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) Crossbow.png
Name crossbow
Appearance crossbow
Damage vs. small 1d2
Damage vs. large 1d2
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill crossbow
Size one-handed
Base price 40 zm
Weight 50
Material wood

A crossbow is a type of launcher that appears in NetHack. It is designed for crossbow bolts, and should be wielded prior to throwing or firing them from your quiver, similar to a bow and arrows. Enchanting a crossbow only increases its to-hit rate, not its damage. Crossbows are made of wood.


All Gnomish Rangers start the game with a +1 crossbow and stacks of +0 and +2 crossbow bolts, rather than a bow and arrows;[1][2] crossbows and crossbow bolts are considered racial equipment for gnomes, though gnomish Rangers are the only case where this substitution applies.[3]

A humanoid monster with a weapon attack, the ability to wield weapons and no other ruleset governing its monster starting inventory has a chance of generating with a crossbow and a set of bolts, unless they are being generated on the Rogue level: the base odds are 114 for normal monsters, 112 for a monster that is a lord or nasty, 110 for a monster that is an overlord or both a lord and nasty, and 18 for a monster that is both nasty and an overlord.[4]

Plains centaurs and mountain centaurs have a 12 chance of generating with a crossbow and 3–14 bolts.[5]

Crossbow skill

Max Role

The crossbow is the only launcher to use crossbow skill, and crossbow bolts are the only ammo to use this launcher. There are no artifact crossbows.


Crossbows always fire at their maximum range of 8 squares, rather than basing their range on strength as other missile weapons do. Instead, crossbows apply a multishot penalty if their user is below a certain strength threshold: gnomes must have at least 16 strength to obtain full multishot bonuses, while other races require 18 strength. Gnomes other than Healers and Wizards also gain a +1 multishot racial bonus when firing bolts from a crossbow.


High-strength characters lacking a ranged weapon may choose to retrieve a crossbow from the Gnomish Mines; ammo for the crossbow is somewhat scarce compared to arrows, which are much more commonplace due to the various arrow types and arrow traps. As with most launchers, you should enchant the bolts themselves (rather than the crossbow) in order to increase their damage; crossbow enchantment only affects their to-hit rate.

Monks looking to maintain weaponless conduct may elect to carry a crossbow and bolts on hand; Rogues can also get Expert in crossbow, making them an option for their long-term ranged weapon.

Gnomish Rangers may get additional crossbow bolts in the early game from gnomes, but may want to let a pet do the killing to avoid alignment record penalties. The centaurs in the Ranger quest provide a plentiful source during the midgame, but attack wands may be a problem without reflection or the relevant resistances. Their quest artifact, The Longbow of Diana, uses a different skill and ammunition that is incompatible with crossbows; a gnomish Ranger may prefer to keep their crossbow and a large stack of enchanted crossbow bolts as their primary ranged attack, and carry the Longbow only for the extrinsic telepathy.


Crossbows and their ammo first appear in Hack 1.21 and Hack for PDP-11, which are based on Jay Fenlason's Hack, and is included in the initial weapon list for Hack 1.0. Their special behaviors with regards to range and multishot are introduced in NetHack 3.6.0.



In SLASH'EM, crossbows are two-handed weapons. SLASH'EM also introduces an artifact crossbow, Hellfire, that is chaotic-aligned and provides fire resistance when wielded; bolts fired from it that hit monsters create a fiery explosion in a 3x3 square centered on that monster.

Undead Slayers have a chance of starting the game with a crossbow and bolts.


In GruntHack, crossbows now fire a set range regardless of strength, and require high strength to fire multiple shots.


dNetHack and notdNetHack add the droven crossbow as a weapon that uses the crossbow skill.

All gnomish characters in roles that start with a bow and arrows are given a crossbow and bolts, and all gnomes get an extra die of weapon damage when firing bolts from crossbows - they can also reach Expert skill in crossbow.

Astaroth is a spirit that grants skill in crossbows while bound.

Each shot from a crossbow applies a 3x damage bonus based on current skill level: -5 at Restricted, -2 at Unskilled, +0 at Basic, +2 at Skilled and +5 at Expert. Higher skill levels also apply damage increases for each fired bolt instead of multishot:

  • Basic or lower: 1x(bolt+enchantment) damage
  • Skilled: 2x(bolt+enchantment) damage
  • Expert: 3x(bolt+enchantment) damage

The extra damage is precision-based and does not apply against monsters that are amorphous or stationary, or ones that are incorporeal (as they are assumed to lack discernible weak-points).

There are three artifact crossbows:

NetHack Fourk

In NetHack Fourk, gnomes have increased skill caps for crossbows.


In SpliceHack, merfolk characters in roles that would start the game with a bow and arrows receive a crossbow and bolts instead.


In EvilHack, Monks no longer have the crossbow skill available; centaurs gain a +1 multishot bonus when using crossbows. This means that centaur Monks can still fire 2 crossbow bolts per shot despite the skill being restricted.

Gnomish Rangers have their quest artifact changed to The Crossbow of Carl, which is an artifact crossbow that mirrors The Longbow of Diana given to other Rangers. This allows them to preserve their multishot bonuses while also giving access to an unlimited source of crossbow bolts.


In SlashTHEM, in addition to SLASH'EM details, Warriors start each game with a +1 crossbow and a stack of +0 crossbow bolts; Undead Slayers now have a 12 chance of start with a crossbow and some bolts. All player gnomes are capable of reaching skilled in crossbows.

Player monster undead slayers and gnomish non-Cavemen are likely to generate with a crossbow and some bolts.

Encyclopaedia entry

"God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! -
Why look'st thou so?" - With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.

[ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor
           Coleridge ]