Firing into Melee

Is there a reason why you decided to disallow combatants from firing into melee at all instead of allowing it, but with heavy penalties and/or a chance of hitting allies…
I’m just imagining a situation where my players decide it’s necessary to fire at a group of enemies engaged with an ally or something and I’m stuck saying, “Sorry, you can’t fire at them…”
In my mind, it seems like disallowing an entirely plausible action like this, where in some circumstances it might be the optimal or necessary choice (or chaotic, “But sire! We’ll hit out own troops!”) seems sort of weird to me.
I’m wanting to put a houserule for this and have a chance of hitting allies. But, I want to know your thoughts behind this and maybe I’m making the wrong decision with this houserule.

Michael, there were many reasons for it. I’m happy to share.

  1. Anyone who has ever seen Hollywood depictions of the effects of archery has probably wondered how Alexander’s Phalanx or Roman legions ever survived 300 yards of archery fire to get to melee. But historically, the chance of an armored fighter with a shield actually getting hurt by any individual arrow was small. This is discussed in detail in “From Sumer to Rome”, which settles conclusively why hand-to-hand, not archery, dominated the ancient battlefield. If archers had little chance of hurting a massive target like a massed infantry formation, what chance should an arrow, fired by an archer in dimly-lit conditions, through a melee, at an armored and moving target actively defending himself, really have to do damage? Much less than 5%.
  2. Let’s assume that the arrow DOES hit. In ACKS/D&D, we have the luxury of knowing that our friends have 30 hit points and that there’s no way our 1d6 arrow is going to really hurt them. In real life, if you “hit your friend” he’s probably dead or in agony. In the name of “realism” we are allowing unrealistic behavior. If firing into melee really made sense, the second line of the Spartan phalanx would have been crossbowmen, not more spearmen.
  3. Leaving aside history, and thinking in terms of aesthetics, my default assumption is that melee, not missile, combat should be predominant form of combat in the game. Myth and legend generally revolve around the sword and the swordsman. My default assumption is also that small bands of heroes should be able to fight large groups in dungeons. If you allow firing into melee, you deeply slant the game towards missile fire in ways that are not immediately perceptible. For example, once characters reach a certain level of experience, attack throws become very easy to meet. Therefore there is no particular penalty that can give low level characters a chance to fire into melee that won’t be meaningless to high level characters. Therefore, if you allow firing into melee, it will dominate high-level play.
  4. Likewise, if you allow firing into melee, you deeply slant the game to the benefit of large groups. Imagine a 10’ hallway. On the one side, 2 hardy fighters manning the gap. Facing them, 50 orcs in a column two wide and twenty five deep. Without firing into melee, the battle becomes akin to the Spartans at Thermopylae: The fighters fight and cleave as the orcs come at them in groups of 2. With firing into melee, the 48 orcs in the rear fire at the fighters each round. Sure, they may kill their 2 friends, but that’s worth it to get 48 shots.
  5. Likewise, if you allow firing into melee, once past the lowest levels of experience, in any given fight, it is worth it for characters to fire into melee whenever they are up against low level opponents. The opportunity to kill and cleave goblins and orcs is worth the risk of maybe hitting a high-AC high HP fighter. Again, missile fire comes to dominate play. This is because the “risk” of hitting your friends is not really a risk at all.
  6. On the other hand, the fact that most characters cannot fire into melee makes the Precise Shooter something special. It allows for players who want to be Legolas/Robin Hood to be able to do so, without jeopardizing the overall gameplay as above.
  7. The fact that most characters cannot fire into melee encourages the use of tactics. For instance, combat begins with a volley or two of missile fire, then combatants close to melee. First rank combatants focus on shields and heavy armor, while second rank combatants use spears and pole-arms to engage foes. This creates value in having a variety of equipment, formations and types of characters.
    I’d encourage you to try the game rules as written and see how they play out. Then allow firing into melee, and have enemies and high level NPCS use the same tactics. See which way makes for a better game…

I appreciate Alex’s plea to RAW, but this is the most violent collision of immersive play and gamist concerns in ACKS I can think of off the top of my head.
Unfortunately, Alex’s gameplay concerns are well-founded. I’d probably house-rule this to: “You can fire into melee only if there is a clear line-of-sight. All of the characters involved in melee with the missile target are equally likely to be hit, and for purposes of the shot into melee are considered to share the worst armor class of the melee combatants.”
That’s still grating, but it sort-of-solves the orc problem without me having to explain why you simply can’t shoot an arrow into your companions’ scrum.
Alex: How do you adjudicate missile fire into melee from a third party (e.g., I come across an orc fighting 2 goblins, and want to fire an arrow into the lot of them)?

//Alex: How do you adjudicate missile fire into melee from a third party (e.g., I come across an orc fighting 2 goblins, and want to fire an arrow into the lot of them)? //
Good question.

I’d probably allow anyone to shoot into melee but the target is randomly chosen. There’s also the case of fighting something really big, say a giant. Even with melee involved, it should still be possible to shoot at the giant with no real problems.

mhensley, that’s what I have been using, but I wasn’t sure if there was some sort of other aspect I was missing. No one has chosen to fire into melee yet (however, we have had friendly “splash” damage from oil flasks… which there are rules for!).
Alex provides some good counterpoints though.

//Alex: How do you adjudicate missile fire into melee from a third party (e.g., I come across an orc fighting 2 goblins, and want to fire an arrow into the lot of them)? //
APM: If I encountered that situation in game, and the attacker lacked Precise Shot, I’d simply say they couldn’t get a clear shot. If someone insisted on firing anyway, I would probably (a) first determine randomly which target is getting hit and then (b) make their attack throw at -8.
If you really, really want to allow shooting into melee, here’s what I’d recommend:
(a) The target is randomly determined from among all engaged enemies
(b) The attack throw is at -4 if it’s a friendly with his back to you and -8 if it’s an enemy facing you
(c) If a friendly is hit, damage is increased as if from a backstab, because the hapless hero was struck by surprise by a friend, not from a threat that he was using his superior fighting skill (reflected in hitpoints) to defend against.

Good stuff. I’ll put this before my players and just let them vote on whether to disallow it outright, or have the options you outlined, Alex.

I’m with Charlatan on this one. I really, really want to allow shooting into melee, even if it’s historically inaccurate and a terrible idea. I just don’t like the idea of telling players that they can’t even attempt it. This is a roleplaying game, after all. Players are supposed to be able to try crazy things (and potentially kill their characters, or their friends’ characters, in the process). It’s one of the advantages RPGs have over other types of games.

The backstab damage on friendly targets is a nice touch. If I combine that with my idea, it makes it fairly horrible to fire on even a high level fighter tussling with a goblin.
I know this isn’t canonical ACKS, but thanks for the feedback Alex!

Heh… friendly fire is usually a great source of amusement in my group. Well, it is for me anyway. :slight_smile:

No problem! While we try to have a strong canon, we don’t actually expect people to play RAW… Autarch’s motto is “every campaign is a law unto itself!”