Automatic Crossbows

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Because a regular bow really wouldn't be cool enough.

Automatic Crossbows are crossbows that allow the user to shoot several times before having to reload, just like guns do. Many works of fiction are set in a time period when firearms are not available, and crossbows are the nearest equivalent. This is especially true in the fantasy genre, where Fantasy Gun Control is the default. However, crossbows tend to take a long time to reload, which can be frustrating for people used to the rapid action of modern gunfights. Sometimes in a work the urge to use some Guns and Gunplay Tropes is just too powerful. So the obvious solution to this dilemma is to give crossbows the ability to shoot an entire magazine of ammunition without having to reload. Not only they add instant awesome, but they allow having More Dakka.

There are several ways this might be accomplished. The most realistic options use mechanical means to produce repeating bows that are similar to Real Life historical examples. Others might use Schizo-Tech or magic to accomplish this purposes. If it is the latter, the use of magically justified Bottomless Magazines might make the Automatic Crossbow even more powerful.

Compare with Multishot when one gets similar results with a regular bow.

Examples of Automatic Crossbows include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Knight Gundam/Lacroa version of Gundam Heavyarms weilds a bizarre weapons that's a combination of his traditional Gat' & a crossbow.
  • In Berserk, Guts's primary ranged weapon is a repeating crossbow. His other ranged weapon is a steampunk gunpowder cannon built into the replacement for his left arm.
  • Pajiramon of Digimon Tamers. When one arrow is fired, the next immediately slides into place. It's only seen to hold three, but anytime it's offscreen for an instant, it's fully reloaded when we see it again.
  • In Fist of the North Star the apocalypse seems to have wiped out all the bullets but few of the guns, so the guns have naturally been retooled to shoot pointed sticks.
  • A character in Afro Samurai has one of these. It also comes with an underslung grenade launcher. And the arrows are poisoned.
  • A character in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust fires quarrels at a rate of roughly seven billion per second out of a hand-loaded crossbow. No explanation is offered as to how.
    • Most of that family were not normal humans. In the book, they're even worse, especially what they do with their sister.

Comic Books

  • In one issue of The Mask, The Mask pulled out a repeating crossbow with an ammo belt like a machine gun.
  • In Dave Sim's graphic novel Cerebus, The Roach (in his Punisherroach identity) wields two "pearl handled semi-automatic" belt-fed crossbows that shoot explosive-tipped bolts and have a firing rate similar to a machine gun.
  • In Scare Tactics, members of the vampire hunting Graveyard Shift tote multi-shot, stake firing crossbows.


  • Shrek 2 features crossbows which can be loaded with multiple arrows and fired one by one in a manner similar to a revolver and held like a Tommy Gun. Probably done partly because of Rule of Cool and mostly because the shooting would be very slow and less dramatic if they had to keep stopping to reload.
  • This trope was probably inspired by Ranulf's handy piece of villain-slaying hardware in 1980's camp sword and sorcery classic, Hawk the Slayer. It's also an Arm Cannon.
  • Van Helsing gives its hero a steam powered, gatling gun crossbow.
  • In the original Heavy Metal movie, the land where the Tarna segment was set did have guns. But automatic bolt-shooters were in exclusive use by those mounted on giant featherless birds. Well, giant featherless birds that also didn't exist in the medieval age.
  • Captain Navarre (played by Rutger Hauer) in the movie Ladyhawke has a double crossbow as one of his two signature weapons.
  • In D.E.B.S. Amy keeps a crossbow with a large magazine in her room.
  • In Gladiator, when Maximus and his fellow gladiators are fighting the re-enactment of the Battle of Zama, one of the enemy fighters is shown using a repeating crossbow.
  • An historically accurate model is seen in use by Sun Quan's army in Red Cliff.
  • Daybreakers. Pump-action crossbows (with flick-out bow section) are used by the humans against the vampire military.
  • The vampire soldiers use three-stringed crossbows in Underworld Rise of the Lycans. Sensible, since the Lycans typically show up in numbers and might be able to shrug off a single bolt.
  • In 9, 5's weapon of choice is a crossbow made of a clock key and a spring. He used it to crack the Seamstresses eye, which was a Crowning Moment of Awesome for a previously timid character.


  • Discworld novels, particularly the City Watch books, use this quite a bit. The Truth and The Fifth Elephant even feature a small spring-powered crossbow that's been so heavily modified that it's a gun in everything but the most technical sense. There's also Sergeant Detritus's "Piecemaker," a giant siege weapon that fires six foot long arrows, which he converted into biggest handheld weapon on the Disc. Although both are described, most emphatically, as being slow to reload.
    • The issue with the Piecemaker is that it doesn't need to be fired more than once. Or even ever. In its latest incarnation/modification it's practically the equivalent of waving a rocket-launcher in somebody's face, in proportion to the technology level of the Disc.
    • Automatic or multi-shot crossbows are alluded in at least Men at Arms and The Last Continent. The Last Continent even used a crossbow to parody Army of Darkness' famous This Is My Boomstick scene.
    • Crossbows in Night Watch carry a clip of several bolts, but the string still has to be pulled back.
    • Lampshaded a bit in the end of Guards! Guards!. The protagonists storm the palace to catch the villain, and when the gate is locked, Captain Vimes, drunk on authority and briefly forgetting he's only acting like Dirty Harry, orders Sergeant Colon to "shoot it open!" Colon is not sure how he's supposed to accomplish that with a bow and arrow.
    • In Going Postal, Moist, on several occasions, finds himself staring down the barrel of Miss Dearheart's... automatic crossbow, taking the place of the shotgun that a shopkeeper would normally have.
  • David Gemmell's anti-heroic assassin Waylander the Slayer used a weapon normally referred to as a "double crossbow" — effectively two small crossbows stuck one on top of the other, allowing two shots without reloading. The second shot often takes people by surprise, which is handy because he's a mediocre swordsman.
  • In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Liang is credited with inventing these, although they aren't used until after his death because of problems of implementation.
  • The introduction of this type of crossbow gives Mat a serious advantage in The Wheel of Time series. They are used realistically, noting how they lack the range, accuracy, and power of longbows and traditional crossbows, but make up for it through sheer numbers. It also points out that anyone can use them with minimal training, making them ideal for irregular forces.
  • David Drake wrote some Low Fantasy short stories set in the mid-fourth century AD Roman Empire, with heroes Vettius and Dama. "Dragon's Teeth" shows that Dama, a silk merchant, has a small repeating crossbow of the Chinese design described in Real Life below. The bolts are so small that he has to poison them to be effective.

Tabletop Games

  • Dark Elves in Warhammer Fantasy Battle use repeating crossbows as their standard ranged weapon. On top of that, both they and the High Elves have repeating Bolt Throwers (ballistas) as their primary war machines.
  • Dungeons & Dragons features a repeating crossbow, which can fire 5 bolts before needing a reload.
    • They do require a free hand to use the lever, though.
    • They're closer to semi-automatic crossbows, really.
  • These are commonly used by the Haslanti League and the Mountain Folk in the tabletop RPG Exalted. The Mountain Folk have a version that can fire crystalline bows with such speed that it's basically an assault rifle. For bonus points, it can fire flechette rounds.
  • GURPS: Martial Arts has a repeating crossbow that gets ten shots before reloading, but doesn't fire any faster than a normal crossbow. The Dungeon Fantasy setting has a spring-loaded artifact that works almost exactly like an SMG.
  • Munchkin Fu has a repeating crossbow. Called—what else would Munchkin call it—the Repeating Crossbow Crossbow Crossbow.

Video Games

  • The Bowguns in the Monster Hunter series are functionally guns except that they have a self-drawing bow mechanism (the actual 'Bow' weapon type has to be drawn in a separate action before firing) and firing rate that is affected by ammo type.
  • Edgar's Auto Crossbow tool in Final Fantasy VI.
  • Varric's crossbow Bianca in Dragon Age II has a much, much faster rate of fire than any real crossbow, plus its double bow arms. However, it doesn't become truly automatic until Varric's attack speed is upgraded, though at that point Bianca is devastating.
    • Varric reveals in the "Legacy" DLC that Bianca is unique. An associate of his in the Carta tinkered for a time in repeating crossbows but only one ended up working, which he gave to Varric.
  • The PC RPG Albion tells the story of an Earth astronaut who crash lands on an alien planet that's part alien jungle and part fantasy land. The local civilization hasn't developed guns, but later in the game repeating Automatic Crossbows (referred to as bolt guns) become available as weapons.
  • Interestingly, the official lightgun attachment for the Nintendo Wii, known as the Wii Zapper, comes with Link's Crossbow Training. It remains to be seen whether the next Zelda game will feature one of these. Link's Crossbow never needs to be reloaded, and can be powered up with 100 bolts of automatic rapid-fire.
  • Kai's primary weapon from Heavenly Sword is a repeating crossbow that shoots bolts whose flight path the player can control.
  • Dwarf Fortress used to have crossbows that fire absurdly fast and are known for one-shotting the lungs and heart of targets in plate and chain. Nowadays, they're much slower.
  • Fable II features repeating crossbows, which fire much faster than a normal crossbow, but are inferior in terms of speed to pistols, and in terms of power to rifles. And nothing beats a good clockwork or turret rifle.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, most of the 1-handed Crossbows describe themselves as automatic. All the other crossbows are typically two-handed. It also has a Gatling Good version called the Repeating Crossbow, which is advertised as "Firing up to ONE ROUND PER SECOND! Devastating!"
    • Trying to be funny, or referencing the RL slow fire rate? Yes.
  • In the game Half Life, the player uses a five-round crossbow that fires almost as quickly as a shotgun. The crossbow in the game has a painfully long reload, though.
    • Sven-Coop remedies this by making the fire rate longer between each shot
    • The crossbow in Half-Life 2 is no longer automatic, and you can only carry twelve shots, but becomes the most damaging non-explosive weapon in the game.
    • Also, it still has some automatic parts, allowing it to rearm itself while the user reaches for a new projectile.
  • Badrach and Janus from Valkyrie Profile both use "crossbows" that seem to have more in common with guns from Contra than actual medieval weaponry. Badrach's in particularly is clearly a gun based on the game's art. It's likely they just gave him the crossbow weapon set so they wouldn't have to make entirely new equipment for just one character.
  • Fairy queen Mercedes from Odin Sphere wields a magic crossbow called Tasla (later reforged into Riblam). Being a magical weapon it rapid-fires bolts of flaming energy rather than arrows and can charge up and release a powerful homing spread shot. Despite this, she still needs to reload it when she runs out of energy (the point where other characters would run out of breath) although she can absorb phozons instead to recharge it.
  • The Crossbow in Medievil actually has rapid fire listed as one of its abilities by its original owner. Justified since every weapon you get in the Hall of Heroes is at least somewhat magical in nature.
  • Civilization IV has the Chinese Cho-Ku-Nu specialty unit. While not stronger then a normal crossbow, it has the added advantage of causing collateral damage to a stack of units.
    • They return in V. Here, the Cho-Ku-Nu is actually weaker than the normal crossbow, but can fire two times per turn.
  • Similarly, in Age of Empires II, the Chinese use Chu-Ko-Nus as their special unit. Despite having shorter range, it could fire several bolts at once.
    • Age of Empires III has them too. Again, they're weaker than European crossbows, but they fire three times in rapid succession, they're cheap, and when you build them, you also get melee units to protect them. Even a small group of Chu-Ko-Nus is more than capable of More Dakka, spraying the enemy with a constant hail of Annoying Arrows.
  • Deus Ex has miniature automatic crossbows that are loaded with box-shaped magazines of darts, and strapped to the back of the wrist.
  • The Orc monsters in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness have these.
  • Dungeon Fighter Online features the Gunner class, who can use this type of weapon. Like all the other gun types, he holds one in each hand.
  • The Princess from the "Princess 30" game in Half Minute Hero inherits a crossbow from her dying father (the King), and it can shoot hundreds of arrows per second.
  • In Dungeon Siege Throne of Agony, crossbows are all automatic, and only slightly slower than regular bows. They are apparently fired by yarding on a firing crank.
  • In "Strife", the crossbow automatically loads the next shot. Despite this, the fire rate isn't faster than other FPS crossbows.
  • Perfect Dark has a crossbow with five bolts and a fairly fast rate of fire. The reload animation did take a while, but luckily it could be interrupted in a pinch, which left you with fewer bolts but allowed you to keep firing. It also doubled as a tranquilizer gun, and it has a useful instant kill function.
  • Hype the Time Quest has some quick crossbows, one of which actually could rapid fire three arrows!
  • The Ethereal Crossbow from Heretic fires faster than a round per second. With a Tome of Power active, it fires even faster. Justified in that it's magical.
  • Similarly, the Assassin class in Hexen II has a magical crossbow that gets its ammo from the player's blue mana pool.
  • Oddworld, Stranger's Wrath has the main character use an arm-mounted double-barrel crossbow that fire bees like machine-gun as well as various other critters.
  • In Rappelz the only class to use a crossbow as its primary weapon, the Shadow Hunter, can reach attack speeds high enough to fire an arrow or, with proper buffs, two every second.
  • The Sniper Crossbow in Will Rock can shot up to 6 Arrows on Fire in a row. The fire rate however is slightly slower than the usual Automatic Crossbow.
  • Maybe with a little nod tuned Up to Eleven to the Chinese chu-ko-nu in the Real Life section below, Dynasty Warriors 7 players have access to highly-accurate ballistas in some missions. Its gatling goodness and never-miss accuracy make for some easy army leveling.
  • A rapid-fire crossbow in one of Vaan's (many) BRV attacks in Duodecim 012.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. They're not actually automatic, but DAMN are they good. Aside from the SAS-12, they're basically the only weapon that can kill Guardians with less than eight million shots.
  • Resident Evil 2 features a bowgun which can fire in three-round bursts, and can hold 18 arrows at a time. Later games feature bowguns that can hold every arrow in your inventory at once, though are not capable of automatic fire.
  • In Dragon Nest, the Archer's crossbow acts for all intents and purposes like a three-round burst submachine gun.
  • Minecraft takes this even further by having a fully-automatic longbow. If you have enough arrows stored up, you can just point at a horde of enemies and mow them down like you're wielding a chaingun. And don't worry about wasting ammo; any arrows that missed their target can be gathered up and reused later.
    • Except that this now doesn't work. Or, rather, it still works, if you want to do [[Scratch Damage Scratch Damage] to whatever's standing perhaps five feet away or so. However, still played semi-straight in that you can still load and shoot the Bow for much greater damage, farther, and more accurately in only one or two seconds. Much shorter than any [[[Real Life]] Real Life] longbow using similar technology would take to load.
  • Dragon Saga implements this trope in an odd way. The crossbows of the Ranger classes fire slower than the huge bows used by their Hunter counterparts but deal more damage. They have the same firing rate in shared skills but discard the crossbow in their class-specific skills and switch to a ridiculous array of firearms and explosives.
  • Diablo 3 the Demon Hunter class can dual wield single shot hand crossbows like a pair of semi-auto pistols without ever apparently reloading, and the Rapid-fire skill is this trope

Real Life

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (the novel) attributes the original creation of an automatic crossbow to Zhu-ge Liang, circa 200 AD. While this is not exactly historical fact, the existence of the weapon in that time frame is confirmed. While certainly weaker and less accurate than a typical bow, it was much quicker and used effectively in mass combat against lightly armored foes.
  • An artillery version was developed by the Roman Empire, while some Roman auxiliaries carried bullet-firing crossbows. However, the repeating variants were much weaker than the regular crossbows and it was necessary to tip the bolts with poison to make them more lethal.
    • Those make a showing in David Drake's Ranks of Bronze, used by the defenders during a siege since they had the height advantage on their walls.
  • The MythBusters actually made one. It tended to jam often, but it worked.
    • A large problem with the jamming turned out to be just how it was fired. With the right cranking technique it worked fairly well.
  • This crossbow was one of the weapons improved upon on the Military Channel show Weapon Masters. Chad made a pneumatic steel-framed crossbow that was deadly accurate and powerful at all ranges tested, and could quickly reload itself in seconds from a top-mounted magazine.
  • When Scrapheap Challenge did an episode on repeater bows, they showed a full-size but down-powered model of an original Roman or Chinese (forget which) (Chinese, the design from the first entry dating back to 200 AD) design. It essentially had an ammo hopper on top which was gravity-fed, and a wheel on the side which pulled the string back once with each rotation. It could fire pretty much as fast as you could turn the wheel, getting through maybe 40 shots per minute.
    • Historic repeating crossbows all had the same problem, they lacked the range and penetrating power of their slower firing brethren. Great for volume of fire, less then spectacular when it comes to precision marksmanship, long range target shooting, and armor penetration.
      • Which is why the bolts were often poisoned.
  • The Polybolos described by Philo of Byzantium (but more often attributed originally to Dionysius of Alexandria) also counts.
  • Wikipedia article on Repeating crossbows
  • This guy made an auto-electric crossbow
  • While this guy built a Gatling slingshot crossbow!