Warning: Incoming Wall of Text. Turn back now.
The Archer discussion recently, as well as my most recent Archer charname bringing his quest to a close, inspired me to crunch some numbers to create a base damage comparison between the various ranged classes one might be interested in trying. And since end-game comparisons ignore the entire journey to get there, I made comparisons at three different points: 300k experience, (i.e. fresh out of Chateau Irenicus with maybe one quest under your belt), 2.95m experience, (i.e. the old SoA level cap), and 6.5m experience, (i.e. late-game ToB). I've given each character appropriate gear for their level, and have excluded all ToB items from the first two comparisons, (including things like Firetooth that you could technically grab right away).
I've assumed all characters were imported from BG1 (so stats include tome boosts), and that they choose the good path in Hell, (so -1 dex there, and no +2 strength bonus). And obviously I'm withholding the Lum the Mad boosts until the final comparison. I'm also not writing up any Dart specialists because they're strictly inferior to the Shortbow-users, and I'm not writing up any Axe/Hammer throwers, because they get handily outperformed by the Dagger-tossers, (outside of Azuredge against undead, of course). I did include a Longbow and a non-LCoS crossbow at the 2.95m mark so you could see how much they suck compared to their shortbow/LCoS peers.
Also: yes, these are just damage numbers. No, a character's worth is not solely, or even perhaps primarily, determined by how much damage he can put out. Yes, I'm okay with that.
To avoid too much clutter (lol), I'll put the details of each character in spoiler tags and just list the raw damage per round (DPR) numbers in the post body.
Level 9 Elven Archer with 20 dex, Tuigan Shortbow, and Arrows +1
Level 9 Elven Archer with 20 dex, Light Crossbow of Speed, and Bolts +1
Level 9 Half-Orc Kensai with 20 str, 19 dex, and the Boomerang Dagger
Level 9 Halfling Fighter with 20 dex, the Girdle of Hill Giant Strength, Arla's Dragonbane, and +2 bullets
All characters with appropriate Grandmastery
80.5 DPR - Kensai w/ Boomerang Dagger (1 THACO)
56.25 DPR - Archer w/ Tuigan Shortbow (0 THACO)
51.25 DPR - Fighter w/ Arla's Dragonbane (0 THACO)
47.25 DPR - Archer w/ Light Crossbow of Speed (1 THACO)
All Archers are level 17 Elves with 19 dex and the Gauntlets of Weapon Skill. Bow-wielders have equipped Acid Arrows. Crossbow-wielders are using Bolts of Lightning.
The Kensai is level 19 with 18 dex, the Girdle of Frost Giant Strength, and no gloves, because Kensai.
The Fighter is a level 19 Halfling with 19 dex, gauntlets of Weapon Skill, Sling of Arvoreen, and +2 Bullets
The Fighter>Cleric is a level 13>15 dual with gauntlets of Weapon Skill, Sling of Arvoreen, and +2 Bullets
The Cleric>Fighter is a level 11>17 dual from the Priest of Lathander kit with the same gear
Both cleric duals pre-buff with Righteous Magic and DUHM. Additionally, the Priest of Lathander dual uses Boon of Lathander.
Again, all classes have the relevant grandmastery.
The DPR ranges with the Crossbows correspond to enemies making every save vs. spell and missing every save vs. spell. Actual damage will be somewhere in the middle.
132 DPR - Cleric>Fighter w/ Sling of Arvoreen (-11 THACO)
118 DPR - Kensai w/ Fire Tooth (-12 THACO) (+12 DPR with Kai)
100 DPR - Archer w/ Gesen Shortbow (-13 THACO) (+8 DPR with Called Shot)
97.5 DPR - Archer w/ Tuigan Shortbow (-10 THACO) (+10 DPR with Called Shot)
96 DPR - Fighter>Cleric w/ Sling of Arvoreen (-6 THACO)
90-110 DPR - Archer w/ Light Crossbow of Speed (-9 THACO) (+8 DPR with Called Shot)
86.0 DPR - Archer w/ Strong Arm Longbow (-12 THACO) (+8 DPR with Called Shot)
79.5-94.5 DPR - Archer w/ Giant Hair Crossbow (-11 THACO) (+6 DPR with Called Shot)
76.5 DPR - Fighter w/ Sling of Arvoreen (-12 THACO)
If under the effects of Haste:
165 DPR - Cleric>Fighter w/ Sling of Arvoreen
147.5 DPR - Kensai w/ Fire Tooth (+15 DPR w/ Kai)
128 DPR - Fighter>Cleric w/ Sling of Arvoreen
125 DPR - Archer w/ Gesen Shortbow (+10 DPR w/ Called Shot)
112.5-137.5 - Archer w/ Light Crossbow of Speed (+10)
106-126 - Archer w/ Giant Hair Crossbow (+8)
107.5 - Archer w/ Strong Arm Longbow (+10)
102 DPR - Fighter w/ Sling of Arvoreen
97.5 DPR - Archer w/ Tuigan Shortbow (+10)
All Archers are level 29 with 20 dex and Gauntlets of Extraordinary Specialization, *except* for the Tuigan user, who can do just as well with the regular Gauntlets of Weapon Specialization. All bow-users have Arrows of Acid, all crossbow-users have Bolts of Lightning.
The Kensai is level 34 with the Girdle of Fire Giant Strength, 19 dex, and Fire Tooth dagger. Still no gloves.
The Fighter is a level 34 halfling with Girdle of Fire Giant Strength, 20 dex, Erinne Sling +5, +4 bullets, and the Gauntlets of Extraordinary Specialization.
The Fighter>Cleric dual is level 13>31 with the same gear as the Halfling fighter, +DUHM and Righteous Magic to reach 25 str and 25 dex.
The Cleric>Fighter dual is level 15>27 with the same gear and buffs, 25 str and 24 dex, plus Boon of Lathander
For consideration with Whirlwind, I've also included an Elven Archer with Erinne Sling +5 and bullets +4, because GWW mitigates the biggest drawback of slings, being the loss of 0.5 APR due to no grandmastery. This is the highest damage output an Archer can get against enemies that require +4 weapons to hit.
I'm assuming all saves are made against Bolts of Lightning at this point, but expect Crossbow users to get a few extra points here and there when a save is failed, (+5 damage per failed save).
162 DPR - Cleric>Fighter w/ Erinne Sling +5 (-19 THACO)
142 DPR - Kensai w/ Fire Tooth (-20 THACO)
126 DPR - Archer w/ Gesen Shortbow (-20 THACO)
122.5 DPR - Fighter>Cleric w/ Erinne Sling +5 (-12 THACO)
114.75 DPR - Archer w/ Light Crossbow of Speed (-16 THACO)
112.5 DPR - Archer w/ Tuigan Shortbow (-17 THACO)
110.25 DPR - Archer w/ Firetooth +5 (-22 THACO)
103.25 DPR - Fighter w/ Erinne Sling +5 (-17 THACO)
If under the effects of Improved Haste, just double all those values.
For spike damage, here's the results with Whirlwind / Greater Whirlwind
360 DPR - Cleric>Fighter w/ Erinne Sling +5
355 DPR - Kensai w/ Fire Tooth +3
335 DPR - Archer w/ Erinne Sling +5
315 DPR - Archer w/ Firetooth +5
295 DPR - Fighter w/ Erinne Sling +5
280 DPR - Archer w/ Gesen Shortbow
255 DPR - Archer w/ Light Crossbow of Speed
225 DPR - Archer w/ Tuigan Shortbow, (though realistically, there's no reason to ever use WW over IH)
N/A - Figher>Cleric dual, (no warrior HLAs)
Key Takeaways for me:
* THACO is a joke. IIRC, Demogorgon has -12 AC. You're pretty much going to hit everything always, sans critical misses.
* Long Bows are clearly the worst, but if you want one for RP purposes, you're really only sacrificing 15-20% damage potential compared to Short Bows. Not necessarily the end of the world. If you want to get one, go with Strong Arm for the sweet +3 damage bonus.
* Slings start out competitive, but they quickly fall way behind. But really, they're about on par with Long Bows, (especially if you're willing to start as a Half Orc and go evil in Hell to hit 24 strength). Plus, a Halfling slinger gets armor, shield, *and* shorty saves, making him the best defensive ranged character. Why you'd need that much defense on a ranged character is another question entirely.
* Kensai deal the best sustained low-maintenance damage, (no or minimal pre-buffing). News at 11. Vhailor's Helm alone is able to put any other ranged character over the top for single encounters. On the other hand, your teammates will appreciate not having to fight for quality gloves.
* I don't know if they've changed the way that ammo stacking works in EE, but I've been overrating Firetooth. It's actually the worst of the four primary Archer weapons, (Tuigan, Gesen, LCoS), though it becomes the best when Whirlwinding. At the same time, I've been underrating Gesen's a lot. That 1-8 lightning damage is huge.
* Tuigan's is such a beautiful little bow. It can easily be the first item you grab out of Chateau Irenicus and the last weapon you ever use. It can't match the others in spike damage, but it doesn't care about the Gauntlets of Extraordinary Specialization, it doesn't care about Whirlwind, it's great with Smite, Critical Strike, Greater Deathblow. Great bow.
* Boon of Lathander is amazing. I really only included the Priest of Lathander on a lark, and he wound up running away with it. Prebuffing is a hassle and you really only get a turn before it all wears off again, but who would have thought that an oddball Cleric>Fighter dual would be the most damaging ranged attacker in the game? Someone other than me, that's who. I generally hate late duals, but the dual from Lathander to Fighter at level 15 strikes me as a fun solo. Upgraded Skeleton Warriors to tank for you, seventh level spells, and not too long of a slog to get your levels back if solo.
* The common theme here is anything that gives you extra APR will cause you to dominate damage comparisons. Again, it's not like this is exactly news or anything.
* The best argument for making a ranged specialist as your charname, IMO, is just how terrible all of the NPCs are at it. At 6.5m XP, Mazzy is only dealing 90 DPR with Gesen's, about 30% less than you do. Actually, at that point, Anomen + Erinne Sling is the best ranged NPC, provided you don't mind pre-buffing.
* I dismissed darts at the beginning of the post, but I actually think the Crimson Dart is really useful for Rasaad in the early levels to keep him from getting his fool self killed. And K'logarath (+4 throwing axe) can be a useful fallback for a ranged Kensai against enemies immune to +3 weapons; when Whirlwinding, it's virtually identical to Fire Tooth.
* Having just played an Elven Archer from start to finish through the saga, I can confirm they're totally viable. They trivialize BG1 and the first half of SoA, and they're a great class choice for anyone who's not a fan of excessive micromanagement.