«Eberron: Rising from the Last War» has been available already for a few weeks. After getting our own alternate cover, there are many things I’d like to talk about before 2019 ends, but none of them is as important as the final official version for the new class. And, since I’m planning to use it to create a Marvel superhero into a D&D character and I’ll see how to incorporate it into this month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic (in charge of Rising Phoenix Games), I’ve decided to make December 2019 the official Month of the Artificer here at Codex Anathema. And there is no better day to talk about the thirteenth class in the game than a Friday the 13th at 13:13, right?
So… what is an artificer?
Adventurers who become artificers are skilled craftsmen, tapping into the inherent magic in every object in order to contrive special effects totally out of the ordinary. After many revisions via Unearthed Arcana articles, as a playable class the artificer leans towards support, healing and leadership, but doesn’t leave behind firepower nor melee prowess, depending on the specialty.
It isn’t the first in the list, but it’s definitely one of the most notorious things about the class table: the artificer is only a partial spellcaster, which means that as a player you won’t have high-level spells at your disposal (and the game-changing effects that come with them). The spell list is very heterogeneous, since it draws from many different types of effects to the point that it feels like a «greatest hits» compilation, without the best-selling songs. Even if the class only reaches 5th-level spells, the wide arrange of the options makes it a versatile spellcaster with maybe the only drawback of having only two cantrips to select (and you should pick Mending, as I’ll explain later). They can also cast spells as rituals, and they can use their tools as arcane focus. Also, with a decent HD and three tool proficiencies besides simple weapons, shield, light and medium armor, the artificer is well in the middle ground of the classes varieties, just as its spellcasting. Let’s take a look at what makes the artificer a class on its own.
Similar to Prestidigitation or Thaumaturgy, Magical Tinkering is a specialized set of utility effects that can bring audio recording or even a hologram message. Mostly useful for social interaction, I’m pretty sure some DMs will have to deal on tricky players tying to get some combat benefits from it (not me, anyway).
At 2nd level, we get Infuse Item, which helps turn non-magical items into magical prototypes. As you go up in level, you can pick more of them. The main advantage of couse is being able to craft your very own magical items. The number of these you can have is limited by your level, and with one exception, you can’t have more than one object benefiting from the same infusion. Some of these formulas give pretty standard bonuses of +1 (or +2, depending also on your level) to attack rolls or defense scores, but two of them stand out very quickly from the bulk: Homunculus Servant is a strictly better version of a familiar: the small creature that you get (which can be shaped as you want) has flying, can deliver touch spells, has evasion and it even level up with you in terms of attack bonus, AC and hp. Replicate Magic Item allows you to pick among an extensive list of utility items to craft; even if from the beginning the list is not super useful, it gets better and better, including amazing picks such as winged boots (at 10th), amulets of health (at 14th) and gems of seeing (also at 14th). This will be more or less helpful depending on the campaign style that you’re playing, but some staples will definitely be in your selection, like a bag of holding or goggles of night (both available at 2nd level when you get this feature).
At 3rd and 6th levels, we get useful but not game-altering features: The Right Tool for the Job allows you to create whatever artisan’s tools you need in one hour (including a short rest!) and Tool Expertise makes you better at using such tools as long as you know how to use them, doubling your proficiency bonus.
It’s at 7th and 11th level that artificers get the most broken of their abilities: Flash of Genius and Spell-Storing item. With the first, in essence, you solve any problem within a split second by using your reaction to add your Intelligence modifier (keep in mind that Intelligence is the artificer’s spellcasting ability) to any ability check OR saving throw made by you or a creature you can see at 30 feet. Describing it can be a true challenge, but its game effects will make this class a life saver many times a day, since this feature can be used as many times as the bonus is (meaning: their Intelligence modifier). Let’s face it: by level 8, this number will be 5 (starting with a 15 and giving a racial bonus and both score improvements at level 4 and 8 to Intelligence, you’ll have your 20 by then).
Then at 11th level we have the second: with Spell-Storing Item you can choose any 1st or 2nd artificer level and keep it in any object you can use as a spellcasting focus, or even a simple or martial weapon. Best part? The person activating the item can do it twice per Intelligence Modifier (and we know this means ten by now as you’ll have your score at 20 by then) and the same person is the one who keeps concentration on it, so basically you’ll want to apply these for non-spellcasters in their weapons for maximum carnage. Best choices? Absorb elements, Blur, Cure Wounds, Enlarge/Reduce, Invisibility and even, why not, Magic Weapon. Not as broken as it could have been, since it’s limited to low-level spells, but still very powerful. Do the math and just by using Cure Wounds you’re giving more than 10 dice of extra healing to your party.
At three different levels (10th, 14th and 18th), artificers become Magic Item Adepts, then Savants and finally Masters, before reaching Soul of Artifice status. Basically they get better and better at creating and using magic items, and these features allow them to attune to more items (four, five and six, respectively) and even disregard requirements based on race or class. By 20th level they get +1 bonus to all their saving throws for each item they are attuned to (which by that level will probably be six) and also the life-saving ability to discard one of their active infused item in order to drop to 1 hit point instead of 0 if you were not killed outright.
You choose your Artificer Specialty at 3rd level. «Eberron: Rising from the Last War» gives you three options: the Alchemist, the Artillerist and the Battle Smith. Each of these will provide you with an additional tool proficiency, but way more importantly, and more than with other classes, this choice will mark how you play: each one of them has a very different focus towards combat as each of them adds ten new spells, two at each spell level, as artificer spells for you.
The Alchemist leans unto healing via spells like healing word and raise dead, but also unto offensive with flaming sphere, acid arrow and cloudkill. The main feature is called Experimental Elixir and allows you to make a free potion each day, which lasts until you finish another long rest. It’s random though, taken among six possibilities of very different benefits. You get more of these potions per day as you go up in level and also you can spend a 1st-level spell slot to create one and choose the effect. The greatest benefit seems to be that these effects don’t require concentration. By 5th level you increase your healing or damage for one roll of each spell you cast with your alchemist’s supplies, but the damage is very flavorfully limited to acid, fire, necrotic, or poison damage. Starting at 9th your healing elixirs now also grant temporary hit points and you get some free castings of lesser restoration per long rest. Finally, at 15th level, you gain resistance to some chemical concepts: acid and poison. You also become immune to the poisoned condition and you also get one free casting of heal or greater restoration per long rest.
The Artillerist is all about taking the offensive with mostly direct damage spells and some walls. Main feature now is Eldritch Cannon which resembles a magical machine gun with area attacks, ranged attacks and protection effects. Just as the Alchemist’s elixir, you can have one for free per long rest, or you can spend a spell slot to make another one. When you reach 9th level, this gets an extra d8 and the ability to detonate it to damage creatures around it. Beginning at 15th, your cannon also projects a force field that grants cover to your allies, turning the Artillerist in a potential protector if things get ugly. Parallel to the turrets, by 5th level you can customize a wand, staff, or rod and when using it to cast an artificer spell using it as your spellcasting focus, you can add +1d8 damage to its effects.
Last but not least, the Battle Smith lies middle ground tending to protection and healing. The granted spells offer more defense than smites along with some decent buffs. Battle smiths are proficient with martial weapons and if your weapon is magical, you can use Intelligence instead of Strength or Dexterity for your attack and damage rolls, turning them into very capable combatants, and they become even better by 5th level when they get Extra Attack and Arcane Jolt at 9th to either deal additional damage or heal a nearby creature when you hit. Main feature though is the Steel Defender, a mechanical companion which appearance depends on you. It dodges unless you use your bonus actions to make it attack, heal, dash or other common actions. Mending becomes super useful to this specialty as it heals 2d6 hit points of damage to it. Best deal: it has its own reaction to spend, and the best way to use it is imposing disadvantage on an attack targeting an adjacent creature. It has some more additional details in the book, which I won’t detail here.
The 3.5 days when the Artificer was all about creating and using magic items and metamagic, and the 4e ones when they were focused on alchemy and runes are gone. Artificers, as the magic items they create have evolved, and now they gravitate towards an evident support role: providing magic items via infusions, healing via spells, and reactive bonuses to saves and checks via class features. Their combat style clearly depends on the chosen specialty. Nonetheless, an evident detail is that Artificers lack late-game effects similar to the ones other classes offer: it’s kind of difficult not noticing that this class could have easily be spread in only 10 levels instead of 20, from 4th to 13th in terms of power (with the exception of Soul of Artifice, which is clearly a 17th-ish level feature). Even if this may be related to the fact that Eberron emphasizes widely available low-level magic instead of rare high-level one, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have this imbued in the class so much that it pales to other classes in different settings. After all, this is now an official class for the game. On the mechanics side, many people have noticed that the Artillerist has some of the best sustained damage for spellcasters, but story-wise there are some things that are hard to describe. We mentioned already Flash of Genius, and Arcane Jolt suffers from the same.
All in all, I’ve always loved the Artificer, and I won’t stop doing so. I like how the class clearly evolved from its first iteration as an Arcane Tradition for wizards to the most recent ones, and I thank Wizards for leaving behind the weird concept of the Archivist: the only thing I liked about it was that it «completed» the four archetypes involved in the creation of warforged (alchemy, artillery, battle-smithing and mind).
Are you planning to play an Artificer soon? In Eberron? Join us next week, when we continue the Month of the Artificer with a very dearly-beloved Marvel character showing up as not only a D&D character, but as an Artificer himself! Can you guess who he/she is?