Gnome Artificer Build Guide 5e: Our Favorite Build Options

If you’ve made it to this article, let me start off by saying congratulations. You’ve started to consider one of the best character builds in all of Dungeons and Dragons. At least, in my opinion.

Today we’re going to be covering how my favorite race and class in 5e meld together to become an intelligent and awe-inspiring character. That’s right, we’re talking about gnomish artificers.

Quick-Start Guide: Gnomish Artificer

Stats: You’ll prioritize Intelligence first, followed by Constitution or Strength/Dexterity.

Armor and Weapons: A light hammer, a handaxe, a light crossbow, and medium armor should be a perfect build, but if you want more damage, you can switch out a hand axe for a great club.

Artificer Infusions:This ability will allow you to create magical items, weapons, and armor that can outfit your party for success.

Offensive Actions: Make use of any infusions and spells that can increase the efficiency of your weapons. Use large damage spells as a last resort.

Defensive Actions: Artificers can get into close melee combat or focus on long-range techniques. Melee artificers benefit greatly from infusions that strengthen armor.

Subclass Decisions: With only a few subclasses to choose from, there really are no bad options. Still, I would rank the artificer subclasses in the following order: Armorer, Battle Smith, Artillerist, Alchemist. Each fits a gnome extremely well.

Creating a Gnomish Artificer

Artificers are so far the only class to be added to the 5e system, making them the newest class by far.

Before they were created though, choosing the gnome race was a way to make your character feel like a master of the arcane sciences. 

Now that artificers are a full-fledged piece of the game, it only makes sense to combine the two. So, let’s see just how well these two character options work together. 

Ability Scores

Ability scores are what make our characters function. While the inception of the lineage system has let more and more players choose their own custom ability scores, some tables still stick to a race’s ability-score increases.

Artificers are half-casters, a beautiful mix of martial prowess and arcane ability. Intelligence is their spellcasting modifier, putting it at the top of our priorities when building our character.

Aside from just our spells, Intelligence affects many other artificer abilities we pick up along the way.

All gnomish races offer a +2 to our intelligence, so we’re starting off strong. 

After that, we want an ability score that is going to help us survive. Constitution, Strength, and Dexterity can all have a big impact on our performance in melee or ranged combat. 

Of these, the gnomish subraces offer up a +1 to either Dexterity or Constitution. Gnomes aren’t known for their impressive strength, but they are certainly nimble and hardy folk. 

Gnome Racial Features

  • Ability Score Increase – +2 Intelligence.
  • Age – Gnomes mature at the same rate as humans, and most settle into adulthood around the age of 40. They can often reach an age of 500 years old.
  • Size – Gnomes are between 3 and 4 feet tall and weigh around 40 pounds. Your size is Small.
  • Speed – 25 feet.
  • Darkvision – You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
  • Gnome Cunning – Advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves against magic.
  • Languages – You can read, speak, and write Common and Gnomish.

Forest Gnome

  • Ability Score Increase – +1 Dexterity
  • Natural Illusionist – You know the Minor Illusion cantrip. Intelligence is your spellcasting modifier for it.
  • Speak with Small Beasts – Through sound and gestures, you may communicate simple ideas with Small or smaller beasts.

Rock Gnome

  • Ability Score Increase – +1 Constitution.
  • Artificer’s Lore – Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to magical, alchemical, or technological items, you can add twice your proficiency bonus instead of any other proficiency bonus that may apply.
  • Tinker – You have proficiency with tinker’s tools. Using those tools, you can construct a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 hp). You can have up to three such devices active at a time. When you create a device, choose one of the following options:
    • Clockwork Toy – This toy is a clockwork animal, monster, or person. When placed on the ground, the toy moves 5 feet across the ground on each of your turns in a random direction. It makes noises as appropriate to the creature it represents.
    • Fire Starter – The device produces a miniature flame, which you can use to light a candle, torch, or campfire. Using the device requires your action.
    • Music Box – When opened, this music box plays a single song at a moderate volume. The box stops playing when it reaches the song’s end or when it is closed.
    • At your DM’s discretion, you may make other objects with effects similar in power to these or along the lines of the Prestidigitation cantrip.

Svirfneblin

  • Ability Score Increase – +1 Dexterity.
  • Superior Darkvision – Your darkvision has a radius of 120 feet.
  • Stone Camouflage – Advantage on stealth checks to hide in rocky terrain.

All of these are great options because at the end of the day, it’s our intelligence that matters the most. We can simply put our high rolls into whatever else we want and enjoy the added abilities we get from our subrace.

Still, I think the clear winner of these options is the rock gnome. All gnomes value inventiveness and curiosity, but the rock gnomes might just do so more than any of their cousins.

I mean, they literally have a racial trait called Artificer’s Lore that is extremely helpful in any research you might expect your artificer to do. 

Plus, while the Tinker trait doesn’t provide any obvious benefits, it gives you a real opportunity to be creative.

I’ve personally used all of the devices to disarm traps, solve puzzles, win combats, and change the outcome of social interactions. Then there’s all the other devices you can make if you use your imagination a bit. 

More than the gnome racial traits, all of which are amazing, a big part of what makes this combo so perfect is the personality of gnomes.

Gnomes are described as endlessly curious, creative people who do whatever they can to find enjoyment in life. 

This kind of a racial background gives a setup for an artificer that uses their spells, infusions, and other features in incredibly creative ways. Sure, any artificer can be creative, but gnomes have it in their blood.

They probably started tinkering as soon as they started walking, and the opportunity to play a 200-year-old gnome that has been at this for some time gives you a reason to be so good at what you do.

Skills

Artificers get to choose two skills from Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, and Sleight of Hand. 

Of these, Perception is probably the most commonly used skill check in all of D&D, making it a solid choice. 

After that, History, Arcana, and Investigation make the most sense for your typical artificer.

Each one of these are Intelligence-based skills, and each see a decent amount of use when surveying your surroundings. It’s really down to which of these fit the goals of your character best.

Backgrounds

There are a lot of backgrounds in 5e, and each can be used as a great starting point for a character’s backstory.

While you could pick any of these and make an amazing artificer, I think there’s one background that stands out from the rest.

The Guild Artisan background is perfect for a character that spends their time tinkering with new machinations of any type.

Since there is such a wide variety of artisan guilds you could be a part of, this is really like giving you 20 background options. It makes for a lot of different styles of artificer with one common theme – you’re great at what you do.

On top of the roleplaying aspects, this will give you proficiency in an extra set of artisan’s tools and will actually give you a set of those tools to start off with.

This way you won’t have to waste money grabbing up tinker’s tools just so you can use them to spellcast. 

Starting Gear

Choosing your equipment is an important part to building a character. Luckily, this is a very simple process for any artificer. 

The only option we have is between studded leather and scale mail for our armor.

Of these, scale mail will likely give us a higher AC, while studded leather won’t give us disadvantage on stealth checks. If we have a Dexterity modifier of +4, it’s studded leather all the way; otherwise, the choice is yours.

With that taken care of, here is your starting gear:

  • Any two simple weapons
    • A light hammer feels appropriate to our character, so that’s always going to be on my gnomish artificers. After that, it’s up to you. 

If your DM will let you reskin a great club as a large wrench, I highly suggest it to get an on-theme weapon with a high damage die.

  • A light crossbow and 20 bolts
    • This is just excellent, and it makes a lot of sense for a character versed in technology to use the more advanced form of a bow.
  • (A.) Studded leather armor or (B.) scale mail
  • Thieves’ tools and a dungeoneer’s pack
    • Thieves’ tools are nice to have, but I would’ve rather seen them give you a choice of artisan’s tools or just tinker’s tools. Still, that’s why we have backgrounds, and thieves’ tools can be incredibly useful.
Hero Forge Examples

Making the Best Choices: Subclasses and Feats

The base abilities of the artificer are really impressive, but that doesn’t mean that’s all we have to work with.

A solid build incorporates all of the decisions we’ve made up to this point into choosing our subclass and any feats we might pick up along the way. 

Subclasses

As I mentioned in the quick-start guide, there really aren’t any bad subclasses for the artificer. Choosing your artificer specialist will depend on what role you want to fill and how you want to play.

Each subclass offers up a dramatically different feel regarding the way you use your mastery of arcane science.

I’m listing these in order of best to worst, but please understand that these are just my opinions and the margin from first to last place is extremely small. In my eyes, all artificers are perfect.

Armorer

This subclass gets a suit of arcane heavy armor with two model types and a lot of incredible abilities.

Mainly, you get to ignore Strength and Dexterity all together since your armor ignores Strength requirements and you can use Intelligence for your armor’s unique weapon attacks.

The two modes, guardian and infiltrator, focus on melee thunder damage and ranged lightning damage, respectively. A lot of the time it will feel more like you’re casting cantrips than attacking, but that’s the fun part. 

Battle Smith

The subclass I first played was the battle smith, a master of magical weapons and machines. You have proficiency in martial weapons and again can replace Strength or Dexterity with Intelligence for attack and damage rolls.

This time though, that bonus is added to any magical weapon, and you can make those with your infusions.

Perhaps the coolest part of this class is your steel defender, a medium construct companion with any design you choose.

Your companion gets a powerful attack, and you can command it to perform any action if you use your bonus action. 

The synergy between these two concepts works incredibly well and is only improved by the other features you get as you level up.

Artillerist

Guns and cannons, but make them magical. This subclass is all about blasting your enemies away through powerful spells or spell-like blasts fired off from your eldritch cannon.

With damage boosts all over the place, there’s not much that’s going to stand in your way.

Your cannon has three different types to choose from, which break down to AOE fire damage, long range force damage, and a burst of temporary hit points (for your allies).

The variety is really nice, and the fact that you can change your cannon each day means never feeling any regret for the option you’ve chosen.

Alchemist

Total mastery over alchemy means this subclass gets to make a whole lot of potions. As such, this is an absolutely amazing way to go if you want to play support.

Fortunately, you also get to use those potions on yourself, and along with other chemistry-related damage boosts, you’ll still feel just as powerful as any of the other classes.

The only thing that puts this at the bottom of the list is its relative limitations.

You can only create so many potions for free each day, and you’ll need to spend spell slots to make more. If you think of these like a divine smite, they become totally worth it.

Feats

The artificer doesn’t need feats to be amazing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for growth. Here are some of my favorite options.

Fighting Initiate

A bit more flexibility in how you engage in combat is always nice. This feat will net you a fighting style from the fighter class – a huge benefit to any martial build.

Ritual Caster

While you could take any sort of feat that gives you additional spells or cantrips, I like this one the best because artificers are already pretty well set up inside of combat.

Having some rituals to cast will add to your usage out of combat when you’re not just spawning incredible devices.

Gnomes. Artificers. At the end of the day there isn’t much of a difference. I like to imagine that if being an artificer was a profession in the Forgotten Realms, its first masters were of gnomish descent. 

I could go on and on about this combo, but instead, I encourage you to start rolling up your next character. After all, this is all about your character.

As always, happy adventuring.