years, and have historically been used on every continent but Australia.

They’re not just a staple of historical and heroic fantasy stories, though. Super-hero comics have a surprising density of archers, with Hawkeye and Green Arrow being of course the big two.

This article :

  • Is about stories and gaming. It draws (heh) from reality, but it isn’t about real-world stuff.
  • So a/ it’s very simplified (it’s a primer), b/ it refers to but doesn’t describe history and c/ it’s not written by any sort of historian.
  • Can be read after the Melee weapons – chapter zero intro document. Large chunks of it apply to this article.
  • Our guide to our articles about weapons is another useful resource with additional explanations.
  • Is focused on DC Heroes RPG game stats, but remains readable by the lay person.

The photograph in this article’s header is by Batzaya Choijiljav  , a pro photographer from Ulaanbaatar with a nice web site.

Table of content

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Basic bow types

Here are the three core classes of bow. Then we’ll discusss both the general and technical aspects in more details.

Low-powered bow

[BODY 02, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 03), Enhance (Range): 02 (cap is 04), Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 02, R#03, Limitation: Low Penetration, Descriptor: Piercing].

Usually a small, light bow with a weak-to-medium pull. It might have been improvised by a knowledgeable person using a branch and some string. Or it might be an early form of shortbow.

Many Classical bows (such as those used by Ancient Greeks or Egyptians), and most Native American bows will fit into this category.

Characteristics

Draw weight is at most in the 40-50 lbs. (18 to 22 Kg.) range.

Therefore, arrows are more likely to wound than kill – assuming no body armour. It’s meant to hunt smaller game. Warriors in mostly metallic armour will ignore such arrows unless they hit right onto an exposed area or weak point.

Such bows usually are a “self bow”. This means that they are made from a single piece of carefully chosen wood. Slightly more advanced bows, or bows made in areas lacking suitable trees, are backed bows. This usually means sinew glued to the back of the bow to improve tension.

Shapes vary. Most look like the letter D. But many ancient bows looked more like the letter C while many American and European bows looked like the character [.

Size depends on origin. Somewhere between 1m and 1.7m high, with weight in the 600-700 grams (1.3 to 1.55 lbs.) range.

In fantasy stories, bows used by smaller species — such as hobbits — will by necessity be low-powered bows.

Variant – ninja half-bow

[BODY 02, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 03), Enhance (Range): 02 (cap is 04), Miniaturisation: 02, Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 02, R#03, Limitation: Low Penetration, Descriptor: Piercing, Drawback: Must be assembled before use, which takes a minimum of three Phases for the best experts.]

In the stories, ninja have special hankyu (“half-length bow”, or shortbow). These can be disassembled in two halves, each hidden within a kimono sleeve. The bow is then swiftly assembled and strung before use.

Anastasya Zelenova cosplaying as Katniss Everdeen

Cosplayer Anastasya Zelenova  doing Katniss Everdeen. A somewhat tall self bow, cobbled together from so-so material.

Medium-powered bow

[BODY 03, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 04), Enhance (Range): 03 (cap is 06), Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 03, R#02, Limitation: Low Penetration, Descriptor: Piercing].

A more powerful bow, with a pull around 60-75 lbs. (27 to 34 Kg.). A weapon for low-intensity ancient warfare or to hunt larger game.

Historical examples include most European and Chinese longbows. These usually are taller than their wielders (1.8m (5’11”) or so).

Characteristics

Operating bows in this category requires superior upper-body strength. Plus lengthy training. Being an archer is being a specialist.

Once the opposition starts wearing heavy chain hauberks or, worse, plate, this type of bow loses a lot of its long-range power. But different arrowheads and tactics can compensate to an extent.

The BODY score given here is an inflated, fictional one. It models movie and comics archers using their bow as a fighting staff in a pinch, and even blocking blades with it. You can’t do that with a real bow.

Recurve bows

Another type of medium-powered is the composite bow (not to be confused with the compound bow).

Those have a body made of carefully selected, assembled and layered wood, sinew, bone, horn… The exact mix depends on what’s locally available.

The shape is also different – hence the “recurve” name, describing the curves on the limbs.

The short, heavy Turkish bow is a fine example of a composite bow – as was the Mongol horse raider bow. This is a common design worldwide – but in English-language fiction, it tends to be overshadowed by the mythology around the Anglo-Welsh longbow.

Wonder Woman movie Amazon archers cliff leap

Themysciran archer (cinematic universe version) with longbow.

Archery - Mulan aiming bow live action Disney movie

Mulan (live action 2020 Disney movie) with a recurve bow.

Badass bow

[BODY 04, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 05), Enhance (Range): 03 (cap is 07), Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 04, R#02, Limitation: Low Penetration, Descriptor: Piercing].

Whichever large bow has a fearsome enough reputation. This category is more based on narrative conventions than, say, draw weight. Examples :

  • The Anglo-Welsh longbow, of Robin Hood fame.
  • The Japanese daikyu.
  • Bows built for exceptionally strong persons. Like Odysseus’ bow in Homer’s tales, which ordinary warriors couldn’t even string.
  • Fantasy bows that sound sufficiently ominous. Like the bone bows of Melniboné in Stormbringer. Or bows built my magic archer people, which usually means Elves.
  • Modern custom-built bows bristling with esoteric accessories.

Of course, almost every super-heroic or video game badass archer will have a badass bow.

The English longbow…

…was also used in Wales. But this pales compared to Robin Hood’s narrative footprint.

It is a huge affair – 2+ metres tall. It’s hard to tell what their pull weight was, though 80 to 120 lbs. (36 to 54 Kg.) seems likely outside of some fanciful assertions. This is an awful lot, especially if one is to aim correctly.

As a result there’s a whole body of facts and legends about yeomen archers, and an oft-quoted proverb (“to train a yeoman in archery, start by training his grandfather”). The training regimen took a while to develop, and had to start at a very young age.

Various apocryphal-or-mostly-apocryphal-but-we-don’t-care-in-this-article titbits include :

  • Skeletal deformations caused by lifelong training. Such as an enlarged left arm, or horn and bone spurs along the right one.
  • Historical longbows having such a high draw weight that no modern bowman could accurately shoot them.
  • The English longbow being the ultimate and most devastating battlefield weapon of its time (dramatic English music.

There is also plenty of folklore around how to select the height and weight of the bow assigned to an archer. Same height as the archer with his arms raised, same weight as the archer at birth, etc..

The Japanese 大弓…

… (pronounced daikyu, meaning ”great bow”) is asymmetrical. ⅓ of the height is under the archer’s hand and ⅔ above. This means that it can also be used while riding a horse.

The drawing technique is different (more on that later) so the draw weight for a war bow is usually circa 70 lbs. (32 Kg.). The bow is usually about 2.1 metres (two yards) tall. They are usually built of bamboo and wood laminate.

The great bow was, along with the sword, a symbol of both martial excellence requiring lifelong training to master, and of the warrior caste. Kyujutsu (techniques of archery) would give birth to kyudo (the way of the bow). Kyudo is a contemplative and meditative expression of older Japanese aesthetics and Shinto spirituality.

Thus, along with the brave samurai, the other cliché daikyu expert is the Zen master. Who might even be blind.

Hawkeye (Clint Barton) archery picture by Aja

Some of the distinctive Hawkeye art by David Aja  .

Japanese daikyu kyudo practice circa 1960 crude colourisation

Three archers circa 1860, from the Smithsonian’s collections of early photographs of Japan. I did a one-click colourisation pass (hence the archer with an obsidian face) a/ out of curiosity and b/ for readers with low-contrast vision.

Quivers

The main ways of keeping your arrows ready for use are :

1/ Stuck in the ground just in front of your firing spot

This was probably the most common approach for footmen.

British longbowmen had the charming habit of urinating on their arrows. But one doubts it actually helped infecting wounds.

2/ Tucked under your belt

Another common approach in Europe. Especially if you were but a poor yeoman. It is difficult to carry more than five or six arrows in this way, though.

One Japanese version is a rectangular piece of cork attached to your belt, in the small of the back. You can usually stick about four arrows into one. This is used by DC Comics character Shado.

3/ Back quiver

These are rigid and worn on the back.

While this allows for carrying a bunch of arrows, this is not the most convenient arrangement. Much like your back is not the most convenient place to carry two-handed melee weapons.

The main exception is when you’re hunting among thick woodland. Then, having your quiver on your back so every other branch doesn’t catch it is a necessary compromise. And some old paintings depict such dorsal, hunting quivers being used on the battlefield.

Dorsal quivers are so prevalent in fiction that they carry no game penalties for fast-draws. Fictional archers also always know how many arrows are left, even though they can’t see their quiver.

In comic books, rigid back quivers can carry up to 40 arrows or so. Some characters, such as Merlyn the Archer, have two such quivers.

4/ Arrow bags

A tube of tough fabric hanging against your right shoulder blade and buttock, with all arrows pointing downward. It might have leather spacers to separate arrows and protect their fletching.

So it’s less impressive, but more sensible, than fictional quivers.

The bag also has flaps at both end, to insert or draw arrows (which is always done point-first). It is not unusual to pad the flap holding the arrow heads with straw, so the points won’t damage the canvas.

5/ Back-and-belt quiver

This is a wooden box, with mullionsHere, closely spaced parallel bars. on top that can hold arrows in place. The one in the illustration is used in yabusame, a Japanese mounted archery sports event. Which derives from a long tradition of mounted archery there.

Japanese-style assymetric bows and release techniques generally allow for thicker, longer arrows. Which is another important difference from yeomen-style foot archers, and is a factor in the different quiver style.

Modern yabusame target-shooting quivers will hold about a half-dozen arrows (so, two passes over three targets), but period quivers used in war likely held a score.

This 2½ minutes video from 市村弘 clearly shows a yabusame quiver (this one was self-made by Ms. Ichimura) in action. As a bonus you can also see a raise-and-lower release technique with a Japanese bow, and can a good sense of what a horse archer sees (since there’s a segment shot with her GoPro).

6/ Thigh quiver

Some rigid quivers were worn along the right thigh, hanging from the belt. Maximum capacity is perhaps 12 arrows.

They are pretty noisy, though.

7/ Bow-mounted quiver

Modern hunting compound bows can have the quiver attached directly to the bow, holding 3-10 arrows. It can be attached and detached easily with a thumbscrew.

DCH stats

In DC Heroes terms, use the Ammunition Load Drawback).

A 20-arrow dorsal quiver would thus go — [BODY 01, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is [per bow type]), Ammo: 20, Limitation : Ammunition load for my bow].

The same quiver holding two kinds of arrows could be bought as, say, one 12-arrow quiver and one 8-armour-piercing-arrow quiver. Even if it’s physically the same container.

Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) with his weapon

Stephen Amell as Green Arrow (Oliver Queen).

Modern bows

That usually means compound bows.

Appearing in the 1970s, these use one of the great mechanical strength multipliers. No, not the lever, the pulley. Compound bows thus have a very long string set in cams. These multiply the strength of the archer.

Some fantasy bows might present the same multiplier by being composite bows made of supernatural materials. Such as dragonthorn wood.

Medium-powered compound bow

[BODY 03, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 04), Enhance (Range): 03 (cap is 06), Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 02, R#02, Limitation: Low Penetration, Descriptor: Piercing].

Badass compound bow

[BODY 04, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 05), Enhance (Range): 03 (cap is 07), Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 03, R#02, Limitation: Low Penetration, Descriptor: Piercing].

Heroically strong archers (STR 04) will thus be equally efficient operating an ancient bow or a compound one. This models most genre fiction.

2000s version of Turok the Dinosaur Hunter with his bow

Turok during the 2000s.

Modern archery gadgets

Modern bows can also bristle with gadgets, if you let them. In stories, these usually are just here for the tacticool factor.

But a modern archery specialist character might actually use them, so here are the main ones :

Stabiliser

This is a 6”-8” (15 to 20 cm.) cylinder mounted on the bow. It points in the same direction than the arrow.

A stabiliser is basically a shock absorber. It lessens the felt weight release and vibration. This makes a bow quieter, and easier to keep on target for successive shots. It also lessens fatigue when firing many arrows.

Using high-quality stabilisers, padded cams, special string, etc. a fictional bow can be silenced. It is thus *vaguely* plausible as a special military force weapon. Such a bow would have a Stealth Archery Suite [BODY 03, Thief (stealth): 03, Limitation : Thief (stealth) only to muffle the shots].

Mobile arrow rest

Those are swivelling fins. They raise and support the arrow as the string is drawn back, lining it up with the eye. When the arrow is shot they softly slide away in order not to interfere with the arrow and its fletching.

Arrow rests have no game effect. But seeing the smooth metal fins raise the arrow as the string is drawn can be cool.

Laser rangefinder

For precision archery, knowing the exact range to the target is important to compensate for arrow drop.

Laser rangefinders have no game effect, however. High-skill archers can precisely eyeball the target without a rangefinder. And in fiction mediocre bowmen will not hit anything important, with or without electronic gadgets.

Less technological bows will have a more traditional pivoting sight with day-glo yardage markers, facilitating the estimation of range. And perhaps a bubble level.

Pendulum sights were also a common solution some years back, but are usually only useful at 25 metres or less.

Breeze detector

This is a tiny plastic bottle that can squirt fine mist in the air, to visualise the direction and strength of wind. Arrows are quite susceptible to wind.

Like the rangefinder and for similar reasons, it has no game effects.

Peep sight

This is simply a hole you can look through. This is much like closing one eye before shooting, only more efficient as it focuses vision where you are aiming.

A peep sight is worse than useless when shooting fast, but good for careful aiming shots.

Good models have four equidistant, day-glo points around the hole. By eyeballing the angle of the target between the various points, you can achieve what is basically a crosshair effect. The dots are day-glo since hunting often takes place at dusk or dawn.

Peep sights have no game effect. But I suppose you could go wild and have a wide-angle optical scope with actual APs of Telescopic Vision mounted on your high-tech bow. Or even, God forbid, a laser sight on a balanced sight arm.

Archery - Tomb Raider Lara Croft Alicia Vikander aiming bow

The rebooted Lara Croft (live action version feat. Alicia Vikander) with bow.

Special-purpose bows

These are low-tech, niche kinds of bows and accessories.

Hazu-yari

A hazu-yari is a kind of Japanese bow, primarily made during the late 1500s and early 1600s. It is an asymmetric longbow (essentially a daikyu) with the longer part ending with a spearhead.

This allows an archer to defend themselves if forced into close combat. Or to rush in and finish off a nearby wounded foe. However, it’s not quite used like a spear. One needs specific training to compensate for the haft not being a straight stick.

Comic book archers routinely clobber foes with their bow, so taking durability into account may not be necessary. If you want some, a simple R# should suffice.

The spearhead adds Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 05) with a Piercing Descriptor to the bow. When used this way, the range-based bonus and penalties used for spears also apply.

The EV cap is lowballed by one AP to help explain why very strong archers (such as Hawkeye (Clint Barton)) don’t bother adding a spearhead to their bow.

Mini-video published on Twitter by 猫毛玉.

Dual bow

An oddity that uses a frame architecture to build a small-game hunting bow with four limbs. So it looks like two, parallel recurve bows assembled into a single weapon.

To my knowledge, it is just a curio. There’s no genuine advantage to it. You have a clearer view of the target area since there’s no bow limb taking up part of your central-ish field of view, but that seems to be about it. Yet it looks cool, and that’s important for stories.

One specimen was documented in Bow And Arrow Magazine back in 1968, built by one Neil Tarbell.

It was marketed as the Tarantula bow, but you can’t fool me Tarbell. A bow named after a spider would obviously have eight limbs, not four. I’m too smart for you, Tarbell. Give it up.

In game terms, it simply is a medium bow. But this architecture could be of interest for a sci-fi bow, or a magic bow. Particularly those who fire cumbersome arrows, or multiple arrows. Say, magic arrows that duplicate themselves as soon as they’re released, or grenade arrows.

It could also make sense for a super-strength bow, as a solution to produce a very high draw weight without making the bow too tall. Say, so it can be used indoors or within a spaceship.

Neil Tarbell Tarantula dual bow archery magazine photo

Mr. Tarbell shooting a Tarantula. One-click colourisation so the dual bow is easier to see.

Penobscot-style bow

This odd-looking design seems to have been an innovation from the Penobscot Nation. But its history is unclear.

It looks like a 60-inches-ish (1.50m) longbow or recurve bow, with a much smaller bow literally glued on the front. The string is held by the limbs of both bows, and fine-tuning its lengths until it feels right can take a while.

This double bow design has some small advantages.

  1. The draw can be smoother and deeper, assuming that everything has been set up correctly. This can help with accuracy.
  2. The limbs of the main bow do not have to be as long and as strong to achieve a given draw weight. That could be a story point. If there isn’t suitable wood for a longbow, nor suitable expertise for a composite bow, this design solution could still allow for building a powerful bow. It could also be a point if one needs a war bow that can be used in confined spaces.
  3. It looks cool and distinctive.

But in game terms, there is no game stats differences.

Archery double bow design example

Here’s a visually striking example from a high-end archery artisan in Connecticut.

Saboted arrows

What I personally call “saboted arrows” is a tech that emerged in several countries. In Byzantium it was a “solenarion”, in Korea a “pyeonjeon (편전)”, in Japan a “kudaya (管矢)”, in Turkey a “majra”.

The idea is to shoot a shorter, more rigid arrow – not unlike a crossbow bolt. These fly further, truer and faster than a full-sized arrow. Since the latter are heavier, have more drag, deform upon firing, oscillate in flight, etc..

A kudaya-shot bolt can be nearly twice as fast as a normal Japanese arrow fired from the same 30 lbs. (14 Kg.) draw strength bow (260 km/h vs. 140 km/h (160 mph to 86 mph)).

Operation

The key idea is that you put the bolt-like arrow on a full-length guide. Say, a sort of slit bamboo tube. So you can fully draw your war bow, and the string will snap back along the guide to propel the bolt. After you release, you’re left with an empty tube/guide in which you can insert a new bolt.

(So yes it’s not technically a sabot, since the “wrapper” isn’t shot along with the projectile.)

Saboted arrows allow for longer-ranged fire, which is great for military formations on open-ish ground. They’re also better at penetrating body armour. But they are slower — you can’t simply chain releases — and they put more stress on the bow.

They’re also an advantage in those situations where you end up picking semi-intact arrows shot by your opponents and firing them back – because you’ve ran out. If you’re using saboted arrows your projectiles are too short for the enemy to use. But *you* can snap spent enemy arrrows and use them.

Story presence

In most contexts this tech is now obscure. For the longest time, scholars had little idea what the Byzantines meant by “solenarion” in period documents. Some sort of crossbow, perhaps ?

But in Korea, it has a larger cultural footprint. Because it is associated with repelling the Japanese invasions of the late 1500s. Shooting pyeonjeon bolts was a solid counter for the Western arquebuses used by the Japanese militaries.

Stats

DCH Arrow Sabot [BODY 01, Ammo: 01, Enhance (Range): 01 (cap is 08), Note: removes any Limited Penetration Drawback the bow it is used with might have, R#3].
Since these are Enhance APs, they stack linearly with the bow’s Enhance (Range). For instance a Medium-Powered Bow has Enhance (Range): 03 (cap is 06), but with the sabot you get 3+1=4 APs of Enhance (Range) and a better cap (8 APs).

Note that you have to load a bolt into the sabot first (it has an Ammo score, see ?). That takes a full Phase during which no Auto or Dice Actions can be taken. Then you shoot normally – and since the sabot isn’t an arrow, any Lightning Release Schtick won’t apply.

Video

A 22 seconds video with a Turkish instructor clearly showing how you use a majra.

Applied archery 101

Here we discuss the DC Heroes technical aspects.

Proposed DCH rules

All these proposed rules are patches to avoid some silly side-effects. They also help with granularity at low power levels.

Both Enhances for bows — EV and Range — augment the wielder’s STR.

Ammunition

The main problem with bows is that they have Ammo: 01. Archers always have to reload (grab, nock and draw a new arrow) to shoot anew.

See the Ammunition Restriction discussion in our New Rules – Drawbacks document for more.

The Lightning Release Schtick (see the Schticks document) is thus critical to combat archery. It is what separates heroic archers from guys with a bow.

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STR and BODY aspects

In our “basic bow types” typology, there’s a type of bow for STR 02 (ordinary people), one for STR 03 (strong people), and one for STR 04 (heroically strong people). You always end up with the same EV and Range.

The mechanics are written in a bit more complex manner to handle corner cases. Such as having to use a bow that’s too powerful for you (because, say, you’re wounded).

The BODY of stronger bows is highballed. This represents comic book archer commonly using their bow as a sturdy melee weapon.

Some heroic archers use high-pull-weight bows but do not otherwise demonstrate great physical strength. This can be handled by the Mighty Thews Schtick.

Misc.

Here are some niche considerations.

Can Be Fired From Horseback Advantage

Most bows in Western fiction cannot be fired from horseback, so those that can have an Advantage.

The cost of this Advantage is entirely dependent upon the campaign. In a low-tech campaign where bows are the main long-range weapons and horse-riding is the main form of transportation, it would be worth five points. In a modern setting, this is more of a sidenote and is worth a single point.

The best historical horse archers were a big deal – think of the Mongols. But it ain’t what it used to be.

Bows with this Advantage can also be using when crouching. Which means they are easier to use while taking cover. Or from a vehicle in a Mad Max-type environment.

Parabolic Shooting Combat Manoeuvre

This Offensive Combat Manoeuvre trades a +1CS to the target AV for an additional AP of Range, without a cap.

This represents master archers occasionally making a “miracle shot”.

Shooting volleys

Releasing two (or more !) arrows at once is usually a sign of a Combat Manoeuvre. A Flailing Attack, a Critical, a Multi-Attack…

For simplicity’s sake it still consumes but one Ammo, as usual – since it’s a single attack. The multiple nocked arrows are just a SFX.

Obvs, shooting multiple arrows at once is impossible in a realistic or semi-realistic story. Barring some special gadget, magic, etc..

The parts of a bow diagram Williams book

Didactic illustration from the venerable William’s archery for beginners.

Applied archery 102

Here are less technical, more story-oriented considerations.

Western and Eastern styles

This is a traditional distinction, but it’s now obsolete. The “Western” style was primarily British, and the “Eastern” was almost exclusively Japanese.

A more modern view would cover many, many more different styles (Turkish, Chinese approaches, Mongol, African techniques, Native American approaches…). But for a short primer it’s still OK… if you remember that it’s narrow and oversimplified.

When drawing, a typical “Western” archer will have the back of the arrow drawn to nearly rest against their face (usually the cheek).

A typical “Eastern” archer will draw their arrow higher, and the rear of the arrow will be behind their head. The bow is also longer.

Likewise generic “Westerners” nock their arrows so they lie on the left-hand side of the shaft (if they are right-handed). While generic “Easterners” use the other side.

Japanese styles are also less reliant on having an anchor point. An anchor point is a set distance to draw the string back – say, until the base of your thumb rests on your cheekbone. This gives shots more predictable but less flexible ballistics.

“Western” shooting is traditionally said to be slower and more precise, and “Eastern” shooting faster and more intuitive. Depending on the story, this difference can be emphasised or ignored.

Or used for fictional, fantasy cultures.

Release aids

Another way is to use a gadget called a release aid.

This is a robust wrist wrap with a rod extending between the fingers. At the end of the rod is a clamp, which holds the string. Thus, the string can be held back with the entire wrist, arm and shoulder. Not just the fingers.

The clamp is released by a firearm-like trigger on top of the rod. This allows for careful aiming and precise shooting. Release aids are usually used in Western-European-style shooting.

Low-tech release aids

Some ancient styles of arrow release used small metal objects to lessen felt draw weight. For instance the Mongolian shooting style has the string resting against a metal ring worn on the thumb.

Kyudo archers wear a special glove. The thumb of this deerskin glove is reinforced using wood or another hard material. And there is a notch carved for the string right where the thumb meets the knuckle. From there, one release technique goes :

  1. The bow is pulled back by making a thumbs down sign with the knuckle joints of the fingers slightly extended and pulling back.
  2. The bow is fired by twisting the wrist upward to release the string from the glove’s notch.

Overdraw back-of-hand arrow rest

In Turkish this is called a siper. Which is shorter.

It allows for a longer draw when using a small (presumably composite) bow, for long-distance shooting.

However, this is not significant enough in game terms. Though I guess you could have a niche rule about lowering Hero Points costs when boosting long-range shots.

How it works is easier to explain with a very short and suitably Turkish video :

 

Protection

Archers will often wear protection when shooting. The main one is leather to protect the wrist against the sharp bite of the string.

Protecting the whole arm and even part of the chest is not a bad idea. And clothing must be prevented from interfering with the drawing and release.

Japanese-style archers will often add a headband in order not to add their ear to the shot. Unless they are soldiers already wearing a helmet.

But body armour, in turn, often needs to have a leather plate added over part of the upper chest to prevent the bowstring from getting caught. And the helmet and shoulder pieces will often prevent from drawing your bow all the way back for a long-range shot.

As to the myths about Amazons cutting off one breast to better shoot their bow, it seems to be a metaphor.

Even an unusually buxom archer will manage fine with an appropriate brassiere. And she can always add a piece of protective leather on her chest if expecting to shoot in chaotic, stressful circumstances – or using a particularly tall bow.

Assuming that she’s not wearing armour in the first place, that is.

Maintenance

Ancient bows are not AK-47s. Hot climates will damage the wood over time.

But the main issue is humidity. Its effects on wood or even composite layers are unkind, and a damp string isn’t the best. Bows can be regularly treated with beewax or a similar substance to shield them against humidity.

In rainy or tropical climates you’ll also want to regularly wax the string of a low-tech bow.

As can be imagined, being at sea is terrible for most ancient bows.

Modern bows, especially expensive one, are far less vulnerable to the environment thanks to synthetic materials.

Moonbow aiming her bow (DC Comics) (Firestorm)

Moonbow.

Wrestling that string

First, bows are kept unstrung. You string your weapon when you expect to use it soon. A bow cannot be kept strung, and thus in tension, for that long before both the string and the bow start straining.

Second, ancient warbows apparently had a considerable pull weight – at least 60 pounds (27 Kg.), and seemingly 85+ pounds (38+ Kg.) on larger and later models. From period texts, it seems that a lower tension wasn’t worth it on the battlefield.

Beyond the strength needed to pull the string, this causes issues when said string breaks. Restringing an ancient bow in battle doesn’t seem to have been generally possible. Archers would thus have stringed, spare bows prepared before the battle.

Stringing a 80+ pounds (36+ Kg.) pull ancient bow — such as a war daikyu — will normally require two archers and a fair bit of grunting. Or a man of heroic strength, such as the aforementioned Odysseus.

There are records of bows requiring three men to string. Or even four or five persons, but this may have been an exagerration.

Ancient archers will also carry spare strings, usually in a box sealed against humidity. The Japanese models I’ve seen were donut-shaped.

I used to be an adventurer like you…

Surviving being shot with an arrow is only the beginning of the problem.

Most arrowheads cannot be torn away from the wound without massive tissue damage. They are one of the few weapons at low tech levels that will routinely be stuck in their target.

Most fiction ignore such gory issues. Heroes hit by arrows somehow get easily rid of those.

But in grimier genre, things are going to be more involved. The best way is to push the arrow all the way through the body, cut off the head when it gets out on the other side, then yank the shaft from the other end. This is, needless to say, horribly painful. And it may not even be possible if there’s bone in the way.

Furthermore, the wound will keep bleeding until the arrow is out and it can be properly treated.

Alternative

If you can’t get rid of the arrow that way, you’ll have gradually widen the entry wound channel with small blocks of wood and special tongs. While getting rid of the flowing blood and having the patient very drunk and/or very restrained by burly assistants.

Eventually you can yank away the whole arrowhead.

The alternative is rapid infection and painful death.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) aims a simple bow

Katniss Everdeen, except this time it’s Jennifer Lawrence.

Arrows

We’ll distinguish semi-realistic arrows from over-the-top trick arrows.

Speciality heads

They are realistic or semi-realistic arrows you could purchase at a specialised store or smithy.

Broadhead/hunting arrows

The basic. Some modern takes on these have the blades pop out of the shaft after they’re fired, but beyond looking cool it has no in-game effects.

Rabbit/blunted arrows

These inflict Bashing Damage. A high-tech version could be done by affixing a beanbag in lieu of a broadhead.

In a pinch, and if you’re a fictional character, it is always possible to use some garbage to blunt a arrow. Say a wine bottle cork, adhesive tape and an empty soda can. Oliver Queen has done that on occasion.

Bodkin/heavy war arrow

A bodkin head looks like a sharp, elongated pyramid. These arrows are meant to punch through plate armour.

The best bodkin heads will not have the Limited Penetration Drawback.

Realistically, whether such an arrow will penetrate heavy body armour. Range, angle, exact impact spot, metal quality (for both the arrowhead and the armour piece facing it)… So dice rolls ain’t a bad way to handle that.

Incendiary

A rag soaked in flammables is wrapped around the arrowhead, and lit just before shooting.

Or at least that’s the theory – making it work in practice requires some exceptionally flammable chemicals. And there are strong odds it won’t work anyway, either on the ballistics front or on the fire-starting front.

But since incendiary arrows so common in fiction, we shall studiously ignore these points.

With such an arrow the Range is diminished by 1 AP, but it has some chance of setting what it hits on fire. Unless you’re firing at something readily flammable, a conflagration is unlikely though. Incendiary arrows have a better chance of working in large volleys.

Half-moon

These very broad head are, in fiction, intended to cut ropes. They are often of Japanese origin, and were *allegedly* used to cut the cords holding heavy Japanese lamellar armours together.

(In the real world, the soundest hypothesis is that these arrowheads were used to inflict large bleeding wounds on big-ish game. Then wait for them to collapse from blood loss as they run.)

The Range of these arrows is lowered by two APs, but in stories a Trick Shot to cut a rope using these has its penalty lowered by one CS.

Whistler arrow

A blunt arrow with a built-in whistle. This is used for signalling, not combat. For instance, to give a general attack order

Some are also used in rituals, in areas that have myths about evil spirits being scared by loud noises.

Green Arrow (DC Comics) Longbow Hunters Mike Grell art aiming bow

Green Arrow in Mike Grell’s classic The Longbow Hunters.

Trick arrows

These will require the Gadgetry skill, as they are not… particularly realistic.

The Enhance APs and cap are identical to standard arrows for that type of bow.

Vaguely realistic explosive arrow

[BODY 01, Enhance (EV): XX (cap is XX), EV 05 (Area of effect 0 APs), R#04, Ammo: 01, Bonus: Projectile weapon and EV can be Combined, Limitation: Ammunition load for my bow].

Comic book explosive arrows

[BODY 02, Bomb: 07, R#03, Ammo: 04, Limitation: Ammunition load for my bow].

Net arrows

[BODY 02, Snare: 06, R#03, Ammo: 04, Limitation: Ammunition load for my bow].

Electro-arrows

[BODY 02, Enhance (EV): XX (cap is XX), Lightning (No Range): 07, R#03, Ammo: 04, Bonus: Projectile weapon and Lightning can be Combined, Limitation : Ammunition load for my bow].

Line arrow

[BODY 06, Cling: 05, Note: carries a 3 APs long line, Limitation: Ammunition load for my bow, Cling only to have the tip adhere to a surface, Note: easily reusable, and thus has no Ammo Drawback].

Smoke arrow

[BODY 02, Fog: 07, Ammo: 01, Limitation: Ammunition load for my bow].

Boxing glove arrow

[BODY 03, EV 03, Ammo: 01, Bonus: EV can be Combined with a bow’s Enhance (EV), Limitation: Ammunition load for my bow, Limitation: Range is reduced by one AP].

For further ideas, see the grenades selection. Howbeit trick arrows tend to have on or two APs less in most Powers than grenades, due to a smaller payload.

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Helper(s): Darci, Roy Cowan, Kevin Berger, Hycarius  , and Dr. Xavier Michel-Levasseur  for much of the Japanese archery information..

Writeup overhauled on the 19th of May, 2020.