Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Tale of the Double Crossbow

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 18, 2010

In the 1985 movie Ladyhawke, Captain Navarre (played by Rutger Hauer) had a nifty little weapon that was effectively two crossbows connected together – a double crossbow. I don’t think any such thing ever existed, historically, and I doubted its effectiveness.  Now, I’ve fired a double-barreled rifle (with two triggers, even) – and even a double-barreled black-powder rifle – so the concept isn’t alien to me. But given the size and bulkiness of a crossbow, bolting two of them together to fire an extra shot like that  didn’t seem to make much sense to me.

It sounded like a stupid weapon. Cool, but stupid.

(I should note that this seems to be a fundamentally different design from the Triple Crossbow in Ultima VI and VII, which instead propelled three bolts simultaneously.)

Anyway, we had thin pickings in fantasy movies in 1985. So while Ladyhawke wasn’t all that great of a movie, it still caught on amongst of medievalist / fantasy geeks. Including those of us who spent our weekends doing the medievalist thing, running around in armor beating on each other with padded sticks shaped like weapons. Suddenly, crossbows were the goal. And double-crossbows were doubly cool.

The problem was that out group – Dagorhir – had rules restricting the pull strength of all bows to 35 pounds or less for safety reasons.  Our arrows had big foam-padded heads on them that weren’t the greatest in aerodynamic efficiency, and so were already reduced in range and effectiveness. The problem was that historically the smaller bow (or “prod”) size of the crossbow was compensated for by making it a much heavier pull. We didn’t have that option – bow or crossbow, we were limited to 35 pounds. So most Dagorhir crossbow experiments had an effective range of about fifteen feet.  And that was for the few successful designs.

Richard, a guy in my unit, had one of the successful designs. And during that post-Ladyhawke summer, he made a double crossbow. Somehow he managed to get it approved in weapons inspection for one battle, and so he went out on his grand experiment, armed with a big shield, a double crossbow, several bolts, and a dagger.

I was with him on one particular engagement early in the day. I was a newbie, and died early, but I got a chance to watch him in action. He found himself surrounded by three enemies. He kept the crossbow concealed behind his shield. His opponents circled him warily, aware that he had a crossbow, but not knowing its true nature.

In these fluid combat situations, you have to constantly keep an eye out for incoming reinforcements on either side. It’s quite common for fighters to be so focused on the opponent in front of them that they become easy prey for anyone else coming from the side or behind. I’d like to think that’s how I bought it this time (I mean, come on… there were three of them!), but I honestly don’t remember. It’s been a long time.

Anyway, these guys were standing a little bit outside of melee range. Because it looked and felt like a melee fight. Richard was standing there (I think in his persona as the monk John David Sinister), with a shield up, crouched in a melee stance. One of them looked away to check the battlefield for any inbound  enemies – normally a safe enough thing to do when standing ten feet away with two allies.  If your opponent was wielding a melee weapon. If it had been an archer standing with a bow trained on him, he probably wouldn’t have let his guard down.

Unfortunately for him, that was exactly the situation. Richard raised the crossbow up so the bolt was barely over the top of his shield, and fired, hitting the warrior square in the chest. It took the guy a few moments to realize he’d just been fatally hit, and drop to the ground.

One of the surviving opponents had been waiting for just this opening. You see, normally an archer is most vulnerable right after they’ve fired an arrow. If you are close enough to attack them before they can reload, they are in trouble. So the second guy rushed in to attack, but the big ol’ shield meant he couldn’t go straight in for a quick kill. Richard stepped back, raised the crossbow a little higher over the top of the shield, and shot the guy in the head.

(Head shots are illegal in Dagorhir rules EXCEPT for missile attacks – thrown weapons and arrows – so it was legit. And an instant-kill.)

So now he’d killed two of three opponents with his double crossbow, as it had basically thrown them off their game. His third enemy? He mysteriously realized that an ally somewhere else on the battlefield needed his help, and ran off.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn’t quite so stupid after all.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    What do you mean Ladyhawke wasn’t great? It had Rutger Hauer in it. 😛

    Seriously, fascinating story. Goes to show common sense is sometimes wrong. Also, one extra round in your weapon really matters.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I never played Dagorhir or LARPED, despite being an avid fantasy reader and D&D player growing up. I’ve seen some videos though, and it looks like fun.

    Mock battles with rigid rules and a lot of people are better than any sport in my opinion.

    When I was in the Marines my favorite part was the combat exercises. Whether we were using paint rounds fired from the real weapons (Which hurt – a lot. Ever get hit by a pitching machine throwing balls at 80-90 miles an hour? It feels a little like that. Body armor and protective goggles are a must.) or MILES laser gear or blanks, it was always a blast.

    My personal favorite was a week long exercise in heavily wooded area between all four platoons in our unit (60-80 Marines per platoon), 2 platoons to a side. We had established base camps with fighting holes dug around the perimeter, and sent out squads to patrol throughout the week, where there were often skirmishes with an enemy squad that left one side or the other completely wiped out. (12 men on 12 men battles – with rifles and belt-fed automatic weapons tend to do that.)

    On the last morning of the exercise, my side moved out towards the enemy base just before dawn. The bulk of our force circled around to the flanks of the enemy’s defensive line of holes and trenches as stealthily as possible.

    I was part of a small diversionary force that would attack the enemy’s front lines head on (18 of us against over a hundred Marines in fortified positions). We would be on our own until we had captured their full attention and brought the full force of their counter-attack down on ourselves!

    The plan was to catch them groggy from a night of sleep and make them think they were under attack from a normal scouting squad from the front, and once their attention was focused solely on incoming attacks from just the one direction, the rest of our force would smash into their flanks from both sides and crush all resistance.

    It worked beautifully, starting with smoke grenades deployed to hide the true nature of our diversionary force, and another small team firing simulated JAVELIN missiles down into the base from a hill some distance away.

    In the confusion, it took the enemy a good minute or more to realize they were being hit from the sides as WELL as the front they were focused on.

    Our diversionary team even took minimal casualties and opened up a huge hole in the enemy’s defensive ring. My fire team’s gunner rushed the trench line head on, while me and another rifleman covered him by shooting any enemy that turned their head in his direction, each one of us covering one side of our gunner as he ran up to each fighting hole and unloaded M249 automatic fire at point-blank range into them.

    He took out 6 fighting holes and 12 enemy Marines before his weapon jammed (and my and the other rifleman’s weapon jammed – what are the odds?). He put on an excellent death scene as he shook and fell to his knees in imitation of being riddled with bullets as the rest of my fire team and I screamed great big cinematic “Nooooooo!”s.

    Our sergeants and NCOs where quite clear on how you should die in these exercises! “This ain’t no cops and robbers bullshit! You know when your hit! The least you can do is die in a satisfying way for the Marine that proved he was better by shooting your ass!”

    It was all simply awesome – trenches, 200+ Marines in close-quarters pitched combat, smoke rolling through the dense forest we were in. The kind of combat not actually seen on the battlefield since WW1 or WW2.

    Of course, we got in trouble for it afterward. Apparently you aren’t allowed to have combat exercises that big without approval from very high up due to the increased chance of injuries! Oops!

    A lot of kids and adults alike could benefit from the exercise and quick-thinking such things as that and Dagorhir or paintball promote.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Another fascinating (mock) war-story. Heh. Sounds like an awesome time, LWR! That was a fun read!

    And I totally agree. When I was actively playing Dagorhir (and gymnastics), I was probably in peak condition. Running around with armor and shield (or armor and ammo, as the case may be) on these kinds of exercises are exhausting. But fun.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    “A lot of kids and adults alike could benefit from the exercise and quick-thinking such things as that and Dagorhir or paintball promote.”

    Yeah, tell that to the German government. 🙁

    Some people are pathologically afraid of even simulated violence. I wonder what that says about them.

    Very good story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Fumarole said,

    Ladyhawke gets bonus points for it’s awesome 80s soundtrack.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Oh, yeah. Alan Parson’s Project, baby. I mean, I loved Alan Parson’s Project, but who the hell thought they would be appropriate for a medieval fantasy adventure movie?

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    Well, a double crossbow isn’t as stupid as it sounds, but the design of the Demon Hunter in Diablo 3, with one crossbow per hand, it is probably the most stupid character design ever in games history (half-joking, half-exaggerating).

  • Bill said,

    I enjoyed the article but do not see the double as being practicle.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I don’t either, but it was an amusing surprise.