Let me add before this that I love characters who use bow and arrow. I think they’re a lot more classy then a person who just swings a longsword around with reckless abandon. A well-placed arrow can eliminate a threat far before the Barbarian can get up into a horde’s threatened area, saving your Hit Points from being decimated early on. Popular culture has given us similar characters: Legolas from The Lord of the Rings, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, and the main protagonist of the next Assasssin’s Creed game have all shown their skill with this implement.
So why does 5th Edition seem to skimp out on ranged weapon users?
This isn’t limited just to bow and arrow but also crossbows as well. It seems that they don’t have much added flair or ‘oomph’ to keep them up to power level in later tiers of play. You either do 1d6 or 1d8 piercing damage, and at max level (depending on what class you are) can do at least 4d6 or 4d8 base-line. By that time, you have spells on magic-users like Prismatic Wall, Meteor Swarm and True Polymorph being handed out like candy. So what’s the deal?
Most would be quick to say magic items can quickly fix that. But many have to be homebrewed, due to the Dungeon Master’s Guide having shockingly little that can benefit arrow and bolt-using characters. Let’s look at the following:
1) The Oathbow. Oftentimes the most sought-after item for end game archers, compared to other items of its rarity and tier, the Oathbow is quite underwhelming. Yes, you have advantage on a target that you mark as your quarry, but when you hit them, again you are doing a piddly amount of damage.
At least, that’s my opinion on the item.
My revision of the object to make it more viable would be that when you hit your marked target, that the target takes an additional 3d6 or 3d8 damage (depending if its a short bow, long bow or even a cross bow). Ammunition fired from it is also treated as magical, for the sake of damage resistances and Immunities.
2) Bracers of Archery. If you’re already proficient with short and long bows, this is kind of a waste. But the +2 to attacks and damage is at least a nice thing. I found that a longbow wielding Warlock is actually pretty dang fun.
3) Gloves of Missile Snaring. These are more suited to say someone like a Monk or a primary spellcaster, or even a Rogue (or really any class save for bow Fighter or Ranger). You’d be holding your long/shortbow or crossbow with both hands. Though if you wield a light crossbow, I can see this coming in handy rather then if you currently use the heavy variety.
Out of over one hundred magical items, there are only three in the entire Dungeon Master’s Guild that could really be of prime focus for the Archers in the game. The highest rarity a person could get is Very Rare with the Oathbow, and there are plethora of other items of its same rarity which push it out of the water (Robe of Stars, just about every Ioun Stone, bronze Horn of Valhalla, all for example.
But it isn’t just items which get in the way but classes and subclasses. For that, we won’t be looking at the Ranger (which has been revised and re-revised constantly as much as dragons are slain in combat) but the Arcane Archer subclass. First released in the Unearthed Arcana articles and then revised for later play (I suspect it’s going to be in the forthcoming Xanathar’s Guide to Everything), the Arcane Archer is a subclass which has the player firing magical ammunition upon enemies at range.
When I imagine this scene, I think of a person shooting bolts of raw power and causing chaos to the person beneath them, blacking out the sky with how many arrows are being shot. What we get with the Arcane Archer is significantly more underwhelming.
Looking through each ability it gets at certain levels. I’m not going to go into depth about all of the Arcane Shot options because there are a lot of really interesting ones and some that are not so good.
- Magic Arrow (level 3). Having ammunition which is always considered magical as well as an instant +1 weapon is an amazing feature to have, especially at low levels of play. But when other party members begin to gather +2 or even +3 weapons, you quickly begin to feel a bit slow.
- Arcane Archer’s Lore (level 3). A bonus Proficiency is always a nice thing.
- Curving Shot (level 7). Being able to redirect one of your Arcane Shots is interesting and it has it’s place, but for a level 7 ability it seems a bit underwhelming.
- Ever-Ready Shot (level 15). Regain a singular usage of something that is the core of your subclass, and essentially what defines your adventuring career, seems weak, especially when classes such as Druids can really put out the pain on enemies.
“But Faith”, you may be asking yourself. “It sounds like Arcane Archers are awesome! Why do you have a gripe with them?”.
My issue is not with the subclass themselves, rather how they fall behind other classes in later levels of play.
Let’s assume that my character has a maxed out Dexterity score, is 20th level and wields primarily a longbow and at least one or two miscellaneous magical items. At the last level, I would be able to do maximum of 4d8 (the total of times I can attack in my turn) + 5 (for my modifier on each attack). This isn’t including Action Surge, which I have two uses of at 20th level. I could either divide my arrows between targets or pepper a single target with the pointy ends. Since I take levels in Arcane Archer up until the very end, all shots are considered +1 magical ammo.
But the group Paladin now has an obscenely high Armor Class, a Holy Avenger as well as the ability to partially heal others and a maxed out Strength score. His damage threshold increases significantly over other melee users, quickly having you wait behind him until he takes out the entire field before you even get your first shot off.
Casters won’t be compared to very much, since you are not one and utilize magic in long-range arrow shots.
How could the Arcane Archer therefore be better prepped for battle?
1) Increasing Magical Arrows. When I say this, I mean by what your arrows and bolts count as, depending on what weapon you main. At 3rd level it begins as a +1 weapon, but to keep up to others in your party and enemies you encounter, they should increase to +2 and finally +3 weapons. This makes investing time into this subclass more rewarding and these sort of items can be of great assistance.
2) Increasing Arcane Shot Options. Furthering down the path of this class will only ever see you with two Arcane Shots per short or long rest. While this may not sound like a big deal, it doesn’t exactly invoke the imagery of magical arrows piercing into foes.
In tandem with this, as well as making the Intelligence stat useful to others that aren’t Wizards, there are two methods that could be done to increase the number of times you can use your Arcane Shots: either based on your Proficiency modifier or equal to your Intelligence modifier. Basing it on your Proficiency modifier will keep you relatively balanced with other classes as you go along, while the Intelligence modifier comes from putting the hard effort of learning to master your craft. Either one could be utilized, though the Proficient modifier seems more balanced.
3) Rotating Arcane Shot Options and Creating New Shots. The Warlock, when leveling up, can switch its spells out for any on the Warlock spell casting list. So why couldn’t this method work with the Arcane Archer?
By your nature, you infuse magic into ammo and at level 20, you have six options to play with. But they are all permanent and set into stone, so if you don’t choose the right ones, you’ll be stuck with them for the entire game. Trial and error is a part of playing the game, seeing what skills are more useful then others.
A fix to this is being able to chose a different Arcane Shot option when you level in that class. It lets you explore the full width of what is given in the Unearthed Arcana supplement, tailoring it to your play style.
However, you may find that depending on your table, that your tactics for your Arcane Shots don’t come up very often or you are limited by what they can do. We players love variety, after all! We may be inspired by various spells and spell-like abilities that creatures have, and want to incorporate those into our own usages as well. But making magical arrows takes a long time, and most effects disappear after a single use of them.
My recommendation is to be able to mimic spells and whatnot in your Arcane Shots through a ritual, essentially letting you break down the basics of that spell or ability and having it reformed into an Arcane Shot. Like crafting, you would still need to have the material components on hand in order to do so, but at the end you would have a surplus of shot options which could keep up with the enemies you encounter.
A second idea would be an ability which lets you temporary enchant your arrows and bolts with the effects of a deciphered spell and applying it to the arrow you shoot, which then dissipates when you hit your target. You would have as many uses of this equal to your Intelligence modifier (again, going off of the theme that you need to be learned to do this sort of skill). However, it would need to be a spell which you already dissected.
The time it would take to take apart a spell or ability depends on its normal level. For each level the spell is, it would take two hours to figure out. So a level 1 magic missile would take two hours of time while something more complex such as blight would take eight hours. While this seems harsh, a person could easily take downtime or even a bit longer then a full rest to decipher the secrets to these magical Shots.
Take my words with a grain of salt, since this is largely just my thoughts and analysis, but I do hope you guys enjoyed this! Perhaps I’ll do more entries like this in the future. What do you think?