Bows, Crossbows and Their Balance


That would be easy enough to do by just letting pneumatic weapons use arrows or pneumatic arrows, but I don’t see that fixing very much. It would just mean that pneumatic weapons could serve as crappy crossbows with reusable ammunition or awesome crossbows with expensive fragile ammunition.

I’m really warming to the idea of fragile pneumatic arrows. Making pneumatics in-between bows/crossbows and bullet guns would be pretty neat.


Well, but that’s the fix.
Since with reusable ammunition pneumatic’s are now actually worse than normal crossbows, crossbows get a clear niche: primary weapons with reusable ammunition.
Now with “good” ammo pneumatic’s just become a precursor to ferromagnetic rail rifle, i.e. a weapon you only use on “special occasions”.

To be more specific, I’d say we can set PBD’s base damage to 7-10 points, essentially making it a “repeating pistol crossbow”.
Now, the “proper” pneumatic bolts/arrows can have the damage high enough to have a resulting performance on par with compound crossbow with steel bolt. Well, except they will be much more fragile and take longer to craft.


Seems dumb to have two different “versions” of a weapon based on whether you want reusable ammo or not. I think either explicitly non-reusable/extremely low chance of surviving intact (Maybe 50%?) or just hit them for damage. Making it work two different ways like that is really weird, and I think it would mess with people.


Who said there should be two different weapons?
It’s the same weapon, just with different ammo.


I didn’t, I meant you choose which kind of weapon you want based on the ammo that you use. It just means that people will carry a PBD with pneumatic bolts for big enemies and a sword or bow for small ones. I don’t think having two options actually adds anything.


Well, I see your point and I don’t have a strong opinion here.
I’d say both restricting PBD to only use (fragile and long-to-craft) pneumatic bolts and allowing it to use both those and normal one but being really bad with normal ones will achieve the same goal.
So both options work.


Yeah, I don’t disagree, but giving people weird options tends to end badly in my experience. I’d say go with one or the other, and i’m leaning towards the non-reusable option. Maybe even with some extended reload time for flavour on top.


On a side note: crossbows (normal, composite, compound, maybe even repeating one) are not only great for everyday use (ammo-efficient and pretty silent weapon), but also give you a way to train rifle skill naturally.
For that reason alone many people might still use crossbows over some other weapon that does not train rifles for such a modest investment in consumables.


Basically all the good ranged weapons are rifles though, especially the PBD and pneumatic rifle. The only real alternative is bows and maybe shotguns or the occasional pistol.


Yea, and that’s exactly why quite some players will prefer to use crossbows on daily basic even when it might not be optimal over just slicing everything with machete.

Also, I like how shotguns STILL have not been merged with rifles. I mean, COME ON. Last time I checked shotguns ARE, in fact, rifles (except for the fact the barrel is not rifled).


But like you said, they aren’t going to use a crossbow over a PBD. At their crafting levels they should be reasonably in line with each other, instead the PBD has a distinct advantage.

I guess because shotguns are often fired from the hip? I’m not sure what differentiates an SMG from a rifle, or a launcher from any of those myself. Or why a flamethrower is a launcher.


Yea, well, I think we already found the solution for PBD problem. : D


Yeah, I’m starting to like that idea. I’ll have to think on it a bit.



So during our brainstorm I had the thought of going and playing some Metro: Last Light to get a feel for how it handles pneumatic weapons (and a coilgun). For those unaware, Metro: Last Light is the sequel to Metro 2033, which is the spiritual progenitor, so to speak, of the pneumatic bolt driver (Henceforth PBD) and pneumatic assault rifle (Henceforth PAR) in Cataclysm. Their id codes are even named after the Metro weapons, Helsing and Tihar. I played around with them a bit, made some observations, and have some ideas for how to balance them in Cataclysm.

The Tihar (PAR) uses 15mm (keep in mind .50 cal is 12.7mm) ball bearings, takes roughly 20 seconds to reload fully (air and magazine) and uses a swappable magazine of 15 bearings.
Interestingly, this had far better accuracy. It has far less arc and spread. Decent damage, but pretty bad against armor. Generally used as a silent sniper, but works well as a battle rifle in a pinch. Ammo is cheap, but not reusable. Also, really big. Like big rifle sized big.

The Helsing (PBD) uses standard crossbow bolts, takes roughly 15 seconds to fully reload, and uses a swappable magazine of 8 bolts.
Less accurate, especially at long ranges due to a frankly excessive amount of drop, though it would probably be fine if there were a scope with ranges. Fine damage, but only with full charge and at short ranges. At long range it’s hard to hit anything. Not huge, more-or-less SMG or carbine sized, though heavy looking.

Common features are basically that both use magazines, both lose power as their pressure drops, and neither have much armor penetration to speak of.

I like the idea of making the PAR more in line with the Metro version, I.E more a sniper rifle than an assault rifle. I don’t think most bearings are 15mm, and that’s pretty massive, so I think it would be pretty safe to assume they’re more like 9mm or so. I’d imagine 15mm doing immense damage at any decent speed (and having some impressive recoil) but having no chance against any decent armor. Same for 9mm, but to a lesser extent for both, and probably having much higher range. An actual assault rifle might be useful in addition, but I can’t imagine it doing meaningful damage at any reasonable reload time. That’s how the PAR currently is an nobody uses it so eh, possible stretch goal.
As for the PBD, I think substantially reduced damage and possibly slightly reduced reload time would be a fair way to bring it in line. Making it a burst-fire bow instead of crossbow should make it less of an ultimate weapon, and help to bring crossbows into the light. That said, a dispersion/range decrease would also be in order, which brings me to my next topic…

The detachable magazines. I’ve been against these previously because they could really ruin balance, but I’m beginning to be of the mind that it might be fun to turn the PBD into a sort of mid-range bolt SMG. Nowhere near the damage of the crossbows, but 8 bolts in quick succession is nothing to be sneezed at. Especially if you can reload another 8 with a few quick pumps of air and a magazine change.
From there, a find-only commercial airbow could be added as the pneumatic bolt sniper, and require long reload times and special arrows.

Personally, I like these new balance roles because they fill ones that don’t really exist, or aren’t well filled. The PBD could act like a high-end repeating crossbow, while the PAR would be more of a silent sniper. Of course it would have unparalleled range (50 tiles?) among the bolt/arrow/pneumatic weapons, but it would have awful armor penetration to make up for it, and pretty substantial reload times.

Coilguns may also be worth looking into, since currently the only one shoots nails. Having another that shoots bearings, or allowing the current one to shoot bearings, could be fun.


The Steyr-Girandoni air rifle was the first widely produced air rifle in the 1780s, and it took 30 minutes to pump the air reservoir to full capacity. Better pump technology and less leaky reservoirs are going to help some, but recharging the an air reservoir capable of launching 8 full strength crossbow bolts should take roughly the same time as winding back a heavy crossbow 8 times - you’ve got to put more energy into the system than you’ll get out of the system.


My GOD an air rifle from the 1800s. Learn something new every day.

Yeah, that’s why I’m saying significantly less than crossbow damage, If we assume bow damage then with decent strength a few pumps with a decent sized pump should be plenty. Say a pump every 2 seconds, 6 pumps, 2 turns for 1 bolt worth of pumps? Using magazines it should be possible to differentiate between pumping and loading (load magazine, 1 turn per bolt or so. Takes 10 turns to load the magazine into the gun to simulate pumping). Which would make it… not rapid, but pretty good. Shame there’s no good way to simulate a 20 shot air reservoir.


Figure that a normal human can supply 60W of muscle power[1] to the pump, and the pump is 80% efficient in converting muscle power to compressed air, and the air reservoir is 80% efficient converting compressed air to bolt kinetic energy, then you’re looking at 6 * 60 * 0.8 * 0.8 or 230J. Slightly less efficient pumping and all, and that might drop to 125-200J. So somewhere in the range of a yew longbow at 145 lbs of draw to a modern compound crossbow at 175 lbs of draw. There’s lot of space to decide exactly what numbers you want to have, but 230 J is a generous upper limit for a PDB or PAR or PRR projectile energy if you want them to load fast.

I can’t see the PAR as a sniper rifle - no spin stabilization, no fletching, those pebbles/marbles/bearings are going to veer - but I like the idea of the PDB as an improved repeating crossbow.

So where does that put the weapons:

  • Non-repeating crossbows of all sorts: long range, high damage, single shot weapons.
  • Repeating crossbows and PDBs - medium range, medium damage, quick fire weapons.
  • PARs - shortish range, low damage, autofire weapons.
  • Bows: medium range, medium damage, quick fire weapons. PDBs are better for short engagements (8-10 shots), bows are better for longer engagements.
  • PRR - short range, high damage, quickfire weapon. A smaller magazine with a longer reload time means they’re best in really short engagements or as a short range, silent, emergency weapon.

Approximate projectile energy, reload times, and rates of fire:
(Decent) Bows: 100-150 J, 2 seconds. Reload and fire.
Crossbows: 150-250 J, 10-20 seconds. Single shot.
Heavy crossbows: ~400 J, 30+ seconds. Single shot.
Repeating crossbows: 30-40 J, 2 seconds per shot. Fires at 1 shot per second.
PDB: 150 J, 12 seconds per shot. Fires at 1 shot per second.
PAR: 100 J, 6 seconds per shot. Fires at 5 shots per second. Transfers stored air energy to projectile energy more efficiently than the PDB.
PPR: 250 J, 15 seconds per shot. Fires at 1 shot per second. Transfers stored air energy to projectile energy more efficiently than the PDB, but rails have higher dispersion than bolts or bearings and the effective range in shorter.

[1] Humans produce around 0.1 HP sustained from their entire body, and 0.1 HP is 74W.


I’m inclined to think that 80% efficiency is a bit high for a survivor-made weapon, but I like the idea of determining it mathematically. I hadn’t thought of the inaccuracy of spherical projectiles much, but I agree they wouldn’t be particularly accurate. I think giving the bearings/pebbles/marbles high dispersion but including craftable proper airgun pellets with decent ballistics and improved range/dispersion would satisfy realism requirements and still make it an effective weapon, especially if high pressure damage gunmods were a possibility.

I think even that might be a bit high for the PBD, perhaps reduce it to 3 or 4 pumps, or consider that a pump probably doesn’t actually produce full output for an entire second, depending on the mechanism, and drop the energy per pump by a third or a quarter. I think that would give us a energy value closer to a “bolt SMG” type deal. We certainly don’t want it to perform at the damage levels of a compound crossbow.

On the longbow, I’m beginning to think something is fishy about your source, first that they use arrows 10 times heavier than they should be, and the fact that I can’t find any other source that puts a longbow near 144J for that sort of poundage. Most seem to put it closer to 120J. I don’t suppose you know any way I could access that part of the source without actually buying it?

Keep in mind that a 0.5kg rail at that energy is only going ~31m/s. I’m not convinced that would be an effective weapon without using a much higher base energy value. I suppose throwing a steel rod into someone’s face at any decent velocity is going to do some serious damage, but I’m not convinced that using unstabilised steel rods in a pneumatic weapon is really worth it. Could be fun, don’t get me wrong, but I fear it would be in danger of just being a useless weapon like the current PAR or huge crossbow, especially since rails are unrecoverable at present. That said, I do like the idea of a short range pneumatic cannon. Perhaps using pointy sticks or javelins? not being limited to ferrous metals opens a lot of options.

And now I fear I’m in danger of having to look at balancing magnetic weapons.

I really like the idea of some modularity with weapons, allowing players to fit their pneumatics closer to what they want with a couple of basic mods, reservoirs, pumps, regulators, etc. That would give some range for specialising pneumatics and even replacing homemade parts with more efficient commercial ones. That’s a longterm goal though, and it would require even more complicated balancing.


I was gonna mention the Steyr-Girandoni air rifle used on the Lewis and Clark expedition but it appears I’ve been beaten to it. But it had power rivaling a musket of the time. So definitely enough to kill a man or hunt animals.