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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
Hello, Unknown Troper. You'll need to get known to lend a hand here.