Back in 2015, Wizards of the Coast unveiled their first Unearthed Arcana article (click here), the subject was Eberron. Eberron was a world crafted Keith Baker after winning the Fantasy Setting Search contest by Wizards. The world introduced many themes, iconic races, mechanics, and classes. A world full of high magic with rich and detailed cultures, the pantheon was rather clear-cut, but it was the unique aspects of the setting that made Eberron so beloved. From the construct race such as the Warforged, to Dragonmarked feats, multitudes of magical items, the Action Points mechanic, and finally the infamous Artificer class. The flavor and feel for the setting was typically steampunk mixed with noir and exploration adventure elements. When the campaign setting book mentions Casablanca, and Raiders of the Lost Ark as movies for inspiration, you know you’re in for a good time.

Out of the Eberron Unearthed Arcana, many fans clamored with hope and ambition that Wizards of the Coast would soon revisit the iconic setting and give it the 5th Edition ruleset polish. While the Forgotten Realms is still one of the most popular D&D settings, Eberron has always had a strong following and many returning D&D fans were hopeful once they saw that Wizards were still thinking things over for the beloved setting. Unfortunately, the response from fans across various mediums like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit all shared a general conscious: the Artificer class was horribly misplaced and ill-conceived. Granted most Unearthed Arcana materials are traditionally playtest samples and normally are implied to need further development but the one presented to the community almost two years ago was more of a proof of concept more than playtest worthy. Another problem was the loss of flavor and implementation when associated as a Wizard tradition instead of being its own standalone concept. At the time, the design philosophy for 5th Edition was to create archetypes or subclasses that felt like iconic classes in previous editions but ultimately it felt too hollow of a representation of the iconic class.

I can spend most this article discussing the shortfalls of the first Artificer class, but that’s what we’re doing today. We’re looking a brand new standalone Artificer class crafted and given out to playtest. Just like the previous Unearthed Arcana, there is a survey for the previous Paladin oaths (you can check out my review on them here).

Click to do the Paladin survey here.

Click for the Artificer playtest material here.

Cunning Inventors – Magic meets Mad Science…finally!

Artificers have been a unique blend of magic and technical prowess, having the knowledge and skills of science to augment magical applications and theories. In the original 3.5 Edition of the Artificer, they did not cast spells but rather infused magical energy into items to grant them power or spell-like properties to be used later. Artificers in the previous editions were sometimes support characters that empowered their allies weaponry and armor before a fight, while unleashing a torrent of offensive magical items on their enemies.

The Artificer in this iteration has two specializations: Alchemist and Gunsmith. The Alchemist crafts potions and reagents on the fly, ranging from alchemical fires and acids to healing draughts to smoke sticks. The Gunsmith allows the Artificer to craft a special firearm called the Thunder Cannon, or as I referred to it as the “Boomstick”.

Ash is honestly a mid-level Artificer
Ash is honestly a mid-level Artificer

As an early adaptation of the class, the two offered specializations have two distinct play styles. The Alchemist befits a more blaster style of play, where the Artificer might fill as more artillery role similar to a Sorcerer or Wizard. The Gunsmith has a mix of ranged combat with some battlefield control elements, most of the features utilize the special Thunder Cannon firearm. Ultimately the playstyles start out unique and divergent and by the time they reach 17th-level, the features and abilities have the semblance of full-fledged casters.

Magic Item Analysis. The ability to cast detect magic and identify as rituals fits perfectly with a class that deals with so many magical implements. While 5th Edition seems more conservative with magical item distribution, this class prepares the incoming Artificer with what will be their daily task for hours on end at the end of every dungeon or expedition.

Tool Expertise. Having the ability to double the proficiency bonus when using tools, especially with Thieves’ Tools, is quite useful and thematic.

Wondrous Invention. In 3.5 Edition, the Artificer had a reserve built into its mechanics to allow for the creation of magical items. Magic Item creation is not as different from 3.5 however in those previous editions, the feature was often powerful and abusive especially when later supplemental products produced powerful inexpensive items. To mitigate any future repercussions, this rendition has a strict list of magic items the Artificer can make which are unlocked as the Artificer advances in level. By 20th-level, the Artificer will have a total of 5 such inventions, all of which are largely utility items with several granting mobility to a class that does not normally have magical means of travel. These items grant the Artificer features and abilities that some spellcasters have access to or are capable of performing, especially at higher levels.

Infuse Magic. Artificers have the ability to impart magical effects into mundane, nonmagical items, allowing them to use their effects for later or to given a character that does not have the means to cast spells, like the Fighter or Rogue for example. The Artificer imparts an artificer spell to a nonmagical item, note that it specifically refers to an Artificer spell, this way we don’t have the issues with putting fireballs into pebbles and handing them fighters to collectively throw at the enemy. The spell slot is expended but the effect stays within the object for 8 hours or until used. The Artificer can infuse a number of times equal to their Intelligence modifier, with an Intelligence of 20, the Artificer can infuse at most 5 times at the same time. Note it states nothing about uses or expending uses, which means that at present it is a static number of items. Granted, the Artificer still has to spend 1 minute to infuse the spell into the item, so in combat this would impractical but outside when the party has time to prepare for an encounter, this is very powerful boon especially for spells like haste or stoneskin.

Superior Attunement. When I first saw this feature, my mouth dropped. I had always thought about incorporating such an idea in a class before, even when I attempted several different forms of the Artificer as a Wizard tradition (which were all terrible but some features were interesting and ended up being used elsewhere). Attunement is the one magic item mechanic that keeps adventuring parties from getting out of the control and magic item heavy like in previous editions. In 3.5 Edition, there was not such mechanic other than what was bonding with the magic item; 4th-edition was not much different other than using an intricate tier system and levels to offset the expected performances of a party. The Artificer by 15th-level can attune up to 5 magic items, that is quite potent and potentially backbreaking. Thankfully, class restrictions still have a ploy in keeping this feature from getting completely out of control but I can easily foresee the dreadful combination of Cloak of Invisibility, a Dancing Weapon, Slippers of Spider Climbing, with Wands of Fireballs and Lightning Bolts. There are going be some rampant explosions and flying swords all over the place. This feature thematically and mechanically fits a class that benefits from using magical items, the potential abuse is the only thing that the DM needs to consider carefully when handing out loot.

Mechanical Servant. The Artificer is just not quite the same with out some clockwork buddy to help along. This servant can be any Large or smaller sized beast with a challenge rating of 2 or lower. Please note that an Allosaurus is actually a Large sized CR 2 beast, which honestly is kinda awesome of a visual. The artificer riding into battle with essentially Grimlock (from Transformers), and this servant keeps all their statistics including their special attacks and multiattack which is a complete departure from the conservative approach placed on the revised Ranger several months back (article on the Revised Ranger here) where they removed Multiattack so that the animal companion would not outclass the Fighters and Barbarians. Well the Artificer is the exception apparently, though to be fair, the Artificer does not gain access to the Extra Attack feature unlike the Ranger so it fits better here where the Artificer is closer in vein to a Rogue or Bard character with limited attacks but plenty of options. So while this initially felt powerful, the limiting factor is indeed the fact that the Artificer does not have any other form of extra attacks during the Attack action. In a way, this makes the Artificer have a pseudo role in providing a minor tank or offensive role especially if the group is light on such characters.

Soul of Artifice. So to push the envelope even further, the Artificer can now attune to six magic items at once and gain a +1 bonus to all saving throws for each attuned item. At maximum capacity, the Artificer gains a +6 bonus to all saving throws. For a capstone feature, this is probably the most ideal for the class given that it reinforces the connectivity with magic items and ultimately grants the character a bonus for doing something they already possess or perform.

Spells. So Artificers can cast spells this iteration, which is very reminiscent to the Infusions table seen previously in 3.5 Edition. While the Artificer does not learn any cantrips, their spells known and spell slot progression is essentially the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster but minus the extra spells they learn through their careers. Most of the spells are buffs or utility spells, with a few of them useful for out of combat situations like Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum to name a few.

Oh Boy! Specializations!

The Artificer specialization are broken into two types: alchemy and engineering (the Gunsmith).

Alchemist – Mixologist of D&D

The Alchemist’s Satchel is an interesting feature to justify the Alchemist’s ability to conjure various concoctions in the midst of battle. Essentially it’s a magical satchel that the Artificer creates to house dozens of reagents that are “prepared” ahead of time to be used in a moment’s notice. There is even a nice mechanic placed within it regarding replacing the satchel.

An alchemist’s trade is their knowledge of Alchemical Formulas, learning the basic Alchemical Fire and Alchemical Acid along with a third option. By 17th-level, the Alchemist will have learned all the available formulas in the class. I appreciate that the Alchemical Fire, Acid, and Healing Draught are scaled to Artificer level which allows the features to remain relevant in the higher level tiers. A 19th-level Alchemist can use an action to deal 7d6 fire damage whenever they use the Alchemist Fire formula or half on a successful Dexterity saving throw. Some might consider this scaling to be more abusive than a Wizard that chooses fireball as their Signature Spell at 20th level. Honestly, the potential damage is about 21 points on a failed save while a successful save reduces that average to almost 11 fire damage. Fire damage is one of the most common elemental damage types and there are plenty of creatures with resistance to fire. The Alchemical Formulas grant a type of role that befits a secondary caster from an offensive standpoint, while also giving allies to receive a big one-time per rest healing draught when absolutely necessary. Really useful if an allied went unconscious and the Alchemist whipped a healing draught since the ally cannot gain the benefits of the Healing Draught feature again until after they have finished a long rest. The other battlefield control formulas have a “cooldown” of 1 minute with the exception of Thunderstone.

I enjoy the variety of options the Alchemist ends up gaining over the course of their career, I’m sure there will be other options once players have more opportunities to play with this particular specialization. My thought about expanding the specialization would be to include the ability to infuse the Artificer’s spells into potions, especially spells that can be made into potions. Potions that grant haste or even stoneskin seem applicable. Granted certain spells would be applicable like arcane eye or fabricate but I can assume there is a way to word it to allow the Alchemist to make draughts and potions infused with their spells. This would most likely be an Alchemical Formula, perhaps only limited to specific spells, most of them involve targets with either a range of Self or Touch or a creature, in which case those might be the clauses needed for such a formula to work. The Artificer’s spell list isn’t perfect either but it does garner some ideas especially with potion-making.

Gunsmith – This is my Boomstick! 

The Master Smith grants the Gunsmith proficiency with smith tools and the mending cantrip which is quite useful for repairing things like their firearm for example.

The Gunsmith crafts a powerful firearm called a Thunder Cannon that out damages crossbows and other bows, it reminds me of the equivalent of a double-barrel shotgun since it requires to be reloaded after each firing. Along with Arcane Magazine, the Gunsmith has the tools and means to store ammunitions for the Thunder Cannon. Just like the Alchemist’s Satchel, there are rules and mechanics governing replacements should the Artificer have need for it.

The Thunder Monger feature is quite a potent ability, granting the Gunsmith a special ranged attack that deals additional thunder damage which scales up to 9d6 points worth of extra damage. Let’s see from a mathematical view what this grants. If the Thunder Cannon deals normally 2d6 plus the Artificer’s Dexterity modifier, than an additional 9d6 at 19th-level would mean an average of 37 = 33 (average of 11d6) plus a +4 Dexterity modifier. A fighter of equal level has four attacks per Attack action, assuming the Fighter is wielding a Greatsword, that 2d6+4 (assuming a Strength of 18) with each successful hit which equates to roughly 36 points of damage on average. It would seem here, this feature is uniquely designed to keep up with more offensive roles like Fighters and Barbarians but with a ranged appeal.

Blast Wave grants the Gunsmith a means to push back creatures that get too close into melee with them. Additionally this feature serves as a battlefield control utility similar to thunderwave. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this feature was largely inspired by it. Piercing Round as a feature is a short-range lightning bolt, dealing 6d6 in a 30-foot line by 19th-level, which gives the Gunsmith some more area of effects to damage and provides a more caster-like feel. Finally, the Explosive Round feature is essentially a specialized mortar for the Gunsmith, dealing half the amount a normal 3rd-level fireball would deal which does not seem like much but makes more sense since the Gunsmith is actually competing with casters when it comes to its features. These final three sets of features ultimately are to grant versatility in combat where traditional roles like Fighters or ranged specialists end up with single target elimination, they can enter into a secondary artillery-like role towards the end of the specialization.

This specialization fits similar to a Rogue class style of play, where the Artificer can be there to deal significant damage similar to a striker or DPS (damage per second) role which is what most rogues and rangers typically specialize. Now we have another DPS role in the Gunsmith, while the Alchemist is single target oriented with some support roles, this specialization is purely offensive with a wider variance of targets. The Gunsmith can still infuse magic and still attune magic items, the only concern that may arise is that since the Thunder Cannon is a weapon that is created by the class, tinkering with it and making it into a +1 weapon will require some talks between the Dungeon Master and the player.

Final Impressions – Is there more?

The Artificer presented to the community nearly two years ago was merely an idea on a possibility that was poorly received by many longtime fans of Eberron. There was just not enough of the original concept to fit as a Wizard tradition and thankfully was given more thought years later. Mike Mearls has been busy answering questions on Twitter about the Artificer, things like multiclass prerequisites and design developments that went into this current incarnation. The Gunsmith for example was originally a separate class idea and was later integrated into the Artificer to reduce the dependency of firearms in a setting, especially homebrewed ones. The great thing that this new class provided was the break from the anticipation of these recent string of Unearthed Arcana articles, there are many eagerly awaiting the Mystic to reappear and I believe that it still might. The Artificer was a class very few anticipated and it has sparked many ideas and discussions, a simple Google search about the new Artificer will provide several threads about the topic easily.

The core class mechanics fit the themes and flavor of the class while still incorporating and preserving the class’s identity through class features. The specializations pay homage to different styles of play while competing with materials reminiscent of Pathfinder ideas such as the Alchemist. While the Gunsmith is no Gunslinger, the idea of a firearms centric class still stems from Paizo’s idea only this time there is inclusion of magic instead of pure engineering. I would have loved the idea of an Artificer with mechanical companions and have personally begun brainstorming what sort of mechanics I could incorporate into this class. These Unearthed Arcana articles always spark new ideas within the community, whether to improve them or allow the community insight into the design development within Wizard’s R&D department. The Artificer additionally sparked renewed hope that perhaps Eberron was not far behind in being introduced into the 5th Edition ruleset, there had been little talk about Eberron since the first article two years ago and it would seem at least some people in Wizards of the Coast felt that it needed more development. I’m more excited about this class than giving any criticism for it, there are some things that may seem inherently powerful that requires more DM oversight and less so from a mechanical standpoint since magic item distribution can be a tricky topic at times. Ultimately this new Artificer has sparked some renewed hope and vigor within the community for the future has in store for this beloved game and franchise.

Again, if you wish to do the Paladin survey click here.

For the Artificer playtest material, click here.

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