Bows, Crossbows and Their Balance

In the interests of balance and furthering the game, I’ve decided to put together a little thread/poll here about bows and crossbows, specifically looking at their balance. To be clear, I’m the one responsible for most of the recent changes to bows and crossbows, and I fully intend to continue tweaking and expanding them until the heat death of the universe (Or I just get bored of Cataclysm), so useful discussion and voting here will likely have an (eventual) impact on the game itself.

A pretty common comment I’ve seen around Discord and Reddit is that bows are overpowered, and that crossbows are comparatively useless. I can kinda see where people are coming from, but I’d like some actual opinions on how and why.

It seems to me that the most obvious issue is that crossbows are far too slow and don’t do much more damage than bows. I see three main ways to fix this, first, a general 10-20% nerf for bow damage and range. This would make them less comparable to guns, and make crossbows relatively stronger. My only issue with that is that a hard nerf would make bows useless, while a minor nerf wouldn’t make any difference, so it would end up as an ugly balancing act that could piss people off.

The alternative is improving crossbows, either with higher damage (which might bring them uncomfortably close to guns in power (but maybe they should be?)), or a specialised piece of equipment that allows you to reload crossbows more rapidly. Something like the belt hook described here could be equipped as a slightly encumbering (and heavy) piece of clothing that flatly allows all crossbows to be reloaded in 2 turns (200 moves, as opposed to the compound crossbow’s current 300 moves). Unfortunately that would require some hardcoding that might be difficult, so it would probably be easier to implement as a magazine attachment for the weapon itself. That would also open up the possibility of other loading mechanisms, some of which are slower or faster, but require more or less strength to use, or even require a bit of UPS power.

The final possibility is to indirectly nerf bows by making bolts/arrows take longer to produce and/or making them more fragile, or taking up greater space in the inventory, etc. This could be in addition to other changes, as it would make crossbows more practical because you would need to spend a lot more time making ammunition with bows as opposed to crossbows, which would require less ammo to put down the same enemies.

I’m very open to discussion and ideas since archery is kind of my pet project for CDDA, but I’d first like to look mainly at whether or not people actually think bows are OP/crossbows are weak, to show which way it should be handled, so that’s what the (first?) poll will be on.

DISCLAIMER: I’m making the assumption that any balancing will be based around the top-end bow/crossbow (the compound bow/crossbow) and the lower level bows/crossbows will reflect balance changes to a lesser extent (Thank you Rod).
I.E If you’re not sure, base your opinion on the Compound Bow and Compound Crossbow.

  • Bows are fine and need no balancing.
  • Bows are too strong, they should be nerfed.
  • Bows are too weak, they should be buffed.
  • Crossbows are fine, and need no balancing.
  • Crossbows are too strong, they should be nerfed.
  • Crossbows are too weak, they should be buffed.
  • Bows AND crossbows are too strong, their ammo supply should be nerfed.
  • Other (please explain in a comment).

0 voters

‘other’ is that repeating crossbow SUCKS! And all other crossbows do have more power than bows, but who cares? Range doesn’t matter at all, I can shoot enemies before I see them on the screen, and I don’t care about crossbow damage, since the bow can be fired much faster.

What does irritate me, though, is this stupid menu with ‘which arrow to shoot’ when you have multiple types of arrows or identical arrows on you AND on ground.
The way to fix this as I see is to allow bows to get ammunition from quivers only, then you fill your quiver with whatever you want and DON’T FREAKING HAVE TO SLAM A MILLION BUTTONS TO SHOOT A SINGLE ARROW!!!111111111111
sorry, I just hate all those pointless pop-up windows

(or you can also assign a quiver to draw arrows from. one time before using a bow, and then you can switch quivers if you have one on the back and one on the belt. just please remove this idiotic need to choose an arrow EVERY SINGLE TIME)

p.s. can I get a discord link?

I don’t use crossbows except early game. They’re definitely a stepping stone to the pneumatic bolt launcher. Which is quite devastating.


I’d recommend only carrying one type of arrow and turning on auto-pickup for arrows. That will fix your problem entirely. The “which arrow to use” popup is because bows reload and fire, so you HAVE to specify where to reload from, or it wouldn’t work for all guns and weird stuff would happen.

Yes, the repeating crossbow does suck a bit. I might look into that at some point.

Not sure what you mean by a discord link, the official CDDA discord is:

To be clear, have you tried the Compound Crossbow at all? It’s faster to reload and overall more powerful than the pneumatic bolt driver.

PDB fires from an 8 round magazine, so even if in a sustained battle against 20 zombies the compound crossbow is faster, the PDB fires its first 8 shots faster than the compound fires its first 8 shots.

comparing the stats:

    "name": "pneumatic bolt driver",
    "description": "An eight-shot, revolving barrel, pneumatic bolt driver handcrafted from scrap.  It is very quiet and deadly.",
    "skill": "rifle",
    "ammo": "bolt",
    "weight": 3110,
    "volume": 12,
    "ranged_damage": 20,
    "range": 20,
    "dispersion": 30,
    "durability": 7,
    "clip_size": 8,
    "reload": 500,
    "loudness": 22,


      "name": "compound crossbow",
      "description": "A high-power crossbow with shaped cams and extra cables for high-power shots.  Takes less time to reload due to a modern string-pulling system.",
      "skill": "rifle",
      "ammo": "bolt",
      "weight": 3000,
      "volume": 7,
      "ranged_damage": 28,
      "range": 22,
      "loudness": 12,
      "dispersion": 200,
      "durability": 6,
      "clip_size": 1,
      "reload": 300,

For a skilled survivor making precise shots at a move cost of ~200 (or 90 on a follow-up shot), the PDB empties its magazine in 830 moves. The same 8 shots take 3700 moves for the compound crossbow. It’s not until the 23rd shot that he lower reload time of the compound crossbow finally over comes the magazine advantage of the PDB.

The compound crossbow is +2 range, +8 damage, -10 loudness, but +170 dispersion over the PDB. At the skill levels when you have either weapon, the survivor is probably at Rifles 4, Marksmanship 4 or better and isn’t missing with either weapon and the damage is lost in the noise.

The compound crossbow is in theory easier to make - Fabrication 7, Mechanics 5 versus Mechanics 8 for the PDB, but it’s book learn at Fabrication 8 so not really.

I personally think the balance between bows and crossbows is fine as it is. I wouldn’t mind seeing a mild nerf to bows but I think they’re acceptably balanced. Oh, except the pistol crossbow and repeating crossbows - those need help.


Honestly the biggest issue for me is when you get bombarded with warning messages whenever you reload the crossbow which you have to do after every shot.


Bows can safely kill most enemies before they get too close using scrap as ammo and doing so silently.

One real life element that isn’t in the game is the fact that your arms will get tired and sore shooting a bow that much. People using them to bow hunt aren’t shooting 300 arrows a day. A compound bow would help a lot but players can’t craft that, a long bow is a lot of pulling. The real ammo cost should be calories.

Bows should be less accurate versus moving targets, but I don’t think the engine can currently really tell between a zombie moving at full speed and one that is unaware and stumbling around.

Crossbows with a spot for your foot let you use your legs. And ones with a crank are a lot less tiring. Double crossbows should also be craftable, allowing two shots. Bolts are easier to craft as well. There should also be more levels between crossbow and a mounted ballista, maybe a mid level large crossbow that can fire arrows.

I’ve never ended up crafting a pneumatic weapon even thou placing driving power to an air tank makes a lot of sense versus using muscles.


That’s an interesting point on the magazine advantage, and actually makes me lean more towards introducing a faster reload method for the crossbows, since one of my main worries was overtaking the pneumatic bolt driver entirely. Certainly something to consider going forward, and I really appreciate you bringing that up and doing the math on it.

I definitely agree on the repeating crossbow, it sucks hard and really needs some love. Not sure how to feel about the pistol crossbow since I kind of forgot it existed entirely and haven’t looked at it’s stats. Maybe a REALLY small reload time for it, but terribad damage. Make it kind of act like a slingshot on steroids.

I don’t know how to fix that honestly. Hide where you can’t see zombies between shots maybe? To my knowledge it’s a safety feature to make sure you don’t get eaten by something while reloading something that takes a really long time to reload.

Not a bad idea, but might be beyond my ability to add in. Compound bows can be crafted though.

Correct, that isn’t tracked to my knowledge. At the distances usually used ingame, the travel time of an arrow probably isn’t going to make much difference to someone with reasonable skill. Plus, most of the time they’re running towards you anyway. I agree it would make sense, but I don’t think it’s practical to implement.

In my mind the basic crossbow uses the foot thing or a crank of some sort, the compound uses a lever loader. The only “upgrade” I could justify would be a belt hook allowing you to reload using solely your legs, and I’m heavily tempted to add that in, but I worry it would make crossbows too strong.
You can attach a rail-mounted crossbow to a compound crossbow for a second shot, but it’s obviously not on-par. A dedicated double compound wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I’d worry about it pulling steam from the pneumatic bolt driver, and I can’t think of a reasonable way to balance it against a single-shot compound, except maybe making it take longer to reload.
There is the huge crossbow, but I suppose a middling heavy compound crossbow wouldn’t hurt, simply to add more diversity. Not sure if firing arrows over bolts would actually be an advantage, just requiring that you make your crossbow as big as a normal bow, and that would be a pain in the ass.

They’re pretty awesome, I won’t lie. That said, I think IRL crossbows might be more efficient, but I don’t know for sure. You still use your muscles to fill the air tank.

I’d love to see tranquilizer darts for it, so that you can shoot the NPCs and watch them run aroung saying ‘ooh.’ JC Denton approves.


Well, why would you? There’s a Glock and a Beretta ingame, and the latter is a clear winner, the Glock is just not needed. It is still present, though.

Not in the middle of the fight, anyway. So generally PBD is a nice weapon for a short fight, while a crossbow is sort of a castle defender weapon, for longer battles from safer positions.

I… don’t know how to feel about that. I don’t know how to implement that and I’m not sure I want to.

I think you are making a mistake if you are trying to balance bows and crossbows. The bow is clearly the better weapon. As an example, all you have to do is read up on the battle of Hastings to see the superiority of bows in the history of warfare. The English longbow changed the history of warfare, because it had superior range and superior reload times.

As an avid hunter I would never hunt with a crossbow, the accuracy blows chunks. Whereas with my bow I have a fair chance of hitting a deer at 100 meters. I wouldn’t trust a crossbow much more than 30 meters. Also I could fire 10 arrows in the time it takes to fire two bolts with a crossbow.

The power of the crossbow up close is amazing though. I once set up a target with 3/4 inch marine grade plywood. My arrows would stick to the target. My bolts would blast through it with ease. Which also removed the flights from all my bolts, too expensive to buy bolts every time you fire one.

Odd, everything I’ve read and my intuition would say that a crossbow would be far more accurate, and a lot of hunters and even some military forces use them, so I don’t think you can dismiss them outright. Historically they’re a bit crap, but we have modern engineering, which helps, and I think for small numbers of zombies a crossbow might actually outperform a bow solely by the fact that you can keep it at full draw and fire at your leisure.

Well, I’m replying from experience with both.

The main advantage of crossbows in warfare is the learning curve. It is much faster to train users to be effective with a crossbow. Whereas a bow takes years of training and daily practice. Take the longbow for example, you step forward when you draw it and release as your foot hits ground. A bit unorthodox and counter intuitive, but deadly effective.

A way to implement this in game would be to require a certain skill level in archery to be able to use the more powerful bows.


I’m fully aware of the role of bows and crossbows in warfare, though I’m curious if you can provide a source for that method of firing a longbow.

Bows already have strength requirements, having skill requirements as well would just be overkill I think.


We really need more ammo types. Modern arrows do one of 2 things.

Penetrate a practice target,

Humanely kill an animal that can bleed to death.

Outside of a headshot\spinal damage, an arrow will not hurt a zombie.

A crossbow and bolt can impart an absurd amount of energy a bow cannot reproduce.

We need anti zombie arrows/bolts, which deal blunt, not piercing damage. Imagine a large metal ball as a bolt head. A broad head can pierce quietly, and is great for animals/humans. A ball bearing arrow can impart messy force onto a zombie, shattering bones and skulls. You lose range, but as a short range ammo, it would be far more lethal vs the undead.

The current issue with cdda, the combat system cannot quite handle how a bow or crossbow actually deals damage. It just assumes they are like rifles. Arrows could be used to pin limbs to a torso, or sever the spinal column quietly. And the ability to have multiple fast switch ammo types make them very versatile.

We don’t need to be humane to zombies. Pulp their skulls with round arrow heads at medium (10 m) distances.

EDIT: Here is a 1050 gr arrow from a heavy crossbow,

This is a 1250 lb crossbow firing. (blunt at about 9:30

Yes and no. A lot of arrowheads are specifically designed to kill through blunt force and could be used on bolts, but i don’t think a crossbow has the energy to actually cause significant blunt force trauma, and having to use it at short ranges kind of invalidates the whole point of a long range weapon.

That said, a bit of a google suggests a crossbow only produces around 50% more energy than a bow, which isn’t “absurd” at all.

Granted, I’m thinking in terms of 150-200 pound compound crossbows, not the 1250 pound warcrime you linked. That said, i think i now know how i want to rebalance the ingame huge crossbow.

He explains that he puts his foot forward to use his back (pretty sure you can do that with a normal stance) but he doesn’t mention releasing as his foot hit the ground, unless my crappy earbuds drowned it out.

Not 100% scientific, but at about 6:00, you can see a crossbow vs cat food.

Body armor right after.

The biggest problem with crossbow accuracy though is how tight the parts have to be manufactured.

Small changes can lead to massive deviations in longer ranges.

Demolition Ranch?