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A longbow, also written long bow, is a ranged weapon which fires projectiles known as arrows. It is distinguished from the shortbow by its increased length, which allows an archer to impart greater energy into its pull, making it more lethal.

Design and construction[]

The longbow is a relatively easy weapon to construct.[1] A person who crafts bows and arrows is known as a bowyer, or a fletcher.[2]

Bows are crafted from tree branches, which must be of the correct length and shape to be ideal.[2] The wood is bent into a curve, and held in that shape with a taut string, from which the arrows are launched.[3] This varies from the composite bow, which is constructed using additional materials such as bone or horn, and remains curved even when the string is removed.

A trained bowyer might craft a bow in a single day, although finding the perfect piece of wood in a forest may take several days.[2] It is typical for the construction process to take as much as one week, or two weeks for the more advanced composite bow.[4]

A well-built longbow will last for many years of typical use. A poorly-crafted longbow may break unexpectedly when used.[4]

A longbow typically weighs around 2 lbs. A quiver used to hold arrows also weighs around 1 lb and can hold twenty arrows, which also weigh around 1 lb.[5]


In open terrain, the longbow's maximum effective range is estimated to be somewhere between 600 and 630 feet. It is most effective within ranges of 150 feet. In underground terrain, owing to low ceilings and poor lighting, shots further than 210 feet are difficult to make.[5][6] The drow, native to the subterranean Underdark, prefer the short-range hand crossbow.

Effective use of the longbow requires training. Due to its size, a longbow is difficult for a person to wield if they are below five feet in height.[7]

Cultural significance[]

The longbow is of particular importance to elves. High elves and wood elves are routinely trained in proficiency with the weapon.[8]

The longbow is the favored weapon of several deities, including Uller of the Norse pantheon and Elhonna of Greyhawk.

The Order of the Bow, a religious group who practice the Way of the Bow, consider the weapon to form part of a deeply spiritual philosophy.[9]

Spells have been created specifically for use with the longbow. The spell swift quiver, known to rangers and paladins, allows for the creation of unlimited magical ammunition.

The longbow is widely used in field warfare, where it is valued for its long range. A trained longbowman can expect to earn twice as much as a shortbow archer. They are challenging to recruit.[10]

Notable longbows[]

Related weapons[]

The composite longbow is a version of the longbow made from laminated horn, wood, or bone. They are built with a recurve, remaining curved even when not strung. The primary benefit of these weapons is that they can be used effectively when mounted, and can be built with an exceptionally heavy pull to allow strong archers to use.[11]

The shortbow is a smaller bow, and is more readily used from horseback.

The greatbow is an even larger version of the longbow. It is six feet or more in length when strung, making it longer than many wielders.[12]

Publication history[]

Original D&D[]

The "Long Bow" appeared in the original D&D Men & Magic (1974), p.14. Prices are given for the Long Bow, for a quiver of 20 arrows, for 20 arrows themselves, and for enchanting 20 arrows. The "Short Bow" and "Composite Bow" also appeared in this book.

Basic D&D[]

The Long Bow appears throughout the Basic D&D product line, including the Basic Set (Holmes) (1977), Basic Set (B/X) (1981), Basic Rules (BECMI) (1983), and the Rules Cyclopedia (1991).

AD&D 1st edition[]

The long bow and composite long bow appeared in the Players Handbook (1e) (1978).

AD&D 2nd edition[]

The long bow and composite long bow appeared in the Player's Handbook (2e) (1989) and Player's Handbook (2e revised) (1995).

D&D 3rd edition[]

The longbow and composite longbow appeared in the Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000) and Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003). It is a popular ranged weapon due to its good damage (1d8) and fast reload time compared to the crossbow.

D&D 4th edition[]

The longbow appeared in the Player's Handbook (4e) (2008), where it is depicted on page 217. It is popular as it deals 1d10 damage and can load as a free action, unlike the crossbow. The composite longbow did not appear in this book.

D&D 5th edition[]

The longbow and composite longbow appeared in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014).

Creative origins[]

The longbow is a weapon used by humans throughout history for warfare and hunting.

The oldest known real-world longbow dates back to around 3,300 BC, where an unfinished yew bow was found with the preserved mummy of a neolithic human nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman, discovered in the Alps in 1991. This bow was around 182cm or six feet long.[13]

Reception and influence[]

In 2019, former TSR editor Tim Kask argued that a dwarf should not be able to use a longbow, due to the dwarf's short height. A rule to this is reflected in the Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.19, which forbids characters of below 5 feet in height from using the longbow, even if their character class is normally proficient.


  1. Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.71.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995), p.96.
  3. Rules Cyclopedia (1991), p.64.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Player's Handbook (2e revised) (1995), p.80.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.149-150.
  6. Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.39.
  7. Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.19.
  8. Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.23-24.
  9. Sword and Fist (2001), p.32.
  10. Dungeon Master Guide (2e revised) (1995), p.147-149.
  11. Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.119-120.
  12. Complete Warrior (2003), p.156.
  13. Ötzi’s cord is world’s oldest bowstring, The History Blog, 2019.