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“Why bother?”

In Oblivion, just like in life, not everyone can be a 6-ft, 300 pound warrior. Not everyone can stand face-to-snout with a daedroth and whale away at it with a warhammer for half an hour. And not everyone can summon destructive forces of nature to their fingertips and lay waste to their enemies. Fortunately, for those who cannot do these things, there is the bow.

Bow Basics

“Just what is this fancy piece of wood, anyway?”

A bow is a length of wood, joined at the tips by a cord that draws the wood tightly into a curve. When an arrow is placed against the cord and pulled back, the bending of the wood creates elastic tension and will send the arrow flying when released. Bows can vary in length from about two feet long to taller than a person. In most bows, the string is pulled back between two and two and a half feet in order to create sufficient force for the arrow to reach and pierce its target. The bows in Oblivion are modeled after the recurve design – that is, the wood curves away from the cord at each end in order to increase force. They are also considered “composite” bows, as they are made from combinations of wood and other materials (iron, silver, dwarven, etc.).

In Oblivion, the bows are made from materials in the following order:

Material Base Damage

Material Damage
Iron Bow 8
Fine Iron Bow 9
Steel Bow 9
Fine Steel Bow 10
Silver 10
Dwarven 12
Elven 14
Glass 16
Ebony 18
Deadric 20

Every bow has a speed of 1, and the distance you can fire is based on your skill. The damage you do from an arrow shot is the base damage of the bow plus the base damage of the ammunition. Note: depending on your level and marksmen skill, the damage that you will be able to do will be different and will appear different in your inventory.

The ammunition progression is as such:

Material Base Damage

Material Damage
Iron 8
Steel 9
Silver 10
Dwarven 11
Elven 12
Glass 13
Ebony 14
Deadric 15

There are also numerous varieties of enchanted arrows, but we’ll get to those later.

Firing Your Bow

“Putting that horsehair to use.”

To fire your bow, equip both it and the type of arrow you wish to use. Try and do some target practice before you engage in combat – my favorite place is the archery range behind the Chorral Fighter’s Guild (just don’t hit the other archers). Stand well away from the target, about the distance 3-4 seconds of running backwards from the target would take you. Press and hold the attack button – a quick press and release will only drop the arrow immediately in front of you. Aim your crosshairs slightly above where you want to hit – for the target practice, this means about the top of the red circle. Against an actual person, depending on how far away you are you will aim for their head or above – arrows will drop as they fly. Release the attack button, and watch the arrow fly!

Before you leave to check on where you hit, mark your location with a piece of dropped equipment. That way you can keep practicing from the same distance and improve your aim. Go and see where your arrow is. If it is stuck in low, aim higher and try again. If it’s too high, aim lower. Keep practicing until you get it right, and try and remember how far the target is. When you’re firing at an enemy, knowing the distance and how high above your target you have to aim is essential. Keep on practicing farther and farther back, marking your place with equipment to aid you. The best part about this kind of practice is that you can retrieve your arrows afterwards, so you aren’t wasting any.

Bows and Enchantments

“Putting the magic back in the relationship.”

Bows can be enchanted. Arrows cannot. However – you can find or buy magic arrows around the land. A great place to look is on every guard in the Mehrun’s Razor plugin; they have some great combinations of arrows.

The best enchantments to have on bows and arrows depend on the kind of effect you want to have. If you’re trying to do serious damage, a bow with an elemental damage effect combined with elemental arrows your best bet. Damage health or attribute effects are generally not the best way to go, because your rate of fire is too slow to allow the effects to stack and really get the most bang for your buck. Other arrows have specific effects for specific situations, and we’ll discuss some of those in the combat section.

A Note on One-Hit Kills

“Gee, he spontaneously dropped dead of an arrow through the skull. I saw a mudcrab yesterday.”

The ideal situation for an archer is this: one arrow, one kill. One-hit kills result in a free ride, no retaliation, no wasted ammo, and no hassle. Near the beginning of the game you can wipe out most minor baddies with a steel bow and some steel arrows in sneak mode. As the game goes on, however, higher-level enemies can make your life miserable. Here’s a few tips to getting your snipe on:

1: A good sniper is a patient sniper – don’t try and make a shot if the target is wandering about. Wait until you know their routine, how long they stop walking for, and what way they’re facing. That perfect shot is just waiting to happen.

2: A good sniper has powerful magic – combine an elementally enchanted bow with damage-enchanted arrows for best effect.

3: A good sniper is a good alchemist – brew your own damage health poisons to use on your arrows.

A combination of the above three tactics will help you to one-hit kill many creatures, provided you remain undetected.

Bows and Combat

“The art of not dying.”

The kind of tactics you will use depend on the kind of enemy you’re going to face. Here’s a bit of a breakdown:

Melee enemies

(Zombies, Trolls, Fighters, Ogres, etc.)

This is the most difficult group to deal with as a marksman. Your best bet is to start off in sneak mode. Getting that extra 3x damage is essential for the long-range character. With the right landscape between you and your opponent, you can take off enough health that by the time they get to you a small tap with a backup melee weapon will do them in. Try and position yourself with lots of obstacles between you and them so they spend more time trying to get to you. If they’re slow enough (like ogres) you can back up and keep firing to keep putting the hurt on them with your bow. Or, if you have at least 50 in Acrobatics, hold block and press back and jump – you’ll backflip very quickly out of the way and put more distance between you and them.

As far as enchantments go, some decent elemental damage will knock huge chunks of their health off in a hurry. Drain health is also good, as it will give to you what it takes from them. Enchanting bows with either of these effects will require the Arcane University and a lot of gold, or the appropriate Sigil Stones. Alternately, you can enchant a bow with calming effects, so that every arrow that hits them makes them put away their weapon and chill out for a bit. Another popular method is to put a burden enchantment on a bow, so the big bad warrior is stuck in one spot while you pick away at him. The idea is to get as much damage done before they can reach you with their melee weapons.

If there are more than one melee enemy, you have basically two options. An Arrow of Immolation (65 fire damage in 10 feet), Stormcall Arrow or similar area damage bow or ammunition fired into a group does wonders to evening the odds. A couple of those and only weaklings remain to take out with your dagger. Another option is to fire a single arrow from the shadows at the closest enemy, then lure them to an out-of-the-way location so you can dispatch them at your leisure. Repeat until the whole group is done.

Occasionally, these tactics will lead to you getting swarmed by many large and intimidating foes. Should this occur, simply use every archer’s fallback: potions of invisibility. Weak potions of invisibility are fairly priced, and a half dozen or so in the backpack will give you 15 seconds of respite each for you to make your escape and come back to the battle on your own terms.

Magical Enemies

(Mages, Necromancers, Vampires, etc.)

As before, your best bet is to begin in stealth mode and try to get in a good first strike. Mages rarely wear armor, so a one-hit kill is a definite possibility. Pick the biggest damage combination of bow, poison and arrow you can and let them have it.

If you aren’t certain that you can kill the mage in one shot, something else you should try is an arrow or poison of silence. A low-level one will do – 10-15 seconds or so. When the arrow hits, they’ll be unable to cast offensive or defensive spells. They also won’t be able to summon undead or daedra, who can turn a simple mage-killing into a much more complicated endeavor. A mage without his or her magic is just a peasant in a fancy robe, and will fall quickly to another shot or two.

When mages do succeed in summoning creatures, do your best to ignore them. Once the mage dies, the creature will vanish. If the creature gets close or is blocking your shot, quaff one of those potions of invisibility we were talking about. Get into a better angle for your shot, and put a shaft between the mage’s shoulder blades. And if you can’t silence them, just strafe or dodge (for you journeymen acrobats) out of the way of their offensive spells and keep firing. Low armor level typically means a short battle.

Other Archers

(Bandits, Skeletons, etc.)

As always, the first arrow should be fired from sneak mode for the damage bonus. When the archer notices you, they will usually come a bit closer and then start firing arrows at you. The general pattern of the archer is to nock and fire an arrow, then strafe back and forth so you can’t get a bead on them before aiming and firing again. You can waste a lot of arrows shooting at these jokers if you’re not ready for their dodging tactics.

The best option available is to only fire when they make ready an arrow. Draw your bow back and wait as they strafe. When they pull out an arrow, fire and prepare to do some strafing of your own. Typically, archers won’t fire when you’re strafing, so pause briefly and give them something to shoot at before sidestepping the arrow. If you are a journeyman in acrobatics, then you may be able to get two arrows away at them before their one arrow gets to where you are. When they stop moving and pull out an arrow, fire the first arrow and immediately fire the second. Then go into a side roll (hold block and hit strafe and jump) and avoid the arrow just in time. It takes good timing and lots of practice, but is incredibly satisfying to pull off.

Good enchantments for fighting archers, other than the standard plus damage ones, are hard to come by. A decent pick is usually drain marksman, as it improves your damage-doing ability while harming theirs. A damage agility enchantment will screw their shooting up as well – a combination of the two and the archer might not hit you if you were five feet away. Using calming enchantments will get them to put their bow away and stop dodging, which is mighty convenient. When low on arrows or just plain frustrated, they will drop their bow and pull out a secondary weapon (usually a dagger). They usually suck quite a bit with it, so don’t worry about it too much. Dispose of them in the usual manner.

A Note on High-Level Abilities

“Why I’m better than you are.”

The three major milestones while leveling up any skill are Journeyman (50), Expert (75), and Master (100). The special effects for each level are:

Journeyman – Pressing block while the bow is drawn lets you zoom in. Personally, I never saw the point – once you get used to sighting targets normally, zooming can be confusing or distracting. However, it can be useful in especially dark environments, like caves or outdoors at night.

Expert – You have a chance to knock people down when you shoot them. This is especially handy against fighter-types, as it’ll send them flying back and buys you some more time to do some damage. However, it is only a possibility that this will occur, and should not be relied upon.

Master – You have a chance to paralyze people when you shoot them. This is even handier than knocking them back, because you can take out a secondary melee weapon and flail away at them to your heart’s content until they start to get up – at which point you still have enough time to run away and take another shot, should they require it. However, like before this is only a possibility, and should not be relied upon.

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