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In my world I have two sides battling each other. Both sides consists of Soldiers, however, one side tends to have a smaller number of far more elite solders while the other side has mages which only participate in important battles because it takes so long to refill expended power, but are very devastating when involved in a fight. Mage's mainly are good at making things go boom, not much else.

Solders in this world can Channel, enhancing their physical traits by forcing power through themselves. They can enhance their reflexes and stamina greatly, as well as smaller but still significant boosts to speed and strength; they also tend to be able to survive smaller wounds while still fighting as long as they Channel. Channeling is tiring, and how long one can keep it up depends allot on how much they channel (one can burn themselves out to be super-powerful for a minute, or fight an hour or two with only a bit of a boost over regular skill etc). The point is solders are operating on a degree of superhuman power, how much varies greatly from person to person. This power mostly is seen in enhanced reflexes helping them to see, anticipate, and counter attacks rather then superhuman feats of strength.

Mages can not channel, making them much weaker physically. Enemy mages tend to be held back away from the frontline, they are rare and powerful enough that they aren't placed in positions where there is a reasonable chance of being hurt or killed. The 'good guys' consist of the most elite squad of which have two mages with then, the older is a bit of a unique case, a competent fighter who uses his mana primarily as a sort of anti-mage by protecting against, and defeating, enemy mages. The younger 'apprentice' of them I want to eventually get hold of crossbows which she starts to use to help out in a fight when she can't cast spells (it takes time to build up mana, and so she may have to go some or all of a fight without casting any spell when low on mana).

The archer/mage does not need to be overly lethal with her crossbow's at first, She does it only because she can't stand doing nothing during a fight but knows it would be stupid to risk herself in a melee battle. However, I would like her to offer some sort of utility using her crossbow even when still mastering them, and once she develops to be a good archer she would be less dangerous then her fellow solders with them, but she should still be useful. She must have some proven success in killing, or at least hurting, enemies to make it worth her continuing to practice and develop the skill.

What I'm looking for is a justification for making arrows/crossbows limited enough as weapons that they are either never used by the enemy army, or are of limited effectiveness against my elite squad. I also want to prevent the good guys being able to use arrows to kill dangerous enemy mages from afar when it's too hard to fight to them. This squads is pretty much the anti-mage team responsible for stopping enemy mages, but raining arrows until one hits a mage is too easy to make this squad interesting. Thus I both want to limit them while keeping them useful in some cases.

The mage/archer may be fighting at a shorter range, firing her bows at a front line that is much closer then an archer would usually like to be, so a solution that makes arrows viable when very close but limited at range would be great.

I originally wanted to use some sort of "anti arrow" barrier spell as justification for this difference, but the way mage spells ended up working, it doesn't seem like they should be able to create a spell that stops arrows without it draining their magic rapidly.

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    $\begingroup$ Have you considered starting from principle causes of your magic system and working your way to logical effects, instead of trying to go backwards from effects to causes? No fantasy system is going to make sense if you design it that way. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jul 28 '16 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ Congrats on your 100th question $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jul 28 '16 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion I think a good system is more of a give-and-take and back-and-forth. The world has an end goal which its pieces need to encourage/compliment, but the systems need the be internally logical. It's fine to go from effect to try to modify the principles to fit, but then turn around and do the same in the opposite direct. And repeat as many times as needed. $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Jul 28 '16 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ If you're in range to fire at them, so are they at you. I'd fire whoever said it was ok for either of the two mages to engage at any distance that places them in danger. They belong in the rear, with the gear. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jul 31 '16 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura partially it's a side effect of how this squad travels independently from the main military for various reasons and don't always have a large military to defend them. They main goal is to reach & defeat enemy mages not fight in regular army. Though leader of the squad is frustrated that they won't stay out of harms way, but they won't listen and insist on helping regardless of their danger. Since their not technically part of the military, just powerful people who offered to help in the fight, there is little he can do but grumble and complain and try to keep them safe anyways. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 1 '16 at 16:10
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If crossbows would unbalance your world, make them illegal. This actually happened in real life (sort of), crossbows were forbidden to be used against Christians (Crossbow history). If mages and their ilk are the top of the power pyramid and don't want competition from lowly peasants with crossbows, it is easy enough for lords to ban them and prevent their use. There are numerous historical examples of other weapon types being denied widespread use.

As for limiting a single archer/crossbowman versus your mage, all it takes is a little wind to divert an arrow or bolt. You don't need a powerful shield, just a puff of wind. So trying to shoot them down is largely futile, especially when their juiced up bodyguards are charging you.

In your world ranged combat may be limited because the suped up fighters can move too fast, they can literally sprint from outside arrow range into direct combat before more than a single volley can be loosed. There is a limit to how powerful you can make a bow or crossbow with materials in a medieval world so the maximum range is only a few hundred yards. So archers and crossbows are for hunting or for specific individuals like your mage apprentice. Mass units of ranged fighters are prohibited on all sides because it would endanger the nobility. They would rather fight each other and risk being captured and ransomed instead of slaughtered by some ignoble arrow from afar. Also remember that the really powerful bow, the English longbow, was a highly regional weapon (longbow history) that took, literally, a lifetime to perfect, so it's not like some ordinary joe could be expected to pick one up and start loosing shafts every 10 seconds. Hunting bows and war bows in other cultures are far weaker in general, even easier to divert for a mage.

EDIT: To address your "shorter range" concern, just make the arrows and bolts much thicker and heavier. The heavier the missile, the harder it is to deflect. But it will have less velocity (since the max draw weight is the same). So a heavy broadhead and thick shaft will make for a short range, hard to deflect, one hit mage-killer. Without the ability to train folks (for decades) to use a longbow or construct a proper compound bow or heavy crossbow (the cranking mechanism alone is fairly complex and could be easily controlled to limit production) then war archery would be very limited. Your characters can engage in short range archery combat, mages can mostly ignore the threat from a distance, and widespread use of these weapons can be easily limited through some social controls.

Of note, what you WILL get are lots of spear throwers, especially since your soldiers can boost their strength. If they have the Atlatl (atlatl) spears will be even more effective. Plus there are other strength assisted missile weapons like slinging (which, much like the longbow, is a regional war device like the Thracian slingers) or even axe throwing which may be more popular if archery is less. I imagine closing forces may start with thrown weapons and then close in for hand to hand combat. So your mages will still need to watch out for a missile weapon of some type even if arrows are not a big concern. But those "darkening the skies" showers of arrows?, shouldn't be an issue.

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A possible answer: You have a very thick atmosphere. Missile weapons quickly bleed off their velocity and thus are only useful at short ranges.

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Crossbows have historically been very popular because they're easy to master (relative to bows), easier to use (relative to a bow of similar strength) and are generally quite powerful.

When one would have required a long bow with God only knows how many tens of pounds of draw to pierce plate armor, one now only needed a crossbow that even a child could aim and fire.

But really, it's the limited training required to operate a crossbow that made them wildly popular. And did I mention that they were pretty easy to build?

When crossbows were invented they took the world by storm. Bows didn't dissapear overnight of course, but it makes zero sense for your world to outright reject crossbow use on a large scale because they simply offer too many advantages.

Mages should, however be able to block projectiles - if they see them coming - making them far less likely to be taken out by a non-mage.

So how do you explain your mage/archer's use of one? To use against non-mage attackers, or summoned creatures.

Consider that your mage/archer is still in her training phase, and while she can cast a crude protective barrier, and deflect some magical attacks, she is quite vulnerable to soldiers charging her because she can't summon powerful attacks of her own yet.

So instead, she casts a protective barrier to delay or trip up attacking soldiers, and shoots them with her crossbow. Because if she were to wield a blade then she would have to allow enemies to get altogether far too close to her for comfort.

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  • $\begingroup$ The OP specifically states that deploying a magical barrier to protect against projectiles won't be effective/efficient. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 29 '16 at 12:27
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The high speed of an arrow could cross a threshold which allows a mage to convert the kinetic energy into heat. This spell is trivial and excellent practice for higher level magics because it takes power from the moving object thus burning less of the mage's energy. Every young mage learns it and practices it endlessly until it can be cast reflexively with minimal energy. (If you want a punitive force against archery, it could even be a slight net energy gain for the mage --every time you shoot an arrow at a mage he burns it and gets a tiny bit stronger)

[edit] Actually now that I think about it, sapping the kinetic energy obviates the need to set it on fire. Slowing it down to the speed of melee combat totally Nerfs the arrow.

Regaining mana could consist of the mage meditating on the world around him or her, tapping into the energy of motion and bleeding little bits off onto an internal store.

Everyone would still be hoping to sneak a shot at the mage, so perhaps there needs to be another blow against the effectiveness of archery.

Long-term channeling could also affect solders fine motor skills just enough to make their aim crappy (but not enough to affect melee combat)

These two things would prevent archery from being very useful in combat, but still allow some wiggle room to plausibly sneak it in unexpectedly.

A mage who can't channel is not affected by the channeler's terrible aim and a weak mage might find some trick to counter the easy arrow burn spell. (Force the lock onto the arrowhead and not the shaft and feathers? Prevent a lock entirely --perhaps magical/optical diffraction to offset the magician's magical perception of the moving object by a handspan?)

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  • $\begingroup$ both interesting ideas. If I went with them I don't need any trick for the mage/archer, she would be using them to attack other solders far enough from a mage that the mag likely wouldn't interfering with the arrows. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 29 '16 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ The only problem is, what's to prevent normal archers from doing the same? They don't need to channel, they stay away from the mages... In war anything that works quickly gets adopted by both sides. There has to be something special about your apprentice that allows her to do it but prevents non-mages from doing it. $\endgroup$ – jorfus Jul 29 '16 at 18:33
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Crossbow vs Super Reflexes.

If soldiers are supplementing their reflexes with magic, maybe it is to the extent that they simply can dodge arrows and bolts fired from long range. This would limit crossbows and to close range combat. Your mage might simply be patient and observant enough to see when an enemy soldier is in the process of burning themselves out and picks them off when they are no longer able to dodge the bolt. The mage won’t be lucky enough to catch every burned out soldier on the field, but it happens enough to make it worth carrying a crossbow and a couple of bolts.

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Mages can imbue their arrows with offensive magic to overcome Channeling

What if mages, besides firing big draining blasts, can effectively use very small amounts of magic to negate the enhanced reflexes of a soldier? Something like basic illusion magic could make the arrows impossible to predict and dodge, without heavily draining the mages' reserves. Ordinary soldiers cannot do this, so for the most part bows and crossbows are useless, as the target will just block or dodge the shot.

Mages might also have some sort of subtle magic that makes them either incredibly hard to hit (such as some obscuring illusion or blurring effect) or else gives them the ability to dodge, like soldiers. Perhaps they can sense incoming arrows using magic and push them away with minor telekinetics.

In this sort of world, arrows are basically useless for most soldiers in a war. Enemy soldiers, and especially elite soldiers, can block and dodge far to easily for arrows to be lethal, and mages have magic that can protect them from an ordinary arrow or bolt. Only magically enhanced arrows can overcome these defenses, but even so, magic can only extend so far away from a mage at the low levels of power that bolt enchantment is at, constricting mages to only be able to effectively use their bows at fairly short ranges.

If you want mages to specifically use crossbows instead of regular bows, one option might be to further specify that the weak enchantments placed on arrows or bolts only last for some short period of time. If this were the case, the faster projectile speeds of crossbow bolts would effectively give the mages greater range when compared to using bows and arrows.

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