Archery drastically changed the shape of battlefields. No longer would warriors have to throw spears, instead that could release arrows from their bows and strike with incredible accuracy at their enemies from hundreds of feet away.
There’s a reason we are so excited by characters like the Green Arrow, Robin Hood and Hawkeye. They show incredible skill with a weapon that, while a bit antiquated, is still incredibly deadly and impressive.
So there’s no wonder we want to play an archer when we get into D&D! We want to take down enemies with precision and skill. For some of us, running in with a sword isn’t all that exciting.
While bows themselves can feel magical in the hands of a skilled marksman, it’s also pretty fun to have a bow that comes with its own magic preloaded.
In this article, we’ll cover how to handle magic bows in 5e, when characters should expect different power levels, and what you can do as a character to make these bows even more effective.
Magical Bows in 5e
In 5e, there’s a surprisingly small list of weapons, 37 to be precise. Sure, in the context of a video game that would be a lot, but when you consider that D&D has over 100 subclasses and 1000s of monsters that fill the actual multiverse of lore, 37 weapons start to look pretty minuscule.
The way they make up for this is to have magic variations of the base weapons that make them stronger and more unique. This is where the list starts to get pretty large.
Weapons that deal all forms of damage from fire to force. Weapons with incredible effects like conjuring spirits or teleporting you to other planes of existence.
That’s right, there are some pretty cool weapons that the writers of WotC have pumped out.
So why then, are there so few magical bows?
If this isn’t the first article you’ve come across in your quest for bows that shake things up, you might’ve seen the same titles like, “Top Five Best Magical Bows” with the same top five options. Or you yourself might’ve done your research and been displeased by the few options available to you.
As of the publishing of this article there are only eight types of magical bows out there, and most of those only count because they are enchantments that can be put on any weapon.
These aren’t bad weapons, it’s just that we should have more options. Trust me, we’ll get there in a second. But first, let’s just quickly go through the existing options we do have in 5e.
DM Guide: Magical Item Rarity
Magic items all have different rarity levels that roughly correspond with their power level. Each rarity has a suggested character level so DMs know when to give the items to their players.
Giving players items of inappropriate rarity will drastically change their power levels and require a lot of work on your end to make properly scaled combat encounters.
The rarities and their suggest character levels are as follows:
- Common – 1st or higher
- Uncommon – 1st or higher
- Rare – 5th or higher
- Very Rare – 11th or higher
- Legendary – 17th or higher
- Artifact – Up to DM’s discretion, but an artifact is typically very powerful on par with very rare or legendary items. These will typically have a significant role to play in a campaign. Often, destroying an artifact is the end goal so it’s magic doesn’t fall into evil hands.
Unique Magical Bows
- Ephixis, Bow of Nylea (Artifact, Shortbow) – This weapon belongs to the goddess Nylea of Theros, whose domain includes the hunt, the seasons, and the forests. This very ranger focused weapon is given to the faithful followers of Nylea in their pursuit to overcome epic quests. It has a slew of abilities which include the following:
- +3 to attack and damage rolls
- Critical hits on 19s and 20s
- Depending on piety, a random minor or major beneficial property, as defined in the DMG on page 219
- An arrow for each season with its own magical properties, such as casting wall of thorns or awaken
- Oathbow (Very rare, longbow) – This bow lets you swear an oath against a target enemy. You gain advantage against them with this weapon until you kill them or until dawn seven days later. You receive no disadvantage at long range against them, and they receive no benefits from cover whatsoever. You also deal an extra 3d6 against them when you hit. There is a bit of a drawback (the pun is so very much intended). You gain disadvantage with all other weapons until you kill your sworn enemy and once you kill your sworn enemy you must wait until the next dawn before choosing a new one.
- Ammunition +1,+2,+3 (uncommon, rare, and very rare respectively, any ammunition) – Similar to a +x weapon, these ammunition can be arrows, bolts, bullets, you name it. You gain the bonus to attack and damage rolls when you fire them. This is pretty cool, because unlike a sword which can be up to a plus 3 from magic weapons, you can fire +3 ammo from a +3 bow and have +6 to attack and damage rolls in addition to whatever modifiers you have.
- Walloping Ammunition (common, any ammunition) – A creature hit by one of these must succeed on a DC 10 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. This is a bit interesting, because unless you’re within 5 feet (which normally gives archers disadvantage), you’ll then have disadvantage against that target. Great to have one or two on deck so that you can help your melee allies get advantage.
- Arrows/Bolts of Slaying (very rare, ammunition) – These pieces of ammunition have designated targets. You might have an arrow of dragon slaying, a bolt of demon slaying, or something much more specific like an arrow of sibriex slaying. If a creature of the specified type, race, or group takes damage from this arrow, they then must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. If they fail they take 6d10 extra piercing damage and if they succeed they take half the extra damage. Unlike the other ammunition which lose their magic when they hit, this doesn’t lose its magic until it deals damage to the targeted type.
- Unbreakable Arrow (common, arrow) – This arrow can’t be broken unless it’s inside of an antimagic field. Bet you didn’t expect that effect.
Magical Weapons that can be Bows
There are a few magical weapons that have the weapon type of any. Most of these make excellent bow options.
- Corpse Slayer (rare, any weapon) – +1 to attack and damage rolls. When this weapon deals damage to undead they take an extra 1d8 damage of the weapon’s type and gain disadvantage on saving throws from any turn undead spells or effects.
- Hellfire Weapon (uncommon, any weapon) – This sends any humanoids killed by it to the River Styx, where it is reborn as a lemure devil.
- Vicious Weapon (rare, any weapon) – This weapon deals an extra 7 damage when you roll a 20, in addition to your regular critical hit damage.
- Weapon of Certain Death (rare, any weapon) – When you damage a creature with this weapon, they can’t regain any hit points until the start of your next turn. Great if you just keep at them, since they’ll only be able to heal on your turn before you attack, or if you miss.
- Weapon of Warning (uncommon, any) – This weapon gives you advantage on initiative rolls and stops you and any companions within 30 feet from being surprised unless you are incapacitated by anything other than nonmagical sleep.
- Weapon +1,+2,+3 (uncommon, rare, and very rare respectively, any weapon) – The weapon has +x to attack and damage rolls.
Magical Items Helpful to Archers
Not every magical item has to be a weapon. There are a few magical items and pieces of equipment that an archer would be very happy to grab a hold of.
- Bracers of Archery (uncommon) – These bracers give you +2 to your damage rolls with longbows and shortbows. They also give you proficiency in those weapons if you didn’t already have them.
- Manual of Quickness of Action (very rare) – You can study the contents of this book in 48 hours over the course of 6 days max to receive its effects. It gives you +2 dexterity and increases your maximum dexterity score by 2. This means that even if you read it before you have a score of 20, you can then use an ASI to increase your score up to 22 later on.
- Quiver of Ehlonna (uncommon) – This feels like a bag of holding skinned up as a quiver. It will always weigh 2 lbs. Compared to a normal quiver which can only hold up to 20 arrows, this is an absolutely amazing piece of equipment. You can even store your bows in it if you get a few different magical bows that you want to be able to switch between. You have three compartments that can store an excessive amount of items:
- Short compartment – up to sixty arrows, bolts, or similar objects
- Midsize compartment – up to eighteen javelins or similar objects
- Long compartment – up to six long objects, such as bows, quarterstaffs, or spears
Player Pro Tips: Feats for Archers
You don’t always need magic items on your side to improve your combat skills. Try some of these feats on for size if you’re looking for a great bow-focused build.
- Sharpshooter – This removes disadvantage when you’re shooting at long range. It also allows you to ignore up to ¾ cover and has a really cool ability that lets you take a -5 penalty to your attack roll in exchange for +10 damage.
- Fighting Initiate – If you don’t have access to fighting styles, you can take this feat and get the Archery fighting style which gives you a +2 bonus to attack rolls with ranged weapons.
- Piercer – Almost all bows are going to deal piercing damage, so this fits in perfectly. It lets you boost your strength or dexterity by 1, of which you’ll likely choose dexterity. It also lets you reroll your piercing damage once per turn. Additionally, if you get a critical hit, you roll an additional damage die when determining piercing damage.
Creating your own Magical Bows
If we aren’t pleased with the options presented to us, we have homebrew. Sometimes homebrew options can feel like the scandalous route. Just because these options aren’t written by WotC doesn’t mean they’re anything short of excellent.
All of the published sourcebooks and adventure guides encourage players and DMs to come up with their own cool items, features, traps, etc.
While there is always some concern about how balanced the items we create will be, I would argue that the same concern is still present with anything that is official 5e.
Look at the subclasses, some of them are realistically garbage and some of them are just the most amazing thing. All of those are playtested and scrutinized before being published and still we end up with a lot of power imbalance.
Okay, now I hope we all feel less guilty about creating homebrew options, so here we go. There are two go to methods that I have for creating homebrew that take a lot of the burden of balance off of me.
One is to pull it from an existing ability in published 5e. This can be class features, existing magical items, monster abilities, or just about any effect you can think of. The second is to pull from the media.
Literature, mythology, film, all of these have so many cool artifacts that can be turned into a magical item. This second method does require a bit more thought, figuring out how to write the ability of the item within the language of 5e and then seeing how balanced it is.
There are hundreds of magical weapons and even more magical items that are currently written in 5e. They all come with their own rarity and well described effects. You can take just about any of these abilities and put them into a bow or even arrows and boom you’ve got a ‘homebrew’ weapon.
For any of the following options, it’s perfectly reasonable to use it as any longbow or short bow unless otherwise specified. As always, this is up to the DM’s discretion.
Homebrew Bows and Arrows Inspired by 5e
Lightbringer (uncommon) – Originally a mace made for a cleric of Lathander introduced in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, this would make an excellent bow. It’s a +1 weapon that glows at the command of its wielder. While glowing it deals an extra 1d6 radiant damage to undead.
Gambler’s Bow (rare) – Originally any sword, this weapon let’s you choose a magical bonus each day at dawn from +1 to +3. The twist here is that it is a cursed weapon that also gives you a penalty for death saving throws equal to the bonus you choose. The curse compels you to continue using the weapon and can only be broken by a Remove Curse spell. This is an excellent one to sneak on your players, just telling them that it lets you choose it’s bonus. A savvy arcana check should tell that it is cursed, but only an expert enchanter should be able to tell you what the curse is. Otherwise, they’ll figure it out eventually. *Laughs in DM*
Bow of Speed (very rare) – Inspired by the Scimitar of Speed, this bow has a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls. Instead of giving you a bonus action attack like the scimitar, this bow fires two pieces of ammunition at once. You roll the attack and damage rolls for each piece of ammunition individually.
Arcane Bow (very rare) – This bow is inspired by my love/hate relationship with the Arcane Archer subclass of fighter. While I think the Arcane Shot feature has a lot of potential, it is extremely limited in it’s uses, which makes it really unappealing as the central ability for a subclass.
So, this bow uses the Arcane Shot feature of the Arcane Archer class almost verbatim. The exceptions are that it is a +2 bow with 4 charges that regains 1d4 – 1 charges each day at dawn. Also the bow can have three arcane shot options readied at a time. You can spend 2 hours meditating with the bow to change one of the arcane shot options it has readied out for another.
Bow of Lightning Bolts (legendary, any bow) – The javelin of lightning weapon makes an excellent arrow option, and it comes ready made with a pun. I want these to feel like an epic end game item so I increased the rarity, damage, and DC. The range also becomes the range of the bow instead of 150 feet. This is meant to be the ultimate ranger weapon, so I tied the number of uses to the Wisdom modifier.
This bow can shoot arrows that turn into bolts of lightning when fired, creating a line that extends out from you to your target. Each creature in the line excluding you and the target must make a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw, taking 8d6 lightning damage on a failed save, and half as much damage on a successful one.
The lightning bolt turns back into an arrow when it reaches the target. Make a ranged weapon attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes damage from the arrow plus 8d6 lightning damage.
This ability can be used a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of 1). All extended uses are replenished on a short or long rest.
Homebrew Bows Inspired by Media
Energy Bow (uncommon, any longbow or shortbow) – Inspired by the Epirus Bow from Immortals, the bow featured in Season 4, Episode 4 of Rick and Morty, and many bows from the Star Wars universe. This bow has a specified damage type from radiant, necrotic, force, and psychic. When you draw this bow it creates a magical piece of ammunition that deals an extra 1d6 damage of the specified type. If you want to give this a +1,+2, or +3 bonus, just move the rarity up a level accordingly.
Quiver of Trick Arrows (rare) – Inspired by superheroes Green Arrow and Hawkeye. This quiver holds 30 arrows and while it can be loaded with normal arrows, always seems to pull the right arrow for the job. You can pull normal arrows from the quiver, or fire a trick arrow if you succeed on a DC 10 sleight of hand check. If the trick arrow requires a saving throw or ability check the DC is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your dexterity modifier.
- Boxing Glove Arrow – This arrow deals bludgeoning damage instead of piercing damage. Additionally, the target must make a Strength saving throw. If they fail they are knocked prone or pushed backwards 5 feet (your choice).
- Exploding Arrow – You can fire this arrow at a target or an unoccupied space within range. An unoccupied space requires no attack roll to be made. At the start of your next turn this arrow explodes, dealing 1d8 fire damage to any creatures within a 10 foot radius that fail a dexterity saving throw. If you fire this at a creature the exploding tip is lodged into them and they have disadvantage on the saving throw.
- Net Arrow – This arrow shoots a net at a target that deploys from the arrow’s tip just before you hit the target. A target of size Large or smaller is restrained, but this has no effect on Huge or larger creatures, or creatures that are formless. A creature can use its action to make a Strength check to break themselves or another creature within reach free, which destroys the net.
- Electric Arrow – On a hit, this arrow deals an extra 1d4 lightning damage to the target and is stunned until the end of your next turn.
Bow of the Galadhrim (legendary, any longbow) – Inspired by its namesake, the bow that was gifted to Legolas by Galdriel in The Lord of the Rings. This bow has an increased range of 300/1200 and does not receive disadvantage when used at long range. Additionally, this bow grants the user truesight of 120 feet while it is drawn.
While I hope that the homebrew options I’ve presented make you feel less restricted, I also want to stress that you do not feel restricted by the options I’ve come up with. Feel free to make your own, but use this guide as a reference for how to handle a magical bow’s balance.
As always, happy adventuring.