D&D 5eEberronReviews

Unearthed Arcana: Artificer Breakdown, Part Two

The new artificer is here, just over two years since its last UA iteration. It’s more Eberron-focused than its predecessor, though a sidebar offers hints for how to incorporate it into other published settings. I appreciate that it includes Dragonlance, the Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, Planescape, and Ravnica in its spread. Here for once I am compelled to admit that it makes more sense not to include my beloved Aebyrnis, the world of Birthright. Anyway, this takes up the “wands, not guns” aesthetic promulgated for 5e Eberron, dropping the Gunsmith subclass in favor of the Artillerist.

Part One | Part Two

 

Artificer

The flavor text talks about arcane R&D in a way that game mechanics can’t exactly sell – I mean, even the Wand Prototype feature doesn’t exactly sell new invention so much as short-term investment of power. An invention system would involve a stratospheric increase in complexity that I don’t in any way expect it, but I would love to see adventures centered on telling this kind of class story. Sometimes everyone comes together to solve an external problem, and sometimes it’s your friends helping you with your personal bullshirt.

Where was I? Right, artificers.

  • d8 Hit Dice.
  • Proficiency in light and medium armor, shields, simple weapons, and all forms of crossbow. In settings with firearms, artificers have firearms.
    • I spent some time talking about medium armor considerations over in Harbinger of Doom, and that’s relevant here. In essence, you’ve got to pick a combat style early and commit to it, and whatever you choose, you’ll need to buy at least one feat to make it work.
      • Crossbow? You really want Crossbow Expert so that you can use Arcane Armament properly. You’re going in for Dex, too, so either light armor or medium armor with Medium Armor Master.
      • Simple Weapon – Strength? Mace, spear, and handaxe are all respectable enough, but your AC won’t be great because you probably won’t have a great score to toss in Dex.
      • Simple Melee Weapon – Dexterity? This is a hard road, because the only simple finesse weapon is the dagger. You probably want Weapon Master for rapier proficiency.
      • Cantrip spam – Intelligence? I mean, you won’t be using your Arcane Armament feature at all, but at least you’re not wondering how you got into this strange land of multiple attribute dependency.
    • Proficiency in thieves’ tools, tinker’s tools, and one other artisan tool set. (Subclasses expand this considerably.)
    • Proficiency in Constitution (yay, Concentration!) and Intelligence saving throws.
    • Magical Tinkering is prestidigitation cranked up to 11, with indefinite duration. I love the options that this offers, but it bothers me way more than I can justify that when you apply Magical Tinkering above your Int bonus, you lose the one you placed earliest, rather than getting to choose which one you lose. I feel like the options here are things you might want to leave active for a very long time, for various reasons, and you’ll likely get into a situation where you’d rather cycle out the one placed most recently.
    • Spellcasting is the source of much of your wonder-working. In-play, it looks like messing with gadgets or tinctures or whatever. Your casting implement is thieves’ tools or any kind of artisan’s tool. I am 150% invested in the maybe-someday artificer class built around calligrapher’s tools.
      • Your spellcasting is half-progression (same as paladins and rangers), which is a very strange choice to me. I’m thinking about things like their high-end throughput and whether they’re honestly keeping up with top-tier wizards and clerics.
      • Int is your spellcasting stat.
      • You prepare spells like a cleric (that is, you don’t have a spellbook or go out gathering spells like a wizard does). I love spells-as-treasure, so I’m sorry that artificers aren’t on that boat. This may be one of my more Unpopular Gaming Opinions.
      • You can cast rituals if you have that spell prepared.
    • Infuse Item at 2nd level gives you a second pool of technically-not-spells. At the start, you know 3 infusions and can maintain two at a time; by 20th level, you know 8 and can maintain 5. I’ll get into individual infusions separately. You cast your infusions at the end of each long rest. Here again, if you infuse more items than your limit, it’s first-in-first-out, which… is probably a shame.
      • Since these do create magic items that there’s nothing stopping you from selling, I hope that an identify spell can detect that it’s an infusion and could go away without warning.
      • Alternately, this might be another reason that there’s no magic item economy. Artificers, ruining it for everyone.
    • Tool Expertise at 3rd level grants you expertise in any tool you’re proficient in. Since you’re also getting your subclass at this level, you’re up to at least 5 types of tools.
    • ASI/feats at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th As I suggested above, I think many artificers will want a feat at 4th, if they aren’t Variant humans.
    • Arcane Armament at 5th level is Extra Attack, but only if you have a magic weapon. I’d love to see a further element of this feature that responds to the loading quality, as an alternative to buying Crossbow Expert. It’s potentially implied in the existing flavor text.
    • The Right Cantrip for the Job at 10th level lets you cycle out cantrips as part of short or long rest. In combination with the numerous sidebars on device-theming your artificer spells, I really like the story this tells, but it’s awfully power-neutral for a 10th-level feature.
    • Spell-Storing Item at 18th level is a huge increase in your functional number of 1st– or 2nd-level slots, as you can invest power in a weapon or casting implement, a number of times equal to twice your spellcasting modifier. Even in the late game, I like arcane weapon, cure wounds, invisibility, or see invisibility for this. Anything with Target: Self is good here because this makes it Target: Whoever Has the Widget.
    • Soul of Artifice at 20th level doubles the number of magic items you can attune, and grants a +1 bonus to all saving throws per attuned item. I’m gonna say that this is one of the most stunning capstone features of any class out there. Now if WotC would just focus on publishing more 20th-level content…

Up to this point, the class has a significant internal conflict of melee vs. ranged vs. cantrip spam. It’s an issue in every fighting/casting split, usually addressed with a feature named [synonym for fight] Magic. I think the core features – not counting spells or infusions – do surprisingly little to build effectiveness for a half-caster class, until 18th level. High versatility, high out-of-combat and functionality. We’ll see where this goes in the subclasses.

One of the key things I see here is that you can’t really be the party’s main healer. Your spell list’s healing functions are cure wounds, lesser restoration, revivify, and greater restoration. Ultimately the artificer isn’t a primary healer for the same reason the ranger isn’t: the spell slots just won’t support it.

 

Alchemist

Pretty sure I don’t need to explain the theme on this one, y’all.

  • Tools of the Trade grants alchemist’s supplies and herbalism kit proficiencies, and when you craft potions, you do so in a quarter of the time and half the cost. I appreciate that there’s a feature that bothers to interact with the crafting system, rather than circumventing it entirely as most other features of this class and other crafting subclasses do (Forge cleric, I’m looking at you).
  • Alchemist Spells grant two new spell options at each spell level, primarily improving your acid and poison damage options. You also pick up death ward and raise dead, so those are great.
  • Alchemical Homunculus (we’re still on 3rd-level features here) grants you a homunculus pet, more powerful than the standard homunculus. If you know anything about my gaming tastes or the Dust to Dust campaign setting, you know that I am super into this. It’s like opening the document and finding that Crawford, et al., have written a steamy love letter to me personally. That said, pet classes don’t have the very best track record in 5e. Of course, then they suggest that the homunculus might look like a weird bird or winged vial, which is literally not what homunculus I’m glad we had this talk.
    • It’s a combat pet, in that it gets 5 hit points per alchemist level + your Int modifier. It automatically Dodges on its turn unless you spend a bonus action to make it use Acidic Spittle, Alchemical Salve, Dash, Disengage, or Help. The mending cantrip heals it for 2d6, or you can restore a dead homunculus to full health with a 1st-level slot.
    • Acidic Spittle is a minor damage boost on your turn, scaling from 1d6+2 to 1d6+6 damage. Nice to have, for the cost of a bonus action.
    • Alchemical Salve is a buff that your homunculus produces – let’s not talk about how – and applies to a creature of your choice, 3 times per day. The effects feel very much like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to me: buoyancy (10 ft fly speed); inspiration that is more… euphoric, and grants advantage a number of times equal to your Int modifier over the next hour, declared before or after the roll; and resilience, which grants temporary hit points and I’ve arbitrarily decided is sort of like Violet Beauregarde.
    • The weird thing here is how little scaling occurs – it’s all based on your Int modifier.
  • Alchemical Mastery at 6th level adds your Int modifier to your healing spells, and to one damage roll of spells that deal acid or poison damage. It also grants a number of castings of lesser restoration equal to your Int modifier (without using a spell slot) per day.
    • Okay, I know it’s UA and not final text, but do you even understand how shocking it is to see this list of writers use the words “per day” rather than “regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest” in public-facing rules text? Do you? I am clutching my pearls, y’all. We used to have standards.
    • Anyway, this feature is solid, but +5 to healing and acid/poison damage only changes so much, you know? Alchemist hasn’t added any healing spells to their spell list, so it’s still only cure wounds for healing.
  • Chemical Savant at 14th level grants resistance to acid and poison damage, and immunity to the poisoned condition. (I assume most of my readers know what stern words I have for any condition immunity?) You also gain one casting of greater restoration without a spell slot or any material component per long rest. Sure, that’s nice to have.

I’m really hoping at this point that the infusions are made of 24-karat unobtainium, because what I’m seeing here is nice but just incredibly conservative in its throughput. The connection between mechanics and narrative is strong, but from where I’m standing, the Transmuter wizard is the better angle on a nearly-identical concept, eight days a week. If you can’t be happy without healing, then fine, class-dip into cleric for cure wounds and healing word.

Or – if you’re not constrained to Official Content – play Rich Howard’s alchemist class.

 

Artillerist

I don’t play Overwatch, but people who do tell me that this is the Overwatch one. At its core, it’s the wand-slinger, but that’s going to go to some odd places.

  • Tools of the Trade grants proficiency with woodcarver’s tools and smith’s tools; the ability to use rods, staves, and wands as spellcasting implements; and a free dowel. Er, wand. I meant wand. You also craft wands in a quarter of the time and at half the normal cost.
  • Artillerist Spells bring the big badaboom. I mean, you can’t really compete with sorcerers or wizards when it comes to blowing things up, because you just don’t have to spell slots for it, but it’s still strong on damage and battlefield control (wall of force is just so great).
  • Arcane Turret is… wait, what? Did I just say Arcane Turret? Okay, I guess we’re doing this.
    • A turret is an object, with immunities that reflect that. It’s mobile, but slow. It has 5 hit points per artificer level. There are three flavors: Flamethrower (short-range cone of fire, 1d8 damage), Force Ballista (single target, 2d8 damage & 5-ft push), and Defender (radiates temporary hit points). Activating a turret takes your bonus action.
    • You summon a turret as an action, which… I have to admit is a little video-gamey for me. Yes, it’s magic, but I could use something more to that. You get one free summon per long rest, and additional summons by paying with any spell slot.
    • You can also make your turret self-destruct as an action, dealing 3d6 force damage in 10-ft radius.
    • What’s surprising about this is that there’s no scaling function to this, at all, until 14th You do get more spell slots that you can use to summon turrets, then it’s a bonus action to fire them and an action to destroy them. It comes to a good return for a 1st-level slot, but less and less appealing for each higher spell level. You’re better off leaning into the damage kicker or damage mitigation of a single turret’s bonus action.
  • Wand Prototype at 6th level lets you load one artificer cantrip into a wand, and you cast it as a super version – that is, you add your Int bonus to damage. Later on, you can tack on a second cantrip to this benefit. For a class and subclass that are going to do as much cantrip spam as the artificer, I’d like to see something closer to the output of Eldritch Blast.
  • Fortified Position at 14th level upgrades your turrets so that they radiate half-cover to allies within 10 feet. This is deep video-game aesthetics here, and I have a hard time fitting it with what I want to see as a standard in D&D – even Eberron, frankly. And yes, I saw Keith Baker’s name in the credits for this document. It’s okay if I’m alone or wrong on this, but I’d like to see the visual concept behind turrets get reworked.
    • Anyway, you also get a second free turret each long rest, and you can run two turrets at the same time, and you can fire both of them with the same bonus action. This is a great step up in your sustained damage output, but it takes two actions to get to that point.

And that’s the Artillerist. Its aesthetic is not for me. A wand-slinger concept, I’m all good with. The turrets aren’t what I’d look for in that mission statement. They do more or less fit the combat-engineer concept behind the subclass name, of course! So like I say, it’s okay if everyone but me loves this.

 

Infusions

There are eight infusions, one of which is also 48 separate infusions. All of them are temporary magic items of one kind or another, and as a result there’s a ton of room to fine-tune your personal or party gear loadout.

Boots of the Winding Path let the wearer snap back to a place they’ve been earlier that round, up to 15 feet away, as a bonus action. I like what these offer for skirmisher play, though I do worry about any major increase in combat teleportation.

Enhanced Defense grants armor or a shield a +1 AC bonus, +2 at 12th level. This is amazing at low levels, and probably still strong in the late game.

Enhanced Weapon, uh, does the thing that you’d expect if you read the infusion right before this.

Many-Handed Pouch turns a group of 2-5 pouches into shared space. I absolutely love this item for its heist applications and its story potential, but I’m betting that most artificer PCs won’t quite be able to justify this in their selections or uses. If they made it a little larger than a pouch, it would be your Guild Bank item.

Radiant Weapon gives a weapon +1 to attack and damage, and a 1/short rest reaction to blind an attacker that hits you. There aren’t a lot of per-short-rest magic item features out there, so this is interesting to see.

Replicate Magic Item duplicates an existing item from the DMG, from a list of 48 options. The options are broken into baseline, 12th-level and higher, and 16th-level and higher. I appreciate the inclusion of whether or not the item requires attunement. I do take issue with how much time and energy the artificer’s player needs to put into reading the magic item section of the DMG. Also, each magic item is a unique infusion to learn, and you can change your infusions only when you gain an artificer level. I feel like that might be even more choice paralysis than picking new Spells Known when you gain a bard, sorcerer, or warlock level. (Also, this is as good a time as any to rehash the Problem of Ogre Power, since those items are in this list.)

Resistant Armor does, indeed, make one suit of armor grant resistance to one non-B/P/S damage flavor. Solidly useful, and I like that there are multiple options within a single infusion rather than getting purchased separately.

Returning Weapon gives one thrown weapon +1 to attack and damage, and makes it return to your hand instantly after it hits or misses. One of the few ways you might get all of your Extra Attacks with a thrown weapon!

What infusions bring to the table is some really nice sustained power, and/or some great utility functions from magic items the DM might not think to hand out.

 

New Spell

There’s also one new spell in the document, called arcane weapon. This spell adds 1d6 elemental (acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder) damage to a weapon the caster wields, for a concentration or 1 hour duration. You can change the damage flavor every round. This is a 1st-level spell. Let’s benchmark it against elemental weapon real quick… 3rd level, makes the weapon +1 to attack and damage, not self-only, and +1d4 damage.

Those two extra spell levels are way over-paying for the very few places where elemental weapon is better than arcane weapon. I also think arcane weapon needs to become accessible to Eldritch Knights, and lots of Valor bards are going to be all up in its business with Magical Secrets. Anyway, I like arcane weapon and I think it’s a big help to melee artificers, but its Concentration duration is extra painful with all the Concentration spells that appear on the artificer list.

 

Conclusion

You can kind of think of the class as 3-4 different streams of effectiveness all trying to add up to something useful: spellcasting, weapon combat (or not), subclass, and infusions. Individually modest in power, it’s up to the player to figure out how to weave them together into something great. It looks to me like the artificer has an unusually hard time with burst effectiveness, and their half-caster status guarantees that – even the Artillerist’s big damage spells come later in the campaign, without many higher-level slots to spend on extra damage.

The result, then, is that the concepts in this document are cool, especially the Alchemist and its homunculus, but I still think it’s missing something. I hope that its next UA version or official release keeps most of the same ideas, but with maybe 25% more throughput and some clearer options for burst damage. I like that this supports a Swiss-army-knife approach to play; I think that part is on-message. But it would take a certain kind of table culture to give MacGyver here the time and information he needs to shine – especially when a lot of those tricks are about letting you avoid combat.