Revisiting the D&D5e Artificer

When the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron first hit the digital shelves there was much rejoicing. We were getting to play in Keith Baker’s setting again without having to do everything from scratch ourselves, and a new front of creativity opened up on the DM’s Guild. As a living playtest, though, the WGtE had some glaring absences, and none was more obvious than the Artificer, the iconic class of the setting. Having gone through two cycles of Unearthed Arcana, going back almost to the beginning of UA, the Artificer had gone without any updates since 2017 . . . until yesterday! Grab your tools and lets get to it as we go feature by feature through the latest version of the class!

Class Features

There have been a few changes in the basic proficiencies and starting equipment of the class. The Artificer has gained the ability to use shields, hand crossbows, and heavy crossbows; there is a sidebar stating that if you are using the optional rules for firearms in the DMG, then your Artificer gains proficiency with those as well. Rather than gaining proficiency with thieves’ tools and two tools of choice the class we can now use thieves’ tool, tinker’s tools, and one choice of artisan’s tools. For skills Religion and Deception have been dropped, and Perception has been added, but in a somewhat disappointing turn you can only choose two skills total instead of three. For gear the only change is that you just choose two simple weapons with no option to just take a hand axe and a light hammer, which basically saves some text, and the option to buy 5d4x100 gp worth of gear yourself. The artificer still starts with thieves’ tools, which still doesn’t make much sense to me especially when they start with tinker’s tools proficiency now, but that must be a personal nitpick.

What’s really changed about the base features of the artificer is . . . basically everything about how it interacts with magic.

First of all, Spellcasting kicks in at Level 1 instead of 3, and the Artificer also knows Cantrips, so you’re slinging spells right out of the gate instead of limping along on nothing but detect magic and identify for two levels. Second, and this is particularly huge, the Artificer has gone from a Spells Known class to a Prepared Spells class; like the Cleric, the Artificer knows their entire spell list, and simply has to pick which spells to prepare for the day. This version of the Artificer is going to be way more flexible, a trait we’re going to see get even more focus as we dive deeper, and level-to-level this version is going to have more and higher level spells to use. Artificers use tools, whichever kit seems appropriate, as their spellcasting focus.

Almost as an aside, Level 1 also brings Magical Tinkering, which lets the class build some unique prestidigitation-like effects into some items.

Level 2 brings Infuse Item, and this is the other big change to Artificer magic and a boost to flexibility and utility. First, any such infused item can also be used as a spellcasting focus. More importantly, though, is how many and what you can infuse them with. An Artificer starts knowing three infusions, and can eventually know up to 8 by Level 19. Infusions can be imbued upon an item after a long rest and last indefinitely unless replaced or the artificer dies, and an Artificer can have multiple items imbued (starting at 2, up to 5). As for the infusions themselves, they range from simply adding bonuses to attacks or AC, to unique quirks like Returning Weapon, to Replicate Magic Item which can produce everything from a Bag of Holding to Boots of Speed. Several infusions have level prerequisites, and some improve at higher levels (particularly Replicate Magic Item), meaning that how your Artificer is kitting out themselves and their party will probably change a lot over time. Obviously, this is way more engaging and variable than the old version’s Wondrous Invention.

Level 3 lets you choose what kind of Artificer Specialist you’ll be, where that used to be chosen at Level 1 (more on those later) and nets you Tool Expertise, which remains unchanged in doubling your proficiency bonus with tools.

Arcane Armament is gained at Level 5, allowing you to attack twice when you take the Attack action on your turn . . . provided you were attacking with a magic item. This would be a good time to mention the only new spell in the article, arcane weapon, a 1st-level bonus action and concentration spell that makes a weapon magical for the duration, in addition to adding 1d6 extra damage of a chosen type. My one problem with the spell is that the one higher-level option (casting at 3rd level or higher) just raises the duration from 1 hour to 8. I’d like to see an increase to the damage at some point too.

By Level 10 you always know The Right Cantrip for the Job: whenever you finish a short or long rest, you can replace one of your known cantrips with another from the artificer list. There’s that flexibility again.

Spell-Storing Item might take until Level 18 to kick in, but in many ways its a wide improvement on the old version’s Level 4 Infuse Magic. At the end of a long rest the Artificer can touch an object and store a 1st or 2nd level spell within it – no spell slot expenditure required – allowing a creature to use that spell a number of times equal to twice the Artificer’s Intelligence modifier as an action. The spell remains stored until its been used enough times or the Artificer uses the feature again. For an Artificer with an Int mod of +5, this basically drops another 10 1st or 2nd-level spells into the party’s kit.

Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t put any money on it, because Soul of Artifice at Level 20 remains unchanged: you can attune to six magic items at once, and you gain a +1 bonus to all saving throws per attuned magic item. As Level 20 features go, this remains an excellent one, but you’ve probably noticed: the old version’s Superior Attunement that let you attune four items at Level 5 and five at Level 15 didn’t make the transition, so if anything Soul of Artifice becomes a much bigger jump in power for the class.

So, how about those Specialists?

Alchemist

It carries the same name as one of the old builds, but the Alchemist is quite the different beast. In fact, there’s . . . basically no mechanical similarity at all. I can’t really do an old version’s feature v. new version’s feature kind of comparison, so let’s just get in to it.

Upon choosing Alchemist at Level 3 you gain Tools of the Trade, which does two things. First it grants proficiency with alchemist’s supplies and a herbalism kit, and creates one of each for you if you didn’t already have them. Second, it boosts your crafting, specifically of potions: creating them takes a quarter of the time and half as much gold.

Second, you gain Alchemist Spells: a pair of always-prepared and known-despite-not-being-on-the-Artificer-list spells at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels, further following in the cleric’s footsteps by modeling the domain spells. While the actual Artificer spell list is primarily utility, these spells are where you’ll get most of the magical (non-weapon) offensive punch for the class, along with some unique utility (raise dead at Level 17 is the one that pops the most, but it’s probably not surprising that an Alchemist can purify food and drink at Level 3).

For the last bit of the Level 3 package, you gain an Alchemical Homunculus. This is the one thing in the build that looks familiar, because it replaces the Mechanical Servant that was a core class feature in the old version. A tiny construct, the Homunculus is perceptive and stealthy, has darkvision and is immune to being charmed, exhausted, or poisoned, can fly, and has a number of actions that you use your bonus action to trigger. It is has an acid spit attack, which is nice, but the best part is the 3/day Alchemic Salves that let it touch a creature and provide one of the following benefits: a flying speed, advantage on certain ability checks for an hour or a number of checks equal to your Int mod (whichever comes first), or 2d6+Int mod temporary hit points. The construct also, slowly, advances: whenever your proficiency bonus increases (so at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels) the Homunculus’s skill bonuses and attack and damage on its Acidic Spittle increase by 1 as well.

By Level 6 our Alchemist has gained Alchemical Mastery: when using their alchemist’s supplies as a spellcasting focus they receive a bonus equal to their Intelligence modifier to any healing they do and any acid or poison damage they deal. They can also cast lesser restoration a number of times per day equal to their Int mod without expending a spell slot, again so long as they are using alchemist’s supplies as their spell focus.

The last feature of the build is at Level 14: Chemical Savant. The Artificer gains resistance to acid and poison damage, and is immune to the poisoned condition. They can also, once per long rest, cast greater restoration without expending a spell slot, yet again so long as they are using alchemist’s supplies as their spell focus.

Artillerist

The Artillerist replaces the Gunsmith. So, again, there’s not much here for a straight comparison, mechanically speaking. Still, in some ways the spirit of the Gunsmith is preserved: the Artillerist is all about magical artillery, with an added specialty at building defensive positions.

Upon choosing Alchemist at Level 3 you gain your own version of Tools of the Trade, which does two things. First it grants proficiency with smith’s tools and woodcarver’s tools, and creates one of each for you if you didn’t already have them. Second, it boosts your crafting, specifically of wands: creating them takes a quarter of the time and half as much gold.

Second, you also gain Artillerist Spells: a pair of always-prepared and known-despite-not-being-on-the-Artificer-list spells at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels. There are some defensive spells in here, such as shield, but really this feature is all about offense, usually fire or cold-flavored damage. It has fireball and cone of cold, for instance. A well-chosen kit to go with the name of the build, that’s for sure.

For the last bit of the Level 3 package, you gain an Arcane Turret; unlike the wildly different builds in the old version, clearly here they’ve decided to take the same basic idea and spin it off down different paths. A magical object with crablike legs, the turret can be created with an action and smith’s tools in hand, and sticks around until it runs out of HP or ten minutes pass. When created, you choose what kind of turret it is, and there are three options. The Flamethrower is . . . come on, there’s the name right there. It deals fire damage in a cone, damage can be halved with a Dex save vs. your spell save DC, and flammable objects go up in flames. The Force Ballista makes a long-range spell attack, dealing force damage and pushing the target 5’. The Defender puts out a of burst positive energy that grants itself and each creature of your choice within 10’ 1d8+Int mod temporary hit points. You spend a bonus action to use each turret’s action, which can also move it. Summoning the turret in the first place is free, and if it gets destroyed you can summon it again by expending a spell slot. You can also, as an action, cause the turret to detonate, unleashing a 3d6 force damage blast against every creature within 10’’ with half damage for a successful Dex save.

By Level 6 the Artillerist has spent enough time experimenting with wands to regularly build a Wand Prototype. Basically, after a long rest and with woodcarver’s tools in hand, you can take a wooden non-magical wand and turn it into a magic item. You imbue it with an artificer cantrip – even one you don’t know – that has a casting time of one action. Any damage roll for a cantrip in the wand gains a bonus equal to your Int mod. At Level 14 you can put in two cantrips. So either you’re boosting a cantrip you already know, or you’re making even more cantrips available as part of your kit and maybe boosting them. Yet again, more flexibility!

The last feature of the build is at Level 14: Fortified Position. First, and particularly in line with the name, the feature grants you and your allies half cover so long as you remain within 10’ of an Arcane Turret. More dramatically it lets you summon two Arcane Turrets, both for free, and they can be of different types. You can even activate both with a single bonus action!


Last time what stood out to me the most were the individual builds, which were wildly different and each very focused on a specific shtick. Here, it’s the core class which pops the most, and I think that’s a step in the right direction.

This version of the Artificer seems like it’s gone much deeper into the magic, and feels a lot more like an inventor between knowing and being able to change cantrips, preparing spells instead of choosing which ones to know, and the infusions. The base class seems like an excellent support class, kitting out the party with all sorts of magical doodads and providing a lot of utility spells while being a decently scrappy little fighter.

As to the Specialists, I like how they bring the offensive punch to the class in very different ways. I think the build-specific spell lists are a particularly great change, and I love the fact that they get a boost to crafting within their chosen specialty, which is like half the point of being an artificer in the first place. Most of their features are solid as well. Some of the Alchemist’s are a little situational (being immune to poison only matters if there’s poisoning to be done), but the restoration perks are great and the extra damage is nice. Getting another (potentially boosted, eventually two) cantrips is a great feature for the Artillerist.

Their respective mechanical companion features are quite interesting. Definitely useful, that’s for sure. I’m waffling a little bit on how well they scale, though. The damage on the Arcane Turret doesn’t improve at all, and what improvements it does get are all based on your stats (HP, the attack rolls, your Int mod for more temp hp). Granted getting to drop two of them into a fight with Fortified Position is a great perk, plus that half cover. The Alchemical Homunculus sees its attack and damage increase – for a whopping +8 to hit and 1d6+7 acid damage by the time you’re done – along with its HP, but none of the Salve options improve, and unlike the Turret none of the Alchemist’s other features give the Homunculus any boost. As things stand, the Turret and Homunculus probably feel really good to have at Level 3. By Level 20, I think they’ll definitely still feel nice to have around, but I worry they’ll feel a little underwhelming. Particularly the poor Homunculus, who doesn’t get a twin and with its lower AC will probably get splattered more easily.

What I think I’d like to see are just more options for them. More options for what kind of Turret you summon perhaps, potentially with different damage types and shapes for the attacks. More options for the Homonculus’s Salve, an improvement on what is already has, or at least more than 3/day uses.


So, what do you think? Do you like where they’re talking the Artificer? How have the new options worked out on the table for you? According to the article there’s a good chance we’ll see more Artificer content in March’s Unearthed Arcana. Think we’ll see revised versions of this content, or more builds (I certainly hope so)? Let us know what you think! Now, good Artificers like experimenting, and the best way to do that is in the field, so go play some games and have some fun!

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