Capstone Talents: Arcane Archer

Okay, following the process described in What are Capstone Talents, and How Do I Make Some?, I will break down the Arcane Archer prestige class and build a capstone talent.


Elf or half-elf

I am inclined to remove the racial prerequisite, I see no mechanical reason to require that this be an elf-only class.  I’ll note that the elves developed this and most arcane archers are elves or half-elves.

Base Attack Bonus: +6

Must be a fairly trained and/or experienced warrior.  Combined with the requirement to be able to cast arcane spells, below, a character will need at least seven character levels to meet the prerequisites, gaining access to the class no sooner than D&D-8th level.  This maps directly to the top of the Heroic tier in Echelon.  Normally something in the Heroic tier would get stepped down to Expert tier capstone, but this one is iffy.

Since it may be a little high for the Expert tier but has ten levels, I will tentatively consider it a three-tier capstone talent starting with the Expert tier.

Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Weapon Focus (longbow or shortbow)

This maps pretty obviously to a bow-based combat style.  I haven’t got one defined yet that I’m happy with, but for now I’ll use Bow Mastery from the draft FantasyCraft talents.  It’s not an exact match for these feats (it focuses on longer range rather than close precision) but it’ll do for the purpose of discussion.  In fact, given the prestige class abilities, being able to shoot farther is better anyway.

Spells: Ability to cast first-level arcane spells

I can’t see escaping this one, even though it can be met without dipping into Expert talents (which normally might relegate it to the “many have this” notes), because class abilities specifically depend on being able to cast spells.  On the other hand, there is only one class ability that specifically requires the ability to cast spells, and I could arrange things so that every capstone tier provides a benefit and the class is better with the ability to cast arcane spells.

Looking over the existing prerequisites I see a clear need for BAB +6 (3/4 of the initial capstone level, 8) and a bow-related Combat Style.  I’m downgrading the racial requirement, so this leaves me with just two requirements.  I like to have three or maybe four, so “must be able to cast arcane spells” is back in.

  • Base Attack Bonus +6
  • Bow Mastery
  • able to cast arcane spells

This is a three-tier capstone talent, and looking at the abilities gained I see full Base Attack Bonus, Good Fortitude, Good Reflex, and some stuff that doesn’t actually match an existing talent.  This suggests that for Heroic and Master tiers I might want at least

  • Base Attack Bonus +9/+12
  • Bow Mastery

This is a little light.  I don’t see any improvement to spell casting, but that benefits characters with this capstone (as will be shown under ‘Abilities’); I can expect most will take it, but I see no need to require it.

If I had to think about this class, I think ‘flitting through the forest, shooting from concealment’ rather more than ‘really tough’.  If I apply a 3/4 base Reflex requirement at Heroic and Master tiers I should have

  • Base Reflex +9/+12

The Heroic capstone level is 12 (Level Bonus +6) and the Master capstone level is 16 (level bonus +8); a character will almost certainly need Heroic Lightning Reflexes to qualify for the capstone at earliest opportunity.  This being the case, the character will be able to meet the requirements for Master tier with only two talents, both of which he would be inclined to take anyway.  I could increase the base Reflex save requirement, or I could (effectively) add a requirement for Great Fortitude… but I don’t really like that.  Given the increased dependence on magic (if not spell casting) for his abilities I am tempted to make Steeped in Magic a requirement.  I’m not really fond of requiring cornerstone talents, though, so I need to think about this some more — maybe a higher Will save requirement would be better.

Tier Benefit Prerequisites
  • Base Attack Bonus +6
  • Expert Bow Mastery
  • able to cast arcane spells
  • Base Attack Bonus +9
  • Base Reflex Save +9
  • Heroic Bow Mastery
  • Base Attack Bonus +12
  • Base Reflex Save +12
  • Master Bow Mastery

Note that “Master Bow Mastery” [that label needs a beating] is not yet defined.


The Arcane Archer has Good Base Attack Bonus, Good Fortitude Save, Good Reflex Save.  I have accounted for Good Base Attack Bonus and Good Reflex Save, and I’m ignoring Good Fortitude because it doesn’t suit how I see these characters.  I almost always ignore weapon and armor proficiencies granted by prestige classes even playing relatively straight RSRD games.  This leaves me with:

Enhance Arrow: all nonmagical arrows nocked and fired gain an enhancement bonus. [equal to class level/2 rounded up]

I don’t have enhancement bonuses, but I will consider some other form of enchantment.

Imbue Arrow: As a standard action may cast a spell into an arrow and fire the arrow.  The spell’s effect will be centered where the spell lands, even if it could normally only be cast on the caster.

This ability is not, at this point, available through other means.  This makes it a candidate capstone talent ability.

In fact, this is a pretty sweet ability, and I can see someone taking this capstone talent just for this ability.  I have two tiers left to populate, four abilities to consider, this one is damn nice, and starting at Expert was a little iffy anyway.  Single ability for Expert tier here.

Okay, looking over the remaining abilities I’ll observe once here that I’m not a fan of “times per day” artificial limitations on abilities.

Seeker Arrow: As a standard action, once per day may fire an arrow at a known target that ignores cover and concealment.

Phase Arrow: As a standard action, once per day may fire an arrow at a known target that ignores all nonmagical barriers, negating cover, concealment, and armor modifiers.

These two abilities both allow the archer to ignore obstructions of different types.  Seeker Arrow is gained at fourth class level, or about eleventh character level.  This is middle-Master tier in Echelon terms but is really limited and of dubious utility.  Phase Arrow is a little more powerful (and would be gained at the equivalent of low-Champion tier) but just as limited.

I’d like to adjust these a little.  These are marked as Spell-Like Abilities in the RSRD, and while I expect that characters taking this class would continue training their casting ability and didn’t make it a prerequisite before, maybe it’s time to bring it back.

Let’s say instead that by spending a second-level spell the character can do the Seeker Arrow attack, and by spending a third-level spell the character can do the Phase Arrow attack.  This thus requires that the character have second- and third-level spells, so I’ll add “able to cast third-level arcane spells” as a prerequisite of the Heroic capstone tier.  This is the equivalent of RSRD second-level spells and can be achieved with a single talent.

Hail of Arrows: Once per day (action type not specified; I assume full round from the benefit gained) may fire an arrow at every target within range, to a maximum of one target for every arcane archer earned.  Each attack uses the archer’s primary attack bonus, and each enemy may only be targeted by a single arrow.

I was tempted to make this an Extraordinary ability, but given how I’m looking at handling Seeker Arrow and Phase Arrow I think I’ll keep it as a Spell-Like Ability and fuel it with fourth-level spells (RSRD third-level spells).  This adds “able to cast fourth-level arcane spells” to the capstone tier prerequisites – a dedicated caster might be casting seventh-level (RSRD sixth-level) spells at this point, just for reference.

Arrow of Death: The arcane archer may create an arrow of death that forces the target, if damaged by the arrow’s attack, to make a DC 20 Fortitude save or be slain immediately. It takes one day to make an arrow of death, and the arrow only functions for the arcane archer who created it. The arrow of death lasts no longer than one year, and the archer can only have one such arrow in existence at a time.

This is effectively usable only once per day, but that’s a function of how long it takes to prepare more than an arbitrary limit, so I won’t bother fueling this with spell slots.

Arcane Archer Capstone Talent

Tier Benefit Prerequisites
  • Imbue Arrow
  • Base Attack Bonus +6
  • Expert Bow Mastery
  • able to cast second-level arcane spells
  • Seeker Arrow
  • Phase Arrow
  • Base Attack Bonus +9
  • Base Reflex Save +9
  • Heroic Bow Mastery
  • able to cast third-level arcane spells
  • Hail of Arrows
  • Arrow of Death
  • Base Attack Bonus +12
  • Base Reflex Save +12
  • Master Bow Mastery
  • able to cast fourth-level arcane spells

Notes: The abilities of this capstone were originally discovered by the elves, and to this day most practitioners are elves and half-elves.

Closing Comments

I can see things I might look into in order to improve this capstone talent.  I think it is probably a decent first cut.  To take each tier of the capstone talent at the earliest opportunity the character would invest three talents (four for the Heroic tier; I could soften this by reducing the Base Reflex Save requirement to +8, which would require only Expert Lightning Reflexes, but I’ll leave it like this for now).  Overall the requirements are not arduous.

I’d like to explore a little and see if I can find some abilities that better suit my tastes, but these ones do not look out of line.  The character will be spending spell slots pretty much every time he wants to use his talent abilities; ‘arcane archer’ is exactly that.  The character still has three (two at Heroic tier) talents to use for other things.  Improving his combat ability or casting options both seem likely choices.  If he maintains this capstone at his top tier (at least until Master) he will have a decent base for backfilling the Expert and Heroic capstones after upgrading.

I think I might want to look at Diablo D&D supplement.  As I recall there is an archer class there with some nifty magic abilities that might better fit my view of this class.

All in all, for a first pass this doesn’t look too bad.

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  1. David Lamb

    I really like how you showed the thought process behind this example. It seems to me that the equivalent of a “campaign creator’s guide” or DMG or even maybe PHB is going to need worked out examples like this; some of my problem with D&D prestige classes, like with spells, is the lack of such examples, leaving a mish-mosh of choices of different designers that aren’t consistent with each other.

    Is there any benefit from the specific spells in the slots that power the various upper-tier Arrows (Phase, Seeker, Hail)? Does the spell go off at the point of impact, for example (though which point of impact for Hail is problematic)? Basically I’m suggesting that these upper-tier abilities all include Imbue Arrow as part of what they do.

    Imbue and Phase arrows both seem magical. Seeker and Hail seem like maybe things that should be available to upper-tier Bow Masters, possibly without the requirement of spending a spell slot. So if Heroic capstone gives Seeker Arrow, maybe there’s a Master (or perhaps Champion) tier talent that grants a version of it without the spell-slot-spending requirement.

    • It takes longer to write that way, but when I’m giving examples of applying a process I like to show what I think while I do so. This conversion took about an hour, with copying and pasting, annotations, and collecting the final result. I probably could have done it in about ten minutes if I just wanted the result.

      I’ll do at least a few this way, but I expect by the end of the RSRD prestige classes I’ll be just showing my results with at least a few of them, and some more (Eldritch Knight, maybe Mystic Theurge, etc.) will just have a note saying they aren’t needed any more. If I find one that’s interesting or not obvious in implementation I’ll try to show that in more detail.

      Then I’ll probably move it offline for a while and build another PDF of just capstone talents, as I did the other talents.

      Regarding the specific spells question, I was thinking instead of having the capstone tier provide access to spells that do these things. You don’t spend a third-level spell slot to power this ability, you actually cast a third-level spell that does this. However, this suggests this class could largely be replaced by a talent granting spell knowledge rather than a capstone talent and that would have defeated the purpose, so I decided that this is an ability available only to people with this capstone.

      Agreed, shooting around corners could be a general mid-level archer ability and made Exceptional rather than Spell-Like, and Hail of Arrows could be an Exception ability a tier higher. In revising this class I would likely do that, moving those specific abilities out for something else… but as a first draft and for the sake of demonstration I’ll leave them here.

      I’m not sure I want to add the spell’s effect to the capstone ability fueled by the spell. Being able to spend a single fourth-level slot to shoot a fireball through a stone wall seems a little too much.

      … but I admit that I really like the idea of this class being able to do that trick. Let’s say that you can use Imbue Arrow and Seeker/Phase arrow together as a double action. I can Imbue Arrow with fireball and shoot over a wall (nice!), I can spend a fourth-level slot to use Phase Arrow to shoot right through a wall, or I can take two actions (same round or spanning a round boundary) to Imbue Arrow with fireball then another slot to empower with Phase Arrow to shoot right through stone.


  2. David Lamb

    A separate issue is what to do about racial prerequisites in general. It seems to me there ought to be *some* talents, maybe even capstones, that reflect the nature of a specific race and aren’t available to other races. Or, perhaps the “granted abilities” are available, but only at a higher tier.

    I’m not really objecting to your eliminating Elf as a requirement for Arcane Archer — at the moment. However, if there are other magic-plus-spellcasting capstones available to all races, that are “sort of” like a magic archer, there is room for a specialized form peculiar to D&D elves. In various editions elves are supposed to have an affinity for both bows and magic. I’m pretty sure the comment that “most AAs are elves” isn’t gone to be borne out among the player character subset of the population.

    • Granted abilities that are restricted to race are more likely to be part of an advanced cornerstone, I think.

      I agree that some capstones may be limited by race, though they may be uncommon. This is one that I think doesn’t need to be, is all. I agree that it may be a good idea to move back after further consideration.

      Given that all prerequisite sets in Echelon end with “or the GM says it’s okay” — remember, characters Born of Man can develop fire breathing capabilities because by that point they aren’t human as we know them — I tend to drop that sort of thing unless it is inherent in the nature of the capstone and creature. I’m not averse to changing it back, D&D has a trope of “elves are gishy” that goes way, way back and it can be applied here.

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