Ranged combat is a key element of D&D that a lot of people overlook. It can be used to great effect by PCs and NPC foemen alike. Particularly with the modifications that C&T gave to crossbows (ignoring various levels of armor, for example, and extending their damage to be more in line with actual crossbows rather than the very very poor damage represented by the PHB entry), you can do some real ugly things at long distance. Of course, this puts melee fighters at a great disadvantage, particularly in terrain with little to hide behind and high visibility. To illustrate my point, I'll set up the Hounds' latest activities and compare their ranged combat of a few nights ago with their melee combat.
Having been hired by one of the most famous Free Captains of Silversong, Telarmirithien, to rid his estate (granted to him by the Tower for services rendered to the king) of the sea-drakes that flew in from the Moonhome Sea last spring and began nesting in a large brood, the Hounds traveled south to Arodariath. The drakes were recumbent all winter, in a sort of hibernation, though the adventuring party known as the Branching Willow hunted and killed a good number of them while they were out gathering food, leaving much fewer for the Hounds to deal with.
Knowing that drake clutches hatch in the spring and can result in as many as 4 new drakes per female, the Hounds had to act quickly. Once the drakes hatch, their scholarly sources warned that the new drakes would spend a few months with their former brood, then they would all depart for new broodspace. These creatures could spread to the whole of the peninsula, becoming a general menace.
Exploring the drake's nest, they discovered that the rather large brood (somewhere around 25-30 drakes originally) had carved out a cave system in the gutrock of a hill they scorched and blasted with their flaming breath. These caves, now linked up by clever claw-work, had many openings to vent their heat, oxygenate their main cavern, and to allow them entry and exit at various points. Unable to rouse the drakes by throwing stones and singing songs, they paced the hill and waited until some emerged. A few hours later, two drakes appeared to go hunting... and that was when the aerial combat began.
Lacking a way to fly and match them, the party began a long range bombardment. More drakes answered the panicked and angry calls of the hunting pair, until a full seven were in the air and diving towards the PCs. Luckily, they were all a good distance away (they had chosen to sit 80 yards from the hill so they could fire at it in safety) and had to cross the open skies to reach the PCs. Even at the wing-tearing clip of 90 feet per round, a good many of the drakes never made it to the confrontation. Two were killed outright by missile fire and a third forced to flee. Two were badly wounded and landed only to be chewed up by the melee grinder known as Keir. Two others were utterly destroyed by Naur's newly invented spell (Ray of Air, some scrolling involved). This made a body count of 7.
After the ranged battle, the Hounds entered the hill... and were ambushed by the wounded drake and one final one that had waited to guard the eggs. They were scared and the PCs had heard them chirping and hissing even as they entered the great cave where the eggs where stored... but they had no idea that fire was about to wash over them from two directions.
The melee combat went very differently. In a matter of rounds, even with one drake blinded and the other dead, two party members were felled. A third looked like he was going to go down. Keir alone was still standing strong, with Naur in the back fretting over his expended magics. TWO DRAKES in melee combat (the ability to nearly continuously breath huge cones of flame really did them in) did what SEVEN DRAKES in ranged combat had been able to do: nearly destroy the party. Since drakes have no long ranged attacks, their ranged combat was a frantic scramble of trying to get close to the PCs and land. In close combat... well, it was a different story. Barely wounded from the ranged confrontation, the PCs were BADLY mauled by the melee combat.
Just goes to show you—use your capabilities wisely, and always, always, always, plan ahead and try to tilt the odds in your favor.