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Crossbowman is the combat skill associated with using crossbows in battle. Higher skill levels grant better accuracy and a higher rate of fire. Additionally, they significantly reduce the probability of the enemy dodging. A dwarf with this skill is given the name of marksdwarf.
While doing decent general damage, a bolt does a fine job at piercing the internal organs of a creature, which can possibly cause organ failure, instant death, unconsciousness or crippling of any size target. This is of limited use against creatures without internal organs, such as magma men, but works well against most other creatures. Occasionally a bolt will get stuck in a target; the only known use for this is that a wrestling dwarf may grab the bolt and twist it in the wound. Functionally, arrows work by the same laws, but they use the bowman skill instead.
Marksdwarves will usually open fire at a distance of 20 tiles or so from their target, but a bolt may travel 30 or more tiles. Note that a difference in height (z-levels) hurts range, rather than helping it. A marksdwarf who is forced into melee will use the hammerdwarf skill to bash enemies with their crossbow.
Immigrating marksdwarves bring their own crossbows and a quiver with 30-40 bolts. Immigrating rangers often arrive with marksdwarf skill, but will only bring a crossbow and bolts if they also have ambusher skill.
Increasing the crossbowman skill requires firing upon a target (hitting is not required), with "live targets" granting much more experience than an archery target. The difference is huge, on the order of ~67 bolts fired (~7.5 experience/shot) in practice vs. 17 bolts fired (30 experience/shot) against live enemies in order to achieve novice rank.
It is believed that marksdwarves won't fire through fortifications unless directly adjacent if their skill is below a certain level. This means that for live training exercises which use 2-width diagonal fortifications (see mass pitting) unskilled marksdwarves won't fire through the fortifications.