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The exotic weapon bone bow (Frostburn 75, 76) (250 gp; 4 lbs.) says that it

functions as a composite longbow with regard to applying the user’s Strength bonus to damage done with arrows shot from it. (75)

Many interpret this to mean that a bone bow's user applies his Strength bonus to damage—unlike with the composite longbow and composite shortbow—without the need to purchase and specify the bone bow's Strength bonus (e.g. Brilliant Gameologists forums, EN World forums, Giant in the Playground forums and here). There exist dissenters (e.g. Giant in the Playground forums). Obviously, an official word is unlikely.

  1. Does the bone bow, as printed in Frostburn, allow the user to add his Strength bonus to a bone bow arrow launched from it?
  2. Should the bone bow, as printed in Frostburn—given its feat requirement, high base cost, greater weight, inability to use normal arrows, and but +10 ft. range increment and +1 damage over the composite longbow—, allow the user to add his Strength bonus to a bone bow arrow launched from it?

Context

A level 4 NPC archer with more Strength and feats than gp has a highly variable Strength score due to his barbarian alternative class feature ferocity and potion of animalistic power [trans] (PH2 101) (2nd-level spell at caster level 3) (300 gp; 0.1 lbs.). Both Hank's energy bow (Animated Series Handbook 3) (22,600 gp, 3 lbs.) and the bow of the wintermoon (MIC 48) (3,400 gp; 3 lbs.) are out of reach financially, and carrying 2-3 bows is too costly and too cumbersome. For this NPC I want a published, preferably official method of affordable Strength-adjusting archery; an answer that also provides that (if any!) would be especially useful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I read it that, even thought it is not a composite longbow, it may function as one, and has such let the user apply some of his strength bonus to it. \$\endgroup\$ – Matteo Tassinari Nov 11 '14 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatteoTassinari I, too, read it that way, and many take that reading a step further, allowing the bone bow's user to add his Strength bonus to bone bow arrow damage for free and at an adjustable rate instead of a bone bow merely allowing an unadjustable Strength bonus to be purchased like a composite bow. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 11 '14 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do not think it works that way, or it would state it explicitely, and not cost only 250gp... \$\endgroup\$ – Matteo Tassinari Nov 11 '14 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatteoTassinari That's why I asked the question. :-) The majority of the Internet thinks the bone bow does adjust automatically (check the links!), yet that seems like a lot to read into that one line from Frostburn I quoted. You should read those links and post an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 11 '14 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honorable mention: Pathfinder's Adaptive property, for 1000gp. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Nov 12 '14 at 9:20
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It does not auto-adjust.

I agree with John Campbell of the giantitp boards on this one. When the Bone Bow says that it

functions as a composite longbow with regard to applying the user’s Strength bonus to damage done with arrows shot from it. (75)

I see no reason to assume that it only applies to parts of the rules text concerning composite (long)bows and their interactions with the wielders Str bonus.

All composite bows are made with a particular strength rating (that is, each requires a minimum Strength modifier to use with proficiency). If your Strength bonus is less than the strength rating of the composite bow, you can't effectively use it, so you take a -2 penalty on attacks with it. The default composite longbow requires a Strength modifier of +0 or higher to use with proficiency. A composite longbow can be made with a high strength rating to take advantage of an above-average Strength score; this feature allows you to add your Strength bonus to damage, up to the maximum bonus indicated for the bow. Each point of Strength bonus granted by the bow adds 100 gp to its cost.

The only clarity issue here is the pricing of the modifier, which differs between the Longbow and the Shortbow

Each point of Strength bonus granted by the bow adds 75 gp to its cost.

Considering that 100 and 75 gp are the base costs for the composite long- and shortbow respectively, it can be assumed that every point of Str modifier costs the full base price for the bone bow as well, which makes the bone bow quite expensive, especially considering the feat requirement.

Should it?

On the one hand, I'd say it shouldn't, because I can't really justify it in character/in world, and my gut says no.

On the other hand, both (most) archers and exotic weapons are well known to be rather weak in D&D 3.5, even compared to other mortals martials. Giving them a boost (which mileage varies widely depending on how often you Str rating changes) is certainly not game-breaking, especially if they need to burn a feat to use it, on top of those other restrictions.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I tentatively agree with this answer in its entirety, but feel much more strongly about that last paragraph than the rest; the composite rating always struck me as an absurd dip into far greater simulationism than the rest of the system uses, and it is to the considerable detriment of the game as a whole. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 11 '14 at 21:17
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Going strictly by the book, no.

As @MrLemon correctly noted, there is no reason to believe otherwise in a literal reading.

However, it is common practice to allow full Str bonus to damage.

I personally support this practice - after all, the player has paid the feat to use it effectively. If you are not convinced, there are other methods of accounting for variable Strength, but they are not really applicable in your case.

  • Bow of the Wintermoon (Magic Item Compendium, p48) is a +1 longbow with adjustable pull, and you just forget about the relic part. I believe that you're able to enchant it further with no problem. Oops, out of reach, as Energy Bow and Bow of Elvenkind are.
  • (arguable) Elvencraft (Races of the Wild, p166, +300gp, bow can function as melee weapon) + Morphing (Magic Item Compendium, p39, +1 bonus, can reshape into another melee or thrown weapon of the same size and type) to reshape +1 elvencraft morphing mighty[+K] composite longbow into +1 elvencraft morphing mighty[+N] composite longbow.

I'm afraid that the best you can do is indeed carry two bows with different bonuses.

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