Around my area (Russia), bow and crossbow energy in LARP is mostly limited by their draw weight, which is around 16 kg for bows and 18 kg for crossbows. However, bows usually have a lot longer draw length than crossbows, e.g. 60-80 cm for bows, which usually is not limited by the rules, and 30 cm for crossbows (usually limited to this length). It often turns out that bows show better energy performance than crossbows. It also takes less time to take another arrow than to reload a crossbow, crossbows are usually more complicated in their design and hence more prone to misfires or other malfunctions.

It should also be noted that while a real bow takes a lot more time to master than a real crossbow, this is not the case with a LARP bow, as its potential is very limited by the "safe" arrows with 35-50 mm wide points.


So, while bows, despite some of their downsides (e.g. low DPS compared to melee weapons, people not noticing arrow hits and hence not counting them), have their niche as being the best ranged option available in fantasy games, crossbows are very rarely deployed.

This leads to weird situations when armies that would look much more authentically with crossbows (e.g. a dwarven army) don't deploy them.

Solutions that don't work

  • Increasing the allowed draw weight for crossbows is most likely not an option due to safety reasons, at least until I succeed at making everyone wear protective glasses like in airsoft, which currently doesn't sound feasible in fantasy LARP. For some unknown reasons, people believe that a helmet is enough. It actually isn't as it usually doesn't protect eyes; for the record, a helmet without glasses can potentially make things worse for the victim, ensuring that the arrow doesn't leave the eye if it hits at a right angle.
  • Neither is increasing the damage crossbows inflict: it is usually not possible to distinguish an arrow hit from a crossbow bolt hit. Increasing damage of both weapons leads to bows being more popular, crossbows still being inferior.
  • Banning bows for some players by the rules doesn't make them switch to crossbows, they often rather have no ranged personal weapons at all. This has been tested and doesn't work.
  • Banning anything by in-game (in-character) laws doesn't work at all. People don't care. E.g. magic is often considered "heretical" by faction 1, but at some point "the conflict is resolved" and faction 1 makes peace with factions that practice magic.
  • Providing crossbows for the players is very expensive, providing a lot of those for free is nigh impossible in most situations. Plus, I don't want to spend my time chasing players so that they either return my own stuff to me or pay a compensation if something is broken. I have experience with giving my things to other players (mainly foam swords which I already own in huge quantity), and it is mostly negative.

The question

Crossbows look cool, and sometimes fit in the situation better than bows, but are rarely used because of their practical disadvantages. So, how can I promote the use of crossbows instead of bows in LARP as a game master, bearing in mind the aforementioned restrictions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    May 5, 2018 at 0:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Crossbows have an inherent safety problem where you can't partially draw them if you are shooting people from close range. I personally don't think they should be encouraged more than bows are. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2019 at 2:53

4 Answers 4


Well, you're hitting the real-world disadvantages of crossbows. You aren't hitting the real-world disadvantages of bows, which is that using them at long range takes a lot more skill and strength than using a crossbow at that range. If you were able to introduce more long-range combats, crossbows should become more worthwhile, but your limitations on draw weight mean that you actually can't have long-range combats.

Your players are optimising their tactics for the combats they're undertaking, which is what combatants always do. So if you want to have more use of crossbows, you're going to have to introduce reasons other than combat effectiveness. These might be economic or social, within the game setting, but all my suggestions so far seem to be unworkable:

  • If the local lord decides that bows are poacher's weapons, and anyone carrying one will be punished for stealing his game, that could work, but it appears that the players would rather do without ranged weapons if they can't have bows. This makes sense, given that at the player level, they need to provide their own weapons and crossbows are expensive.

  • Since your players don't have to buy their weapons with in-game currency, raising the price of bows isn't an option.

An option outside the game setting, at the player level, might work better.

  • Players provide their own equipment, and have little motive to own crossbows, since they're more expensive and less effective. However, providing crossbows on loan to the players seems to be hard work.

The OP's motive seems to be the visual aesthetics of crossbows, and their appropriateness for some groups within the game setting. But the players don't seem to care enough about these things to spend substantial amount of real-world money on less effective weapons.

The root problem seems to be a mismatch of goals between players and GM.

My LARP experience is limited, but I suspect the players are keen on the sense of shared accomplishment that they get out of success in the scenarios. They are probably aware that trying to make a dozen LARPers of assorted sizes look like a dwarven army has limited potential for success. So they aren't taking that side of the game very seriously, and are concentrating on making the things they can do work.

I've encountered a similar mismatch in tabletop RPGs, where some players are very keen on how things "look" in their imagination, and other players don't care about that, and are more interested in the outcomes they create. The two views are rarely reconciled.


This leads to weird situations when armies that would look much better with crossbows (e.g. a dwarven army) don't deploy them.

Armies like to look smart, but using ineffective methods of combat for the sake of appearances is not something they do for long, if at all. The people promoting such methods have a strange tendency to get killed in action, sometimes by the other side. So this isn't a weird situation at all, but an entirely sensible one within the game.

Given the restrictions on your methods of promoting crossbows, and their practical drawbacks, your problem seems insoluble. The players are being genuinely sensible in avoiding crossbows.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Usually, players don't buy access to weapons using in-game currency, they are just allowed to use whatever they have on them. Limits are sometimes issued for armour or magical stuff, but not for regular weapons. Paying more for a bow than for a crossbow would make little sense. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2018 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be short the biggest real-world advantage of crossbows (increased energy because of bigger potential draw weight) won't show up due to safety hazards. The easiness of use is more or less equal for both (only in LARP!) because the arrows are forced to have huge points (40 to 50 mm in diameter), and the accuracy is bad in any case. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2018 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy: Added another option. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2018 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ “Armies like to look smart...” - actually, in real armies this helps effectiveness. It solidifies the army into a single unit, makes them interchangeable squaddies rather than individuals, and helps reinforce obedience, hierarchy, etc. (Same reason we use uniform in schools in many countries). This all helps when you’re trying to convince people to go and kill and die. Because the stakes in a LARP aren’t the same, there’s little benefit in it for LARP. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan W
    Sep 15, 2020 at 13:17

If your larp makes use of effect calls, then one way of promoting the use of one weapon over another is to give that weapon access to a call which the other does not.

For example, in addition to any damage they do, when a crossbow user hits a someone else's limb they might be able to call "Wound", indicating that the other player cannot use that limb for 10 seconds. This would give crossbows an advantage when it came to preventing combatants getting into melee range (shoot their legs) and in support of your comrades (shoot the enemies sword arm).

Admittedly this works better in smaller scale combats (although I have seen it work in 50+ combats) and relies on your system already using effect calls. Introducing a new mechanic for a single weapon is likely to get very confusing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, a good idea. I will think about giving crossbows an ability to deliver magic hits, which are currently delivered by tennis balls. This measure will give some magic spells an advantage. I will then be able to have two different kinds of projectile spells: the more powerful ones that need tennis balls and a bit weaker (or harder to obtain) spells that are propelled by crossbows. The effect likely will be the same as for a normal bow/crossbow hit, though, as people usually cannot distinguish them. \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2018 at 16:57

I'd ask you to re-evaluated the point about damage:

Neither is increasing the damage crossbows inflict: it is usually not possible to distinguish an arrow hit from a crossbow bolt hit, and increasing the damage of both will just make the situation worse. There have been experiments around increasing the ranged damage, they just make bows overpowered.

From personal experience in the LARP that I'm co-organising since many years I can say that at least for us having projectiles with specific damage/rule interactions has worked well.

We solved this by clearly and visually marking the projectiles so that a combatant will be able to quickly tell which kind of projectile hit them.

Example: we once introduced magical armour-piercing arrows. These arrows are identical to normal LARP safety-arrows, but were clearly marked with a spiral of red tape along the shaft to make them stand out.

And while it might on occasion happen that someone is hit by a projectile and doesn't notice/see the actual projectile, our experience was that our players in most case took notice of the projectile and were thus easily able to handle non-standard rules/damage interactions specific to that projectile.

Of course this get's more difficult the more complex you make your rule set, but something along the lines of "crossbow bolts deal double damage" or "crossbow bolts pierce armour" should work out easily enough.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, for a man dressed in full armor, even noticing a hit is a great achievement. Usually, it's not possible to understand what exactly has hit you, because helmets limit field of view very much. Most often, people don't see projectiles hitting them. Using red tape will create problems for color blind people, and many people mark their arrows with colored tape to make finding them in the grass easier. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21, 2019 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Such a solution could work for a very small-scale battle, such as one where you can reliably reach any of your opponents with a short explanation of what had happened. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21, 2019 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ For us this worked in battles of around 100 people, but we don't use telling/called hits. The way we deal with it: it is each players responsibility to figure out what the rules interactions of a hit were (e.g. were they hit by a normal or armour piercing arrow). Now of course if your heavily armoured players don't even notice the hit that is an other problem for an other question. \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Aug 22, 2019 at 5:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Obviously red tape was an example... Use whatever colourblind-friendly combination of colours you like. (If goes without saying that according to our rule set you're not allowed to mark your personal arrows to look like the armour piercing variant.) \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Aug 22, 2019 at 5:56

Crossbows having better range damage is hard to put across without calls.

Crossbows calling PIERCE and ignoring armour is the typical solution.

One option, allow the Crossbows to fire at greater range with a call without actually making a shot.

eg. Player raises crossbow at target, calls VOLLEY (or something similar) and the target takes the damage or if they have a shield can raise it above their head to resist the attack.

Essentially the opposite of a pointblank call.

Means crossbow volleys now become a thing, siege style attacks can now be a thing.

Crossbowmen hiding behind cover from each other shouting VOLLEY at anything they can see.

Does rely on your system having a call space that would support it.

BONUS IDEA: Groups of crossbowmen can call MASS VOLLEY.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey! Welcome! This solution sounds nice if applied in a certain environment (a system where calls are a norm). But here on RPG.SE we like to see solutions that were tested in practice because the devil is always in the details. Can you please expand your answer to include your own experience with using such solutions if you have it? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2018 at 22:46

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