Are there rules or guides for bow maintenance in D&D 5e? Is unstringing and restringing a bow required as part of that, and are there mechanics around doing so (e.g. does it take a turn to restring it)?

Our DM is stuck on the fact that a bow shouldn't be strung at all times, so normally they should be always unstrung when resting, etc., and if the bow is left strung it will become damaged.

We are all new to D&D 5e and we have been learning more in each session we play (for instance, last game we learned that we can't cast a spell and then cast a bonus action spell).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see how you can get the most out of this site. Thanks for your question, and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 18 '17 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ [related] (to your last line): Is it possible to cast multiple spells per turn? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 18 '17 at 22:00
  • 13
    \$\begingroup\$ I would say you don't see people stringing and unstringing their bows in D&D for precisely the same reason you don't see bathrooms on the Enterprise. \$\endgroup\$ – user3294068 Jan 18 '17 at 22:05

There are not. The game assumes that all characters are taking care of their equipment (and studying and practicing and so on) off-screen, and basically assumes that there are never any particular troubles with this. The rules work this way because the authors assume that the characters have much bigger, more interesting troubles to be concerned about.

The only way we’re likely to see such rules from WotC is, maybe, as part of some limited optional variant rule. Such variant rules are rarely comprehensive or complete; rather they just offer a few ideas for how you might change the game some, and then expects DMs to figure out the details.

Which is what your DM here is doing. He is attempting to incorporate a (realistic) detail that the rules themselves ignore. The rules themselves encourage that kind of customization, but it is then the responsibility of the DM to fully flesh out those rules and clearly explain them to the players (at least insofar as the player characters would know them).

I would further add that it is his responsibility to fully understand the situation: why the rules are the way they are, how this change is going to affect things, how other things should change for consistency, and what the effects those will have, and so on. Homing in on one particular detail while ignoring the rest is a mistake that leads to an inconsistent game. And changing everything to pay greater attention to maintenance is a huge change with significant effects, and by definition is also taking away attention from elsewhere. The DM should be aware of all of this when making changes.

So you will have to ask the DM for the rules he’s making up. I would suggest, at the very least, that a magic bow should be exempt from such concerns; magic items are generally far, far tougher than their non-magic counterparts, and such an exemption would mean that dedicated archers should be able to cease to worry about this problem at relatively low levels.

Why isn’t this part of the game?

What follows is a somewhat-lengthy, somewhat-tangential discussion of why such a rule is not part of the game, and why I say it almost-certainly never will be (outside of optional variant rules). This may be of interest to you, and it may also be something you would be interested in showing to your DM (such is my hope, at any rate). As I’ve already stated, the DM should be taking on a lot of responsibility for understanding the game and understanding the significance of his changes when he makes them. This may help him understand that.

Despite some claims, D&D is not a be-all, end-all system perfect for every sort of game, or even every sort of fantasy game, or even every sort of medieval fantasy game. Its rules, in aggregate, paint the picture of a very certain sort of fantasy game, which come from its roots and is hinted at by the name. In essence, D&D is first-and-foremost designed to be for dungeon-delving and dragon-slaying.

Now, to be clear, this priority may stem from D&D’s history, but that does not mean the game hasn’t changed over the years or across the editions. What it means to go out dungeon-delving or dragon-slaying has changed some—and Wizards of the Coast has tended more-or-less to try to stick to modern expectations for those activities rather than necessarily trying to hew as close as possible to the original vision. 5e is something of a reboot for them, after 3e (perhaps unintentionally) strayed from those ideals and 4e embraced that straying to a degree that alienated significant portions of the audience, but nonetheless it has plenty of modern sensibilities to it.

The reason I bring this up is because this kind of maintenance concern is precisely the kind of thing that (modern, WotC) D&D has absolutely and categorically ignored. It is not a part of the fifth edition, and that choice seemed very much intentional on Wizards’ part. It’s impossible to say if that reflects some market data they have or simply the personal preferences of their team, but the fact remains that 5e has set its abstraction threshold firmly above the point where one would be concerned about an always-strung bow.

“Abstraction threshold” is an important term in game design, and refers to the degree to which the game attempts to emulate reality. All games, by definition, must simplify reality to be playable, and simplification is often done through abstraction—conflating things that are really distinct, ignoring caveats, qualifications, or limitations, smoothing out edge cases. This is important to making a game; where you choose your abstraction threshold defines a whole lot about what kind of game you have and what sort of stories you can tell playing it.

And, to quote Heinlein, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch: changing the abstraction threshold focuses more attention on one thing, at the cost of other things. Attention and abstraction is not strictly zero-sum, but everyone’s time and attention is limited. Every rule demands time and attention, so the more demands you have in one area, the less will be possible to devote to another.

WotC D&D’s abstraction threshold is set to encourage “epic” narratives. Caring for bowstrings is not something that is part of that narrative. Legendary bow shots are what that narrative wants to relate. Having rules about bowstring maintenance draws attention away from epic bowshots—time and attention must be paid to maintaining the bowstring, and that will necessarily come from time that could have been spent setting up, attempting, and making legendary bow shots. And so I assert that bowstring care will never find its way into the rules of the game. Other games have different abstraction thresholds, and even earlier editions of D&D may have had much greater focus on this kind of maintenance and preparation, and may very well have rules for damage to a bowstring if left strung.

| improve this answer | |
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer from a meta-stance, but I think a TL;DR of "Certain things are assumed to be done by proficient users." could be added. I once played a rogue and the DM wanted me to role-play which tumblers and gears to interact with in which order. Whereas puzzle RP is nice, that was way too far which is one of the reasons we have skills not non-weapon proficiencies and even earlier no secondary skillsets at all. Evolution of the game and the players. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jan 18 '17 at 20:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Hah, just finished editing something along those lines in. Let me know if you think there should be more. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 18 '17 at 20:13

As somebody who hunts, allow me to state quite confidently that your bow can be strung for 8 to 12 hours without causing damage to the weapon at all.

Leaving a bow while strung in storage will eventually damage it because the wood (or other material) will eventually lose it's spring. Keeping it strung for the duration of a day of adventuring (in my case, hunting) will not do any significant damage to it. So long as the player is taking care to remove the string when they take their long rests, the bow would remain in good working condition.

I might start imposing condition penalties if they fail to remove the string after a couple of days, citing that the wood is loosing it's spring. This would simply reduce the bows effective range by small increments. The change would be very gradual, likely lasting upwards of 2 or 3 months at absolute minimum. Of course, if you're DM is this picky, you're also going to need spare string, wax for said string, oil or wax to keep the wood free from water damage, and replacement twine to ensure a solid and good condition grip.

I mean, I first became interested in archery during high school, and our bows were stored strung year round. They couldn't fire further than 100 feet, but they could still fire training heads hard enough to stick into the gym door. Allegedly.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ If they were to house rule it, how long would restring a bow take (base on your experience)? Like if they said they unstrung it everynight, and they were ambushed in the night/breakfast, would it be 1 round to restring it (after drawing it), or is it more like putting on armour -- taking so long you would never do it in-combat? \$\endgroup\$ – Lyndon White Jan 18 '17 at 23:24
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ If I was an adventurer going to sleep, with or without a watch on, I would have my bow beside me with the string already ready in one of the limb notches. That way, if I was awoken by an alarm, all I would have to do is bend the bow and connect the other notch for a readied weapon. My quiver would be beside this as well. All in all, I would say at most, a single round would be required to ready your weapon, and that's only from a complete surprise. If they've already slung their bow (so they're eating breakfast), it's strung. Stringing a bow is like drawing a sword, really easy to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jan 19 '17 at 0:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli I was going to say "5-10 seconds" (I have no idea what the D&D round is, in this day and age, my memory says it used to be one minute and that is way longer than it should take). But it's also been at least 20 years since I last strung a bow, so, you know... \$\endgroup\$ – Vatine Jan 20 '17 at 10:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ A round is 6 seconds. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jan 20 '17 at 12:03

There are lots of real weapon and tool maintenance tasks that D&D has no explicit rules for. Blades need to kept sharp, clean, waterproofed for instance.

The real-world needs of a bow like a longbow include more than just knowing when to string/unstring it. However, in most fantasy adventure works this is either not referenced, or is used to add a bit of world depth and colour. It is much the same as in a film rarely noticing counts of ammunition or re-loading - even when re-loading is handled, or ammo counted, this is done as a slave to the drama, not the other way around.

A common approach is that this happens either off-screen or as part of on-screen "colour" - e.g. describing that the character is maintaining their equipment during a rest.

Realistically, an archer would not walk around for hours, ready to fire a shot at any second when there is no immediate danger. However, it takes very little time to string or unstring a bow - in this video the presenter strings and unstrings a bow whilst describing slowly how to do each task, around 6 seconds each task. If you were feeling particularly harsh about that you might count it as an Action. More fairly from a game design perspective, I think it compares favourably with other "free object interaction" tasks such as opening a door, drawing or sheathing a weapon etc. Hopefully your DM will agree, and what they are really griping at is taking all the detail for granted - perhaps too much focusing on powers, hit points damage and joking around for their taste.

Ultimately this kind of fine detail needs to be something the whole group is into before it takes up lots of screen time. Because it is a bit mundane and boring, and mostly consists of remembering word rituals that the DM has decided ought to be in the story.

What I would suggest as a compromise is remembering as often as possible to tell the DM that you are stringing your bow (when danger might be near), and unstringing it. Because the DM lacks rules for all this, and will probably bore themselves attempting to track all the details and apply "fair" bonuses or penalties, then most likely all they want is some nod to reality, and will leave things at that - just adding a bit of narrative colour. I have played with DMs like this (and been a DM like this), and the best outcome is a little more depth to descriptions. Watch out for inconsistent rulings though - stuff the DM has an opinion about can get arbitrarily nerfed or improved, spoiling some of the game balance.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ If your DM does grow into type that adds extra action requirements to weapons-based characters because "realism" and lets mages need nothing because "magic" or some other skewed balance issue because they've found some itch to scratch, then it won't be the first time this has happened. It's quite common in fact. If it leads to a game style which irritates you, search here or ask new question about it, to get some options. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jan 18 '17 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer makes a good case for why bowstringing should be considered a "free" Interaction as opposed to an Action. I would add that crossbows in 5e are loaded as part of their Attack action, and although I am not a crossbow hunter, I assume that cocking one of these does not take longer than stringing a bow. \$\endgroup\$ – eyecosahedron Jan 24 '17 at 22:08

I have not seen anywhere in the PHB or DMG any text about bow or weapon maintenance. The bows in RAW are always ready for action.

You could suggest to your DM to apply the same rules as for drawing and sheathing melee weapon (free action) to your bows.

The PHB (page 190)

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example [...] you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack. If you want to interact with a second object, you need to use your action. Some magic items and other special objects always require an action to use, as stated in their descriptions.

It's not technically the same as a melee weapon, but unstringing and restringing could be considered a free action as part of the movement action. If your DM wants to "penalize" you for having an unstringed bow (not prepared to face immediate danger), it could cost half or all your movement action.

It could lead to situations like fleeing versus fighting while the party is ambushed (instead of fleeing AND fighting).

| improve this answer | |
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can i know why i'm downvoted? Did I make any miscalculation? \$\endgroup\$ – Adamind Jan 18 '17 at 18:01
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the question down to just asking about bow maintenance, so I'm correspondingly editing this down to just the question #2 part. I would estimate this answer was downvoted in response to answering a question which clearly badly needed closure (a practice I don't, myself, engage in): it asked multiple, distinct, unrelated things at once, which should instead be asked in separate questions. We like those questions to not get answered so as to encourage the asker to follow our request to ask their questions separately, but in this case these edits will set things straight. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 18 '17 at 18:08
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any experience in bringing in maintenance mechanics to D&D that you could use to expand on your point? When recommending house rules you want to provide as much useful detail about your experiences with them as possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Ceribia Jan 18 '17 at 18:50

There is nothing that specific in the rules about mechanics on bow maintenance. However, "Lifestyle Expenses" in the Players Hand Book on pg 157. probably covers day-to-day maintenance the best and might be the closest mechanic in the official rules as to what you are asking.

Lifestyle expenses provide you with a simple way to account for the cost of living in a fantasy world. They cover your accommodations, food and drink, and all your other necessities. Furthermore, expenses cover the cost of maintaining your equipment so you can be ready when adventure next calls.

In this section there is a box titled "Self-Sufficiency" on pg 159. Paraphrasing, the text covers that it is assumed that in downtime adventurers are paying townsfolk for tasks such as sword sharpening and armor repair, bow maintenance would fit under this too. Or, an adventurer can be self sufficient and do these tasks on their own which is similar to practicing a profession in down-time. (Chapter 8. Pg 187 covers downtime in adventures)

| improve this answer | |
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you're suggesting that so long as players pay daily lifestyle expenses, or use downtime to Craft or Practice a Profession, their bows are considered permanently strung without degradation? \$\endgroup\$ – eyecosahedron Jan 24 '17 at 21:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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