War Talk – Artillery

Alright Variants, let us get into the holiday season with a bang. Today, we are talking about the king of the battlefield as Napoleon called it, artillery. From the catapults, ballista, and trebuchets of antiquity and the Middle Ages to the modern cannons and howitzers, the role of artillery has changed very little over the centuries, providing high-powered support fire to areas of the battlefield were needed. I also have an interesting insight, so make sure to read all the way to the bottom.

The siege engines mentioned above, catapults, and ballistae date back to antiquity and filled a direct or indirect fire support role in ancient armies. They could fire either large rocks or in the case of some ballista, large bolts, similar to that of a crossbow. These engines would be used to disrupt formations or target backline forces while armies moved towards each other. They were also used to reduce fortifications, and this is where the last of these artillery pieces came in – the trebuchet. These massive machines used a counter-weight system to hurl massive projectiles, sometimes 90 kilograms, to a distance of over 300 meters! These machines brought castles and fortresses to their hypothetical knees, but not as much as the next evolution of artillery – the cannon. Cannons entered mainstream use in the mid-13th and 14th centuries, most notably allowing the breaching of the walls of Constantinople in 1463. As warfare moved into the early modern period, cannons became the main type of artillery used worldwide. Many types were used, from bombards to blast apart fortifications to culverins to decimate tightly packed infantry formations. These lead to the development of indirect fire weapons like howitzers and thus the conception of modern artillery.

So fun history lesson over; how does this apply to your TTRGP game? Well, any of these machines can be used, with the catapult, ballista, and trebuchet fitting nicely into the stereotypical fantasy world. If you, like me, enjoy including firearms in your game, cannons can add some explosive impact to a battlefield. Any siege or mass combat in your setting will probably feature a least one of these weapons, and I would suggest several. For, you know, impact.

Here is my TTRPG hot take for the week. I cannot think of a single spell from Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition that functions in an artillery role. Most spells require line of sight, and cannot be used for indirect fire. I think maybe the closest you could get is throwing a radial spell around a corner to hit someone you cannot directly see. But where are my big over-the-hill fireballs? Where is the magical artillery? Even the Artillerist, a 5e subclass, needs line of sight for their cannon! And while I am sure this is for game balance reasons, I want magic artillery!

Help me out Variants! Tell me if you use a modified spell for artillery support. Tell me in the comments about special magic items you may have that fill this role!

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