A flurry of Blows, Bolts, and Arrows

flurry of Blows has always been a bit of a bone of contention. It seems to apply to melee, where your attack is just the attack that was most likely to succeed from many in the round, but not so much for Firebolts or missiles weapons.

But what if I have been thinking about this the wrong way.

In Spacemaster, or at least the version I had, energy cells/weapons did not have a number of charges, you ran out of energy when you fumbled, or at least there was a chance of energy cell drain.

This made me think of the Conan 2d20 system for handling ammunition, such as arrows and crossbow bolts. In that system, you do not have to account for arrows and whatnot, you only run out of arrows when you have a really bad result, pretty much the same as our fumbles.

If we adopt that attitude, not necessarily out of ammunition but a less bean counting attitude to arrows and bolts, is there any reason not to apply flurry of blows to missile fire.

I am an archer, so I have always had a bit of a bias towards archery in RPG rules. It also means that I have never liked the reloading penalties in RM. I can nock, aim and shoot an arrow in about 3 seconds and hit something the size of a dinner plate from 50′ from the back of a galloping horse. The idea of firing one arrow every 20 seconds or so simply does not marry up with my own experience.

I get the argument that most of the round is spent picking the perfect moment, unless it isn’t.

If we went full flurry of blows, including archery, our archers could fire 2, 3 or 4 arrows in a round, but the attack you roll is the arrow most likely to hit. The only differences are that the character would go though arrows much faster, there is much more likely to be arrows sticking out of door frames and and anything else lying around form the arrows that didn’t hit, and the reloading penalties need to go.

There are frequently too many penalties, so dropping a penalty or two is not a bad thing.

Firebolts, and things that go Bang!

There is absolutely no reason why the firebolt spell has to throw a single bolt. It could just as easily be more akin to D&D’s magic missile, where the caster is hurling fire for the entire round. We still resolve a single attack, but the bolt that hits is just the bolt that did the damage.

There is absolutely no mechanical difference. It is purely special effects, and style.


The only thing I am left to worry about is ammunition. If you are firing 2-4 arrows a round (2 for a 5second round and 4 in a 10 second round) you could go through a fair few arrows in a combat.

My players don’t use bows much, they are generally unimpressed by Puncture criticals. but, I would be perfectly happy to either think of a quiver of 12 arrows actually having sufficient arrows of 12 rounds, rather than 12 arrows.

I own 3 quivers, one holds 8 arrows, one holds 48 and the last holds 60. My quivers are all built to traditional designs, none of these plastic tube things you see a lot of today. The point is that apart from a pound or two of excess encumbrance it makes no difference how many arrows the character has.

To me it is more valuable to have a completely consistent view of what happens on the battle field.

If for some reason a character gets a second critical, it would make sense of how an arrow, or firebolt, managed to hit them on the hand and the ankle! More than one arrow, more than one bolt.

17 thoughts on “A flurry of Blows, Bolts, and Arrows”

  1. I like the idea of a flurry of missiles because that always feels like the downside of RM combat whatever length of a round you use. Now I know you are an expert archer but surely the speed of your rate of fire does depend on your skill level. So either rapid-fire is a feat/talent or has a penalty similar to the ones currently provided.
    Counter proposal
    Careful, measured single shot one round prep and one round to fire.
    Rapid-fire event as described with a bow dependent penalty. This can continue for successive rounds.

    Now that just leaves how to handle those 2-3 arrows that missed when you fire into a congested combat zone 🙂

    1. It is not really expert at all. From my first lessons the whole process of nock, draw, aim, release, was drilled in. In horseback archery, you have to nock without looking at the arrow and string, so it is all about muscle memory, but it isn’t difficult.

      1. I’ve never considered a -10 penalty as difficult just something else you need to think about. I’ve also had a thought that you could describe each missile attack as multiple shots one of which hits as you said. Then there is a preparation round as per the original rules which you could ignore with either an aiming penalty or perhaps an increase in the fumble range. The latter feels better as you push your luck under pressure.

  2. “But what if I have been thinking about this the wrong way.” I read that and though, well it can’t be that much of a revelation after this long playing.
    And here I am, impressed and eager to discuss this with my group.
    Any counter-argument is covered thanks to your first hand experience with the arrow world (arrow verse was already taken).
    The only GM effect to consider would be handing out and crafting of special arrows (slaying, extra criticals, returning), since more of the same would have to be provided, and the cost for manufacturing magical items should apply to a whole round of shots, or risk unbalancing the economy of the game.

    1. One could assume that the arrow that was most likely to hit was the slaying/extra critical/returning arrow, and the others were the normal arrows.

  3. Flurry of blows or not, should the current rules allow for 2 missile attacks/rnd with a penalty? It sounds like 2 attacks in 5 seconds is reasonable?

    1. Under RMu rulesI think you could make a case for a multiple attack combat expertise intended to emulate archers trained in speed shooting.

    2. You could argue that Peter, as an archer, is firing 2 shots with a penalty (in concept), but his skill more than compensates for it. Peter, as the resident archer in this conversation, you could probably clarify whether a full 5 seconds to take a single shot would let you take a better one or not.

      1. A ground archer will typically wait for a moment of total stillness, with them in balance, the breathing being right, the wind being right, and then release the arrow. In that circumstance, more time is likely to make you more accurate. That is why competitive archery is against the clock, without it no arrows would probably be fired at all.

        That is a world away from trying to emulate archery in a combat scenario.

        The kind of archery I do typically tries to emulate riding across the face of an enemy column. The targets represent the officers, the gaps between are the columns of troops. The goal is to ride across the face of the column and kill the officers.

        The events is normally structured so that you have 1 officer to kill on the first couple of runs, then 2, then 3 than 5 and so on.

        As we are not allowed to kill real officers, we use targets and get awarded points.

        At the start of the event, you have about 11 seconds to nock, aim and fire, to hit that one target. By the time you reach 3 targets you have a fraction under 2 seconds, at 5 targets it is something like 1.6 seconds, which is beyond my skill.

        So, the idea of taking longer and being more accurate is notionally true, if everything was stationary, but if you take longer when everything is in motion, you are guaranteed 100% to miss because you and the target a long way apart because you failed to take your shot.

        There are other events that try to emulate skirmishing where targets are placed to the front, rear, off side and right up against the track so you have to shoot down (as if someone wanted to drag you from your horse). Time is the deciding factor, the targets are there to be shot and then they are gone, as you move past.

        1. This lines up well with my combat round, which I dropped to two seconds. I also defined APs as actual segments of time. I have always loathed the “flurry of blows” model, and this just feels like another proverbial nail in its coffin.

  4. By this same logic, should the AP value in RMU be raised to 2-4 to put missile attacks on the same level as melee? If we are arguing that all attacks are essentially equal, would this affect the action economy?

    1. You could do that, and then drop the reloading penalties. The reload time would then be rolled into the AP cost.

      But this would also be a move away from flurry of blows.

      1. I think RMU gets you pretty close to where you want to go even without talents. It is certainly far better than RM2/SS, where it is one shot per 10 seconds. Because RMU allows up to 3 shots per 5-second round (with the Quickdraw talent) or 2 per 5-second round (without Quickdraw talent). Arrow attacks can cost as little as 1 Action Point (-50 to attack) or 2 AP (-25 to attack). That seems really to be quite like what you are saying happens in the real world with archery speeds. So RMU is definitely a big improvement on all earlier editions here. You don’t need flurry of blows if you can actually make attacks realistically fast enough.

        Note that Quickdraw matters because drawing the arrow is 1 AP, and not factored into the attack (just like drawing a weapon is 1 AP and not counted into making an attack).

        I have changed my default cost of an attack, whether spell, melee, or missile, to 3 AP (full bonus) or 2 AP (-25, a quick attack). This allows characters some basic movement (they usually have 1 or 2 AP left for movement) in the round without the need for a Footwork skill. It makes combat less static. I would be against reducing the cost of a bolt spell, or increasing the number of bolts (note that there is a talent that lets you split a bolt between two targets), primarily for balance reasons. Bolts are deadly, so if you make them cost less, or increase the number, you’d have to change the bolt attack chart or, in RMU, you could reduce the size of the attack.

        Overall, though, I think it is clear that RMU is the best edition yet for more accurate shooting times.

        [P.S. Peter, I still have not been able to post my Armsmaster article, because those spell lists are still not in the download section. Not sure if you got my last email or not, as they sometimes seem not to get through.]

        1. It has always bothered me that melee and missile attacks are never on equal footing, either in RM2 (where melee is a flurry of blows but missile is a single attack) or RMU (where missile attacks take fewer AP). I love that idea of reducing the AP cost of ALL attacks that you are using. I would think that would address some of the DB inflation issues as well.

          1. Yes, I do think making it easier for all characters to move a reasonable amount and still get in an attack will help the game. I do remember once having a forum discussion with I think it was Vlad, when I pointed out that some players had complained that it was so hard to move and attack because characters took so many penalties for even the slightest movement. He said something like, ‘There’s no penalty for movement. You just take a minus to your attack.’ It didn’t seem like the message was getting through!
            Standardizing all attacks to 3 AP (or 2 AP for a quick attack at -25) helps simplify the game because there aren’t different costs for different types of attacks.
            And perhaps most importantly, this, combined with the reduction of the round to 5 seconds, really helpfully moves us away from the concept of ‘flurry of blows’, especially if you take into consideration the fact that some characters will be using multiple attack skills. Multiple Attacks + fast attacks for 2 AP means you could be making 4 or more attacks in a round; you’re actually getting very close now to a ‘one attack = one blow’ economy (which is a good thing IMHO).

            1. I am perfectly happy with the flurry of blows if everything is a flurry. I am also happy with discrete attacks each resolved separately, but I have never liked the mishmash in the middle.

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