I'm not normally an optimizer, but my group is switching from Pathfinder to 5e, at least temporarily.

My plan for the character in Pathfinder was to become an Arcane Archer (prestige class) at level 10. There are obviously no prestige classes in 5e, so I want to plan out the initial build and feats to at least come close to an Arcane Archer. We'll be starting 5e at our current Pathfinder level, which is 6.

For role-play quasi-continuity, I've chosen Half-Elf as my race (+2 charisma, crossbow proficiency) for my Sorcerer.

Given those choices for race, class, and preferred weapon, what is the best ability distribution and feat plan for a 27-point-buy character?

For instance, one of the specific quandaries I have is whether to focus on Dex (to hit) or Charisma (additional damage in the Draconic Bloodline origin)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the Sorcerer class a requirement? They have almost nothing that works for an Arcane Archer build, where Paladin and Ranger both have a bunch of stuff that would fit the theme. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Dec 26 '14 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, Sorcerer is the core of my character (started as an Ifrit, reincarnated into an Elf which is where he began developing as an archer, will be a Half-Elf in 5e for the Charisma kick) \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Dec 26 '14 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's years later now, but there is an Arcane Archer fighter subclass in Xanathar's Guide to Everything now... \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 18 '18 at 23:47

Sorcerer has very little to offer an Arcane Archer-type build, with the exception of the Elemental Affinity feature from the Draconic Bloodline origin. Combined with Elemental Weapon, this allows you to add your Cha modifier as elemental damage to every shot you fire from your crossbow. The problem here is that Elemental Weapon is restricted to the Paladin class only.

So you have 3 options, explained below. Regardless of which you take, you'll be focussing on Cha and Dex, with Con as a secondary as usual. So you'll want to spend your 27 points in the 15,15,15,8,8,8 pattern. Then Half-Elf brings you up to 17 Cha, 16 Dex, 16 Con very neatly. Each build gets you 5 ability score increases over your career. You'll want to use these to bring Cha and Dex up to 20 and take Crossbow Expert so that you can dual-wield hand crossbows.

Option 1 is to take at least 9 levels of Paladin so you can cast Elemental Weapon. Then you'll want to bring Sorcerer up to 8 and Paladin up to 12 so you don't lose ability score increases. This isn't a terrible idea, as many of the Paladin's [X]ing Smite spells work with ranged attacks, making a pretty reasonable Arcane Archer. With the Oath of Devotion's Sacred Weapon ability, you could also add your Cha modifier to your attack rolls. That said, many of the Paladin's class features don't work with ranged attacks, and it's not exactly an Arcane Archer anyway. Also, you'll have to have Str 13 to multiclass Paladin; so your starting ability scores will be 15,15,13,12,8,8 with Half-Elf making it 17 Cha, 16 Dex, 13 Str, 13 Con. (You only lose out on Con, so it's not too bad.) The main thing this option gets you that the other 2 don't is the cool Smite spells that add damage and additional effects to your crossbow attacks, just like an Arcane Archer.

Option 2 is to take 6 levels of Lore Bard for Additional Magical Secrets, which you can use to gain access to Elemental Weapon. You could use the other magical secret to get Branding Smite for that Arcane Archer flavour. Then, you'll want to take 5 levels in a martial class for Extra Attack; I'd strongly recommend Fighter, so that you can take Fighter 6 and not lose an ability score increase. Once you're Sorcerer 6/Bard 6/Fighter 6, take 2 more levels in whichever of these 3 classes you like to get your last ability score increase. This option is the least focussed, but you get the Archery fighting style and Improved Critical for your crossbow, so it's got a slight edge with the crossbow you're looking to optimize. This can also get you Arcane Archer-ing the fastest, since your combo comes into play at level 12.

The final option is to take 10 levels of Valor Bard, and use Magical Secrets to get Elemental Weapon. The other magical secret could be used for Banishing Smite, Branding Smite, or Staggering Smite for more Arcane Archer flavour. While this doesn't sound as good as Lore Bard, you get Extra Attack for free along the way. Then you should probably take Sorcerer up to 8 and Bard up to 12 to keep all your ability score increases. This option gets you the most powerful spellcasting of all of them, but you don't get the Archery fighting style.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As this answer is already accepted, and is pretty well written, I would like to add that the basic ranger class has some very arcane-archer like spells that work really well for the concept as a default, and can be multi-classed with the already stated possibilities if desired. I like a Ranger/Bard for this path, personally. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Mar 4 '15 at 15:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ranger/Bard/Sorcerer, rather. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Mar 4 '15 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Paladin would rate better if your DM allows the smiting to work with all weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – Shadow Radiance Apr 2 '16 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Miniman's answer is correct, though you need to keep in mind that you can only have one concentration spell at a time. Both elemental weapon and the smite spells are concentration spells. So, at the moment that you cast one, the other is dispelled. \$\endgroup\$ – Arthur Marques Dec 31 '16 at 2:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman - the concepts are way too complicated and the OP, clearly said starting at level six and was not sure about if it was a once off character ie, returning to PF \$\endgroup\$ – Dressy Dec 31 '16 at 7:24

Have you looked at the fighter subclass, Eldrich Knight? In my humble opinion, this class will best address creating an Arcane Archer. You don't have to name it an Eldrich Knight, simple reflavour, adopt an appropriate back story and call it an Arcane Archer. If you so wish, given you are starting out at level six and you would like to be a Half-Elf, multi-class three levels of fighter and three levels of Warlock.

Edit - or Sorcerer; I'm not going to write out all the details, but going fighter, will enable a character with multiple attacks, limited self healing, +2 to bow attacks, armour proficiencies (more AC) etc. furthermore, all you need is Dex, Con and Charisma (to M/C into Sorcerer).

I'll also add, unlike PF, heavily investing in M/C'ing in 5e can see you get behind in proficiency gains.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I like the idea of EK for an arcane archer, it gets only 3 level one spells per day at level 6, and a handful of cantrips. I think this answer could be improved by going into detail on how that might be built out. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Dec 31 '16 at 5:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, if you read the question, one of the core requirements is Sorcerer, so your answer doesn't actually answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Dec 31 '16 at 6:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman. The OP, from their information, appears to be trying 5e out for the first time. The one thing I have learnt in 5e is the ability to rebadge concepts I.e., he can play a Sorcerer type character without actually selecting the class, hence why I offered an alternative. Lastly, the core of the OP's question, was how to create an Arcane Archer. Yes, they had preferences, but the core was how to create an Arcane Archer. \$\endgroup\$ – Dressy Dec 31 '16 at 7:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/53609/… \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Dec 31 '16 at 8:23

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