It happened. On February 28, 2019, The Artificer Revisited was released to much fanfare.
What did we get? Let’s chew up the crunch. We’ll start with the base class mechanics and move into the subclasses next week, when we build a template for how to homebrew an Artificer subclass.
Hit Die (d8). A d8 Hit Die is to be expected. Among half-casters, this puts them in line with Rangers, which feels about right. They’re a little more nerdy than Paladins, so we expect their hardiness to come from their machines, not their constitution.
Saving Throws. Constitution is the strong save. Intelligence is the weak save. This drives the flavor of the hearty tinkerer. Like a dwarf that lives in a garage, or a watchmaker in a foundry. Power-wise, this is a poor save set, but it has sneaky capability.
Constitution saves are the least ubiquitous of the strong saves (Dex, Con, Wis) vs. spells. But, they are incredibly useful for another reason: spellcasting. Since the concentration mechanic keys off of constitution saves, proficiency in Constitution is a boon for spellcasting classes. Also, Constitution saves caught up with the publication of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and now lie closer in number of spells resisted to Wisdom saves, though still at the bottom.
Intelligence saves are the least ubiquitous of the weak saves (Str, Int, Cha) vs. spells. But, they have the most potential among the weak saves, as future publications on psionics could easily drive up the number of effects targeting Intelligence. Consider that 4 of the 6 spells targeting Intelligence saves were published in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and there’s definitely an upward trend.
Armor Proficiencies. Light Armor and Medium Armor feel right. Narratively, heavy armor could impede your ability to perform fine motor skills required to tinker with your creations. Have you ever tried to slide under a ’67 Impala in Full Plate? For this reason, I envision even medium armors to be more of a patchwork invention that covers essential parts while enabling freedom of movement to tinker.
Shields also feel like something an Artificer would carry. It’s basically just another tool.
Weapon Proficiencies. Great flavor with the Hand Crossbow and Heavy Crossbow proficiency. Crossbows are the most mechanical of all the standard weapons, both in terms of mechanics and flavor.
There’s also a sidebar indicating that you can give the Artificer firearm proficiency if you’re running guns in your campaign. I like this way better as an optional rule in order to preserve the freedom of technological narrative for the DM. Not even Eberron–the host setting for the Artificer in 5e–features guns, where wands are used in similar fashion.
Spellcasting: The Half-Caster+
Using your tools as a spellcasting focus is a great flavor engine. You’re not casting spells, you’re using your tools to create magical effects. You can come up with endless creative ways how your spells manifest from the tools. There’s awesome suggestions in The Magic of Artifice sidebar which can give you an idea of the true flavor of the Artificer.
We’ve got a unique brand of half-caster, and I love it. Rangers and Paladins don’t get spell slots at level 1 or cantrips. Artificers get spell access right away. They’re somewhat of a half-caster+ or the 51% caster. Spell access at level 1 really differentiates and drives the Artificer flavor, especially due to their spell selection.
The spells available to artificers are heavily utility-driven.
Cantrips. You get the full Fire Bolt > Ray of Frost > Poison Spray cantrip hierarchy, as well as a handful of other damage cantrips. Once we jump into leveled spells, though, damage options nearly evaporate. Of course, there is one notable exception.
Spells. Arcane Weapon is a new spell for the Artificer that allows you to add elemental damage to your weapon. It’s one of few leveled damage spells for the Artificer, outside of the subclasses. The standard Artificer spells that can be used for damage follow the vein of Arcane Weapon, in that they affect an object that then can cause damage. For example, you have Heat Metal as a level 2 spell, Elemental Weapon as a level 3 spell, and Animate Objects as a level 5 spell.
Other leveled spells key on themes such as object manipulation, fabrication, healing, defensive fortifications, and personal buffs. Overall, the spell list is heavily utility-driven.
Artificers prepare their spells from their full class list after a long rest. This also adds to the utilitarian flavor of the class, making the Artificer like a handyman that can fix anything if they bring the right toolbox.
Ritual casting ensures that the Artificer will always have something handy to do. The fact that ritual casting takes 10 minutes also plays into the MacGyver feel of grabbing a couple scraps and whipping up some type of gadget to get you out of a jam. It almost feels more natural than standard ritual casting, where I imagine the Wizard awkwardly waving their hands for 10 minutes incanting Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa.
Artificers also get a really unique ability that allows them to swap cantrips, but we’ll get to that in the class features. I wanted to touch on it here because this modular mechanic also drives the utilitarian feel of the Artificer’s spellcasting.
The Artificer’s core features are centered on manipulating and improving objects for use by your party. The Artificer class features may not be numerous, due to leaning to heavily on spellcasting, but they come relatively quickly and are bursting with flavor.
At level 1, Magical Tinkering allows you to manipulate tiny non-magical objects by imbuing them with sensory effects, turning it into a light, voicemail, white noise machine, oil diffuser, or a canvas for notes and art.
At level 2, Infuse Item allows you to craft prototypes of magical items from mundane items. You select a number of infusions that increases with your Artificer level. At the end of a long rest, these infusions allow you to impart a number of special effects, ranging from the expected weapons and armor buffs to teleporting boots to interdimensional bags of holding. But my favorite is the duping magic items.
At level 3, Tool Expertise gives you double proficiency with ALL of your proficient tools. This is right on brand.
At level 5, Arcane Armament gives you an extra attack when made with a magic weapon. This is an interesting choice when considered in conjunction with the crossbow proficiency. If your Artificer is built to take advantage of that (hand or heavy) crossbow access, they cannot take advantage of the extra attack due to the crossbow’s loading property.
At level 10, The Right Cantrip for the Job allows you to swap out cantrips on a long rest. As discussed above, this is like the Artificer changing their toolbox. I really like this mold-breaking ability. In addition to driving flavor, it’s just very accommodating to the player and permits them to explore the full flavor of the class.
At level 18, Spell-Storing Item allows you to share your spell buffs with your allies (or horde them for yourself), by imbuing an item with up to 10 uses of a 1st or 2nd level spell from the Artificer’s list! There is little limitation as to the exact flavor of the item. You can use it on weapons. You can use it on tools, since they are a spellcasting focus for you. You can also use it on inventions you made with Infuse Item, since they can be used as a spellcasting focus as well. Since most of these are buffs and there is little limitation on the exact flavor of the item, you can come up with all sorts of creative genius. Be sure to check the Player’s Handbook (p. 154) to see what’s specifically in your toolkit so you can get some ideas for items to imbue. My only sadness about this ability is that it’s so cool but it comes on line so late. I would really like to see this earlier in a more limited capacity. Pegging the uses to 2 x Intelligence modifier is a curious choice since most Artificers will have 20 Intelligence by level 18.
At level 20, Soul of Artifice allows you to attune to up to 6 items at once. This sounds great. When I read it, though, it makes me wonder if it should be something that is spread across the whole class and tiered up as you progress. Just doubling attunement slots at level 20 feels a little jarring. I prefer the idea of the Artificer slowly graduating in power as they strap more mechanical devices to themselves.
In a very interesting change of pace, the Artificer includes rules for multiclassing. Typically, Unearthed Arcana releases are stated not to be balanced for multiclassing, which is one of the later steps in the design iteration, after the base class is balanced. This may speak to how far along the Artificer is in design progression.
Artificers have a subclass progression akin to Bards, getting upgrades at levels 3, 6, and 14. This can be restricting from a design standpoint, since you only have three shots to give your subclass distinguishing flavor. However, with sufficient creativity, this can definitely be done. And boy did they pull it off. We’ll take a dive into the subclasses in next week’s post, when we build a template for creating your own Artificer subclass. See you then!