Now that my review copy of Eberron: Rising from the Last War has arrived, I’m starting my breakdown of it by finishing up the History of the Artificer series. As a reminder, this class went through multiple rounds of public playtesting in Unearthed Arcana (v1, v2, v3). I’ll write this on the assumption you haven’t read all of those, but if you want some extra context, they may be interesting.
The concept of this class is industrialized magic, for various specific industries. It draws on mad science characters and concepts, to some degree. The subclasses map fairly well to Big Pharma, Stark Industries, and a puppy farm for purebred (…alloybred) steelhounds. I’m sorry we lost some of the weirder concepts from those UA documents, but I wouldn’t say I’m shocked. If anything, I’m happy that UA bothered to get more experimental and just… see what the surveys said. (But the Onomancer not getting more love from the surveys is still a damn crime.)
- d8 Hit Die. There was never any way this was going to be any other size.
- Proficiency in light and medium armor, shields, and simple weapons. If your setting includes firearms, as Eberron does not, artificers are proficient with them.
- Proficiency in thieves’ tools, tinker’s tools, and one more type of artisan’s tools.
- Proficiency in Constitution and Intelligence saving throws.
- Two skills from a short-ish and Int-heavy list. For artificers, much like wizards, not picking Arcana is probably an unforced error.
- Magical Tinkering is essentially a special set of utility cantrips: a small-area light rune, an audio recording, a small-area Smell-O-Vision (the snozzberries taste like snozzberries, is what I’m saying) or white-noise machine, or a projected image and recorded message (“help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi…”). I’m sure people will come up with clever things to do with this, like making rivals in social situations smell like cat pee or sound like they’re constantly farting or something.
- Spellcasting: Artificers are half-casters, sharing a spell progression with paladins and rangers. They do get cantrips, and they know all spells of spell levels they can cast like clerics, druids, and paladins. Intelligence is their spellcasting ability, of course. They also gain Ritual Casting. They require thieves’ tools or any kind of artisan’s tools as their spellcasting focus; starting at 2nd level, they can use any item they have infused as a spellcasting implement.
- The artificer spell list is substantially tilted toward wizard spells, but with some cleric spells (guidance, cure wounds, lesser restoration, sanctuary, ) A sidebar encourages you to describe all of your spell effects as doing something with alchemy, a magical gadget, or instant-onset item enchantment.
- Infuse Item at 2nd level lets you turn a number of objects into magic items of various kinds. You learn 4 infusions, which increases to 12. This starts with infusing 2 items at a time, eventually increasing to 6. You infuse items as part of a long rest, and if you exceed your maximum number of simultaneous infusions, your earliest one loses its power. I still wish you could pick which one to drop, so that you wouldn’t have to cycle through re-infusing everything.
- You pick which type of Artificer Specialist you are at 3rd level.
- Right Tool for the Job at 3rd level lets you conjure any kind of artisan’s tools for an hour as long as you have tinker’s tools. Personally, I like this best if your “tinker’s tools” are a magical toolbelt.
- Ability Score Increases at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th, as is standard.
- Tool Expertise at 6th level grants you expertise with every kind of tool you’re proficient with.
- Flash of Genius at 7th level lets you add your Int bonus to an ability check or saving throw that you or any creature within 30 feet makes, Int modifier times per long rest. This is solid support for artificer-as-support-class, to me.
- Magic Item Adept at 10th level gives you a fourth magic item attunement slot, and you quarter the creation time and halve the creation cost of common and uncommon magic items. I appreciate basically any effort to make magic item crafting more doable in the course of a game without multi-year downtimes.
- Spell-Storing Item at 11th level lets you imbue a weapon with a 1st– or 2nd-level artificer spell, as part of a long rest. You can hand off the weapon, and the person who activates the spell is responsible for concentrating on it. The item can produce the spell a number of times equal to twice your Int modifier. Invisibility and cure wounds are both incredible options here – giving your party an extra 10d8+50 healing per day is an incredible power move even in the late game.
- Magic Item Savant at 14th level grants a fifth attunement slot, and you can attune and use any magic item regardless of class, race, spell knowledge or ability, and level.
- Magic Item Master at 18th level gives you that clutch sixth attunement slot. Even if your campaign is stingy on magic items, your infusions can cover you here.
- Soul of Artifice is your 20th-level capstone, granting a +1 bonus to all saving throws for every magic item you have attuned, and you can withdraw the power of an infusion to drop to 1 hit point rather than 0 whenever you aren’t killed outright. This is an astounding survivability feature, even at 20th level.
The class delivers on several different approaches to support: providing magic items, healing, and reactive bonuses to saves and checks. The main thing that isn’t here is a clear approach to combat. You could lean on attack cantrips, but you don’t get improved cantrip damage or anything else to support that. Instead, your combat style primarily comes from your subclass.
Thematically, doing a bunch of different things with magic items always (i.e., going back to 3.5e) communicates less than it should. It’s hard to anchor five different “good at magic items” features in a narrative, and there’s not a strong enough metaphorical relationship between that and anything better supported in related fantasy fiction. To put that another way, what does any of this mean in the context of a fantasy mad scientist? They don’t attune magic items, they don’t interface with detailed prerequisites to use magic items… it’s not bad, it’s just a stark contrast between the artificer and other classes. Instead, all of the key thematic work happens in the subclasses.
It’s interesting that they declare Alchemy to be the eldest of the artificer traditions, mostly because that poses the question of how artificing got started as a whole practice. I dunno, odds are that Keith Baker has written about that in Eberron at some point.
- Tool Proficiency adds alchemist’s supplies to your proficiency list, or gives you a new one if you started with that. That latter clause is nice to see, since it makes no sense at all for you to use alchemist’s supplies for the first time when you reach 3rd
- Each artificer subclass adds ten new spells, two at each spell level, as artificer spells for you. The Alchemist spells point toward both healing and attack spells – not just healing word, mass healing word, and raise dead, but also flaming sphere, acid arrow, blight, and cloudkill. They all strike me as on-theme.
- But to be clear, no charm person – this isn’t Your Chemical Romance, after all.
- Experimental Elixir lets you make a free potion each day, which lasts until you finish another long rest. Its effect is random, taken from a d6 table of widely varying benefits. It’s not stated explicitly that its effect stays unknown to you, so I assume you can figure out the effect. You get more free elixirs per day (2 at 6th, 3 at 15th). Also, you can choose the effects if you spend a 1st-level spell slot. The effects available are pretty good: healing, various combat buffs, and 10-minute alter self.
- As a result, one of the Alchemist’s features is to cast a alter self with a 1st-level slot, if you don’t mind a shorter duration. As far as I can tell, neither this nor any of the effects here cost anyone their concentration, which is a great benefit.
- Alchemical Savant at 5th level adds your Int modifier to your healing or damage for one roll of each spell you cast with your alchemist’s supplies. The damage effect only works for acid, fire, necrotic, or poison damage spells – on-message for the Alchemist Spells, but very constraining to your attack cantrip selection.
- Restorative Reagents at 9th level improves your Experimental Elixirs feature. Your healing elixirs now also grant a bunch of temporary hit points, making it a bit more appealing to spend an action to use an elixir in the middle of a fight. Further, you get (Int modifier) free castings of lesser restoration per long rest. This is, obviously, a great support feature for stretching the effectiveness of your half-caster spell slots.
- Chemical Mastery at 15th level is a classic resistance-through-exposure feature, which shows up in a lot of alchemist concepts. You gain resistance to acid and poison, and immunity (grr…) to the poisoned condition. You also get one free casting of heal or greater restoration per long rest. It’s sort of doing for you what Mystic Arcana do for warlocks, but in a very constrained way.
The gameplay of the Alchemist specialist looks fun, but I’m concerned about their lack of big late-game effects, especially if they’re trying to play as a primary healer. I think they’ll be relying heavily on scrolls of 6th+ level spells, and their magic item creation mechanics just won’t keep that going. Eberron emphasizes ubiquitous low-end magic and rare high-end magic, but I’m not sure that hard-coding that into the artificer and its subclasses serves the player well.
It’s not at all surprising to find an Artillerist specialist in the years immediately following the Last War. There’s been some kind of gun- or technically-not-a-gun-based artificer subclass since the first UA appearance, some of which were much more about turret placement than anything else.
- Tool Proficiency gives you proficiency with woodcarver’s tools, or some other set of artisan’s tools if you already have those.
- Artillerist Spells are a blend of damaging evocations (surprisingly, not including magic missile) and shielding/wall-building spells.
- Eldritch Cannon is the primary feature here, and it manages to cover both turret-building and magical guns. You make one for free per long rest, or you can spend a spell slot to make another one (but, at 3rd level, you can only have one at a time). If you make a turret, it can be mobile or not, as you prefer; if you make a gun, you can hold it in one hand. You activate your cannon as a bonus action, which makes it an incredible part of your round-by-round actions. You choose one of three effects:
- Flamethrower is… essentially burning hands but an average of 1.5 less damage. Every round, as a bonus action. Not that bad in the first round or two, but if you can keep positioning yourself to hit 2+ enemies every round, this adds up in a hurry.
- Force Ballista is a single-target shot, nice long range, for 2d8 damage and a 5-foot push. This never goes out of style.
- Protector generates an aura of positive energy that gives you, itself, and your friends a bunch of temporary hit points, as long as you’re within 10 feet. This is heroism but much, much more so, as long as you can keep your party near the generator.
- In short, every configuration of this feature is incredible. It’s one of the most potent bonus actions I’ve see the game release, so there may be some big new multiclassing combos.
- It takes an action to create one cannon, so think about how far in advance of a fight you can expend that action.
- Arcane Firearm at 5th level lets you personalize a wand, staff, or rod. When you cast an artificer spell using it as your spellcasting focus, one roll of the spell deals +1d8 damage – great for your cantrips, great for your area-effect spells. If Eldritch Cannon wasn’t already a damage kicker, well, here’s another.
- Explosive Cannon at 9th level adds another 1d8 to your cannon’s damage rolls (presumably it doesn’t apply to Protector), and you can detonate your cannon to damage creatures within 20 feet of it. I haven’t played Borderlands, which is a sign of my moral degeneracy, but I feel like this is feature fits some of its classes very well.
- Fortified Position at 15th level causes your cannon to project force around you and your allies within 10 feet, granting half cover. So +2 AC as long as you don’t have half cover from something else. I don’t love granting +2 AC based on whether each creature is within 10 feet or not – it’s something 5e mostly avoids doing. It also lets you create two cannons at once, and activate both with the same bonus action. Yet again, this is an incredible force multiplier for the Artillerist.
The Artillerist has some of the best sustained damage you’re likely to see for a caster – even competing with the warlock. At 15th level, fire bolt + your two cannons could be kicking out 3d10 + 1d8 + 3d8 + 3d8 if everything hits – so averaging 48 damage. Probably the worst I’d say of it is that it’s a lot of dice rolls, especially if saving throws for those flamethrowers are going on.
Destroying everything you see with magic guns and walking turrets is a strong concept and bound to be popular, especially since you don’t have to deal with ammunition or loading. You can also play it as good steady support, if you’re into City of Heroes’ bubble defenders.
Battle Smith Specialist
It’s the story of an artificer and their dogbot, which is a lot more common in video games (such as ReCore) or Shadowrun than D&D-related fantasy. The intro text promises a “protector and medic,” but I’m expecting a secondary healer rather than competition with the Alchemist.
- Tool Proficiency grants proficiency with smith’s tools, or something else (same as the other two subclasses).
- Battle Smith Spells grants a few smite spells, a few personal defenses (shield, fire shield), and a bunch of healing and buffing effects. Overall, you’re sort of a mecha-paladin, and for some of you that word alone has sold you on the subclass.
- Battle Ready grants proficiency in martial weapons, and when your weapon is magical, you can use Int as your attack stat. Always good to see a design that dodges multiple attribute dependency. (Well, you’ll need Con more than most artificers, but two good stats rather than three is a big help.)
- Steel Defender (yes, this is your fourth 3rd-level feature) gives you a dogbot. Technically it can be bipedal or quadrupedal and you can choose its appearance, so I guess you can have a Medium-size catbot instead if that’s your deal. (Or you go ahead and play this as Iron Man: your steel defender is a drone or autopiloted armor.) Anyway, this works a lot like the Beast of the Earth from the recent UA: Class Feature Variants: it Dodges by default, or you can spend your bonus action to make it attack once, heal itself, Dash, Disengage, Help, Hide, or Search. In addition to its self-heal, you can repair 2d6 hit points of damage to it with each casting of mending. You can revive it with 1 minute of work and a 1st-level spell slot. The steel defender also has its own reaction to spend, on either an opportunity attack or imposing disadvantage on an attack targeting an adjacent creature.
- That’s a big block of Stuff, but pet features are always text-intensive. This is a high-AC pet that kicks out respectable damage, is easy to repair, and can’t be surprised.
- Okay, I don’t want this for Eberron, as such, but since a halfling can nominally ride a Medium steel defender, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until someone puts out a variant Battle Smith whose steel defender is an iron horse. It’s a biped, see? The legs are just incidentally shaped like wheels..
- Extra Attack at 5th level, because you’re intended to be a weapon-wielding artificer. (Your spells and infusions do a lot to make that idea more convincing.)
- Arcane Jolt at 9th level lets either deal extra damage or heal a nearby creature when you or your steel defender hit a target, up to (Int modifier) times per long rest. We don’t see a lot of 4e-like features where you stab someone to heal your buddy, and I think the magical narrative here isn’t as good as it could be, but the gameplay itself should be fun. Overall, you’re looking at distributing 10d6 between extra damage and healing, in 2d6 chunks.
- Improved Defender at 15th level increases your Arcane Jolt to 4d6, adds 2 to your steel defender’s AC (bringing it up to a respectable 17), and deals a splash of damage to attackers that trigger your steel defender’s Deflect Attack reaction (regardless of whether they hit or miss).
I’m not sure this is quite as impressive at the top end as the Artillerist, and I’ve already noted concerns about the Alchemist’s late game. An extra 20d6 “discretionary” damage or healing is great, don’t get me wrong – it’s situationally almost competitive with Lay on Hands. I’m not sure your weapon options keep pace with spending that action to cast an attack cantrip after 11th level, especially if you want to use your Concentration for things other than smite spells. That said, the gameplay is probably fun even when the damage output doesn’t quite keep up, and the tactical benefits of the steel defender are more nuanced than simple damage numbers.
There are 10 artificer infusions, though as with a previous UA, Replicate Magic Item is actually a whole ton of different unique infusions, learned separately.
Boots of the Winding Path are a short-range teleport to someplace you’ve already been this round, for a bonus action. Great for hit-and-run attacks, especially if you started the turn behind cover.
Enhanced Arcane Focus adds +1 (+2 at 10th) to your spell attack rolls with the item, and you ignore half cover. There’s no excuse for not starting with this as an Artillerist.
Enhanced Defense gives a suit of armor or a shield an extra +1 AC (+2 at 10th level). This is a good buy for any artificer, but especially the Battle Smith. (Side note: I assume we’ll see a lot of subclass-specific infusions in future DM’s Guild or official releases. Side note to the side note: I dearly hope that WotC doesn’t forget the artificer in future crunch books.)
Enhanced Weapon adds +1 (+2 at 10th level) to a weapon’s attack and damage.
Homunculus Servant is functionally an artificer’s find familiar option. You can have both a homunculus and a steel defender, and that’s definitely adorable, but I wouldn’t be able to resist having this Tiny construct in the turret of an Eldritch Cannon. It has most of the same pet rules as a steel defender, but far fewer hit points, lower AC, and deals less damage. This is much more about scouting or delivering touch spells with its Channel Magic feature than adding combat damage.
Radiant Weapon makes a weapon +1 to attack and damage, glowing, and able to blind a creature that you hit. Blinding the creature costs your reaction rather than being free, which seems odd to me. It’s also weird that it regains 1d4 charges daily at dawn… or you could just re-infuse it and have the full 4 charges.
Repeating Shot makes the ranged weapon a +1 weapon, ignores its loading quality, and lets it create its own ammunition if you don’t load the weapon. This is great for ranged Battle Smiths, and not terribly relevant for other artificers – though if you’re outfitting the party, it also makes crossbows or flintlocks good for classes with Extra Attack again, but most PCs won’t build their weapon choices around whether or not you decide to pick up this one infusion.
Replicate Magic Item lets you make a whole list of things, some of which are found later in this book. If you’re looking for more attunement items to fill out your extra slots, there are a lot of attunement items here, so you can just learn this infusion a whole lot. You learn enough infusions that every artificer is picking this at least a couple of times.
Repulsion Shield turns a shield into a +1 shield and gives it 4 charges of 15-foot knockback. Much like the radiant weapon, it regains 1d4 charges at dawn, or you could re-infuse it.
Resistant Armor gives a suit of armor resistance to one non-B/P/S damage type.
Returning Weapon basically does for thrown weapons what repeating shot does for ammunition weapons. +1 to attack and damage, and you can use Extra Attack with it now.
That’s the official 5e artificer for you. I like how it has matured from the initial UA releases. It looks like it would be fun at the table. Just understand going in that you don’t have the incredible, game-changing effects of high-level spells at your disposal, so you’ll need to go wide with your solutions to problems. (Well, probably not the Artillerist.) You do have tons of different ways to address a normal variety of D&D problems, but (for instance) rakshasas are outright immune to artificer spellcasting.
In terms of the evolution of the class, it’s changed wildly from its earliest conceptual roots in gnomish or Zakharan mad science. 3.5 made it entirely about creating and using magic items and metamagic, while 4e focused on weird alchemical, rune inscription, and device-based solutions, with just a few nods to superior use of magic items. The 5e artificer has a lot of structural kinship to the 3.5 version, plus more thematic touchstones in the subclasses. It doesn’t offer the game-breaking scrolls that are the 3.5 artificer’s high-level spellcasting.
More than most classes, I love how 5e’s subclasses carry a playstyle and differ widely from one another. Much like I said of Rich Howard’s alchemist class in Parts Five and Six of this series, the subclasses have a very strong sense of identity, and I’m excited to see people (official and otherwise) imagine more variations in this space.
Finally: it would be unbelievably cool to play an artificer in Descent into Avernus, working as a greasemonkey to maintain your party’s infernal war machine. Or, if the Powers that Be ever bring about a 5e Spelljammer, it would be amazing to play a Kaylee (Firefly) or Ed (Cowboy Bebop) knock-off, maintaining your spelljammer.