Why are crossbows so lame? And can we apply this fix to spellcasting?

Not in every game system, but specifically in 2E AD&D crossbows are just plain lame. The roots are farther back, for example in 1E bows are less powerful and crossbows gain a better bonus to hit against all armor types. Short bows in 1E, for example, have an enormous penalty against plate armor. Long bows in 1E don’t have the Sheaf Arrows from 2E that do d8 damage instead of d6 (crossbows do d4 and d4+1 for light and heavy respectively). In general, bows were beefed up and crossbows nerfed in the switch to 2E.

But even if you give crossbows better damage, bows have a higher rate of fire. And you still need both hands to load a crossbow even if you need just one hand to fire. Even in 1E crossbows sucked.

A crossbow that require long loading time, say a full round to reload one shot, should have a commensurate damage bonus. If an archer can pull back a bow but he can’t pull back the crossbow by hand, the crossbow’s pull must be greater and so deal more damage. OR since D&D has an abstract combat system if crossbows had an attack bonus they would effectively deal damage more often, which is sorta the same thing. An attack roll bonus would also account for the crossbow’s ease of use and armor penetration, which I think was one of the reasons it was popular in reality.

But this post isn’t really about crossbows. It’s about how a crossbow should work: spend more time loading, and you get a better damage output and success chance. That’s how a spellcasting system could work.

Let’s say you want to cast Lightning Bolt. If you spend longer casting it, your enemies have a save penalty or take more damage. Or both, whatever works out balance-wise. You might have spell points, or drain after casting, or memorized slots. The former two could easily tie into this “charge-up” system because they use numbers with more granularity than spell slots.

If it’s a saving throw penalty, I’d say the spell takes 1 round per spell level just to cast it, and then every extra casting time you spend gives -1 to save. For example, the Lightning Bolt (level 3) would take 3 rounds to cast and if you cast for 9 rounds instead it would give a -2 penalty to save. This long casting time could replace other limitations on number of spells per day (spell points, memorization).

If you wanted to use the charge-up rule with 2E without changing anything, say that every extra round of casting gives -1 to save, but if the spell’s normal CT is longer than 1 round then it uses whatever unit the CT uses (so if the CT is 1 turn, you get -1 save per extra turn).

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