Stray Thoughts, II

Another feature of D&D that’s been bugging me is ranged combat. The game really seems to penalize players for wanting to fire a bow. The reduced overall damage is acceptable considering the ability to strike opponents who haven’t reached you yet, but there’s also a hefty feat cost in that you need to buy Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot or else take a -4 penalty to fire at any creature engaged in combat. Even then, an oft-overlooked rule imposes a further -4 “soft cover” penalty for shooting past an ally, carrying the risk of hitting your own man.

I’ve been speculating about a house rule that the Precise Shot feat grants the additional bonus of allowing you to ignore “soft cover”. There’s a feat which offers this, but forcing the player to take fully three feats just to mitigate the risk of friendly fire is very limiting on players who don’t have the feat slots to heavily specialise.

Comments (10)

Chris (September 13th, 2007)

This topic just strikes me as odd, because in every D&D game I’ve played in the past several years, any archer has been a powerhouse.

Although, admittedly, I think we’ve always managed to overlook the oft-overlooked rule you’ve mentioned… do you have a reference for that?

Alex Schroeder (September 13th, 2007)

Hm, the players at my table have not yet complained about it. I guess that there are some benefits you do gain that a melee fighter does not: 1. You don’t risk getting hit by melee fighters. 2. You get to pick your opponents all over the battlefield. These two benefits might be worth the extra feat, perhaps.

Steve (September 13th, 2007)

I’ll offer a dose of potential realism. One should not be flinging any missile weapon in any gaming system into a melee.

We’ve all come to grips with the “combat is not necessarily a single thrust per roll” concept. This implies that the two opponents are moving around, swinging, blocking and so forth.

So to suggest that everyone with a missile weapon can easily fire past their comrades is ill advised. What if just then there’s a sudden movement and the back of said friend is now right where the aim was taken.

There are two cases when it seems warranted: The archer is good, or they don’t care…-)

[and the noted penalty seems appropriate for both cases… as a GM, I’d probably rule that shots that miss by that penalty hit the ally - from behind, no warning…-]

Daniel Chapman (September 13th, 2007)

Steve — there used to be rules in 3.0 for this.

If you miss due to the soft cover bonus, then you run the risk of hitting your “soft cover.”

However, if you miss the “soft cover” by virtue of their dodge bonus / dexterity modifier, then you actually end up hitting your original target.

All very complex, they dropped it for the most part and just say -4. It’s easier.

Jonathan Drain (September 13th, 2007)

@Chris: Soft cover has always been a confusing issue.

To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target’s square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC).

Creatures, even your enemies, can provide you with cover against ranged attacks, giving you a +4 bonus to AC. However, such soft cover provides no bonus on Reflex saves, nor does soft cover allow you to make a Hide check.

In other words, if you can’t draw lines from all four of your target’s corners to any one of your own corners without passing through a creature, he has cover. I might assume that multiple creatures don’t stack - either there’s cover, or there’s not. I can’t find a rule in 3.5 that a miss by less than four strikes an ally - I’d probably be lenient here and assume that the attacker misses here by erring on the side of caution.

Page 151 of the Player’s Handbook shows a diagram “Cover against Ranged Attacks”, in which lidda shoots a gnoll who is blocked by Regdar. The gnoll gains +4 to AC from cover, and Lidda further suffers the -4 “firing into melee” penalty. If Regdar was beside or behind the gnoll, Lidda would still suffer the “firing into melee” penalty, but the gnoll would not benefit from cover.

Now, if you’re willing to entertain house rules, we previously had a rule that you could “shoot recklessly” into melee, ignoring the -4 “firing into melee” penalty, at the risk that a miss by four or less struck your ally. Of course, this is unrelated to cover.

Chris (September 13th, 2007)

Awesome. We read through the various cover and concealment sections in the PHB a whole bunch of times two weeks ago, when a PC archer was wreaking all sorts of havoc… and all missed that numerous times.

Another thing I often find people ignoring that makes archers overpowered is hide/spot. An arched 800 feet away trying to pick off targets with any ability to get cover or concealment is at a -80 to their spot roll to even find them, in order to shoot at them…

AriesOmega (September 14th, 2007)

My players didn’t care actually. We had one character who was our melee combat monster and the other was our archer extraordinaire. Once the archer was engaged in melee along with the rest of the party except the melee character. He did have a composite longbow with a strength mod…a high one too. He fired into melee and did pretty well. Out of six shots he hit a party member once. They really didn’t mind and commented it really showed how the training would be. One character lives, eats and sleeps bow but does know how to fight in melee the other is the opposite. Both had a the same attack bonus so the players deemed it appropriate.

Shin Ji (October 1st, 2007)

The thing that you’re missing is that archers get to full attack all the time, whereas melee-types almost never get a full attack in. So melee fighters have amazing theoretical damage output, but unless they are using some sort of ubercharge/pounce trick (and they really should be), the archer always does more damage.

Plus, it’s disgustingly easy to have arrows for every occasion- adamantine, cold iron, silver, whatever. Bane of any given type? Got it right here!

So yea, archers are crazy good, even with the occasional soft cover to deal with. And if the archers are Rangers or Assassins, they have spells and abilities allowing them to ignore cover and concealment of all types.

unique_stephen (November 7th, 2007)

As a player of an Elf Fighter 2 looking to build the character towards Arcane Archer I don’t mind what house rules or interpretations my DM introduces. Of our party I was the first to roll up a character. Right in front of the DM and everybody’s eyes I rolled an 18 then a 17 and another bunch of rolls no worse than 13. Putting the 18 on dex and getting the elves +2 bonus firing at an approaching party I’m rocking with BAB +2, Point Blank +1 if

Muninn (April 21st, 2010)

@Jonathan: This may be a rather late reply, but the rule in question (regarding projectiles that miss by less than 4 hitting the soft cover) is optional, and is on page 24 of the 3.5 DMG. It’s under the heading “Variant: Striking the cover instead of a missed target” at the bottom of the page.

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