The Arcane Archer, a class and concept that prevailed in infamy since the twilight era of AD&D and the early dawn of D&D 3rd Edition. The idea of an elf or half-elf that could imbue their arrows with magic and unleash arcane barrages via bow and arrow. The user needed to be gifted in weaving spells and additionally be an adept archer to perform the great eldritch feats necessary.

Arcane Archer, Image: PurpleLemon13
Arcane Archer, Image: PurpleLemon13

History of the Arcane Archer – As Seen by a Mad Man

It has always been the ideal of many power-hungry gamers or gamers who want to do it all, to merge the martial disciplines of a warrior with the versatility and destructive nature of sorcery. During the tenure of D&D 3.5 Edition, we saw the Arcane Archer prestige class as the de-facto archetype to what many term as a “gish”. The word “gish” comes from the Githyanki word for “skilled”, which was adopted by players and DMs to represent a character build inherently designed to possess many abilities and skills (the penultimate concept of a jack of all trades).

At the end of the 3.5 Edition era, the schism that resulted in the player bases of Pathfinder and D&D 4th Edition emerged and the Arcane Archer saw a measure of improvements and cosmetic changes. Under the Pathfinder banner, the Arcane Archer (see class here) remained a prestige class for warrior/mage characters, the implementation of elemental damage enhancements on the archer’s arrows along with spellcasting class progressions gave the class improved versatility and empowerment. In essence, the class became vastly more friendly to warrior/mage builds where they did not lose spellcasting slots or the ability to acquire/learn more spells along the class progression.

Meanwhile under the 4th edition ruleset, the Arcane Archer was largely unseen. Since all the classes in D&D 4th Edition were virtually identical in construction, the only things that separated the characters were their features and actions. Overall, any mage or warrior character possessed features and abilities that mimicked the overall flavor and concept of an Arcane Archer. BUT there was never a clear distinctive paragon path or feat to pay homage to this legacy. The Seeker primal class was the closest interpretation to an Arcane Archer, while the flavor was somewhat off from the original context, the class had various abilities and features that reflected the attributes of an Arcane Archer. The Bard class eventually received a paragon path called Songbow which was its own variation of an Arcane Archer. Ultimately, due to the very mechanical structure of 4th edition, the archetype of an Arcane Archer was overshadowed by the more flashy abilities of other classes that offered similar effects. In short, the Arcane Archer was only a shadow or ghost that wandered through the tomes of 4th Edition.

Today…

The Arcane Archer today still remains elusive from the pages of official Wizards of the Coast products and supplements. Many fans are hopeful that the iconic archetype returns either as subclass/archetype or (due to new Unearthed Arcana articles) as revamped prestige class as per its original legacy. Between the official release of the 5th Edition rules to now (with the official release of the Open Game License (OGL)), many players and DMs across the Internet have taken their interpretation of the infamous concept and so far have gotten impressively close to its original iteration – with some modifications, of course.

The Variations of the Arcane Archer (as seen on the Internet)

There are countless attempts to bring the Arcane Archer to the 5th Edition realm, some have been more successful in implementation than others. These four implementations offer the breadth of creative variety to optimize and express the Arcane Archer within the current framework. There are some ideas which are more conservative in regards to using the established balance inherent in the Fighter and Ranger classes, and then there are more novel approaches, either methodology ultimate results in a similar reproduction of the original concept, the Arcane Archer. Looking at what others have thought and done, I believe we can further the cause and reestablish the glory of the Arcane Archer.


Idea #1: Arcane Archer as an archetype

If we wish to stay within the basic framework that many prestige classes from previous editions are repurposed into archetypes/subclasses, we can do that. But which class would house the archetype?

Rich’s Eldritch Archer utilized the more combat oriented nature of Arcane Archer, though the inclusion of Arcane Sniper made the class practically the equivalent of a tactical missile. The Arcane Archer under the Ranger class felt more like a carbon copy plastered onto the 5th Edition framework, it’s not a bad translation but feels underwhelming, much like the rest of the Ranger class. Nerk’s idea for a new Wizard tradition is not too farfetched or crazy, as Wizards has proven us that fact under the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide with the Bladesinger as a Wizard tradition exclusive to elves and half-elves. Honestly, I don’t feel we need to give another wizard tradition for elves and half-elves.  That does not leave us with much options, so either Fighter or Ranger. Let’s push the envelope on what we can do!

Arcane Archer as Ranger Archetype
The Arcane Archer have learned to weave the arcane along with their primal energies to empower their vigil between the civilized and uncivilized worlds. In times of war, simple tools and tactics may not be enough against full battalions or large foes. These warriors wield the spell and bow together as a medium for pinpoint death and devastation on their foes.  

Restrictions: Elve or Half-elves only, Archery Fighting Style
Unlike other archetypes, this particular archetype focuses primarily on using ranged weaponry to both enhance the channeling of their spells but as a back-up weapon to keep their foes at a distance.

Weapon Bond: At 3rd level, the Arcane Archer learns a ritual that creates a magical bond between themselves and one ranged weapon. They perform the ritual over the course of 1 hour, which can be done during a short rest. The weapon must be within your reach throughout the ritual, at the conclusion of which you touch the weapon and forge the bond.

Once you have bonded a weapon to yourself, you can’t be disarmed of that weapon unless you are incapacitated. If it is on the same plane of existance, the Arcane Archer can summon that weapon as a bonus action on their turn, causing it to teleport instantly to your hand. Your bonded weapon also serves as an arcane focus when casting your spells.

You can have up to two bounded weapons, but can summon only one at a time with your bonus action. If you attempt to bond with a third weapon, you must break the bond with one of the other two.

Imbued Arrows: At 3rd level, the Arcane Archer may imbue an unenchanted arrow with arcane energy to reproduce elemental effects. The archer, as a bonus action, expends a spell slot to impart  elemental energy onto the piece of ammunition for his next attack. The extra damage is 2d8 acid, fire, cold, or electricity damage (chosen when expending the spell slot) for a 1st-level slot, plus 1d8 damage for each level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8.

At 13th level, the Arcane Archer can choose poison, or thunder damage when expending a spell slot for this feature.

Arcane Training: At 3rd level, the Arcane Archer learns combat magic to fend the greater foes between civilization and nature. The archer learns two evocation cantrips from the Wizard spell list. Whenever he gains a level in this class he can can choose a Wizard spell and added it to his spell’s known or he can choose a Ranger spell he knows and replace it with a spell from the Wizard spell list, which also must be of a level which he has spell slots. The new spell is treated as Ranger spell for him.

At 10th level, the Arcane Archer learns another cantrip from the Wizard’s spell list.

Arcane Step: At 7th level, the Arcane Archer masters the art of maneuverability using magical means. As a bonus action, the Arcane Archer may expend a spell slot and teleport to an unoccupied space he can see within 30 feet. The Arcane Archer also gains temporary hit points equal to five times the spell slot level expended used by this feature.

Spellcharged Arrow: At 11th level, the Arcane Archer has mastered the final art of bow and spell weaving. With their bonded weapon in hand, as an action, the Arcane Archer may use an action to imbue an evocation spell of 1st level or higher that he knows, the arrow is consumed by the arcane energy before it reaches the target within the weapon’s range, preventing the ammunition damage on the target.  If the spell requires an attack roll, the attack is rolled normally for the ranged weapon using Strength or Dexterity as appropriate instead of the archer’s spellcasting modifier. If the spell requires a saving throw, the archer must make a successful attack roll against either the target creature or the desired point of origin (use a base AC 10 modified by your DM if the target is a point instead of a creature) before forcing the target to make the saving throw.

Enchanted Arrows: At 15th level, the Arcane Archer has mastered melding his arcane and archery expertise into a deadly combination. Whenever the archer finishes a long rest, can enchant a number of arrows equal to his Wisdom modifier. These enchantments last on the arrows until the archer takes another long rest, any unused arrow loses these enchantments. Each arrow can be infused with any one number of the following effects:

  • Seeking Arrow: The arcane archer can infuse his arrows to seek out their target. The enchantment gives the archer advantage on attack rolls with the arrow.
  • Phase Arrow: The arcane archer infuses his arrows with bits from the Ethereal Plane. The enchantment allows the arrow fired from the archer to pass through solid objects and hit those up to three-quarters cover, in other words the attack rolls is resolved normally.
  • Arrow of Ruin: The arcane archer infuses eldritch energy into the arrow, making it sharper and denser than other arrows. The arrow is scores a critical hit on a roll of 19-20.
  • Arrow of Death (Only 1 Arrow): The arcane archer infuses deadly arcane energy into a single arrow designed to slay a target. The arcane archer can only craft one such arrow at a time, it’s magic dissipates after the archer takes a long rest. A creature struck by this arrow must make a Constitution saving throw using the Ranger’s spell save DC, the target is reduced to 0 hit points, it takes 10d8 necrotic damage on a successful save.

***

Idea #2: Arcane Archer as a Prestige Class (as seen here)

Ever since Wizards of the Coast brought back the possible design template for prestige classes using the 5th Edition ruleset, there have been some ideas tossed occasionally by creators here and there. But honestly there has been very little implementation, either due to the restrictive nature of a prestige class or the fact that it hearkens too closely to the old concepts from D&D 3.5 Edition that sort of brought about the min/max power-gaming frenzy at the end of that edition’s reign. The idea is still worth exploring for our purposes in regards to returning the former glory of the Arcane Archer back.

The original prestige class from Pathfinder/3.5 consisted of 10 levels with tiered abilities along with “once a day” abilities. Some of these abilities are mimicked as spells in the 5th Edition rules, others have not been represented still and I still believe that they should be considered features. Though FallingIcicle’s arcane archer spells (presented above) are a novel approach and should be not discounted if DMs do not wish to utilize this idea or the Arcane Archer as a Ranger archetype idea. In the end, through simplification our interpretation for the prestige class of the Arcane Archer would fit fine within a 5-level prestige class structure.

Arcane Archer

Arcane Archer
Level Features Spell Slots per Level
1st 2nd 3rd
1 Arcane Archery, Imbue Arrows 2     –     –
2 Enchanted Arrow 3    –    –
3 Enchanted Arrow 4    2    –
4 Enchanted Arrow, Eldritch Sniper 4    3     –
5 Enchanted Arrow, Death by Bow 4    3     2

Prerequisities

  • Dexterity 13, Intelligence 13. The Arcane Archer must be agile and nimble, not to mention that the Arcane Archer primarily utilizes ranged weapon attacks. Additionally, they need to have the mental aptitude to understand the arcane formulas and sequences taught.
  • Archery Fighting Style. The Arcane Archer is a master of ranged combat, only the most precise and skilled are capable of entering the rigorous training required.
  • Proficient with the Arcana skill. The Arcane Archer needs to understand the basic fundamentals of spell-work in order to meld it with his bow.
  • Character level 5th. Arcane Archery requires the entrant to be skilled and capable before undergoing the training necessary.
  • Must be elf or half-elf. The elves maintain the secrets of their eldritch combat magic, from bladesinging to arcane archery, the elves have spent centuries mastering the craft to blend spell and weapon play into their core combative prowess. Elven masters spend years observing potential candidates that show promise, afterward they are brought before a master to be accepted as their student. It is a great honor to accept the role of an Arcane Archer, a warrior destined to protect the elven communities from their enemies. The pinnacle of arcane and archery prowess, the archer is a long-range weapon of destruction, silent and explosive.

Class Features

Hit Points
Hit Dice: 
1d8 per Arcane Archer level
Hit Points per level: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per arcane archer level

Proficiencies
Armor: Light armor

Saving Throws: None
Skills: None

Arcane Archery: At 1st level, you learn the basics of weaving spells with your ranged weapon in hand, along with the basic fundamentals of arcane spellcasting. The arcane archer may perform a 1 hour ritual to bond with a selected weapon. The bonded weapon must be a ranged weapon that the archer is proficient. Once bonded, the weapon can be used as an arcane focus to be used in replacement of non-monetary material components, not including material components that are consumed at the point of casting or have a gold cost.

The arcane archer, through the course of their training, learn to draw their own magical power to augment their effects. You gain a number of spell slots as specified in the Arcane Archer table, but this prestige class does not grant spells known. Instead, as an arcane archer, you can expend your spell slots to empower your abilities (see Enchanted Arrows below).

For the purposes of multiclassing, to determine your total spell slots, add your levels in arcane archer to your levels in classes that grant you the Spellcasting feature. For example, if you are an arcane archer 4/wizard 6, you would have the total spell slots of a 10th-level character, in addition to having the cantrips and spellbook of a 6th level wizard.

Imbue Arrows: At 1st level, the arcane archer learns the basic art of channelling latent arcane potential into their arrows to create devastating effects. The Arcane Archer may expend a spell slot, as a bonus action, to grant their next attack an additional 2d8 acid, fire, cold, or electricity damage (chosen upon expending the spell slot). The damage increases by an additional 1d8 damage for every spell slot above 1st, up to a maximum of 5d8. This feature cannot be used along with arrows enchanted by the Enchanted Arrow feature.

Enchanted Arrow: The arcane archer undergoes the rigorous study of enchantments that are used to bestow powerful arcane effects a selection of arrows to be used in their arsenal against the enemies of the elves. At 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th level, choose an enchantment to learn, once known, he cannot choose the same enchantment again (unless specified). The arcane archer must also satisfy any level requirements that the enchantments may possess. The arrows crafted by this feature are considered magical weapons for the purposes of resistances and immunities to non-magical weapons. At the end of a long rest, the arcane archer can bestow a number of arrows equal to his Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1) with arcane enchantments. These enchantments have limited magic imbued, only one arrow can possess a single enchantment at a time, and any unused arrows lose these properties when the archer takes his next long rest. The arcane archer can choose to learn the following enchantments from this list:

  • Bleed: The arrow causes grievous wounds as the eldritich energy strikes the target after it had already been struck by the initial impact. The arrow deals an additional 4d4 piercing damage and it takes an additional 2d4 piercing damage at the beginning of the target’s next turn.
  • Burst: The arrow is charged with explosive force, whenever the arrow hits its target, the arrow becomes consumed in arcane energy and deals an additional 4d6 force damage to all creatures within a 10-foot radius of the target.
  • Deadly: The arrow is charged malevolent energies, the arrow scores a critical hit on a roll of 19-20.
  • Distance: The arrow does not grant disadvantage on attack rolls when fired at a target out of the ranged weapons maximum range.
  • Seeking (3rd level): The arrow seeks its target, granting it advantage on attack rolls with it.
  • Stunning Shot (3rd level): The arrow strikes a critical nerve at the target. The creature must make a Constitution saving throw (DC = 8 + arcane archer’s proficiency bonus + Intelligence modifier) or be stunned for 1 round.
  • Hail of Arrows (4th level): The arrow is fired into the air before it scatters into hundreds of identical arrows raining down all creatures on a point within weapon range. Each creature within a 40-foot radius, 20-foot cylinder centered on the point must make a Dexterity saving throw (DC = 8 + arcane archer’s proficiency bonus + Intelligence modifier). A creature takes 6d8 damage on a failed saving throw, or half as much damage on a successful save. The damage is the same as the ammunition or weapon.
  • Phase Arrow (4th level): The arrow is wrapped in energy from the Ethereal Plane, granting it the ability to ignore up to three-quarter cover, the attack resolves normally.

Eldritch Sniper: At 4th level, the arcane archer becomes adept in using arcane energies to meld the light around himself and fade from view. As a bonus action, the arcane archer may expend a spell slot and become invisible for 1 round. If the arcane archer expends a 2nd-level or higher spell slot, he remains invisible for an additional round. Attacking or casting a spell does not end this invisibility.

Death by Bow: At 5th level, the arcane archer can craft a unique arrow, one designed to slay its target. The arcane archer can only possess one such arrow at a time, it takes 10 days to make and it’s effects last an entire year. A creature struck by this arrow must make a Constitution saving throw (DC = 8 + Arcane Archer’s proficiency bonus + Intelligence modifier). A failed save results in the creature’s hit points being reduced to 0, on a successful saving throw, the creature takes 7d8 necrotic damage.


Alright guys, these are just some tossed up ideas that I had sitting on paper for a little while now. I hope this was informative to everyone reading this article. Thanks again for reading and subscribing. If you have any concerns and questions please leave them in the comments below. You are free to modify these concepts to suit your needs or if you think I went too far on the deep end of crazy, you’re more than welcome to improve on my ideas. Let me know and maybe some people can even playtest these ideas. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on future posts and if you want to give a shout out on whether my ideas are looney or not. We’ll see you next time!

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