It’s been a busy few months for Unearthed Arcana and Dungeons and Dragons. Rather than getting one release a month we’ve been getting an article almost every week aside from the holidays, with a glut of new character options for most of the classes. Recently, however, Mearls and Crawford took a left turn at Sharn and introduced an entirely new class: the Artificer! Rather than give the newest class the Meet the Party treatment, I’ve decided to review it in depth. Let’s see what the 5th Edition artificer has to offer so far, and I’ll let you know what I think of it.
Well, first off, time to confess a little bit of a bias. Of all the published settings that Dungeons and Dragons has visited over the years Eberron had been my favorite (I’m still running a 4E Eberron game that I think is in its 4th year), and the artificer is pretty fundamental to the setting, so I’m really excited to see the arcane tinkerer making a return. Hopefully it’s a sign of more to come! I’m also pretty glad to see them making Artificer its own class again, rather than just a build for a Wizard like they did in a much earlier Unearthed Arcana. The two have always felt very different to me, and that difference just didn’t come through with the Wizard build. Alright, now that I’ve admitted to loving both the idea of the artificer and the setting it’s most associated with, let’s go over what this most recent version of the class looks like.
A Hit Die of 1d8, proficiency in light/medium armors, and proficiency with simple weapons more or less matches the image of the much more sturdy type of caster that the artificers of old invoked. The fact that the artificer gets proficiency with three different types of tools is also a nice perk, but while two of those are your choice the third one is thieves’ tools. This strikes me as an odd choice for the tools that every artificer in the world will be proficient with and have in their inventory as part of their starting equipment. I can certainly see the logic in some artificers having them, but I can think of better options (or maybe just have it be a third set of the player’s choice).
Adding proficiency to Constitution and Intelligence saving throws covers the smart spellcaster aspect and fixes one problem with the artificer-as-a-wizard-build, helping to make the artificer feel tougher than a squishy robe-wearer. The skill choice list is pretty varied and you get three of them, which grants a nice bit of variety and some flexibility when it comes to choosing backgrounds and the like. At Level 1 you gain Magic Item Analysis, which grants the detect magic and identify spells, the ability to cast them as rituals, and removes the material component requirement for identify, making the artificer the party expert on figuring out whether or not that magic ring you found will kill you when you put it on.
Level 1 Artificers also get to choose what kind of Artificer Specialist they are, making them (like the cleric) one of the classes that choose their ‘build’ right away. More on those later; we’ll finish covering the general stuff first.
Tool Expertise doubles the proficiency bonus for all of the tools you’re proficient in as an artificer. This does not include tools you know how to use thanks to your race or background, but that’s still a pretty hefty bonus, so I’d say choose your proficiencies well.
Wondrous Invention is, maybe more than any other feature, going to make the artificer stand out as a class: at Level 2, and again at 5, 10, 15, and 20, your character constructs a magical item for themselves (mechanically for free, narratively after long hours of tinkering and construction). Every level comes with a list of magical items to choose from, and you have to choose from that level’s list or lower. There’s nothing in terms of magical weapons or armor, but there’s a lot of versatility and utility here. You’re going to have a lot of tricks up your sleeve, and every artificer is going to have a different load-out. It may be important to note, though, that unlike some features the different Specialists get, there’s nothing that says these items are replaceable if something happens to them. That might be quite fair and make the artificers take care of what they have, but I could see bad luck or a particularly canny or vindictive enemy costing the class quite a bit.
Level 3 grants the artificer Spellcasting. The artificer spell list is pretty limited, and it’ll come down to personal taste as to whether or not you think it’s too limited. The list lacks any sort of offensive punch, so you’ll be choosing healing, defensive, or utility spells. Not going on the offensive with any spells is a little bit ho-hum, but some Specialist features take care of offense, and the list does give the artificer a solid niche to carve out as a support caster. Infuse Magic, at Level 4, lets an artificer stash spells away in items for either themselves or someone else to use later. Some fireball grenades would have been particularly cool, but it’s hard to argue with your artificer stashing a cure wounds in a coin or haste in the monk’s shoes.
Superior Attunement shows up at Level 5 and increases the number of magical items that the artificer can be attuned to by 1, to a total of 4. Superior Attunement shows up again at 15, increasing the total to 5. That’s . . . wow, that’s pretty potent, considering how solid of a cap the attunement thing is on the amount of magical power a character can bring to bear. It doesn’t end there either, but we’ll address that shortly.
Level 6 brings the Mechanical Servant, which is an interesting one. Essentially you choose a Large beast of CR 2 or less, and (after quite some time before Level 6, narratively-speaking) you built a construct with that creature’s statistics, while it can appear however you want as long as its form is appropriate for those statistics. It has a couple of interesting perks and immunities, including a reaction that you can use to counterattack melee fighters targeting you, and otherwise acts as an ally, rolling its own initiative and obeying your orders as best as it can. If it gets taken out it can be brought back to life with the usual methods like revivify (which is on the artificer spell list, as it so happens) or can be repaired over a long rest if the artificer has access to its body. Otherwise, a totally lost Mechanical Servant can be replaced with a week’s worth of work and 1,000 gold.
While quite useful, and I think that it’s mechanically-speaking a sound feature, it’s interesting that this is a feature that every artificer gets to enjoy. The building of mechanical servants and allies was an entire build and set of powers in 4th Edition, for example, and while artificers were free to choose whatever powers they wanted not all of them went in for making constructs. Also, while the ability to choose its characteristics and appearance is a nice bit of flavor, I wonder if these Mechanical Servants will end up being more or less the same across each artificer. Play will tell, I suppose, although I do wonder if we’ll see a construct-making build in the future.
Soul of Artifice caps every artificer off at Level 20, and it’s a doozy. It plays off of Superior Attunement and increases the total number of magic items you can attune with to 6, but it also grants a +1 to all saving throws for every magical item you’re attuned to. That’ll turn even a dump-stat saving throw into a decent one, and make the saving throws you’re already good at truly remarkable. Now, it’s a Level 20 ability, so you may as well pull out all the stops for the end of the game, but if only one thing within this Unearthed Arcana gets changed I would put some money on Soul of Artifice. But maybe not. Guess we’ll see.
These are the ‘builds’ for the artificer, and we’ve got two of them to look at: the Alchemist and the Gunsmith. As I’ve had to remind myself a little when reading this, remember that both still have all of the above features, spells, and so on. It’s important to remember because, wow, I’m not sure you could find two builds more different within a single class. Our two Specialist types are: Alchemist and Gunsmith.
The Alchemist is described as “an expert at combining exotic reagents to produce a variety of materials”. At Level 1 the Alchemist artificer receives an Alchemist’s Satchel, which contains all the materials you’ll need to create and use Alchemical Formulas. If something happens to the Satchel a few days work and 100 gold worth of materials can be used to make a new one. As for the Formulas, you gain three at Level 1: Alchemical Fire, Alchemical Acid, and one of your choice from a list. You gain an additional one at Levels 3, 9, 14, and 17. There are seven Formulas in total, so by 17 you’ll have all of them. Several of them, like the Fire and Acid, become more potent depending on your level, while some like Smoke Stick have a unique ability that remains the same.
The Formulas do a great job at painting the picture of an artificer loaded with vials and gadgets and gizmos that provide a wide variety of options for them to use, which is personally what I’m used to seeing from my artificers. I like the different options, but hope that there will be more when the Alchemist reaches its final form. They could use more damage types, I think, and a few more utility options to make the player choices matter more. There’s also the fact that some of the Formulas will probably be rather underwhelming if you get them at 14 or 17. Maybe there should be a tier system like with Wondrous Invention.
The Gunsmith receives three features at Level 1: Master Smith, Thunder Cannon, and Arcane Magazine. Master Smith grants the artificer the mending cantrip and proficiency with smith’s tools (which just makes the thieves’ tools thing seem weirder). Thunder Cannon is the core of the build: you forge a deadly firearm with a combination of magic, engineering, and metallurgy. Good range, solid damage, and can be reloaded as a bonus action. If you lose it, a few days and 100 gold will replace it. Arcane Magazine gives you the ammo and other materials you’ll need to fire the Thunder Cannon: 40 rounds after every long rest, 10 after every short rest.
The rest of the Gunsmith’s features involve adding different types of attacks and damage. Thunder Monger essentially replaces a basic attack at Level 3, adding thunder damage that increases the higher your level. Blast Wave, Piercing Round, and Explosive Round provide separate attacks: force damage in a cone, lightning damage in a line, and fire damage in a targeted area, respectively.
I have mixed feelings about the Gunsmith. It works. It looks pretty darn cool and I like a lot about it. But it seems pretty narrow. Granted, when you end up rolling 11d6 damage for every attack (2d6 for the basic Thunder Cannon and 9d6 from Thunder Monger at Level 19) you don’t really have that much to complain about when it comes to effectiveness or firepower, and the other shots provide you with multiple-target-attacks that force saving throws. But there’s something that doesn’t quite fit the feel of the artificer as I’m used to it. Actually, it feels like they tried to make Pathfinder’s Gunslinger as an Artificer build, with a decent degree of success, and maybe that’s a worthy goal. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
Overall I think the artificer is moving in the right direction. Unlike the previous Unearthed Arcana version, this one feels like the artificer from 3.X and 4th Editions, even the somewhat quirky Gunsmith. I do think that there’s a fair amount of tweaking that needs to be done, and I hope there will be more builds than these. They reference engineering, after all, and I think an engineer would be the perfect concept for someone building constructs. So, what do you think of the latest class to grace 5th Edition? What are you excited about, what do you want to see changed, and what would you like to see added? Speak up in the comments, and let’s tinker with the tinkerer. WotC has already posted their survey for the artificer, so let’s get cracking and help make the artificer a reality!