Rate of Fire


The Holmes Basic D&D rulebook’s SECOND EXAMPLE (p21) features several volleys of bow fire against six giant spiders as they close to combat. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear precisely how this bow fire and movement fit together into combat rounds.

In a previous post, I explored movement rates. In this post, I will look at the rate of bow fire.

To begin, we might wonder where Holmes drew his ROF rules from in the first place. CHAINMAIL is the obvious place to start, but could there be other sources in the mix?


Holmes was possibly influenced by the Warlock rules; an early D&D variant he was known to play[1]https://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2012/02/warlock-or-how-to-play-d-without.html.

Warlock has one-minute turns for both dungeon exploration and combat, whereas Holmes retains (more or less) the classic D&D dichotomy between ten-minute dungeon exploration turns and one-minute combat turns.

Warlock’s one-minute combat turn is divided into six 10-second phases, whereas Holmes’ combat turn comprises ten 10-second rounds (so each combat turn is 100 seconds in Holmes—assuming all ten rounds are required).

Each Warlock phase is executed in three parts: movement, then magic «in order of dexterity of the magic-user from high to low» and missiles, and melee, in that order. The Complete Warlock would (later) specify that «Since the precise order in which spells and archery are fired often makes a difference in battle»[2]The Complete Warlock, p5. spells and missiles collectively occur in 2d6 + dexterity order, with missile flight time to impact tracked (arrows flying 3″ per pip of initiative)!

As to the rate of fire, a single missile can be loosed per Warlock phase which would be analogous to one missile fired per round in Holmes. This doesn’t quite align with ROF appearing in the Holmes ms, or in the published version.


We know Holmes was aware of CHAINMAIL because he refers to it explicitly in the catapult rules for Giants (p26). It’s unsurprising then that and his rendering of the combat seems, in parts, to echo those earlier rules (e.g., missiles rates of fire, the appearance of the parry rule, and more). 

Regarding missile fire, the CHAINMAIL mass battle rules have:[3]CHAINMAIL 2nd Ed pp8-9 (also CHAINMAIL 3rd Ed pp11-12).

  • If crossbowmen, archers, longbowmen are moved up to one-half of their normal movement they may fire once. If they are moved over one-half of their normal movement they may fire once only if they beat their opponent’s die.
  • If archers or longbowmen do not move and are not meleed at the end of a turn they may fire twice.
  • Heavy crossbowmen may move up to one-half of their normal movement and reload or fire. If they move over one-half of their normal movement they must beat their opponent’s die to fire, but no reloading is allowed. Heavy crossbows add one to their missile fire die (+1 on a d6 being a substantial advantage).

The two shots allowed for bows in the Holmes ms (assuming they are counted among “ordinary weapons”)[4]http://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/part-16-exchange-of-two-blows-with.html and the distinct ROFs for crossbow and heavy crossbows echo the above ROFs from CHAINMAIL rather neatly. However, under closer scrutiny, Holmes is considerably more generous insofar as ordinary missile weapons (including bows) can fire twice without CHAINMAIL’s movement restrictions or dicing.

By the 3rd Edition of CHAINMAIL (1975) the M2M rules for individual missile fire include «Individual targets are selected, the mid-point of the move used for range determination, dice rolled, and casualties extracted».

It is notable that missile fire in the Holmes SECOND EXAMPLE takes place at 50 ft. This is a seemingly curious range except that it is exactly the mid-point of the 100 ft distance, as CHAINMAIL suggests.

Regardless of how the 50 ft firing range was determined, it is reckoned as medium-range, despite 0-70 ft being short-range for longbows[5]Missile range table, Holmes p20..


Warriors of Mars (by Gygax and Blume) was a TSR game published in mid-1975 that includes echoes of both CHAINMAIL and D&D. It was pulled from circulation almost as soon as it appeared, so it is uncertain whether Holmes was ever aware of it.

Warriors of Mars contains detailed 1:1 scale combat rules for men and monsters that OD&D largely lacks. For individual missile fire, it allows players to fire in a number of ways[6]Warriors of Mars, pp16-17.:

  1. Fire and move
  2. Move and fire
  3. Fire and fire

This echoes CHAINMAIL insofar as figures who do not move may fire twice. Moreover, Warriors of Mars has: «Pass-through fire is taken at the half-way point of the target's movement, prior to all other fire and before movement is completed»[7]Warriors of Mars, p12. which again echoes CHAINMAIL almost exactly.

Regardless of what Holmes knew, Gygax must have been aware of the general principles of individual missile fire he had himself co-authored in both CHAINMAIL and TSR’s Martian rules, and presumably played at the table.


We don’t actually know the movement rate of Holmes’ original spiders as no game stats were printed for them. Gygax changed them to Large Spiders in his edit and included game stats for these from the 2nd print. It’s plausible that Holmes used M&T’s Large Insects [8]Large Insects: Monsters & Treasure, p20. which match the armor class and hit dice given in the example text perfectly (AC 8 and 1 HD) but provide no movement rate.

Regardless of their movement rate, the spider achieves melee contact from 100 ft distance while the players throw a sleep spell and fire two volleys of missiles. How does this fit together?


The spider closes the 100 ft distance in a single round.

What evidence is there to support this conjecture?

Principally, the first melee round is explicitly declared over after the spider movement, a sleep spell, two volleys of missiles, and one exchange of melee blows.

If the first melee round includes only the exchange of melee blows, then the preceding spider movement, sleep spell and missile fire all occurred in an unaccounted period prior to melee contact. From a CHAINMAIL perspective, it would be perfectly natural to execute movement, then missiles (including spells), then melee, all within one turn. The movement and missile segments of the turn precede the melee segment of the turn in the CHAINMAIL turn sequence.

The foil to this case, however, is that CHAINMAIL does not allow a longbowman meleed at the end of the move segment a second shot. This rule is common to CHAINMAIL and Warriors of Mars. Although it’s plausible Homes didn’t know this particular rule, Gygax would presumably have been aware of it. That said, it’s always possible he or overlooked it, or hand-waved it, or intentionally omitted it for D&D. 

It is evident that Holmes intended two blows per round for each combatant with ordinary weapons[9]http://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/part-16-exchange-of-two-blows-with.html. As crossbows are detailed as exceptions to this generalisation, we might assume bows are included in ordinary weapons. That two volleys are fired by the longbowmen in the example appears to support this premise.

When Gygax edited p20 he changed it to one blow per round for each combatant with ordinary weapons. He did not, however, remove the second volley of longbow fire from the example. This potentially means the second volley of bow fire in the example is incongruous with the published ROF rule.

Of course, the ms may have been in error and indirectly corrected when Gygax made his edit, but the ROF at least appeared to be consistent with allowable blows per round in the original ms, and then appears inconsistent in the published version.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands

The 1st print of B2 contains useful guidance written by Gygax in 1980 and useful examples of Holmes “in action”. It includes a number of missile-armed figures, but nothing to suggest that Gygax intended bows to have two shots per round. While it is explicit that heavy crossbowmen have «#AT ¼» it never states that bowmen fire twice.

Area 2 of the Keep (p8) has four heavy crossbowmen with «#AT ¼ with heavy crossbow» as well as eight bowmen with «#AT 1» whose ROF is not otherwise mentioned. Possibly, this may be because most bowmen also carry melee weapons, because a second shot with bows is circumstantial, or because it was intentionally omitted.

Conspicuously, area 4 (p15) has «very large kobold guards with chainmail and bows to fire down the passage» but their rate of fire is not mentioned, and their statistics include «#AT 1». Possibly the latter refers to the axes they carry, although these are only mentioned last after discussion of missile fire adjustments. This seems a necessary place to mention ROF if it were anything other than 1.

The only mention of two shots per round appears to be area 1 (p14) which has kobold guards with «2 attacks on the first round as they have javelins to hurl». It is unclear whether this implies two missile attacks or one missile attack followed by a melee attack in the same round.

The latter interpretation might be supported by the very large orc in area 16 (p16) who has: «a magic +1 axe which he will hurl at an opponent, and he can do so and still attack normally in the same round of combat». It’s unclear whether this is a property of the magic axe or is a general rule. However, it is similar in form to the CM rule for throwing axes and spears (CM2 p9) and additionally, javelins (CM3 p12) which states: «they may always fire at enemy troops charging them». This could also explain the 2 attacks in area 1 (above).


Concerning the first paragraph of the SECOND EXAMPLE, it seems plausible that:

  1. Whatever their precise movement speed, the spiders had sufficient move to cover the 100 ft encounter distance in a single turn. This is at odds with the movement rates given per melee round (Holmes p20).
  2. The spider movement, the sleep spell, and the two volleys of arrows fired all occur prior to–or as an assumed part of–the first melee round. This all appears to be practical within a single turn of the CHAINMAIL turn sequence. That the sleep spell goes off first may be an echo of Warlock (prior to The Complete Warock which would have spell and missile fire intermixed according to 2d6 + dexterity).
  3. Missile fire (and presumably the sleep spell too, although this is not explicit) is taken at 50 ft range, which is the mid-point of the 100 ft move. This is neatly per the pass-through fire rule in CHAINMAIL (and also in Warriors of Mars).
  4. The Holmes ms was arguably in error (per CHAINMAIL) for allowing the longbowmen a second volley despite being meleed by the end of the move segment. Perhaps Holmes was unaware of this rule, or perhaps he allowed the archers two shots simply because–in his ms–everyone had two blows each round with ordinary weapons and the longbow was counted among these.
  5. Gygax did not edit out the second volley even though it was both incongruous with the CM rules and inconsistent with his edit from two blows to one blow per round.
  6. Keep on the Borderlands (1st print) doesn’t offer any support for bows having a ROF of 2 shots per round. Rather, it strongly implies that bows have a ROF of 1. This again leaves us wondering whether Gygax overlooked the second volley of bow fire when he edited Holmes’ SECOND EXAMPLE.


1 https://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2012/02/warlock-or-how-to-play-d-without.html
2 The Complete Warlock, p5.
3 CHAINMAIL 2nd Ed pp8-9 (also CHAINMAIL 3rd Ed pp11-12).
4, 9 http://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/part-16-exchange-of-two-blows-with.html
5 Missile range table, Holmes p20.
6 Warriors of Mars, pp16-17.
7 Warriors of Mars, p12.
8 Large Insects: Monsters & Treasure, p20.