Lightning streaks through the air, bolting from the hands of an ancient mage. As the blue current jets past the mage’s forces, a static heat fills the desecrated chapel.
Time watches as the pulse of raw power ripples by straight toward our heroes. Milliseconds sweat as the electric bolt nears its target, its unholy ire burning the molecules in the air it passes through.
Before it can reach its mark, a single gauntleted hand rises into the air to stop it. A single flash, and then nothing. Silence crowds the great hall as voltaic power ripples through a suit of mechanical armor.
The moment, stretched into eons, ends. Bilrin Pebblebeard, the party’s artificer, stands strong, charged and ready for a fight as he draws his enhanced warhammer and rushes to meet his assailants head on.
Today, we’re talking about my absolute favorite class in all of Dungeons and Dragons: the artificer.
This incredible archetype asks the question: what would happen if a wizard got a degree in engineering? Let me just tell you now — it’s the perfect mix.
So what happens when you create an arcane scientist? Well, you get a character who can create incredible magic items, wield magic, and focus their genius on everything from potent elixirs to arcane cannons.
Artificers use magic to fuel their creations, be they small bags of holding or large shield-guardian constructs.
In a high-magic setting, these are the people responsible for every scientific advancement from repulsion engines to warforged soldiers.
This truly is the most creative class in all of 5e, if not any RPG system out there.
Of course, you can’t have creativity without a bit of complexity. Quite simply, artificers have a lot going on.
Getting a grasp on infusions, magical tinkering, spells, weapons, and crafting can be a lot, and that’s all before we even look at our subclass.
Don’t worry though. I’m here to help. As your resident artificer expert, I’m going to let you in on all the tips and tricks to playing the best class in D&D to its full potential.
In this article, we’re going over every class feature, character-creation choice, roleplaying concept, and design flaw that you could ever have to think about, and that’s just the start.
So grab your blueprints, a set of tools, and a few magical components, and let’s dive into the 5e Artificer class.
Why Play an Artificer?
Have you ever sat around staring at the gears of a watch and wondered how it works? Did you pull it apart to literally see what makes it tick? If you have, you might already be a bit of an artificer in your own right.
Artificers are more than just fancy suits of armor and magic weapons. They are arcane scientists in the most accurate fashion. These characters are curious individuals who want to understand how the universe fits together.
Studying the complexities of everything in your path has some pretty exciting side effects.
The more you ask, the more you learn, and artificers have the ability to learn quite a lot. What they do with that knowledge is up to you as the player.
Artificers are a lot like wizards. They use their incredible intellects and love for knowledge to fuel their adventurous drive, discovering new powers through nothing more than focus and study.
Of course, artificers are their own class, so let’s talk about what they have to offer and about what makes them unique.
Artificers Are Masters of Magical Technology
No one understands magical items better than an artificer.
It’s not just that artificers are better at using magical items, maintaining the ability to attune more than three at a time, it’s the fact that artificers can actually create magic items.
Now, sure, any character with the right time, tools, and materials can hypothetically craft a magic item, but artificers take it to the next level.
Artificers can always have the right tool for the job, and their tool proficiencies are as impressive as the skill proficiencies of a bard.
Then, there’s the entire infusion feature that allows artificers to take a mundane object, like a weapon or suit of armor, and turn it into something magical.
This isn’t some arduous process either; you get to simply do this at the end of a long rest. Wake up, tinker with an item, and boom, there’s some piece of magical equipment for your party to utilize.
It doesn’t stop there. Even the subclasses make incredible use of this propensity for magical items.
Potions, magical weapons, arcane armor, and powerful wands are the core concepts behind each of the first four artificer archetypes, giving us clear direction as to what sort of arcane technology we can use most efficiently.
Artificers Are Unique
Each subclass of artificer feels like it could be its own fully fleshed-out class. It’s really quite mind-blowing to think of how connected yet separate the subclasses can really feel.
Still, you could play hundreds of artificers and still wind up with a different feel to each build.
Even when we look at this class compared to the other 12, we see how special the artificer really is.
You could make the easy mistake of comparing it to the paladin and ranger classes, but the artificer’s approach to combat, exploration, and social interaction is so intricately different from the others, not to mention the artificer’s access to cantrips is a huge improvement.
Then, you could compare it to the wizard as I did in the beginning. Even this falls short because few wizards have anything near the martial potential that an artificer does.
A wizard may have more spells at their disposal, but this only makes them more reliant on limited resources.
An artificer uses their spells wisely and as needed, focusing far more on the power of the objects they have created.
I mean, artificers are so different from anything we’ve seen in 5e before them that we weren’t introduced to the class until the plane of Eberron made its way to 5e.
This high-magic, dungeon-punk setting was the perfect place to ease us into the idea of a character who is essentially Tony Stark meets Doctor Strange.
Given enough time and materials, an artificer could piece together rocket ships, terraforming technology, or any strange sci-fi invention disguised in the fantasy elements of D&D that we know and love.
Hell, artificers are almost definitely responsible for the spelljammers, the massive ships that used the weave’s energy to traverse the multiverse.
Artificers Are Whatever You Want Them To Be
I’ll get more into this in the roleplaying section below, but artificers have a theme with just so much potential.
No character option in 5e really gives the player anywhere near as much freedom when describing their character.
Sorcerers get to be creative with how their magic manifests itself, maybe using different colors or sensory effects to paint a scene.
Fighters can come up with unique ways to flourish their blades and describe their attacks.
Even a cleric or paladin can spend hours thinking of interesting ways to show their connection to whatever force they have sworn their service to.
Artificers though? Artificers are masters of technology, something no other class really delves into.
Everything from the donning of their armor to the casting of their most powerful spells can be described as the result of some interesting scientific marvel.
Perhaps instead of “casting” Fire Bolt, an artificer might have created special gauntlets that release a puff of gas ignited by a small mechanism in the wrist.
Maybe Shocking Grasp is just a high-powered joy buzzer. Hell, Minor Illusion could be an actual hologram projection.
The point is, as long as you use these descriptions for flavor (rather than messing with the mechanics), your artificer can do whatever you want them to.
After all, the class literally uses their tools to channel their power.
So, why play an artificer? Well, because it’s like nothing you’ve ever played in D&D before.
The Artificer’s Defining Features
Artificers are useful in any aspect of 5e gameplay because they control more than just themselves.
When you have the ability to create everything from magic items to construct creatures, your area of impact is increased tenfold.
This is a class with a whole lot of potential stored in its many abilities.
Even as early as 1st level when we get the Magical Tinkering feature, we’ve started to become a character whose most important resource is creativity.
Many abilities offered to the artificer consist of a wide variety of options. This means that it’s really up to you to decide what you want to do with them.
Which infusions will you choose? What arcane armor will you wear today? Does the plan for today’s adventure require a certain set of elixirs?
All of these are just the basic questions. The next level is to ask how you can use your abilities together. Using tools, spells, and your artificer abilities together creates some unique scenarios.
Maybe you can put together a complex trap, or maybe you’ll make a flamethrower that enhances your Fire Bolt cantrip.
Then, of course, there’s the most defining feature of the artificer class — infusions.
This ability allows you to create an extensive list of magical items, whether they be replicas of existing 5e items or creations that are unique to the artificer class.
It would be an understatement to say that this is the bread and butter of the artificer class. This is the whole sandwich.
The items you create will allow you to fit neatly within whatever your subclass and build call for, whether that’s an all-out attacker, a supportive healer, a brawly tank, or something else entirely.
In fact, these magical items are the artificer class. Everything revolves around the ability to create.
Even the subclasses are just exaggerated versions of an artificer infusion — designs written around a single magic item or collection of magical items.
The last bit of this class I want to call to attention is the tools you are given. Artificers automatically get quite a few tool proficiencies.
Later on they’ll get the ability to create any artisan’s tool they want, and they’ll be adding double their proficiency to any checks they make with tools they are proficient in.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that artificers are 5e’s way of saying that tools matter.
With access to all of this and XGtE’s rules on tools, artificers have the ability to make just about anything, given they have the right materials lying around.
Plus, there’s more that tools can do; maybe you’ll be applying poison to weapons or making some sort of history check about the nature of an item.
Point is, if you use the tools you are given, there is virtually no limit to the things you can do with a few scrap materials lying around.
From dungeon diving to downtime, if you continue to put thought into your actions, you can have more impact on the world around you than anyone else in your party, easily.
The Artificer’s Limitations
Artificers are an excellent class, but they aren’t the best damage-dealer out there. Instead of focusing on combat as heavily as most classes do, they have features and spells that are useful in a wide range of scenarios.
Because artificers are great in all aspects of 5e gameplay, it means they aren’t going to be the best at any specific one.
Whether or not this is a limitation is really up to you. If you’re someone who enjoys a nice balance between the many aspects of a roleplaying game, then this isn’t a big deal.
But if you’re someone who only wants to smash and bash goblins and dragons, you should probably consider another class.
The current subclasses do a great job of giving us some agency in this matter. The Battle Smith and Armorer can easily be built as very competent combatants.
However, even then, this class is focused enough on balance that making them too strong would create an overpowered character.
Were this class more like the warlock, a two-thirds caster with a decent amount of martial prowess, we might be looking at a class that could make everyone happy, but that’s not the class we have.
What we do have is a well-balanced artificer that is really only limited by the game itself.
D&D 5e’s strict rules are made most evident — it’s the artificer class. To me, an artificer is a character who should be able to make just about anything they can think of, given the right time and materials.
At some tables, this class definitely still plays that way, but that certainly isn’t thanks to 5e’s design strategy.
Now, I’m a huge fan of 5e. If I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it. It does an excellent job of making D&D a simple, straightforward game. Sometimes though, that ends up being more of a detriment.
The problem here is that more and more of the gray areas, where players and DMs would decide on their own outcomes to situations, are filled in by written-rules text.
For the artificer, this means that your abilities, whether we’re talking about the features you’re given or the tools you carry, all have pretty strict bounds. Wander too far, and you’ve gone off into homebrew territory, oooooh.
I mean, technically this isn’t true. As much as 5e gives strict, straightforward definitions to every little piece of the game, there is one redeeming factor.
They make it very clear in the beginning of each source book that they aren’t giving you rules. Instead, you’re holding a set of guidelines.
It is always the DM’s final decision how to proceed in a given situation. So, if the artificer wants to use magical tinkering to create flaming arrows, then the DM can totally allow that, regardless of what the “rules” say.
Another problem I have is that Artificers, I truly believe, shouldn’t be using the same normal system of spellcasting.
The idea of a reserve of energy within yourself that fuels your magical potential works perfectly fine for sorcerers and wizards, but artificers should be far more based in the actual materials at their disposal.
In truth, artificers shouldn’t really have spells at all. They should have a system based around creating “magical” objects.
We see this whenever we talk about the visual themes, or flavor, of an artificer, but we don’t have any representation in the actual mechanics.
Instead of casting Firebolt, artificers should have some piece of equipment that launches small balls of fire.
The actual effects could be the same, and we could still use the ruling of the spell, but we could see a different way that magic works in the worlds of D&D.
Then, in order to cast the spell, we would just need the supplies; let’s say some type of fuel in this instance. This wouldn’t reflect 5e’s extreme stress on simplicity, but it would be a huge step in giving players a new experience.
The Artificer’s Role Within the Party
More than anything else, artificers are a support class.
They can do this in many ways, but the overarching theme is that artificers can come up with solutions to keep their party safe and sound from a host of potential dangers.
Support is a very vague description for a character’s role. At its simplest definition, it means the artificer class helps out their allies whenever possible. Still, this includes a wide range of options.
Some artificers may offer up support by filling the role of tank. Keeping hits away from your allies is certainly supporting your party’s ability to succeed.
Other artificers might do a similar thing by executing battlefield control. Filling the battlefield with constructs and other obstacles certainly makes it easier for your allies to take down the enemy forces one by one.
Then, another artificer might be more obviously supportive by carrying a number of potions and elixirs to heal and buff their allies.
In combat, there is a lot of variety, but there are very few artificer builds whose goal is “smash in as many heads as possible with minimal concern for my party.”
Outside of combat, artificers are masters of exploration. With their ability to create unique solutions to just about any problem, they certainly make light of the party’s problems in just about any scenario.
Any obstacle that isn’t overtly geared toward the specific expertise of another character can likely be handled with the application of a tool or two and a little bit of time.
How To Roleplay an Artificer
There are two attributes that are indispensable if you’re looking to roleplay an artificer: curiosity and creativity.
This comes directly from the description of the gnome race, and let’s be honest, the gnomes were artificers in 5e before artificers even existed.
The definition of artifice is “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.”
Artificers are simply people who employ these devices, so being clever and cunning is obviously a must. Of course, people aren’t just clever in a vacuum.
Understanding a lot of things means that you have to learn about a lot of things.
Creating a curious character, someone that takes the extra minute to examine a situation, gives so much more in character explanation for all of your abilities.
After that, it’s really up to your own preference.
Personally, I think that making your artificer witty is a natural addition. Someone who has a way to deal with any problem they come across is also pretty likely to have a quick retort to most conversations.
Of course, there are more ways to roleplay than just how you act out your character.
Roleplay also includes how you describe your character, which flavorful elements you add into the mix as you’re designing your own unique adventurer.
Artificers have a heavy inspiration from the steampunk genre or dungeon punk if you want to be specific. Clockwork constructs, utility pouches as far as the eye can see, a nice pair of goggles, maybe even a “robotic” limb.
These are the kinds of things we expect to see with a master of technology.
Taking it a step further, we can even incorporate technology into our spellcasting. Sure, it’s just flavor, but that doesn’t make it any less cool.
Just about any spell focused on lightning damage can be the result of some sort of electric device, like a tesla coil gun for casting Lightning Bolt.
Similarly, fire can be the cause of some sort of explosive device or flamethrower.
It might sound like a bit of effort to go through your spells and come up with creative ways to “cast” them, but trust me, it adds so much to the immersion when you actually sit down and play.
The more detail you can come up with, the cooler it will sound when you get to really describe how you kill that enemy or overcome that trap.
Black Citadel Ranking Guide
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color-rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but they are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice, but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your characters.
The Artificer Class Progression
The very basics of any class are the hit dice, proficiencies, and equipment that they start off with.
Before we jump into the actual features of the class, let’s take a brief look at what we’re working with here.
Hit Dice: 1d8 per artificer level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + Con modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + Con modifier, per artificer level
Artificers have very average health. They can’t just take hits until the cows come home, but they can certainly stand their own.
Basically, with good armor, you’ll be set to go, and without armor, you’ll want to remain nimble and quick on your feet (ranged attacks will be a plus).
Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields
Artificers get all the armor they need to be excellent in combat. What’s more is that the subclasses who want to be more focused on combat will get heavy armor proficiency through their subclass features.
No matter what subclass you choose, you’ll have the right AC for you.
Weapons: Simple weapons
Much like armor, your subclass will provide more proficiency if you need it. As is, you’ll have some great options, like the light crossbow in your starting equipment, to cover you whenever cantrips aren’t quite getting the job done.
Tools: Thieves’ tools, tinker’s tools, one type of artisan’s tools of your choice
Tools are central to this character, so it only makes sense that they would have the best assortment of tool proficiencies off the bat.
Tack on whatever you pick up from your background, and you’ll be adding bonuses all over the game.
Saving Throws: Intelligence, Constitution
Here we have protection from some serious mental-based spells and poisons.
Of course, constitution also dictates our Concentration Saving throws, which means we’ll be able to hold our spells for a lot longer than we would be able to without this proficiency.
This is invaluable because we really don’t have the spell slots to be burning left and right to failed con saves.
Skills: Choose two from Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Sleight of Hand
Skills are a variable part of the game; their frequency of usage is highly dependent on a DM’s style of play. However, this is a nice selection that mostly reflects the kind of knowledge that an artificer would have.
You have the following options for starting equipment:
- any two simple weapons
- a light crossbow and 20 bolts
- (a) studded leather armor or (b) scale mail
- thieves’ tools and a dungeoneer’s pack
Starting equipment is starting equipment. There really isn’t too much value in over-analyzing these.
However, I will say that any weapons or armor you choose can be enhanced by your infusions.
Also, once you have Right Tool for the Job unlocked, you won’t have to worry about lugging around a bunch of tools, so the fact that you only start with thieves’ (and whatever comes in your background) is completely fine.
Optional Rule: Firearm Proficiency
“The secrets of gunpowder weapons have been discovered in various corners of the D&D multiverse.
If your Dungeon Master uses the rules on firearms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and your artificer has been exposed to the operation of such weapons, your artificer is proficient with them.”
This is really just an extra weapon proficiency dependent on what sort of setting you are playing in. Since guns are so variable, I can’t say whether this is good or bad.
In some settings, guns have a crazy amount of properties to the point they’re almost unusable. In others, they’re the most powerful weapon you could come across.
Quite simply, if guns are easy to operate and you can deal a decent amount of damage with them, grab them up for sure.
This feat is like a precursor to the artificer infusions we’ll get next level. It allows you to give one of a few magical properties to a tiny nonmagical item.
The effect lasts indefinitely and only ends if you use an action to end it or if you try to exceed the maximum number of items you can have active at one time (intelligence modifier).
The effects are as follows:
- The object sheds bright light in a 5-foot radius and dim light for an additional 5 feet.
- Whenever tapped by a creature, the object emits a recorded message that can be heard up to 10 feet away. You utter the message when you bestow this property on the object, and the recording can be no more than 6 seconds long.
- The object continuously emits your choice of an odor or a nonverbal sound (wind, waves, chirping, or the like). The chosen phenomenon is perceivable up to 10 feet away.
- A static visual effect appears on one of the object’s surfaces. This effect can be a picture, up to 25 words of text, lines and shapes, or a mixture of these elements, as you like.
Any of these options are useful if you get creative with them, but they hold no clear mechanical benefits.
More than anything, this feature sets you up for life as an artificer. Your entire career as an adventurer of this class will be focused on using smaller effects as creative solutions to large problems.
If you can start here and use a small visual effect to deceive some guards, then you’re well on your way to being a great artificer.
You might assume that artificers are half-casters, like the ranger and paladin classes that only go up to 5th level, but the addition of cantrips and ritual casting set our arcane scientists much more on the level of a warlock, a 2/3 caster.
They have a decent spread of spells at their fingertips, pulling from the cleric and wizard to create a sort of support/blaster combination that works really well in the right hands.
The most important part of an artificer’s spellcasting is that you be conservative with your spell slots though.
Leaning heavily on cantrips, ritual spells, and concentration spells (in that order) will let you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to magic.
As for the actual process of spellcasting, artificers only work slightly differently than the rest of the spellcasting classes.
I’ll start by listing those differences and then give you a quick refresher on how spellcasting works if you’re unfamiliar.
- Tools Required – Artificers *need tools in order to cast their spells; their tools are their spellcasting foci. This adds a material component to any spell they would cast.
Basically, it just means that you have to be holding a set of tools that you are proficient with in order to cast your spells.
This gives a lot of credence to the flavor option of more mechanically based spells. You might strike a hammer on a piece of flint to create your Firebolt or do a quick application of some elixir to cast Light on an object.
*Once you reach 2nd level and have access to infusions, you can also use an infused item that you are holding or wearing as your focus.
Mechanically, this means that you don’t have to worry about carrying a weapon and a spellcasting focus; you can just zap someone via your blade.
- Cantrips – Cantrips work normally in the sense that they are spells you can cast without having to worry about spell slots. You know two at first level and learn more according to the table above.
Additionally, artificers are unique in being able to swap out a known cantrip every level. This lets you experiment with new cantrips or replace ones that no longer serve a purpose.
- Spells – Like clerics, artificers prepare their spells daily. This means that at the end of a long rest, you choose a number of spells equal to your Intelligence modifier + half your artificer level, rounded down. These are the spells that you can cast.
You can keep this prepared spell list or spend time at the end of a long rest (1 minute per spell level in your list) to create a new one.
Then, spell slots work as normal. You have a certain amount of spell slots of varying levels that you can use each day.
When you cast a leveled spell, you exhaust the appropriate spell slot (or a higher slot if you upcast the spell).
Your spellcasting ability is intelligence, which means you add your intelligence modifier and proficiency bonus to your spell-attack rolls, and the DC for any saving throws required by your spells is 8 + Int modifier + proficiency bonus
Your stock of spell slots as an artificer is never going to feel like quite enough if you compare it to a full caster.
However, if you consider spells to be a bonus and ration them out wisely, leaning on your other abilities for support, you’ll find yourself with leftover slots at the end of the day.
As for the spells you choose, those will really depend on the day, your build, and a number of other factors.
The artificer does have good spells but could certainly benefit from a few more, which is why each subclass comes with a list of spells that are always prepared.
With those finely tuned spells, anything else you add to the list will be as useful as you want it to be.
Anatomy of a Spell
When looking at spells in sourcebooks or online, it can sometimes be hard to decipher all the different pieces. If you’re new to the game, it probably looks like some strange code.
Below is a mini guide to reading a spell and being able to actually understand what it does.
- Level – The level of spell slot needed to cast this spell. If it says cantrip, it’s a cantrip.
- Duration – This is how long a spell lasts. There are a few terms inside of this you might want to know.
- Instantaneous spells happen as you cast them, and that’s that.
- 1 Minute is how long a typical combat lasts. Essentially, this means one combat encounter.
- Concentration is a mechanic in spellcasting that means a spell requires your focus. If you lose concentration, the spell ends.
You can only focus on one concentration spell at a time, although you may cast other non-concentration spells with no penalty.
You will need to make a Constitution Saving throw to hold concentration if you take damage. The DC for this save is 10 or half the damage you took, whichever is greater.
If you are incapacitated or killed, you lose concentration.
- Casting Time – This is how long it takes to cast a spell. Combat spells are split into action, bonus action, and reactions. You can only cast two spells on your turn if one is on a bonus action and the other is a cantrip that takes an action to cast.
- School – The school of the spell comes into play for your subclass. Most subclasses can record spells of their respective school with much more ease than another subclass might.
- Range/Area – How much space the spell covers.
- Attack/Save – Spells that affect others may require you to make an attack roll or they may require the target(s) to make a saving throw.
- Components – Spells can require verbal, somatic (gestures), and/or material components. Material components that don’t have an indicated cost can be supplemented with your material pouch or arcane focus.
- Damage/Effect – If you’re scrolling through DNDBeyond.com, you will see this helpful little guide that gives you the basics of the spell.
- Spell Text – The actual text of the spell tells you everything you need to know about how it works. Some spells are complicated (and we’ve got plenty of guides to make them less so), but most are fairly straightforward once you understand the rest.
Artificer infusions are easily the highlight of this class. This feature allows you to take a nonmagical item, such as a sword or a suit of armor, and give it certain magical effects.
You start by learning four infusions from the long list of infusions available to this class. The amount you learn at different levels and the amount of items you can have infused at one time are listed in the table above.
At the end of a long rest, if you need to whip up a magical item, you can simply touch an object and infuse it with magic, assumingly through some level of tinkering.
Voilà! You, or a member of your party, now have a fully functioning magical item perfectly prepared for your needs.
We have a master guide devoted to discussing the benefits of each individual infusion, so be sure to check that out.
Trying to explain it all here would be like going through the entire spell list and breaking down each one in our tier list.
We also go more in-depth in our subclass guides about which infusions suit the specific build best.
For now though, I’ll just let you know that infusions are an incredible resource. You’ll be able to gear up the entire party before long and not just with some random junk you find lying in a dungeon.
The fact that you’re the one making the items means that you’ll be able to pick the perfect one for each member of your party (and probably at least a few for yourself).
The Right Tool for the Job
This feature lets you use an action to create a set of artisan’s tools. If you use the action again, the last set of tools disappears.
Unless you’re playing in a low-gold campaign, you’ll probably be able to get your hands on all the tools you need without even worrying about this feature.
Just your class and background’s starting equipment guarantee you at least four sets of tools, a pretty modest arsenal.
Still, this is the class that’s all about creation. It makes perfect sense to be able to conjure up whatever tools you need, especially ones that might be incredibly situational but very useful.
Your proficiency bonus is now doubled for any ability check you make that uses your proficiency with a tool.
I don’t think there’s any time that adding twice your PB is a bad thing. Whether you’re using tools to create something, ascertain knowledge about an item, or pick a lock, this will come in handy.
This is also a feature that’s really dependent on you. Most normal skill checks are things that your DM will prompt, but tool-based checks happen when you say, “Hey, can I use my tools to…”
The power is in your hands, and if you continue to find uses for your tools, you’ll continue to make checks with a huge bonus attached to them.
Flash of Genius
When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an ability check or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to add your Intelligence modifier to the roll.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
Could this feature have a few more uses per day? Yes. Is this still an amazing feature that you’ll completely expend every day? Absolutely.
Adding bonuses as a reaction on any roll is something I wish we had more of.
Considering that this is completely tied to your Intelligence modifier and the fact that intelligence should be your highest stat by far, you’ll definitely be seeing quite a few rolls succeed where they would’ve otherwise failed.
The only thing that could make this better is something more aligned with the psi-bolstered knack feature of the soulknife rogue, where you only expend a use if the check succeeds. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
Magic Item Adept
You can attune to up to four magic items at once. Additionally, if you craft a magic item with a rarity of common or uncommon, it takes you a quarter of the normal time, and it costs you half as much of the usual gold.
These are two huge abilities.
First, we start to see that artificers are the masters of magical items, surpassing all their peers with the ability to attune to extra magical items (the normal cap is three).
Then, we get some reinforcement that this class is meant to be crafting magical items.
Sure, by 10th level common and uncommon items hold a very limited level of utility, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sell them.
At 10th level, an artificer can start up a business and turn a huge profit on magic items, possibly even as a way to quickly get materials for items of a more useful rarity.
Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch one simple or martial weapon or one item that you can use as a spellcasting focus, and you store in it a 1st- or 2nd-level spell from the artificer spell list that requires 1 action to cast.
A creature holding the object can use an action to cast the spell from it, using your spellcasting ability modifier.
If the spell requires concentration, the creature must concentrate.
The spell stays in the object until it’s been used a number of times equal to twice your Intelligence modifier (minimum of twice) or until you use this feature again to store a spell in an object.
This is a nice way to get an extra spell slot each day and even put a concentration spell in the hands of someone who’s less likely to take a hit.
Still, by 11th level, you could be creating several Spell-Storing Rings, which can hold up to five levels worth of spells. It would make sense if this ability was at least as good as an item that you could’ve made several levels ago.
Magic Item Savant
You can attune to up to five magic items at once. You ignore all class, race, spell and level requirements on attuning to or using a magic item.
This is the next step from Magic Item Adept, and it takes (mostly) the logical progression in showing your mastery over magic items.
Ignoring requirements on magical items is huge, letting you access things that are normally very exclusive and reap all the benefits.
The only thing that would’ve made this better is if it repeated the crafting clause from adept, including at least the next rarity of items.
Magic Item Master
You can now attune to up to six objects at once. Honestly, this can be tough to execute.
You’ll have to find, craft, or infuse enough different types of items that you can actually benefit from them simultaneously. It’s not like you can just carry around six ultra-magical swords at all times.
Plus, it’s a little lackluster that this only adds on to your attunement limit. There are so many other attributes of magical items that this could’ve impacted.
Maybe the ability to transfer magic from one item to another? Who knows. I definitely think there was some missed opportunity here, but that doesn’t make this any less amazing of a feature.
Soul of Artifice
Capstone abilities are hard to judge. Essentially, this is an S-tier ability, but the fact that so few players will ever get to experience 20th-level play means it takes a hit when I actually rate it.
This feature gives you a +1 bonus to all saving throws for every magic item you are attuned to.
It also allows you to end an infusion in order to drop to 1 hit point instead of 0 if you take a fatal blow.
As a final feature, this is really cool. It basically gives you invincibility in the right scenarios.
Your infusions become almost like horcruxes, holding a bit of your life essence ripe for the grabbing.
Creating an Artificer, Step-by-Step
Now that you understand what being an artificer is all about, let’s get into the fun part: building your character.
As we go through the following sections, please try to remember that these are suggestions I’m offering you. I’m not telling you how to play your character, no matter how convincing an argument I might make is.
At the end of the day, pick whichever character options excite you. With that strategy, you’ll be sure to have a character you love.
Intelligence is the most important ability for artificers since it dictates our spellcasting and quite a few of our features. After that, it really depends on what kind of a build we’re putting together.
Some artificers will want to reinforce their HP by buffing up their constitution; others will want a higher AC and favor dexterity. Your subclass build will likely determine the best option for you there.
Tier II: Constitution, Dexterity
Tier III: Wisdom, Charisma
Dump Tier: Strength
Strength: While artificers can definitely use weapons, the ones that would rely on strength for melee weapons have features that let them use intelligence anyway.
If you find yourself needing strength down the line for anything, just whip yourself up a pair of Guantlets of Ogre Strength, and you’ll be all set to go.
Dexterity: Dexterity lets us move around the battlefield quickly, and it often determines our armor class.
We’ll likely be wearing medium or heavy armor though, so we shouldn’t really go higher than 14 in this ability to get the +2 modifier.
Constitution: Constitution doesn’t just benefit our hit points. It is also the modifier we’ll be using when we make our Concentration Saving throws.
Considering how few spell slots we have access to, concentration spells are our lifelines. Having a good con modifier on top of our proficiency bonus is going to make all the difference.
Intelligence: I’ll make this very clear. You need intelligence to survive. Make it your highest ability score, and then keep raising it until you can’t any more.
Wisdom: Wisdom can be really useful for saving throws or skill checks. You might find certain tool checks need some wisdom, but those will mostly be at a DM’s discretion, and they’ll probably lean toward your capabilities with intelligence.
Charisma: Consider this an elective ability. It has very little influence on your actual class build, but if you want to be charismatic, by all means, go for it.
Choosing a race is all about picking up cool traits and abilities that make you better at what you want to do.
For us, that’s going to be casting and using tools. Races also give us ability-score bonuses, so we’ll want a race that increases our intelligence and one of our second-tier abilities.
Custom Lineages and 5.5e
It’s worth noting that if you like the aesthetics and roleplaying elements of a particular race but their abilities don’t fit a fighter, you can recreate them using the custom-lineage options available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Also, the way that D&D 5e handles races and innate bonuses (or penalties) is set to change pretty dramatically over the next few years with the coming “Next Evolution of D&D” looking like it might do away with inherent ability-score bonuses altogether, meaning you can play whichever race you want in whatever class and still have it be “optimal.”
Gnomes, specifically rock gnomes, are the OG artificers of 5e. They even have a feature called Artificer’s Lore that lets them add twice their proficiency bonus to history checks related to magic, alchemy, and technology.
On top of that, they have an ability called Tinker that’s kind of like a better version of Magical Tinkering, allowing you to make clockwork toys, fire starters, music boxes, or, get this, “at your DM’s discretion, objects with effects similar in power to these.”
This racial feature is one of the few places that we see wiggle room in 5e’s rule text, and I highly encourage you to stretch it out as far as you can.
If all that wasn’t enough, they get a +2 to intelligence and a +1 to constitution or dexterity (rock and forest gnomes, respectively).
Then, all gnomes have gnome cunning, which gives them advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves against magic.
This is truly the perfect class for artificers. Honestly, I’m only including another race in this section so you feel like you have options, but the best choice should be clear.
This Ravnica-based race is the only other race to give a +2 to intelligence before we got custom ability scores in TCoE. They then come with a +1 to wisdom, which isn’t all that important to you.
The one edge they have on gnomes is Vedalken Dispassion, a feature that is essentially Gnome Cunning+ which gives them advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws.
As some fun added bonuses, you can also breathe underwater for an hour, and you’ll get proficiency in one of six skills and a tool of your choice. So, you know, more tools is nice.
Skills and Languages
You might learn certain languages related to whatever culture is the most technologically advanced in your campaign setting.
Other than that, just pick a few that you find interesting or ones that you know will be common enough.
As for skills, we get a nice crop of skills from the artificer class.
Arcana and History will probably be the most prevalent since you’ll likely be trying to figure out hidden details on a wide variety of objects, both magical and mundane, that you find in the world around you.
After that, Perception, Investigation, and Sleight of Hand are all pretty useful.
The first two can be used in your average dungeon delve to uncover information with investigation being the better choice since it also uses your ridiculously high intelligence modifier.
Sleight of hand can be useful for a wide variety of sneaky things, especially if you want to play the artificer who’s constantly swiping valuable materials.
Medicine and Nature are on the bottom of my list. You’ll use your tools to craft up potions before you’ll make a medicine check to stabilize someone.
As for nature, it feels weird to include the skill check that is the polar opposite of your entire technology-based theme.
Normally, I stray away from making mechanically based background suggestions.
Your background should primarily be an extension of your character’s personality and backstory, allowing you to further flesh out what kind of a person they are.
Fortunately, there’s a background that combines the flavor and mechanics perfectly.
The Guild Artisan is someone who has worked as a member of an artisan’s guild, crafting items and selling their wares. It’s the easiest and most diverse background for a character centered on making things.
The mechanical benefits that we have here are proficiency in an extra artisan’s tool along with an extra artisan’s tool being added to your starting equipment.
Your guild will also provide lodging and food as long as you continue to pay your dues. Being connected with the guild will also make it pretty easy to sell items that you craft in your downtime.
One of the most exciting parts of planning out a character build is figuring out which feats you’ll pick up along the way.
Feats are optional abilities that you can take in place of an ASI (ability score increase) at 4th level, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.
You’ll probably want to take at least two ASIs to boost your intelligence, but the rest can be used to give you a new fine-tuned ability that isn’t directly tied to your class.
Each subclass has their own feats that work really well, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few generally good options. Here are some of my favorites for an artificer.
This feat lets you grab two cantrips and a 1st-level spell from one of the full-caster classes. You’ll be choosing from the wizard class so you can continue to benefit from your intelligence modifier.
The wizard’s spell list is huge, so being able to dip your toes into it without full-on multiclassing is a blessing and a half.
Whether you really want a utility spell like Mold Earth or you’re looking for a new concentration spell like Fog Cloud, you’ll likely be able to find what you’re looking for in the shopping mall that is the wizard spell list.
We’ve already discussed that ritual casting is a huge benefit for the artificer class. This feat gives you a ritual book, much like a wizard’s spell book, that you can slowly fill with ritual spells.
You start with two 1st-level spells of a specific class (again, wizard) and can then transcribe spells that you find just like a wizard would.
If you’re looking to lean more into magic, this is arguably even better than the few cantrips and one spell you’ll get from Magic Initiate.
No matter what kind of artificer you play, you’ll probably be doing a fair amount of weapon-based combat.
While boosting your strength would be silly, you can certainly pick up a fighting style that complements the weapons you’re primarily using.
Artificers fill a pretty specific niche and have quite a few abilities that make it hard to justify multiclassing.
Stalling out your progression in the artificer class means waiting longer for more infusions and spells and missing out on a few of your coolest class features.
Still, there is an argument to be made for the opposing side. Taking a few levels in another class can cover gaps in your build and give you access to strategies that wouldn’t be possible in one class or another.
We first have to think about our ability scores. With our primary score in intelligence and secondary in either dexterity or constitution, we don’t have a lot of options.
Wizard, fighter, rogue, and ranger are the only ones we can do without creating a M.A.D. (multiple ability dependent) build.
Even then, ranger is out because the combination of two half-ish casters will make you feel very thinly spread.
We’re left with wizard, which can be a great way to grab up more spells, and fighter or rogue if we want to focus a bit more on our combat potential.
In either of these scenarios, we’ll probably want to stick to a max of 3 levels outside of artificer.
After that, we might as well just be building a completely custom character that has some artificer aspects.
As for the dips, here are the highlights of each of the classes.
- Any amount – more spell selection and more spell slots
- 1 level – Arcane Recovery, get back spell slots on a short rest
- 2 levels – Subclass and opening features
- Any amount – x levels of a d10 hit die for more resilience
- 1 level – Fighting Style; Second wind, regain hit points as an action
- 2 levels – Action Surge, take an extra action on your turn once per short or long rest
- 3 levels – Subclass and opening features
- Any amount – Sneak attack damage
- 1 level – Expertise (double PB) in two skills
- 2 levels – Cunning Action, dash, disengage, or hide as a bonus action
- 3 levels – Subclass and opening features
Any of these can be great options, but be sure to pair the abilities that you’re grabbing with the intended build of your artificer subclass.
Choosing a martial multiclass for an Artillerist wouldn’t make sense, just as giving a Battle Smith more spells would be counterintuitive.
Everything up to this point has really just been dealing with hypotheticals. The real decisions come once you choose your subclass, and trust me, the artificer has some great options to choose from.
This isn’t our rating of the subclasses by any means. Instead, we’ll be talking about each subclass and going over the basics of what they bring to the table.
The alchemist is probably the most supportive of all the artificer subclasses. Their entire focus is on potions and elixirs, so rather than some fantasy gundam, you’ll be slinging out vials left and right.
You have six different elixirs to choose from when you’re brewing them up, and they range all the way from a bit of healing to giving the drinker flight.
The interesting part of this is that you can only naturally make one per day. After that, you’ll have to start using your spell slots.
Because of this main feature, your main focuses in combat will be cantrips, ranged weapons, and delivering elixirs and potions to your allies.
The natural next step for this subclass is to make a build that is the ultimate herbalist.
Grab up a poisoner’s kit through your background, and with a little bit of downtime, you’ll have vials for just about every occasion.
Then, use a Homunculus Servant and any other tricks up your sleeve to control the battlefield and keep your distance as you become the ultimate support.
A tanky adventurer in a magical suit of armor, it’s the stuff of dreams.
This subclass is a dream come to life with two unique arcane-armor modes that have everything from exciting battlefield control to unique magical weapons.
This is the ultimate brains-over-brawn class as you’ll be using some impressive weapons without ever having to worry about doing some push-ups.
You’re basically Tony Stark, just the person operating the suit, saving the day and blowing up problems.
One of the best parts of this is that your suit will eventually be able to hold several infusions, each piece of the armor counting as a separate item.
And, that won’t even count against your infusions limit. When you pick up that feature, you go from strong to absolutely ridiculously powerful.
I know you’re already hooked, but I’ll add in the fact that this has one of the best subclass spell lists.
If you don’t forget to cast spells because of how cool your armor’s built-in weapons are, you’ll be having a field day with the tailored list.
The artillerist is the spellcaster of the artificer family, but that’s only a small piece of what they have to offer. Their whole goal is to control the battlefield from a distance.
Artillerists get two incredible pieces of equipment: a souped-up firearm wand and an actual eldritch cannon.
The wand (staff or rod) is an arcane firearm and gives an insane 1d8 boost to your damage-dealing spells. Yes, cantrips too so you don’t have to worry about “not enough spell slots.”
Then there’s the real bad boy, the eldritch cannon. This thing has a few modes.
You can use it as a flamethrower, a force ballista, or as a protector. Each mode does basically exactly what you think it would.
The benefits keep rolling out for this cannon until it is literally creating a protective barrier for you and your allies or exploding because you want to create a huge AOE blast. Whatever suits your needs at the time.
Last but certainly not least, the battle smith is the first artificer subclass I ever played.
This is the archetype that sparked my love for this wonderful class; the reason that I keep coming back to artificers in any game I play to this day.
This class is another two-parter. On one hand, you are the master of magical items, using magical martial weapons to the highest potential.
On the other, you have a steel defender that follows you around and follows your orders.
The ranger’s beast master subclass wishes it could compare to what this duo can do on a battlefield.
Really, a battle smith can simultaneously be a battlefield controller and a striker since they have the unique ability to be in two places at once.
Add in the Homunculus Servant infusion, and now you’re just an entire party on your own.
It’s kind of insane for the action economy that the only artificer subclass to get the Extra Attack feature also has an entirely separate creature to control in combat, but I’m certainly not complaining.
The features of this subclass are more than enough to dominate combat, and that’s before we look at the infusions and spells that will help you along the way.
Artificer Quickstart Guides
Here are the basic selections for a few sample builds.
The Walking Suit of Armor
This artificer is the ultimate tank, able to walk through a battlefield and destroy anything in its path without barely ever taking a hit.
“Take away the suit, and what are you?” Well, probably the toughest gnome there is, but that doesn’t matter because we’re keeping the suit on.
- Class/Subclass: Armorer Artificer 20
- Race: Rock Gnome
- Skills: Arcana, Perception
- Background: Guild Artisan
- Feats: Fighting Style (Defense), Resilient, Tough
- Infusions: Enhanced Defense, Helm of Awareness, Resistant Armor
The Soul Smith
“That’s it. Keep your eyes on the big shiny beast.” Distract your enemies with your steel defender, and sneak up from behind to deal massive amounts of damage with your magical weapons.
Whether you’re using psychic blades or real weapons, you’ll be able to dish out more damage than a hungry barbarian with enemies blocking the tavern.
- Class/Subclass: Battle Smith Artificer 17 / Soulknife Rogue 3
- Race: Forest Gnome
- Skills: Perception, Sleight of Hand
- Background: Guild Artisan
- Feats: Mobile, Telekinesis
- Infusions: Enhanced Weapon, Winged Boots, Cloak of Protection
Arm yourself with an arcane blaster, and watch from a safe distance as spell after spell fires into your enemies. Sit back and relax, and enjoy the fireworks.
- Class/Subclass: Artillerist Artificer 17 / Evocation Wizard 3
- Race: Rock Gnome
- Skills: Arcana, Investigation
- Background: Guild Artisan
- Feats: Magic Initiate, Ritual Caster, Spell Sniper
- Infusions: Enhanced Arcane Focus, Mind Sharpener, Spell-Refueling Ring.
The artificer is a class for the creative RPG gamers out there. So much of this class puts you in the driver seat and allows you to build the world around you to really have an impact.
Create magical items, solve puzzles with your tools, cast powerful spells, and have some fun knocking heads.
All of this is a guarantee if you’re the kind of player who’s willing to take a second and think about solutions to problems when they arise.
I have no reason to sell this class to you, but from the bottom of my heart, I truly hope you enjoy playing it in your next 5e campaign.
It truly is the kind of archetype that everyone should get to experience at least once.
As always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.