The rules for the ballista on p.255 of the DMG state that to make an attack the weapon must be loaded, aimed and fired. Each of these takes one action. However, could each of these actions be performed by a crew of three, with one character to perform each step, thus allowing the ballista to be fired once per round?

My assumption is yes, but there's nothing textual to support this. Am I missing something?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I stopped caring about ballistae when I realized that I couldn't use my Sharpshooter feat on one. I hope you get a good answer, anyway =) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Nov 18, 2017 at 2:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keith, are you familiar with the term "crew served weapon" as used by the US Army? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2017 at 3:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Yes, but I'm asking about 5e action economy and rules. I also know how to fence with rapier and dagger or broadsword, but that has no bearing on D&D combat mechanics. :) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2017 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ The reason I asked is that it is a useful analogy. Good question. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2017 at 13:57

3 Answers 3


Yes you can.

It takes 3 actions, as you cited, so all your party would need to do is perform the actions on their turns in the proper order of:

  1. Load
  2. Aim
  3. Fire

This is strictly a RAW answer which respects the action economy of 5e. The ballista does not state that each action requires 1 round, simply that each function requires 1 action. Working as a team to load, aim and fire such a simple weapon is hardly unexpected of seasoned adventurers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ And if you have 6 you can fire twice, 9 three times, and so on. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Nov 18, 2017 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ It makes sense from a power economy perspective. Either way, your team is giving up on 3 actions to fire a ballista. 3 PCs could attack with all their attacks, feats, spells, whatever. They gave all that up to help fire the ballista. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke
    Nov 19, 2017 at 23:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dale M raises a valid point, and I think that would be where, as a DM, I say "Show me where you're all standing in relation to the ballista." Running the ballista requires three distinct tasks, so sure, you can have three guys doing those tasks. It does not follow that 30 guys could do the tasks ten times as fast. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Dec 10, 2018 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do siege weapons have a maximum rate of fire? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 5 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note also that you need three actions, not necessarily three people - so a fighter with Action Surge could do two of these on their one turn. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 5 at 16:55

The fact that multiple people are trying to interact with the same object means time, as seen by the object, cannot be smooshed into a shorter time simply because people are using the fuzzy lens of 5e combat.

You can't reverse the lens to create fuzzy pixels. The lens used for RPGs is one way. It is how we convert reality into game mechanics. Turning that lens around and using gaming mechanics to alter reality is a misuse of that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! If you have any doubts about posting questions and/or answer, take the tour and visit the help center. Your answer seems to be very general and in contrast with the rules: can you explain in a more detailed manner your point? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Nov 9, 2020 at 12:06

My first assumption would be; "no". Even with "house-rules" the person doing the aiming should at least be the same as the one firing the weapon.

Would you stop aiming and permit somebody else to step in to fire the weapon? Meaning, even if initiative order was intact and in sync., there would at best be a two-round delay.

Even to get it to two rounds would take three people using actions because of initiative order:

  • Round 1
    • Loader1 - Loads
    • Firer - Aims
    • Loader2 - does nothing
  • Round 2
    • Loader1 - does nothing
    • Firer - fires
    • Loader2 - Loads;)
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.se. Take the tour when you get a chance. We prefer answers to supported by rules or experience. This answer is in direct conflict with RAW (see Lino's Answer). Have you used this variant ruling in play? If so you can edit your answer to improve it. Thanks for participating and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Dec 10, 2018 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ What's the problem with the aimer calling out "fire!' to the firer? It's a siege weapon, I don't see why you couldn't separately aim and fire the thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Dec 10, 2018 at 6:28

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