D&D 3rd & 3.5 Edition
Debuting as one of the six original prestige classes in the 3rd edition Dungeon Master's Guide, the Arcane Archer may have been a little interesting, but easily overshadowed by the Assassin, Blackguard, and Shadowdancer prestige classes. With the move to 3.5, it was again one of the first Prestige classes printed, but competing with fifteen other (better) prestige classes in the DMG (honestly an Eldritch Knight specialising in longbows is better for the concept of magical archery) plus anything ported from 3.0 splatbooks.
Arcane Archer is accessible only to Elves and Half-Elves with a BAB of +6, the ability to cast 1st level Arcane spells, and the following feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, and Weapon Focus Longbow/Shortbow.
It offers no spell progression, full BAB, good Fort & Reflex saves, 4 + Int skillpoints, and access to special abilities focused on arrows.
- Enhanced Arrows: Starting from 1st level and increasing every odd level, every you can add +1 enhancement bonus to non-magical arrows you possess, however this only applies to you.
- Imbue Arrow: At 2nd level you can imbue an arrow with an area spell. When the arrow is fired, the spell’s area is centered on where the arrow lands, even if the spell could normally be centered only on the caster. This ability allows the archer to use the bow’s range rather than the spell’s range, however the arrow must be fired in the turn the spell was cast, although this is a bit redundant considering casting the spell and firing the arrow is just combined into one standard action. The problem is that unless you're making up for lost caster levels some way (the DM adding some caster level progression hint, hint), thats going to be only level 1 spells you're poking with. Although it does open up the possibility of healing arrows, grease arrows, anti-magic field arrows.
- Seeker Arrow: At 4th level, once per day an arcane archer can shoot a target known to then within range, and the arrow travels to the target, even around corners. Only an unavoidable obstacle or the limit of the arrow’s range prevents the arrow’s flight. This ability negates cover and concealment modifiers, but otherwise the attack is rolled normally. Note that this is 4 levels into a prestige class that requires +6 BAB and 1st level arcane spells, meaning you can probably find a spell/feat combo that can do this with more damage, or targeting Will saves, or multiple times per day, probably the worst aspect is that you can still roll a miss on the attack roll.
- Phase Arrow: At 6th level, an arcane archer can launch an arrow once per day at a target known to her within range, and the arrow travels to the target in a straight path, passing through any nonmagical barrier or wall in its way. (Any magical barrier stops the arrow.) This ability negates cover, concealment, and even armour modifiers, but otherwise the attack is rolled normally. Just like the Seeker Arrow, you could whiff with an attack roll of 1, though by this point you're going to have good enough attack bonus with the bow to snipe anything man-sized a mile away. Still,
- Hail of Arrows: In lieu of regular attacks, once per day an arcane archer of 8th level or higher can fire an arrow at each and every target within range, to a maximum of one target for every arcane archer level they have. Each attack uses the archer’s primary attack bonus, and each enemy may only be targeted by a single arrow.
- Arrow of Death: At 10th level, an arcane archer can create an arrow of death that forces the target, if damaged by the arrow’s attack, to make a DC 20 Fortitude save or be slain immediately. It takes one day to make an arrow of death, and the arrow only functions for the arcane archer who created it. The arrow of death lasts no longer than one year, and the archer can only have one such arrow in existence at a time.
TL;DR: Mostly a flavourful class, it doesn't care about what your casting stat is, and could be fun if you can negotiate some kind of Caster Level progression onto it with the DM, and honestly if your DM thinks that would make it overpowered, get them to read literally any spellcaster from the PHB...
Because of how Pathfinder was essentially D&D 3.5 with some things messed around, there was naturally a few changes to the way the prestige class worked.
For starters, this class was now available to ANY race and granted a 2/3 caster level progression that's equally stat-agnostic.
D&D 4th Edition
For some reason there was never a paragon path or epic destiny that was directly analogous to the Arcane Archer. With the fact that most casting classes had limited use with bows and the way the AEDU System worked, such things weren't likely to be emulated well.
D&D 5th Edition
With 5th Edition, the Arcane Archer was revamped to be a variant available to Fighters in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, thereby removing the awkwardness of requiring casting ability and offering only mediocre abilities in exchange for no spell progression. What this archetype's effectively offering is a fighter that's leaning towards Archery, adding effects like the Paladin's smite spells to your shots. inflicting burst damage in addition to AOE or debuff effects on the hit. Class does offer less general utility than other fighter subclasses, being in the same boat as a warlock in needing tons of short rests a day to milk the most of their limited spell/ability slots.
Renamed to Eldritch Archer, this is an archetype that any class can take. Instead of applying poison to your arrows to deal more damage, why not use magic? Just speccing into the dedication (at level 6 because taking this dedication at level 2 would be even more busted) gives you this bonkers ability:
- Eldritch Shot
- Three actions
- Requirement You are using a bow.
- Effect You Cast a Spell that takes 1 or 2 actions to cast and requires a spell attack roll. The effects of the spell do not occur immediately but are imbued into the bow you're wielding. Make a Strike with that bow. Your spell flies with the ammunition, using your attack roll result to determine the effects of both the Strike and the spell. This counts as two attacks for your multiple attack penalty, but you don't apply the penalty until after you've completed both attacks.
And when you consider that you can upcast (heighten) cantrips, this means that you can use a shocking grasp at +2 or more to deal at least 2d12 lighting. Even if you multiclass into this from a non-casting class, you get some cantrips and basic proficiency in any one spell list, which can help out, though only spells that need to roll to hit can be cast through an arrow.
Some other feats that you get include:
- Basic Eldritch Archer Spellcasting, Level 8 Feat
- You gain the basic spellcasting benefits. Each time you gain a spell slot of a new level from this archetype, add a spell of the appropriate spell level to your repertoire, either a common spell of your chosen tradition or another spell of that tradition you have learned or discovered.
- Enchanting Arrow, Level 8 Feat
- Two Actions
- With a single whisper carried on the wind, you enchant your ammunition to make a foe more vulnerable to your attacks. Make a bow Strike. On a hit, the target takes an additional 2d6 mental damage. On a critical hit, the target also becomes stunned 1. The mental damage increases to 3d6 if your bow has a greater striking rune, or to 4d6 if your bow has a major striking rune.
- Magic Arrow, Level 8 Feat
- Free Action, once per round
- You imbue your ammunition with eldritch power. When you select this feat, choose three types of common magical ammunition of 4th level or lower from the Core Rulebook or this book. Your GM might allow you to choose from other types of magical ammunition, such as uncommon ammunition, or ammunition from other books.
- When using Magic Arrow, you transform a non-magical arrow or bolt into a piece of ammunition of one type you chose. You must shoot the ammunition before the end of your turn or the magic dissipates. If the ammunition has an Activate entry, you still need to spend the required actions to activate the ammunition before shooting it. When you use Magic Arrow, you can choose a type of magical ammunition that is typically not available to the type of ammunition you're using—for example, you can use climbing bolt on an arrow, even though that magical ammunition is normally only found on bolts.
- Precious Arrow, Level 8 Feat
- One Action
- You enchant a piece of ammunition with the magical essence of a precious material, allowing you to leverage certain creatures' weaknesses. Choose cold iron or silver; if you shoot the arrow before the end of your turn, it counts as that material. At 14th level, add adamantine to the list of materials you can choose from.
- Arrow of Death, Level 18 Feat
- Three Actions, once per day
- You modify an arrow or bolt to bring death to your target in a single potent hit. Make a bow Strike. On a hit, you deal an additional 10d10 precision damage. On a critical hit, the target must also succeed at a Fortitude saving throw against your class DC or spell DC, whichever is higher, or be immediately slain; this save has the death and incapacitation traits.
And there are even more feats that you can obtain. This archetype is almost like its own class, given how you get so many feats from it.