All classes start out with a -1 in Archery, except Fighters who start out with a 0. Any character with skill points to spend can increase their Archery Bonus by +1 for each skill point that they spend in Archery. The Archery Bonus is added to the Ranged Attack Bonus when the character is firing a bow, but is not applied to crossbows, guns, or other ranged attacks. The maximum Archery Bonus is +4.
|Credit Andreas Øverland.|
On the character sheet draw a horizontal line underneath the first two pips of the Archery skill. This line represents skills parity: pips beneath the line bring Archery to 0, and pips above the line represent positive bonuses. This makes it easier to calculate the bonus in play, and stops advancement at +4. So one pip = -1, two pips = 0, three pips = +1, so on up to six pips = +4.
Firing a bow is hard. Not only does it take strength and dexterity, it takes a lot of skill to get an arrow to go where you want it to go. Guns changed warfare not because they were more effective than bows (they were less effective for a very long time), but because it's so much easier to train someone to use a gun. Put it in their hand, show them how to point and shoot and how to reload, and they're good to go.
The Archery skill has the benefit of making guns and crossbows more valuable to the players. I've had people ask me why they'd want guns or crossbows when they don't do more damage, have penalties to reloading time, and are more expensive to boot. Now the tradeoff is clear: you buy a crossbow or gun because you are more likely to hit with it.
In addition, with the Archery skill, a "ranger-type" Specialist becomes more feasible. Specialists are now the only class other than the Fighter that can possibly get better at fighting, but the way in which they get better is very tightly constrained.
Fighters start out with a 0 in Archery because it is assumed that their weapons training includes basic training with bows. If your game allows Elves, then they should start at 0 as well. My Amazon Rivercrawl game allows Native American characters to also start at 0, for thematic reasons. You should do the same with any homebrew classes that it makes thematic sense for.
Overall, I was very happy with how this houserule ended up in play. It didn't add much more power to the party as a whole, but it did differentiate the classes and offered some interesting tactics.
I liked the range that this brings to the Specialist a lot, and found more players attracted to this often overlooked class. I also liked that it helped make the tradeoff between bows and mechanical projectile weapons more intuitive.
The one thing to note is that when Sneak Attack and Archery stack, it can often lead to nearly guaranteed one-hit kills of even 3HD creatures. I wouldn't allow anything other than the very first arrow fired from a completely hidden location count for Sneak Attack. Once a single arrow is loosed the enemy knows an enemy exists even if they're under cover, so the whole party is considered no longer sneaking.
I had added both this and another skill (Boating) to the skill list, so I gave Specialists 5 skill points at character generation. Having 12 skills and 5 points allowed the Specialists to differentiate from each other better than I've seen in other games. In the future though, I'll add the restriction that first-level players cannot be at 6 pips in any skill.