I've tried to do a little research, as my players will soon fight pirates, whose warship is armed with ballistas (gunpowder hasn't been invented yet). Unfortunately, I was unable to find any class that would exactly fit the role of a ballista operator.

Is there a class that gets bonuses for attack, damage or some other useful features for ballistae? The pirates should be around 12th–14th level.

I use ballista rules from Heroes of The Battle, both heavy and light.

If there are some useful feats for that, please do not hestitate to mention it. As far as I have found I have:

  • ballista proficiency
  • crossbow sniper
  • plunging shot
  • ranged weapon mastery

Materials from 3.0, 3.5, Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Adventures are allowed.

Just to clarify, as the gamemaster, I do define ballista as an oversized variation of crossbow, thus most of feats, classes or features that affect crossbows will affect ballistae as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23, 2016 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is a frame challenge viable? That is, must ships be armed with a ballista or five or can the setting accommodate alternative means of long-range, largely mundane ship-to-ship combat? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23, 2016 at 18:12

4 Answers 4


Heroes of Battle is the place for the most updated siege rules, including a number of feats (Ballista Proficiency, Expert Siege Engineer, etc.). The relevant feats may be selected as fighter bonus feats, so that makes fighter a possibility here. Fighter is also good for getting crossbow feats—the rules do not specify that feats relating to crossbows apply to ballistae, despite being just an over-large crossbow, but if allowed, fighter is in a pretty good place to get them.

Dragon vol. 295 has a 3.0 prestige class, master siege engineer. As it predates Heroes of Battle, it doesn’t interact with those rules directly, and its abilities are most potent when dealing with multiple siege weapons used by multiple crews. Nonetheless, it does exist.

Back to Heroes of Battle, the legendary commander prestige class may be worth considering. It requires Leadership and expands on one’s ability to command troops. Leadership may even be appropriate for once since siege weapons require crews (ideally two for light ballistae, four for heavy ballistae, in addition to the crew leader).

Dragon vol. 310 provides a number variant fighters, including targeteer which gains proficiency in two ranged exotic weapons—Heroes of Battle does not define ballistas as exotic weapons, and Ballista Proficiency is distinct from Exotic Weapon Proficiency, but it’s a minor stretch to consider it. Alternatively, the commander variant in the same article may be more appropriate.

The commander and targeteer have different bonus feat lists from the base fighter, but it only covers core feats—it seems to me that non-core feats should be added to the list as appropriate, and these siege weaponry feats are appropriate for these variants. If the ruling is that they cannot be added, though, then of course you don’t want anything to touch that feat list, and base fighter is ideal.


Several sources on the Internet state that Dragon Magazine #295 (3e) has the Master Siege Engineer prestige class, and that it deals in siege weapon proficiencies.


To answer your question, there is not a specific non-prestige class that gains benefits for/while using siege weapons in 3.5e. There are several feats that apply, and I think most of them come from Heroes of Battle. In particular the ones that come to mind are Ballista Proficiency (HoB, pg. 96) and Expert Siege Engineer (HoB, pg. 97).

Ballista Proficiency allows you to make an attack with a Ballista without incurring a -4 penalty.

Expert Siege Engineer gives a +2 competency bonus to all attacks and damage rolls made with siege weapons.

If you are open to bringing Pathfinder content into your game world, there is a Gunslinger Archetype in Pathfinder that does exactly what you are looking for called Siege Gunner that gets a lot of bonuses for/while operating a siege weapon, but this might require a bit of tweaking to fit your campaign unless you intend on also bringing in the Pathfinder siege weapon rules.


Polyhedron magazine issue 151 p.29 (published with issue 92 of Dungeon magazine) has a few feats that apply to siege weapons.

Ballista Specialist adds +4 to attack rolls with a ballista. Ballista Master adds +8 to attack rolls with a ballista (requires Ballista specialist, but doesn't say whether the +8 stacks with the +4; they are untyped so one would assume they do).

Same issue also has Cannon Specialist and Cannon Master.

You might also be interested in the Animated Ballista construct introduced on p.42 of Dungeon 92.


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