Underrated or Underpowered: Arcane Archer

Will their arrows fly true? Or will they miss the bullseye? Today we talk about the Arcane Archer, spiritual successor of the Ranger. Come see if this subclass is Underrated or Underpowered!

Hello everyone! We welcome you today as we get into yet another fighter subclass! Today we’re going to be taking a hike over to Xanathar’s and asking him about Everything and analyzing the pros and cons of the Arcane Archer! Let’s get right to it

Let’s start off as I express my love for fighters. I think they’re a brilliant class that can be played by the new characters and old guards alike, and they can be built however you want! Arcane Archer is an extension of that, since most people tend to only view fighters as sword/shield users on the front lines. Arcane Archer takes to the back lines with some magic, either arcane or natural, and imbues their shots with it to create various effects.

No Really, Put that Apple on Your Head

So you didn’t want to pick a ranger because you wanted to play a good class, nor did you want to be a caster because well… you wanna use a bow! Fortunately you can get the best of both worlds with Arcane Archer. At level 3, you gain Arcane Archer Lore, which gives you proficiency in either Arcana or Nature as well as the prestidigtation or druidcraft cantrip. I’ll get into this later, but I believe that the Arcane Archer could gain some benefit from gaining spellcasting from the Ranger or Wizard spell list. Even if it were something in the same vein as Way of the Four Elements Monk, getting a few spells could really help out the subclass. But hey, free cantrips and skill proficiencies are still welcome.

Your main class feature comes at level 3, with your Arcane Shot options. You get to choose two of them and gain additional options at later levels. You get two uses per short or long rest, and you can use your Arcane Shot once per turn. Most of the options cause saves, most of them deal 2d6 damage, but we’re not going to go into the specifics of each of them. You get a ton of great utility and some nova damage with the ability, and it’s pretty great to have this many options at your disposal. While you won’t be able to use this ability as much as a Battle Master uses their maneuvers, these abilities do tend to have more use and utility than the maneuvers!

You gain two features at level 7, Magic Arrow and Curving Shot. Magic Arrow simply makes the arrows you fire magical for the purposes of overcoming resistances and immunities, so if you haven’t gotten a magic weapon by now, this ability is incredibly useful. By this level you may be fighting undead or other creatures that resist BPS from non magical weapons. If that’s the case, this ability makes your attacks much more useful against those creatures. Curving Shot lets you reroll an attack you miss within 60 feet of you using your bonus action, as long as you target a different creature. This ability is pretty great, especially considering fighters don’t get much bonus action economy, especially as an Arcane Archer. If you find yourself constantly fighting groups of enemies, this ability will come in handy to make sure you don’t feel like you’re wasting your attacks when you miss.

Level 15 brings us Ever-Ready Shot, which great increases the longevity of the Arcane Archer. If you enter combat with no uses of your Arcane Shot, you regain one use. Since the amount of times you can use Arcane Shot never goes up and you’ll probably have to use more than one use of this ability in combat, always getting one use back if you’re completely dry is extremely beneficial. It also lets you be a bit more lenient in your use of the shot, never quite having to save up for the “perfect moment” between short rests.

Level 18 sadly doesn’t bring us any new abilities. The class’s “capstone” is doubling the damage on all of the dice to 4d6 or adding 2d6 damage to those abilities that don’t deal damage. While the extra damage is nice in addition to the weapon’s base damage, you still can’t use the ability more than once per turn, so it makes your nova potential 2d6 better at most. The extra damage is nice, but I’ll talk a bit more later about how I’d change it. However, it is always disappointing to see cop outs like this as opposed to really cool capstones, especially for a class like the Arcane Archer.

Right Between the Eyes

So this is the part where I mention a few of the gripes I have with the subclass and really cut it down to size, because so far it’s looking pretty good! I am a little biased because I really like characters like Hawkeye, Hanzo, and various other bow users, so maybe I’ll use this as an opportunity to mention a few things I’d like to see changed.

First is the number of uses of Arcane Shot. Being tied down to only two uses until level 15, and even then still only having two per encounter is really sad. I feel like similar to a barbarian’s rage or a warlock’s spell slots, the number of shots should go up, at level 9 or 11 and then again at level 18. Being able to use this ability only twice per short rest kind of sucks, especially when it’s what your subclass is built around. Meanwhile, the Battle Master is using their maneuvers four times per short rest as early as level 3. It’s kind of sad to see, but things like Piercing Arrow could get very strong if they’re used that often at lower levels.

Second, the damage of Arcane Shot. having it start at 2d6 and never go up until level 18 is pretty awful. Fighters don’t get much in the way of abilities or spells that increase their damage until they get their 3rd multiattack at level 11. So while Paladins are smiting, Rangers have Hunter’s Mark, and Rogues have Sneak Attack, the fighter simply gets their Arcane Shot once per turn. I think that if the damage increased to 3d6 at level 10 or 11, it’d serve as a great middle ground and help the Arcane Archer scale into Tier 3 better.

Third, the Arcane Archer is even more dependent on Intelligence than the Eldritch Knight. Eldritch Knight gets great usage out of spells like shield and absorb elements, which don’t require Intelligence. They can eventually use spells like shadow blade, warding wind, etc, none of which require Intelligence. However, for the Arcane Archer, all of their saves for their arrow’s effects use Intelligence for their DC. Because of this, you’ll be forced to put maybe even your second highest stat into Intelligence as opposed to something like Constitution.

Lastly, and I’ve talked about this earlier, but this class could certainly benefit from some spellcasting. Even if it’s just using certain spells once per long rest, the Fighter could benefit greatly from this. Spells like Ensnaring Strike, Zephyr Strike, or even Hunter’s Mark could help the Arcane Archer to stay competitive in damage and give them a little bit more bonus action economy.

Final Verdict

While I really do love the flavor and the general mechanics of the Arcane Archer, sadly I’ll have to call it Underpowered. I think that the class spikes pretty well at level 3, but it doesn’t translate well into the later stages of the game. Realistically, you won’t get that damage increase on the arrows in your average campaign and even Ever Ready Shot won’t come into play until the very end of the campaign. While you could multiclass, Rogue is your only real option unless you want to go Wizard for the thematic and wizard spells. As a base class though, I feel that Arcane Archer could use more improvements towards the middle section of the game.

And that’s all folks! Thank you so very much for joining us on this arcane adventurer. Please feel free to let us know if you want to see anything in this series either on our Twitter or our Instagram. Again, thank you all and we’ll see you next week!

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