Firing missile weapons PAST characters engaged in melee

So you can’t fire missile weapons at characters engaged in melee without the precise shooting proficiency. Got it. Easy enough.

But can you fire missile weapons past characters engaged in melee, particularly in a constricted space, such as a dungeon hallway, without much clearance above or around the scrum?

As an example, two groups of enemies, each formed up with armored infantry in front rank, spearmen in second, archers/mages 10 feet behind the 2nd rank.

The two groups clash in a 10’ hallway, each group is 3 abreast. Can the archers (who do not have precise shooting) fire at the 2nd or 3rd rank of the other group? If so, what would the penalties be, and is there a chance of accidentally striking any of the intervening folk?

Not official, but to assuage my own sensibilities regarding the same topic, I’ve assumed that enemy characters provide cover for their allies if they’re between their ally and the shooter and within a few feet of one another. Specifically, I’ve applied a -2 penalty, though it might work well enough at -1.

As for low ceilings and such, I think that’s accounted for in the weapon’s indoor range (feet instead of yards).

I wound up doing something similar when the situation arose. I also ruled that an archer’s own allies could provide cover if they are engaged, since they don’t have the attention or maneuverability to duck for a moment to let the archer shoot over them that an unengaged ally might.

I said that the cover provided was a -2 penalty, and that if that -2 was the difference between a hit and a miss then it would strike whoever was providing the cover.

I wasn’t happy about the auto-hit on whoever is providing cover, though. The arrow would strike them, but then you are hitting somebody without ever consulting their AC. The best I could come up with is that if the attack roll would have hit the target, not accounting for any dexterity or similar bonus to their AC (such as swashbuckling) then it would hit them. That is, the strike would get past any physical or magical impediment between them and a blow, it would hit, but not their ability to avoid blows–since we’ve already decided the arrow is going to strike them. But that is unbelievably clunky and open to exploitation as a way of getting around a lightly armored foe’s ability to duck out of the way of blows.

I went simpler. If you miss with -2, you miss. After all, you’re supposedly aiming at something, not just firing into a blob. So if the cultist is blocking the evil wizard, then it’s assumed that you’re trying not to accidentally “waste” your shot on the cultist. If you miss, it’s less that the cultist jumped in the way, and more that your shot was simply spoiled.

Not everything (for me) has to be “realistic”, which is in keeping with being unable (normally) to fire into melee.

Interestingly enough, I also ruled that firing "past" melee was permitted at a -2 penalty.

It creates a very fun, tactically rich dynamic wherein frontline fighters engage in melee, secondline spearmen spike through into the engagement, and thirdline and fourthline bowmen shoot into the enemy's rear, grinding down reinforcements (and/or taking out the mages).

The only area where the rule can get painful/broken is when you have "snipers" shooting through huge melees into wizards hiding in the rear. Generally I'd impose a -2 if you're trying to attack the nearest rear-rank combatant, and an additional -2 for each extra rank. So a wizard in the 4th or 5th rank would be at -6 or -8 to be hit.

It seems to me like the Precise Shooting proficiency should figure into the mix somehow. Or if that’s making that proficiency too useful, then maybe another “Indirect Archery” proficiency.

Well I think Alex approach can be expanded nicely along this line. Something like:
-2 to attack per enemy rank between the shooter and the target.
+2 to attack per precice Shooting proficiency taken ( to a maximum of +0)

So, without precice shooting:

  1. Shooting the spearman in the second rank would be -2.
  2. Shooting the mage in the fifth rank would be -8
  3. Shooting the fighter in the first rank would be inpossible

Same examples for 1/2/3 times precice shooting would be

  1. 0/0/0
  2. -6/-4/-2
  3. -4/-2/0

I think that sounds about right for me. I got the impression from start that the high dex / ini sniper should be one of the few things that mage in the rear should really fear. Two reasons:
First, none else shall pass. The melee fighter/thief cant reach him. The cleric is not as good as casting. So hes got to fear somebody, right?
Second, if he fears the archer he isn`t prepared. No shield, no protection from normal missiles, no invis? Why should that guy live to call himself a mage?

If you want to be a little softer just start at -4 or even -6 at the second rank…

Looks great to me.