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Pathfinder - The Crossbowman Fighter Handbook

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Introduction

The Crossbowman is a challenge. Archers, including other crossbow builds, typically rely on making numerous attacks in order to deal damage. The Crossbowman flies in the face of this by depending on single shots made as readied actions. To really understand this archetype, make sure to read the Read Action rules.

I also strongly encourage you to read my Practical Guide to Vital Strike, as I plan to use it extensively.

Fighter Class Features

Hit Points: Between your d10 hit points and your heavy amor, you are very durable.

Base Attack Bonus: The biggest and best in the game.

Saves: Your fortitude saves are good, but you will need to invest in your other saves.

Proficiencies: You get the best proficiencies of any class.

Skills: Fighters only get 2+ skills, and very few of your skill choices are worthwhile, so you will likely dump intelligence.

Bonus Feats: The main reason to play a fighter. Everything a fighter would want to take is a combat feat, and there are enough options that you never have to play the same fighter twice.

Crossbowman Features

Deadshot (Ex): This ability defines how the archetype will be played. Essentially, the Crossbowmen depends on readied actions. Applying half of your dexterity to damage is nice, but it's hard to make it match up to the huge damage gap provided by using a composite bow with rapid shot.

Crossbow Expert (Ex): Weapon training with crossbows. If you're only to get that one attack off of a prepared action, you had better hit with it.

Improved Deadshot (Ex): Very few enemies depend on dexterity for AC, so this will rarely help you hit. If you had sneak attack, this would be nice, but after 7 levels a dip into Rogue won't be very helpful.

Quick Sniper (Ex): The bonus to sniping is nice, but Stealth isn't a class skill for you, and the archetype doesn't add it. The ability to return fire is situationally useful, but it also unloads your crossbow so that you can't take your prepared action shot unless you're using a repeating crossbow or have Rapid Reload.

Greater Deadshot (Ex): Finally. This is a small damage boost for Deadshot. Crossbow damage still isn't great, but every little bit helps. By this point your Dexterity should be fairly impressive.

Safe Shot (Ex): Saves you the trouble of taking Point Blank Master.

Pinpoint Targeting: Pinpoint Targeting is a decent feat, especially against high AC enemies. Armor, Natural Armor, and Shields are the sorts of bonuses which a typical tank relies on, and this will let you get past their AC. However, it prevents you from using things like Vital Strike, which might mean you sacrifice damage for reliability.

Meteor Shot (Ex): Bull Rush or Trip with a ranged attack. Neither help you much, but they might help your allies.

Penetrating Shot (Ex): I certainly hope you took Improved Critical. This makes critical hits with crossbows really exciting, but it's fairly difficult to set up, and it's certainly not reliable until you get Weapon Mastery.

Weapon Mastery (Ex): With 19-20x3 crit, your critical hits won't be spectacularly often, but they will be better than with a bow. Combined with Penetrating Shot, this might see a fair bit of action.

Compatible Archetypes

Abilities

The Crossbowman is remarkably SAD compared to most fighters. You can dump 3 abilities and probably won't even notice.

Str: Crossbows don't touch strength at all, so you can dump it to 7 without affecting anything but your carrying capacity.

Dex: Your bread and butter.

Con: Keep those hit points high.

Int: Your skills are garbage, and you don't need Combat Expertise..

Wis: Will saves are fighter's biggest shortcoming, and even a little bit of Wisdom goes a long way to keep you alive.

Cha: Less talking, more shooting.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 18
  • Con: 16
  • Int: 7
  • Wis: 16
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 18
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 7
  • Wis: 16
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 18
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 7
  • Wis: 14
  • Cha: 7

Races

All we really need is a bonus to Dexterity.

Dwarf: The bonuses to Constitution and Wisdom are nice because they make the Crossbowman nice and durable, and the Dwarf gets a whole bunch of other great defensive abilities, but no bonus to Dexterity.

Elf: Bonus to a good stat and a dump stat, penalty to a good stat. Other abilities don't really get us much.

Gnome: Nothing we want but Constitution. Being small hurts our already poor damage.

Half-Elf: The flexible ability bonus is good, and the Half-Elf has lots of great options for alternate racial traits. Ancestral Arms can get us access to the Double Crossbow, making the Half-Elf at least on par with the Human if you plan to use one.

Half-Orc: Flexible ability bonus and Darkvision, but nothing specifically heolpful for the Crossbowman.

Halfling: Nothing we want but Dexterity. Being small hurts our already poor damage.

Human: The ability bonus goes into Dexterity, and we get a feat. Because crossbows require more feats to be viable than bows, the extra feat is very important.

Traits

Traits don't really matter for this build. Pick something to boost your saves or initiative.

Skills

Cross-Class Skills

Feats

Weapons

Armor

Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.

Cross-Classing and Prestige Classes

There are lot of multiclass possibilities for any Fighter. After getting Greater Deadshot at level 11 or Safe Shot at level 13, you might consider dropping out of Fighter and exploring another class instead.

Example Build - The Vital Strike Crossbowman

I ready a vital strike for when he inhales.

I want to badly for this archetype to be fun and playable, but it really just isn't. All that this archetype can do is damage, and it doesn't even do that very well. This is my best attempt to salvage the archetype until someone decides for certain that Vital Strike works with a double crossbow.

Abilities

We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.

Race

It doesn't really matter.

Skills

Perception. If you're Human, pick up Knowledge (Dungeoneering).

Traits

Reactionary and History of Heresy.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Feat: Rapid Reload
  • Bonus Feat: Point-Blank Shot

Low levels are very boring for the Crossbowman. You get one attack every round for 1d10 damage. It's kind of sad, really.

2
  • Bonus Feat: Precise Shot

Well at least now your allies aren't in the way as much.

3
  • Feat: Deadly Aim
  • Deadshot

Deadshot gives you 2 points of damage at this level, and Deadly Aim adds another 2. 1d10+4 damage is more than a composite bow will probably do, and you're more likely to hit, but you only get one try so don't mess it up.

4
  • Bonus Feat: Weapon Focus
  • Ability Increase: Dexterity

2 more damage from Deadly Aim increases your damage bonus to +6. It's not much, but it's all that you have going for you at the moment.

5
  • Feat: Weapon Specialization
  • Crossbow Expert +1

3 more damage between Crossbow expert and Weapon Specialization. Can you feel the depression setting in?

6
  • Bonus Feat: Vital Strike

Finally! Now you can start doing what this build was meant to do. Assuming your using a Large Heavy Crossbow, your damage just went from 2d8+9 to 4d8+9, and average gain of 9 damage. This still isn;t

7
  • Feat: ANY
  • Improved Deadshot

Ooh, now people are flat-footed when you ready an action to shoot them. All of those Rogues and Ninjas are going to be very scared. You're out of feats for which you qualify and which we actually want, so take Dodge, Toughness, or Iron Will.

8
  • Bonus Feat: Greater Weapon Focus
  • Ability Increase: Dexterity

One more point to hit, and your dexterity should be 20 or 22 before your belt now. I assume you have a belt of dexterity. You do have one of those, don't you? You don't? Oh. Well, bless your heart.

9
  • Feat: Devastating Strike
  • Quick Sniper

This is where the build stops being a cruel joke.

Devastating strike is a nice bit of extra damage, and at this level you can afford to be permanently Enlarged and to purchase a large +1 Impact Heavy Crossbow. When your crossbow increases to match your size, you're firing as a Gargantuan Crossbow for 4d8 base damage. Combined with Vital Strike, that's 8d8, and Devastating Strike adds 6 damage to that. That's an average of 42 damage before you even look at your normal damage bonuses from enhancement, weapon specialization, etc.

I hate Quick Sniper. I hate it so much. It doesn't make any sense on a Fighter.

10
  • Bonus Feat: ANY

Another particularly dull level.

11
  • Feat: Improved Vital Strike
  • Greater Deadshot

Have another 4d8 damage. You get to use your whole Dexterity bonus for damage now, which is nice, but that's probably like 3 or 4 more damage than you were already doing, so it's not a big deal compared to the extra 4d8.

12
  • Bonus Feat: Greater Weapon Specilization
  • Ability Increase: Dexterity

2 more damage. It's depressing that this is the best we can do with such a high level feat.

13
  • Safe Shot
  • Crossbow Mastery +3

Now you can use your crossbow in melee for some reason!