I've noticed some houserules that strengthen crossbows on Anthony's DM screen and in the stat blocks of many NPCs in CotSP. This grants crossbows a 3/2 rate of fire and on the first round of combat a free shot before initiative is rolled. I assume that if both sides are armed with crossbows at the start of the round initiative is still rolled to see who shoots first, and then after this is resolved normal initiative procedures follow. Is this the case, or are such pre-initiative shots simultaneous?
What if one side achieves surprise? Can they fire in the surprise round, fire again before initiative is rolled, and then continue with the 3/2 rate of fire afterwards? Or, in the case of complete surprise fire three times in the two segments of surprise (two in the first segment and once in the second given the 3/2 rate). I assume the free shot before initiative applies because the crossbow is loaded, and getting a shot in the surprise round negates this advantage.
(With regards to the triple rate of fire possible with surprise, the DMG states this is possible if the necessary ammunition is ready, and if not the normal rate of fire applies. I interpret this to mean that this is possible if you're setting an ambush or manning a guard post where you can set your ammunition before you in anticipation of targets; it wouldn't apply to adventurers who blunder around a corner into a group of monsters and get lucky on the surprise roll. But if such preparations are made, I guess the enterprising crossbow weilder gets nine shots in the two surprise segments under this house rule. I once decimated an overly-cocky group of adventurers in D1-2 this way when they blundered in front of and were subsequently surprised by a drow guard outpost allowing each of the drow to fire six times...they all fell to the sleep poison!)
Also, in CotSP there are Clerics and Cavaliers armed with crossbows, such as with the adventuring companies in the Tables and Handouts book. Is this allowed to all members of those classes?
Finally, on the DM screen it states that the rate of fire for crossbows improves to 2 at level 7 and 5/2 at level 13. Is that just for Fighters or for all classes?