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I am running my first campaign since a little over half a year now and the ranger in the group still has a basic heavy crossbow at this point (almost level 5). Which is why I want to present them with the opportunity of finding a magical crossbow.

Finding the crossbow itself will not super easy and I intended it to be maybe a bit too strong for their current level, but for it to last them for a long time (up to level 12-15). Since this is the first magical item that I've ever homebrewed I am looking for some balancing feedback before dropping it into the game.

Aurel‘s Adaptive Crossbow

Requires attunement by a ranger of good alignment

Appearance Very finely crafted out of dark wood, the main wooden part looks like some sort of twisted root of a tree, reminiscent of the twisting of a rope coming to a pointed stop at the end of the guide for the bolt. Burnt into the bottom of it in elven „Shall this prove as versatile as my beloved“

Crossbow, light +1 to attack and damage rolls made with this magical weapon

Elemental forces unleashed (Maximum of 4 charges) You can spend charges as a bonus action to imbue the next bolt fired from this weapon with one of the following force of nature:

  • Frost (1 charge) The tip of the bolt freezes over with solid ice. On a hit the creature takes an additional 1d4 frost damage. It has to make a Constitution saving throw (Spell DC) or have its movement speed halved until the end of its turn.
  • Fire (2 charges) The metal tip of the bolt begins to glare in an arcane orange glow. On impact the tip explodes, dealing an additional 2d8 fire damage to anything within a 10 foot radius of the impact location. Any creature inside the radius, except creature directly hit by the bolt, get to make a Dexterity saving throw (Spell DC) and take half damage on a success.
  • Poison (2 charges) Poisonous green purpleish energies begin to coalesce around the tip of the bolt. On a hit, the creature has to make a Wisdom saving throw (Spell DC). If it fails, it has disadvantage on Wisdom and Intelligence saving throws until the start of your next turn. If it succeeds it takes 1d6 additional psychic damage.
  • Lightning (4 charges) The tip of the bolt begins to cackle with lightning. On a hit the creature takes an additional 4d8 lightning damage. The lightning energy then arcs off to two creatures of the wielders choice, within 30 feet of the initial target. These creature have to make a Dexterity saving throw (Spell DC) and take 4d6 lightning damage on a fail, half on a success.

Every day after completing a long rest 1d4 charges can be restored up to the maximum of 4 charges. Upon finding the crossbow, it is fully charged.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the Poison effect really only do damage on a successful save? That's... unusual. It's also a little unusual that the Fire effect requires a hit to deal area effect damage; usually area effect effects just happen and those in the blast resist on a save. \$\endgroup\$ 2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason the player using a heavy crossbow is going to find a magical light crossbow? Or is that part of the balance concerns? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ This isn't about the balance of the magical effects, but are you sure your player wants to keep using a crossbow once they hit level five? The Loading property on all crossbows means they don't benefit from Extra Attack, so many players will prefer to use a longbow from this point on. The crossbow expert feat gets around this, but players with that feat tend to prefer hand crossbows for the Bonus Action attack. Maybe your player just loves fighting with a regular 2-handed crossbow, but I'd be sure they don't plan to mix up their weapon before giving them this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've rolled back your edit. You shouldn't edit your question to respond to feedback in the answers (or comments on those answers); the question post should only contain the question itself. See this meta: Can we develop a system to avoid/discourage subsequent homebrew critique question edits?. Also, another relevant meta: Don't signal your edits in text. Instead, you should edit your post to read as if it were always the best version of itself (without invalidating the existing answers). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok the basic purpose of rarity is helping answer "how many items should I be handing out?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    yesterday
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The very idea of a versatile elemental weapon is nice, but the implementation needs work.

I'd say it forces players/DM to care about many minuscule details for an inadequate profit. It also has a couple of specific requirements, which makes the gameplay tedious rather than interesting:

Every day after completing a long rest

Rechargeable magic items recover their charges at dawn. This item becomes an exception. "A new day comes, all your magic items recharge... oh, wait, except the crossbow".

In its current state the crossbow also looks "underpowered", but the exact appraisal is impossible without knowing the item's rarity. It is definitely better than an uncommon +1 light crossbow, but not much better:

1d4 charges can be restored up to the maximum of 4 charges

The crossbow has its full potential only when fully charged, but charges can be restored only by 1d4 per game day. If the Ranger gets 1, only 1 charge is restored. The imbued bolt can miss, and then they need to wait for the next day. Until then, it's just a +1 crossbow, and a light crossbow is not a perfect weapon for a 5-12 lvl Ranger.

A few edge cases are also worth mentioning:

Upon finding the crossbow, it is fully charged.

The "Finding the crossbow" event is ambiguous. One can argue that if other PC finds the crossbow in the ranger's backpack, it becomes fully charged. I believe this line can be safely removed. Less text is better.

You can spend charges as a bonus action to imbue the next bolt fired from this weapon.

What if I don't fire the crossbow? Can I imbue the bolt with additional effect next turn? Can I do this before the long rest and then restore the charges?

The proposed effects are not very powerful, but the cost is quite high:

Frost (1 charge) The tip of the bolt freezes over with solid ice. On a hit the creature takes an additional 1d4 frost damage. It has to make a Constitution saving throw (Spell DC) or have its movement speed halved until the end of its turn.

Basically it's a worse version of the Ray of Frost cantrip, but can be used only ~2.5 times per day. 1d4 damage becomes neglectable on higher levels. The target also has to make an additional dice roll, thus spending everyone's time and decreasing chances of success. The effect is linked to the target's turns, not the caster's, which is harder to track.

On impact the tip explodes, dealing an additional 2d8 fire damage to anything within a 10 foot radius of the impact location.

"On impact" is not defined in 5e. There is no way to determine "the impact location" on miss within the current set of rules. You should probably not make this effect an exception, and instead make it be triggered "on hit", like the others.

If it fails, it has disadvantage on Wisdom and Intelligence saving throws until the start of your next turn. If it succeeds it takes 1d6 additional psychic damage.

A very counterintuitive damaging effect which works if the enemy succeeds. For all my shots I want the target to fail, except for this one. This effect is now linked with the shooter's turn. I suggest making this more consistent (see above).

On a hit the creature takes an additional 4d8 lightning damage. The lightning energy then arcs off to two creatures of the wielders choice, within 30 feet of the initial target. These creature have to make a Dexterity saving throw ...

Looks like an improved Ice Knife spell, but the Ice Knife has better chances to trigger. The description is also a little ambiguous. Do I have to see additional targets, or at least know about them? Can I choose the initial target itself as the "creatures of the wielders choice, within 30 feet of the initial target"?

In general, traits should either have a limited number of uses, or they should have a limited chance of success, but not both. In this case, too many things are needed for success:

  • The Ranger has to have sufficient charges, which restore 1-4 charges per day
  • The Ranger needs to spend the bonus action at the right moment
  • The next attack must be a successful hit
  • The target has to fail its saving throw

If any link of this chain breaks, the effect is lost. It'd be understandable for a really severe effect, but not for insignificant things like "make the target slower for a round". In its current state, the crossbow isn't much better than an uncommon +1 magic crossbow, but it adds more bookkeeping for players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I assume there is exactly one good aligned ranger in the party, and the attunement restriction is instead of explicitly giving it to that PC \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Caleth the item doesn't look powerful enough to unbalance the game in "wrong" character's hands. Such restriction is hardly a necessity. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed. It's only marginally better than the mundane heavy crossbow OP says the ranger PC has, so the player might not want to switch \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 It's only marginally more subtle than Requires attunement by <Ranger PC Name>. It isn't needed, and what if the ranger wants to stay with heavy crossbows? Class restrictions on attunement tend to be because the item interacts with class features, with grandfather'ed in exceptions like Holy Avenger \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Liqs attunement is a limiting mechanic to prevent a single PC having too many powerful items. While I appreciate your thematic reasons, the fact is that this item is too weak for a PC to “waste” an attunement slot on if they are already full. Compared to other attunement items, most players would bin this one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    2 days ago
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I intended it to be maybe a bit too strong for their current level, but for it to last them for a long time (up to level 12-15).

You need to make it much more obviously an upgrade on the ranger's current weapon. Going from a mundane heavy crossbow to a +1 light crossbow is no change in the average damage of a hit, and a reduction in range, so the only improvement is the +1 to hit.

I would suggest letting every shot have one elemental effect.

Aurel‘s Adaptive Crossbow

Requires attunement

This heavy crossbow is very finely crafted out of dark wood, the main wooden part looks like some sort of twisted root of a tree, reminiscent of the twisting of a rope coming to a pointed stop at the end of the guide for the bolt. Burnt into the bottom of it in elven „Shall this prove as versatile as my beloved“

When you shoot a bolt from this crossbow, it is imbued with your choice of elemental energy

  • Frost The tip of the bolt freezes over with solid ice. On a hit the creature takes an additional 1d6 frost damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be slowed (as the spell) until the start of your next turn.
  • Fire The metal tip of the bolt begins to glare in an arcane orange glow. On impact the tip explodes, dealing an additional 1d6 fire damage to the target, and each creature within 5 feet of the target must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 points of fire damage.
  • Poison Poisonous green-purpleish energies begin to coalesce around the tip of the bolt. On a hit the creature takes an additional 1d6 poison damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned until your next turn.
  • Lightning The tip of the bolt begins to crackle with lightning. On a hit the creature takes an additional 1d6 lightning damage. The lightning energy then arcs off to two creatures of the wielders choice, within 30 feet of the initial target. These creatures must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 points of lightning damage.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suggest changing "slowed (as the spell) until your next turn." to "be slowed (as the spell) until beginning of your next turn." to make it more precise. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    2 days ago
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any thoughts on adding charges to maybe get a stronger damage effect for 1 or more shots? \$\endgroup\$
    – JonTheMon
    2 days ago
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Going from a mundane heavy crossbow to a +1 light crossbow is no change in average damage" It's actually a slight increase in damage because of the bonus to hit. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    2 days ago
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This might be too "fiddly", rather than actively unbalanced.

A common mistake many DMs make when developing magic items is to pile a lot of complicated functionality into the item. It's not unusual to see that kind of thing in Legendary items and sometimes Very Rares, but not very much on the more common/lower power items.

Almost every item below Very Rare in the DMG can be described in one or two short paragraphs, so when I see charges that power four options that each have unique mechanics and different charge costs, my immediate instinct is that there's too much going on here. This is an item where the player will have to constantly refer back to the item description. That's not necessarily a bad thing for a Legendary item that's going to show up late in the game, and likely to be the character's signature item; but it can end up being disruptive for an item showing up at the very start of the characters' career.

Things I consider complex would include:

  • Items that use charges
  • An attack roll followed by a save
  • Selecting extra targets or identifying who's in the blast radius
  • Making a choice each time you activate the item (as in "should I use this?" followed by "in what way?")
  • Effects that last for a specific amount of time

I'm not saying you should avoid all of those; but the more of them that your item has, the more complex it is at the table, which means that one item sucks up more brain-space. Each one is a consideration or decision you have to make when you use the item -- and the more "fiddly" the item is, the more likely a player is to either forget about it when it would be useful, or actively ignore it so they can just get on with their turn.

For an item intended to be used around level 5, I would recommend pulling back the complexity, if you can find a way to do so without completely destroying the item's concept. As written, this feels too complicated for what it actually does.

It's more acceptable to have that kind of complexity on an item that has a powerful effect used rarely; if you have one big shot per day, it's okay if it requires careful aiming and saves, where that complexity would be undesirable in a minor effect you can use every few rounds.

A crossbow ranger? In this action economy?

This might be getting slightly off-topic, but I would question the choice for the ranger to still be using a crossbow at 5th level. A crossbow can fire only once per turn unless the ranger has purchased a specific feat (due to the Loading property), and the magical means of bypassing Loading aren't compatible with a magic crossbow. Firing one 1d10 shot per turn just isn't remotely as good as firing two 1d8 shots from a longbow, for a variety of reasons. Maybe the player is sticking to a crossbow for in-character reasons, but giving them a magical crossbow may well lead to the player being faced with the nasty choice of continuing to use a sub-par weapon or ditching an item you worked really hard on in favor of a plain old longbow.

So one thing that might help is if this item comes with a magical ability that removes the Loading quality, similar to the Artificer's "Repeating Shot" infusion, which magically generates ammunition and reloads the weapon after firing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your assessment of fidlyness, but it's worth noting that a lot of these things you mentioned as "complex" are bread-and-butter features of a Ranger. For example, the Ranger spells Hail of Thorns and Lightning Arrow will require you to make an attack roll followed by a save, and select extra targets within their radii. I agree that these things are complicated, but they may be the kind of complications a Ranger player is prepared for. \$\endgroup\$ 2 days ago
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, as I said, it's not a problem to have some of these features. "Complex" is not inherently an indictment. In fact, many or most combat spells will have at least one of those features, and spellcasting in general sort of has the 1st and 4th. A complex magic item is, however, going to somewhat steal focus from the character's innate abilities, and when it has not one or two but four of five of those qualities, on a character already as complex as a Ranger, that's just a lot of remembering what all your character can do. It's not impossible, just maybe not worth it for this bow. \$\endgroup\$ 2 days ago
  • \$\begingroup\$ I definitely get that. It’s interesting that we find this really complicated when the things the bow can do is unique to the bow, but don’t consider it complicated if we allow you to use charges to cast established spells. For example, I’ve never heard someone say the Staff of Power is a bad item because it’s too complicated (though it can cast a lot more than 4 spells). But if the spells it can cast only existed in the text of the item, we definitely would. \$\endgroup\$ 2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ Staves that have many spells associated tend to use the really iconic spells that we already know well, and are also usually in that Very Rare to Legendary realm where it's likely to be a character-defining major item. A SoP is a complicated item, and I'd be very leery of a similar item with a lower rarity rating (but again, complex doesn't inherently mean bad). It's true that packing up text in "you can use web" feels less complex; but then if you just have a wand of web, it isn't all that complicated -- each turn, you're simply asking "do I want to web anyone?" \$\endgroup\$ 2 days ago
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bobson Very true. Of course, with 4 maximum charges (which recharge 1d4 daily), and abilities that take 1, 2, or 4 charges to use, I'd put this crossbow's special abilities firmly in the "this thing I do a few times a day" category. \$\endgroup\$ yesterday
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This weapon (as written) may get less use than you expect at the levels you describe

You said that your players were "almost level 5," and that you hoped they would use this weapon "up to level 12-15." I understand that to mean you're hoping they will use this weapon at levels 5-11. Unfortunately, I think you might be disappointed by the results.

Levels 4-7

You likely are comparing this weapon to a standard Heavy Crossbow, which makes sense given your party's current abilities and armaments. In that respect, this weapon is a good upgrade. They both have the same average damage for a standard shot, but the magical weapon will have improved accuracy, and give various AOE options to a few attacks per day. At level 4, this weapon is likely appealing.

However, when the player reaches level 5 and above, the math may change. At level 5, a Ranger gets the Extra Attack feature, meaning they will be able to attack twice whenever they take the Attack action. However, crossbows have the "Loading" property which states (PHB, p. 147):

Because of the time required to load this weapon, you can fire only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.

As such, when this player reaches 5th level, they will be comparing the ability to make two attacks with a longbow with this magical crossbow:

  • Aurel‘s Adaptive Crossbow: standard attack (1d8+5), average damage 9.4
  • standard Longbow: Standard attack 2*(1d8+4), average damage 17

The bonus action abilities you have are very helpful, and likely will get used once or twice a day with relish, but this crossbow will likely not see regular use throughout the day.

Levels 8-11

At level 8, your player will need to chose between a final ASI increase to Dexterity, or a Feat. It's quite possible they will choose the Crossbow Expert feat, an excellent option for many ranged characters. If they choose Crossbow Expert, then this magical crossbow will lose its loading property, which will give it a leg up.

However, if the Ranger makes this choice, suddenly the magical crossbow will be competing with the simple Hand Crossbow. The comparison then becomes as follows:

  • Aurel‘s Adaptive Crossbow: standard attack 2*(1d8+5), average damage 19
  • standard Hand Crossbow: Standard attack 2*(1d6+4)+ bonus action attack (1d6+4), average damage 22.5

The slightly higher accuracy from Aurel's Adaptive Crossbow might make up for this difference, but at best you're likely breaking even with a Hand Crossbow's utility. And if instead of Crossbow Expert, the Ranger chose a Dexterity increase or the Sharpshooter Feat, the magic crossbow will likely get left behind.

Level 11 creates a particularly tricky situation if the Ranger chose the Hunter subclass. At that point, they will be able to use their Volley ability to deal AOE damage at will, so long as they have enough arrows. This will mean that most of Aurel's Adaptive Crossbow's special attacks will become a lot less appealing.

My suggestion: add some (more) versatility

Depending on the kinds of Feats or class features your Ranger has, different weapons are likely to be more or less appealing to them at different levels. If you want this magical weapon to see continued use, I think there could be a viable way to make that happen. The first step is to rename the item, and add the following (italicized) sentences at the start of its description:

Aurel‘s Adaptive Crossbow Bowstring

*This magical bowstring can be fitted to any ranged weapon with the ammunition property that requires arrows or bolts as part of a short rest (which can be the rest used to attune to this bowstring). At the end of that rest, and until the bowstring is transferred to another weapon, the weapon becomes magical, with the following additional properties... *

With this simple change, your proposed weapon will fit to whatever build this particular character has, as long as they remain fond of ranged weapons. It also fits with your (interesting) idea of having the weapon suit various different situations well.

Questions of Balance

Overall, with the above proposed changes, this weapon would be balanced relatively well! A Ranger already has various AOE abilities (like the Hail of Thorns spell), but is limited in their use by spell slots. This weapon will effectively give the ranger a few extra "spell slots" worth of ranged harm options per day.

Something that will be appealing about this weapon at every level is that its abilities can stack with whatever options the Ranger already is using, unlike most of the Ranger's inherent abilities (for example, the Ranger can't use Hunters Mark and Hail of Thorns at the same time, but could use Hail of Thorns and a Fire ability from this weapon, provided they used a Bonus Action at the end of one turn to activate one, and the start of the next turn to activate the other). This is likely to be appealing at all levels of use, provided the standard attack stays competitive with other weapons.

The one problem I can see is that this weapon will feel more appealing early on rather than later. The abilities it gives access to are very useful in and of themselves, but may seem less impressive when compared with spells the Ranger can cast at higher levels, particularly since most of the abilities of the crossbow can only be used once or twice a day. To help combat this, I have one final suggestion.

I'd suggest that as part of a short rest, you allow the Ranger to spend Spell Slots of level 1 to 4, and add a number of charges to the crossbow equal to the level of the spell for each spell slot used. This will allow them to get more use out of this weapon at higher levels, and will keep the game's economy more or less intact (e.g. a second level spell slot could be used to cast a 2d10 Hail of Thorns, or a 2d8 Fire arrow attack).

With these changes, I think this weapon will remain in use for many levels, and remain relatively well balanced throughout.

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My first impression is that the item is balanced.

Seems fine and very cool and useful for level 5 character. It provides a nice boost and a bunch of new options for a ranger who is often thought of as a weaker class.

I expect that on high levels the consistently most useful feature of this weapon will be the +1 magical weapon overcoming magical resistances.

If your campaign allows for Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, specifically the optional class features, ranger gets a very powerful one on level 10 that requires bonus action to use:

Nature's Veil

You draw on the powers of nature to hide yourself from view briefly. As a bonus action, you can magically become invisible, along with any equipment you are wearing or carrying, until the start of your next turn. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Many ranger spells also require bonus action to use, so that is going to make the crossbow much harder to utilize in addition to its power naturally falling off.

Comparison to some existing magical items.

Flame Tongue Weapon

This is a rare sword that after being activated as a bonus action deals 2d6 fire damage on every hit.

The Crossbow has three advantages over the sword, range, versatility in damage types and effects, and +1 to hit.

I would however expect that especially if the party deals with multiple encounters between long rests, the sword's consistent damage output would feel more useful than the crossbow. Having only 4 charges, the crossbow is going to run out fast.

Javelin of lightning

An uncommon item. The effect is mostly comparable to the Lightning effect of the crossbow but it does not require a bonus action to use which is very useful.

Suggestions and things to consider

  1. Below are some tweaks I would suggest. Since I am not sure what type of game you are running, I want to mention that the campaigns I DM and play often contain fairly powerful magical items and characters that often are above the average power curve I would assume.

  2. Reword the Fire effect to make it clear if the attack needs to hit, or if the explosion happens regardless

  3. Rename the Poison effect since the actual effects seem to have nothing to do with poisons as far as the game is concerned (should it interact with the poison resistance/immunity?)

  4. The Lightning effect doing 4d8 to the primary target but 4d6 to the secondary ones feels a bit fiddly to me. I would suggest unifying this. It's not going to have that big of an impact on the damage either way but it is one less thing to keep track of.

  5. Make the crossbow fully recharge on long rest or give it more charges. The charges already seem fairly limiting but rolling 1 on the d4 after resting is going to feel exceptionally bad.

  6. Consider removing the bonus action cost to activate the crossbow. This is going to make it much more usable as characters start getting more features competing for their action economy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, most items that uses charges regain 1dX+1 each day, not 1dX. \$\endgroup\$ 2 days ago
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although the Javelin of Lightning doesn't require a bonus action to use (which is indeed significant), when you throw it you have then lost access to it, unless you run up to the enemy and pick it up. Were you saying that this crossbow and the javelin are comparable? Or were you just comparing the javelin to the single lightning attack from the crossbow? \$\endgroup\$ yesterday
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Simpler is almost always better as others have pointed out, however it's magic item, so it doesn't strictly have to mimic existing weapons.

Aurel's Adaptive Crossbow

This magically imbued crossbow can fire elementally enhanced bolts and magically reloads after every shot. It can hold 6 charges and regains 1d4+1 every day at dawn.

Crossbow, magic

  • Damage: 1d10 piercing, elemental*
  • Properties: Ammunition (100/400), light

As a bonus action, a charge can be expended to change the elemental property of to a different one. Depending on which elemental property the bow is exhibiting attacks gain a bonus:

  • Earth Small leaves sprout on the front of the bow, flowering and falling away as the bolt is loosed: On a hit vines sprout around the feet of the creature and the damage type gain bludgeoning. Their space and every space within 5' becomes difficult terrain until the start of your next turn.
  • Wind The air swirls around the tip of the bolt: On a hit the creature must make a DC 15 strength check or be pushed 5' away. The damage gains the type force.
  • Fire The metal tip of the bolt begins to glow with an arcane orange glare: On a hit the damage gains the type fire, and an explosion envelopes the area around the creature. Each creature within 5' must make a DC 15 dex save or take 1d6 fire damage.
  • Water The tip of the bow frosts over with solid ice: On a hit the damage type gains cold and ice crystals form around their legs. They must make a DC 15 Athletics (Strength) check to move on their next turn.

Notes: I deliberately left off the loading and two handed property, making this somewhere between a light and heavy crossbow but better than either. I changed the damage die to d10 since there will always be an elemental effect but you might consider changing it to 2d6 or 1d12 if you want it to be a little more effective. I also went with a little more traditional "elemental" effects. I'd also suggest reducing the attunement requirements to either just class or just alignment (I did see your addendum about the item having history) or removing it entirely; Alternatively make it so that the bow becomes "unhappy" when attuned by someone who doesn't fit the description of the original owner in some way.

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If you want the weapon to scale with the character so that they keep it for longer, I would design the weapon to enhance the skills the character unlocks as they level up.

At 6th level Rangers can choose another Favored Enemy, so having the weapon do even more damage (+ half your character level piercing damage) against their favored enemy is a nice way to enhance that.

Increasing the critical damage range of a weapon (18-20) instead of the usual 'just on natural 20's' is a nice way to make a weapon more popular with players. even if other weapons they find might do a few extra damage points more consistently, having a higher chance at 'burst' damage is fun and a bit more dramatic from an RP perspective.

One key area that limits the damage of bows and crossbows is loading. Artificers can craft a Repeating Shot weapon that essentially self-loads with magically created ammunition. This is a neat trait that can make a weapon more appealing than others as you no longer have to constantly load (which reduces overall damage output) and you no longer have to worry about running out of ammo if it is difficult to restock.

"I intended [the crossbow] to ... last them for a long time"
This is a matter of scaling with the player, and that is commonly done in a few different ways:
1 - Linking it directly to the class or character level. For example, cantrips typically do an extra die of damage at the 5th, 11th, 17th character levels IIRC. Of course, it doesn't have to be extra damage, it could also provide increasingly significant effects at various levels or compounding effects such as Poisoned, Stunned, Blinded, Incapacitated, etc.
2 - Linking it to the abilities that a class unlocks at different levels. This can make an item specifically tailored to a class or build, and can feel a bit 'shoehorned' in. They are essentially no different from custom-built items.

"I am looking for some balancing feedback"
Regarding the process of balancing, in general, I would advise looking at existing magic weapons that would be appropriate at various levels for a player and seeing what they have in common. This can help you decide what qualities are universally beneficial to the player's character regardless of level, what qualities are going to have diminishing returns as the player levels, and what qualities are going to be desirable.

Regarding feedback for the original crossbow design, in general, it has too many damage types, confusing/unclear wording, and feels unfocused in design. This has been discussed already in previous responses, but typically a magic weapon does one thing very well rather than many different things.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are a lot of neat ideas here, but I don't really see how they related to the current version. Are you suggesting that all of these elements should be added onto this weapon to make it "balanced"? \$\endgroup\$ yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ Several posts have already directly addressed balancing issues with the crossbow in its current design, however, there are other options too for the design that should be considered, especially as the weapon is being designed to be useful for a player across multiple tiers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jim Kata
    yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I totally hear that. My answer is more about balancing over the long term than about the current balance of the weapon too (or at least, it spends more time on the former). My issue is that when I see these suggestions, I'm not sure if you're suggesting that the OP should add all of them to the current crossbow, or just one of them, or that some of these should replace some existing features of the crossbow, or if they should add all your suggestions and remove all the current features, or what. Being a bit more clear about that might improve the answer. Just my two cents. \$\endgroup\$ yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do I just edit my response, add another, or clarify in a comment? ty. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jim Kata
    yesterday

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