Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Quickstart Cleric Archer

Shameless Plug

Following the Quickstart Druid thread, this thread is going to give a few pointers on ranged cleric builds. The ranged cleric is an old CO staple and, even though it's not the best out there, it keeps a respectable damage output with minimal investment and maintains access to several spells that can benefit a party. This short guide will focus on weapons mainly and not weapon-like spells or abilities (for example, a warlock's eldritch blast).

Let's talk weapons:

The cleric class provides access to all simple weapons. With simple weapons, you get the following ranged weapons: heavy and light crossbow, sling, dart, javelin. With the first three you will be unable to benefit from multiple attacks, because they require a move or longer action to reload. An exception to this rule is the rapid reload feat, only for the light crossbow. Slings, darts and javelins are thrown weapons and thus you get your full strength modifier on your damage roll, without the composite bow crap. The downside is that you need multiple weapons (probably with the returning property) to make use of them. Obviously, if you want to use thrown weapons, you really have two choices: humans (medium size and bonus feat) and strongheart halflings (bonus to dexterity and a bonus with thrown weapons to attack, but lower damage due to size and strength penalty).

The cleric also provides access to the war domain, which gives us free martial weapon proficiency and weapon focus with the favorite weapon of our god. Now, if you find a god with favorite weapon longbow or shortbow, there's your martial weapon, right there. The problem is that it's very difficult to find deities (which aren't race-specific) that provide the war domain and are associated with a bow as a favorite weapon. Using the old crystalkeep index I've only found "The Silver Flame - Knights Militant", which is an Eberron deity. If you are an elf, there are two deities: Shevarash and Solonor Thelandira, which have longbow as a favorite weapon and war as a domain, but unless you're using a weird elven subrace, you already have the longbow as a weapon. However, we're not totally missing the point, as there are options out there to help the cleric-archer-with-the-war-domain out, even with overlapping proficiencies. At this point, I'll also mention the deity Ehlonna, which has longbow as her favorite weapon, but does not grant access to the war domain; she is mentioned, because of a beautiful magic item located in the Magic Item Compendium, the Raptor Arrows.

Remember that while you don't have to be an actual elf to pick the elf domain (which grants the point blank shot), almost all deities that offer it list "elves" as their typical worshipers. According to the Revised Player's Handbook, if the typical worshipers of a deity include the members of a race, a cleric must be of the indicated race to choose that deity as his own. As such, in the rest of this guide, I'm going to assume that the elf domain is typically (barring DM permission, or a rule that I seem to have ignored) open to elves, only.

Your race is also a great way to get proficiencies. This almost always means elf, but that means that they come with the dreaded constitution penalty. There are several ways to overcome that, most of them come from the Unearthed Arcana. Aquatic Elves are a useful alternative, since they lose their gills and are thus able to act outside water for as long as they like; the intelligence penalty is not a problem for the cleric class (plus Aquatic Elves are far superior to Painted Elves from Sandstorm). Arctic Elves and Desert Elves from the same book have a strength penalty, which translates to reduced damage output; remember that Desert Elves favor the shortbow, too. Snow Elves from Frostburn get a hit to charisma, which is not recommended for a cleric. One exception to avoiding the constitution penalty would probably be the Lesser Drow from Player's Guide to Faerun, because they provide us with the wonderful exotic weapon proficiency for hand crossbows, which not only you can dual wield, but also reload as a free action using a feat from the Drow of the Underdark supplement (remember to grab a Raptor's Mask, from Magic Item Compendium, which grants immunity to blindness). Finally, an often overlooked elf-related race is the half-human elf, located in the Dungeon Master's Guide, page 173; they are half-elves, but they receive the martial weapon proficiencies of an elf (half-human elves mix very well with Ehlonna and her raptor arrows).

Continuing talking races, there are other options than just going elf, but they are somewhat questionable. The main argument is that an outsider is proficient with all simple and martial weapons, as per Monster Manual, page 313. However, it's almost impossible to find an outsider that has level adjustment of 0. The only ones that I know of are Neraphims, in the races section of Planar Handbook; they are frog-like creatures that reside in Limbo and look a lot like the Slaadi. They have respectable racial features (+2 natural armor!) and even treat an exotic thrown weapon, the annulat, as martial (which you will get anyway, since outsiders are proficient with martial weapons anyway). An annulat-throwing Neraphim cleric would be an interesting variation of the ranged cleric, probably using multiple annulats with the returning property. If your Dungeon Master allows the Level Adjustment Buyoff variant from Unearthed Arcana, additional outsider options will be available for you, the most notable examples are Aasimars and Zenthyri (Zenthyri have racial stat adjustments of +2 str, +2 dex, +2 wis, -2 cha). Remember that you actually need the outsider type, so just taking the lesser planetouched version of the race will not work; rather, you need to take the level adjusted race and buy the adjustment off.

To dexterity or not to dexterity: Unless you're going for very a specialized build, you can just grab Zen Archery as your level three feat (because it requires +1 BAB) and almost forget about dexterity (because some archery-related feats, like rapid shot, have a minimum dexterity requirement - here elves and their racial bonuses come in pretty handy).

Cloistered Cleric: The cloistered cleric is a very good alternative class if you want to play a ranged character. The biggest loss is that of your medium base attack bonus (you get the worst progression of the three) and your hit points, but even without them, the seer amount of skill points you'll receive (remember that Intelligence is a dump stat for you) and the additional domain (which you can trade for the knowledge devotion feat - a feat that translates knowledge checks to damage) make up for it. You can receive extra attacks by casting Righteous Wrath of the Faithful, the Rapid Shot feat, a Haste spell from an allied arcane spellcaster (or Boots of Speed) or the Splitting enhancement from the sourcebook Champions of Ruin. In any case, one less attack due to your base attack bonus won't really be an issue, especially after your 7th level, since around that caster level you'll have access to the Divine Power spell (which is a great candidate for Persistent or Quicken Spell, coupled with Divine Metamagic), which gives you a full base attack progression (like that of a Fighter) and a large bonus to strength.


Point Blank Shot: Point blank shot is a necessary evil somewhat. The benefits are marginal at best; +1 to your attack roll and your damage roll with ranged weapons, if your opponent is within 30ft of you. At least the bonuses are untyped, which result in reliable damage. You need this feat, because most of the archery-related feats (such as Rapid Shot and Precise Shot) list it as a requirement. The Elf Domain gives you the Point Blank Shot feat for free.
Precise Shot: Generally a requirement for archery builds, barring degenerate examples of parties with no melee characters. The -4 bonus is a lot, especially at low levels, however, later it is not going to hurt you that much. Scouts, rogues and swift hunters want to use this, because if they are not able to use their weapon effectively, they can't apply their precision-based damage with it, but that's not the case for the ranged cleric. The Splitting weapon enhancement from Champions of Ruin (a +3 weapon enhancement) requires that you have the precise shot to use it effectively. The Precise weapon enhancement (a +1 enhancement) effectively provides you with the Precise Shot feat and you don't have to possess the Point Blank Shot feat to use your weapon.
Rapid Shot: Rapid Shot requires that you possess the Point Blank Shot and a mediocre dexterity score. This feat is a fine pick at low levels (before you gain access to Divine Power), since it will grant you a second attack; however all your attacks are going to receive a -2 penalty. Later, after spells and items become more and more a reliable source of additional attacks, you can retrain this to something more appropriate, like setting up the components for Divine Metamagic (Persistent). Even if you don't retrain it, additional attacks are welcome at all levels.
Holy Warrior CC: The Holy Warrior reserve feat is a must have as your 9th level feat (typically) if you have selected the War Domain. You gain a flat scalable bonus to your weapon damage rolls, as long as you don't expend your highest-level War spell; the wording is somewhat weird, it doesn't mention domain slot, but "War spell", which probably means that if you memorize a war domain spell in one of your normal spell slots (if it appears on the cleric spell list, too, of course, like Divine Power), you get the bonus normally. The +1 caster level to force spells is just the icing on the cake.
Zen Archery CW: This is going to be your 3rd level feat almost always. It's just too good to pass and effectively makes your SAD, if you rule out constitution.
Knowledge Devotion CC: Note: This feat is blue-rated, only if you can swap the additional Knowledge Domain the Cloistered Cleric receives for it. Otherwise, it's probably not worth it. This is a place to sink your skill points, of course, after maxing concentration and having respectable scores in any other necessary skills (diplomacy, listen, spot, spellcraft). If your Dungeon Master rules that you lose the knowledges the Cloistered Cleric receives (due to losing the Knowledge Domain), don't worry; having high enough skill checks in knowledge (arcana), knowledge (religion) and knowledge (the planes) (the knowledges the cleric normally gets) will provide bonuses to a great deal of enemies: dragons, elementals, outsiders, undead and more. Plus, Knowledge Devotion provides you with an extra knowledge, which should probably be knowledge (nature), because that is assosiated with a high amount of creature types. Finally, if your god is assosiated with the Knowledge Domain, consider the Lore of the Gods (can be persisted, too) spell from Complete Champion, which will give you a +10 bonus to your knowledge skill checks. Don't forget about the Collector of Stories skill trick, which arguably works with the feat.
Divine Metamagic CD: On Quicken Spell or Persistent Spell. This is probably the best feat a Cleric is able to pick and the Cleric Archer archetype is not an exception. You use this with typical buffs: Divine Power, Divine Favor, Righteous Wrath of the Faithful either to keep them on all day or to cast them as swift action as needed. Persistent Spell requires Extend Spell, which will make your build feat starved, while Quicken Spell saves some feats and consumes your Turn Undead attempts per day at a fairly lower rate, but it needs you to memorize multiples of the same spell, assuming you're preparing for multiple encounters in a given day. Generally, the Persistent Spell route is considered the most optimal version, assuming you can fit everything in. The Cleric's Handbook mistakenly suggests that you don't have to possess the feat to apply Divine Metamagic, as per Complete Divine errata.
Hand Crossbow Focus DotU: Hand Crossbow focus is effectively a Rapid Reload and Weapon Focus feat rolled in one. This is suggested for the Lesser Drow elves, who receive an exotic weapon proficiency with the hand crossbow for free. To make the most out of your hand crossbows, you'll have to use the Crossbow Sniper from Player's Handbook II, which applies your 1/2 dexterity bonus to the damage rolls with your hand crossbow; remember that Hand Crossbow Focus counts as Weapon Focus for the requirements of Crossbow Sniper. You can also dual-wield hand crossbows, so taking the Two-Weapon Fighting and the magic item Gloves of the Balanced Hand from Magic Item Compendium will net you Improved Two-Weapon Fighting. Finally, there are some spells that will give you with great benefits, such as the fifth level Cleric spell Divine Agility from Spell Compendium (+10 enchantment bonus to your dexterity score).
Divine Might CW: Not exactly optimal, as it requires Power Attack, Divine Might as written works with all weapons, including ranged ones. If your charisma is high for whatever reason, this is a very good way to add it to your weapon damage rolls.


Unless noted, the spells are from the Revised Player's Handbook or the Spell Compendium.

Level 1st: Divine Favor, Blessed Aim, Guiding Light.
Level 2nd: Owl's Wisdom, Spiritual Weapon, Align Weapon.
Level 3rd: Magic Vestment, Ghost Touch Weapon, Girallon's Blessing.
Level 4th: Divine Power, Greater Magic Weapon.
Level 5th: Righteous Might, Divine Agility, Righteous Wrath of the Faithful, Surge of Fortune CC.
Level 6th: Energy Immunity, Superior Resistance.
Level 7th: Brilliant Blade.
Level 8th: Antimagic Field.
Level 9th: Greater Visage of the Deity.



Collision MIC: Collision provides you with five additional damage per hit, which is superior to having two +1 elemental enhancements on your weapon, both because 2d6 damage averages to around 7 damage per hit and because elemental damage becomes highly unreliable as you gain levels. Also note that Collision damage gets multiplied in criticals.
Speed: You can just cast Righteous Wrath of the Faithful or get a Haste effect from an allied spellcaster.
Splitting CoR: Essentially double your damage output. This is an expensive property, more appropriate for high level play. Requires Precise Shot to work.
Precise MIC: Forget about the Precise Shot feat, this +1 enhancement effectively provides it for you, almost free.
Force MIC: Very good enhancement at +2, which enables you to bypass any damage reduction automatically and suffer no miss chance when attacking incorporeal targets. The only downside is that your weapon will not be able to deal any damage against targets that are immune to force effects.

Other Items:

Bracers of Archery, Lesser: You get a free proficiency with all bows, eat your heart out.
Gauntlets of War CC: As written, arguably works with any favored weapon, even if your deity favors a ranged one. However, note that errata lists the bonus damage as enhancement, which is bad, because just a single casting of greater magic weapon will be enough at higher levels to surpass this item.
Gloves of the Balanced Hand MIC: Gives you Improved Two-Weapon Fighting for free, useful if you're going to use thrown weapons.
Gloves of Endless Javelins MIC: Provides you with endless +1 force javelins and you can activate as many times as you want per round, because it's a free action, which means that you can even two-weapon full attack. You apply your full strength bonus to thrown weapons, so buff your strength to insane amounts and fire away. These gloves are a very cheap alternative (they cost 7.000gp) for any cleric, even those that are primarly melee and just wish to have a reliable ranged attack.
Belt of Battle MIC: Bonus to initiative and extra actions by spending renewable charges. It's considered an important item to any caster.
Boots of Speed: A little pricey, but a nice alternative if you don't have haste available (or if you don't want to persist Righteous Wrath of the Faithful for some reason).
Raptor Arrows MIC: Get some raptor arrows and you will never need ammunition ever again. You only need to get one for each attack you can make per round. They are particularly worth it if you worship Ehlonna, since by permanently sacrificing one 4th level slot each fired arrow will automatically acquire the bane property against its target. That means that your fired arrows will have a +2 bonus to their enhancement and deal an additional 2d6 points of damage against all enemies, which is nothing to scoff at.

Build Stabs

Iconic Cleric Archer

Neutral Good Aquatic Elf Cloistered Cleric of Ehlonna 8 (32 point buy, 2 flaws, no traits)

Medium Humanoid (Elf, Aquatic)
Hit Dice: 8d6 + 16 + 8 temporary
Initiative: +0 (+4 sign)
Speed: 40ft, Swim 40ft
Base Attack: 4 (8 buffed)
Attack: 8 BAB + 3 (Raptor Arrow enhancement bonus) + 6 (wis modifier) + at least 1 (Knowledge Devotion)
Damage: 1d8 + 3 (str modifier) + 3 (Raptor Arrow enhancement) + 2d6 (Bane property) + at least 1 (Knowledge Devotion)
Space/Reach: 5ft/5ft
Saves: +8/+2/+12, immunity to magic sleep effects, +2 vs enchantment spells or effects.
Abilities: Str 16 (+6 Divine Power), Dex 10, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 22 (+2 level +2 item), Cha 12.
Skills: Concentration +13, Knowledge(Religion), +11, Knowledge(Arcana) +10, Knowledge(The Planes) +10, Knowledge(Nature) +10, Knowledge(Dungeoneering) +1, Spot +8, Listen +8, Search +2, Spellcraft +11, Collector of Stories trick.
Feats: Point Blank Shot 1st retrained to Extend Spell, Precise Shot Flaw retrained to Persistent Spell, Extra Turning Flaw, Knowledge Devotion Bonus, Zen Archery 3rd, Divine Metamagic (Persistent) 6th
Domains: Plant, Celerity. Spontaneous Domain ACF on Plant Domain.
Senses: Superior Low-Light Vision, Hidden Portals.
Languages Spoken: Common, Elven.
Level Adjustment: +0.

Notable Possessions: +1 Precise Longbow (+3 bonus), 2x Raptor Arrows (with relic power unlocked), Reliquary Holy Symbol, Periaph of Wisdom +2.


  1. Hi.. could you show me an example of what your sample build would look like at level one?

    1. I'm not the original poster. but I'd imagine it would look something like this.

      Neutral Good Aquatic Elf Cloistered Cleric of Ehlonna 1 (32 point buy, 2 flaws, no traits)

      Medium Humanoid (Elf, Aquatic)
      Hit Dice: 1d6 + 2
      Initiative: +0
      Speed: 40ft, Swim 40ft
      Base Attack: 0
      Attack: 5 BAB + 4 (wis modifier) + at least 1 (Knowledge Devotion)
      Damage: 1d8 + at least 1 (Knowledge Devotion)
      Space/Reach: 5ft/5ft
      Saves: +4/+0/+6, immunity to magic sleep effects, +2 vs enchantment spells or effects.
      Abilities: Str 10, Dex 10, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 18, Cha 12.
      Skills: Concentration +6, Knowledge(Religion)4, Knowledge(Arcana) +4, Knowledge(The Planes) +3, Knowledge(Nature) +4, Knowledge(Dungeoneering) +1, Spot +2, Listen +2, Search +2, Spellcraft +4, Collector of Stories trick.
      Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot Flaw, Extra Turning Flaw, Knowledge Devotion Bonus
      Domains: Plant, Celerity. Spontaneous Domain ACF on Plant Domain.
      Senses: Superior Low-Light Vision, Hidden Portals.
      Languages Spoken: Common, Elven.
      Level Adjustment: +0.

  2. Very good guide as always! Congrats! I see however that you sugest the spell Righteous Wrath of the Faithful several times. Note that while this is a VERY good buff for the entire party, it gives you an adittional MELLE attack and +3 to MELLE attack and damage. So, a raged character do not actually benefit from it. Or is there any errata for this that I'm not aware of?

    1. Hello Daniel,

      I'm afraid that I'm away from books at the moment, but it's quite possible that I've got it wrong or miss-read it somehow!