'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

Corrupt Cliffs
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Monday, September 30, 2019

Conan 2d20: Zones and Ranged Weapons. Do they even make sense??

Without a doubt, the ideas behind ranged weapons in Conan 2d20 feel odd to many people, and flat out make no sense to many others. In most RPGs and wargames ranged weapons generally gain damage and range as they become more powerful. There is little reason to use a lower-end bow when you can use something bigger and better. In D&D 5e we can compare two missile weapons: the hand crossbow and the heavy crossbow.

Name Damage Range
Crossbow, hand 1d6 piercing 30/120
Crossbow, heavy 1d10 piercing 100/400

Here we have two similar weapons, but the heavier one shoots much further and packs a larger punch. Both have a basic range and a long-range, but the heavy crossbow has little to no disadvantages, why would you ever pick the hand crossbow?

This increase in specs between ranged weapons to differentiate which is the superior weapon is a common idea we see in wargames and RPGs. It isn't specifically what we see in Conan 2d20 though. In Conan 2d20, the weapons change range based on where they should be used. There may be places you want to use one bow over the other. Let's take a look at the stats between two different bows in Conan.

Name Damage Range Special
Hyrkanian Horse Bow 3 Combat Dice Close Volley
Shemite Bow 3 Combat Dice Long Volley, Piercing 1

These bows are practicaly identical, with the shemite bow being long range and doing slightly more damage, but in the thick of battle, with enemies closing in fast? The short Hyrkanian Bow is going to be the superior weapon. But why does Conan do this? We will start with a basic idea: within an action scene in Conan, generally, a hero is going to be able to hit someone with a ranged weapon. Even in the above D&D example, the hand crossbow can shoot 20 squares, in most areas that range is not going to be the issue. More often, the line of sight will be the limiting factor, not the weapon's range. So if we decide the weapon's range itself isn't the issue at hand, we can forget about it for right now.

Let us talk about the idea of skill vs weapon. We take two archers and we place them on an archery range. Each shoots arrows at identical targets. Each is equally skilled. One uses a Shemite Bow and one a Hyrkanian Horse Bow. They should both be able to do about as well on our target. Neither is rushed, neither has outside forces acting on them, it is simply a test of skill. An average difficulty test if you will.

Still, we see ranges listed in Conan, even though we just decided that, pretty much, anything you can see is going to be in range. Instead of describing how far a bow can shoot, these ranges describe where the bow will be its most effective. It is used to describe a short bow being more effective in the thick of combat and a longbow working better at targets that are further away.
  • Close range: Shooting within the zone. The archer and their target are constantly moving, constantly looking for openings. The archer needs to have a nimble weapon and one that can shoot fast in order to get the shot off when they need to.
  • Medium Range: Shooting into the next zone. It is possible the archer and the target are in motion within their zones, moving for position against others in their zone, but we can generally assume that since the target and the shooter are further away, the shooter has a little more time to aim and isn't as hampered by the size of the weapon.
  • Long Range: Shooting two zones away. The distance starts to be a factor at these ranges, and weapons that excel at close ranges become more difficult to use accurately.

Reasons For Effective Ranges
The Hyrkanian Horsebow. Listed as Close-range, we have a bow that excels at close combat. It is small and can be fired quickly, but the short limbs tend to make it a little less accurate compared to it's larger brethren, this is magnified by the high pace within an action scene. Shooting out to the longer ranges simply takes a more skilled archer, especially under the pressure of combat.
The Shemite bow. Listed as Long-range, the bow is huge and stable upon release allowing its missiles to land more accurately at longer ranges, but up close in the thick of the action, its size simply gets in the way and makes it harder to shoot.

Mechanically this is represented by a bow having no difficulty modifier added to the skill test at its optimal range, and a +1 is added to it as we move away from that optimal range, in either direction. So at Close Range (In the same zone) the Hyrkanian Horsebow is going to shoot at a difficulty of 1 (assuming a base difficulty of 1), while the Long Range Shemite bow is going to suffer a +2 to the skill test, Long -> Medium -> Close, making it a difficulty of 3. If there are environmental concerns like rain or darkness, it just makes everything more difficult.

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  1. Replies
    1. In my opinion they should have chosen to make the Bossonian Lonbow the long range bow, but that is a game design and balance issue vs a visulization of what is trying to be accomplished by the ruleset.