Arcane Archer Is Appearing In Xanathar's Guide To Everything
Todd Kenreck: Arcane Archers can imbue their arrows with a unique type of magic all their own. I talked to Mike Mearls about this new sub-class appearing in Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
Mike Mearls: The idea behind the Arcane Archer was inspired by that Third Edition prestige class. The idea being that it's an archer who can imbue different magical effects into an arrow, that you then shoot at someone, right? It's pretty straightforward. The idea behind it is rather than just give that character spell casting, because we already have the spell casting fighter as the Eldritch Knight in the Player's Handbook, so if you just want to be a warrior with some spells, you can do that. It was important to make this class distinct. The original prestige class from Third Edition didn't get spell casting. The way prestige classes worked, you had to gain levels in almost always multi-class, and do all this other stuff, so you had to have some spell casting ability, if I remember right. You either had some spell casting ability, or it's much easier to enter the prestige class if you were combining fighter and wizard, or ranger and wizard, or whatever.
But since we don't have that in Fifth, you can multi-class, but we just wanted to make this a fighter thing. It basically replaces the power you might get from spells with these augmented arrows. The idea was to create one arrow for each school of magic, and then let you choose which school, which arrows, you wanted to master. It's really aimed at, if you want to play an archer, but with this hint of a very, very specific type of magic. You don't have your magic competing between Fireball and Magic Missile and maybe some sort of Smite-style effect on your arrows. You just have these specific magical arrow effects, that only you get.
I always liked designing that into sub-classes when we can. Obviously if you give someone spell casting, they have spell casting. I'm not trying to replace all possible spell casting with this unique mechanic. But I do like the idea that, oh, this is the Arcane Archer's thing. No one else gets it, and it's magical. It's okay for us to give someone something that's magical that's not spell casting. This is what this kind of approach did to make this very distinct arrow magic. Then, iconically, you'd expect elves to have access to this, but we don't ... Unless it's something attached to a specific setting, where these restrictions exist, anyone can become an Arcane Archer.
It was also, when you think of Xanathar's in terms of the design space, the concepts behind it, it was to give someone, maybe you've played an archer a couple times, it's now we're in year four of the edition, and so maybe you've, if you really love archers, maybe you played an archer who's a fighter, maybe you played a rogue who's an archer, maybe you played a ranger who's an archer. This is, okay, it's another type of archer you can play that's very distinct. That was another element of the book, to try to come up with sub-classes that, if there's a type of character you like playing, we're giving you some more very distinct variations on that character. Make changes, make new concepts that are very different than what you've seen before, so it keeps the game fresh.
One of the things we thought about, if you look in the book, each sub-class, almost all the sub-classes, we may have missed one, or the way the book developed, because we have to do the art order. We write the book, then we create the art order, then we refine things, so things may have been cut so they weren't caught in the art order. We thought of each sub-class as a character, right? Who's the character that represents this? For the Arcane Archer, it's an elf archer, but she is an elf archer whose homeland, or whatever, village, was destroyed by a green dragon, and so she's hunting the green dragon. This idea of this magic being a tool for her revenge. That she has a very specific ... This is the dragon that she wants to take down.
She is this incredibly skilled archer, obviously, she's an Arcane Archer, but this idea that she's more of a sniper. The more of, "I'm going to use my magic to put down this one person." That was kind of the feeling of it. That it is like that elite sniper, that person who is sort of hiding in the back rank, or is infiltrating enemy territory, identifying the threat, and defeating it in one shot. The nature of the arcane arrows is to help make that something that a character could accomplish. If you had an Arcane Archer NPC in your campaign, that might be who that person is. They could be like an assassin, right? It's like an elven take on what an assassin would look like. Or one who's a little bit, not just the assassin sub-class for the rogue.
That's kind of what I saw, pictured the Arcane Archer being, was almost enforcer. Especially maybe in an elven culture. It's that kind of role that they would have. Someone whose arrows deliver justice. If you remember the Oathbow, the magical item, this idea, it's this bow, and it's elven, and you deliver an oath to defeat an enemy, kind of building on some of that lore too. In the background of my mind there's this thing, this character class, as I was working on it.
Todd Kenreck: This was well received in Unearthed Arcana as well.
Mike Mearls: Yeah. It went over well. Actually, it was funny, because there was a lot of pushback from the design team, "Why don't we just give this spell casting?" But it was like, well, if you look at, we'd done some research in working on Fifth early on about which prestige classes people liked, and the Arcane Archer prestige class in the Third was very highly ranked. It was one of the highest ranked ones. That was the argument to do the work, then when we were doing play testing, I think there was an assumption that, "Oh, of course we'll change this to use spells," but we had very good play test feedback. People really liked it. I think people liked the original concept, and want to see it preserved.
What was the Favored Soul, but is now the Divine Soul sorcerer kind of had the opposite, where preserving as it was in Third Edition just didn't make sense, because you would have ended up with kind of an empty vessel, because the core mechanics changed enough that the spontaneous divine casters, you'd call it in Third, just doesn't exist in Fifth. This one was the opposite, where we didn't have any, because the mechanics are more idiosyncratic. They just didn't exist yet. It was a case where being more true to the original design, and in some ways doubling down on it, by creating all these unique arrows, one for each school of magic, I think made it feel even more like we were delivering on the original concept. It felt truer to what people wanted to see than maybe what they had seen before.
Todd Kenreck: If you are interested in playing an Arcane Archer, you can pick up that sub-class in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. You can buy that book on dndbeyond.com, and earn pre-order bonuses as well. I'm Todd Kenreck, thanks for watching.