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Update to version 3. Bullets are safe, plus an explanation of the projectiles flaw. In version 2, a monster weapon and Arrows of Slaying fix, plus an optional component. My thanks to @Jarno Mikkola for information on patching damage.

Now that it's March, it can be in the name of this module.

1. Summary
2. Compatibility
3. Widths, speeds and monster spits
4. Spell arrows
5. Bushwacking
6. Optional: ammo recovery

1. Summary. This mod changes arrows, crossbow bolts, sling bullets, throwing daggers, throwing axes and darts (and, in a separate article, beholder rays; if you are installing for an Enhanced Edition, acid spit as well) in such a way that they hit creatures on their way instead of following and stopping at one target. An arrow will pierce everyone directly in its path and continue off-screen to the limit of the area, and it's like this with the rest of missiles. All of them pave a narrow corridor of damage. Attack rolls still matter, but positioning matters just as much or more. Characters have to actively spread around and run in zigzag to avoid being hit either by missiles aimed at them, at somebody else whirring by or, quite possibly, friendly fire. They also need to consider at which angles to shoot so that they don't end up killing a friend on the way or behind the target.

I increased missiles' speed greatly, and now stepping out of the way of a slowly advancing dart or axe is not a realistic option - before there was, of course, no point, since everything was decided by the THAC0 roll. Now a "Miss" is nearly always a miss even if the target is standing still, and a "Hit" can be avoided if the character or monster gets out of the missile's path, but this needs to be done preemptively. A character trying to avoid the fastest missiles - arrows, bolts and bullets - can do that only if he dedicates his time to going in zigzags.

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The angle of fire is also important because shooting at right or broad angles to the target's course is hopeless. Shooters in these games can't anticipate where their targets will be and always fire at them where they are at the moment. If the target moves sideways, they will miss. These Blacktalons are in a desperate position for hitting Xan. The higher guard has a bit more of a chance of nailing him.

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On the other hand, in a place like this...

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This is the gist of the mod: putting real action in the action. On the whole, everyone will miss much more often, even when it seems to be a clear and sure shot, but creatures can be hurt much more effectively by firing into crowds, and smart shooters may be able to get several targets with one shot. Nothing in a fight with ranged weapons is as before: there is no standing and waiting for attack rolls in the bottom window to float up and resolve the situation by simple THAC0 vs. AC. Good Armor Class still matters. On this screen my character was magically protected all the way down, so he risks very little even walking in this storm of Arrows of Ice.

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I also patched different types of missiles to have different properties, made some other changes, and thieves have a new special ability - Bushwacking. More about all that below.

2. Compatibility 

I tried to make the mod compatible with both "classic" and EE games. The changes to most missiles, like the ones described above and beholder rays, are acceptable for the old engine. EE users will get more changed missiles, namely acid blobs, which had to be made safe (to the monsters themselves) with some advanced effects, so these will not be installed. EE folks will also get the Bushwacking ability for thieves.

3. Widths, speeds and monster spits

All of the weapon missiles fall into three categories: 1) arrows, bolts and bullets: the fastest but have a narrow "corridor of pain," continue to the limit of the area; 2) darts: quite fast, with the most narrow corridor, which means they are usually effective only against stationary creatures, and they disappear a certain distance away from the thrower or when they hit the first target (this offsets the vast advantages of weapons like Darts of Wounding, Stunning etc.); 3) axes and daggers, slower but with quite wide corridors, especially axes, and likewise disappearing.

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Acid blobs, if they are changed, are even wider than axes and have the same speed and properties. All of these disappearing missiles - axes, daggers, darts and blobs - should be used at closer range now. From far away it is easy for creatures to shake them off by moving a short ways, which makes the missiles disappear. They are completely deadly at close range, however, if targets are not scattering frantically. (Even so, there will be more misses than before all around.) The best way to appreciate weapons' changed behavior is to buy some cheap ones and practice on stationary and moving targets, noticing distance and corridor width.

Beholder rays are wider than everything and do not vanish on hitting or with distance but cut everything in front of them like scissors. I suggest surrounding beholders.

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There are a few thrown weapons in the games that return to the hand. These weren't made to hit in a path, because obviously they can't fly on if they are back. They now use custom projectiles identical to the original ones. Although they use the old attack system, their speed was still increased, and they still disappear at or before the end of the visual range, like the rest of throwing axes, knives and darts. They should also be used closer. Missiles that explode on hit were made to fly faster but not changed otherwise.

4. Spell arrows. The arrows for Melf's Acid Arrow and Flame Arrow (etc) now also harm everything on their way. Hitting with them is no longer guaranteed, just as with real arrows, but you may be able to get more creatures with one shot.

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Sometimes you may hit a second person but not the first:

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And remember that arrows, bolts and bullets continue all through the area until they hit a wall. If they hit someone else out there first, well...

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While testing on farmer Brun's field and firing at party members and monsters, I shot Chickens, Cats, Cows, Thalantyr the Conjurer, whom I had typed in from the console to buy from the store and forgotten, and Ajantis far off screen. Think thrice before you start a shootout anywhere in a town, and at least try to aim in the direction nobody is walking strollers. Even in a forest, though, wildlife and druids will fall. That's life, and if it were safe, it would be boring.

5. Bushwacking

Also known as the money shot in the biz, this special ability becomes available to thieves of all stripes at 3rd level. With it the thief calls upon some modest, unassuming, wallflower-type friends who accompany him everywhere. If you think you are completely alone in the Outer Planes or on another planet, well, the thief isn't. These groupies will fire an arrow from the sides at the chosen target and normally hit - Armor Class is not a factor here, though misses are still possible, as always with this mod. Putting a regular arrow in someone's back will cost the party 20 gold. Starting at the 13th level, if the target is under Protection from Normal Weapons or from Normal Missiles, the little helper will charge 100 gold and fire an arrow +1. Arrows do 1d6 + 4 (+1) damage if they hit. The thief calls upon more of these characters with levels, and all need to be paid. He can use this ability any number of times in a day, so long as he has the gold.

I won't put in any screenshots here, but remember that you don't know from which direction the arrow will come and who it will hit before and after. Discretion is advised.

6. Optional: Ammo recovery

If you install the main component, you can also install ammo recovery for path missiles. 20% of the time arrows, bolts etc. will be recovered a couple of turns after they are used, appearing one by one in the backpack - and possibly filling it quickly (they refuse to stack, which is why this is optional). If you don't install the main component, you can install ammo recovery by itself, for traditional, single-target missiles. In this version missiles will be found on corpses of enemies they hit, 20% of the time. Neither version requires the Enhanced Edition.

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Edited by temnix
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Now putting up version 2. It has a fairly important fix for ankheg spit weapons, makes it so that Arrows of Slaying (all kinds you may have, including custom ones for different creatures) are single-target and includes a new optional component - Ammo Recovery. This can be installed independently of the main component of this mod, keeping missiles as they always were, except that now hitting someone with any missile that uses one of the standard projectiles lets you recover the missile from the corpse afterwards 20% of the time. You have to score a hit for this to happen. If you do install the main conversion of March Arrows, you will get to install a different version of Ammo Recovery, where the shooting character will automatically receive the missile back in his inventory a couple of turns after letting it loose, 20% of the time. This represents going out to look for arrows and bolts that flew out of sight and salvaging usable thrown axes, darts etc. Here it doesn't matter whether you have hit anyone, it's the fact of shooting that matters. Arrows of Slaying and explosive ammunition are exempt in both versions - they are never found. The reason this is an optional component is because missiles don't stack when they appear one by one in the inventory. They will be popping up gradually in one-arrow installments and filling the backpack, especially in the second version of this component. That, I imagine, can get annoying, so see for yourself if you want this.

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This is as much a rumination as an update.  Arrows, bullets and bolts in the first iteration didn't work perfectly, and still don't. Their paths are narrow, and much of the success of running around to dodge them has to do with the engine not registering projectile hits. There are a couple of particular angles shots from which the engine simply refuses to acknowledge. The only way to fix this would be to grossly increase the path width for every direction, but any wider than now, and these missiles will begin to hit people just standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, as flying axes already do. It's believable for axes, for arrows and bolts, not so much. I had to be satisfied with the current width. This is a bug, but you can try to role-play it with your archers, and there is learning to be done, which is always good. For years in these games the learning curve for anything has been flat like champagne from 1998, and modders jump on the camel's hump with both boots to make sure your brain rots in this fantasy world from nothing to know. But a big portion of a game's appeal can come from mastering even its flaws - if anyone remembers that fact from the old days...

Now, if you see that a sure shot, most often at an oblique angle, passes over someone's head, approach: the attack should succeed at closer range. There are a couple of these unlucky angles to watch out for especially. The cure is to come closer. The same goes for using Melf's Acid Arrows and Flame Arrows - step up for a better chance. The most frequent bad angle to target will be this:

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Aside from this consideration, there is a change in the update. Arrows and bolts are still "dangerous" missiles in that they will continue to the limits of the area in the direction of the shot. This property can bring trouble, but it's too good to lose. If you want safe but fast missiles, use bullets. They now stop at their intended target, hitting those on the way as well but not going beyond.

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