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Nerdarchy > Dungeons & Dragons  > Character Builds  > The Archer — A Character Build For Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
D&D archer build

The Archer — A Character Build For Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

So you’ve come to talk about archer character builds for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition? Well you’ve come to the right place.

Nerdarchist Dave’s three character building rules to game by:

Character Builds rule #1 FUN

In my opinion a successful character build is fun to play.

Character Builds rule #2 Effective

The build must excel at what it was created for.

Character Build Rule #3 Multidimensional

I want to build a character I could see myself or someone else role-playing in an actual game and have potential to be more than just stats on a piece of paper.

Nerdarchy did a video for archers in 5th edition

There are essentially seven aspects to creating character builds in 5th edition.

  1. Race
  2. Class
  3. Background
  4. Ability Scores
  5. Weapon
  6. Archetype
  7. Feats

Number 5 is optional depending on what the purpose of the build is.

Breaking Down the Aspects

Races

Human. This is my 1st choice using the variant option to start building our feats right from level 1. Plus the flexibility of putting your stat bonuses where you want them. They also get bonus skill proficiency. The downside no +2 to a stat without gaining an additional +1 through feat selection. Unfortunately our feats are all spoken for.

Dwarf. Mostly this is a suboptimal choice. I believe we can make the mountain dwarf sub-race viable under the right circumstances. That being said the rogue class archer build may just be those circumstances. First strength as dump a stat will give you a 10 using either the point buy or standard array so we can make use of that +2 bonus strength. Second medium armor proficiency. Three if you get caught up and personal with someone you’ll have access to axes and hammers for melee if the situation doesn’t allow you to make use of your sneak attack. Dwarves get a whole slew of other racial features that are useful to anyone.

Elf. Any flavor of elf will make a good archer build. For starters all elves get a +2 bonus to dex our primary stat for both attacks and damage. All elves get perception as a skill proficiency. I like this for two reasons-

1) It’s one of the best skill proficiencies in the game.

2) I find it to be super thematic for an archer character to have sharp senses.

Then we have elf weapon training which is great if you are going for the rogue archer build with the exception of the drow they get different weapons that don’t really factor in.

Let’s look at Elf sub-races. Drow get spell like abilities and superior darkvision at the expense of sun light sensitivity. Next up we’ve got the Eladrin from the Dungeons and Dragons DMG. Eladrin bring misty step as an once per encounter spell like ability that could give them a tactical advantage.

Moving on we’ve got the high elves their main thing is a wizard cantrip. While not super useful for our build it could be interesting and does offer a different kind of advantage. I find most melee characters will take this as way of having a ranged attack. What if instead our archer uses it to have a melee attack through the cantrip shocking grasp. Or  acantrip like minor illusion would be good for diversions.

Finally we’ve got the wood elf. These guys make a solid archer build especially if you are going to be out side. First their +1 stat increase to wisdom will assist them in locating the enemy before the enemy can find them. Second their ability to more easily hide in natural surroundings is super helpful.

Half-Elf. They work for almost any class or build do to their inherent flexibility. They are tie for the highest stat adjustments in the game not counting the non variant human. Their biggest bump is to charisma while not directly useful it does mean your dump stat starts at 10 instead of a 8. Half elves get two floating +1’s that can go into any two stats. They get a bonus skill proficiency so no matter their class they’ll be able to pick up either perception or stealth or something completely different. Depending which class you pick you’ll be able to double as skill monkey.

Halfling. The thing with the halfling is they are a mixed bag for sure. They get the +2 stat bump to dex, but their small. Being small they won’t be able to use the harder hitting weapons so that is a con for sure. The next two features that are going to set the halfing apart from the bigger folk are lucky and halfling nimbleness. Both are useful for any character build. Lucky lets you reroll 1’s and halfling nimbleness lets you pass through areas occupied by someone larger than you. Halfling breaks down into lightfoot and stout. Go stouts if you want to get a boost to your con. Go lightfoot for the ability to hide while obscured by only a creature that is one size larger than you.

If you want the most optimized archer build I recommend going human or Elf.

Classes

5th edition Dungeons and Dragons character buildIn my opinion we are going to pick one of three classes here.

Fighter. This is the most combat versatile of our archer build classes. They can fight with any weapon and wear any armor. The fighter get’s the most feats in the game as well as the most attacks. Finally any of the martial archetypes can be used to build an effective archer. Also fighters get access to fighting style class features at 1st level. The obvious choice here for a archer is the archery style which grants a +2 bonus to attack with ranged weapons.

All this adds up to make the fighter by far the all around toughest of our archer builds.

Ranger. With the ranger you get access to all the weapon proficiencies and light, medium, and shield armor proficiencies. Rangers get three skill proficiencies compared to the fighters two. They also get access to fighting styles again the obvious one here is archery, but they have to wait until 2nd level. There is only one good choice for an archer build with the ranger archetypes and that is the hunter. The hunter archetype offers ways to spread more damage around the battlefield or just do more of it to a single target. This archetype also offers up some mobility and defensive options for a ranger. This archer build also gets to add extra damage and versatility through their spells.  Rangers also get the extra attack class feature. The ranger makes an excellent archer especially out doors in their favored terrain. In addition rangers get a handful other utility abilities mostly useful in natural surroundings.

The ranger is the most versatile of the archer builds.

Rogue. The rogue get’s the worst weapon and armor proficiencies and has the smallest hit die. They do get more skill and tool proficiencies than either the fighter or ranger. With four skill proficiencies, thieves tools, and thieves cant they will be able to do more than just fight. A big part of this archer build will be relying on stealth and the element of surprise which shouldn’t be an issue for our rogue archer. With a high dex and their expertise class feature giving their stealth a nice boost they’ve got you covered from the shadows. The next thing they’ve got going for them is sneak attack. Their sneak attack makes up for their limiting number of attacks. As long as they have advantage our an ally next to their target they’ll be racking up the sneak attack damage.

Next there is the cunning action class feature which let’s the rogue either dash, disengage, or hide as a bonus action. This makes a rogue archer build the most mobile of all the builds. I feel like the only viable roguish archetype is the assassin. This archetype will allow you to hit harder and perhaps enhance your missile fire with poison damage and effects.

Assassin archers hit the hardest and are the most mobile of them all.

Backgrounds

OK so this one is more about flavor and who your character is. What we want from a background is to enhance your character as an archer. Tool proficiencies like bowyer/fletcher or maybe poisoner’s tools will help with this. Skill proficiencies such as athletics, acrobatics, perception, stealth and survival all add a nice flavor to an archer character. My top picks for backgrounds are- criminal, entertainer, outlander, sailor, and soldier.

Ability Scores

First and foremost Dexterity is going to be our primary stat, because it’s going to dictate your bonus to hit and damage. Followed by Constitution and Wisdom. Everyone benefits from the extra hit points provided by a Constitution. Constitution won’t be as important for this type of warrior as your front line fighter, but just in case things go wrong it’s always good to have the extra HP. Wisdom is so you can detect dangers hopefully before they detect you.

Weapons

It is time to choose the right weapon for our archer. Traditionally an archer uses a bow, but for our build we will be including a crossbow option. Here are our considerations- Damage, Range, Properties, and Proficiencies. Crossbows do more damage and more classes get proficiency with them, but have the load property. The load property means it requires an action to make the weapon ready to use unless you have the crossbow expert feat.

From our archer build classes only the rogue is limited in his weapon selection unless he happens to be an elf. Rogue is stuck with hand crossbow or short bow. With the crossbow expert some interesting options get opened up for the hand crossbow, but it is still the shortest range and tied for the least damage.

Crossbow, Hand. 1d6 damage 30/120 range

Crossbow, Heavy. 1d10 damage 100/400 range

Crossbow, Light. 1d8 damage 80/320 range

Long Bow. 1d8 damage 160/600 range

Short Bow. 1d6 damage 80/320

I have to go with either the Long Bow or Heavy Crossbow unless you are a rogue and than you are limited to the Short Bow or Hand Crossbow as I said before.

Archetypes

The archetype you choose will really define your character build.

Assassin (Rogue). Take this archetype if you wanna sneak around and hit hard. The biggest problem with this archetype is that the most useful archer features happen at 3rd and 17th level.  Proficiency with poisoner’s kit might open up some other avenues to make your arrows even deadlier. On the plus side when you aren’t shooting things full of arrows you’ll have a ton skills to fall back on.

Battle Master (Fighter). Take this archetype if you want to do damage while controlling the battlefield through trick shots (maneuvers). When you choose battle master you’ll also gain access to a tool proficiency. Bowyer/fletcher would be perfect for an archer character or you could even go a darker route with the poisoner’s kit or if you have a lenient DM maybe you could take alchemist supplies and make some specialty arrows.

Champion (Fighter). Take this archetype if you want to be a tough guy/gal who knows how to hit them where it hurts. This archetype is one of the only ways to increase you chance of scoring a critical hit in the game. It is also the only archetype to get a second fighting style. The remarkable athlete ability may just come in handy when it comes to getting to hard to reach places.

Eldritch Knight (Fighter). Take this archetype if you want to infuse your archery with arcane might. As an eldritch knight you get to bond with two weapons. Obviously you’ll want your bow or crossbow to be one of these, but how about a quiver of arrows as well. I’d allow it as the DM. This way you’ve a spare quiver or if you are captured you need only call your weapons to you. Once you gain the war magic class feature you’ll be able to cast spells and attack with a weapon in the same round. This makes cantrips like True Strike seem a lot more appealing. Or you could fortify your defense with magic while still raining death from a far with your bow upon your enemies.

Hunter (Ranger). Take this archetype if you want to be versatile through strength of arm, wood craft and mastery of the terrain, and using nature spells. The hunter is less focused than the other archetypes, but far more versatile and you have the ability spread damage out across far more targets than any of the other archer builds. Many of the ranger spells are meant to be used in conjunction with weapons and with quite a few being specific to ranged weapons.

Feats

Alertness. You’ll want this one if you went assassin archetype. The assassin always wants to go first. Any archer would do well to pick this one up though. (optional)

Athlete. This one is nice to help with mobility on the battlefield and the +1 stat increase to dex. (optional)

Crossbow Expert. If you want to use that d10 for damage you got to use the heavy crossbow. I wouldn’t even consider it without this feat. Or if you want to dual wield hand crossbows you’ll want this one. (Essential)

Dual Weider. This is only a good choose if you decide to go dual hand crossbows. Perhaps a champion archetype dual wielding hand crossbows with both the archery and two-weapon fighting styles. (optional)

Martial Adept. This feat is great for anyone that wants to pack a little extra punch once per short rest plus be able to make trick shots. (optional)

Mobile. This feat is great to help get into position and getting out of trouble if the enemy gets to close. (Optional)

Sharp Shooter. This should be the first feat you take and all archery builds are based off of this one. The increased damage potential, ignoring of anything less than full cover, and the ability to ignore the penalty to attacks made at long range all make this feat a must. (Essential)

Skulker. Another great feat for archers that like to do there attacking from the shadows. Any build that is doing a lot of sniping this is going to come in handy for. Most useful for the ranger and rogue archer builds. (Optional)

Next article I’ll actually do an archer character build for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition based off of this formula or maybe I’ll do one for each class.

So until next time, stay nerdy

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david friant

My name is Dave Friant I've been gaming off and on for over 27 years. But here is the thing it's always been a part of my life I've kept secret and hidden away. I've always been ashamed of the stigma that gaming and my other nerdy and geeky pursuits summon forth. Recently I decided screw it! This is who I am the world be damned. From now on I'm gonna be a geek, nerd, or however folks want to judge me and just enjoy life. Currently one of my greatest joys is introducing my 13 yr old son to table top RPG's.

15 Comments

  • Nemo Nunc
    February 6, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Once again an amazing presentation. And it makes fell like I'd like to get an archer!.

  • Paul Renault
    February 6, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the great article. One question: About the loading property, I don't read the rule as needing an action just to load the weapon. It seems to just limit the number of attacks. So a character could load and fire a crossbow spending only one action. Or am I getting this wrong? (Loading rule on p147 of PHB)

  • Stephen Mosiello Jr
    February 10, 2015 at 10:41 am

    The Rogue can use a Light Crossbow (it is a simple weapon).

    Great article!

  • David Friant
    February 10, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Good catch thanks.

  • David Friant
    February 10, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Every time we go over a different class or build I feel that way.

  • David Friant
    February 10, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    I stand corrected. One action to load and fire. I must of read it as an action to load which was also the rules in 3.5. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Nemo Nunc
    February 10, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    David Friant But then when we're all excited about what the archer can do in D&D 5th Ed. looking at this guy can be a reality kick right in the guts

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEG-ly9tQGk

  • Paul Renault
    February 10, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    David Friant Cool. Glad I got it right. It came up at my last game.

  • Alex Maxwell
    March 1, 2015 at 6:40 am

    well done. But you did ignore multicass builds and the relative value of the saving throws. A fighter 11/ assaain 9 is crazy.

  • Nick Gardiner
    August 14, 2015 at 11:30 am

    From wikipedia: A flight arrow of a professional archer of Edward III's time would reach 400 yds 1200ft. It is also well known that no practice range was allowed to be less than 220 yds by order of Henry VIII.

    • Nathan Riggins
      August 18, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks for the information

      I would agree that they could go far but could they reliably hit anything besides a stationary field target at those distances. Great for army vs. army. In a mass combat I would say that a group of archers would gain an area of effect attack rather than the standard disadvantage attacks of 5th edition.

  • Edwin Allen Juengel
    August 15, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    The fighter or assasin are probably the best single target archers while the hunter has the best AoE archer. Putting a volley/horde breaker and lightning arrow on a bunch of people really does bring the pain. The problem is there are alot of utility in the rogue and ranger makes up for maybe not being as good an archer as a fighter. As only an archer, fighter wins. As a more dynamic character, the rogues and rangers win. Also, can't forget the best item Bracers of Archery. Lets the rogue be profecient in long bows so it isn't so bad

    • Nathan Riggins
      August 18, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Great observations. The rogue sneak attack, the assassin, and the ranger all have that extra something that I believe carries them well beyond the fighters multiple attacks.

  • Anthony Miller
    November 19, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Note that True Strike explicitly affects the next turn, not the current one. So while the Eldritch Knight martial archetype gives you the ability to make a free weapon attack after casting a cantrip with their action (specifically mentions "uses an action to cast a cantrip") you cannot gain the benefits the same turn you cast it. It will however, let you cast it setting up your next turn though and still be able to get use out of the current turn making a single attack that turn which normally you could not do with the True Strike cantrip.

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