I am working on a mage for a D&D 2e party I'm joining -- they need the arcane support! However, I was reviewing the weapon restrictions list in the 2e PHB, and while the intent (weapons that require little training or strength to use, or are otherwise useful to the mage) is clear and sensible to me, the list of weapons in the PHB does not seem completely consistent with the intent.

In particular, why are crossbows of any type nowhere to be found on the list? Their ease of use and learning compared to practically any other ranged weapon, -- even blowguns and to some extent slings (which are allowed for mages) -- is what made them such a thorn in the side of RL knights; furthermore, the PHB itself states that "Strength bonuses or penalties do not apply to crossbows, as they are purely mechanical devices", which would make them quite attractive to a (presumably physically weak) arcanist.

Is there some game balance concern at work here I'm not seeing? I will be asking my DM about this later on...

Also, why is the use of ranged weapons by wizards considered so stylistically inappropriate? It makes far more tactical sense for them to maintain range even when in a situation where they are out of magic or can't make productive use of their spells for whatever reason, as range is the armor of the mage!

Finally: how much training does a crossbow require to be basically competent with it, vs a blowgun, a throwing knife or a sling? I have a hard time imagining that you'd be any bit accurate with any of them without some training, which is what really makes me scratch my head here.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Just as a note; in later editions mages learn how to work them; 3.5/PF wizards can use club, dagger, heavy crossbow, light crossbow, and quarterstaff. \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Oct 30 '14 at 14:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that "easy to use" and "requires little or no training" are not the same thing at all. Crossbows do require training—just not years of it. Also, crossbows need significant strength to load, or extra training with a separate drawing device. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '14 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Judging by how much arging with the answers and comments you're doing, you don't seem to like what you're hearing, or you're not hearing what you want to hear. If you're looking for validation from us that AD&D is wrong and should be different, you've come to the wrong site. If you want to commiserate with people who agree with you, don't ask a Q&A site for what is "right", ask a forum for ranting-sympathy. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 1 '14 at 2:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Please do not argue or discuss in comments. If you disagree with an answer, post your own and/or downvote. If you find yourself needing to comment more than once (especially in succession) it's a sign that you don't need to comment at all, but instead improve your question. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 1 '14 at 2:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is now three distinct questions, one of which is a history.SE question instead of an RPG.SE question. As such, I'm voting to put on hold as "too broad". \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 1 '14 at 18:29

Is there some game balance concern at work here I'm not seeing?

Intention of the rules

Mages cannot wear armor, have only few hitpoints and are very restricted concerning weapons. This is for game balance reasons to offset their enormous magical potential. This balance considerations are explained by the fact that mages have no training at all with weapons or armor to focus on magic. They can only use very basic household weapons and a crossbow is not one of them.


In reality, although we consider crossbows a relatively easy weapon to use compared to the bow, that's only half the truth. The mage's weapons, like darts, staff and dagger can be handled be virtually anyone. I can handle them good enough to not hurt myself (mostly...) and I have no training at all. A crossbow does need training. Although I theoretically know how a crossbow works, if you gave one to me, I'd probably have problems to get the mechanic to work. Is it easy to learn? Probably. Does it need training? Yes, it does. And why would I train to use a crossbow when I could spend the time to learn magic.


Crossbows are a relatively powerful weapon. However, compared to the bow using 2e rules, it's horrible. There is nothing in the books actually describing the crossbow as inferior to the bow, so I guess it was not intended for it to be that weak. It did have superior range, it's just that D&D does not actually use that range very often. If the next dungeon wall is 30 feet away, having a good long range is not enough to make up for the advantages of the bow. The crossbow did get stronger in later editions. So the reasoning for not allowing mages to use one probably was that the crossbow should have been a powerful weapon at least somewhat comparable to the bow and therefore the balance would have required it to not be usable by mages.


I think from a pure game mechanical point, crossbows being as weak as they are, having one as a mage would probably not be too powerful. However, the crossbow does not count strength penalties either, so trying to use one with a strength of 6 would be pretty powerful compared to all other options. Gameplay wise, it doesn't make a difference with all the other combat disadvantages of the mage (even if it grants more damage, I'd say let him have it for the one occasion every session the mage actually manages to hit), but personally, I would not allow it for style reasons. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where the mage was dragging along a crossbow? As a matter of fact, I cannot even remember one where the mage had any ranged weapon at all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Plus, Strength. Crossbows require a good amount of strength to use - they are heavy, and the pull requires a mix of strength and equipment - even an advanced windlass type one (assuming higher tech than D&D usually does) isn't something Raistlin could do in a timely manner. Class is often used as a shortcut for "strong or not strong" etc. in 1e AD&D because of the minimum stat requirements and generally low ability scores of characters (compared to later versions). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 1 '14 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where the mage was dragging along a crossbow?" Pretty sure Harry Dresden fired one at least once in his short-lived TV series. I'm sure I've seen this setup plenty of other times in movies and books, as it feels pretty familiar to me, but the Dresden Files TV show is the only one I can place just off the top of my head. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Nov 1 '14 at 22:53

There is no reason why a wizard should not be able to use a crossbow besides the rules don't include a crossbow in their weapon choice. Game balance wise crossbows are very much on the underpowered and underused weapons in 2nd ed, except for drow with their repeating hand crossbows.

AD&D 2nd ed had very few weapons unless you had the Arms and Equipment guide which only really expanded on the existant weapons and added some obscure things.

Crossbows were mostly the unwanted stepchild of the weapons list. Low damage and slow rate of fire 1 per round with heavies needing 1 round to reload compared to bows firing twice per round.


Firstly, anyone can use a crossbow; magic users simply can't become proficient at it. Secondly, the idea of classes is one of stereotypes; wizards don't use crossbows, so the weapon isn't one they're allowed to become proficient in. Finally, the in-game rationale is that they view such things as beneath them and any mage running around with one will be laughed at by his/her peers.


The main reason for the handicap is the mage will become a superpower later and there would be no reason for a person to really play anything but a mage.

Now with this in mind I've run plenty of games as well as had training in real life with weapons. An expert archer is what you are saying in a way when you take up any ranged weapon as is any other weapon or type. It is your "Choice" weapon you excelled at.

To be good with any weapon you need to practice practice practice. When you're an expert that is when you practice more.

As a mage your "spells" are your weapons so you take that level of care with those weapons of magic. However yours can also backfire and blow yourself/Group/Cities up. So this leads to it being a "Realism" of the craft. Also you've spent every waking hour perfecting a spell and not just read a page in a book and now know how it works (Leveling). So you in RP couldn't find time was learning mundane things like weapons even to keep up practice. In the book when you level you get a choice of spells. My group acts out that through the whole previous level that they were researching every waking non adventure moment for the next level of spells not just "Poof" I've learned it or I made sense of the enemy mage's book with no research of my own. So any spare time even when you are adventuring should be more magic research as well.

Now as along term DM (Over 30 years) I've allowed one weapon for a mage as long as it wasn't a very specialized weapon. This shows he did this to maybe relieve stress while in his tower/school (Mostly the choice is ranged weapons for my group since any toe to toe mage is suppose to be frowned on due to lack of strength). Also I state you are a hero and you were able to slightly bend the rules allowing you to be more adventurer than a stay-at-tower mage. This is all up to your DM. Also I've stated that by 5th level mostly you don't carry the weapon but look at any using a weapon like your old one with nostalgia. This allows my player to have a better weapon to survive my world when they run out of magic and later act like an old veteran when her/his students ask "What was it like for you all those years ago?"

Good Example:

Mage of 20th level sees a young archer and admires his/her skill. When the kid out of respect lets him fire the bow he misses horrible but says with fondness "Well my time was long ago and the years have given me rust...don't let it happen to you my child" the Girl/Boy then realizes here is a mage who could call meteors to earth and destroy foes yet was once like him and due to no time for practice can't hit a target...The Child makes sure s/he never misses a practice again.

So the summary rules:

  • You're a powerhouse why add more

  • You're a thinker not a swinger

Summary for RP:

  • Up to DM

  • Help the DM out by asking for just ____ weapon in the start but it's only an aid. You aren't going to RP you're a pro it's just for the nickle dime since one day you'll do massive damage and the darn weapon will be a moot point.

Remember it's up to the DM and communication is the key. As respect if you see you are to powerful for the bow it's up to you to help the DM and pass it on so s/he doesn't have to say "when did you find time to learn ____ tactic with the ____"

PS: while this was written in thought of 2E this also works through the rest of the systems to me. Rules are fun but RP is why we do it.


I think part of the answer lies in the quote regarding a crossbow being a "purely mechanical device". Why would someone who relies on arcane powers fall back to using 'crude' mechancial equipment. Also think about how Harry Dresden has difficulty keeping his mechanical equipment up and running.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Jim Butcher's wizards have trouble with highly complex devices like cell phones and modern computerized cars, but even Harry Dresden can use a crossbow without much trouble. The complexity simply isn't high enough for it to have much trouble. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Nov 1 '14 at 22:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, D&D games are not usually set in the Dresdenverse, with its particular rules of magic. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 2 '14 at 3:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but the principles are the same. Wizards & technology don't mix. Crossbows may be taking it a little too far though. Dresden also had trouble keeping his "simple" VW bug running - no computers in that thing! \$\endgroup\$ – ISU Burd Nov 13 '14 at 18:21

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.