Created By: Zxczxczbfgman on February 22, 2016 Last Edited By: Zxczxczbfgman on September 13, 2017

Utilitarian Crossbowman

A Combat Pragmatist that uses a crossbow as their Weapon of Choice.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
trope
Bows of all kinds have a long and fascinating history, and the crossbow is no exception. First developed by the Greeks, and seeing use up until the Renaissance, the crossbow only went out of favor when the more powerful and user-friendly musket/arquebus replaced it. It is not surprising, therefore, that many characters wield it as their Weapon of Choice, especially in Medieval European Fantasy.

Historically, crossbows had better power at close range than equivalent bows, but the relatively short, light projectile shotnote  by the crossbow tended to drop off fast, giving them worse long-range performance. Fictional crossbows are more likely than bows to avert Annoying Arrows for this reason. They also tend to be hefty enough to allow a sort of Pistol Whip, unlike bows which will almost certainly break in half if used as a bludgeon. Some crossbows can be wielded one-handed, if you need your other hand for another weapon or the reins of your mount. They also don't require as much physical strength as a bow.note 

For these reasons, fictional crossbow-wielders tend to be efficient, utilitarian types, often professional soldiers. They also might be more than a little Trigger Happy, since the crossbow has a quick "point and shoot" aspect that other bows lack. In other words, a crossbowman considers his weapon a tool, while an archer is likely to consider his talent an art, a la Technician Vs Performer. This attitude makes the crossbow popular with The Hunter (who, with a variety of monster-hunting skills to keep sharp, doesn't have the time to devote himself wholly to learning "proper" archery). Crossbows also have the connotation of being more "technological" than regular bows, meaning they often show up in the hands of more "advanced" folks (whether that's an individual character or an entire army). For similar reasons, crossbows are often used as gun-analogues when Fantasy Gun Control is in effect, and crossbow users will often use the same tropes as The Gunslinger and the Cold Sniper or Friendly Sniper.

Fictional crossbows tend to fall victim to a pre-gunpowder version of Guns Do Not Work That Way; most writers are even less familiar with archery than with firearms.

Compare and contrast Archer Archetype. See Automatic Crossbows, for when your crossbow needs More Dakka.

Needs a Better Name.


Examples

Literature
  • The Black Arrow. The protagonist Richard "Dick" Shelton uses a crossbow, and the villain Sir Daniel Brackley has crossbowmen serving him.
  • In The Elenium, because crossbows are considered the most formidable non-magical weapons against armored knights, the Church Knights who protect most of the continent dislike crossbows, and as such they are used mainly by criminals, insurrectionists, and Lamorks, who resist the Church and have crossbows as their National Weapon.
  • Crossbows are used in the Discworld Night Watch books as the closest fantasy analogue to guns, since the books are mostly parodies of Police Procedurals. However, since the Watch is trying to keep the peace, they seldom use the weapons, having them as a Weapon for Intimidation. When there is combat, it mostly comes down to swords.
  • The Band of the Red Hand in Wheel of Time is a mercenary army that has a corps of crossbowmen. In the later part of the series, a crank has just been invented that allows a single man to reload his crossbow in reasonable time, making crossbowmen similarly useful to bowmen, but because they take a lot less training, they're cheaper to field. Using these in tandom with guerilla tactics, the Band is able to fend off a major Imperial force for a long time with almost no casualties.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The game has included crossbows since the very first editions. They are generally fairly powerful but slow to reload, and they also don't confer damage bonuses based on the Strength stat (unlike bows). Coupled with their slow shooting rate, crossbows tend to be seen as more than a little underpowered by players. They're grouped into three categories (in order of increasing power and decreasing rate): Hand crossbows, light crossbows, and heavy crossbows.
      • Since crossbows don't hinge on the Strength stat for their damage, and they can be kept loaded for awhile and discharged immediately in case of trouble, they often see use as the Emergency Weapon of more than a few Squishy Wizard types.
    • Drow elves use hand crossbows that shoot poisoned or drugged bolts, compensating for the hand crossbow's relative lack of power compared to light or heavy crossbows.

Video Games
  • The Demon Hunter and Scoundrel both use crossbows for preference in Diablo III, though both can also use bows with little practical difference. The Demon Hunter takes them Beyond the Impossible by firing them rapidly without reloading, and can even Dual Wield crossbows somehow.
  • Varric Tethras from the Dragon Age series is a Friendly Sniper and the world's only Automatic Crossbow user (since there aren't any automatic crossbows in existence except his Bianca). Fitting his unconventional weapon, he is very atypical for a dwarf: he is future-oriented (reflected in his essentially futuristic weapon choice), while most dwarves are crazy about tradition; he is an all-around Nice Guy, while most dwarves are slightly xenophobic towards members of other races and even towards fellow dwarves of lower castes (Varric is openly disdainful of the caste system); and he doesn't even wear a beard. While (regular) crossbows have an reputation of a thug weapon in-universe, Varric is Famed In-Story as one of the masters of this weapon, commanding the same respect as the most proficient archers.
  • In The Elder Scrolls the Dwemer, considered the most technologically advanced race on Tamriel, specialized in crossbow usage before disappearing.
    • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, crossbows were added by the Dawnguard DLC. They have flatter trajectories and more damage per shot than similar bows (having roughly the same damage as a Daedric Bow), but they are generally only found in the Dawnguard expansion proper (though if you can find a Game Mod that distributes them among non-Dawnguard enemies, you can easily find one as early as Level 1, for one of the best low-level sniping weapons in the game). They can be kept ready to shoot without affecting run speed, and they can fire several types of exploding bolts. Their drawbacks are that they're loud compared to bows, only steel and Dwarven varieties are available, and their ammunition is only found in the Dawnguard expansion (though the aforementioned Game Mod resolves that as well).
Community Feedback Replies: 41
  • February 22, 2016
    Arivne
    Literature
    • The Black Arrow. The protagonist Richard (Dick) Shelton uses a crossbow, and the villain Sir Daniel Brackley has crossbowmen serving him.

    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons. Drow elves use hand crossbows. They are smaller than normal crossbows and easier (and quicker) to prepare. The tips of the bolts they fire are usually tipped with sleep poison.
  • February 22, 2016
    Koveras
    I think the description needs to talk more about what using a crossbow says about the character. Right now, it is much more focused on the historical context of crossbow usage, which is fine for Useful Notes but not for a trope.

    Also, there is a YKTTW slumbering around already discussing the crossbow vs. hand-drawn bow differences.
  • February 23, 2016
    DAN004
    Agree with Larky that the "trope essence" here is lacking. Using a crossbow should signify something of a character.

    Maybe... crossbow users tend to be more of an everyman (likely to be amateurish) who is either lazy or a Trigger Happy, while hand-drawn bow users tend to be calmer and more experienced?

    Dunno though, there's Archer Archetype already.
  • February 23, 2016
    Zxczxczbfgman
    I've taken your suggestions into consideration. I've squashed most of the historical context into one paragraph with a note at the end. I've also noted what the crossbow might indicate about a particular character. I hope the end result is satisfactory.

    And yes, it could be considered a subtrope of Archer Archetype, but it's widespread enough (in my opinion) that it deserves its own page.
  • February 24, 2016
    Koveras
    • Varric Tethras from the Dragon Age series is a Friendly Sniper and the world's only Automatic Crossbow user (since there aren't any automatic crossbows in existence except his Bianca). Fitting his unconventional weapon, he is very atypical for a dwarf: he is future-oriented (reflected in his essentially futuristic weapon choice), while most dwarves are crazy about tradition; he is an all-around Nice Guy, while most dwarves are slightly xenophobic towards members of other races and even towards fellow dwarves of lower castes (Varric is openly disdainful of the caste system); and he doesn't even wear a beard. While (regular) crossbows have an reputation of a thug weapon in-universe, Varric is Famed In Story as one of the masters of this weapon, commanding the same respect as the most proficient archers.
  • February 23, 2016
    malias
    Regardless of whether you can turn this into a valid trope, the trope name needs to be changed. The current name is screaming to be abused.
  • February 23, 2016
    Arivne
  • February 25, 2016
    MetaFour
    Fanfiction:
  • February 25, 2016
    Prime32
    Worth noting is that it's easier to fire a crossbow in cramped spaces or while moving, which can make it feel like more of a commando weapon compared to the patient archer. Comparing crossbows to guns would also be worthwhile - their main advantage nowadays is being extremely quiet, which again makes the user (usually a hunter) seem more dedicated and professional.

    Also, D&D crossbows tend to be easier to use than standard bows, meaning they often end up as an Emergency Weapon for Squishy Wizards.
  • February 25, 2016
    Generality
    Literature
    • In The Elenium, because crossbows are considered the most formidable nonmagical weapons against armored knights, the Church Knights who protect most of the continent are unfond of crossbows and as such they are used mainly by criminals, insurrectionists and Lamorks, who resist the Church and have crossbows as their National Weapon.
    • Crossbows are used in the Discworld Night Watch books as the closest fantasy analogue to guns, since the books are mostly parodies of Police Procedurals. However, since the watch is trying to keep the peace they seldom use the weapons, having them mainly as an open threat. When there is combat, it mostly comes down to swords.
    • The Band of the Red Hand in The Wheel Of Time is a mercenary army that has a corps of crossbowmen. In the later part of the series, a crank has just been invented that allows a single man to reload his crossbow in reasonable time, making crossbowmen similarly useful to bowmen; but because they take a lot less training, they're much cheaper to field. Using these in tandem with guerrilla tactics, the Band is able to fend off a major imperial force for a long time with almost no casualties.

    Video Games
    • The Demon Hunter and Scoundrel both use crossbows for preference in Diablo III, though both can also use bows with little practical difference. The Demon Hunter takes them Beyond The Impossible by firing them rapidly without reloading and can even Dual Wield crossbows somehow.
  • February 25, 2016
    DAN004
  • February 25, 2016
    Arivne
    Film
    • The Wild Geese. One of the mercenaries is an expert shot with a crossbow. During the assault on the enemy base he fires a cyanide-tipped quarrel at a guard in a guard tower, killing him instantly.
  • February 25, 2016
    NativeJovian
    This still reads more like a useful note than a trope. Two paragraphs of facts about crossbows (the second one quite long, if you count the note) and then one about what it means in storytelling terms.

    I think there's a trope here, we just need to make sure that's what we're emphasizing. Someone who uses a crossbow is generally portrayed as competent but lacking finesse or subtlety. A crossbow user is much more likely to consider the crossbow simply a means to an ends, as opposed to a bowman who will often value Improbably Aiming Skills for its own sake. In other words, a crossbowman considers his weapon a tool, while an archer is likely to consider his talent an art, a la Technician Vs Performer. This attitude makes the crossbow popular with The Hunter (who, with a variety of monster-hunting skills to keep sharp, doesn't have the time to devote himself wholly to learning "proper" archery). Crossbows also have the connotation of being more "technological" than regular bows, meaning they often show up in the hands of more "advanced" folks (whether that's an individual character or an entire army). For similar reasons, crossbows are often used as gun analogues when Fantasy Gun Control is in effect, and crossbow users will often use the same tropes as The Gunslinger and the Cold Sniper or Friendly Sniper.

    I also agree with Malias that it needs a different name, though I'm drawing a blank in terms of suggestions.
  • February 26, 2016
    DAN004
  • February 26, 2016
    BinaryStep
    "Using a crossbow" doesn't really seem tropeworthy to me.
  • February 26, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ we are TRYING to make this have more worth for a trope, dammit.
  • February 29, 2016
    Zxczxczbfgman
    Sorry I haven't been posting in awhile; there have been some family issues recently and I won't be able to edit this page much.

    Native Jovian, I hope you don't mind if I quote you word-for-word there.

    As for the name, I do like "Utilitarian Crossbowman".
  • March 28, 2016
    lycropath
    In Hyrule Warriors, Farm Girl Linkle's signature weapon is a pair of crossbows which flavor text indicates are carried by the cuccoo farmers in her village to protect their flocks from wolfos.
  • March 29, 2016
    rmctagg09
    • In The Elder Scrolls the Dwemer, considered the most technologically advanced race on Tamriel, specialized in crossbow usage before disappearing.
  • March 29, 2016
    Bisected8
    The second note in the first paragraph has a few mistakes:

    • The quote "If you want to train a longbowman, start with his grandfather" is attributed to King Edward III, not a Welsh proverb (Welsh proverbs tend to be in Welsh).
    • Longbows didn't need a lot of training, they needed constant training (an archer who slacks off for too long normally needs something like 6 months to a year using gradually heavier bows to train their arms back up to full strength; the quote came from the fact that countries which fielded large armies of archers had to make sure their population were always training).
    • Finger strength has nothing to do with archery (bows are drawn with the shoulder and elbow; even an untrained archer could hold back the string with just one finger).
  • March 30, 2016
    marcoasalazarm
    Real Life: Crossbows are Simple Yet Awesome weapons still used by various modern special-forces teams throughout the world (like, for example, China) because it is a very silent weapon for taking out people fatally and the impact of a quarrel produces less hydrostatic shock than a bullet, which prevents the detonation of various types of Suicide Bomber booby-traps.
  • March 30, 2016
    rmctagg09
    • The Zhūgé nǔ note  or Chinese repeating crossbow was a crossbow where the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt and shooting could be accomplished with one hand while keeping the weapon stationary, allowing it to fire ten bolts in fifteen seconds. It also came with its own top-loaded magazine. While not as powerful or accurate as the arbalest of European battlefields, it was easy to use, loaded far more quickly, and could be used in massed formations.
  • March 30, 2016
    ANTMuddle
    Crossbow Carrier? Because the only other thing that came to mind was "Got a Crossbow?"
  • March 30, 2016
    Gamermaster
    • Prince Leaf from Dog Days uses both a crossbow and a sword. The crossbow is attached to his belt by a retractable cord, allowing him to quickly let go of it to switch to close range.

    • Marle from Chrono Trigger is a Mage Marksman who fights with a crossbow. If the enemies are close enough, she'll Pistol Whip them instead of shooting them.
  • March 31, 2016
    Koveras
    I think the laconic should also reflect the focus on the wielder's pragmatism and utilitarianism.
  • April 30, 2016
    Koveras
  • April 30, 2016
    ErikModi
    Well, obviously, there's Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, who fits this trope to a T. Simple, practical everyman who relies on the crossbow as his weapon of choice, makes it extremely lethal, and has no problems mashing heads in with the stock. Works for me.
  • April 30, 2016
    HighCrate
    There's likely the seed of a legit trope here, but it still needs some work to make that seed bloom. Right now it's still begging for misuse as "anyone who uses a crossbow, ever."

    The first two paragraphs are interesting historical context, but you need to start the trope description by defining what the trope is. The first two paragraphs as they stand can go in Analysis; a massively condensed version could go in the trope description, but after the part that actually defines the trope, not before.

    The laconic needs to be changed: right now it reflects the misuse you're trying to avoid, not the trope you're trying to create.

    Examples that are just "[character] uses a crossbow" need to be fleshed out or removed.
  • April 30, 2016
    Koveras
    ^ What you said.
  • April 30, 2016
    ANTMuddle
    PHOOEY! Tossed in a bomb by accident and I can't get rid of it.
  • April 30, 2016
    ErikModi
    How about something like "a character that uses a crossbow specifically for pragmatic, practical reasons over another type of weapon, in a situation where another weapon would function equally well (but not better)." For instance, Green Arrow in Smallville sometimes used small hand crossbows for specific tasks, but not in general, making the times when he used the crossbow this trope, but not the character himself.
  • April 30, 2016
    caivu
    Comic Books

    • Both superheroic versions of Huntress use crossbows as their main weapon, and have pragmatic (though differing) approaches to crimefighting.
  • May 27, 2016
    ANTMuddle
    Crossbow Carrier: "Using a crossbow as a weapon." (Inspired by the Laconic description of An Axe To Grind.)
  • June 1, 2016
    Monotone-duck
    I feel like this doesn't have to be so much about crossbows in general as how crossbows are used- by what different kinds of people/characters, and why they would want to use crossbows instead of other weapons. I say axe the history of crossbows- go straight into describing their different types of uses in works. It seems like this article wants to talk about why crossbows are utilitarian- maybe a name like "Crossbows are Logical" (or something) and describe why they are, and show how they're used in a utilitarian way in works. That's all the 2 cents I think I can put in
  • June 2, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ good idea.
  • June 2, 2016
    RonnieR15
    The Walking Dead has Daryl Dixon who uses one throughout the series.
  • June 2, 2016
    BearyScary
    ^Maybe we could use a good picture of him as the page image?
  • June 3, 2016
    oneuglybunny
    Allow me expand upon Ronnie 15's example:

    Live Action TV
    • Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead makes a crossbow his go-to weapon. He started with a Horton Scout 125, and later changed to a Stryker 380. Not only does the crossbow have commendable knock-back power, Dixon can also keep distrusted associates at bay during tense stand-offs without his fingers getting tired. Dixon is very much a Combat Pragmatist.

    Film
    • Han Solo from Star Wars The Force Awakens gets to wield Chewbacca's crossbow blaster against a First Order Stormtrooper, and drops the mook with one shot, despite upgraded armor. "I like this thing!" The crossbow blaster is large and heavy and bulky, but those are details to a Wookiee; Chewy's interested only in hitting enemies oh-so-very hard, which his weapon does.
  • June 4, 2016
    Shishkahuben
    Tabletop: In Pathfinder, the crossbow is the favored weapon of Abadar, patron deity of cities, law, and merchants. As an efficient and easy-to-learn weapon suitable to outfit a town militia with on relatively short notice, Abadar's faith teaches adherents ways to disarm and otherwise mitigate trouble with their bolts to apprehend threats to face judgment, if lethal force is not necessarily required to maintain civil order.
  • September 6, 2017
    Koveras
    Bump...
  • September 13, 2017
    ANTMuddle
    Robin Hood: Idiotic henchman Trigger is more clumsy than Trigger Happy with his crossbow. It's for a good reason the Sheriff of Nottingham is extremely nervous around him.
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