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February 23

Don’t Get Mad! Get SCIENCE!! A D&D 5e Artificer’s Guide

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Artificer in D&D Fifth Edition (5e) is a class based on Creativity and Innovation. If you want to play this class, our guide will help you understand how they work, the best races and feat choices, and what they're all about!


Sparks fly- igniting a bright purple fire, as a young woman brings a blueprint’s depiction into metallic reality. Burbling phials and spiralling filters surround a dragonborn as they eagerly await the mixing of two eldritch chemicals into one blisteringly beautiful new potion. A shadow-cloaked yuan-ti twists and turns a brassy key in the back of a small, glistening dragonfly. It alights from the yuan-ti’s palm after a few rotations, carrying out its master’s nefarious schemes. With the power of magically altered science behind them, an artificer faces any new problem with ingenuity and determination. Whether that problem be of their own causing, or simply an unfortunate soul who staggered into their path, remains to be seen!

Tinker


Introduction to the Artificer

The Artificer is the newest class to be officially inducted into the Pantheon of Fifth Edition! A combination of items, abilities, spells, and sidekicks means that this class will-almost ALWAYS-have a solution for whatever nefarious dilemma your Dungeon Master flings at you and your party. When building an Artificer, you’re occupying the space of media’s mad scientists, brilliant virtuosos, and wacky inventors! Think Doc Brown from Back to the Future, or Rick Sanchez from Rick & Morty. While I doubt that your Artificer will be trapping others in doomed parallel realities, or inventing a time machine that results in some paradoxes that need solving, it is a fun and flexible class that offers a lot to those willing to master it!


Playing an Artificer

The Artificer is a class based around a simple quandary: what would happen if I put magic into a machine? The answer, it turns out, is a LOT of things will happen. Artificers, and their abilities, are all based on that strange boundary that connects magic to machines. A common term for “magical machines” is magitek. Unlike a Wizard, who gains their powers through rote memorization, peering into the arcane, and jotting down complex algorithms into a spellbook, an Artificer traps or binds magic into a tangible, physical shell. In essence, Artificers catch lightning in a bottle and use that bottle to power robots!  To facilitate this fantastic idea, Artificers gain the power to Infuse magic into an item, to Invent items that cast spells, and to Innovate solutions to problems that spontaneously arise during campaign shenanigans.

  • Infuse
  • Invent
  • Innovate

When playing an Artificer, you’re choosing to play as the “Smartest Guy in the Room,” A Tony Stark amongst Steve Rogers’...s? Thus, when creating your Artificer’s character, consider the following questions!

  • Origin-How did my Artificer learn these sciences and crafts, and where? From whom did I learn? Why did I learn? Was it for wealth? To sate my curiosity? I was forced into it?
  • How does my Artificer education manifest? Do I wield potions and chemicals? Shiny, metallic servants who zip through the air? GUNS!? All of the above?! Put some nouns and adjectives into your character! Do I come from a college that exists in the universe? Did I stumble upon an ancient laboratory and adapted it to my own use?
  • How do I react to unexpected phenomena? Do I study it? Try to master it? Try to replicate it? What motivates my Artificer to do the things they do?
  • Are my curiosities a danger to myself? Or do they lift me up from despair? 

  • What is my goal? Most Artificers are in pursuit of a Magnum Opus-a Great Work- that represents the extent of mastery in the field or craft- think a Philosopher’s Stone or Perpetual Motion Machine. Something theoretically possible, but as of yet, has not been invented or pursued.
Tinkerer

After answering these questions, try to flesh out the ideas. Add some characters your character knows or a struggle they encountered because of their skills, or lack thereof. Did that motivate them? Cause them to go on the run? Build a life around this character to help you understand how you want to portray them!

Once you’ve established a solid mental picture for your Artificer, it's time to do some homework. When building your Artificer, Intelligence will often be your most important stat. An Artificer’s spell attack and spell save DC are improved by having a higher Intelligence, as well as other key abilities, such as Flash of Genius, which allows you to gain higher bonuses the higher your Intelligence climbs. Whether you’re rolling for stats or using Point Buy mechanics, always aim for an Intelligence of 15 or higher.

Secondary stats to be considered are Constitution, allowing you to take more damage and save against most damaging spells, or Dexterity, to raise your Armor Class and improve your ranged attacks. While your second most important stat is determined by your character preference, I always prefer higher Hit Points in my characters. Tertiary stats, the least important, are Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma. I would rank Wisdom and Charisma higher than Strength, however, as Wisdom and Charisma saving throws are pretty common in spells and monstrous abilities!

After assigning your statistics, you can assign your Proficiencies. As an Artificer, you gain Proficiency in the following categories:

  • Weapons- Simple weapons, like daggers, short-swords, staves.
  • Armor- Light and Medium, as well as Shields.
  • Tools- Thieves’ and Tinker’s Tools, as well as a custom choice tool.
  • Saving Throws- Constitution and Intelligence
  • Skills- Two from Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, or Sleight of Hand

As always, Skills should be considered based on Player preference, as well as Character desires. If you want to be a sneaky Artificer who’s always looking for some shiny things to re-appropriate, aim for Perception and Sleight of Hand. If you want to be a mode educated, student-to-master Artificer, then maybe consider Arcana and History! Skills are variable in power, and depending on the situation, a History skill could trump even Perception!

After assigning your Proficiencies, there a few other minor character details. Assign your stat bonuses, either generated by your Race, or your Lineage with Tasha’s Errata, roll your Hit Points, and name your character! Pick a background as well! After doing this, it is time to look at your character’s abilities! 

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Artificer Abilities

At Level One, an Artificer gains two abilities: Magical Tinkering and Spellcasting. Magical Tinkering is a very flavorful ability, allowing an Artificer to modify and enhance Tiny objects they touch. The ability, while not focused on combat, is a very interesting “role-play” ability that allows the Artificer to convey secret messages, bring light to the dark, create minor illusions, and generate sounds and scents. Magical Tinkering is essentially a Thaumaturgy Cantrip, only with physical and permanent effects.

dndartificer

Spellcasting allows an Artificer to cast their spells! Like all spells, they require Time and Components, which can be material, verbal, or somatic- a fancy word for movements. Most Artificer spells are coded as objects performing a function, rather than the Artificer hurling fire with the might of their mind. Thus, they require Tools to cast their spells. If you lose your Tools, you’ve lost your spells, so keep a tight hold on your hammer!

Artificers only get four slots of any level spell. That means, each day, you’ll only be able to cast a level one spell four times. Thankfully, Artificers are flexible in casting: once you’ve prepared a spell, you can cast it as many times as you’d like, as long as you have a spell slot to use. Thus, if you prepare Cure Wounds, Absorb Elements, and Alarm, you can cast Cure Wounds FOUR times and Alarm and Absorb Elements never, if the situation calls for it. However, you could also cast Alarm once, Cure Wounds twice, and Absorb Elements once. 

The most important thing to remember when casting spells as an Artificer:

  • Did I prepare this spell?
  • How many spell slots do I have left?
  • Do I have the proper materials for this spell?

Learn the answer to these questions and you’ll be fine. Spells aren’t as complex as they seem! It just requires a bit of learning and memorizing- or some spell cards!

At Level Two, an Artificer gains access to their Infusions List. This is another list of abilities, similar to permanent spells or a Warlock’s Invocations, which allow an Artificer to bestow abilities to existing items. An Artificer begins Level Two with FOUR known Infusions, and each Infusion follows the same routine to be used. To Infuse an item, you perform the following steps:

  1. 1
    At the end of a Long Rest, you choose a number of items, such as a Weapon, piece of Armor, or Wondrous Object.
  2. 2
    Select an Infusion(s) to Infuse into these items.
  3. 3
    Apply the Effect. The Effect, unless otherwise stated, lasts indefinite.
  4. 4
    Check your Items Infused number. If you’ve exceeded that number, the oldest Infused Items lose their Effects.

An Artificer can only Infuse TWO items at Level Two but as the Artificer gains levels in their class, the number of Items increases to six. In addition, Artificers learn new Infusions as they level up.

At Level Three, like most other classes, an Artificer gains access to their subclass, called a Specialization. In addition, you gain the Right Tools for the Job ability, which lets you summon a tool(s) for a specific purpose! The Artificer currently has FOUR Specializations: The Alchemist, the Armorer, the Artillerist, and the Battle Smith. Each Specialization focuses on a certain type of item. 

  • Alchemist- Potions and Elixirs
  • Armorer- A powered suit of armor and melee related abilities.
  • Artillerist- Guns, Cannons, and abilities supporting ranged attacks.
  • Battle Smith- Creating a sidekick in the form of a living machine.

Each Specialization gains access to all Artificer Infusions, leading to an exceedingly customizable class. Artificers generally require time and materials, allowing the class to reach a level of power that is untenable in other classes if they have both in abundance. Expect a guide in the future covering each Specialization in-depth!

At Level Four, and every four levels after, you gain an Ability Score Improvement, or access to a Feat. An Ability Score Improvement, or ASI, increases any TWO stats by ONE, or ONE Stat by TWO.

Construct

At Level Five, Nine, Fifteen and Nineteen (think Fives and Nines!), your Specialization gains a slew of new abilities. Check each Specialization for a detailed look, but the powers range from creating a Magical and Random Elixir to making a Robot Buddy Sidekick. They’re all pretty insanely amazing!

At Level Six, the Artificer gains Tool Expertise. Like the Rogue’s Expertise Feature, Tool Expertise doubles any Proficiency bonus you apply to skill or ability checks made with Tools. So, if you have Proficiency in Thieves Tools, double the bonus. Simple but powerful!

At Level Seven, the Artificer gains Flash of Genius, a powerful and flexible ability. Whenever the Artificer witnesses an ability check or saving throw within 30 feet, they may spend their Reaction to add their Intelligence modifier to that dice roll. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier. The smarter you are, the more Flashes of Genius you will experience!

At Level Ten, the Artificer becomes a Magical Item Adept. This allows the Artificer to attune to Four Items, as opposed to only Three. This ability is as strong as the prominence of magic items in your campaign! For example, in a setting comparable to Eberron or Ravnica, the Artificer will often have a glut of items to choose from! This ability removes that choice, or at least mitigates it. In addition, the Artificer crafts Magic Items in a quarter of the time, and half the amount of material the Item requires. This is an ability that requires the PC and DM to understand Crafting Rules in 5e, which can be found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

At Level Eleven, the Artificer gains the ability to craft a Spell-Storing Item. As the name implies, the Artificer can now store spells in items with the intent of using them in the future. In addition, the spell can be used MULTIPLE times, as opposed to the typical rate of One Spell= One Spell Slot. This allows an Artificer to not only stretch their limited spell slots, but allow their allies to use the Artificer’s spells! The ability states “creature” not “you”, which allows for a Fighter to cast Fireball. Just delightful.

As the levels get higher, the abilities become simpler. While this might be a bit disappointing, the Artificer is already a class loaded with decision-making, memorization, and mental flexibility. Maybe it’s better this way?

At Level Fourteen, you become a Magic Item Savant. This allows you to Attune to Five Items, and you ignore all prerequisites for attunement going forward. No longer will the Artificer be restrained by skill or level requirements!!

At Level Eighteen, you become a Magic Item Master, which allows you to attune to Six magic items. Yay? Not much to say about this one, as there isn’t much to it. Thankfully, if you’ve made it to Level Eight-freakin-teen, you’ve probably got some powerful magic items laying around.

Finally, at Level Twenty, the CAPSTONE, you become the Soul of Artifice. This is an ability that represents your absolute mastery of magic and machine. You gain a stacking +1 bonus to ALL saving throws, with the number increasing based on the number of items you’ve attuned to. Now the Magic Item abilities are starting to make sense! 

In addition, you become unkillable... well, limited unkillable. If you’d be dropped to Zero HP, you may instead use your reaction to end an Artificer Infusion and drop to One HP instead. This ability is powerful, essentially allowing an Artificer to mimic a Lich, only without the need for the horrifyingly evil rituals and lifestyle adjustments that are normally required to be an undead battery of evil.

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Ability Overview

Artificers, like Wizards, are complex and layered classes that require a lot of understanding to properly utilize every drop of strength. While a Wizard has abilities and spells, an Artificer has:

  • Infusions
  • Magic Items
  • Spells
  • Sidekicks (In the form of the Battle Smith Artificer)
  • Abilities

On top of those five factors to keep track of, the Artificer also has to understand which Item is Infused with which Infusion, how many spells they have stored in items, which items they’re attuned to, what spells they have prepared, and the stats of their own character and their assistance. If a Rogue or Fighter is easy mode, then an Artificer is the equivalent of Legendary Dark Knight mode. Without understanding how each ability works, what each Item you’ve crafted and found can do, which spells you’ve learned, and how you’ve used your abilities, you will be paralyzed with decisions and choices when playing your character. Thus, I would advise one of two decisions:

Less is More

Just because you CAN do something doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD. This advice applies to the Artificer. Even if you can Attune to Five items and Infuse all of those Items, maybe you shouldn’t for the sake of your own enjoyment and mental stress. Keep in mind: Dungeons and Dragons isn’t Solitaire! You’re playing with a group, and that group is going to be making decisions at a decent pace and combat can last quite awhile with every player engaging and making decisions. The Artificer, as a class, is so loaded with decisions that it would be best to limit yourself until you feel confident in juggling so many different hats!

Out-Of-Session Homework

Perhaps the Artificer is a covert way for Wizards of the Coast to convert PCs to DMs over the years because the amount of prep-work in running the Artificer is only a few steps away from running a campaign. While I wouldn’t mandate a player taking time from their life to understand how a character class works, it might be a good idea to take a few hours to review a few things. Attunement rules, lists of existing magic items, and spells are all good places to start when preparing for an Artificer’s needs. Take your time and approach the class with optimism!


Footnotes

When playing an Artificer, aside from keeping track of your myriad abilities, it is important to keep track of your resources, too. After all, an Artificer is, at its core, a crafting class. You’re encouraged to not only create your own solutions, but to create things that don’t exist in the world. While the Artificer can function in combat, it is also a class that thrives in social and economic facets of a game. While not every group is designed to replicate a living, breathing world, sometimes, a group just wants to have a fun, downtime session. When playing an Artificer, discuss with your DM how much room the campaign will have for crafting and player-guided sessions. An Artificer, as a scientist and experimented, is always in search of funding and material, after all!

Not all quests are based on fighting and smashing things. Sometimes, a rich NPC needs a rare item brought back to their castle, or a guild is in search of a lost tome of forbidden knowledge. While Combat is one of the biggest focuses of DnD, things like traps, lost items, and technology can lead to adventures just as engaging and entertaining. Here are some suggestions for a Player and DM to consider when playing an Artificer-friendly campaign.

  • What level of technology is currently available to the party? DnD’s default realm, Faerun, is pretty low-tech, with a comparison to medieval times being common. There are some examples of forgotten technology or advanced cosmic civilizations, but they are not “standard.”
  • Are there any legends, lore, or people who are advancing the march of science, creating magical wonders, or leading a cultural revolution based on technology trumping the arcane? If so, who are these people, or what is going on?
  • What kind of materials are unique to this campaign? Are there any interesting metals or plants that the Artificer could use to create wonders undiscovered?

Conclusion

When playing an Artificer, creativity and innovation are not only encouraged, they’re required. An Artificer is somebody who pushes the envelope, risks the side-effects, and keeps trying again and again. Whether they’re inventing a mass-produced construct army, or a potion that replicates the effect of helium on a voice, an Artificer is always searching and questioning.

While the class is complex, possibly to a fault, it is also a fun way to test not only your understanding of Fifth Edition, and to test what’s possible in your average game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Want to learn how to play another class in DnD? Check out our complete list of DnD 5e class guides!


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Brendan "Amigo"

About the author

Brendan has been an avid fan of games, stories, and the human experience for a good part of his lifetime. Laughter, friendship, and advice are all things he lives for. As a Dungeon Master, he’s seen his fair share of campaigns, and is always looking to craft some cool experiences for his friends. He will talk for days, if you let him, about his homebrew content, as well as whatever new story or phenomenon has caught his attention this week. Favorite systems are Dungeons and Dragons, Monster Hearts, and the newly released LANCER. He prefers long walks on the moon, dancing like everyone can see him, and a nice chianti with fava beans, but no liver. He’s on a diet, and  liver meat is awfully fatty.

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