If you want to play a fighter who can shoot magical arrows with precision and versatility, you might want to try the arcane archer build. This is a subclass of the fighter class that specializes in ranged combat and arcane magic. Here are some tips on how to create and play an arcane archer fighter.
Goals of This Build
A glass cannon is a ranged character that sits in the back of the group and deals massive amounts of damage. This build will be able to dish out some heavy single-target burst damage as well as sustained long-range attacks. You’ll achieve this by multiclassing both arcane archer fighter and assassin rogue which have excellent synergy for this type of character.
The downside to glass cannons is that they are not very sturdy. However, thanks to heavy armor proficiency from the fighter class as well as the evasion and uncanny dodge abilities from your rogue levels you’ll be able to avoid a fair amount of damage coming your way.
In addition to this, cunning action is a great rogue ability that will help you with putting some distance between yourself and the target. With the sharpshooter feat you’ll have no issue with fighting from hundreds of feet away from the battlefield.
Background: Urban Bounty Hunter
Note: Background doesn’t make a huge difference for this build. As I’m sure you know I’m a big fan of this background!
Race: Variant Human or any Elf
Note: I opted for variant human to get the Sharpshooter feat right away. However, elves work very well for this build especially high elves, wood elves, shadar-kai, and eladrin.
Stats: This was done using point buy. Check out this article for more info on point buy!
STR: 8 (-1)
DEX: 16 (+3)
CON: 14 (+2)
INT: 16 (+3)
WIS: 10 (+0)
CHAR: 8 (-1)
Note:Dexterity is by far the king of this build. Intelligence is up next as it dictates the save DC of our Arcane Shots. Constitution is useful for survival, but despite being called an arcane archer, we won’t be casting many spells. Wisdom was boosted over strength and charisma due to it being a much more frequent saving throw ability.
Skills: Acrobatics and Perception
Note: Proficiency in acrobatics or athletics is pretty much required to ensure we can avoid grapples. The key to this build is going to be staying as far away from danger as possible.
Post Level 1
Fighter 13/Rogue 7
Here is where things get a little tricky and you’ll want to pre-plan your next steps as we’ll be multiclassing from here on out. Check out my article on multiclassing if you want some more information on how it works in D&D 5e.
This is a basic 13/7 split build where you’ll be able to grab all of the great stuff from the rogue class while still gaining 3 attacks per action with your fighter levels. It’s the best of both worlds for combining burst and steady damage for our glass cannon arcane archer.
Leveling Path – Option 1
1-7th Level: Fighter
8-10th Level: Rogue
11-16th Level: Fighter
17-20th Level: Rogue
The first 10 levels of this build are non-negotiable. You want to focus on being an arcane archer and rush to get Magic Arrow and Curving Shot. Afterward, you’ll dip into rogue and get Sneak Attack and Assassinate.
Option 1 of this build is focused on being a true glass cannon. You’ll focus on dealing damage by rushing to get Improved Extra Attack at 16th total level. You’ll also gain another Arcane Shot option quicker this way and an additional ASI sooner than option 2.
Leveling Path – Option 2
1-7th Level: Fighter
8-14th Level: Rogue
15-20th Level: Fighter
This path gives you a bit more survivability by gaining Evasion and Uncanny dodge a bit sooner. You’ll gain some more burst damage by increasing your Sneak Attack damage as well, but it’s not nearly as good as getting improved Extra Attack comparatively quicker in option 1.
I prefer option 1, but if you find yourself at the brunt of AoE attacks and taking a lot of damage option 2 has its merits.
Ability Score Increases (ASIs)
This build is going to give you 5 total ASIs to choose from.
Dexterity >>> Intelligence ≥ Constitution >> Wisdom > Charisma = Strength
You’ll have 5 ASIs to allocate if you chose variant human, and 4 if you did not and need to take the sharpshooter feat. 2 of these ASIs will have to go into Dexterity to cap you out at 20 total. After that, you’ll have 2-3 more to put into your other stats. There are merits for choosing all of these depending on your play-style.
Intelligence will boost your arcane archer save DC which will be very useful, but that’s about it. Constitution will aid with your survivability and is one of the more common saving throw abilities in the game. The rest of the stats are less desirable mechanically, but still, have their uses in the game for this build.
Sharpshooter* – This feat is absolutely required for this build. It allows you to attack at long-range without imposing disadvantage which for longbows is 600 ft. away from your target. Your ranged weapon attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover which is another huge bonus.
Lastly, you may choose to make a ranged attack with -5 to attack and +10 to damage each time you attack with a ranged weapon you’re proficient with. I made a calculator for this portion of the feat because of how integral it was for this build.
Alert – You gain +5 bonus to initiative, you can’t be surprised when you’re conscious, and other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you for being hidden from you. While this doesn’t have great synergy with the arcane archer portion of the build, it’s amazing for our Assassinate feature from the assassin rogue archetype. This helps to guarantee that you go before your enemies on round 1 of combat which gives you advantage on your attacks against them.
Elven Accuracy – This is a pretty solid feat for this build. You gain 1 point in either Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma. Also, when you have advantage on an attack roll using one of those abilities you can reroll one of the dice. Just like Alert, this feat has some great synergy with our build since Assassinate gives us a pretty reliable source of advantage for our longbow attacks in round 1 of combat.
Lucky – Lucky is a great feat for any build.
Crossbow Expert – While RAW arcane archers specifically only use bows your DM could you to use crossbows without any major repercussions. That being said this feat still gives you the ability to make ranged attacks in melee range which is pretty decent.
* – REQUIRED
Class Features – Fighter
Fighting Style – Level 1
This should come as no surprise to you that your arcane archer should be taking the Archery Fighting Style. This gives you a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons which will help offset the -5 from Sharpshooter’s -5/+10 attacks.
Second Wind – Level 1
On your turn you can use a bonus action to gain hit points equal to 1d10 + your Fighter Level. This is a solid feature that gives our glass cannon build a bit of survivability when you’re in a tight spot. This also recharges on a short rest or long rest so it’s a pretty reliable source of survivability.
Action Surge – Level 2
This is easily one of the most powerful features in our arcane archer build. You can use this feature to take an additional action on your turn. The reason this is so great is that at level 5+ you’ll be able to make 4-6 weapon attacks in a single turn of combat. That is a ton of potential damage.
It’s also useful for instances where you may need to use your action for survivability, but still, want to make some attacks. For example, you could use the Dodge and Attack actions on the same turn if you used Action Surge. After we dip at least 2 levels into rogue you won’t need to use Action Surge for this, but until then it’s an option.
Once you’ve used this feature you will regain it on a short or long rest. Save this for when you need to deal some massive damage very quickly.
Extra Attack – Level 5 & 11
After level 5, when you take the attack action you get to make extra weapon attacks. At level 5 you can make 2 attacks, and at level 11 you can make 3 attacks per action.
Indomitable – Level 9 & 13
Using this feature you can reroll a saving throw you fail. You have to use the new roll and you can’t use the feature until you complete a long rest. You also gain a second use of this feature at level 13. Interestingly enough, this is the only feature that requires you to complete a long rest to regain the use of it.
This is a great feature to help bolster your survivability. Saving throws (particularly Wisdom, Charisma, and Strength) are one of the main weaknesses of this build so having 1 or 2 extra chances to prevent a failed saving throw is a huge asset.
Martial Archetype – Arcane Archer
Arcane Archer Lore – Level 3
This feature is purely based around flavor. You get the choice between gaining proficiency in either the Arcana or the Nature skill, and you can choose between learning prestidigitation or druidcraft. None of this has any bearing on combat so they choice is entirely yours.
Arcane Shot – Level 3, 7, & 10
When you first get this feature at level 3 you gain 2 uses of Arcane Shot which are regained on a short or long rest. Once per turn, you can use decide to use one of your Arcane Shots after your arrow has hit the target. Also at 3rd level, you can learn 2 of the 8 different Arcane Shot options on page 29-30 of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE). At level 7 & 10 you will learn an additional one from the list.
They all have their uses, but here are my top 4:
- Bursting Arrow
- Grasping Arrow
- Enfeebling Arrow
- Shadow Arrow
Bursting Arrow and Grasping Arrow are my recommendations for level 3 as they give you a good mix of AoE damage and crowd control. In fact they’re all pretty decent options for this arcane archer build outside of Piercing Arrow. It’ll be very rare that you’ll be within 30 ft. of multiple enemies as you’ll generally want to be as far away from your target as humanly possible at all times.
Most of the Arcane Shots have a save DC. This is equal to 8 + proficiency bonus + Intelligence mod.
There is a typo in XGtE where it states this can only be used when firing a magic arrow. Jeremy Crawford corrected that here. Any arrow can be used for this feature!
Magic Arrow – Level 7
Whenever you fire a nonmagical arrow from a longbow or a shortbow it is now considered magical for overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage. Short, sweet, and to the point. It’s a solid feature if you do not already have a magical bow.
Curving Shot – Level 7
This feature is excellent and finally gives you a use for your bonus action outside of second wind. When you miss an attack with an arrow you can make a bonus action to reroll the attack roll against a different target within 60 ft. of the original target. Having another chance to deal some damage this turn is a great feature. Curving Shot is the primary reason that this build focuses on rushing to level 7 fighter so quickly.
Class Features – Rogue
Multiclassing Proficiencies – Level 1
Just from dipping a level into Rogue you’ll gain proficiency in light armor, one skill from the rogue’s skill list, and thieves’ tools. Gaining a skill and thieves’ tools (if you background doesn’t give it to you) is a pretty nice perk. Regardless, this doesn’t affect the combat prowess of our arcane archer a whole lot unless you are picking up Stealth or Acrobatics at this point.
Expertise – Level 1 & 6
Choose two of your skill proficiencies or one & and your thieves’ tools proficiency and double your proficiency with them for any check you make that uses these. At 6th you can choose two more or one & your thieves’ tools and gain the same bonus. For the first one, you’ll want to grab expertise in at least Acrobatics if not both Acrobatics and Stealth.
Gaining expertise with Thieves’ Tools is also a pretty awesome bonus if you don’t already have a dedicated trap disabler. Athletics can also be a great option if you decided to opt for a bit more strength than what this build suggested. Make sure at least one of your options for breaking out of a grapple gets the benefit of expertise.
Sneak Attack – Level 1, 3, 5, & 7
Sneak Attack is one of the primary reasons for our arcane archer to add a rogue multiclass. Once per turn you can deal an extra xd6 to a creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the roll or an enemy of the creature is within 5 ft. of it. Sneak Attack starts at 1d6 (3.5) extra damage and ends at 4d6 (14) extra damage per use by the end of our build.
You have to use a finesse weapon or a ranged weapon for this to work, but considering we’re an arcane archer we’ve got our bases covered. This is a solid amount of single target burst damage that is a major perk for this build along with some of the other great rogue features that focus on defense and maneuverability.
Thieves’ Cant – Level 1
Rogues get a secret language that they can read and write. Pretty cool, but doesn’t add much to our arcane archer build in terms of combat mechanics.
Cunning Action – Level 2
We don’t have a lot of bonus action abilities or features outside of Curving Shot and the occasional Second Wind. That all changes once we are a level 2 rogue and gain this feature. We can now Dash, Disengage, or Hide using a bonus action! All of these give us a way to either put some distance between us and our enemy or hide in the shadows and potentially gain sneak attack on our next attack.
At this point, there’s no reason to not be taking a bonus action on your turn, even if you don’t miss any of your attacks. You can hit a target with your longbow from 600 ft. away so don’t be afraid to make as much distance between you and the fray as possible by using your bonus action to Dash. There’s always something you can be doing which significantly improves your personal action economy!
Uncanny Dodge – Level 5
You can now use a reaction to halve an attack’s damage made by an attacker that you can see. This is excellent since we will rarely gain attacks of opportunity due to being almost exclusively ranged and those can only be done with melee attacks. You’ll almost have a free reaction ready that you can now use to reduce your damage taken without second-guessing yourself as to whether or not you should’ve held it to deal a bit more damage this round.
You should not frequently have to use this ability as you should aim to be far away from the battle. However, it is an amazing feature to have the few times you have to use it!
Evasion – Level 7
When you have to make a Dexterity throw to take half damage on an AoE you now take no damage if you succeed and half damage if you fail the save. This is an amazing ability for this build as it gives us yet another way to minimize the damage we take.
Due to your ability to stay at ridiculously long ranges in combat AoEs will be one of the few things you’ll have to regularly deal with. Couple this with the fact that you have a very high Dexterity modifier you’ll be able to skirt out of these AoEs with 0 damage taken a fair amount of the time.
Roguish Archetype – Assassin
Bonus Proficiencies – Level 3
You gain proficiency with the disguise and poisoner’s kit. A nice perk, plus applying poison to your arrows will give you some added damage or crowd control options. Here is a list of some sample poisons in D&D that you might be able to convince your DM to let you find or make!
Assassinate – Level 3
You get advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in combat yet. If that creature is surprised your hit is a critical hit. Advantage is always useful to have for a class that relies on making lots of attacks at a time and it’s also one of the requirements for using Sneak Attack.
Because of your high initiative bonus from your Dexterity modifier, you’ll have a great chance at being at the top of the initiative order meaning you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this feature. Assassinate also gives us an easier and more reliable way to gain advantage on attack rolls is also great for ensuring our -5/+10 sharpshooter attacks hit their mark. This feature has a ton of great synergy with our arcane archer build no matter how you slice it!
Strengths of This Build
You are probably one of the better characters to annihilate mages and long-range threats in the party. You can shoot up to 600 ft. away without any penalties and you ignore half and three-quarters cover so you can regularly hit ranged enemies without fear of them hitting you. If you see a group of enemies in an open field ahead of you, you can probably kill most of them before they even reach your party.
In addition to this insane amount of range, you also have a great personal action economy. At max level, you have 3 attacks, movement, a guaranteed bonus action, Action Surge, and a reliable use of your reaction each round of combat. This opens up a ton of different options for what you would like to do on your turn.
At max level, you’ll be able to deal an average of 1d8+10+4d6+5+2d6 (40.5) damage for one of your attacks and 1d8+10+5 (24.5) for the other two while still having +6 to hit when using Sharpshooter. This is not including magical items or weapons that may affect those scores. This is a very solid amount of damage for being up to 600 ft. away from your target. This build definitely met its original goal of being a glass cannon.
Weaknesses of This Build
Outside of combat, you are pretty useless. You have low Charisma and have built your character entirely around dealing a ton of damage from very far away. You also don’t have any magic outside of Prestidigitation or Druidcraft so you can’t offer much in the way of utility outside of deciphering Thieves’ Cant codes and disabling traps.
You’ve also made Wisdom and Charisma your dump stats so you’ll be more likely to fail these saving throws. Spells like Hold Person and Blindness/Deafness will be the bane of your existence and can take you out of combat or hinder the use of your abilities. Even if you hit an attack at disadvantage while blinded, you still won’t be able to use Sneak Attack, and you can’t use Uncanny Dodge since you can’t see your attacker!
Strength saves are not as much of an issue since you at least have proficiency in those. You do have two uses of Indomitable to mitigate this issue, but that’s not going to allow you to get out of every save.
I really loved playing this build in my homebrew campaign. I was able to deal a large amount of damage as a martial character while still having plenty of weaknesses that the DM could use against me. It was well-optimized but pretty fair considering I was pretty useless out of combat and could easily be taken out of the fight with CC spells and abilities that required WIS or CHAR saves.
This build would also work very well for a battle master instead of an arcane archer. I think the two are pretty interchangeable in this case. Both have access to a feature that empowers their ranged attacks.
Choosing the arcane trickster archetype instead of the assassin archetype is also a viable option. This build would be more focused on magic and gives a bit of utility to the arcane archer.
My Thoughts on the Arcane Archer
As a whole I found the arcane archer to be a pretty fun archetype. However, it did have some issues with scaling since you only get a max of 4d6 damage with your shots at level 18 and only 2d6 prior to that. I also felt that only having two uses of Arcane Shot per short rest was not enough for me to really feel like a spell-weaving archer.
It had some great flavor through the Arcane Archer Lore and Magic Arrow features. Curving Shot is also a very cool mechanic, but that was about where I felt I got the most out of the archetype. I found more value in multiclassing into rogue than I did if I’d opted to continue to learn more Arcane Shots and getting the Every-Ready Shot feature.