Baldur’s Gate 3: [EN] The Crossbow Expert – A fun alternative ranged build (2024)

Baldur’s Gate 3: [EN] The Crossbow Expert – A fun alternative ranged build (1)

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“Hey gamers! Are you tired of the same old ranged build in Baldur’s Gate 3? Well, get ready for a fun alternative with the Crossbow Expert! Say goodbye to the overused Titanstring and Hill Giant Strength combo, and hello to dual hand crossbows. Let’s dive in and discover how to master this unique build.”

The idea

A bit of context

Some time ago, I was discussing a crossbow build with a friend and decided to make my own take on it.

I ended up with something very similar to my Archer build, but with different utility and alternatives. The idea will be to use dual hand crossbows, for two reasons. One, it has great synergy with Thief’s extra bonus action for an extra-extra bonus attack per turn. Two, there are two pretty good hand crossbows in the game, and unfortunately, light and heavy crossbows are pretty forgettable.

There will be two variants of the build in this guide. A lot of sections are extremely similar to my Archer guide, obviously, as they rely on the same principles (apart from Titanstring, hopefully).

Class contribution

There are two variants we can aim for with this build. The most optimal one is going to be 6 Swords Bard / 4 Thief / 2 Fighter. This is very, very similar to my archer build, with Ranger going out in favour of Thief. A less optimal, but equally fun and overall pretty good variant is 8 Battle Master / 4 Thief.

Here’s the reasoning behind the main variant:

6 Swords Bard

  • Access to the terrifying Slashing Flourish
  • the Ranged version is especially strong as you can target any two individuals you want or even the same target twice. That is basically equivalent to a Slaying Arrow on any target (but involving two attack rolls rather than one).
  • Access to bard utility actions and spells (extra short rest, Longstrider, Enhance ability).
  • Access to an extra short rest.
  • Access to a feat.
  • Level 5 makes your Bardic Inspirations recharge on short rest.
  • Level 6 gives us access to extra attack.

4 Thief

  • Access to an extra bonus action for your off
  • hand crossbow attack.
  • Access to another feat (DEX increase) for consistency and defense.

2 Fighter

  • Access to the Archery fighting style.
  • Access to Action Surge.

Important: do not be fooled by half your levels going in Bard – you are not Charisma based, and you are not the best Party face. This can be mitigated with Background, Proficiency and Illithid Powers selection, but otherwise you should not be investing in CHA.

In comparison, the Battle Master variant loses on Bard’s utility kit, but gets four feats, and the manœuvre attacks, which give you a different set of options for your ranged attacks.

8 Battlemsater

  • Access to the Archery fighting style.
  • Access to Action Surge.
  • Access to three feats. This opens up some more options for your build’s customization and also makes it easier to reach 20 DEX and give Hag’s Hair to someone else at the same time.
  • Access to manœuvre attacks with a wide array of control options (disarming, tripping, pushing, frightening attacks, etc.).

4 Thief

  • Access to an extra bonus action for your off
  • hand crossbow attack.
  • Access to another feat (DEX increase) for consistency and defense.

If you can’t decide which one you like best yet, don’t worry. You can’t wait until level 9 to make your final choice, as the leveling process will be exactly the same for both variants until then.

Strengths and weaknesses

Strengths

  • High sustained damage and a minimum of 4 attacks per turn, more if you use Action Surge and/or Bardic Inspiration.
  • Good initiative, which will allow you to take down a lot of enemies before they even take a turn.
  • You can wait as late as level 9 before deciding which variant you want to play.
  • High utility with lockpicking abilities, an extra bonus action that can be used for movement or stealth, and Bard’s amazing kit.
  • High AC.
  • Great control options with both variants.

Weaknesses

  • Not a good party face.
  • Not resourceless. You won’t ever need STR Elixirs, but you still need to buy special arrows (yes, they work on crossbows).
  • There’s pretty much only two good crossbows you can use.

Character creation

Ability scores

Open Rogue. Take 16 DEX and 16 CON. Rest is up to you. The reason we take that high a CON score is twofold:

  • We don’t need to worry about our spellcasting ability (and scaling with Diadem of Arcane Synergy) just yet.
  • We will be squishy early on, so the high CON will mitigate this until our first respec.

Take thieving proficiencies for utility. If you want to delegate lock-picking to someone else, you should keep Stealth which is going to be useful in early fights.

Note: we can take 17 DEX later if we get Hag’s Hair for +1 DEX.

Species

Species is mostly irrelevant as usual. Halfling is amazing as you’ll probably never roll a critical miss in combat. Stealth advantage is also nice in the early game. Wood Elf is good with superior movement, and Githyanki are always great. But any can work.

Leveling plan

Our best stat is going to be DEX all game long, followed closely by INT (or CHA in a very specific setting, which I will explain further down). This time, we do not need any STR.

Our leveling plan is going to follow closely that of my Honour Mode Archer build, which in turn was heavily inspired by PrestigiousJuice’s archer build (see the relevant guide for more context).

Leveling as a pure Rogue

You will be leveling as Rogue until level 4 included.

At level 3, pick Thief. There is no debate between Thief and Assassin here, as Thief will give you an extra attack per turn with your off-hand crossbow. Needless to say, you will want to get two Hand Crossbow (preferably +1s) as soon as possible (see Loot to use).

At level 4, take Sharpshooter.

Level 5 and Fighter respec

Fighter isn’t typically what you expect for an Archer, let alone an Archer’s main class. The thing is, the Bard/Thief combo only makes sense at level 9, up until which both classes have extremely underwhelming or even downright useless levels. Late Act 1 and early Act 2 are arguably the hardest part of the game, even more so in Tactician and Honour modes. You want a smooth leveling and Fighter, which has amazing levels pretty much all game long, is going to provide exactly that.

Go ahead and respec as Fighter. Take 16 DEX, 16 INT, and 14 CON. Rest is up to you. If you got Hag’s Hair for +1 DEX, make sure you take 17 DEX, not 16.

You can keep thieving proficiencies if you’re the dedicated lock-picker of the party, otherwise take whatever you want. Take the Archery fighting style.

Note: our Diadem of Arcane Synergy will always scale with the spellcasting ability of the last class we opened. That will pretty much always be INT, which is why we take 16 INT.

At level 3, pick the Battle Master subclass. Menacing Attack, Disarming Strike and Trip Attack are good manœuvre choices. Precision attack is also pretty good to help mitigating Sharpshooter’s penalty.

At level 4, get your sharpshooter back.

You’re going to be leveling up as pure fighter until level 9.

At level 6, take Ability Score Improvement for +2 DEX.

At level 7, take whatever extra manœuvres you like, so long as they have ranged options.

At level 8, you can either take +2 DEX again or take Crossbow Expert.

Level 9 and second respec

This is where you need to choose between the **two variants of the build I described earlier. If you are unsatisfied with your initial choice, no worries, you can always respec later. The build’s key items are the same regardless of this choice.

Bard variant

Open Bard. Take the exact same stats as before. No, you don’t need +3 CHA. Proficiencies are up to you.

At Bard level 3, take the College of Swords subclass. Fighting style is whatever, but you’re going to be dual wielding melee weapons, so you might as well get Two Weapon Fighting.

At level 4, guess what… Sharpshooter again.

Keep leveling Bard up until level 6. At level 7, open Rogue. Make sure you get stealth and lockpicking proficiencies.

At Rogue level 3, take Thief again.

You should end your respec at 6 Swords Bard / 3 Thief. Your next levels should be:

  • Fighter level 1 (to get the Archery fighting style back).
  • Rogue level 4 (to get your second feat back, with +2 DEX).
  • Fighter level 2 (to get Action Surge).

Battle Master variant

Even if you already are a Battle Master, you still need to respec to get your three Thief levels.

Open Fighter. Take the exact same stats as before. Level Fighter up to 6 with the same choices as before.

At level 7, open Thief. Level it up to three and get thieving proficiencies and the Thief Subclass. You should end your respec at 6 Battle Master / 3 Thief. Your next levels should be:

  • Rogue level 4 (to get your third feat).
  • Fighter level 7 (to get the extra manœuvres).
  • Fighter level 8 (to get your fourth feat).

A word about feats selection

Depending on which variant you will play, you will have either two or four feats.

The first two feats you take should always be Sharpshooter, then ASI +2 DEX, in that order and with no exceptions.

If you have two spare feats, there are several options:

  • Crossbow Expert isn’t that good, but is fun to use and this build is about the best scenario to use it.
  • If you were not able to get Hag’s hair for +1 DEX, then you should take +2 DEX again to reach 20.
  • Alert is always nice.
  • Martial Adept is good to get extra manœuvres and superiority die.

Loot to use

Act 1

Your first mission is to get two +1 Hand Crossbows. Several merchants sell these, but the most consistent source is Dammon. Derryth, later in the act, is also a good provider. Just keep checking after each long rest.

Until you get these, you can get a bard hireling from Withers, take his hand crossbow, send the hireling back, then rinse and repeat. This will get you two basic hand crossbows until you can get the +1s.

Get to the Goblin camp quickly and grab the Gloves of Archery[bg3.wiki]. These are going to stay for a long time.

The Watersparkers[bg3.wiki] are great boots for you to get a free +1/+1 on weapon attacks. Make sure you don’t reach 3 lightning charges (see the How to play the build section).

While in the Underdark, make sure you get Caustic Band[bg3.wiki].

The Grymskull Helm[bg3.wiki] is a decent option for access to Hunter’s Mark. Wear this until you’re level 9. If you stick the the Battle Master variant, you can even keep it for the whole game.

A +2 Hide Armour will do nicely for you. If you can’t wear it yet, hold on to it until you respec as Fighter.

The Knife of the Undermountain King[bg3.wiki] will be your off-hand weapon for the whole game. It is just here to increase your critical chance.

The Diadem of Arcane Synergy[bg3.wiki] is very much within the two best possible headpieces for this build. Once we inflict a condition with a weapon attack (basically everytime), Arcane synergy will add the spellcaster ability modifier of the last class we took to our damage. This is why we keep high INT.

Act 2

Within minutes of starting the act, you can get the Yuan-Ti Scale Mail[bg3.wiki] which will be your armor for the whole act. If you need it for someone else, stick to the Hide Armor +2 or buy the Sharpened Snare Cuirass[bg3.wiki].

If it is available, you can buy and wear Cloak of Protection[bg3.wiki] and/or Evasive Shoes[bg3.wiki].

Next, head for Moonrise Towers as soon as you can. Two key items are waiting for you there.

The Risky Ring[bg3.wiki] is your best bet to nullify the impact of Sharpshooter. Just remember to swap it out before any dialog with saving throws, like in a certain Distillery. Unlike the Honour Mode Archer, the Circlet of Hunting[bg3.wiki] is not a good alternative, as your only access to Hunter’s Mark is… another helmet (however you could always go 5 Gloom Stalker / 4 Thief / 3 Champion if you really want to – see Alternative Approaches).

Ne’er Misser[bg3.wiki] is probably the best Hand crossbow of the game. It has a +1 enchantment, it gives you a big boi Magic Missile, but most importantly… it deals Force damage. And resistance to force damage is extremely rare, unlike resistance to piercing damage.

You can also buy and use Drakethroat Glaive[bg3.wiki] one one of your crossbows. It will allow you to infuse your weapon with elemental damage each day. Unless you use Slashing Flourish, you can probably leave it to someone else. Either way, just equip the glaive to someone, put the weapon to buff on the ground, target it with the elemental infusion (always choose Cold or Lightning since you’ll get double damage on Wet enemies), then equip the weapon back on. You don’t have to wear the glaive for the effect to stay, so whoever used it can go back to their preferred weapon afterwards. Just remember to do this after each Long Rest.

Callous Glow Ring[bg3.wiki] is a great ring for you. Give Caustic Band to someone else once you get it.

Your other hand crossbow, Hellfire Hand Crossbow[bg3.wiki], is acquired later in the act by killing Yurgir. These two crossbows are never coming off.

Act 3

Rhapsody[bg3.wiki], while better for spellcasters, is also incredibly powerful for you. If you can wear it, do it. Like usual, kill three barrels and enjoy the bonuses.

Armour of Agility[bg3.wiki] is your best armor and can be bought once you get access to Lower City. If this is given to another character, you can either get the Unwanted Masterwork Scalemail[bg3.wiki] or stick to Yuan-Ti.

Legacy of the Masters[bg3.wiki] are basically a better, universal version of Gloves of Archery. You can also consider Helldusk Gloves[bg3.wiki]. Since you have Sneak Attack, you can also wear Stalker Gloves[bg3.wiki].

Sarevok’s Horned Helmet[bg3.wiki] is a decent alternative to the diadem for increased critical chance.

Cloak of Displacement[bg3.wiki] is an excellent defensive option for you.

Gauntlets of the War Master[bg3.wiki] are an excellent item for the Battle Master variant, probably better than any other gloves, as enemies will be much more likely to fail saving throws against your Manœuvres.

Unfortunately, there are no Hand Crossbows to grab in Act 3. You could always switch to a heavy crossbow, like Gortash’s Fabricated Arbalest[bg3.wiki], but what’s the point? Your extra bonus action becomes useless, which will force you to respec and ditch Thief levels ; and you will essentially become a worse version of a Titanstring build.

How to play the build

Economy: Special Arrows

In Act 1, you’ll mostly be using Elemental Arrows. Fire Arrows are honestly bad, use them when you want to blow something up or to save the other arrows. Acid Arrows are decent thanks to the Acid surface and -2 AC penalty. But your best arrows will be Cold and Lightning, as Cold and Lightning damage is doubled against Wet enemies.

This build is even better if someone can apply the Wet status for you, ideally with a Create Water spell, or by throwing jars. Combining water and ice arrows will also create an icy surface on the ground, which is excellent at controlling enemy movement. Obviously, you don’t want your party members to be caught in that, too, so careful where you aim.

In Act 2, you start seeing Arrows of Many Targets and Slaying Arrows at merchants. Buy as many Arrows of Many Targets as you can, they are your main source of AoE Damage. As for Slaying Arrows, you’ll want to stock up on Undead, Humanoid and Aberration Slaying Arrows especially. The rest are nice (a couple of Fiend Slaying Arrows is great for a certain Act 3 fight), but not necessarily worth buying on a regular basis, unless you want to dish out absolute max damage on every shot.

Managing water and lightning charges

Water isn’t only good at debuffing enemies – so long as you have the Watersparklers, it’s also good at buffing you. Just start your turn in a puddle of water, gain 3 lightning charges, and enjoy the free +1/+1. You do not want to reach 5 lightning charges, ever. Get out of the puddle before that happens (using a Jump to avoid electrocution). Once you’re on the brink of losing your charges, jump back in the puddle, etc. This is where Thief’s extra bonus action is very useful in the early game. After your level 5 respec, you will probably drop these boots in favour of Evasive Shoes at the beginning of Act 2 ; but if you don’t, keep using the sparky shoes!

Lightning charges become much less noticeable once you get Risky Ring (their main purpose is to boost your attack rolls). Once you get it, you can wear another pair of boots.

Dealing damage

The core of your damage comes from three key sources: Arrows of Many Targets, Slaying Arrows and Ranged Slashing Flourish/Manœuvres (based on build variant).

Arrow of Many Targets is one of the absolute best AoE damage sources of the game, if not the best. Range is great. No friendly fire to worry about. Enemies get no saving throws. And most importantly, extra damage doesn’t require extra attack rolls, which means if you score a critical hit, the three other hits will be critical hits as well.
Of course, you’re only ever going to hit 4 targets maximum with this, which mitigates your AoE damage ceiling as a crossbowman. But it is so much more consistent and easier to apply than other AoE damage sources, it is absolutely worth it.
Use these arrows whenever there are 6+ enemies in sight and the other two core damage sources are not a better option.

Slaying Arrows are very straightforward to use – just double the number of weapon damage dice you roll against the appropriate target. It also doubles your Sharpshooter bonus and the elemental damage given by your glaive. That is a lot of damage. Whenever you want someone dead quickly, and have the appropriate slaying arrow, use it.

Do not use either of these arrows with < 70% chances to hit. If you miss your attack, the arrow is gone for good.

Ranged Slashing Flourish (for the Bard variant) is somewhere between the two. You fire two arrows (which means two separate attack rolls, unlike Arrow of Many Targets), but can actually fire them both at the same target. That makes it excellent at both AoE and single-target damage, and you can use it for both.
Slashing Flourish is actually better than Slaying Arrows for single target damage, provided you hit both arrows. Hitting both shots essentially doubles your damage just like a Slashing Arrow would, but you also get two extra d6 (d8 at Bard level 5), which gives Slashing Flourish the edge. Obviously, you can’t use both Slashing Flourish and any special arrow at once.
Of course, this ability costs Bardic Inspiration, so won’t be able to use it all fight long. Don’t be afraid to use it, though – at Bard level 5, this regenerates on Short Rest, so you will have plenty.

Like Superiority Dice, Bardic Inspiration isn’t expanded if your attack misses. However in this case, that means if both attacks miss, which is actually a fairly less likely event than just on arrow hitting. Let’s assume you have 40% to hit an enemy. The probability of hitting at least an arrow is the probability of not missing both, which 1 – 0.6² = 1 – 0.36 = 0.64 i.e. 64%.
Having a decent chance of dealing at least “half” damage on a tough to hit enemy isn’t bad by any means. Just remember, Bardic inspiration actually goes away pretty fast when using Slashing Flourish, even with a somewhat low chance to hit.

On the Battle Master side of things, you get Manœuvres. These do not do as much damage as Slashing Flourish (it’s just an extra damage dice), but give you more control. Just enjoy disarming enemies and do nothing, push them in the void, make them fall for free advantage, etc.

General game plan

Make sure you deactivate the auto attack with off-hand. Otherwise, you lose the option to fire at four different targets each turn, and can end up wasting shots.

Use Cold/Lightning Elemental arrows on Wet enemies, and Slaying/Many Target/Slashing Flourish arrows where needed.

Deactivate Sharpshooter if your chances to hit get too low (< 70%) until you can wear Risky Ring. Don’t forget electric charges and Oil of Accuracy also give bonuses.

Mobile Flourish and Defensive Flourish don’t really see much use in their ranged variations, and Bardic Inspiration should pretty much fuel Slashing Flourish for this build. You could argue that Defensive Flourish can see use, but as a ranged character it’s not like you’re going to be the most targeted person in the world anyway.

Use your special arrows, and go replenish them after each long rest.

Alternative approaches

Why no Ranger Gloom Stalker?

Gloom Stalker is very good for the extra attack at the beginning of a fight and extra initiative. But since you can make an attack with your off-hand crossbow using a simple bonus action, Thief is better for dual Hand Crossbow builds.

Okay, but what about 5 Gloom Stalker / 4 Thief / 3 Champion?

If you absolutely want to, you can go this way. 3 levels of Champion gives you the extra 5% critical hit chance, which is great on a build that attacks as often as double Hand Crossbows. The Ranger kit will provide utility, initiative, the free attack in the first turn, and extra attack. But you lose on both Bardic Inspiration and Superiority Die fueled abilities. In the other variants, you can only get one of these, and that is fine ; having none, however, considerably weakens the build in my opinion.

But this was never meant to be an optimal build in the first place. Otherwise, we’d be just using Titanstring. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. So if you want Ranger levels, go for it!

Thoughts? Suggestions?

If something isn’t clear to you, or if you feel like I missed something, let me know in the comments below. I read every single comment I get, and will do my best to answer yours.

Thanks for reading the guide and I hope you have fun with the build!

And that wraps up our share on Baldur’s Gate 3: [EN] The Crossbow Expert – A fun alternative ranged build. If you have any additional insights or tips to contribute, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below. For a more in-depth read, you can refer to the original article here by VolusFM_, who deserves all the credit. Happy gaming!

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Tags: Baldur's Gate 3 ,Characters, Classes, Gameplay Basics, Loot

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