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I need some help with the advancement of my Ranger.
We're playing D&D 3.5 with the following books: Complete Adventurer, Complete Divine, Complete Arcane, Complete Warrior and the Forgotten Realms books without all the psionic stuff.
Note before I begin:

  • This was my first time playing D&D ever, so I had no idea of anything. In retrospect I'd probably do some things differently (like rolling a Zen archer) and apparently my GM has misread some details about my race.
    • With my stats I'm pretty sure he gave me a +2 on Dex instead of Int.
  • He said during the last session (when showing us the Prestige Classes we are allowed to use) that my race has Wizard as favored class although the DNDwiki says any.

I wanted to play an Archer so I chose the Ranger class. Race = Moon Elf. (The other two players are human).
Stat rolls: 10/18/8/10/14/9.
Level 3
I saw that Ranger spells use Wisdom and didn't know about composite bows, so I didn't add any Strength.
Main weapon: enchanted longbow
Feats: Point-Blank shot, Rapid Shot and Precise Shot.

Two main problems to solve:

  1. How to improve my damage for the next levels

  2. How to make my char a little bit more interesting and fun to play

I first thought that Arcane Hunter (Prestige Class) sounded great, but doesn't seem to be viable in the long run due to missing caster levels. Sword of the Arcane Order feat seems to fix that.

Would this build be viable if I put the attribute point I'll get with lvl4 into Int (Int = 11)? My low Int should only restrict me (initially) to lvl 1 spells and give me a low save DC for those spells. It shouldn't affect how many spells I can learn (since I believe they are based of the Ranger slots which use Wisdom).

My GM suggested taking 2 levels of Order of the Bow Initiate for the Close Combat Shot, but the remaining stuff of that Prestige Class doesn't look that good.

Is there a better Prestige Class for Rangers, with a Focus on Archery, that I should take with my current stats and other choices that will improve this character?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What level are you now? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 18 '15 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please define what “more interesting and fun” means to you. Not everybody has the same kind of fun, so either that point has to be explained in concrete details that work for you or be removed from the question. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 18 '15 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Moon Elves are basically elves, so your DM seems to be right about favored class (wizard) and +2 DEX. Wood Elves are rangers in FR. You could be a decent archer with Ranger/Scout, but you'd need an option for Swift Hunter (Complete Scoundrel) and Greater Manyshot (non-psionic feat from psionics). Does it qualify for an answer to suggest which feats you could try to convince your DM to allow? \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Aug 18 '15 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answers so far :) I've added the level (it's 3), about favored classes what I found is this [dandwiki.com/wiki/Elves,_Moon_%283.5e_Race%29] which says "Any" and if I need further infos besides the long answers below I'll try to explain what I mean with fun and interesting (since I'm not very good at expressing this in text) \$\endgroup\$ – Tobi Aug 18 '15 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Never completely trust the D&Dwiki. Moon elves, as defined in the forgotten realms setting, have wizard as their favored class. +2 dex -2 con. The ones you're looking at are some sort of homebrew material (category: user) \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Aug 18 '15 at 22:23
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One, your stats are basically incapable of supporting any character who isn’t a pure spellcaster. For a pure spellcaster, those are pretty good stats, but for anyone else they’re painfully poor. An 8 in Constitution is putting your life in grave danger all the time. This is one of many reasons why I recommend against rolled ability scores. Have you spoken to your DM about this problem? Maybe you can convince him to allow a reroll or moving to an ability array or something.

Alternatively, you could maybe retrain as a spellcaster, but that’s not going to mesh well with your interest in archery. Bizarrely, 3.5 has very poor support for archery; basically all of the archery-related prestige classes are close to worthless, and archery requires a ton of really weak feats to get anything done (Point-Blank Shot is garbage but required for everything, Precise Shot is necessary but all it does is eliminate a painful penalty, Manyshot is incompatible with Rapid Shot, which is finally half-decent except you’ve burned four feats on a half-decent benefit!).

Finally, it’s conceivable that you might have more hope if your DM expanded that extremely-narrow field of available books. As is, all the best options I can think of for making use of that Dexterity (e.g. Crossbow Sniper, Dead Eye, Targeteer) are unavailable to you (examples are from Player’s Handbook II, Dragon Compendium, and Dragon vol. 310, respectively). And banning psionics means some very solid Wisdom-based magical-warrior options (ardent, psychic warrior, war mind) are unavailable to you. At the very least, Spell Compendium would mean that you actually have decent spells; as it is, you are literally weaker than a druid of half your level.

Anyway, taking what you’ve got as set in stone...

  • Sword of the Arcane Order is worthless to you because your Intelligence is a mere 10. It’s a great feat, but your stats need to be different.

    • This becomes a different story if your Intelligence goes up; then it’s the best feat you can take. Must-have if your DM allows you to change your stats, for instance. Assuming you are the only elf in the party, getting a special elf-only headband of intelligence as a reward for something might also do the trick, if the bonus is large enough.

    • Alternatively, you might ask your DM for a Wisdom-based analogue to Sword of the Arcane Order. Under normal circumstances, the requirement for Intelligence is something of a balancing factor to SotAO, but you really could use all the help you can get.

    • Sword of the Arcane Order does very awkwardly just... stop at 11th level. Low Intelligence, particularly if all your Intelligence comes from an item (i.e. you can’t improve it through another item) exacerbates this. That’s probably fine as most campaigns don’t go that high, and frankly I’m not sure there’s anything you can do to maintain a decent power level much past there anyway.

  • Order of the Bow Initiate is a complete waste of time.

  • Depending on how many levels you’ve burned on ranger, multiclassing to cleric or druid might be an option. Your Wisdom is very low for such classes, but even so their spells offer far more than ranger ever will.

    • Cleric would allow you to take Divine feats; you’ll miss Complete Champion quite a bit, but Complete Divine still has some good ones. I would strongly consider going for the Planning and Undeath domains, even though those are probably difficult to justify for your character. If you can think of any reason your character might get those, though, they would help you: you would get Extra Turning and Extend Spell, and could take Persistent Spell and Divine Metamagic (Complete Divine) in it so at least one spell a day is active all day. Divine power is a common choice but not the only option.

      • If you cannot justify the Undeath domain (likely), consider taking the Elf domain and asking if, since both the domain and ranger are giving you the same bonus feat, you could get Extra Turning as a bonus feat. Giving alternate bonus feats to replace duplicate bonus feats is pretty common.

      • A cloak of charisma will help a bit. You might even consider bumping your Charisma to 10 with your 4th-level or 8th-level ability score bump, but only do that if you don’t think you’ll reach the next bump; Wisdom is still the higher priority. In other words, Wis 14/Cha 10 is better than Wis 15/Cha 9, but Wis 16/Cha 9 is way better than Wis 15/Cha 10.

    • Druid would be awkward, considering that most Wild Shape forms are going to nix your archery. Sticking to primate forms might work, however; you could talk to your DM. But even allowing that, Wild Shape replaces your physical ability scores, completely wasting your Dexterity. You’d still be stronger than you are, but it would be awkward. The advantage is that it’s much less of a leap than cleric, since ranger is basically half a druid.

  • The divine crusader prestige class in Complete Divine also might be a solid option. It has full Base Attack Bonus, so it works out well enough for your archery, and it gets 9th-level spells in 10 levels. That’s great. The drawback is, the divine crusader’s spell list consists of exactly one domain. Choose wisely.

    • Unfortunately, without Spell Compendium you are quite limited here. War domain may end up being your best bet, and that’s kind of sad. Travel is another decent-ish option. You’ll also have to beg your DM to let you use Wisdom instead of Charisma.

    • The other class features of the divine crusader are pretty much garbage though; OK protection from electricity and acid damage, but that’s about it. It does get Weapon Specialization in its deity’s favored weapon, and requires Weapon Focus in the same, so hopefully you worship a deity that uses some kind of bow. Ask your DM if you can waive the Weapon Focus requirement if you choose the War domain; the domain grants that feat anyway, so it would be a complete waste to you.

    • A single level of cleric before divine crusader is also a decent idea. You could use the War domain to get into divine crusader in the first place, and Turn Undead remains very useful for Divine feats.

    • Sacred exorcist, also Complete Divine, can get you Turn Undead without having to dip cleric. Requires you be able to cast dismissal or dispel evil, though, which would put a harsh requirement on your domain choice.

    • At higher levels, dipping a single level of contemplative and/or divine oracle (both Complete Divine) can allow you to add more domains to divine crusader. That dramatically increases your spell list. Divine oracle 2 also has a very nice version of Evasion that works in all armor.

Unfortunately, those are all the options I can offer to you. If you do get additional supplements made available, Complete Champion, Player’s Handbook II, Spell Compendium, and Tome of Battle are probably your best bets. Expanded Psionics Handbook and Complete Psionic would also help. Unfortunately, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll get Dragon material, which is a shame, since it’d help.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe add why OBI is bad (standard action attack limitation, no spells, et al) \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Aug 20 '15 at 4:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, these stats aren't bad if he's playing a "Tougher" campaign (his point buy would be 27). If the other players are in a different category, DM should probably give him a few points. Otherwise, Divine Crusader is going to be limited to 4th level spells, but could make a good multi-class up to that point. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Aug 20 '15 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood PB isn’t the full story, though; a more-balanced array would be massively better at the same PB for a non-spellcaster. At 27 PB, on the other hand, a spellcaster would probably choose an array quite like this one, but an archer never would. Also, I do mention Divine Crusader has to be switched to Wisdom, and presume that the 14 Wisdom would get better as levels were gained (e.g. periapt of wisdom). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 25 '15 at 2:29
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I have a Scout/Ranger character (human, now 15/1) and it works great. It’s not really optimized, but for me it’s a lot of fun. It requires tactical thinking and a backup plan though.

However, this advice requires the following options from outside the book selection in the original question:

  1. Swift Hunter feat (Complete Scoundrel, p. 81): it allows stacking Ranger and Scout levels for the purposes of skirmish (Scout) and favored enemies (Ranger). Also, it allows to apply skirmish damage to creatures resistant to precision damage if they are your favored enemies.
    • We have house-ruled the second part (overcoming resistance to precision damage) to a separate feat (“Greater Swift Hunter”) to satisfy DMs reservations.
  2. Improved Skirmish feat (Complete Scoundrel, p. 77), extra dmg and AC bonus with more movement.
  3. Greater Manyshot feat from Psionics. It’s not a psionic feat though:

    When you use the Manyshot feat, you can fire each arrow at a different target instead of firing all of them at the same target. You make a separate attack roll for each arrow, regardless of whether you fire them at separate targets or the same target. Your precision-based damage applies to each arrow fired, and, if you score a critical hit with more than one of the arrows, each critical hit deals critical damage.

    • Again, we have removed the option to use it against multiple opponents (as ridiculous). You can use it in your negotiations with your DM. Usually, you’d want to deal all your skirmish damage to a single enemy anyway.
  4. For this build, Ranger levels are not essential (you really only need Ranger 1), so the multiclassing restriction works against you. I assume you are level 3, so taking the first level in Scout will already set you back -20% XP. Ask your DM for some leeway - to remove the penalty, to make Scout your favored class or to allow for a larger level gap.

Levels and feats

Main Scout advantages (in the context of the question):

  • mobility (+10 ft. movement)
  • higher initiative
  • uncanny dodge
  • Tumble (class skill)
  • flawless stride (like Ranger’s Woodland Stride, but any terrain)
  • bonuses to AC

Scout disadvantages:

  • BAB 3/4
  • precision dmg not always applicable

If you cannot take Scout only (I assume you are level 3 Ranger now):

Lvl     Class  
4       Scout   +1 DEX
5       Scout       
6       Scout   Swift Hunter feat
7       Scout   Improved Skirmish (you meet the prerequisites thanks to Swift Hunter)
8       Ranger  +1 DEX
9       Ranger  Improved Initiative or something for your “backup plan”
10      Scout 
11      Ranger  (Manyshot from class)
12      Scout   Greater Manyshot, +1 CON?
13      Ranger

Important Items

  • Efficient Quiver - you will need to be able to draw exactly right bane arrows.
  • Bane arrows - you need a variety of bane arrows, for most types of enemies. Establish with your DM that you can buy bane arrows in small batches (fractions of 50). 50 +1 bane arrows cost 8302,50 gp.
  • Gloves of Dexterity (the stronger the better) - you need your attack bonus.
  • Potions or scrolls (if other PCs will use them on you) for buffing your attack bonus.
  • Something to improve your CON…
  • To improve damage you could consider Skirmisher Boots (Magic Item Compendium, p. 136) - they are cheap, allow extra attack (single arrow, not Manyshot) and should not bother most DMs...

Archery

Examples for levels 6/7 and 12/13. Note that damage average doesn’t account for chance to hit: high mobility of the Scout makes it easier to select targets and go for lower AC opponents (spellcasters!). At the same time it doesn’t account for critical hits.

Level 6/7

Some minimal assumptions for Level 6/7:

  • favored enemies are assigned +4/+2
  • bow +1
  • gloves of dex +2
  • potion of Heroism (attack +2)

If shooting bane arrows:

Attack bonus: BAB +5 (L6) or +6 (L7), +1 point blank, DEX +5, bow +1, bane +2, Heroism +2 = +16 / +17

Damage: 1d8 + 2d6 bane + 2d6 skirmish + 2 (bow/point blank) (+ favored) + 2d6 improved skirmish (L7) = 20.5 average (L6) or 27.5 average (L7)

Note: it may seem you get similar results with bane arrows and Rapid Shot (or maybe better for Rapid Shot against favored enemies), but considering your low HP, additional mobility and AC bonus from skirmishing give you more tactical options. Use Rapid Shot whenever profitable though.

Level 12/13

Some minimal assumptions for Level 12/13:

  • favored enemies are assigned +4/+4/+2
  • bow +1
  • gloves of dex +4
  • scroll of Greater Heroism (attack +4)

If shooting bane arrows:

Attack bonus: BAB +10 (L12) or +11 (L13), +1 point blank, DEX +7, bow +1, bane +2, Heroism +4, manyshot -4 (L12) or -6 (L13) = +21 (L12) or +20 (L13)

Damage per arrow: 1d8 + 2d6 bane + 3d6 (L12) or 4d6 (L13) skirmish + 2 (bow/point blank) (+ favored) + 2d6 improved skirmish (L7) = 31 (L12) or 34.5 (L13) average

L12 - 2 arrows = 62 average (or 70 for most favored enemies)

L13 - 3 arrows = 103.5 average (or 115.5 for most favored enemies)

Skills

Tumble maxed out. You need it for tactical movement on the battlefield. Remember that Disable Device is a class skill for the Scout (see Complete Adventurer errata).

Backup plan

As for many precision-based-damage classes you need some backup plan - my character usually carries some alchemical fire (“improved”), holy water, smoke sticks, figurines of wondrous power, feather tokens etc. Or simply a torch.

Other things to consider:

You get some class features twice - evasion, trackless step, woodland/flawless stride. Consider negotiating with your DM to replace them with something else. Or use them to convince him that switching to Scout is not really a multiclassing….

Obviously, you can optimize the Scout further with access to other sources.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A very common house rule is to allow a bonus feat (or improved [feat]) any time you gain a class ability you already have. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Aug 20 '15 at 4:18

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