Dragonmarks: The Evolving Artificer

The latest Unearthed Arcana presents a new version of the Artificer for 5E D&D.  Right from the start, there’s a few things to note.

  • This is a work in progress. They say at the outset that it’s a rough concept that hasn’t been refined or fully tested. They’re presenting it because they want feedback, not because they think it’s perfect.
  • This isn’t designed for Eberron. The word “Eberron” never comes up in the article or introduction. The existence of an artificer class is obviously useful for Eberron, but this isn’t specifically designed with Eberron in mind; it’s an artificer that could exist in any setting, and that thus works with the general “magic items are rare” assumption of 5E D&D.
  • I haven’t tried it out. I’m juggling a lot of projects right now, and I haven’t had a chance to review the class in depth.

Having said all of that, I’m not going to go into a detailed analysis of mechanics and balance. They aren’t claiming that it’s balanced; that’s the point of pushing it out into the world. What I’m concerned with is how it fits into Eberron and how it lines up with the original Eberron artificer.

THE GOOD

This is a big step forward from the last version of the artificer we saw in Unearthed Arcana, where it was a wizard subclass. We have a d8 hit die, light and medium armor proficiency, and proficiency with thieves tools… all things missing from the wizard and more in line with the original artificer. Just having it as a standalone class is important, because it allows for subclasses, unique spells, and similar features. I like the Tool Specialist and Magic Item Analysis features. So I like the foundation.

Wondrous Invention and Superior Attunement seem like a reasonable step at blending one of the core concepts of the artificer — being able to create magic items — with the low-magic foundation of 5E. You can’t make ANY item as a 3.5 Artificer could… but it still provides the artificer with the ability to say “Good thing I made these goggles of night!” I haven’t had time to review the item lists and really think about the impact on character balance, but it seems like a good start.

THE BAD

In Eberron, the artificer is presented as a magical engineer — someone who approaches magic in the same way a technician approaches technology. The artificer’s spells are all infusions, and all reflect the artificer’s ability to temporarily cobble together short-term magic items. This is most strongly represented by the infusions Armor Augmentation, Weapon Augmentation and Spell-Storing Item. The Augmentations allow the artificer to temporarily infuse weapon or armor with an enchantment — making your hammer Undead Bane when the vampire shows up, or adding some fire resistance to your armor when things get hot. Spell-Storing Item is the cornerstone of the artificer for me: it allows you to attempt to create a one-shot wand of almost any low-level spell, but with a chance of catastrophic failure. To me, this ties to the concept of the artificer as a magical hacker. The artificer doesn’t know the rituals and formulas a wizard uses to reliable create a fireball over and over. But she understands the principles of generating magical fire, and if you give her a moment she can put something together; just hope it doesn’t blow up in her face.

The critical point is that this emphasizes the idea of the artificer as someone who works with magic; again, spell-storing item is essentially about creating one-shot wands. One of the protagonists in my Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith, is an artificer and I frequently represent her as weaving tapestries of magic to create her tools. She also makes regular use of spell-storing item and the augmentation spells.

By contrast, the foundation of the UA artificer is about magic… but the specialties are not. The alchemist specialty seems like it could be fun at low levels, and I love it as a way to represent a Zil alchemist. We’ve always said that the Zil were the masters of alchemy and that they manufacture alchemical weapons, and I love the concept of the gnome alchemist darting around and blowing things up. But that’s an alchemist, not an artificer. The focus here seems to be as much on science (chemistry) as on magic. Yes, the inexhaustible alchemist’s satchel is clearly magical, but the general effect is that the character is running around throwing flasks of acid and fire; it is more mundane than using spell-storing item to create a one-shot wand of fireball.

So: I like the alchemist, but it doesn’t feel like a classic artificer to me. On the other hand, for Eberron specifically, I have bigger issues with the gunsmith. Because the gunsmith is presented as USING A GUN: an alchemical device that explicitly fires lead bullets. I’ve never liked firearms in Eberron because I’ve always emphasized that people in Eberron solve their problems with magic instead of technology: make a wand of magic missiles or enchant a crossbow, don’t invent gunpowder. Next we have the obvious question: If this is a technological device, why is the artificer the only one who can use it? How is it that the Thunder Cannon becomes inert the moment the artificer hands it to a friend? If that’s the intent – that it is magical, and that’s why the artificer is the only one who can use it – then in my opinion, don’t make it a gun. Make it a literal boomstick, a staff that functions as a gun in the hands of the artificer, but which is clearly a magical tool. Or make it about elemental binding – it’s a rod with a fire elemental bound into it. In Eberron, I posited the existed of siege staffs instead of gunpowder artillery – essentially, magical staffs the size of tree trunks, enchanted for maximum range and area of effect. They serve the same FUNCTION as cannons, but they are tied to the existing wand/staff “technology” of the world, as opposed to introducing an entirely different paradigm.

Essentially, in Eberron the artificer is a magical engineer who manipulates magic as if it’s technology. Both of the UA specialties bring in a degree of mundane science – gunpowder or chemistry – that push them away from the vision of the artificer as the person who understands the principles of MAGIC. It becomes a blending of magic and ACTUAL technology, which is something I generally sought to avoid in Eberron. Warforged aren’t steam-powered; they are golems, operating on entirely magical principles.

WITH ALL THAT SAID: I still think that this is a very good start, and I can see that both these specialties work for the idea of the artificer-as-technological-tinker, which might be exactly what you want in most settings. And I think that in Eberron, many problems could be solved by adding additional infusions to the artificer spell and a specialty path that is specifically tied to Eberron. Spell-Storing Item was an infusion, not a class feature; it’s something that could easily be added to the artificer spell list in an Eberron sourcebook.

So overall, I’m happy with the article. It creates a general-purpose artificer that I can see fitting into a range of settings, and it’s a big step forward from the last version. It creates a foundation that could be adapted to Eberron. I think I’d have fun with an alchemist, at least at low levels. And as for the gunsmith, in MY campaign I’d shift the Thunder Cannon to be an entirely magical tool, but that doesn’t invalidate the concept… and I know there are many people who DO like gunpowder in their chocolate, who I’m sure will love it as is.

Update

On consideration, most of my issues are cosmetic. If you shift the appearance of the Gunsmith and Alchemist to a more magical interpretation, I’m happy to give them a try. Rather than having the Alchemist hurl flasks of oil, his “Alchemist’s satchel” could be a bandolier of components that he uses to assemble one-use charms and wands. The effects he can produce are identical, it’s just a different tone. Likewise, if the Thunder Cannon is a mystical tool – perhaps a weird variant of wand and staff that’s the size and weight of a log – I’m happy with the “Wandsmith.”

There’s still things I’d change. I’m not thrilled about every artificer having a construct companion, and I’m REALLY not thrilled about that companion being a Large creature; I might have a construct owl, but I don’t want to be followed around by something the size of a horse. I like the idea that the Mechanical Servant could be a path feature or swapped out for another Wondrous invention. I’d add a few new infusions for Eberron. But I’m certainly interested in playing around with it.

What are your thoughts on the latest UA Artificer?

Extra Life: Hacking the Artificer!

I’m in Seattle to chew gum and play D&D, and I’m all out of gum.

On Saturday the 25th I’ll be playing D&D with the Wizards of the Coast team in a marathon session to defeat Tiamat and help children, which are basically the same thing. I’m going to be in the game from 8 AM to 4 PM Pacific Time, and you can watch the game HERE.

Click here to watch the game tomorrow!

In case you’ve somehow avoided all my other posts on the subject, this is part of an charity program called Extra Life. I’m personally raising money for Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital in Portland. Thanks to everyone who’s supported me so far: it’s been amazing and touching. If you haven’t donated yet, it’s not too late!

 Donate to Extra Life!

The first character I ever played in an Eberron campaign was a warforged artificer named Smith. My favorite thing about playing an artificer was the ability to come up with the perfect tool on the spur of the moment. Between Weapon Augmentation and Armor Enhancement I could tailor my equipment to have the ideal enhancement to deal with my current enemy. My favorite infusion was spell-storing item; this allowed an artificer to create a one-shot wand loaded with any spell of up to fourth level. I could come up with a healing spell to help a wounded ally, a fireball to take down a mob of enemies, or suddenly build a mystical translator (using the tongues spell) out of eggshells and coconuts. However, there were restrictions to balance out this powerful effect. The maximum level of the spell was tied to my level, so I couldn’t spell-store a cleric spell that a cleric of my level couldn’t cast. The infusion took a minute to perform, unless I burnt an action point to reduce this to one round. And most important of all: I had to make a skill check to make the infusion work, and if I made a particularly bad check the whole thing could backfire. So it was an extremely powerful and versatile effect, but it was unpredictable and risky. More than anything else, THIS made me feel like a magical inventor. I could reverse-engineer the magic performed by any other class… but I could never be sure this dangerous experiment would work!

Thanks to generous donations, I will be playing a warforged artificer in the Extra Life marathon. But there’s no artificer in Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In 3.5 the artificer had an entirely unique system for infusions, along with deeply ingrained abilities tied to creating permanent magic items, and the final 5E artificer may require equally unique systems. That’s not what I’m developing today. There simply isn’t enough time to properly playtest an entirely new set of mechanics; I don’t yet feel that I myself know 5E well enough to be confident in my sense of game balance; and DM Greg Bilsland didn’t agree to have me show up with some sort of completely untested wild card class. So instead I’m using an existing class as the foundation for my artificer – altering spell lists, proficiencies, and such, but still working from a playtested framework that the DM is familiar. I want to come up with something that feels like an artificer to ME, and it will help me think about how I might create a full artificer in the future. But this is a hack for Extra Life, NOT a fully developed class! Further, as I’m only in the first 8 hours of the game, I’m only worrying about the first five levels.

SO: I’ve decided to base my artificer on an existing class. But which class should I use? Let’s consider the defining elements of the 3.5 Artificer class.

  • Simple weapon proficiency
  • Light and Medium armor proficiency, proficient with shields
  • The ability to disable traps like a rogue.
  • An exceptional talent for creating permanent magic items.
  • The ability to create temporary magic items using infusions. This system had some similarities to spellcasting. The basic list of infusion effects was very limited, focusing on effects to enhance the abilities and equipment of the artificer and allies and the ability to disable or repair constructs and objects… and the unique abilities I mentioned before.
  • Many of the artificer’s most useful and versatile infusions had a base casting time of 1 minute; this could be reduced to 1 round by burning an action point.

To begin with: For this session, I’m setting aside the creation of permanent magic items. Magic Items fill a different role in 5E than in 3.5, and the issue of how to approach this with the final artificer will take some thought. Given that, I’m looking for medium armor proficiency and shields; proficiency with Thieves’ Tools; and a character that generally fights with (magically enhanced) weapons as opposed to slinging spells.

In my original Hacking 5E Eberron post I suggested using a reskinned warlock as a base for a placeholder artificer. This was based on the idea of an artificer using infusions to enhance a crossbow – so eldritch blast was his default magic crossbow, while effects such as burning hands or fireball would be special-purpose bolts jury-rigged on the spot. After discussing the idea with WotC R&D Designer Rodney Thompson, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t such a good match. The warlock has a very limited selection of spells, uses light armor and no shield, and has little ability to enhance allies. Rodney suggested a variant wizard. The wizard is a more versatile spellcaster, and I could explain his spells as his infused items. But this just didn’t feel right to me. When I played Smith I went toe-to-toe with my enemies and laid them low with an enchanted hammer; I didn’t stand back and use offensive spells.

Finally I settled on a cleric. Before you apply domain the cleric has the right armor and weapon proficiencies, and is largely focused on enhancing allies as opposed to blasting enemies. So with that said, here’s how I’m hacking the Cleric to create an artificer for Extra Life.

BASE CLASS ABILITIES

Armor and Weapon Proficiencies: As cleric.

Tools: Special (see Domain)

Saving Throws: Wisdom, Intelligence

Skills: Choose two from History, Insight, Investigation, and Perception (see Domain)

Cantrips. As cleric (modified spell list).

Spellcasting. As cleric (modified spell list). Intelligence is used as the Spellcasting ability instead of Wisdom. All curing magic is replaced by “Repair” infusions that have the same effect, but only work on constructs.

Ritual Casting. As cleric. From a cosmetic perspective, the artificer isn’t actually performing a ritual – he’s reverse-engineering it and hacking it to produce the same magical effect. But the EFFECT is the same as if he’s performing a ritual, and he still needs to have the spell prepared.

Spellcasting Focus: The artificer can use Artisans’ Tools as a spellcasting focus.

“Expert Infusion” (Channel Divinity). This functions in a manner identical to the Cleric ability, but the Artificer doesn’t have access to Turn Undead. Instead he starts with Weapon Augmentation and gains access to Perfect Tool from his “Domain”.

Domain Infusions

1st – Detect Magic, Identify

3rd – Magic Weapon, Enhance Ability

5th – Counterspell, Dispel Magic

Domain Ability: MASTER OF ARTIFICE

At 1st level, you become proficient with Arcana, Thieves’ Tools, and one type of Artisans’ Tools. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability checks you make using Arcana and these tools.

PERFECT TOOL (Channel Divinity)

You can imbue an object with an enchantment that makes it the perfect tool for whatever situation you are dealing with. As an action, choose one skill or tool. For the next 10 minutes (and as long as you have the object) you have proficiency with the chosen skill or tool.

WEAPON AUGMENTATION (Channel Divinity)

As an action, you may enhance a weapon you are holding. For the next minute or until you let go of the weapon, you gain one of the following benefits:

Disrupting Weapon: +1d6 radiant damage, sheds bright light in 20-ft radius

Flame Tongue: +1d6 fire damage, you have cold resistance

Frost Brand: +1d6 cold damage, you have fire resistance

WHAT AM I THINKING? This is very similar to a cleric with the Knowledge domain; “Perfect Tool” is essentially the Knowledge Channel Divinity with the cosmetic addition that it needs to be a tied to an object. The Master of Artifice power is similar to the Knowledge domain, but exchanges proficiency with two languages for proficiency with Artisans’ Tools. It also ensures that the Artificer is a match for a Rogue when it comes to picking locks. Now, the Weapon Augmentation effect is very powerful, and it may be too powerful; this is what we’ll see. However, the artificer has very few offensive spells (we’ll get to the list next) and by default only has simple weapon proficiency. He’s intended to be a viable melee combatant, and this helps with that. The big thing that would concern me about releasing this power into the wild is multiclassing. I don’t think it’s going to be too unbalancing for my artificer; however, an artificer-paladin could be ridiculous. Short form: This isn’t perfect. But I don’t think it will be too powerful for our session tomorrow, and it should give the flavor I recall – being able to pick the weapon enchantment that best suits the battle. Note that for Extra Life I’m not considering this to be a concentration effect; this means that it could stack with Magic Weapon or Shield of Faith.

SPELL LIST (Infusions)

Wherever possible I’ve kept effects that were available to the 3.5 Artificer, such as Shield of Faith and Enhance Ability. I’m reskinning any curing effect as a Repair effect, so only working on constructs. I dropped in Makeshift Wand as a simple damaging cantrip on par with the cleric’s Sacred Flame, but for the most part the class is restricted to enhancement effects. Of course, they can get other effects out of Spell Storing Item!

As always, bear in mind that what matters here are the EFFECTS of the spells, not the names. My artificer can use Shield of Faith. But I won’t CALL it “shield of faith”; the point is that he can create a defensive ward that operates mechanically like the cleric spell.

CANTRIPS

Guidance

Light

Makeshift Wand (New, see below)

Mending

Prestidigitation

Spare The Dying (Construct only, “Emergency Repairs”)

Resistance

LEVEL ONE INFUSIONS

Cure Wounds (Construct only, “Repair Damage”)

Detect Magic

Identify

Inflict Wounds (Construct only, “Inflict Damage”)

Shield

Shield of Faith

Spell-Storing Item (New, see below)

LEVEL TWO INFUSIONS

Arcane Lock

Enhance Ability

Find Traps

Heat Metal

Knock

Magic Weapon

Shatter

LEVEL THREE INFUSIONS

Counterspell

Crusader’s Mantle

Dispel Magic

Glyph of Warding

Mass Healing Word (Construct only)

Protection From Energy (Construct only)

Remove Curse

NEW ARTIFICER SPELLS

Makeshift Wand (Evocation cantrip)             

Casting Time: 1 action                            Range: 60 ft

Components: S (see text)                            Duration: Instantaneous

You employ any small object as a temporary wand, channelling a blast of energy. The target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 damage. The spell can inflict acid, fire, cold, lightning or thunder damage; choose two damage types, and you can choose which one to use when you cast the spell. The spell’s damage increases by 1d8 when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8). At each of these levels, you may also select an additional damage type to add to your repertoire. You can prepare any handheld object to serve as a channel for this spell; this requires one action (inscribing a few runes on it). So it has no SPECIFIC components, but you must have some sort of focus object.

Spell Storing Item (1st-level Transmutation)             

Casting Time: 1 minute (see text)              Range: Touch

Components: S                                          Duration: 1 hour/level or until discharged

You place a spell effect into an item to draw it forth later at your command. The item becomes, in effect, a wand with a single charge which only you can use. You may choose any first level spell. You must provide any expensive material components at the time you imbue the spell into the object. Your artificer level is used as the spell’s caster level.

Creating a spell storing item is a difficult and dangerous process. When you attempt it, you must make an Arcana check; the difficulty is [10+(the Spell Level x2)]. If you fail, your action is wasted and the spell slot is lost. If you fail by 10 or more, you suffer a mishap; this could either inflict 2d6 damage on you or have an unintended effect determined by the DM.

You may reduce the casting time to a single action by expending a Hit Die when you cast the spell.

 

WHAT AM I THINKING? Makeshift Wand gives the artificer a simple, basic ranged attack. It’s not as strong as Eldritch Blast, and it doesn’t have Sacred Flame’s ability to avoid cover. What it does have is versatility, fitting with the idea of the artificer coming up with the perfect tool for the situation. Meanwhile, Spell Storing Item will definitely need testing! Obvious it’s EXTREMELY versatile, but that’s the point. The catches are that it has a long casting time; even in the best case, you have to spend a hit die and an action to get a spell you’ll then have to wait a turn to cast. You have to burn the spell slot matching the spell. And while it’s a relatively small risk, there is always the chance that you can fail the check or even have it blow up in your face. It’s perfect for pulling out the one spell you really need for a situation – but there’s a risk attached!

IN CONCLUSION…

This literally is a jury-rigged artificer slapped together using duct tape and common household lint. I don’t know if these ideas are balanced; we’ll find out tomorrow. But I want to see how they work – especially Spell Storing Item. It won’t be my old Smith, but I hope it will be a reasonable enough facsimile for one day… and that it will help me think about what I’d like to do with the true artificer in the long run.

POSTGAME ANALYSIS

I’ll give a full report at some point in the future, but I’ll just say that things worked out reasonably well. A few specifics:

Weapon Augmentation worked fine for THIS session. It didn’t feel too powerful, and in fact I didn’t using in many of the fights because I couldn’t afford to lose an action. However, it’s definitely broken when multiclasses are taken into account. Of course, a REAL artificer won’t have Channel Divinity, so this isn’t a major concern. Once the DMG exists, I’d want to consider something that captures the original feeling of Weapon Augmentation – an infusion that lets you mimic the effects of a magic item.

Spell-Storing Item was great. I used it four times, producing the effects of sleep, burning hands and zone of truth. I liked having the ability to come up with the perfect tool for the situation and also had fun explaining just what the things I was creating were; technically they are “one-shot wands”, but that doesn’t mean that each one can’t take the form of some sort of interesting and unique item. So for example, my zone of truth generator was a crazy magic hat that interfered with the wearer’s brain, while I actually enchanted an undead head to serve as a flamethrower for my burning hands. It did fail once, with one of the sleep spells. There are two things I’d change before experimenting with it further. First: Any failure should result in a mishap. Mishaps are fun. Either the spell effect should trigger in a way that is most inconvenient for the artificer, or it can simply do 2d6 damageHowever, failure shouldn’t cause you to lose a spell slot. At low level, spell slots are precious. A mishap makes things interesting; losing the spell slot makes the failure doubly depressing.

In any case, I had a lot of fun with Smith. It wasn’t a perfect conversion by any means, but it was definitely a fun placeholder.

Please share your thoughts about Artificers in 5E!