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Being prone imposes disadvantage on attacks, which makes sense for melee weapons and traditional bows. However, for things like crossbows and firearms, laying prone seems like it should have the opposite effect. The additional support and bracing received by laying on the ground would serve to stabilize one's aim, and traditionally sharpshooters in militaries worldwide lay prone when making their long range shots.

Is this an unreasonable idea for balance purposes? Will anything break in my game if I house rule that characters receive advantage from being prone when firing a crossbow, rather than disadvantage?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've edited your question to help it fit better on the site. We can't really talk about how things "should" be, but we can help you evaluate the potential balance impact of this change. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 3:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Commenting as this has nothing to do with DnD, et al. You are reasoning based on real-life, it seems so therefor: As a crossbowman, in real life, as in I use one on occasion to hunt and decimate targets, I will say that I pretty much never, ever, go prone and stay there. Firing is/can be more accurate from prone, but reloading my mundane (i.e. non-magical) crossbow is impossible without rolling or standing. Firing from a knelt position, however, is useful and acceptable. ( I do understand that conflating r/l with fantasy is problematic in and of itself. ) \$\endgroup\$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I was gonna say, reloading a crossbow while lying down would be pretty tough. Not necessarily relevant to the question of game balance, but... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I might go for a version where the crossbow did not suffer from disadvantage, rather than granting them advantage instead of disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ An alternative you may consider is only granting advantage on long range shots (which by default would just cancel out the regular disadvantage for long range shots, but leave normal range shots unaffected). Going prone is more of a "sniping" thing where you only need to minutely adjust the angle of the shot, and not something that would help you hit an enemy running around in the same room as you. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 19:04

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Historical crossbows are not firearms

Modern crossbows have shoulder stocks like rifles or other long guns, but that is not true of historical crossbows. Because there is no recoil, there is no need for a shoulder stock to disperse it across the body. Modern crossbows have stocks not because they need them but because most users expect them from their exposure to rifles.

Historical crossbows can be more accurately described as having a stick:

Crossbow of Matthias Corvinus, 1489

They were fired by holding them up to your eye and sighting along the shaft, a posture that would break your cheekbone with a firearm.

Rifles and modern crossbows can be fired comfortably from a prone position because the shoulder stock allows for it. Historical crossbows are virtually impossible to aim from a prone position, and the disadvantage is warranted.

Nothing will break

Largely because "balance" in D&D 5e is a very big target. In certain situations, it will make a fight slightly easier for the crossbow wieldier's side and slightly harder for the other side, but not to the extent that it will "break" anything.

A crossbow wielder who tries to spend combat prone is sacrificing much of their mobility, and intelligent foes should take advantage of that. A Fog Cloud or Darkness spell will negate the advantage. Spells that require saving throws aren't affected when targeting a prone creature, and getting up close is always a go-to move against any missile user.

If the crossbow user is a PC, this will make things a bit easier - who cares, PCs are meant to win anyway. If they are on team monster, this will make the fights harders - it will take longer to down the monster crossbow users and they will get more hits on the PCs, you will need to factor that in. Notwithstanding, its far less of an advantage than if the crossbow users were behind arrowslits.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for the actual historical perspective that demonstrates the motivation for introducing this rule is misguided. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 10:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I came to say something in the lines of this answer. Have some internet tokens. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 12:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Crossbows absolutely DO have recoil, but it's a lot less sharp than the recoil of a gun. A heavy crossbow likely needs bracing not just for the recoil, but to help hold it steady just due to the weight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Turksarama
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 0:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the gun side, early firearms were easy to fire from prone, but nearly impossible to load without getting up, because you have to pour powder down the barrel. You could do it, but it'd be a project, and in a combat setting, volume of fire is king. For an individual hunter, laying down to aim was a common thing, since you weren't in danger from a deer, and a sniper could be far enough away -- but doing that with enemy infantry nearby would be basically begging them to come stab you. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 22:03
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This is an unbalanced option and will likely result in a crossbow wielder dropping prone every or nearly every round.

Per the being prone rules (PHB 190):

You can drop prone without using any of your speed. Standing up takes more effort; doing so costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed.

This means that ranged attackers can drop prone before making their attacks for the round with advantage, and then rise for half of their movement to avoid any penalties from being prone before they end their turn. This allows ranged attackers to trade the resource they value least (movement) for advantage on any attack.

When considering balance, it is best to look at a feature or option that gives an equivalent benefit. The most obvious mirror (and the character I would expect to take advantage of this rule the most) is the Rogue's Cunning Action to Hide.

Like your Prone rule, the Rogue can consistently get advantage on their attacks by hiding every round they can find cover. In Cunning Action, this is offset by requiring a bonus action and a stealth check, which may fail. Your Prone rule, on the other hand, works on any round that the rogue does not require more than half of their available movement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ if your opinion is that going prone whenever possible is already an optimal strategy, a rule to further incentivize that strategy with advantage is not a good one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Weaveworker89 So how about changing it either (a) so that it just does not impose disadvantage for crossbow weilders (instead of granting advantage), or (b) so that the advantage kicks in only on the next turn (only if you already started your turn prone), with a thematic reasoning of getting prone is fast and easy but you need to find a good shooting position and that takes time — that way there is an investment before you get the advantage \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @J.E I would not implement either, because I don't think it's a problem that needs to be solved. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your suggestion that it would result in people dropping prone each round is the current situation, I would be baffled by how you think it isn't and why 4 people agree with you, but so many people are really awful at understanding the mechanics that it isn't a surprise. That's not a dig at you, but thinking that prone isn't a bonus means you don't really understand prone. As long as you are out of range of a melee attacker or impending dex save you should almost always end your turn prone so ranged attacks are harder to land on you. This actually fixes the up and down, not causes it. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 12:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Me, an intellectual crossbowman: “You mean you guys weren’t already dropping prone every round?” \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 13:25
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This is unnecessary

Before discussing any balance impact, let's talk about what are we trying to fix.

for things like crossbows and firearms, laying prone seems like it should have the opposite effect

So there are no gameplay nor tactics issues. The only problem is: imposing disadvantage might seem unjustified for someone.

If this "someone" is you, I suggest you reconsider. Within the 5e rules, crossbows work just like any other ranged weapon. This is intended, since 5e approach is to simplify the rules. Don't add more rules without a substantional reason. Players won't appreciate that.

If it's a player who is complaining, you don't actually need to rebalance crossbows in order to solve the issue. You need a plausible explanation, why disadvantage is still applied. Such an explanation might be:

  • Hard to reload. You have to reload the crossbow in the same turn, but it's hard to do that while being prone. You shoot in a rush, hence the disadvantage.
  • No proper support. You can't firmly place the crossbow on the ground, so you have to hold it suspended in midair.
  • Uncomfortable position. Wet mud. Et cetera.

"Prone" condition often implies unconvinient circumstances, so the player should agree.

If the situation is ideal for shooting in prone position, you the DM can make an exception and grant an advantage in this particular case. What you shouldn't do — prematurely turn this ruling into a rule.

This is also unbalanced

But not in terms of unfair advantage. Range attackers try to stay in the backline anyway. Being prone becomes no-brainer in this case. It's just a "give me advantage" button, which they can freely spam. This spends your group's real time and reduces weapon diversity (crossbows become superior). This is not fun.

The closest alternative to this is the optional Flanking rule:

flanking gives combatants a simple way to gain advantage on attack rolls against a common enemy.

So it's also a free advantage, although, it still works only in melee:

they flank that enemy, and each of them has advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy.

This seems intentional. Flanking rule adds tactical options — you have to actively reposition youself, not just say "I'm flanking". However, from my experience, it still feels very "spamy", when players are trying to flank on each turn. So I personally don't use this rule, albeit I use the grid most of the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: hard to reload: firearms had to wait for the middle of the 19th century (and the invention of the paper cartridge + breech-loading) to be able to be reloaded in any other position than standing. Before that time, the only "thinkable" way for a shooter (be it bow, crossbow, musket, etc.) to not be hit was to get behind cover (or ride away if mounted), not lie prone. \$\endgroup\$
    – breversa
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 14:05
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This is very risky

First, its not that easy to break the game with a rule change. Even in the existing rules there is a good amount of power variance, and that may be a good thing too, as it gives players something to explore and discover as they become more expert in the system.

For a change to really break something, it typically needs to that feature being so powerful that it overshadows other approaches, and leads to repetitive play patterns, or so weak nobody is using it, and the class that gets the change becoming unattractive to play. You also need to look at how it can be abused in a focused build, because even if it is fine in others, that is how someone will use it.

Reasons this might be fine:

First, the change is somewhat symmetrical. It will benefit monsters with crossbows, as much as players. Players of course can use it all the time, and most monsters do not have them (at least, as given in the MM), so it will benefit players more, but at least it's possible to be used against them.

Second, it's open to many. Light crossbows are simple weapons that pretty much everyone can use, so it will not enhance just one class and make it better. It still of course favors a build that wants to use a ranged weapon more.

Third, there are other ways to get advantage on attacks, although many of them are harder to engineer than simply dropping prone: you can attack from being invisible or in darkness with devil sight or by being a gloom stalker ranger, or have your familiar or some minion use the help action.

Forth, and most importantly using it has a cost: when you drop prone, you sacrifice mobility. It will be harder to get away if someone gets close, and anyone who manages to get within 5 feet also has advantage to hit you.


Still, I think this is risky: advantage is a big swing approximately worth +4 or +5 to hit, and your optimized crossbow expert and sharpshooter fighter always attacking with advantage to add +10 to damage at no real cost can be quite overpowered. With crossbow expert, they even get an added bonus action attack to make it worse. It will be easier and even more problematic than other ways to do exploit sharpshooter with advantage, and a build exploiting sharpshooter with advantage nearly broke our game.

Your motivation is verisimilitude. By that measure, if you think about how crossbows were cocked in the real world, with belt hooks and such, it may be easier to aim, but it also might be harder to reload the crossbow.

I would at least exclude hand crossbows from this, and state that you cannot avoid the loading cost if you do this, so crossbow expert builds will not exploit this to unbalance your game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “It will be easier and even more problematic other ways to do exploit sharpshooter with advantage, and that nearly broke our game.” huh? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 9:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious why you think it has a real cost. Dropping prone is free, and getting back up is only half your movement. If I had a crossbow and this rule, barring wanting to not 'look' ridiculous, I would drop prone, shoot (X times), then stand up. If I'm worried about an enemy being too close, I still have half movement to deal with that and the option of just not doing it that round. Which, with a crossbow, I'm avoiding being anywhere close to melee anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 11:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso movement for a ranged character is a real cost, you should be trying to be out of range at all times, and losing the ability to do so can be painful. Also really you should drop prone and stay there, being prone at range is a good thing. The current situation is the ridiculous one where you stand, shoot, then drop prone again. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Sorry was in a hurry and had forgotten a "than". I hope its clear now. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 13:51
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Try imposing a disadvantage to this maneuver to keep it balanced

Why not make it similar to the 'steady aim' feature that rogues get from Tasha's? I would say, they can go prone on their turn and steady their aim, or they must start their turn prone, and they must stay prone until their next turn otherwise they'll be able to abuse it as you mentioned. That way, if someone gets to their position they are left vulnerable as a sharpshooter would in that circumstance. In addition, it shouldn't step on the Rogue's toes because the rogue does not need to be prone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This site works best when suggestion is backed up with examples of how it has worked for you, rather than just being ideas (even good ones). That said your idea actually makes it more powerful, because ending prone is great despite all the people clueless to it. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 6:13

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