Bow Bond: An Eldritch Knight’s guide to Archery
As originally published by MightyThokk on the Wizards of the Coast message boards

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Attributes and Class Features
  3. Races, Feats, and Backgrounds
  4. Spell choices
  5. Equipment
  6. Multi-classing and builds

I’ll be using the standard rating system

Red Don’t do it. There are much better ways to get there.
Purple Ew. Niche or RP concept choice only.
Black Okay. Middle of the road, or only good for specific builds or campaigns.
Blue Good choice. Recommended options, you’re almost always better off with these choices.
Sky Blue Pick me! Best options for most builds and games.
Gold take it.

  1. Introduction

This is a basic guide to a flexible build. These builds support a wide variety of concepts from the agile in your face with a hand crossbow, to the Wood-elf Scout or a Halfling Sniper. Essentially any character concept that involves a bow or a crossbow can follow this guide and add on whatever RP concepts work for your character.
Mechanically this is a chassis for any martial ranged character with a dash of spellcasting focused on buffs and utility. There are two basic early options that will drive a many of your choices, Crossbow Expert or Sharpshooter. After that you’re really just accumulating the pieces as they come.
You’re going to be taking Crossbow Expert or Sharpshooter at the first opportunity. First level for Variant humans, 4rth level for everyone else. The Crossbow Expert is going to go Hand Crossbow and shield and be a close to melee range character. Sharpshooter builds go better with Stealth concepts and are generally a backline character.

What this guide isn’t. If your concept is spellcaster with a Bow, you’re in the wrong place, sorry. If Spell Save DCs or Cantrip DPR is a concern, move along.


  • RP versatility. This build works for almost any bow or crossbow concept.
  • Attribute flexibility. This build needs Dex and that’s it. Everything else is flavor.
  • Single target damage, and Multi-attacks
  • Tactical flexibility. Ranged damage, mobility, Hit Points, AC, and utility. You’re going to wreck a few encounters for your DM
  • Front line or Back line combatant depending on what your group needs.
  • Be a Ranger without ever taking a level in Ranger.


  • No AoEs.
  • Possibly a weak spellcasting stat
  • No melee weapon means no opportunity attacks if you find yourself on the front line.

Crunch vs Concept
I'm of the opinion Concept > Crunch, but within that conceptual framework you should be squeezing in every mechanical advantage you can. For ranged characters, currently, Crossbow Expert is about as mechanically manditory as you get. Its effectivly a +2 to AC, Bonus Attack a round, and lets you use ranged weapons in melee without penalty. Its right up there with Sentinal and Polearm Master in how game changing it is for a character. I sincerly hope that down the road Archers get some love so the iconic Archer concepts are mechanically equal to the Crossbow users. D&D is all about iconic. In the mean time, Hand Crossbows > all other ranged weapons.

Edit: Thank you to all the folks taking time to comment below. Several suggestions have been incorporated into the guide.

2 Attributes, Class Features and Skills
One of the main strengths of this build is you only have one Attribute that matters.
Dexterity – this is the one. Start with a 14 if you have a +2 or +0 from Race. Start with a 15 if you have a +1 from Race.
Strength – 8 is all you need.
Intelligence – it is your spellcasting stat, if you’ve got nothing better to do go ahead and grab a 14 here. Otherwise, seriously a 10 is fine if you’ve got other priorities for your concept.
Wisdom and Constitution – Hit points, saves, skills. If your concept doesn’t drive you to put stats elsewhere, bump these up. You can get by with 10s though if you have too.
Charisma – if it fits your character concept go ahead with the right background you can easily be the party face, otherwise 8.

Class Features Fighter / Eldritch Knight
Armor and Weapon – You have them all, really doesn’t get better.
Hit Points – d10 ftw.
Saving Throws and Skills. Could be worse, but nothing great.
Fighting Style Archery - If you don’t take Archery you’re reading the wrong guide here.
Ability Score Improvement – or why you’re not a Ranger
Extra Attacks why you’re not a Ranger part 2.
Second Wind, Indomitable – all good things.
Action Surge – Nova round, recharges on a short rest.
Spellcasting – Buffs and utility found here. See spell selection section for details.
Weapon Bond – Better than herpes I guess. Bond your favorite bow and a throwing dagger. A lot of what you do works with a throwing dagger so if you ever find yourself out of Ammo you can throw a dagger and pop it back to you.
War Magic, Improved War Magic, Eldritch Strike – You’re not a spell caster, don’t worry about these. If/when they kick in they’re a tiny drop of gravy on the crappy situation you’ve found yourself in.
Arcane Charge – Not bad, but tied to your Action Surge limits this one.

First off your fighter choices:
Acrobatics Dex based skill, take this above your other Fighter choices.
Perception Most tested skill in the game. If your concept doesn't lean to anything else, this is the default choice.
Insight Social version of Perception. If your campaign is more social than dungeon consider Insight.

The other fighter class skills I would consider only for concept reasons, or if you've got a high matching stat and a low Wisdom.

Non-class Skills:
Stealth So many good things about starting a fight from far away while hiding.
Slight of Hand Dex based skill so you're good at it. Take it if you can.
Deception and Persuasion Social skills, if you're not the party face then Deception and Persuasion

3 Races, Feats, and Backgrounds
Variant Human : The clear winner. Get the feat of choice for you build, grab a skill, melt faces.
Wood Elf : Excellent choice for Stealth or nature themed concepts.
Lightfoot Halfling : Another great choice for stealthy characters or crossbow builds.
High Elf +2 Dex never wrong. Int and bonus cantrip for anyone wanting to focus more on spellcasting
Half Elf Party Face, skill Monkey, and bonus to two off stats of choice.
Stout Halfling, Forest Gnome, Human: They buff dex, and depending on your character concept are decent choices.
Pretty much everything else Unless it’s a core part of your character concept, take a race that buffs dex. But if you’re set on a Dragonborn with a Bow you can make it work, just not as well.

Crossbow built Feats
Crossbow Expert Take this with your first possible choice.
Sharpshooter I'd take this after getting Dex to 20.
Shield Master Evasion plus. Can't go wrong.
Resilience (Wisdom) Nasty effects, grab this at some point.
War Caster Warcasting does a couple nice things for melee builds. This is an Archery guide. That said, for Crossbow Experts that make their living on the front lines this gives you an Oppourtunity Attack.
Skulker has great synergy with Sharpshooter, but if you're spending your time in or near the melee scrum this becomes a late pick or skipable.
Tough, Lucky, Mobile good later picks if you're not bumping an off stat.

Feats for Archer Builds
Sharpshooter Your main DPS booster, take it early.
Skulker has great synergy with Sharpshooter. Wood-elf and Lightfoots can put this one off or skip it completely in some games. Any other stealthy-Sharpshooter build should grab this by 8th level. If you're not sneaky this becomes much less useful.
Magic Initiate For Hex, and a couple more cantrips. Magic Initiate if you dip rogue 2 or have other uses for your bonus action.
Mobility Get out of melee without spell slots! If your DM allows re-training of feats Variant Humans should grab this at 4, swap out at 8 for Skulker. Pick this back up later. Other races can if putting off 20 Dex till 12th level doesn't bother you.
Resilience (Wisdom) Nasty effects, grab this at some point.
Crossbow Expert WTH right? Yeah, but the whole lets you fire in melee thing works for any ranged weapon so this is one option for dealing with being in melee, but you've got better.
War Caster is for melee builds. If you have a bow, you need to get out of melee.
Tough, Lucky good later picks if you're not bumping an off stat.

For Variant Humans, Multi-classers, or don’t care about stealth skill this is a concept choice.
If you have a Stealth Concept, and didn’t take Variant Human or Half-Elf, and your DM is a jerk and doesn’t allow custom Backgrounds you are stuck with either Urchin or Criminal Backgrounds to pick up Stealth. Criminal variant Spy sorta works for scout concepts. Urchin works for outdoorsy/loner concepts if you pick a Wood Elf city or similar. If you’re planning on Multi-classing Rogue you can pick up Stealth too, that also opens up all backgrounds.
If you don’t have a Stealthy character concept, or can get Stealth some other way (Race, Multi-class, custom Background) then do whatever you want here.

Default recomendations:

Urchin Two Dex based skills, two useful tool proficiencies, flexible concept that works for the standard orphan adventurer concept. No reason it wouldn't work for a outdoorsy background as well. Swap city for forest and carry on.
Criminal Hello other Stealth Background.
Outlander gets you tracking from the survival skill and wilderness survival as a class feature. *poof* you're a ranger!
Charlatan, Noble, or Guild Artisan if you're the party face.
Sailor, Soldier - gets you skills you can take as a fighter and Athletics isn't likely something you'd want.
Sage Int based skills, if you're pumping Int and have a heavy spellcasting concept than Sage
Acolyte, Entertainer concept choice only.
Hermit, Folk Hero you're better off tweaking the flavor of some other background.

4 Spell Choices
Or why Int 10 is just fine for an Arcane spellcaster. We’re taking buffs first, utility second. You’ve got most of your character resources pumping ranged combat. You should always be better off shooting your bow than casting a cantrip. You’re in a crazy situation otherwise.

First off big thanks to Leugren for this:
Abjuration and Evocation Spells Available to Eldritch Knights (
Huge help to have all these in one spot.

You do get to change out one spell per level (with some restrictions), so if you’re not using a spell dump it for something else. At 8th, 14th, and 20th you can pick from any school, other spells known need to come from the abjuration or evocation schools. Note, at 13th level you’re going to drop your 8th level spell choice for Hasten . You can pick it back up at 14th, or pick another 3rd level spell from any school.
Ultimately we’re here for Hasten . We get it at 13th. What to do until then?

Cantrips I generally agree with the ratings found here
Thanks to FluffyBunbunKittens for the list, a few specifics that I’d like to mention.

ShowMending – You have a DM that rolls to see how many Arrows break after each combat? Take this cantrip and tell him to nevermind. Also, utility.

Minor IllusionInstant cover for stealth.

Any Damaging Cantrip You're going to be Attacking, not spell casting. However there really isn't much else going on here so it won't hurt to grab your favorite.

First level spells, you get three at level three two are restricted.

ShowShield – good no matter what build or level you are.
Mage Armor – Better than plain leather. Possibly better than magic leather if you’ve got Bracers. Take it or leave it depending on your gear.
Alarm – Sleeping is good. Don’t burn up all your spell slots on Shield? Toss out an Alarm.
Protection from Evil – Zombies are bad, yo.
Assorted damage spells – If you need these you’re screwed any way.
Non-abjuration or evocation spells to consider:
Feather fall – at least you only use it when you need it.
Expeditious Retreat – Concentration and Bonus action required, drop it as soon as you have another Concentration spell or you’re making use of your Bonus action.
Longstrider – Mobility plus ranged attacks often = win.
Fog Cloud, Grease, Silent Image – You could do worse.

Second Level spells


From the restricted schools… yeesh. Bunch of stuff you’ll likely never cast. But, since we’re here….
Darkness – for hiding. The rest require saves, attack rolls, or are really niche.
But at 8th level you get a pick from any school!
Misty Step - I love teleports.
Mirror Image, Invisibility – if you don’t love teleports as much as I do.
Blur – not bad, but concentration required.
Web, Hold Person, Blindness – if you’ve got a decent Int or really want to make use of the 10th level class feature. But it’s probably best to leave these to a real spellcaster.

13th level is 3rd level spells for you. Retrain into Hasten and never look back. Your restricted choice of spells is, once again, pretty limited. On the bright side you’ll only be using your 3rd level spell slots for Hasten so this is just for lulz.

ShowProtection from Energy – A good situational buff, not as good as Hasten 99% of the time.
Leomund’s tiny Hut, Nondetection – Sleeping good. Magical sneaking good. Costs you a use of Hasten . Not good. You’re always going to use your 3rd level spell slots on Hasten . Always. If you wind up with a 3rd level spell slot left over at the end of the day you’ll have these.
Non-restricted 3rd level spells:
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it but Hasten .
Hypnotic Pattern – if you’ve got the Int, this is solid, otherwise move on.
Clairvoyance, Fly – eh, but only if you’ve got a personal Hasten bot in your pocket.

Honestly at 14th level I’m circling back and picking up whatever I dropped for Hasten .

19th level, 4rth level spells! Or another casting of Hasten ! : )

ShowFire shield or Otiluke’s Hamster ball are my favorites here from the Abjuration/Evocation lists.
From the anything goes category at 20th Dimension Door or Greater Invisibility.

My personal spell progression YMMV, and don’t forget you can swap one spell per level.
Cantrips: Minor Illusion, Mending, Prestidigitation (at 10th).
EK Level Spell(s) learned
3 Shield, Mage Armor or Alram, Longstrider
4 Protection from Evil
7 Darkness
8 Misty Step
10 Any 1rst or 2nd level Abjuration or Evocation
11 Any 1rst or 2nd level Abjuration or Evocation
13 Drop Misty Step for Haste, Leomunds Tiny Hut
14 Misty Step, drop 10th level pick for Non-Detection
15 Drop 11th level pick for Protection from Energy
19 Fire Shield and swap low level pick for Otiluke’s Hamster ball
20 Dimension Door

5 Equipment
At this point really the only Equipment choices you need to think about are Armor.

If Stealth is important to you:


16 Dex:
At Level one. Studded Leather or Chain shirt both start you at 15 AC.
Starting at Level 3 Mage Armor gets you 16 AC.
400 GP Breast Plate, also 16 AC. Or if you happen to loot one along the way, this can save you a spell slot.

At 18 Dex
Studded Leather and Breastplate are 16 AC
Mage Armor is 17 AC
So unless you've got magic armor, Mage Armor is the better choice. Personally I'd keep a suit of studded leather stuffed in a backpack just in case.

At 20 Dex
Studded Leather is 17 AC
Mage Armor is 18 AC

If Stealth matters to you, Mage armor with a Studded Leather back up is probably the way to go. But if you haven't bumped dex yet and there is no magic armor a Breastplate gets your 16 AC.

If you don't care about Stealth, you probably should. : ) But in that case:

Show16 Dex
At Level one. Studded Leather or Chain shirt both start you at 15 AC, but Scale mail gets you a 16 AC.
Starting at Level 3 Mage Armor gets you 16 AC.
400 GP Breast Plate 16 AC.
750 GP gets you Half plate and 17 AC.

So start with Scale mail, upgrade to Half Plate.

At 18 Dex
Studded Leather, Scale mail and Breastplate are all 16 AC
Mage Armor and Half plate are both 17 AC

At 20 Dex
Studded Leather and Half Plate are 17 AC
Mage Armor is 18 AC

IMO you may as well be Stealthy after your first Dex bump since it costs you nothing.

6 Multi-classing and Builds

Some sample build ideas.

Human Demon Hunter. Trained to find evil wherever it hides. A swirling cloak and the snap of a crossbow are last images of a Demon Hunter’s target. The Demon Hunter can stand shoulder to shoulder in the front lines, or move around the battlefield taking out high value targets.

ShowRace Variant Human; Class Fighter; Background Acolyte
Level 1 Attributes Str 8; Dex 16; Con 14; Int 12; Wis 15; Cha 8
Skill proficiencies: Stealth, Insight, Religion, Acrobatics, Perception
Starting AC 17 , Leather, shield, Dex. Starting HP 12
1 Crossbow Expert
4 +2 Dex
6 Sharpshooter
8 +2 Dex
12 Resilient Wisdom
14 Shield Master

Human Battlefield Sniper: Battle hardened Archer, excels at ambushes and hit and runs.
Race Variant Human; Class Fighter; Background Soldier

ShowLevel 1 Attributes; Str 10; Dex 16; Con 12; Int 10; Wis 13 Cha 14
Skill Proficiencies: Stealth, Acrobatics, Perception, Athletics, Intimidation
Starting AC 15 Leather, Dex ;Starting HP 11
1 Sharpshooter
4 Magic Initiate (Hex)
6 and 8 +2 Dex each
12 Skulker
14 Resilient Wisdom

Half-Elf Ranger: A quiet rustle of the bushes and a flash of Red hair. The last things many an outlaw or goblin ever saw when they ventured into the protected woods.
Race Half-Elf, Class Fighter, Background Outlander

ShowLevel 1 Attributes: Str 8; Dex 16; Con 12; Int 14; Wis 14; Cha 10
Starting AC 15 Leather, Dex ;Starting HP 11
Skill Proficiencies; Athletics, Survival, Perception, Insight, Stealth, Nature
4rth Sharpshooter
6 +2 Dex
8 Magic Initiate (Hex)
12 +2 Dex
14 Skulker
16 Resilient Wisdom

Halfling Tunnel Fighter: Recruited from the orphans of the city to clear sewer jams, hunt rats, and report on anything lurking below the city streets.
Race Lightfoot Halfling, Class Fighter, Background Urchin

ShowLevel 1 Attributes Str 8; Dex 16; Con 14; Int 13; Wis 14; Cha 10
Starting AC 15 Leather, Dex ;add shield at lvl 4; Starting HP 12
Skill proficiencies: Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Perception, Acrobatics
4 Crossbow Expert
6 +2 dex
8 +2 Dex
12 Sharpshooter
14 Resilient Wisdom
16 Shield Master

MultiClassing Notes:

Barbarian, Paladin – remember that 8 Strength we talked about?
Warlock, Wizard, Sorcerer – If you want to be a spellcaster, this is not the guide you’re looking for.
Ranger, Monk – I guess. Not sure what you’re getting here, but if you feel you must.
Bard, Cleric, Druid – Sure, dip Cleric or Druid to get guidance. I can see that. Bard for skill monkey or utility concepts.
War Cleric See comments below
Rogue – Yep. More for Sharpshooter builds. Crossbow Expert doesn’t get much from Cunning action since the bonus action is being used, but if DPR is your thing Assasin builds are the way to go. See comments below.

Couple things to consider when Multi classing. When, what, and how many.

When: For purposes of this guide I'm presuming at least Fighter -11 . Fighter-13 if you want Haste. 12, 14, 16, 19 are Ability Score levels. Really its all about Haste. If you're multi-classing into something that is going to give you a DPS boosting Concentration spell or you've picked up Hex via a feat, jump at 11 (12 if you need that one more stat boost/feat).

What: This gets more complex. I'm breaking it down based on what you want to boost or what your secondary party role is.

Party Face / Charisma or Skill Monkey

ShowSo you've started out with some social skills from Race or background, and you've got a decent Charisma, possibly even splashed Int. If you feel okay with your non-combat abilities Rogue-3 Assasin gets you all kinds of goodies. Pick up Stealth if you don't already have it. For multiclassing Rogue Gladiuslegis covers it in far more detail than I'm going to. Check out his Dealing Death Handbook His guide is Battlemaster not Eldrich Knight, but the Multiclassing advice for Rogue levels is still very applicable.

Bard - 3 college of lore if you're looking to pick up non-combat abilities. Expertise, more skill proficiences, Bardic Insperation, and caster levels. You've just become the teams skill monkey and non-combat go to character.

Obviously going to 4 and 8 in either gets you another Ability boost. Bard-5, 7 or 9, for spell caster levels if you've been boosting Charisma, and combo's very well with the EK's 10th level ability. Otherwise 3 levels of Bard gets you all you need and you should consider more Figher or Rogue levels.

Wisdom Secondary stat


From Koga305's The Art of War:A Fighters Guide

Finieous wrote:

When you get to Multiclassing, look at War Cleric 9/EK 11. Hold Person, Bestow Curse, Contagion (even errata'd) and Hold Monster are good options. This is the most synergistic EK build I've found. War Cleric levels give you spellcasting and fighting abilities (War Priest, Guided Strike, War God's Blessing, Divine Strike). EK gives you Extra Attacks x2, spells like Shield, Blur, Bigby's Hand, etc., PLUS 1/3 spell slots (12th level caster at level 18). Int is a dump stat -- you have terrific cleric attack spells, no Int requirement for multiclassing. Bless + Guided Strike + Divine Strike + Great Weapon Fighting + Great Weapon Master = Fun.

That is the single most useful thing to do with Eldritch Strike I've seen. Pick up your 11 Fighter levels first then jump over to Cleric for at least 7 levels for Hold Monster. Level 19 and 20 either go EK two more levels or Cleric two more levels or split the difference. EK 12 gets you another caster level, and another stat advance, EK 13 of course gets you Hasten but you've got Divine Favor to compete withfor your concentration. Cleric 8 gets you another stat advance, Divine Strike and caster levels, Cleric 9 gets you 5th level spells. Or go one of each, get two more stat advances, count as a 12th level caster for spell slots and Divine Strike. Pretty much comes down to Hasten vs 5th Level Cleric spells. IMO 5th Level Cleric spells win out over Hasten when you've got Divine Favor .

Starting Stats go something like

Race Variant Human;
Level 1 Attributes Str 8; Dex 16; Con 14; Int 10; Wis 16; Cha 8
1 Crossbow Expert
F4 and F6 +2 dex
F8 Sharpshooter
C4 +2 Wis
C8 or F12 +2 Wis

Divine Favor plus lots of attacks = good stuff. Fighter 11/Cleric 9 or Fighter13/Cleric7.


ShowSo you just want to boost DPR? Rogue is the answer and again, covered in far more detail here .


ShowWant to boost your spellcasting? Depends on what off stats you went with at Character gen.

Charisma 16+ Bard-9 -Lore College best option for non-combat utility. Better than the Sorcerer or Warlock IMO due to class features.
Charisma 16+ Warlock - Eldritch Blast Ahoy! Pact of the Blade is Melee only, so no Lifedrinker for you! But Eldritch Blast is solid, more spells, and good clean fun with War Caster OAs and multi-zot pushes. Hex becomes your default concentration spell.
Wisdom 16+ Cleric-9 - War Cleric, best option for controls and moderate DPR boosts.
Int 16+ Wizard-9 - you've already got several Wizard spell options. You're essentially trading Stat boosts and HP for Caster Levels. Cleric or Bard get you the same Caster Levels and roughly equal control spells, but they also add either to DPR or Utility more so than Wizard.

In general adding damaging spells doesn't get a ranged character much. Your Multi-attack feature should always be the strongest choice for damage output. You're a much stronger character if you're adding abilities you don't have, and you've got ranged damage already covered by Figher - 11. Your spell choices should focus on boosting your Attack damage Divne Favor , control effects Hypnotic Pattern , or utility spells Invisibility .

Notes and Light Maths:

Cantrips vs Weapon attacks needs to be commented on, specifically when you would want to use cantrips vs a weapon attack. The most likely cantrips you'll be considering are Ray of Frost or Shocking Grasp. Both scale up the same, 1-4 1d8; 5-10 2d8; 11-16 3d8; 17+ 4d8. Most of the time a fighters Multi-attack feature is going to overshadow this, but there are times to consider it.

For the purposes of this exersise I'm going to assume Human with Crossbow Expert at 1, Sharpshooter at 4, 16 starting Dex and Int. Maxing Dex at 8th, maxing int at 14th. This is a spellcasting focused build. Pure theory crafting DPS, I wouldn't actually recomend that progression.

So, Cantrips
Level 1 and 2: No Cantrips.
Level 3 and 4: +5 to hit, 1d8 damage and debuff. - Note, still have bonus action.

Level 1 to 3: +7 to hit, 1d6+3 damage, two attacks per round (action and Bonus action)
Level 4: +2 to hit; 1d6 +13 damage, two attacks per round (acion and Bonus action)

So really at no time 1 to 4 would you throw a cantrip when you could be making a weapon attack. Also, you see the insanity of Crossbow Expert plus Sharpshooter at low levels. Sharpshooter, with its huge static damage bonus and accuracy penalty has crazy synergy with your team. Bless, Fairy Fire, any one granting Accuracy or Advantage to a Sharpshooter is going to make a DM cringe.

Level 5 ; Multi attack vs 2d8, Multi Attack wins. However, if you're in a situation where you can make a single weapon attack *or* throw a cantrip (friendly mage throws haste?) :

+6 to hit, 2d8 damage and debuff. - still have bonus action.

+3 to hit, 1d6+13. Triggers bonus action attack if you didn't use your action to multi-attack for some reason.

So it depends. Didn't trigger your bonus action attack? Weapon attack, bonus attack. Really want to land the debuff? Cantrip. Accuracy buff running? Weapon attack. Best damage output depends on AC of target, Weapons do 16.5 per hit; Cantrips are 9 per hit. So 20 AC is essentially even, cantrips are 2.7 on average weapons are 2.4 average. 21 AC + Cantrips pull ahead by fractions. However its never more than 1.

Level 6; Weapon users pick up another +1 to hit and damage, narrowing the accuracy gap to 2 points.

Level 7: War Magic. Cantrips now trigger a bonus action attack. You already had that with Crossbow Expert when you Multi Attacked. Really this is only going to matter in rare tactical situations where casting a Utility Cantrip is more important than Multi-attacking.

Level 8: Max Dex, Cantrips still +6 to hit and 2d8 damage; Weapon +5 to hit 1d6+15 damage. At no point ever would you attack with a Cantrip over a weapon unless landing the debuff was more important than damage.

Level 9 and 10: Proficiency increase bonus to both Weapon and Cantrip accuracy at 9, a wash.

Level 11 3d8 for Cantrips. 13.5 Average damage on a hit for Cantrips. 18.5 average damage on a hit for Hand Crossbow. Better accuracy favors Cantrips vs higher AC , but again, its a less than 1 point per round on average, Weapon damage pulls ahead at medium to low AC.

Level 12 +2 Int and more Multi-attacks. At 13th you're going to be able to throw Haste yourself so you'll commonly have an action to burn on attacking where you can't multi-attack. This is where Cantrips are the strongest but again its only by 1 hit point per round vs Higer AC (23ish) targets. So, if you've picked up a +1 hand crossbow by 12th level, and it seems likely that you would have, there is no difference between Cantrip and Weapon damage in the situation that favors Cantrips the most. Weapon damage pulls ahead as AC drops or anytime you can Mult-attack.

Level 14 +2 Int, more Cantrip accuracy so in some situations you're a tiny bit better off with Cantrips. Again not much more than a point or two.

Level 17 4d8 so Cantrip average damage per hit is now 14. So as long as you've never found a magic Hand Crossbow Cantrips are a better shot because of Accuracy when you can't multi attack. Of course if you're 17th level and your fighter doesn't have a magic weapon, I have to ask, what did you do to piss off your DM?

So there you go, Cantrips vs. Attacks. Cantrips are a tiny bit better at a limited range of levels, but only if you can't multi attack, and haven't found a magic weapon. And that is maxing out your int. So by dumping Int you give up 1 or 2 points of average damage per rounds at high levels, vs high ACs, if you haven't found a magic weapon. This is why you can dump Int as a EK. You're spending 9 attribuit points at char gen and giving up two feats (or other stat boosts) to pick up a situational damage boost, that goes away in most games as you'll have a magic weapon that pulls weapon damage even with Cantrips. In general this concept works for melee EKs too, there will be a few levels where Cantrip damage is fractionally better but Multi-attack wins. Polearm Master and Two-weapon Fighting Eks are pretty much the same as Crossbow Experts in that you have the bonus action attacks. Tanky-melee-Gishy builds without the bonus action attack will see more mileage from War Magic, but that isn't the focus of this guide.

Sub-guide S.A.D.gasm - Notes for Champion or Battlemaster Ranged builds.

SAD - Single Attribute Dependancy is a beutiful thing. Ranged and Finesse fighter builds need Dex and nothing else. I focused on Eldritch Knights since they have the most mechanical choices, and most folks look at the EK and think "oh, I should max out Int too" and its really a concept choice to max Int, not a mechanical choice. Here are my quick notes on Champions and Battle Masters.

Champions at 10th take Defense , all the other non-spellcasting advice up above applies.

Battle Masters are IMO better mechanically than Eldritch Knights. Take out all the spell-casting from above and toss in Martial Adept at mid or late levels. Crossbow builds Trip and Goading attack . Archers Evasive Footwork , Goading attack and Push or Trip .

Trip is so seriously good for handcrossbow builds. Your DM will hate you the first time you walk up to the BEG, fire off trip, give yourself advantage and proceded to Action Point - Multi-attack Nova and solo the BEG in a single round.

Lots of comments on Warcaster, see below. IMO you'd take it for the OA it grants. Somantic components are a minor issue for an EK, in the absolute worse case scenario you're occasionally using your bonus action and the otherwise useless Weapon Bond ability to pick up the weapon you dropped to cast your spell.

Crossbow Expert
My reading of Crossbow Expert is that you get the bonus action attack with one hand crossbow. Others disagree. Check with your DM before equiping a shield.