Pathfinder - The Crossbowman Fighter Handbook
Last Updated: September 23, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
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 Ready 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.
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 going to get 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 tempting 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.
- Gladiator: Have you ever watched someone very patiently load and fire a crossbow? It's not terribly exciting. Now bring that into performance combat.
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|
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 don't really matter for this build. Pick something to boost your saves or initiative.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Good luck training animals with that awful Charisma.
- Intimidate (Cha): Your Charisma is garbage.
- Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): Your only class skill which is likely to be useful.
- Knowledge (engineering) (Int): Hugely situational, and your Intelligence is garbage.
- Ride (Dex): Riding a horse isn't the worst idea.
- Survival (Wis): Situational, but helpful for tracking if you don't have a Ranger handy.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
- Perception (Wis): Even though it's cross-class, Perception will see more use than any other skill.
- Stealth (Dex): Required for Return Fire, but Return Fire is awful, so don't worry about it.
- Blind Fight: It's hard to say if you will want this or not. You only get one shot per round, so it hurts to miss, but it's also very hard to ready an action in response to something that you can't see.
- Deadly Aim: Required. You only get one shot, and you're practically guaranteed to hit because you're not taking penalties to use Rapid Shot and you're not making iterative attacks. Get all the damage you can find.
Point-Blank Shot: Required for more important feats.
Don't feel compelled to try to get within 30 feet.
- Far Shot: Crossbow range is pretty good already, and a -2 penalty to go into your second range increment isn't really important past very low levels.
Precise Shot: You will probably have allies
in melee because you're not in melee, so you need Precise shot to
avoid the horrific penalties to attack.
Improved Precise Shot: Ignore cover
and partial concealment. Not as important for you as for rogues
or people who have to worry about hitting with iterative attacks,
but nice to have
when you have big dumb allies wander into your line of fire.
- Pinpoint Targeting: You get it for free, but if you take it early you can take another feat in its place when you get it as a class feature. Unfortunately, Pinpoint Targeting doesn't work with Vital Strike, which is our primary source of damage.
- Improved Precise Shot: Ignore cover and partial concealment. Not as important for you as for rogues or people who have to worry about hitting with iterative attacks, but nice to have when you have big dumb allies wander into your line of fire.
- Rapid Shot: You can't ready a full attack.
- Rapid Reload: Required for any crossbow user.
Vital Strike: Double weapon damage as a Standard
Action, so you can Ready it.
- Improved Vital Strike: Triple weapon
- Greater Vital Strike: Quadruple weapon damage.
- Devastating Strike: This feat is severely
limited by the +6 damage bonus cap. If not for this limit, this feat
would be the most important feat in the Vital Strike chain. Still, +6
damage with no penalty is pretty great.
- Improved Devastating Strike: Critical hits are not a crucial part of Vital Strike, as your bonus critical damage will likely be dwarfed by your bonus damage dice. However, if you still want to build with critical hits in mind (and you will have the feats to do so), the +6 bonus is better than what you get from Critical Focus, and the bonuses stack so you can pick up Critical Focus later if you'd like.
- Improved Vital Strike: Triple weapon damage.
Weapon Focus: More attack bonus never hurts, but
you should almost never need to worry about missing.
- Greater Weapon Focus: More attack bonus if you really need it for some reason.
Penetrating Strike: DR becomes very common
at high levels, but ranged weapons are generally great for bypassing
DR because you can switch ammunition easily. You also rely on one big
attack, so DR isn't as problematic as it is for those who make lots
- Greater Penetrating Strike: See Penetrating Strike.
Weapon Specialization: 2 damage isn't enough
to justify a feat for the Crossbowman. Weapon Specialization is decent
when you're using numerous attacks because you can apply the bonus
numerous times, but since we're relying on a single big attack you can
find more damage elsewhere.
- Greater Weapon Specialization: A little more damage, but all the same problems.
- Double Crossbow: I almost made the mistake of building this archetype around the Double Crossbow, but because the damage die is smaller than the Heavy Crossbow, the Heavy Crossbow does as much damage and requires less Feats to make it viable.
- Hand Crossbow: Only useful for weird builds involving an Alchemist class dip and two-weapon fighting.
- Heavy Crossbow: With Rapid Reload, you can use your move action to reload, then ready your standard action for Deadshot. The Heavy Crossbow has the biggest damage die, so it works best with Vital Strike.
- Light Crossbow: With Rapid Reload, you can reload as a free action, leaving your move action open to get around. If you prefer to be highly mobile at the expense of damage, Light Crossbow is the way to go.
- Repeating Heavy Crossbow: Rapid Reload would be a better investment of a feat than Exotic Weapon Proficiency.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.
- Studded Leather: Your starting point. Dump it as soon as you can afford a Mithral Shirt.
- Buckler: I don't know why more people don't use bucklers. A masterwork buckler is 165gp, has no armor check penalty, and doesn't prevent you from using your off hand. Your off hand is going to be empty anyway, and you need all the AC you can get. When you start having enough gold to enhance your armor, enhance your buckler first because it has no maximum dexterity bonus, and you won't need to trade up. You'll take the -1 to attacks because you're using both hands with your crossbow, but -1 to hit in exchange for a minimum +1 AC is as good as you could get from Combat Expertise, and AC bonus will scale quickly while the penalty remains static.
- Mithral Shirt: Your best bet for almost your entire career. Don't upgrade until you hit 30 Dexterity at very high levels.
- Haramaki: Your sub-epic armor of choice.
Multiclassing 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.
- Witch: A one level dip into Witch can get you the Prehensile Hair hex, which gives you a free hand with which to reload your crossbow. This isn't relevant to most crossbowmen, but it allows you to do crazy things like use two-weapon fighting with hand crossbows. Unfortunately, this doesn't take advantage of Deadeye, so you may want to use vanilla Figther instead of Crossbowman or Bolt Ace Gunslinger if you go that route.
Example Build - The Vital Strike Crossbowman
I ready a vital strike for when it 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.
We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.
Your choice of doesn't matter much. A bonus feat from human is nice, but this build has a lot of extra feat slots so it's not crucial. Bonus Dexterity is nice, too, but without iterative attacks to worry about you don't need to panic about getting every last bit of attack bonus. Medium size is a must because it's so important for Vital Strike, but that's our only strict requirement.
Perception. If you're Human, pick up Knowledge (Dungeoneering) or something.
Reactionary and History of Heresy.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
Low levels are very boring for the Crossbowman. You get one attack every round for 1d10 damage and that's about it.
Well at least now your allies aren't in the way as much.
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.
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.
3 more damage between Crossbow expert and Weapon Specialization. Can you feel the depression setting in?
Finally! Now you can start doing what this build was meant to do. Assuming you're 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
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.
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.
Deadly Aim also improves at this level, so the attack bonus from Greater Weapon Focus is negated in exchange for more damage.
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.
Another particularly dull level.
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.
2 more damage. It's depressing that this is the best we can do with such a high level feat.
Now you can use your crossbow in melee for some reason!