The Artificer Class, Part Four
Now that GenCon 2019 is done, I can come back to the History of the Artificer. This week we’re taking on 4e and the Eberron Player’s Guide. By coincidence this is the one version of the artificer I’ve seen in actual use at the table. (There were no artificers in the one 3.5 Eberron campaign I played.)
Part Zero | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Eberron Player’s Guide
This is the second Arcane Leader class of 4e. Making the artificer a Leader is a little bit of an odd choice if you take only a surface look at the 3.5 artificer – no obvious healing features other than repair light damage for construct repair. Healing is, after all, the core of the Leader role. On the other hand, they are superlative buff casters. Further, a wand of cure light wounds is the de facto short rest mechanic of 3.5, and artificers are great at using those, and making them at 7th level. The artificer’s secondary role is control.
In the 3.5 article, I didn’t really get into the whole dynamic of repair light damage and warforged needing different types of healers than other characters. It’s a significant part of the challenge of playing a warforged in 3.5 – you’re dependent on arcane casters for your healing.
The narrative of this class is nominally the same as the 3.5 artificer, but the nature of 4e classes and powers makes that hard to support. That doesn’t mean it’s bad – far from it! It’s just that a power that makes a magic item that you use instantly, or that charges your existing weapon with a function that you use immediately, doesn’t feel anything like taking large stretches of downtime to plan out which magic item tricks you’re putting in your toolbelt.
- 12 + Constitution score hit points at 1st level, +5 per level thereafter. That’s on par with rogues.
- 6 + Con modifier healing surges per day. It helps that Constitution is one of the artificer’s favored secondary abilities.
- Proficient with cloth and leather armor, simple melee weapons, and simple ranged weapons. Cutting shields out of the mix is a surprise, but the 4e artificer goes all in on keeping their distance.
- They can use rods, staffs, and wands as spellcasting implements. There’s also a feat in Dragon 381, Crossbow Caster, that lets you treat your crossbow as a casting implement. Both of the artificers I saw in use went for Crossbow Caster.
- Arcana is automatically trained, and they add four more trained skills to that. A total of five trained skills is pretty generous.
- +1 Fortitude, +1 Will.
- Arcane Empowerment lets gives you a 1/milestone ability to either recharge a magic item’s daily power (which you can only do once per day to a given item), or grant a weapon or implement a +2 bonus to one attack made with it. Gaining that +2 bonus is a free action declared after the roll, so that you won’t waste it.
- Arcane Rejuvenation adds a rider to using the daily power of any of your party’s magic items: in addition to its other effects, the user gains temporary hit points equal to half your level + your Int modifier. That’s pretty great, and gets rapidly better in combination with Arcane Empowerment. You also have to get down into the nitty-gritty of daily magic item use limits, though.
- As a reminder: heroic PCs can use 1 daily power per day, paragon PCs two, and epic PCs 3. That’s a pretty tight limit!
- Healing Infusion is your Healing Word-like feature. 2/short rest, up to 3 at 16th Your Wisdom increases the healing done with the Curative Admixture version, but there’s also a Resistive Formula option that grants +1 AC until the end of the encounter. The target can end that bonus to gain temporary hit points equal to their healing surge value + your Con modifier. Neither of these options costs a healing surge to use on the spot, but you have to spend healing surges to regain uses during a short rest.
- Shifting who pays the healing surge and when is a huge part of this feature. You get to smooth out big differences in healing surge expenditure. I also like the potential reading where you’re drawing blood from your allies and alchemically transforming it into healing or bolstering potions.
- Ritual Casting gives you a nice list of item creation-related rituals, and lets you cast them. The item creation rules of 4e are very different (that’ll be a whole other series someday), but in a very real way this stands in for the majority of the 3.5 artificer’s class features.
- For a lot of 4e and 5e classes, Ritual Casting is a peripheral feature – something you come close to forgetting you can do. Not so for the artificer – the text strongly encourages you to pick up the Alchemist feat so that you’re making alchemical items at your level or lower. This is a huge variety of ways to throw money at your enemies to make them go away, as well as other great functionality for your utility belt.
The two suggested builds are the Tinkerer and the Battlesmith. These signal the stories they’re trying to emphasize with the class. Tinkerers use Wis more than Con (so Wis powers are contributing more to this story), while Battlesmiths are the opposite. The main difference that the text talks about here is that Tinkerers make arcane constructs, while Battlesmiths do more with weapons and armor.
As usual, I won’t be covering the artificer’s powers individually – in the ECG alone, there are enough to keep me here all week. Let’s hit a few high points, though, because they’re interesting and weird. I can’t help but notice how much of the flavor text of these powers would fit seamlessly into the runepriest. That’s not a bad thing – it suggests a society and aesthetic where two of the main spellcaster types operate on magical runes.
- Arcane springboard turns a piece of cloth into a trampoline so that your allies can jump on it. You can hang it in midair to let your allies double-jump, and that second jump is going to be at least 2-3 squares.
- Animate arbalester turns a crossbow into a flying turret. Making the turret fire costs your minor action and deals respectable damage. You could think of it as a ranged spiritual weapon.
- Bag of the four winds delights my Greek-myth-reading heart. Naturally, we’ll be putting one in as a magic item in Seas of Vodari.
It’s not hard to read these paragon paths as the precursors of subclass concepts we’ll want to see in a 5e artificer. The ECG gives us the Alchemist Savant, the Battle Engineer, the Clockwork Engineer, and the Self-Forged. The Alchemist Savant does pretty much what it says on the tin. I love the idea of its spell magnet that reduces your enemies’ defenses against your arcane powers. The Battle Engineer favors weapon-wielding artificers – to my eyes, all but indistinguishable from a swordmage with the Leader role. The Clockwork Engineer goes deep on arcane constructs. The Self-Forged lets a non-warforged artificer upgrade some of their meatbag parts, starting with a battlefist to smash things to death with. Oh, and one more: the Cannith Mastermaker isn’t explicitly an artificer paragon path, but it’s close.
Of these, I dearly want to see a 5e Self-Forged artificer subclass, or maybe a feat, because… uh, it’s Robocop in Eberron. How could I not want to see the magitech of Eberron cross into cybernetics? The Alchemist Savant is already a subclass, while the Battle Engineer and Clockwork Engineer get remixed considerably into the Artillerist and the Battle Smith.
I’m not covering it here, but there’s a cool traps-based artificer build in Dragon Magazine #403, by Doug Hyatt. Characters that go deep on building and using traps in combat are hard to do well, but I’d still love to see support for it in the 5e artificer.
Why was this class as popular with my gaming community as it was? Once you and the DM agree that your crossbow is just a rules representation of a shotgun, the appeal explains itself. It’s also an incredibly varied class – never topping the charts on damage output, but that’s literally not its job. For healing, buffing-with-damage, and utility, it’s phenomenal.
It formally covers the same bases as the 3.5 artificer, but inverts the amount of weight that it gives them. All of those 4e attack powers stand in for the 3.5 version’s infusions. Infusions are a major part of the 3.5 artificer, to be sure, but it’s easy to lose sight of that as item creation feats rain down around you. The 4e artificer hides vast functionality under the Ritual Casting feature, while showcasing its attack and utility powers and other features.
The class fits in with other tinkerers, clockwork mages, and artificers if and only if you embrace the idea that they put in unspecified work during downtime, and exert magical power on that work to make it do all kinds of neat stuff in combat. Here in particular, the player and DM need to bring extra effort to the table to describe the artificer’s actions, both in and out of combat. Like every article in this series so far, this version uses subsystems that you could spend a ton of time, er, tinkering with. It gives players a huge amount of homework – or lonely fun, if you prefer – in order to play the class as intended.
Next time in the History of the Artificer, I’ll be covering Rich Howard’s alchemist, which includes the Artificer as a subclass. As of current writing, that will be the temporary end of the series, until WotC releases an official, final version of the class – presumably in both Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and the forthcoming Eberron hardback.