Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Skirmish Archer Tactics

Heroic Archers and Imbued Archers 

In GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, there are two main roads to dominance as an archer: Scouts take the Heroic Archer advantage, and Mystic Knights learn the Guided Weapon, Arching Shot, Multishot, Scattershot, and Shockwave Imbuements. Both are viable methods, and can even be combined, but they require slightly different tactics.

Scouts operate in either of two modes. They can be mobile archers moving around the battlefield to kite the enemy and make flank and rear shots, or they can be static archers making one or more high accuracy shots every second. Firing from a fixed position, they're especially useful for disrupting enemy Concentrate actions, such as spell-casting.

Mystic Knights tend to be more static, and usually have a lower rate of fire, but they still have multiple options. They can used Guided Weapon to make highly accurate single shots at range, possibly combined with other Imbuements. They can also use Multishot to launch many arrows at a foe, overwhelming the foe's defenses with a barrage.

Basic Battle Line Tactics and the Archer 

Some people think that an archer is only useful when the enemy is at distance, and as soon as the enemy closes to melee range, the archer should discard his bow, draw a melee weapon, and join the fray. This is probably realistic for historical battles, but in Dungeon Fantasy style skirmishes, an archer who drops his bow just because the enemy is close by is seriously underestimating his own abilities.

Ideally, the archer's allies (Knights, Barbarians, Clerics, Swashbucklers, and other melee oriented types) should all be standing in a line between the archer (and any other ranged combatants such as artillery focused wizards) and the enemy. The line of allies should be facing the foe and at a right angle to the imaginary line between the archer and the enemy. As the foe closes, the archer shoots over the shoulder of his allies, or possibly in between gaps in the line. After the enemy closes to melee range, the archer should continuing firing. As long as the two sides aren't in close combat, there's no real danger for shooting into a melee. Allies may be cover, and the archer shouldn't shoot through them (the danger of missing and hitting an ally instead is fairly harsh), but as long as the archer can get an open shot on the enemy, he should take it.

Imbued Archers 

Imbued Archers have a simple solution to the battle line: Arching Shot. Arching Shot ignores all cover that isn't overhead cover, such as the bodies of the archer's allies between him and the target. Arching Shot combines well with other Imbuements, including Multi-Shot, Scattershot, Shockwave, and Scattershot.

Imbued Archers can also use Shockwave and Scattershot to deal damage to multiple foes clustered together. Forcing the enemy to break up, dodge and drop, and otherwise scatter is a useful battlefield control tactic. GURPS tends to favor the side with the most combatants in melee, and there is a meaningful difference between ten orcs attacking a pair of Knights all in mass, and the same ten orcs straggling up to the Knights in pairs over 10 or 15 seconds.

Heroic Archers

Heroic Archers can Move and Attack with bulky bows at no penalty. One tactic is to move to side of battle line, just outside the reach of any enemy, and shoot from there. A better option is to move past the battle line and start shooting into the back or flank of the foes. If the enemy decides to chase after the archer, assuming the archer has a better Move, the archer should welcome the chase. Every enemy who is chasing after the archer without catching up is another enemy out of the general melee, and the archer can continue to make Move and Attack maneuvers to shoot people who are looking the wrong way. The archer can draw off some foes from his allies, continue to use his arrows to shoot into the backs and flanks of enemies fighting his allies, and then kite his pursuers back into his allies after they've defeated the main body of the enemy in melee.

Heroic Archers also interact in interesting ways with the rules for Pop-Up Attacks and Opportunity Fire (B390). Since pop-up attacks are Attacks, Heroic Archers can get their normal Acc bonuses when making them. Similarly, when performing Opportunity Fire, the Wait maneuver converts into an Attack maneuver, and they get their Acc bonus. As such, when dealing with wizards, Heroic Archers should use Opportunity Fire or Wait maneuvers and attack only after the wizard has started Concentrating. Normally, a spell with a casting time of 1 second can only be interrupted by a Wait action, and the lack of Accuracy makes it hard for ranged attackers to hit a wizard. Heroic Archers get the same attack bonuses whether they shoot on their turn or make a Wait attack, and merely forcing an enemy wizard to Dodge while Concentrating is sufficient to force a Will -3 roll to avoid spoiling the spell.

Advantages, Techniques, and Equipment

An effective archer is effective because of good tactics, but good tactics can be influenced by the character design and equipment.

Heroic Archers

Strongbow is a mandatory Perk, and the Elf-only talent of Wilderness Guardian is pure cheese, but desirable. The usual way to get Wilderness Guardian is to start out as a Wood Elf (who gets 2 levels for a racial cost of 20 points), but Wood Elves also have the crippling Sense of Duty: Nature. Half-Elves can be a better choice, with the same DX bonus, same cost, but no inherent Wilderness Guardian and no Sense of Duty.

Weapon Master (Bow) is a difficult choice. At 20 points, it reduces the penalty for rapid-shooting to -1 and generally adds +2 damage, which can be helpful. However, the Quick-Shot advantage from Power-Ups reduces the penalty to 0 and only costs 5 points, and +2 damage on all bows and every other weapon in the game is affordable with Striking Strength 4. I generally feel that Weapon Master is a useful addition to an advanced archer, but a normal archer can get buy with Heroic Archer and Quick-Shot.

Dual-Weapon Attack is another nearly mandatory trick for Heroic Archers. Two shots at the same target means that they can't easily block both, so the otherwise dreaded "jerk with a large shield" becomes "guy who is carrying too much to dodge easily." The Double-Shot technique from Power-Ups is valuable here. Targeted Attack (Bow/Vitals) coupled with a bodkin arrow is a surefire way to dispose of most mortal enemies. The combination of Quick-Shot, Double-Shot, and Targeted Attack allows for two bodkin arrows puncturing breastplates per round, and that generally clears the room quickly.

Heroic Archers want the most accurate bow they can find that does the most damage. Usually, that's a Balanced Longbow, but rich archers use Balanced Composite Bows and insanely rich archers can use Balanced Elven Composite Bows and draw Balanced, Fire, Silvered Arrows from their Cornucopia Quivers.

Even at the start, though, Heroic Archers want 3 Cornucopia Quivers, with normal (impaling), bodkin (armor-piercing piercing), and willowleaf (cutting) damage. Homogeneous targets become much less threatening when attacked by arrows that do cutting damage, as opposed to nigh-worthless piercing or impaling. A few meteoric iron arrows, preferably fine, balanced, and silver-coated, should be carried to take out opposing mages protected by Deflect Missile, Reverse Missile, and other defensive spells.

Imbued Archers

Imbued Archers need to focus on a couple of things: a high skill with the bow, a high skill with their imbuements, and a high damage. Weapon accuracy is less important, since most shots are going to be unaimed, using Guided Weapon to ignore range penalties. The fatigue cost of Imbuments is per shot, so the double-shot rapid fire attacks of the heroic archers is less desirable than a single arrow that penetrates armor, explodes, and sends shrapnel (Guided Penetrating Shattershot Shockwave Shot).

Strongbow is still a mandatory perk, and Weapon Master is more desirable but not mandatory. Arm Strength and Striking Strength should be bought up until the archer's effective ST is 19, when Weapon Master (Bow) gives a +4 bonus for 20 points. Wilderness Guardian is still a useful talent.

Targeted Attack is still a good choice, but Imbued Archers should consider targeting the skull or eye. Guided Weapon makes those shots relatively easy to make at any distance, and Penetrating Strike can help reduce the annoying tendency of skulls to be well-armored. The typical attack sequence is Fast-Draw and nock an arrow on one round, and then fire off a single unaimed shot (possibly at a high value target like the skull) that penetrates armor, explodes or sends out shrapnel. Alternately, the single shot may be turned into a barrage of missiles using Multishot, especially at short range.

Imbued Archers should skip straight to Composite Bows for the damage, and upgrade to Elven Composite Bows as soon as they can. A single Cornucopia Quiver is helpful, especially for ammunition that needs to explode (Shattershot), but carrying around a number of Fine Arrows for the damage bonus is a good idea. Meteoric Iron Arrows, while still useful for shooting enemy mages, are less useful since they can't be imbued by magic - though Imbued Archers with Chi or Psionic limitations should go crazy with them. Transformation Imbuements are useful to turn generic impaling arrows into cutting, crushing, or burning arrows as the situation demands.


  1. Thanks for the post! I know at least one player in one of my campaign who will enjoy this.

  2. You're welcome. I'm glad someone's getting value out of it. Comments and pageviews have been pretty light.

    It makes me wonder if "The Effectiveness of Scouts" is going to be a surprisingly unpopular post.

  3. I'm actually a little surprised about that. I would have thought "elf archer" was such a powerful stereotype (backed up by that amazing talent) that there would be more interest.