Dwarf Fortress Bow vs Crossbow 

In the deep, complex world of Dwarf Fortress, equipping your marked dwarves with the right ranged weapons can mean the difference between fending off invaders and total annihilation. Two of the most common options are bows and crossbows. But which one is ultimately superior on the battlefield?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the key differences, advantages, disadvantages, stats, and use cases for bows versus crossbows in Dwarf Fortress to help you decide which is better for outfitting your fortress army.

Overview of Bows vs Crossbows

Bows are classic projectile weapons that predate recorded history. They utilize elastic energy to rapidly propel arrows over long distances. Bows must be drawn and nocked separately before each shot.

Crossbows are an ancient innovation that utilizes a horizontal bow limb mounted to a rifle-like stock. The bowstring is locked into place, so crossbows can remain cocked and ready to fire multiple times much more quickly than conventional bows.

While both fling lethal bolts at foes, they accomplish this in different ways. Below we’ll analyze the key differences that impact their performance on Dwarf Fortress battlefields:

  • Range and Accuracy
  • Rate of Fire
  • Penetration Power
  • Crafting Requirements
  • Training Requirements
  • Encumbrance and Mobility
  • Tactical Use Cases

Let’s kick things off by looking at the shooting capabilities of each weapon.

Range and Accuracy

Two of the most crucial performance factors for any ranged weapon are effective range and accuracy. This determines how far and precisely you can engage targets.


  • Bows can shoot 1-12 tiles effectively based on the archer’s skill.
  • Crossbows shoot 1-14 tiles based on the archer’s skill.

So crossbows provide a slightly longer max range compared to bows in skilled hands. Both can be lethal at long distances with a capable archer.


  • Bows provide higher innate accuracy at shorter ranges due to the greater draw weight and arrow velocity.
  • Crossbow bolts lose velocity quicker, reducing accuracy at longer distances.
  • However, a skilled archer can achieve deadly accuracy with either weapon type.

Overall, bows have a slight edge in accuracy, but both can be very precise with enough training.

Rate of Fire

Another major differentiator is the rate of fire each weapon provides in rapid combat situations:

This gives crossbows a significant advantage in the rate of fire. A trained crossbowman can lose bolts approximately twice as quickly as an archer can draw and fire arrows.

This makes crossbows superior for high-intensity ambushes where the volume of fire is paramount. Bows require more pauses between each shot.

Penetration Power

The kinetic energy and momentum of a projectile determine how effectively it penetrates armor and pierces the flesh of foes:

So in terms of raw stopping power, bows have a clear advantage. Their higher velocity arrows pass through armor and dig deeper into targets.

However, crossbows can still achieve decent penetration from close range. And their rapid-fire helps overcome penetration shortcomings.

Crafting Requirements

The material and labor costs to equip units with each weapon are another consideration:


  • Require wood and bowstrings made from silk, plant fibers, or sinew.
  • Modest craft dwarf labor to carve and shape.
  • Can be crafted at the Carpenter’s Workshop.


  • Require wood and mechanisms made from metal bars and gears.
  • Significant metalcrafting labor to create internal mechanisms.
  • Must be built at Metalsmith’s Forge.

So bows are easier and cheaper to mass produce since they require no metal parts. Both still require skilled crafters.

Training Requirements

The degree of training and skill required to wield each weapon effectively is also a factor:

This means peasants or child recruits can become effective crossbow users quicker with minimal training compared to traditional bow training.

However, dedicated training allows expert bow users to ultimately exceed crossbow users in range and accuracy. But crossbows are easier for hastily trained recruits.

Encumbrance and Mobility

A major advantage of bows is their lower encumbrance and greater mobility during combat:

  • Bows are lighter and less bulky, allowing for greater maneuverability and speed on the battlefield. Archers can evade and reposition quicker.
  • Crossbows are heavier and bulkier, especially when cocked. This results in slower movement and reaction times for crossbow units.

The higher mobility and lower encumbrance of bows gives them the edge for skirmishing and guerilla-style tactics requiring rapid repositioning. Crossbows excel more at fixed defensive positions.

Tactical Use Cases

Given all the tradeoffs, here are the ideal tactical roles for utilizing each weapon most effectively:

Ideal for Bows

  • Long-range sniping and harassing
  • Skirmishing, ambushing, guerilla tactics
  • Rapid assaults and flanking
  • Hunting/foraging missions
  • Pursuing fleeing foes

Ideal for Crossbows

  • Fixed defensive positions
  • Short range ambushes and chokepoints
  • Standing against large charges
  • Guarding entrances and gates
  • Urban and tunnel fighting

Of course, both bows and crossbows have versatility across multiple scenarios in skilled hands. But these are the prime use cases where each weapon shines brightest based on their capabilities.

Head-to-Head Comparison

Here is a concise head-to-head overview of the key differences between bows and crossbows:

Which is Ultimately Better?

So taking all these factors into account, which is the definitively “better” ranged weapon choice for your Dwarf Fortress armies?

The answer depends heavily on your specific fortress’ tactical doctrine and defense strategies.

If you rely more on guerilla and skirmishing tactics, then bows provide better mobility and evasiveness to keep your marksdwarves alive.

If you utilize fixed defensive positions and chokepoints when raiders approach, then crossbows provide superior rapid-fire barrages to mow down enemies.

Both bows and crossbows can serve admirably as the primary ranged weapon of your fortress. Focus on their complementary strengths instead of direct competition.

A balanced military will wisely incorporate both bow and crossbow units to adapt to evolving combat conditions and opponent tactics. Specialization and flexibility are the keys to Dwarven victory!

How to Equip Your Bowmen and Crossbowmen

Here are some key tips on equipping your ranged forces:

For bowmen:

  • Use high strength and agility dwarves to maximize power and rapid shooting.
  • Provide quivers to hold many spare arrows for sustained barrages.
  • Equip them with light armor like leather or chain mail to retain mobility.
  • Use bows made of yew, olive wood, or black bronze for good range.

For crossbowmen:

  • Prioritize precise coordination over brute strength for handling crossbow mechanisms.
  • Provide bolt quivers so they can loose many shots without reloading.
  • Equip with heavy armor since mobility is less important.
  • Use steel crossbows for maximum penetration power at close range.
  • Provide windlasses or cranequins to help cock their crossbows rapidly.

Master the unique skills of both bows and crossbows to make your fortress army a formidable military force!

Advanced Dwarf Fortress Ranged Tactics

Beyond just weapons, proper tactics and positioning are crucial to victorious Dwarf Fortress marksdwarf squads. Here are some key tips:

With smart tactics, even a dwarven child armed with a crossbow can take down a legendary hydra!


Both bows and crossbows have unique strengths that lend themselves to different tactical roles when defending your mountain fortress. Bows provide superior range, accuracy, and mobility for skirmishing and harassment while crossbows allow rapid ambush barrages from fixed positions. Use a mix of dedicated bow and crossbow marksdwarves to handle any threat!

Of course, this is just the surface layer of the incredible complexity buried within Dwarf Fortress. But hopefully, this guide provided some key insights to help you prevail over goblin sieges, titan attacks, and elven incursions using the power of superior dwarven ranged weaponry and tactics. Strike the earth!