A staff serves as a channel for destructive powers. A scroll holds words that can alter reality when read allowed. A potion is imbued with energies that can transform whoever drinks it. These treasures don’t simply appear in dungeons. In Eberron, magic is a form of science. Magic items are technology, and artificers are the engineers who work with these tools.
For the last two months I’ve been writing about the Dark Six. I’m tied up with multiple deadlines, and I will finish the Dark Six series as soon as I can. However, Wizards of the Coast just released a new version of the Artificer and I want to share my thoughts on it right away. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going!
This latest version of the artificer was designed with Eberron in mind, however the goal wasn’t to precisely replicate either the third or fourth edition versions of the artificer. An artificer is an arcane engineer who channels magic through tools, and who expresses creativity in a number of ways. Bear in mind that Unearthed Arcana is playtest material and that it specifically calls out that the next month’s UA article may contain additional content for the artificer. So the subclasses and content presented aren’t intended to be comprehensive or final. With that in mind, let’s explore a few things.
Artificers and Spells
Some people are disappointed that the artificer casts spells, and wish that it had a unique system of its own. A few things to bear in mind…
- Scrolls and wands are examples of the technology artificers work with. What’s a scroll? A tool that casts a spell. The idea that the artificer produces spell effects through using tools is the logical extension of this. If an artificer created chemical explosives or firearms, it would make sense for them to use some other system. But they create items that produce spell effects, so it makes sense that the class can produce those effects.
- The third edition artificer also cast spells. They were called “infusions” and had to be placed in objects, but aside from a few cosmetic aspects, they were spells. Now, the artificer had access to some unique effects, and we’ve already introduced one of these; arcane weapon is a variation of personal weapon augmentation. And there could be additional unique artificer spells in the future. But there’s no need to create an entirely separate system of mechanics for an artificer to heal when cure wounds is a simple, functional option. I’ll note that the artificer Lei in my novels frequently heals people; in 3E terms she’s using spell-storing item to create a cure wounds item, but the end result was that she was using a tool to cast cure wounds.
The critical point here is about flavor. From a STORY perspective, an artificer isn’t “casting a spell” like a wizard or cleric does—they are using tools to produce magical effects. As the Magic of Artifice sidebar calls out, while this follows the tried and true rules of spellcasting, from a story perspective it’s quite different. An artificer has to use a tool to perform magic, and the question is what that looks like. MECHANICALLY, an artificer gains no benefits and suffers no penalties from the fact that they are performing magic in a different way. But as long as you don’t demand something that should change the rules, this is an opportunity for you to add flavor to your particular artificer.
The Tools of Magic
Most artisans’ tools aren’t a single object. You’re not proficient with “a hammer”; you’re proficient with smith’s tools. So when you use a tool to cast a spell, it’s not that you just have a single magic hammer that you wave. Which elements of your tool are you using? What are you producing that creates the effect? Consider a few ideas…
- Tinker’s Tools. This is a general catchall, as you can justify almost any sort of odd gadget with tinker’s tools. When using tinker’s tools, the idea isn’t that you’re producing your effect with the tools themselves (unless you’re casting mending or something similar), but rather that you’ve tinkered together some sort of prototype item. For example, my tinker artificer might use a dragon-shaped sidearm to produce fire bolt, or use a modified gauntlet to deliver shocking grasp. The point is that these things are unstable prototypes that can’t be used by anyone else and that I have to constantly tinker with to maintain. So I have to possess my tinker’s tools; I have to have a tool in hand to produce the spell effect; but that “tool” can be a dragon-gun as opposed to a pair of pliers. Regardless of what it LOOKS like, bear in mind that it is inherently magical. I might cast cure wounds using a tiny metal spider I’ve tinkered. But while it may LOOK like a clockwork construct, it’s magic that allows it to move and think. Mundane engineering may be a part of a tinker’s creations, but magic is what makes them work.
- Alchemist’s Supplies. Alchemy blends chemical reaction with magic. This is the underlying principle behind most potions; the challenge of creating a potions is to suspend the mystical reaction so it can be consumed at a later date. It’s much easier to trigger an instant effect, and that’s what you’re doing when you use alchemist’s supplies to cast your spells. Your firebolt could be a thrown flask or some sort of dragon-gun like the tinker; in your case, it’s activating and spitting your flaming concoction. Poison spray is easily justified as flinging foul substances. Cure wounds, false life, water breathing could all be potions you mix and serve on the spot: disguise self or alter self could be mystically charged cosmetics.
- Calligrapher’s Supplies. Sigilry channels arcane power through symbols and sound, using special inks and techniques. As alchemy is to potions, sigilry is to scrolls; it’s much easier to produce an instant effect than to suspend and sustain it as a scroll. When you cast fire bolt, it could be that you use your quill to trace the name of fire in the air before you; or if could be that you have the sigil written down, and all you have to do is read it to produce the effect. Whether you draw sigils onto things or craft simple scrolls and read them, your pen is mightier than most swords.
- Cartographer’s Supplies. This is a twist on the sigilist. On the one hand, you could just use your tools in the same way, drawing sigils. But if you want to be more exotic about it, you could specialize in calculating ley lines and the relationships between the planes. Essentially, the world is filled with mico-manifest zones waiting to be triggered; you’re using your tools to calculate the proper alignments to channel the energies you need.
- Painter’s Supplies. If you want to be fanciful about it, you could paint what you need into reality. When you cure wounds, you’re literally painting over the injury; when you cast fire bolt, you paint the flame in the air and it flies towards your opponent. This is a variation of sigilry, but the same underlying principles apply. You might even create scrolls that are images rather than words!
- Thieves’ Tools. All artificers are proficient with both thieves’ tools and tinker’s tools, and the point is that you largely use them in the same way. Thieves’ tools are picks and other fine manipulators. It’s not that you cast a fire bolt by pointing a lockpick at someone; it’s that you can use the lockpick to clear out that problematic valve on your dragon-pistol. Of course, if you WANT to come up with some lock-based form of artifice you can.
- Woodcarver’s Tools. Wands, staffs, and rods are one of the most basic forms of arcane focus. As with tinker’s tools, if you perform magic with woodcarver’s tools, you aren’t actually blasting someone with a saw. Instead, you are using experimental, exotic, or otherwise temporary wands or rods. Again, the effect is that you have to have a tool in your hand and you have to possess woodcarver’s tools to perform your magic, but the exact nature of the tool in your hand is up to you. It could appear to be a traditional wand, or you could have come up with some new revolutionary form of wand/staff/rod.
Use your imagination, and remember that while you need a tool, you don’t have to work your magic with the tool itself; it’s that it enables you to use whatever you actually have in your hand to produce the effect. You don’t fling your alchemist’s tools at your enemy; you throw a temporary potion created using your alchemist’s tools. But you still have to have alchemist’s tools and a free hand to do this.
Spell Preparation and Infusions
During a long rest, an artificer prepares a number of spells equal to their Intelligence modifier + half their artificer level. They can also swap out one of their cantrips. But this isn’t a wizard reading a book. When an artificer prepares spells, it’s about putting together the specialized supplies and tools you need for the things you want to do. You can’t create a scroll with just ANY ink; a sigilist has to mix entirely different inks based on the type of effects they’re going to produce. Likewise for an alchemist, who prepares special reagents that they’ll combine to produce spell effects. If you’re a tinker, you’re creating and fine tuning your gadgets. The same is true of your cantrip; if you switch light for fire bolt, you’re apparently weaponizing your torch. All of this also explains the idea of spell SLOTS. The reagents you’ve prepared are tricky to produce and don’t last forever. You’re preparing as much as you can, but once you go through all your mystic inks you can’t produce another scroll effect until you have a few hours to work on it. Effectively, your spells use temporary magic items that only you can use—and you prepare those during your long rest.
Meanwhile, infusions allow you to create longer-lasting tools that your friends CAN use. This is a compromise with the generally low-magic approach of 5E and the idea that artificers should be able to create magic items. You CAN create items, but you can’t flood the party with them; it’s up to you what you do with this limited resource.
Turrets and Homunculi
We’ve said before that Eberron is a world where the weapons of war are magical. I’ve talked about siege staffs, tree-trunk sized staffs that can produce evocation effects far beyond the typical fireball or lightning bolt. First of all, you can assume that the artillerist is capable of maintaining and operating siege staffs.
Then we come to the turret. A turret is “a magical object that occupies a space and has crablike legs.” This base design reflects the apparatus of Kwalish and the arcane ballista seen in some previous designs. The main point is that it is fundmantally magical. It may have crablike legs, but it’s magic that animates them.
Beyond this, though, you and your DM can work out the exact form of YOUR turret. The main point is that it can produce the effects described and that it has a walking speed of 15 feet. Your force ballista could look like a mundane ballista that fires bolts of energy instead of physical projectiles. But it could also be a metal dragon that spits energy bolts. it should reflect YOUR personal style of artifice. Likewise, the Alchemical Homunculus of the alchemist is a tiny construct that can fly and that produces alchemical salves or splashes of acid. It could be a metal dragonfly that secretes salves, or it could be a tiny floating cauldron! Whatever it is, it’s a construct designed to deliver alchemical substances.
Styles of Artificer
As with any other class, there’s many ways to interpret the artificer and many different stories you can tell. Here’s a few ideas.
- Wage Mage (Guild Artisan). You learned your trade from House Cannith, whether as an heir or in one of their trade schools. You put in your time in a house enclave or factory, and you’ve still got contacts in the business. Your artifice is functional and by the book, using the latest principles of accepted arcane science… unless, of course, your were thrown out of your job because you tried to push beyond the envelope.
- Siege Engineer (Soldier). You operated and maintained the engines of war. Which nation did you serve? Are you haunted by the memory of blasted battlefields, or are you proud of your deeds? The Military Rank of the soldier background implies that you served with distinction, but you could be a Folk Hero who deserted during the war, or a mercenary veteran.
- Innovator (Sage). You don’t do well with authority, and you never got along with House Cannith. As far as you’re concerned, the standard techniques of the magewrights and guild artisans are antiquated. You do things your way… though it’s up to you to say that the difference is! You could be a devotee of the Traveler, working on ideas that could shatter the current industrial paradigm. Or you could just be working with unusual materials or techniques.
- Tool of War (Warforged Envoy). As a warforged, you were built to maintain other magical systems. Are you an experimental prototype, or a maintenance worker whose abilities outshone any expectations? Are you just doing a job, or do you hope you can use your skills to help all warforged? As an envoy, your Integrated Tool allows you to have your spellcasting focus embedded in your body, but bear in mind that you still have to devote a hand to using that tool; this doesn’t allow you to perform magic hands-free.
- Thelanian Tinker (Entertainer or Outlander). In your youth you slipped through a manifest zone to Thelanis, and during your time there you learned unusual fey techniques. Like any other artificer, you use tools to produce magical effects and you can create temporary magic items. But your techniques are entirely UNscientific. You may sing to your tools, or talk to them as if they were alive; you replicate boots of flying by CONVINCING your boots that they are actually birds. Your turret or homunculus may be animated by a minor fey—perhaps a friend from your childhood.
This latest iteration of the artificer is just that—an iteration. It will surely continue to evolve, and your feedback could be part of that. But in use it as it stands, the key point to me is to recognize the creativity inherent in the class. Whether you’re swapping a cantrip or preparing entirely new spells, it reflects your character’s creative nature. You use the same basic rules for spellcasting as other classes, but from a story perspective it’s about you producing those effects with innovative techniques and tools. And while the ability to create permanent magic items is limited—a necessity given the basic assumptions of 5E—infusions allow you to create and modify your own unique items.
Currently, the rules state “You must have a spellcasting focus—specifically thieves’ tools or some kind of artisan’s tool—in hand when you cast any spell with this Spellcasting feature.” Do you think it’s fair to amend that to say “Or an item crafted by your artisans’ tools?”
I think that the wording should be clarified, yes; again, it’s a playtest. However, my point is that tools are inherently abstract objects. “Tinker’s tools” weigh ten pounds. That’s not a single solid ten pound tool; it’s a tool KIT that has a lot of separate components. My argument is that when the text says “You have to have an artisan’s tool in hand” it doesn’t mean that you have to be holding your entire toolbox; you have to have the kit in your possession, and you have to have a hand free to make use of that tool. If you accept that, then I’m saying that the dragon pistol or alchemical salve is PART of the tinker’s tools or alchemist’s supplies.
Essentially, you have to have the tool in your possession and you have to have a hand dedicated to using that tool. If these conditions are met, what does it matter what the thing in your hand actually looks like? But with that said, I agree that it should be clarified if this is the desired outcome.
Post your thoughts and questions about this latest version of the artificer below!