These are just some of the thoughts I've had about Ranged Combat as a whole. I think some of them may come off as unpopular, especially by folks that want to play Solo Archer Types (and especially those who want to specialize in bows, because of the general "fantasy archetype" of a ranger/ranged fighter).
- Ranged Combat Shouldn't Have A Specialist Class
This is the suggestion/thought that I imagine will be most unpopular. People really, REALLY like to play ranged damage dealers, and I can understand why - it's cool, it's safer, and it's satisfying to walk away from a fight having dropped someone with a couple of well placed shots. However, I don't think it should be the wheelhouse or specialty of a single class. I actually think there's a case to be made (see Ranged Combat Abilities later in post) that every
warrior class should have abilities that help out with ranged combat in ways that are in line with their fighting styles.
Ranged combat is something that's super tricky to balance (if Staying Away And Killing Your enemy ends up being a speciality, how do you do that in a meaningful way without nullifying melee warriors?), as well as something that doesn't really make sense as a primary means of open combat given that our PCs aren't really fighting on massive battlefields, and are instead engaging with other entities at what would generally be considered "close quarters". Longbows are traditionally used for distance, and for taking down big game, and there just isn't enough reasonable distance in a given room for longbows to ever be necessary in that regard.
- Ranged Damage As Openers & Support
So, without a dedicated combat class, I believe that conceptually Ranged Combat should serve two primary purposes. That of an Opener (not unlike melee stealth) to start off combat until distance is closed, or to act as Support for group combat. The former still rewards anyone willing to invest abilities and skill points in ranged (assuring better outcomes from their opening volley(s), and the latter necessitates multiple people, pushing ranged specialists towards cooperative play in order to maintain distance while relying primarily on ranged combat.
As for ranged combat abilities, I believe that there should be one or two General Ranged Abilities for Warriors (and maybe Rangers, and possibly Warlocks), with further specialized abilities based off of the specific class - sort of the way Tactical Dodge works.
I'd also probably have 1 or 2 abilities per class of the Warriors guild that further enhance ranged combat for them, which is what would allow ranged specialists to shine in terms of an opening volley, or to act as an expert support attacker from behind a guard.
- Bows Vs Slings Vs Crossbows vs Firearms
I can't really comment on Firearms specifically yet since they aren't released for PCs, but I do think that slings are a little too strong, and probably deserve something special tied in to them ala the Affinity system. I think sling damage could use a slight downgrade, but proficiency with slings specifically (through affinity, higher skill, and maybe even a combat ability or two) should be able to pack a bigger punch compared to shortbows, flatbows, and longbows. Historically, one of the only reasons slings fell out of fashion is because they require more skill to use competently, compared to a bow (and then a crossbow). But a skilled user that specializes in slings should probably be terrifying. Other than that, I think that something similar should be the case for Bows, Crossbows, and Firearms. I think Firearms should generally not have much damage change from skilled vs unskilled use, crossbows should be tweaked down a teeny bit, with a slightly higher damage cap with a skilled specialist, and all 3 bows should be a step between Crossbows and Slings in that regard as well.