Tactical Archery – A Guide to Building Archers, 2nd Edition

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      Ranged weaponry is useful

      There are four different ways NWN characters can defeat enemies, melee weapons, ranged weapons, spellcasting and traps. Ranged weaponry is considered one of the weaker combat forms, due to the damage output not scaling as well as melee weapons (particularly strength based) or spellcasting (particularly Haste-Time Stop-IGMSx2, Implosion, Dragon Shape etc…). However this doesn’t mean ranged weapons are not useful, far from it, ranged weapons do have their uses, and it is handy to have a ranged weapon on hand, even if one is a melee warrior or spellcaster with terrible dexterity.

      This guide aims to discuss ranged weapons so a reader new or experienced can:

      • know the minimum requirements to use a ranged weapon
      • know how to build characters to use a ranged weapon more effectively
      • read some sample level 40 ranged weapon focused builds written by a number of players

      In the second part of the guide which will be completed and posted in the Gameplay section, strategies will be covered, which includes:

      • understand some essential ranged weapon strategies
      • understand the WASD ranged weapon kiting strategy and some limitations
      • understand the SAMS ranged weapon strategy and some of its limitations

      This is the second edition of this guide, the first edition published in the ECB guild forum in January 2020. I wish to acknowledge suggestions from WebShaman, Mick Dagger and Grizzled_Dwarflord to improve the guide, with thanks!

      Minimum requirements to use a ranged weapon

      • Ranged weapon (longbow, shortbow, heavy crossbow, light crossbow, sling, darts, throwing axes, shuriken)
      • Ammunition (arrows, bolts, bullets, darts, throwing axes, shuriken)
      • The appropriate weapon feat to equip the ranged weapon you wish to equip

      All classes can use at least one ranged weapon. All classes except druids can equip heavy and light crossbows without additional proficiencies. Druids can use darts, and slings without additional proficiencies. Elves get proficiencies with longbows and shortbows for free.

      Ways to make a character use a ranged weapon more effectively

      This is optional, but if one wishes to make a powerful ranged character I have listed a number of methods a character can be built to enhance this.

      Characters can use a ranged weapon more effectively by:

      • Hitting enemies more accurately with their ranged weapon
      • Dealing more damage each time they hit enemies with their ranged weapon
      • Attacking more often with a ranged weapon
      • Controlling enemies to prevent them hitting the character in melee range
      • Speed, Stealth and Detection
      • Devastating Critical

      Hitting enemies more accurately with ranged weapons

      This is achieved by increasing the characters Ranged Attack Bonus (AB), reducing the armor class (AC) of opponents, and/or Blind Fight

      Ranged AB can be increased by:

      • Having a higher base attack bonus (BAB), this is achieved by taking high BAB classes such as fighter, ranger, barbarian, paladin between levels 1-20 (also known as ‘pre-epic levels).
      • Having a higher dexterity score, either with stat increases, great dexterity feats, racial choice such as elf or halfling, or enhancing it with spells or items
      • Having a higher wisdom score (as long as the character has the Zen Archery feat) with stat increases, great wisdom feats, spells or items
      • Being of small stature (which increases AB by 1 when attacking medium sized characters)
      • Feats which increase AB at all times (Weapon Focus, Epic Weapon Focus, Epic Prowess, Arcane Archer’s Enchant Arrow)
      • Feats which increase AB in certain situations (ie Point Blank Shot within 15 feet, Ranger’s Bane of Enemies for +2 AB against Favored Enemies, Druid’s Nature’s Sense outdoors, Mounted Archery if on Horseback)
      • Using flanking ranged attacks which increase AB by 2 within 30 feet
      • Spells or abilities which increase AB such as Divine Favor, Divine Power, Bard Song
      • Using equipment which can increase ranged AB (ie Composite Longbow +3 will add +3 AB)

      Enemies AC can be reduced by:

      • Disabling them and making them flat footed (ie Bigby’s Forceful Hand, Stonehold, Hold Monster)
      • Reducing their Dexterity with Called Shot: Leg
      • Reducing their AC with abilities or spells such as Bard’s Curse Song
      • The Darkness spell, provided you have Ultravision active, and the enemy does not have Blind Fight
      • Having a teammate or companion use taunt to lower enemy AC

      Blind fight assists against enemies with concealment by allowing the attack roll to be rolled again if it misses due to concealment, a very useful feat against spells such as Improved Invisibility (which grant 50% concealment).

      Dealing more damage per hit with ranged weapons

      This is achieved by:

      • More powerful ammunition

      Enchanted ammunition for ranged weapons will add damage / hit, for example Bolt +3 adds +3 piercing damage, and a Fire Arrow will add +1d6 fire damage.

      • A higher strength score, combined with a ranged weapon’s “mighty” property.

      The strength modifier can be added to damage to the limit of the ranged weapon’s Mighty property.

      To explain, one example would be that a composite longbow +3 has a +5 mighty property. If a character has a positive strength modifier this is added to ranged damage to a maximum of +5 damage. Str 16 will have a strength modifier of +3 so +3 damage is added per hit. Str 24 has a strength modifier of +7, however the mighty property has a limit of +5, so only +5 damage is added per hit.

      Two ranged weapons, Darts and Throwing Axes, have inbuilt mighty properties that can add unlimited strength damage. So a character with 42 strength (Strength Modifier +16) will add +16 damage / hit with a throwing axe, whereas if they attacked with the composite longbow +3 described, they will only add +5 damage / hit.

      Unless a character is wielding a crossbow, a negative strength modifier will reduce ranged damage dealt by the player. Ie a 6 str halfling wielding a shortbow or sling will have their damage reduced by -2, which is the strength modifier with 6 str, whereas if they equipped a light crossbow, their damage would not be reduced.

      • Weapon Specialization and Epic Weapon Specialization

      These feats available to characters with at least 4 levels of Fighter, will increase damage by 2 and 4 respectively, for a total of +6 damage for the weapon chosen.

      • Improved Critical

      This feat increases the chance of critical hits, increasing damage output slightly.

      • Arcane Archer’s Enchant Arrow

      This feat increases damage by 1 every odd Arcane Archer level, ie 11 levels of Arcane Archer will increase damage by +6.

      • Rogue, Assassin and Blackguard’s Sneak Attack

      When flanking within 30 feet, attacking through darkness, or if the opponent is flat footed these classes can deal sneak attack damage, +1d6 every odd rogue/assassin level, and +1d6 with at least 4 blackguard levels, with additional +1d6 for additional 3 blackguard levels from Blackguard 4. This can add up to a ridiculous amount of damage killing enemies very rapidly, hence a rogue archer is a character to be feared. One proviso is the above conditions have to be met, and also some enemies such as Dragons, Constructs, Elementals, Undead and Pale Masters, are sneak attack immune.

      • Ranger’s Favored Enemies and Bane of Enemies Feat

      Against Favored Enemies, Rangers can deal up to an additional +9 damage / hit.

      Bane of Enemies, if taken, can increase damage further by +2d6 / hit against favored enemies.

      • Divine Might

      The Divine Might feat allows characters to add their charisma modifier in divine damage, for a duration lasting a number of rounds equal the charisma modifier, a number of times per day equalling 3 plus the charisma modifier.

      So a character with Divine Might and a Charisma Modifier of 22, can add +6 divine damage to each attack, for a duration of 6 rounds, 9 times per day. Divine damage is rarely resisted, so this can be quite valuable.

      The main downside are the requirements, which is having Power Attack, Str 13+, Cha 13+ and one of Cleric 1 / Paladin 3 / Blackguard 3, plus taking the Divine Might feat.

      • Spells and abilities which add ranged damage

      Certain spells add ranged damage, particularly Divine Favor (+5 AB and magical damage / hit), Prayer (+1AB and magical damage / hit), Battletide (+2 AB and Magical damage / hit) and Bard Song (+2 AB up to +3 bludgeoning damage).

      Attacking enemies more often

      This is achieved by:

      • Having has high BAB possible pre-epic or using Cleric’s Divine Power spell (which can increase BAB to that of a Fighter’s until the spell wears off).
      • Using the Rapid Shot feat
      • Using the Haste spell

      A ranged character can attack up to 6 times / round with a pre-epic BAB (real BAB or enhanced with Divine Power) of 16+, plus Rapid Shot, plus Haste.

      A ranged character does not get attacks of opportunity, unlike melee characters.

      Controlling enemies

      Enemies can be controlled in various ways:

      • Using a summon spell such as Summon Creature, a henchman or a party member to draw attention, while you as the archer, freely shoot arrows at them
      • Using disable spells such as Daze, Grease, Entangle, Stonehold, Hammer of the Gods, Storm of Vengeance, Hold Monster, Bigby’s Forceful Hand and Bigby’s Grasping Hand to keep enemies away from melee range
      • Using the Called Shot feat to slow enemy movement for a duration of four rounds. This requires a high ranged AB to be effective. It stacks, so an arcane archer attacking 6 times / round, can slow enemies down substantially.

      Speed, Stealth and Detection

      An archer who moves faster than an enemy who can only attack in melee range, can potentially always evade the melee warrior’s attacks by attacking and repositioning repeatedly. This can be achieved by:

      • The Expeditious Retreat, Haste or Mass Haste spell, Potions of Speed, or items that provide permanent haste (such as Boots of Speed)
      • Monk Speed (which requires Monk 3+)
      • Barbarian Fast Movement (which requires Barbarian 1+)

      Monk Speed is special in that it ‘unlocks the speed cap’. Normally a character cannot move faster than 150% of base movement speed, however the Monk Speed feat allows a character to move faster than this. This can be achieved by stacking Monk Speed with Expetitious Retreat, Mass Haste/Permanent Haste (but not the standard Haste spell), or just having a large number of Monk levels.

      Stealth and Detection is valuable for archers because it allows the archer to position ones self, set traps etc, set up summons before engaging the enemy from an ideal location. If the character can detect the enemy before they are detected, the archer can attack from a much farther range.

      Devastating Critical

      Devastating Critical can taken by ranged weapon users, meaning enemies can potentially die instantly at long distance.

      The main downside is the difficult pre-requisites which can affect Ranged AB or other statistics, and the lower threat range (the dice roll which makes a critical hit possible) of ranged weapons, especially given the Keen property (which increases threat range of weapons magically) is uncommon on ranged weapons, in fact I have never seen it on a ranged weapon.

      Classes which a ranged Devastating Critical attack can be viable include Arcane Archer and Cleric, particularly combined with Red Dragon Disciple to boost the Strength statistic up higher.

      Example builds with a powerful ranged attack

      A powerful ranged attack is not mandatory to used ranged weapons, however if one does want a powerful ranged attack, there are a number of builds which are worth reading to gather ideas:

      Torias’s Rogue Archer (Rogue 33 / Fighter 6 / SD 1)

      Maximillan Kane’s Demolition Man (Cleric 38 / Monk 1 / Rogue 1)

      Grizzled_Dwarflord’s The Archer Laureate (Bard 17 / Blackguard 4 / AA 19)

      Cinnabar Din’s The Devastator (Fighter 10 / Bard 3 / AA 27)

      Orion’s Divine Spellbow (Sorcerer 26 / Paladin 3 / AA 11)


      I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to building archers. I will be preparing a guide to playing archers in the Gameplay forum shortly, and will link both guides together for convenience.

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