Arcane Archer 5e Guide

Published on November 28, 2020, Last modified on February 5th, 2021

In this post, we will examine the different choices you will be presented with when leveling up your Arcane Archer in D&D 5e. We will be discussing everything from which ability scores to max out, to which races will give you the best stats (and everything in-between). This article will focus primarily on content from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, but will also delve into some of the content in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Fighter Subclass, the Arcane Archer. You can find a full overview of the Fighter class here: DnD 5e Fighter.

For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange is an OK option
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized

For our Subclass Guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options and options that are different from the parent class’ rating for races, backgrounds, and feats. This is to allow a streamlined view of the subclass’s features and because the other options are discussed in the 5e Fighter Guide or other Subclass Guides.

Did you know?

D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.

What is an Arcane Archer?

As the name implies, Arcane Archers are Fighters that specialize in imbuing magical properties onto their bow attacks. Because they are ranged attackers, Arcane Archers fill less of a tank roll than other Fighter subclasses. Typically Arcane Archers are built keeping this in mind, by focusing on dealing heavy damage and avoiding getting hit at all costs.

Strengths

Arcane Archers are presented with more choice than a typical Fighter, and are thereby a flavorful subclass to play. Many of the Arcane Shot options to choose from can be effective in different circumstances, allowing you to build your repertoire how you see fit. This is similar to how spell casters choose their spells, albeit this subclass has a smaller list to choose from. 

Arcane Archers are an amazing option to take out threats from far away. An enemy who can only attack with melee will likely be dead before it even gets to you with the combination of a longbow and the Sharpshooter feat. Combine that with Extra Attacks and Action Surge and you are a force to be reckoned with.

Weaknesses

Perhaps the biggest downside and letdown of the Arcane Archer is that the signature ability, Arcane Shot, can only be used twice per short rest. Without a multiclass or certain feats, Arcane Archers can feel very much like a vanilla bow user after they have expended their Arcane Shots. Other subclasses like Battle Masters and Eldritch Knights can be built to use bows very effectively, so the Arcane Archer often feels like it boils down to a flavor choice.

Arcane Archers likely won’t be the face of the party and may struggle to deal with enemies that manage to get in close proximity. This makes the subclass really powerful at long distance combat, but not much else.

Before You Start

Races

Check out our Guide to DnD Races for non-standard races. Keep in mind, most races and subraces are limited by the setting and source material chosen by the DM. Below are some of the best options for Arcane Archers from the standard races.

Elf: Elves get +2 to DEX, ideal for this subclass. As an elf, you also gain access to the Elven Accuracy feat.

  • High Elf: Another cantrip is nice, especially if you want to lean into the “arcane” side of things. The INT bonus is helpful since Arcane Shot’s save DC relies in part on the INT modifier of your character.

Halfling: Halflings also offer the coveted +2 DEX bonus, but neither of the two standard variations are that exciting beyond this. Choose Lightfoot if you take the Magic Initiate feat and select a CHA based spell list, choose Stout if you want a bit more survivability.

Variant Human: Variant Humans are in the running for the best race for Arcane Archers. Feats are highly synergistic with Arcane Archers, making the option to unlock one at first level very enticing. 

Backgrounds

Arcane Archers should pick up a Background that gives access to a skill proficiency they don’t have yet, ideally in DEX or INT. If the Background suits the character roleplaying wise, even better.

  • Cloistered Scholar: Heavy INT skill proficiency if your party is lacking it.
  • Criminal: Similar to Urchin if you want some social interaction skills.
  • Sage: Heavy INT skill proficiency if your party is lacking it.
  • Urchin: Sleight of Hand and Stealth are both pretty neat if you want to take on a Rogue-adjacent role. Proficiency in the Disguise Kit and Thieves’ Tools help achieve that goal.
  • Urban Bounty Hunter: Many useful choices from Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth. If you also want proficiency in an instrument, game, or Thieves’ Tools, The Urban Bounty Hunter fills those gaps.

Ability Scores

Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and 19th level.

Arcane Archers are somewhat Multi Ability Dependent (MAD). DEX is the main focus of this subclass, as its ability to use Arcane Shots relies on connecting with the bow. Save DCs for your Arcane Shot is boosted by INT, so prioritize this next. Finally, it is recommended to round out the character by having a passable CON score to reduce squishiness. To get the most out of these three stats, some will need to be dumped. 

In summary, Arcane Archers should prioritize DEX > INT > CON.

STR: Dump and focus on other stats.

DEX: Your ability to function in battle relies on consistent hits with your bow. Having a higher AC while using medium armor will also come in handy when enemies are at close range. 

CON: CON isn’t critically important since Arcane Archers tend to hang back and attack at range. Even still, having a sizeable hit point pool is vital when things don’t go your way. 

INT: INT is necessary so that your Arcane Shot is more likely to apply its effect. Sadly there isn’t much more it’s good for, unless you take the Magic Initiate feat and acquire some Wizard spells, or are looking to multiclass with Wizard/Artificer.

WIS: Can help with WIS saves and Perception.

CHA: Dump and focus on other stats.

Arcane Archer Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points: A d10 hit dice is great, although you would ideally not get hit that often.  If you want to Sneak at all, heavy armor won’t be an option so survivability will take a hit, meaning that higher hit points are important.

Saves: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.

Proficiencies: Since Fighters are proficient in simple and martial weapons, Arcane Archers can use the weapon they were designed for – bows. 

Skills: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.

Fighting Style: Taking the Archery fighting style for this character is a no-brainer. It slots in nicely with what this build is trying to do and helps negate the negative attack modifier of the Sharpshooter feat.

Second Wind: Second Wind is less attractive on an Arcane Archer because they won’t often be in the middle of the fray. Despite this, it can save your life in a pinch.

2nd Level

Action Surge: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.

3rd Level

Martial Archetype: Arcane Archer

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Arcane Archer Lore: Gaining a useful skill proficiency and cantrip is nothing to complain about. Arcane Archers tend to have a good INT modifier, so Arcana and Nature are both valid choices here; go with whichever one is most needed in your party. As for cantrips, both Prestidigitation and Druidcraft can be extremely useful in the hands of a creative player. Of the two, Prestidigitation is probably the better pick up.

Arcane Shot: This is both the best and worst thing about Arcane Archers. There are several powerful options to choose from, and you gain more options as you level up. Sadly, what never increases is the number of times you can actually use Arcane Shot per Short Rest. The 15th level feature Ever-Ready Shot tries to remedy this, but falls short of giving you substantially more uses to work with in a given encounter. Also of note is that the damage of the Arcane Shots doesn’t scale well, as it only increases when you reach 18th level.

  • Banishing Arrow: Great for taking an enemy out of combat for a round. Many monsters have a weak CHA stat and are therefore less likely to pass a CHA save.
  • Beguiling Arrow: Charming your enemy is pretty cool. Because you get advantage on social interaction ability checks against the creature, Beguiling Arrow is great if you would rather not fight it.
  • Bursting Arrow: Your go-to AOE effect, although the radius is quite small. Force damage is the best damage type in the game.
  • Enfeebling Arrow: Enfeebling Arrow is just not good. Necrotic damage is a pretty solid damage type, but halving damage from weapon attacks is too niche and weak to really be effective. Besides that, CON saves are pretty easy to pass for many enemies.
  • Grasping Arrow: Perhaps the best of the bunch, this arrow punishes movement and can cause the enemy to waste their turn. The only downside is that the initial damage type is poison, which has the most immune enemies out of all damage types.
  • Piercing Arrow: Nice if you need to hit enemies in a line and want to ignore cover. Do note that it hits all creatures in a line, not just those you are fighting against.
  • Seeking Arrow: Great for those pesky enemies that are behind cover and locating enemies that have turned invisible. Force damage is the best damage type in the game.
  • Shadow Arrow: Psychic damage is always great since resistances and immunities are rare. Reducing vision on ranged enemies can also effectively incapacitate them for a turn.

5th Level

Extra Attack: Refer to the 5e Fighter Guide.

7th Level

Magic Arrow: Magic Arrow is great if you don’t have access to any magical arrows for cutting through resistances or immunities to nonmagical attacks. If you do have access to magical arrows, this ability lets you save them for stronger enemies instead of wasting them on weaker ones.

Curving Shot: Curving Shot is the bees knees! Missing attacks won’t feel so bad if you can simply retry the attack roll on another nearby enemy.

9th Level

Indomitable: Rerolling failed saving throws is great for any character, including the Arcane Archer.

15th Level

Ever-Ready Shot: This is the only way to regain uses of Arcane Shot outside of Short or Long Rests. One additional use per encounter is nice to have, but in a big fight you will wish you had even more uses of Arcane Shot.

18th Level

Arcane Shot (improved shots): It feels like too little, too late here. More damage is nice, but by the time you’re fighting high level threats you really only care about the secondary effects that the Arcane Shots have.

Feats

Feats really shine for Arcane Archers. Fighters get many ASIs, so taking feats won’t nerf the character at all. In fact, Arcane Archers can even afford to take more than one feat once they have maxed out their DEX.

The options below synergize well and some of them also offer some good flavor for your character if you like the idea of a magic savvy bow user.

  • Elven Accuracy: If you are an elf, Elven Accuracy is very tempting. You can increase your DEX or INT score by 1, as well as reroll one die if you have advantage on the attack. This is basically super advantage!
  • Magic Initiate: Since Arcane Archers already have a good INT score, the Wizard spell list makes a lot of sense for Magic Initiate. Cantrips and 1st level spells offer tons of utility. Damage cantrips will fall behind your ranged attacks very quickly, so this feat is mainly to pick up Find Familiar (Wizard) or Hex (Warlock).
  • Ritual Caster: Again, the Wizard spell list makes sense here. Rituals are nice because they can be used multiple times, although you miss out on some options as well as cantrips when compared to Magic Initiate. This is a decent tradeoff for Arcane Archers because, as mentioned before, Cantrips will be outshone by your ranged attacks but you can still pick up Find Familiar and perhaps even more spells throughout the campaign.
  • Sharpshooter: This feat is mandatory to be effective as an Arcane Archer! With Sharpshooter, you can shoot up to 600 feet with a longbow without disadvantage, as well as ignoring half and three-quarters cover. The most interesting part of this feat however is the option to take a -5 penalty to your attack rolls to deal +10 damage. This is partially mitigated with the Archery Fighting Style, and can further be made irrelevant by having advantage, Curving Shot, or through buffs from your allies. 

Example Arcane Archer Build

This build utilizes the insane action economy of the Fighter class to do what the Arcane Archer is best at – taking out all of your enemies from a distance. While the character isn’t necessarily useful in social interactions, it can act as a stand-in for stealthy Rogue missions.

Getting the Sharpshooter feat at 1st level is a huge boost to consistency in landing hits and damage output. The attack roll penalty incurred by using Sharpshooter’s ability can be partially offset with the Archery Fighting Style as well as Curving Shot once you get it. In addition, Find Familiar lets you summon an owl familiar, which can help give you advantage on attacks.

You should start with the longbow since the Archery Fighting Style gives a free boost to those attack rolls. If you started with a melee weapon and heavy armor, swap those out before 3rd level for a longbow and light armor (for using the Stealth skill).

1st Level:

  • Race: Variant Human
  • Background: Urchin
  • Ability Scores (Point Buy): STR 8, DEX 15 (+1), CON 14, INT 15 (+1), WIS 10, CHA 8
  • Skill Proficiencies: Acrobatics, History, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth
  • Equipment: Longbow, arrows (20), 2 hand axes, leather armor, rapier, shield, explorer’s pack
  • Feat: Sharpshooter

2nd Level:

  • Action Surge

3rd Level:

  • Martial Archetype: Arcane Archer
  • Arcane Archer Lore: Prestidigitation cantrip and Arcana proficiency 
  • Arcane Shot: Bursting Arrow, Grasping Arrow

4th Level:

  • ASI: + 2 DEX (DEX 18)

5th Level:

  • Extra Attack

6th Level:

  • ASI: + 2 DEX (DEX 20)

7th Level:

  • Curving Shot
  • Magic Arrow
  • Arcane Shot: Seeking Arrow

8th Level:

  • Feat: Magic Initiate
    • Cantrips: Mage Hand, Message
    • Spell: Find Familiar (owl)

9th Level:

  • Indomitable (one use)

10th Level:

  • Arcane Shot: Banishing Arrow

11th Level:

  • Extra Attack (2)

12th Level:

  • ASI: +2 INT (INT 18)

13th Level:

  • Indomitable (two uses)

14th Level:

  • ASI: +2 INT (INT 20)

15th Level:

  • Arcane Shot: Piercing Arrow
  • Ever-Ready Shot

16th Level:

  • ASI: +2 CON (CON 16)

17th Level:

  • Action Surge (two uses)
  • Indomitable (three uses)

18th Level:

  • Arcane Shot: Shadow Arrow

19th Level:

  • ASI: +2 CON (CON 18)

20th Level:

  • Extra Attack (3)

Other Fighter Subclass Guides


Hope you liked the guide! If you have any questions or feel like we missed something for the Arcane Archer, go ahead and post a comment below. If you like our content subscribe to Arcane Eye!

Roland Drews

Roland Drews

Roland Drews is a content creator and editor at Arcane Eye. When he isn't watching basketball or noodling on his guitar, you can find Roland reading, writing, or playing D&D. He currently lives in Bonn, Germany with his girlfriend Jess.

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