Arcane Archer Character Guide: Dungeons and Dragons 5e

For Dungeons and Dragons 5e, the Arcane Archer is introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, creating a spellcasting archer other than the ranger.  This arcane fighter pulls from the wizard schools of magic to perform extraordinary magic shots.  Naturally, this class grew from the elves, treating these archers as guardians to the Feywild or elven kingdoms.  However, these archers lean into Intelligence more than Wisdom.

Build an Arcane Archer for Dungeons and Dragons 5e with these elements in mind:

  • Choose a race with Dexterity and Intelligence: High Elf, Forest Gnome, Feral Tiefling
  • Build a Fighter with Archery Fighting Style
  • Learn various Arcane Shots and Bonus Proficiency/Cantrip
  • Build on Higher level Arcane Archer abilities: Magic Shot, Curving Shot, Ever-Ready Shot

Choose a race with Dexterity and Intelligence: High Elf, Forest Gnome, Feral Tiefling

On the onset of my character build, I’ll want to try a race with high Intelligence, Dexterity or a combination of both.  My favorite choices are high elf, forest gnome and feral tiefling.

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The high elf Arcane Archer is thematically the most obvious first choice.  High elves fit the mythology of this subclass and gain a +2 Dexterity/+1 Intelligence bonus combination.  Plus, I gain a free wizard cantrip, and I’ll choose true strike to give myself advantage on attack rolls.  Also, my Fey Ancestry will give me advantage on saving throws against being charmed and immunity to magic sleep effects.

Forest gnomes make for a less serious version of this guardian character but fit the build with +2 Intelligence and +1 Dexterity.  Another benefit from playing forest gnome is their innate minor illusion spell and affinity for small animals.  This character will be seemingly charming and even cute, but will attack with ruthless efficiency.

Feral tieflings might be the oddest version of this character but offer +2 Dexterity and +1 Intelligence.  Once again, this is a race with inherent magic.  Thaumaturgy, hellish rebuke and darkness are all available to a tiefling, along with devastating magic arrows.  Maybe this character was raised by high elves as special defense against dark magic—kind of like the “monster slays other monsters” trope of Blade or Vampire Hunter D.

Build a Fighter with Archery Fighting Style

Obviously, I’ll need to build my fighter as an archer from the ground up.  For me, this means leveraging my Dexterity score whenever possible with other weapons.  Being a class related to elves, I’ll build my initial fighter like so:

  • Leather armor, longbow and quiver
  • Rapier and net
  • Acrobatics and History skill proficiencies
  • Explorer’s pack

I’ll then choose Archery Fighting Style to give my character a +2 bonus to attack rolls with the bow.  Note that this is for attack rolls, enhancing my accuracy.  My Dexterity score can do the damage for me on basic attacks, and my magic arrows will add quite a bit of effect.  Don’t let the promise of massive damage make you forget about accuracy.

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I’ll also gain Second Wind at 1st level, giving me a well of HP to pull from in a hairy situation.  This recovery is equal to 1d10 + Fighter level.  Normally, this ability is intended for melee warriors, so I should be able to squeeze more out of it as a ranged fighter.

Then, Action Surge comes at level 2, granting me one extra action in combat per long rest.  I can use this free action to maneuver or attack as needed, so I’ll save it for the right moment.  An extra attack could finish off an injured foe, or I could move out of danger.

At higher levels, I’ll gain an Extra Attack (level 5), which grows to a 3rd attack at level 11 and 4 attacks at level 20.  Then, at level 9, I’ll gain Indomitable.  This ability allows me to reroll a failed saving throw.  Of course, I gain more as I level.

Learn various Arcane Shots and Bonus Proficiency/Cantrip

Arcane Archer Lore gives me proficiency in Arcana or Nature, along with my choice of prestidigitation or druidcraft cantrips.  I’m going to choose Arcana as a proficiency to leverage my already high Intelligence modifier.  However, I’ll lean toward the druid side of things for my cantrip and choose druidcraft.  In my opinion, there is far more this character can do with plant manipulation than card tricks.

Arcane Shot grants me a list of magical arrow effects from each wizard school.  I can choose 2 from the list, with additional options at level 7, 10, 15 and 18.  I’ll be able to fire these arrows 2 times between short or long rests.  Plus, I can decide to use the spell option after the arrow hits, unless it otherwise doesn’t use an attack roll.  My options are:

Arcane Shot

  • Banishing Arrow: Abjuration—temporarily banish target to a harmless location in the Feywild until the end of its next turn. Level 18 adds 2d6 force damage when they return.
  • Beguiling Arrow: Enchantment—2d6 psychic damage and target must make Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, target is charmed by an ally within 30 feet.  Level 18 increases damage to 4d6.
  • Bursting Arrow: Evocation—target and creatures within 10 feet of it take 2d6 force damage. Increases to 4d6 at level 18.
  • Enfeebling Arrow: Necromancy—2d6 necrotic damage and enemy’s weapon damage is halved on failed Constitution save. Increases to 4d6 at level 18.
  • Grasping Arrow: Conjuration—2d6 poison damage and target’s speed is reduced by 10 feet. Plus, add an extra 2d6 slashing damage on target’s first move each turn.  A Strength saving throw is required to break free.  Lasts 1 minute otherwise.  Increase to 4d6 for both damages at level 18.
  • Piercing Arrow: Transmutation—ethereal arrow shoots in 30-foot line, passing through allies and cover. Each enemy in range must make a Dexterity save.  On a failed save, target takes  arrow damage + 1d6.  Successful saves take half damage.  Increase to 2d6 damage at level 18.
  • Seeking Arrow: Divination—arrow tracks a target I’ve seen within past minute, ignoring ½ and ¾ cover. Target must be in range and have a clear path.  Then, target takes arrow + 1d6 damage on failed Dexterity save.
  • Shadow Arrow: Illusion—2d6 psychic damage and target is blinded for anything further than 5 feet on a failed Wisdom save. Lasts until the start of my next turn.  Increases to 4d6 at level 18.

Build on Higher level Arcane Archer abilities: Magic Shot, Curving Shot, Ever-Ready Shot

My later-level Arcane Archer abilities are Magic Arrow, Curving Shot and Ever-Ready Shot.  Though I’ll lean on my Arcane Shots for the most part, these arrow tricks add to my unique archery.

I learn Magic Arrow at level 7, which gives my arrow the ability to overcome resistance to nonmagical attacks.  In other words, I can shoot ghosts and magical opponents like my arrows were silvered.

Curving Shot is another trick I learn at this level, giving me the ability to find new targets for stray Magic arrows.  However, I have to roll a new attack roll for the new target and my arrow is no longer magical.

At level 15, Ever-Ready Shot gives me the ability to regain 1 use of Arcane Shot if I’m out.  This ability triggers at the beginning of battle.  Essentially, I’ll gain the ability to fire off one good Arcane Shot per battle.

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