A look at bow hunter archetypes: the skills, bows, and themes that work best for different builds, including Ember Cannons from the Ember Rail Cannon team style covered in my first ever guide, the Ember Rail Cannon guide. I’m writing this to address some finer details of these builds that folk sometimes struggle with, that shouldn’t be added to an already huge and somewhat disorganised guide.
Disclaimers and Warning
THIS GUIDE CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS! I don’t have any big main-campaign spoilers, and I mostly don’t touch on how you get things, so use your noggin and think about how unspoiled YOU want the game. Probably not too unspoiled because you’re looking up guides?
If anyone has feedback, I’d love to hear it! There will always be a few mistakes, plus some of my theoretical stuff is really educated guessing (praise the wiki) so hearing from folk who’ve tried things is great!
Anything marked with a (Th) or (Theoretical) is something I haven’t specifically tried on a specific build, though I may have experience with it otherwise, and in many cases am relying on the knowledge and experience of others who have tried it
This guide is of medium length (3.8k words including intro and titles)
This guide was written during 1.13+477 Niyati Hotfix and finished just after 1.14 Elona Rib was released – I will list any patch updates it receives here
Glossary of Terms
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in jargon, so I got a list to help with that
- -line – how close to the enemy this character should be: often a good indicator of tankiness
- Backline – in the safest position, with the team between you and the enemies, often far away from enemies
- Midline – between enemies and the squishiest characters, and expected to be able tank a hit, but behind the actual tanks
- Frontline – closest to danger, expected to tank all hits and come out relatively unscathed
- Adjacent – Both orthogonal AND diagonal
- Alphastrike – the damage you can deal on the first turn/first attack
- AoE – Area of Effect (you can hit multiple targets)
- Bow hunter – a hunter that uses a bow (thus has no transformed arms and 7.6 to 9.6 max range)
- Clutch – game changing from loss to win at a critical moment
- ERC – Ember Rail Cannon: a team strategy that turns a Bow hunter into a gatling gun with Spiritblade mystics.
- DoT – Damage Over Time. What it says on the tin e.g. Quellingmoss
- OTK – One Turn Kill. Basically what happens when their health is lower than your alphastrike
- Power curve – the increase in power over time in a build – ideally this wants to be as front-loaded as possible without compromising the late-game strength
- Proc – “triggers” or “effect happens”, e.g. “killing an enemy procs rogue, putting you in Greyplane” or “Quellingmoss procs when the turn ends so it’s procced more when you can slow them down”
A Note on Armour
I don’t have the exciting new armours DLC. That means I do not feel qualified to talk about the best armour, except to say that you always want the Grey/Thornbark line over Travel/Ghosttraff on bow hunters. The flat defence being twice as much is critically important, and you don’t need the speed because you have a bow and can shoot the stars from wherever you are
- Basic: What makes this tick?
- Control: Slow them down for easy pickings
- Potency: Emphasising high potency stacking
- Reactive: Attacking on the enemy turn
Basic Bow Prioritisation
- Vigilkeeper – the +1 range is pretty awesome when you aren’t paying for it with an ability (and this feels awesome with Sharpshooter – if you can see it, you can shoot it (in most cases)), and the +5 stunt damage can be clutch
- Bone Bow – this can pump out the highest damage numbers because with +3 free potency at max rank it turbocharges abilities that turn potency into damage. It also has an upgrade event I’ve never personally seen to make it also a stone bow (though this does not persist through legacy)
- Leaf/Stone Bow – extra safety is always strong. Even a backline hero can benefit from temporary health (has saved my heroes before), and the entire team benefits from pin/shred, though the radius is a little small
- Fire Bow – solid damage, but it only really shines when you have high enough stunt chance to be seeing it multiple times on a throughshot semi-regularly, which feels very powerful but takes some building around
- Water Bow – stop booing me, I know everyone feels cool when they use the water bow. I even recommend it in my original guide. But it’s extra damage or mobility in most cases, and since it can only proc once, it’s only an unreliable 9% to 20%  increase to damage depending on how high your stunt chance is and how many attacks you’re getting from, say, Spiritblade (more attacks increase reliability but reduce value) is that a lot? Sure, but if you stunt once it becomes useless, and you’re better switching to any other bow, which increases the material cost of the hunter’ upgrades and… yeah, just sad really, especially since it’s less than I stated because the stunt damage is reduced for water weapons. Yeah. In an unlucky moment you might see a 0% damage increase as you have to target the same enemy again when they’d have died to any other stunt and got you some other effect  all assuming a 20% stunt chance and ignoring the reduced stunt damage: the 9% is when you’re throwing out 7 attacks at base (3 spiritblade+ mystics) and can get the water bonus action 80% of the time for 14% more damage, the 20% when you have 1 attack for double damage
Basic: What works in all archetypes
Some abilities can show up in any Archetype – what are they and why? Well, they’re very strong, to the point where having 3 of these 4 is a decent benchmark for what makes an Ember Cannon. In the order you should prioritise them (for a character starting at low levels, with a mind to keep a decent power curve):
At low level play, this ability is huge, and it scales solidly too. In my general abilities guide I rated this at 4.25 out of 5, the highest rating of any general ability. The reason is how well it starts and how well it scales, especially with bows:
- +1 damage: on a bow this is a damage increase between 25% (1st level with a farm bow) and 3.3ish% (assuming a max level well-built hunter with some useful augments and a bone bow against an enemy with 9+ armour) with 5% to 10% being more typical
- +1 range: extremely potent. It can mean an extra attack (by having another target in range with an ERC team, or an extra target in an attack (with Throughshot+) which can be up to a 20% damage increase in some common situations
- No minimum range on bows: this is mostly a nice quality of life buff, but it does mean you’ve no need to max level a second weapon (usually a crossbow) and sometimes get an extra enemy in a Throughshot attack, damage increasing as above
Overall: Very, very solid, especially on lower level characters, and scales up nicely, though the upgrade is not worth it (only +1 range). And the reason you prioritise this over our next contestant is because it’s from the general pool – harder to get for how strong it is. It is better in the early game, but later on Throughshot will beat it for strength and it’s fair to bump this down to 2nd
this is a big-ticket ability for ranged hunters. The base version (which adds 1 extra target in a line) doesn’t quite double the damage (since each subsequent hit deals -1 damage) but it may as well, and getting to hit unlimited enemies (with progressively reduced damage) is extremely strong. In the lategame when other abilities are supporting it, this is the strongest hunter ability
Decent early on, since the flat 1 pierce is good, and scaling up with potency into the lategame, this reliably bypasses armour or gets within a few points. And now I have to talk about Rogue. Why is that not here? That completely bypasses!! And look, I get it. Rogue is good. And it comes with the attractive hidden vibe – you get so much edge you could chop vegetables with it! But the problem is the “must kill to proc” if any of the following situations happens, your damage plummets through the floor:
- Your hero sneezes and misses that nice 90% to hit chance
- You don’t have enough damage to kill
- The small/low health enemy you lined up for Throughshot dodges
- The enemy is a huge boss without small/low health enemies to line up and/or you don’t have Throughshot
- So no, rogue is not better. You are an archer. You do not need the safety of Greyplane, you should be in the backline safely away from enemies, or intentionally up font with the tanky hunter armour walling with your best friend  the warrior.
 since friendship is extra dodge
The upgrade isn’t really worth it; you don’t really need 1 shred when you’re bypassing already, especially since you can get that in our next ability.
You would think the titular ability for Ember Cannons would be higher priority, but frankly it’s a little lacklustre early on. A level 4+ hero should pick this over piercing shots if they have a reliable source of on-demand fire (an offhand torch, a warrior with raider, a mystic with ignite, a fire chicken pet). But what does it do? When adjacent to a fire:
- add potency to damage: extremely strong, but can be 0 if you’re level 1 or 2 without augments or the bone bow
- 1 shred: good, but not enough on its own. Needs at least 1 damage from the first point for the ability to pull its weight
The upgrade gives a swift action move to fire, which is nice, but not all-archetypes nice
Control: Slow them down for easy pickings
The core of this archetype is Crippling Strikes (apply hobble on hit) it’s as strong as any of the basic 4, and plays nice with Sharpshooter and Throughshot, since ideally you want to hobble several enemies from a long way off. Quellingmoss is also solid here, since they’ll take more turns to reach you and thus take more damage from poison. The Crippling Strikes upgrade is ok (Th), but I wouldn’t call it necessary – the problem is that you only get the damage boost after you hit them. Also some enemies are immune (not a problem for the base version, since you still have other abilities, can target other enemies, and/or can focus fire to OTK them).
Basic archetype skills: that’s how we go brr
Vigilkeeper – the further away they’re hobbled, the better
Stone Bow – congrats, you’ve recreated Frostfang as a non-cross-bow xD
Leaf bow – enemies can build up a little, so safety is good
Water Bow – a little stronger here, as it can be an extra stack of hobble
Bone Bow – It’s still good (probably 2nd of the list in absolute terms, assuming you grab Ember Arrows or Piercing Shots), but it has better archetypes
Fire Bow – kinda unnecessary, although if the stunt fireballs applied hobble it’d be 2nd after Vigilkeeper (even ahead of bone bow)
Careful attention-to-distance play to prevent enemies getting in range of you and your team when possible. Wall when possible, stay tight-knit. If you have a vigilance warrior or a shardskin, you can leave them in range of some enemies to get their damage out
Example: Gales Clerksy. After suggesting crippling strikes in my ERC guide, I wanted to try it out. My final run with Gales was where I got that chance (she’s actually the thumbnail for the ERC guide, just before this run). I took throughshot over the + that run, and it’s safe to say I was happy with the results
Potency: They must die NOW
This is pretty simple; you want all the potency you can find – this is a strong contender for “the best build when you’ve found a Bone Bow”. Throughshot is still great and recommended but you’ll have some AoE from the Quellingmoss single action (which is why you want the swift action move from Ember Arrows+) so it’s not mandatory, even if it is crazy strong. When using ERC, you can sometimes find that using both actions on Quellingmoss and your swift on movement while the Spiritblade mystics make you use bow attacks to be optimal, depending on the number and arrangement of enemies
“But Quellingmoss is a DoT, you can’t use it to OTK!!” I can, I will, and I have. When you apply 8 billion  poison you can OTK what you want
 possible exaggeration
Core: (these all use potency scalings)
Basic archetype skills: that’s how we go brr
Since you’re positioning is effectively frontline I’d suggest some tankiness like Endurance but.. look, if you’re doing this right they’re all dead anyway
Bone Bow: the others aren’t even close in strength on this one. Effectively doubles the base damage of the bow and makes Quellingmoss hit like a truck
Vigilkeeper: you want to be a little closer than normal to throw out Quellingmoss bombs
Front/midline positioning, wall with allies if you can, but the point is to see no enemy survive when possible. Much easier with ERC
Example: Roymere Reds. A surprise catch, Roymere was recruited in the hero worship event, but became unbelievably important when messing about meant the main Ember Cannon from that run retired at the end of chapter 4 (by 1 year <screams>) – you’ll notice he’s the youngest of my examples, and only level 2. Lad earned his promotion by pioneering a whole new style of Ember Cannon, the “swift action move, Quellingmoss, loose arrow” style.
Reaction: Attacking on the enemy turn
Archery is the only way to reliably get more attacks with your bow without using Spiritblade. A powerful ability with a steep cost since you have to be attacked first. However, since that’s basically unavoidable anyway, it’s an easy choice.
Archery: the + is bad, but the base ability IS the build
Throughshot(+): this allows you to retaliate even if enemies are hiding behind their allies
Endurance: it’s best to be able to frontline, or at least midline with this build. Extra armour and warding really helps out with that.
Basic archetype skills: that’s how we go brr
Ambush (Th): a little niche, but gives you a bit more flexibility, especially with Vost (don’t get the + with Vost)
Leaf bow: since you must risk taking hits, the safety is a big deal
Vost: pretend to be a knockback warrior if you have ambush
Position aggressively, adjacent to all allies if possible – if not, focus on those likely to be targeted by ranged attacks. You should be near at least 1 ally for walling and ideally the friendship dodge buff, and target melee enemies before ranged enemies (unless there’s a priority target like a Redcloak with a fireball channelled), since those ranged attacks increase your damage per turn
Example: Keliel Nockmust was actually my first ever bow hunter, from back before I used Spiritblade to go brr. She lacks many of the core abilities, but by combining Throughshot with Archery and Quellingmoss+ (which you can think of as a flat +2 damage in many cases), she was able to carry her team through the gruelling MutM final fight. Not perfect, but good enough for a beleaguered WL run with inexperienced warriors in the final team – remember always that all we need is good enough
Since a lot of abilities are shared between archetypes, they can slot together pretty nicely: they all tend to be defined by one ability and then amplified by the basic ones (or just be several basic ones in a trenchcoat), so having 2 together works out alright (I mean, half my examples are technically hybrids (see below for the last one)). 3 might be stretching it a bit, but if you can pull it off? Go wild dudes 
 non-gendered. Etymologically means “fashionable”
Transformations (including pets!)
So, Obviously (I hope) you should never transform your arms – that’s a completely different style, although sometimes one that uses all the same skills (usually without Ember arrows, since it’s only +1 damage, no doubling potency). That means we’re looking at head, legs, and pets
Heads, shoulders, knees and toes
This list is alphabetical and only includes themes I think are good. If you don’t understand why a theme isn’t on this list, leave a comment and I might add a “not so good” section. But really, as long as you don’t transform arms you should be ok with most themes.
It can be worth leaving 1 leg untransformed so the hero can pick up leg-based augments, since that’s one of the best ways to stack up stats.
Celestial can be pretty awesome with the blind in the hair, especially in control/reaction builds that are more likely to take hits, but the legs are bad. Do not give up armour for speed. You need armour, you don’t need speed. The path effect is pretty meh too, specifically because it’s so unreliable
Crowtouched is solid, if only for the wings being free stats (esp dodge), and the legs trading 0.2 health for 0.6 warding is pretty solid. I’d avoid the head, since even a frontline bow hunter shouldn’t be orthogonal to enemies, but if that’s how you like your life, go for it
Crystalline is basically the gold (gem?) standard here. The +6 stunt chance on the head can be huge, regardless of weapon. The legs are good to, since +5 block is well worth a relative -0.1 speed. You may be tempted to take a crossbow and get the +6 stunt from the shield too, but it’s unlikely to be worth it. Maybe an Archery build could pull it off, but you will feel the range loss.
Elmsoul’s legs are a decent trade at 0.4 speed for 0.6 armour, and the hair piece doesn’t actually take up the head slot, if I recall correctly, so it’s a decent pickup. Does block some other themes though
Sylvan giving +5 retirement age is not to be underestimated, although the legs are a bad trade (-5 block for +0.5 speed), and this does block some good options.
Foxish is probably the best tail theme, just adding stats: 0.4 speed, 4 stunt chance, 4 dodge. The upgrade is more of the same, so isn’t bad to have in the pool
Mark of the horn (Th) with +0.5 warding, +5 charisma, and +10 tenacity is free stats again, though it’s not the best option, and blocks some other good options
While pet ability upgrades are generally not worth picking up on the already tight builds, the pets themselves still are. Although no pet will ruin the build, and most will add something, there are (in addition to Drauven Bird and the temporary pets) 3 clear winners here:
Critter is the undisputed champ, since accuracy is one of the most valuable stats for this build, turning good chances into guaranteed and bad into possible.
Avenger (golden bunny) (Th) is probably a respectable if distant second, since 1 damage is 1 damage, although there’s a completely different build (Avenging Hunter) for this that makes use of the upgrade (and it is rare to get golden bunny on a hunter for reasons I won’t go into here)
Fire Chicken (Th): pairs well with Ember Arrows, but honestly better to put on a different ally, since torches exist, and you should have enough warding to get through fires when you need to. Especially avoid the covering fire upgrade in a reaction build
Example: Glenlow Prickleharp with her pet rat – not a pet I recommend, but that’s basically the point; pick the pet you want and at least one archetype will still work, and work well. Pet rat goes well with archery, since the small boost to dodge helps you stay safe (even if the duck is strictly better). Some pets may just be an aesthetic choice in some builds: e.g. Shadowcat in an Ember Arrows+ & Quellingmoss build competes for the swift action