How effective were bows in actual history?

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Kharille

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Heard some comments about how bows were overpowered. I think I read some reviews about an older game, Warrior Kings which is near 20 years old where they have the same problem. Are there good examples of how they got crushed by infantry? What about windswept areas like Scotland?

Is it possible that even light armour could nullify a lot of the damage? Saw some youtube clip about how even a Gambeson protects a lot from arrows.
 

๖Kern

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There's a lot of diversity in bows and arrows, some were stronger and more effective than others. Pretty sure that most European armies used some kind of a longbow variation. Even then, you probably wouldn't pierce a well-made plate armour or lamellar... and even if, there's still additional resistance in form of a mail layer. It was definitely effective against armies full of rallied peasants and infantry with "weak" armour. I honestly don't think that Gambeson would save you from an arrow shot off a longbow, perhaps if it had been a short bow with less power, it might. Armour, especially plate, was very effective in protecting from ranged attacks. You'd need a VERY strong bow and high-quality arrow in order to penetrate plate armour.
 

Vermillion_Hawk

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I'd go so far as to say that the strongest bow feasible could not penetrate a full set of plate armour with underpadding and everything. People like to cite Agincourt but the casualties were generally caused indirectly by arrows disrupting the French charge and killing horses as opposed to killing the knights outright.
 

Kharille

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Yeah, heard the knights were exhausted trying to drag themselves through the mud. I found it tiring hiking in shallow mud myself, so if you're in plate and knee deep, sure must be hard to fight.
 

RightQuandary

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Whenever the enemies were able to close the distance and get amongst the archers, the archers played little part in the rest of the battle unless saved or left alone afterwards (eg. the enemy decides to plunder the baggage train instead). In the battles of the Anglo-Scottish wars, the dense Scottish schiltrons could defeat English infantry and cavalry but were shot down by longbowmen as they weren't very mobile and were poorly armoured. But even then archers were rarely, if at all, the only forces on the field and they played the supporting role - shooting into the flanks to drive the enemy into the centre where the main forces are, shooting to push them off an advantageous position or to provoke them into doing something like charge over a muddy field or up a hill, or softening the enemy up by disorganising them before the infantry or cavalry make contact and the real killing starts. These don't necessarily need the enemies to be killed to affect, though.

So yes, archers and crossbowmen in Bannerlord might be too effective if, purely in terms kills, they are better than regular melee infantry and cavalry.
 
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It's very difficult to ascertain, there's no one answer here, especially because the massive difference that place makes, not to even mention the rich and varied factor of time, as bows can be very different in terms of efficiency, purpose/ use, draw weight and such things also affect arrows.

Overall, as a traditional fletcher, toxophilite and bowyer, for what that's worth, I wager to say that Bannerlord has rather decently balanced archers.

An army compromised solely of archers will not win, like it did in Warband with Vaegir Marksmen armies. Mostly because they get swept aside easier it seems by cav or good shielded inf, faster than they did b4 in WB. Try an all Imperial, Sturgian, Khuzait, Batannian or Aserai archer army. You'll get bent the first time u encounter anyone with sizeable cavalry force and they swoop your men off of the field.

Maybe ranged *seems* to be doing much dmg, but this is a problem of armor in this game being not very effective at countering damage, rather than merely (ranged) weapons themselves but doing to much dmg.
 
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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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I'd go so far as to say that the strongest bow feasible could not penetrate a full set of plate armour with underpadding and everything.
to be fair, the armour doesn't have to be penetrated for it to be defeated. there's gaps and joints and weak spots. i think most people just confused the two.
 

Vermillion_Hawk

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to be fair, the armour doesn't have to be penetrated for it to be defeated. there's gaps and joints and weak spots. i think most people just confused the two.
I just feel I need to clarify because I've seen some people claim that longbows could pierce plate armour, as in directly through the breastplate.
 

Beau Vine

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I just feel I need to clarify because I've seen some people claim that longbows could pierce plate armour, as in directly through the breastplate.
I just feel I need to clarify because I've seen some people claim that longbows could pierce plate armour, as in directly through the breastplate.
This is usually caused by a mix of: using flat sheets of steel, using no padding, and fixing the target in a stationary way.

Whereas if you hit armour, it's supposed to deflect, not just halt an arrow, and this influenced a LOT of design of armour. And it's on padding that absorbs the kinetic energy. As does our whole body.

So while videos like the ones below have high production value and wonderful props, anyone who's ever as much as punched a person will knows it has 0 connection to what it'd be to hit a freestanding person that wrapped their water-based body in this armour - vs a stationary and flat square of a barn, not usually known for their flexibility:

That said, this one by same authors covers the subject much better:

The thing is - the more someone is into this subject, the less assured you'll be of specific simple answer. It was certainly a pain in the ass of knights, not least because the horses for combat were extremely expensive, and the most efficient way to use long distance weapons is a volley, not aimed shot. A fully kitted out "knight" was one of several people making up a lance, and subject of whom the archers would shoot at is not covered by sources. There's warbows and rapid shooting with arrow on right hand of the bow - the last of which is an extreme game changer and people don't currently agree if it was a feature of European bow shooting at all.

Interesting subject to dive into though.

PS: also an interesting factor that is usually unaccounted for is that a charging horseman also adds kinetic energy to an arrow flying at them, something covered in MB. Also our steel is nothing like medieval carbon-heavy one. Our steel gives in, absorbing energy as it's deformed. Carbon-heavy steel is firmer but also more brittle. In reconstruction this has caused people to apply different heat treatment to helms and knee protection vs wider areas. For which we have little to no info for medieval armour, whereas it's a huge factor for mock battles using superior steel and blunted weaponry.
Again - great subject, lots of interesting developments, nothing really definitive.
 
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ceprast

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Depends what you mean by effectiveness. Bows could not penetrate plates of armor, lots of people have tried reconstructing things to try and find an answer through experiment but those are actually unnecessary. One of those youtubers that I can't remember which though, pointed out that we know Arrows didn't penetrate armor because no one famous (famous matters here since a famous person would be wearing proper armor) died of having their armor penetrated by an arrow. There are lots of examples of famous people dying of an arrow through a weak point like the visor but not actually penetrating their plate.

Now bows were still plenty effective on the battlefield because there were lots of troops not wearing fully protective armor. Warfare basically evolved into polearm equipped infantry units fighting each other with archers used to kill the infantry. Once the infantry was disrupted cavalry could attack them. This eventually evolved into the pike blocks and the Tercio of the renaissance era.

Bows could also cause disruption even among troops wearing armor that fully protected them as happened during the famous English victories of the hundred years war. disrupting enemy formations and breaking down their cohesion is actually the more important part of the battle, causing casualties is actually just a means to that end. This is what the quote from Sun Tzu means "to win without fighting is the supremacy of excellence",

Ardant du Picq also discusses at length in his book "battle studies" the "effectiveness" of certain weapons on the battlefield, and to get a better understanding of the concept you should probably read it. now he was discussing Bayonets but it is a similar principle, the discrepancy of their "effectiveness" vs casualties caused. For over two hundred years the Bayonet was considered the most "effective" offensive weapon despite rarely actually producing any casualties (less than a percent in some battles) effective here meaning attacks conducted with the bayonet were the most successful defined as achieving the desired result such as the attack securing its objective of seizing terrain. Likewise the longbow was effective at Agincourt even though it didn't produce many casualties (which we know due to the large amount of prisoners taken not killed), it achieved the result of stopping the French attack and left them a disordered mob vulnerable to the English counter attack.
 

kweassa

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Heard some comments about how bows were overpowered. I think I read some reviews about an older game, Warrior Kings which is near 20 years old where they have the same problem. Are there good examples of how they got crushed by infantry? What about windswept areas like Scotland?

Is it possible that even light armour could nullify a lot of the damage? Saw some youtube clip about how even a Gambeson protects a lot from arrows.
The game's pretty much spot on. Most of the complaints in regards to how "bows are OP" in the game, usually come from opinions that straight-up refuse to take into account the discrepancies between real-life conditions and in-game conditions.

For example, most "bows OP" commentators...

  • ... base the argument upon personal anecdotes devoid of actual information, and rarely give accurate account of what the combat situation was -- most importantly, they very often conveniently omit the information about the combat distance, and the action they were performing when they were shot.
  • ... usually just ignore the fact that in-game, both the likelihood of arrows actually hitting you and doing any real damage (when properly armored) is pretty low at long distances.
  • ... usually do not tell you that they were shot at (1) under 50 distance, (2) as they were closing in to charge, or (3) were just on their way out from a charge, (4) against MULTIPLE archers targeting the person. This has come up repeatedly, and to my knowledge, no "bows OP" opinion ever really addressed this. It's simply ignored.
I've brought it up before, but studies on the Japan's gunchujyou(軍忠状) have shown on average around 60% of casualties in Japan's medieval warfare were from ranged weapons, with both early and late Warring States Period showing arrows as the No.1 reason behind casualties. A "gunchujyou" is an AAR of sorts where lords that have participated in combat submit to their overlords, which record down their kills, deaths, and reasons behind deaths (in order to compensate, reward, or memorialize).

While it is difficult to compare directly, still, medieval Japanese warfare, and social conditions were the most comparable to Western medieval warfare in terms of social formation, structure, armament, and scale and voracity of warfare -- whereas Chinese warfare, for example, would be much more difficult to compare directly.

So unless there is something incredulously different between Japan and the West when it comes to shooting bows and getting hit by them, it would be safe to assume the efficiency of bows in combat were largely comparable between the two.


The reason why bows are sometimes deemed OP in the game, is very simply because player armies recruit and train high-tier archers way faster, in way larger numbers, way more easily than AI armies. Typically, AI armies do not build up a strong band of archers in any meaningful numbers, which means at initial phase of battle the AI armies don't have a "skirmish phase" where archers from both armies exchange fire in hopes to do as much damage to the other, as possible.

So, from the initial phase of battle the player army with significant number of archers can simply dish out one-sided punishment to the enemy armies, dealing huge losses in numbers as well as overall morale, even before the main melee starts. If the AI armies had a tendency to balance out their own armies with quite the number of archers, and they would send their own archers to counter the player archers every time, then the archers won't feel so OP anymore.
 
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ceprast

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The game's pretty much spot on. Most of the complaints in regards to how "bows are OP" in the game, usually come from opinions that straight-up refuse to take into account the discrepancies between real-life conditions and in-game conditions.

For example, most "bows OP" commentators...

  • ... base the argument upon personal anecdotes devoid of actual information, and rarely give accurate account of what the combat situation was -- most importantly, they very often conveniently omit the information about the combat distance, and the action they were performing when they were shot.
  • ... usually just ignore the fact that in-game, both the likelihood of arrows actually hitting you and doing any real damage (when properly armored) is pretty low at long distances.
  • ... usually do not tell you that they were shot at (1) under 50 distance, (2) as they were closing in to charge, or (3) were just on their way out from a charge, (4) against MULTIPLE archers targeting the person. This has come up repeatedly, and to my knowledge, no "bows OP" opinion ever really addressed this. It's simply ignored.
I've brought it up before, but studies on the Japan's gunchujyou(軍忠状) have shown on average around 60% of casualties in Japan's medieval warfare were from ranged weapons, with both early and late Warring States Period showing arrows as the No.1 reason behind casualties. A "gunchujyou" is an AAR of sorts where lords that have participated in combat submit to their overlords, which record down their kills, deaths, and reasons behind deaths (in order to compensate, reward, or memorialize).

While it is difficult to compare directly, still, medieval Japanese warfare, and social conditions were the most comparable to Western medieval warfare in terms of social formation, structure, armament, and scale and voracity of warfare -- whereas Chinese warfare, for example, would be much more difficult to compare directly.

So unless there is something incredulously different between Japan and the West when it comes to shooting bows and getting hit by them, it would be safe to assume the efficiency of bows in combat were largely comparable between the two.


The reason why bows are sometimes deemed OP in the game, is very simply because player armies recruit and train high-tier archers way faster, in way larger numbers, way more easily than AI armies. Typically, AI armies do not build up a strong band of archers in any meaningful numbers, which means at initial phase of battle the AI armies don't have a "skirmish phase" where archers from both armies exchange fire in hopes to do as much damage to the other, as possible.

So, from the initial phase of battle the player army with significant number of archers can simply dish out one-sided punishment to the enemy armies, dealing huge losses in numbers as well as overall morale, even before the main melee starts. If the AI armies had a tendency to balance out their own armies with quite the number of archers, and they would send their own archers to counter the player archers every time, then the archers won't feel so OP anymore.
The Japanese didn't use shields and their armor was worse. Their armor was most comparable to European Brigandine, which wasn't bad but the same guys that proved arrows wouldn't go through plate will go through Brigandine.

I also don't think it is so much about the archers being overpowered as it is that armor is basically useless. I don't think anyone is complaining that unarmored mobs get demolished by archers but that even troops with armor get demolished as if they didn't have any armor.
 
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The Japanese didn't use shields and their armor was worse.
They did use shields all the way up to 1600, they just aren't depicted very often, or were a fixture of the armour itself (something you see in other armoured horse archers in central asia). Also the armour the Japanese wore in the period kweassa is describing was basically analogous to late 1300s plate, and no arrow was ever going to penetrate it except for some weak points around the neck and arms on some lower ranking soldiers. What caused the high casualties was most likely the fact that late medieval japanese armies were something like 40% archers.
 

kweassa

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The Japanese didn't use shields and their armor was worse. Their armor was most comparable to European Brigandine, which wasn't bad but the same guys that proved arrows wouldn't go through plate will go through Brigandine.
Like Kentucky mentioned above, it is within reasonable limits of comparison precisely for that reason -- the typical armor, and soldiers/troop types in the game aren't exactly late-Medieval/Renaissance level either. Lore-wise, the Bannerlord armies can be compared to anywhere around 6th - 10th century, Europe, before the arrival of transitional armor and abundance of use of plating or super-high grade mail.

It'd be fallacious to compare the armor levels of a 16th century Japanese army with that of a 16th century European army, but it is reasonable to compare them with the game. IMO.

Also, while the use of common shields were not as common, the Japanese did make extensive use of substitutes, ranging anywhere between bamboo stalk shielding (taketaba), pavise installations, and even battlefield engineering. The increase in overall ratio of those killed/wounded by ranged fire was despite the existing methods of defense.


I also don't think it is so much about the archers being overpowered as it is that armor is basically useless. I don't think anyone is complaining that unarmored mobs get demolished by archers but that even troops with armor get demolished as if they didn't have any armor.
That is a reasonable assumption, IMO. Armor certainly plays a part of it. However, as said above, the armor does work in game to very greatly reducing the damage over distance. And the probability of being hit from such a distance is also very low.

I'm not certain if Bannerlord's distance markers are in meters (feels like further than meters, tbh...) but the odds of being hit squarely outside of 100 is very low, especially if you're a part of a group. Even if it hits, the damage is typically reduced down to 30 or lower. It's when the player steps in within 50 distances that the incoming fire is very noticeable, and devastating -- and often, when the player is decisively wounded, it is well within the distance where arrows did have a chance to fatally penetrate armor in real life.
 

matmohair1

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They did use shields all the way up to 1600, they just aren't depicted very often, or were a fixture of the armour itself (something you see in other armoured horse archers in central asia). Also the armour the Japanese wore in the period kweassa is describing was basically analogous to late 1300s plate, and no arrow was ever going to penetrate it except for some weak points around the neck and arms on some lower ranking soldiers. What caused the high casualties was most likely the fact that late medieval japanese armies were something like 40% archers.
:wink:











 
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