June 22, 2018, 12:41:16 AM

Author Topic: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?  (Read 947 times)

Offline A.R.Finch

Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« on: January 16, 2018, 10:32:25 PM »
This is probably a weird question, but do you need to know how to use a crossbow if you're going to have people use one in your series?

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2018, 11:01:24 PM »
I think the following apply for any machine and any weapon in fiction:
1. You must know what the weapon can and cannot do. For weapons, this includes accuracy, reliability, impacts and effects (penetration of armor) etc. In short, whatever you plan for it to do, you should know whether you're presenting something realistic or not. You can, of course, present things that are unrealistic, provided you intend to. For example, splitting an apple with a crossbow at 25 feet is doable. At 50, it's a stretch. At 75, you're gambling. At 200, well, thank goodness it's Anime...

2. If you want to portray the thing in ways beyond its use, you need to know what you're talking about. I know nothing about crossbows - but they have a crank and pulleys and cables. These are sensitive to dust and dirt and water, over time. So how do you clean it? Can you leave it all tightened up and ready to fire all day? For a week? For a year? If you have a character loading it, how is that done? Can a person do it with one hand? Etc., Etc., Etc. If you get this wrong, fans will tear you up, and rightly so, for being lazy.
Again, you can violate this if you do it intelligently. Totally making this up, but using the above example, let's say my Elven crossbow is special because you CAN crank it with one hand and leave it ready to fire for centuries...

3. What your characters do not do impacts realism, too. Samurai do not drag their swords through the sand or put the point on something and use it as a walking stick because it dulls and damages the weapon, for example.
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Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2018, 05:57:00 AM »
As already mentioned, you need to consider a few practicalities. As for usage, they are simple to use, point and shoot, which was their charm as little training was required compared to bows.

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Offline cupiscent

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2018, 06:30:36 AM »
Curious to see how this thread contrasts with the laws-of-physics discussion. Fantasy needn't bother with physics/reality unless it pertains to weapons? ;)

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2018, 07:48:30 AM »
Curious to see how this thread contrasts with the laws-of-physics discussion. Fantasy needn't bother with physics/reality unless it pertains to weapons? ;)

And horses. Woe betide the fantasy author who treats horses like machines.

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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2018, 12:48:31 PM »
Whether it's weapons or physics, deviation from reality is fine - when it's deliberate, consistent, and entertaining. But if it comes across as haphazard or for the convenience of the plot, it's probably not going to be appreciated.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2018, 08:44:21 PM »
My advice here would be to google it. There's bound to be a post somewhere about the care and feeding of crossbows written by an expert. There's more than likely to be multiple YouTube videos about how to use one, whether the modern day versions or the original medieval ones.

Offline NedMarcus

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2018, 10:27:26 AM »
You Tube's good for this. I watched videos there when I decided on a sling as a weapon.

Offline Skip

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2018, 11:17:05 AM »
It depends on the level of detail you will be using. The more detail you employ, the more you're going to need to know. This can extend all the way to the point of having personally used the weapon you have in mind. The other measure is: if the plot is going to turn on some use or aspect of the weapon, then you have to get it right.

Offline WilliamRay

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2018, 08:32:24 PM »
You Tube's good for this. I watched videos there when I decided on a sling as a weapon.

YouTube has an amazing array of videos on exactly this sort of thing.
Additionally, find some reenactors.  Even if they just dress up as Romans or cowboys or something.  I guarantee they'll know a guy, or a guy who knows a guy, who knows everything you might possibly need to know, and then you just need to email that guy, tell him what you're thinking about doing, and you'll get plenty of detail.

Offline Yora

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2018, 08:32:35 PM »
Crossbows are comperatively simple and there is very little to know about them. Pull the string, put in bolt, aim at target, release string. Can't think of many ways in which someone would misdiscribe them in an embarassing fashion.

But for lots of other things the situation is very different. Horses, armor, and battle tactics are almost universally described or shown completely wrong, to the point that it's much easier to point out the few notable examples where they aren't. This is so bad that even common sense won't help you anymore because every time you see it shown you're getting it shown wrong.

Researching at least the basic mechanisms of how things work and the limits of what they can do is always a good idea.
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Offline Skip

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2018, 10:43:51 PM »
There's still plenty to know. What's the range? Are all crossbows the same? What are they made of (relevant if the story is going to describe the making of one)? What's the effect of rain or extreme heat or cold?

Again, it all depends on how much detail the writer means to include. If the crossbow is the hero's trademark weapon, then you're going to need more than if you're just mentioning a contingent of crossbowmen in a battle. (but, do crossbowmen operate out front? on the flanks? in reserve? as artillery?)
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2018, 09:46:25 AM »
I guess it depends on what your aim is (pun intended). I think knowing the basic mechanisms (or at least -- sounding like you do) of pretty much anything you put in your novels is the ground floor for writing well. That's why good fantasy writing is so difficult; you have to write a world that you actually know little to nothing about in a way that it not only makes sense to the reader but is believable in the sense of physics, mechanics, psychology, sociology, etc. etc. (and if those are different in that world, you need to have thought about how and why).

At least, that's what I think. When a fantasy writer uses the genre as an excuse for massive logical gaps, I put the book down.
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Offline Rostum

Re: Do you need to know how to use a crossbow?
« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2018, 03:26:40 AM »
I have used latchets and even made the odd replacement bit for them. The tiller is the wooden body, the prod is the bow made of steel or laminated horn and is only attached to the stock by hemp bindings or the stock would crack apart in a few uses. The nut is the central pivot that holds the string and releases when the latch (trigger) is deployed again made of horn or bronze. Hemp twine is woven into itself to make 2 loops for the end of the string and the middle whipped to keep it from catching on the bolt. The bolts themselves are tapered fat end to the back with a heavy head, usually a 3 or 4 sided pyramid shape. the vanes are the fins on the back often made of tin, copper or wood not fletched like an arrow and only 2 of them not 3. There is no nock to hold the string just a shallow curve indenting the rear of the bolt. Trajectory is flatter than an arrows but the range falls of much sooner for similar poundage. To make them really worth while you need a very heavy prod a claw or craniquin to span them and this slows them down to 3-4 shots a minute compared to an archers 12-18. The Chinese invented a repeating crossbow in the 6th century, low powered but shoots as fast as you can drop bolts into it. A fun toy or look up stone bows for a really nasty device.

Oh and Crossbow is a Victorian term like chain mail.

To use cock, load and point in the general direction of your target. Rinse and repeat until you are out of bolts or shot full of arrows cos archers really don't like crossbowmen (or at least English archers didn't ask the Genoese) after the nut slipping and it releasing while loading count your finger tips and continue. Dont keep it under tension or loaded as it will lose power quickly. Do not even bother trying to use it in the rain all that glue is water soluble and hemp stretches.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2018, 03:49:27 AM by Rostum »