Preferred ranged unit as Franks?

French archers are relatively poor, and the throwing axemen have poor range.

If you need to make ranged units to go with your knights, would you make hand cannoneers, crossbowmen, or axemen?

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Axes, maybe HC in Imp. Axeman range might not be insane, but they are fairly fast, cheaper than the other two, and basically designed as a spear killer all round.

It’s very situational:

Archer/Crossbow is a very good option up to mid Castle Age, but falls off hard after that, so you shoudln’t plan long term with them.
Skirmishers can be a solution when you need them, but they’re pretty poor. I’d still make them even in lategame, when I need something against spears and I’m low on gold/Castles
Axemen are generally the best ranged unit to get, but they cost gold, need quite some upgrades and need Castes to produce.
Hand Cannoneers can be good vs Halbs as ranged support as well, but they’re even heavier on the gold cost than Axemen and not strictly better (more damage, less tanky). They’re easier to produce and need less upgrades though, so they can be the better choice in some situations.
Cav Archers you can probably just ignore.
Siege is also pretty decent for Franks and should be considered, if you still have enough Gold - or to go for Siege as your main gold option and just add Halbs and some Light Cav for raiding to it.

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In imp you always go throwing axe if possible.

Most times is Knights + Skirms.
Archers get useless at Imp and cost gold.
HC may be good sometimes, but cost gold.
Axemen can be awesome if the enemy mixes pikes and other infantry (like Huscarl), but prod. at castle… and upgrades are a different line than archers, elite is costly.

You need the gold for knights, and BBC/trebs.

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The only real options you have are Hand Cannoneers, Throwing Axemen and Scorpions. Among these 3, Scorpions do not counter Camels. In a crunch, you can use one of the worst Elite Skirmishers (one of the worst because it is shared with Celts) against spear units.

Against camels, TA and HC both will work and neither is really strictly better than the other. Monks are another good option.

Realistically speaking, you not have HC as an option because of the high gold cost (which when coupled with Paladins is huge). Frank HCs are also the worst HCs (doesn’t sound amazing, but HCs really have only 1 common upgrade to distinguish).

As a side benefit, TA do not die to trash units, viz Winged Hussars and Skirmishers, preserving your gold for longer.

Note: Frank monastery only misses Redemption and Atonement, none of which matters against regular units.

Other points you may consider: Paladins being cavalry are fast, so pair something which doesn’t slow you down much. Speeds of the discussed units are: Paladins 1.48 >> Throwing Axemen 1.1 (3 to 5) > Hand Cannoneers, Skirmishers and Archers 0.96 (7) >> Monks 0. 8 (9 or 12) >> Scorpions 0.65 (7 to 8)

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Or Pikes/Halbs, mixed with the Cav.
What would be better than Skirms/Cav in most scenarios.

In 1v1’s, unless some crazy gold map…
You really need that gold for the Cavalry.

The topic was ranged. I get it.
But, just adding some I think (maybe wrong)

It depends.

Throwing axeman is better than HC to take down halbs/camels. HC should be used when fighting Teutons or high MA unit like Boyars. If fighting camels which is backed up by strong archers like Saracens in imp, TA+scorpion may help.