Banecroft Barony

Lore :: Archery in LARPs








Ranged combat, and archery in particular, is a part of fantasy and medieval history, naturally. Adding this form of combat to your live-combat fantasy or medieval recreation game can add a new level of excitement and realism. Imagine your battle lines closing. Armored fighters clash, mages blast spells, and healers support the others. But now add the archers: dashing forward nimbly to fire through the line or arcing arrows to menace the vulnerable healers. Everyone is a potential target, and the adrenaline pumps that much harder as you dodge arrows and try to watch everywhere at once!

In short, archery adds to the richness and tactics of a battle, without making them so deadly as to shift game balance. Of course, the types of arrows allowed in live-combat style LARPs have some drawbacks. Arrows do not fly straight, particularly if there is wind. Furthermore, the arrows fly slowly enough so that an alert target can dodge the arrows. This can cause some people to underestimate the effectiveness of archery in capable hands, or to dismiss archers because a successful hit is determined more by luck than by skill. This is not so! Luck will play a much smaller part than skill if you expand your definition of skill from "I can put an arrow where I want it" to "I can put an arrow where I want it, I know the range at which I am effective, I can lead a moving target, I have good peripheral vision and can sense the tide of battle to take advantage of all opportunities, and am skilled at making good arrows." In short, skill will eclipse luck if you have more skill.

The greatest problem an archer will encounter will be the fact that the arrows do not fly straight, particularly if there is wind. Proper fletchings on your arrows can minimize this. Furthermore, a well made arrow will fly farther and more accurately than a shoddily made arrow. Pay particular attention to the shaft. It should be straight. Some golf tubes start out bent, and you should avoid those when creating arrows. Other times, being stepped on bends the shafts. This means that if you make new arrows regularly (an activity I need to catch up on myself) you will be rewarded with more accurate arrows. Quality arrows alone are not sufficient, however. There will be a definite range at which you will feel confident, and any farther shot will be difficult. Know this range well! In combat, you must be mobile. Rush forward to fire from the best possible range, then dash bask to safety as you reload. Being mobile makes it harder for you to be targeted by enemy missiles, and it also makes it easier for you to surprise a target.

Surprising your target is the best way of getting around the fact that they can dodge arrows. Alert targets can dodge, but everyone cannot be alert all the time. Just one of the enemy needs be distracted for you to make a kill. So shoot at those who are not looking at you. Run across your own battle line to attack where they aren't expecting you. If you are doing your job right, opportunity shots will be available as fast as you can reload. Pick your targets well! Not only should you not waste your arrows on the alert, but mages and those unarmored enough to fall to a single arrow will be tempting. If weapons disrupt certain spells, do not overlook the ability of an arrow to mess up a mage's ritual.

Along with quality arrows, you should take some care with the rest of your kit. While you do not have to have an expensive bow to be good, I have found that a thread nock point on the bowstring makes it easier to fire quickly after reloading. There have been many debates over what is the best quiver to use. The actual design is not important, what is important is that you practice using it. Drawing a new arrow should be an instinctual and natural movement. While arrow capacity can be important, it is not vital because there are usually plenty of arrows on the ground that the other team has fired at you. I have found that by the time I have fired six arrows, the battle has been either won or lost.

Archery must be used with a team. A lone archer can be run down and slain while reloading. Since you are fighting with a team, there are techniques you can use to maximize your effectiveness. Most importantly, you need to use your team members for protection. If you run away from your allies and get yourself killed you aren't doing them any favors. You can also use their fighting to give you open shots. Wait until the enemy moves his shield to block your friend's attack, and you now have an open shot. If you have other archers, getting the enemy in a crossfire can be very effective. Concentrating your fire at a single person can be effective as well.

Despite the effectiveness of archery, there are times when it is not appropriate, and a good archer should recognize those times. Part of the skill of archery is knowing when to drop one's bow and draw one's sword. If the enemy is rushing you, you need to know the exact moment to fire or draw your sword. Thus you must know you own abilities well, which can only come through practice. In enclosed spaces like dungeons, archery can be extremely inconvenient. If there is not enough room to bring your bow to bear, you will be most unhappy. Finally, I do not recommend using archery at night, for simple safety reasons. So a good archer is skilled in another weapon as well. On the other hand, in situations like castle sieges and bridge battles, archery is vital!

So as one can see, an archer who merely stands arcing arrows at the enemy is not using the full capability of this weapon. An archer must be a strategist: nimble, calculating, and quick-witted. I have found archery is a great weapon for a unit commander. Archery allows a commander to be deadly in combat without being in the front line. Not only can the commander survive to lead longer, but also one can observe the battle as a whole better instead of being forced to concentrate on the one you are engaged in melee with. Thus, you can react to developing situations and maneuver your troops.

It will take practice to become a feared archer, as it takes practice to become a deadly swordsman or a renowned mage. But it is worth it when your hail of arrows breaks a battle line. With effort, you can make archery an integral part of your live-combat LARP and have it be the richer for it. Maybe I'll see you in the field. But don't expect me to be standing still.