The Arcane Archer has three different development routes: the arcane specialist, the archer specialist, and the generalist. This screed, the first in a three-part series, considers the arcane specialist.
The arcane specialist takes only two levels in Arcane Archer, and for only one reason -- Imbue Arrow. Specifically,
Imbue Arrow (Sp): At 2nd level, an arcane archer gains the ability to place an area spell upon an arrow. When the arrow is fired, the spellís area is centered on where the arrow lands, even if the spell could normally be centered only on the caster. This ability allows the archer to use the bowís range rather than the spellís range. It takes a standard action to cast the spell and fire the arrow. The arrow must be fired in the round the spell is cast, or the spell is wasted.
The key here is the phrase "Where the arrow lands." What does that mean? Does it mean that you fire the arrow at a particular square or grid intersection? Or does it mean that your arrow can land in your enemy's chest? The ability is much more useful if you can shoot an imbued arrow at a foe, and if your DM agrees, then your arcane specialist has every reason to take the prestige class. If not, don't bother.
So when you use Imbue Arrow, you can fire the arrow at an enemy as you cast the imbued spell, and target the spell area at the target (if it hits) or the foe's square (if it misses). Think about that: you get to cast a spell and fire an arrow in the same round.
Doing two things in a round -- casting a spell and firing an arrow -- is pretty sweet. That's the trick that makes a two-level dip into a non-caster prestige class worthwhile. It is like casting a quickened spell and still making a standard ranged attack -- and you still get a move action (and potentially a conventionally quickened spell) to play with as well.
Is it really worth it? How good is that one arrow you can fire with your area spell? Well, take a Mage12/AA2. It is not unreasonable to expect that you have a +1 holy longbow, a bunch of +1 shocking frost arrows, that you cast Greater Magic Weapon on your bow to boost its enhancement bonus to +3, and that you cast Flame Arrow on all of your arrows. We'll assume that you have no strength bonus. That means your arrow inflicts 1d8+5d6+3 damage, on top of, for example, the 12d6 Cone of Cold (save for half) with which you imbued the arrow. Not too shabby!
But what is the best way to qualify for Arcane Archer? If you want to take the PrC and start shooting at the earliest possible level, then you need to multiclass. To become an AA requires a +6 BAB and three feats -- and you have to be a half-elf or elf. You also have to be proficient with a short or long bow. An elf gains bow weapon proficiency for free, but a half-elf has to get it somewhere -- most likely by multiclassing. The real hurdle, though, is the high required Base Attack Bonus.
A Mage2/Warrior5 qualifies fastest of all ("Mage" = Wizard or Sorcerer, and "Warrior" = Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, or Barbarian). You can take your first level of AA at level 8. But taking five non-caster levels of fighter and two more non-caster levels of AA is not an arcane specialist strategy! (It is an archer specialist route, but I'll get to that next screed.)
A better fastish route is Mage6/Warrior1/Eldritch Knight 2. (Aside: You can take EK a level sooner with Wiz5 instead of Mage6, but Mage6 gives sweet save bonuses and your caster level ends up the same either way.) That means you take your first level of AA at level 10, and your caster level is only 8 -- and it stays 8 through levels 10 and 11.
Another fastish route grabs two levels in a warrior multiclass -- Paladin2/Sorcerer6/EK1 gets you there at the same time as the sorcerer6/fighter1/EK2. With this option, you trade a level of spellcasting for sweet sweet divine grace, a little laying on hands, and use of paladin wands, like Cure Light Wounds and Divine Favor. Also some decent hit points, especially if you max your d10 at level 1, and the Charisma synergy is pretty sweet, especially if you put some ranks into Diplomacy. Ranger2/Mage6/EK1 is also noteworthy, with some sweet skills and archery combat style.
The slow route, if you are patient enough, is to wait for mage 12 and then take your two levels of AA at levels 13 and 14. That's a better option for elves, though, as half-elves have to pick up bow proficiency somewhere -- feat or multiclass. This option gives you the best spell casting, since only two of your class levels do not add to your casting.
Let me add a word on Sorcerer versus Wizard. If you are going for a Paladin multiclass, the obvious Charisma synergy suggests Sorcerer, in which case you have to be a half-elf in order to escape the 20% xp hit for uneven multiclassing. If you are going for any other multiclass, you have to choose wizard if you are an elf, and you have your choice if you are a half-elf. If you are going for 12 levels of mage and two levels of AA, then either race is fine. My personal opinion is that the elf race makes a better arcane archer build, so choose half-elf only if you are in love with the multiclassed sorcerer option.
So what spells should you be casting if you are an Imbued Arrow specialist? The question is especially important to sorcerers (who have a limited selection of spells) and wizard specialists. It is also important in choosing the Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus feats. Here is a list of my favorite area spells to imbue, by level, color coded by school:
Red spells are evocations, green spells are conjurations, and blue spells are necromancies. Clearly, the Evoker has the advantage of having good spells to imbue at almost any level. The Conjurer's choice picks are all low level, and are suited more to a character with more warrior levels or to the rare Mystic Theurge Arcane Archer. The Necromancer has only high level picks, and is suited for the mage who is already a mid-to-high level caster when he or she picks up his two levels of Arcane Archer.
- Burning Hands, Color Spray, Grease
- Dispel Magic, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Sleet Storm
- Black Tentacles, Crushing Despair, Fear, Ice Storm, Shout
- Cone of Cold, Waves of Fatigue
- Antimagic Field, Circle of Death, Greater Dispel Magic, Freezing Sphere, Undeath to Death
- Delayed Blast Fireball, Forcecage, Prismatic Spray, Reverse Gravity, Waves of Exhaustion
- Dimensional Lock, Greater Shout, Sunburst
- Mage's Disjunction, Meteor Swarm, Wail of the Banshee
But do not neglect the important buff spells that will improve your archery. Flame Arrow and Greater Magic Weapon are good choices, as I mentioned. Also consider Cat's Grace, Haste, and Heroism, for obvious reasons. Reduce Person gives you a net +2 AC and +2 to hit with arrows. You can shoot out of a Leomund's Tiny Hut at +2 to hit (because you are unseen). Blink and Improved Invisibility give you the same +2 to hit by attacking while unseen (and thus do not stack), and are good defensive spells.
Let me add a side note on the Mystic Theurge Arcane Archer. As a Cleric3/Wizard3/MT6 can add two levels of AA at levels 13 and 14. A Cleric4/Mage4/MT2 can add two levels of AA at levels 11 and 12. The advantage is the free bow proficiency and required Weapon Focus feat (if you take the war domain from an archery god) and the ability to imbue cleric spells, especially Bane, Calm Emotions, Dispel Magic, Flame Strike, Holy Word (and its ilk), Shatter, Silence, Sound Burst, and Undeath to Death. Cleric buffs like Bless, Divine Favor, Divine Power, Greater Magic Weapon, and Prayer are also sweet. The Cleric4/Sorcerer4/AA2/MT4 is not as potent as the Evoker12/AA2, but the MT is more versatile.
Finally, if the idea of this build is to pack as many actions into a round as possible, I must mention the advantage of Mounted Combat and Mounted Archery. You can move on a mount and also take your normal actions. So you could move, shoot an imbued arrow, cast a quickened spell, and perform a move action (like taking out a wand) all in the same round. Phantom Steed is a spell to consider here, and if your DM will allow it, take Leadership and Improved Familiar to gain a cohort/familiar/steed such as a unicorn or hippogriff.
This is part one of a three-part series on the Arcane Archer.
- The first part is for arcanists who want to take a two-level dip for the Imbue Spell ability.
- The second part is for archers who want to take full advantage of all the arcane archer's abilities.
- The third part is for generalists who want decent spellcasting and a wider range of strategies for diverse situations.