DnD 5e - The Artificer Handbook
Last Updated: March 4th, 2019
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
This guide was originally written for the version of the Artificer published on February 28th, 2019, in February's Unearthed Arcana article, but has been updated for the updated version which was released in May of 2019. While the May version was mostly an expansion of the February version, but there were some important adjustments made to the existing text. For a full comparison of the two version, see this web diff which highlights the exact changes in wording.
The Artificer has been a popular concept since at least 3rd edition, where the Artificer first appeared as a class unique to the Eberron campaign setting. Since then, the class has reappeared in 4th edition, and was in high demand when 5th edition was released. The concept of a character who performed magic by binding it to items and who crafted all sorts of technological or magical gadgets is a fun novelty in a game where magic rarely takes those forms.
The Artificer is a class with a tool for every job and a solution to every problem. They excel as a Support character, but make decent Healers and Blasters, too. With the right infusions and spells, they can fill nearly any role in the party, making the Artificer's versatility rival that of the Bard.
However, the Artificer is complicated. This is not a class I would recommend for new players or for players who suffer from analysis paralysis. The Artificer has more decision points than any class to date, including the Wizard. Every time you finish a long rest you can reset your prepared spells, shuffle where you apply all of your infusions, pick a magic item from a list of some 40+ options, and replace one of your cantrips. While some of these decisions may remain static for long periods of time, the intent of the class is that you will tailor your abilities day-to-day to suit the challenges you expect to face.
This is the sort of class that can be rewarding for players who enjoy "crunch" and fiddling with their character's build, but which would be absoltuely punishing for players who don't like to spend hours agonizing over the differences between Elemental Weapon and Arcane Weapon.
Several of the Alchemist's features are related to crafting and to magic items. If your game does not allow item crafting or does not use magic items, you're probably going to miss out on big portions of the class.
Artificer Class Features
Hit Points: With d8 hit points and medium armor, the artificer is not a tank by any means. You'll probably want to remain at range, but if you fidn yourself in melee a lot be sure to pad your hit points with False Life.
Saves: Constitution is great, but Intelligence saves are exceptionally rare.
Proficiencies: Medium armor and shields will keep you alive in melee, but without a good finesse weapon melee artificers will need to resort to daggers or split their focus between Strength and Dexterity to keep their AC up. The skills are mostly Intelligence and Wisdom-based, and most are knowledge skills, but Sleight of Hand is an option. You also get three tool proficiencies, which gives you room to tailor your character to the them you're going for. Keep in mind that your subclass will grant relevant tool proficiencies, so don't pick something that you're going to get for free at 3rd level.
Magical Tinkering: This is very similar to cantrips. You can partially replicate the effects of
Spellcasting: Artificers are a 2/3 caster that prepares and casts spells like a cleric (prepare daily from the full class list). You get ritual casting, which is always great, and the spell list is a combination of options from the cleric and wizard spell lists, allowing to serve as a blaster, a healer, and a support caster. Notably, the Artificer can retrain a cantrip every level. To the best of my knowledge, the Artificer is the only class with the ability to replace cantrips.
The Artificer's spellcasting foci are also unique. Rather than a wand or something, you use thieves' tools or an artisan tool. You can wave a set of lockpicks around to cast fireball, which I think will inevitably lead to some laughs at the table. You can also use any item that's the subject of one of your infusions, which means that if you have infused a weapon or a shield you can easily have a focus in hand without dropping your weapon or shield to pull out a wand or something. Your choice of subclass will add additional focus options, but they're not notably better than what the Alchemist gets by default. It's also very important to note that the Artificer must always use a focus when casting spells, rather than only using it to replace material components like other spellcasters.
Infuse Item: This may be the Artificer's most iconic ability. You get to start with 3 infused items, which is like getting three magic items at 2nd level. If you started with the February version of the Artificer, the descriptive text was corrected to 3 items to match the class table.
The ability to create semi-permanent magic items gives you a ton of options. You get total of just 8 Infusions by 20th level, but there are only 8 options, which means you can get all of them. Replicate Magic Item is the only one that can be selected more than once, so expect to skip some other infusion options to get Replicate Magic item a few more times.
Several of the infusions apply to existing weapons or armor. Because you must infuse a non-magical item, you can't stack infusions on the same item, and the effects won't stack with spells like Magic Weapon or Elemental Weapon because those spells all affect target a "nonmagic weapon" and make it a magic weapon. Each infusion which applies to an existing item also specifies that it make the item magical.
- Enhanced Defense: +1 or +2 AC doesn't sound like much, but in 5e's bounded math it's a significant buff at any level.
- Enhanced Wand: Bonuses to spell attacks are very hard to find, and when you can get them they are absolutely fantastic. If you have a full caster in the party who can use wands as a focus (sorcerer, etc.), it's probably a good idea to hand this to them, but I certainly don't blame you for keeping it for yourself.
- Enhanced Weapon: +X weapons are excellent in a game where the maximum normal attack bonus is only +11, but until the bonus increases at 12th level, Returning Weapon is better because it provides the same bonus plus the returning effect. If you just want a +1 weapon, you can always cast Magic Weapon for the same effect.
- Repeating Shot: This makes crossbows a viable option for archery builds that don't include Crossbow Expert, but it has some problems. Once Enhanced Weapon's bonus increases to +2, Enhanced Weapon is mathematically better than Repeating Shot for anyone without Crossbow Expert. If you take this for yourself, you're denying yourself the ability to use weapon buff spells like Arcane Weapon which can't affect magic weapons, and if you do use those spells you lose the ability to ignore the Loading property. If you do take this, your best bet is to hand the crossbow to an ally, but even then Enhanced Weapon will is a better idea at most levels because anyone who wants to use crossbows will take Crossbow Expert.
- Replicate Magic Item: The list is versatile and grows as you gain levels, but keep in mind that when you take this infusion your are permanently locked into whichever magic item you choose unless you retrain your Infuse Item choice. You're free to select Replicate Magic Item again and change the item, but you can only retrain once each time you gain a level. Even so, this is still probably the best Infusion option at any level, but it's not so good that I recommend spending all of your Infusion slots on it.
- Returning Weapon: Until you hit level 12 this is strictly netter than Enhanced Weapon, but even once you hit level 12 it's still really good. It doesn't add the Thrown property or a range increment, unfortunately, so it's best used on an ally's weapon or on your own dagger so you never need to switch between a crossbow and melee weapon.
- Boots of the Winding Path: These will get you out of a problematic spot (or a grapple), but keep in mind that your bonus action is typically reserved for your Homunculus or Turrets, so don't plan to use this every turn. If you're reasonably durable, consider sharing these with someone in your party who's less durable than you are.
- Many-Handed Pouch: The biggest issue with this is the size limitation on a pouch. The Player's Handbook describes a pouch as large enough to contain 20 sling bullets or 50 blowgun needles, but it doesn't describe how large either of those things are. Page 153 of the PHB details container capacities, and lists a pouch as 1/5 of a cubic foot or 6 pounds of gear. That's a cube roughly 7 inches to a side (though most pouches will be roughly rectangular), and volume roughly equal to 1.5 gallons (~5.7 liters) of liquid. You can fit objects like potions, wands, daggers, and scrolls, but I would say nothing longer than a dagger (not to mention the risk of reaching blindly into a bag of sharp objects). This is the sort of pouch that hangs from your belt, after all. You could use this to transport documents and such instantaneously, but optimizing bureaucracy isn't part of a normal adventure. If your party relies heavily on items (small ones, at least) consider leaving a pouch with a paid NPC in a safe location where they can continuously load fresh items into the pouch for you from a sizeable stash.
- Radiant Weapon: A nice defensive mechanism and a small buff to a weapon, but not good enough to be delayed to 8th level.
- Repulsion Shield: Interesting, but not especially reliable. 5e's movement rules are really gentle, so you may find yourself pushing an enemy away after their first attack only to watch them walk right back up to you and finish attacking.
- Resistant Armor: This allows you to get resistance to psychic, necrotic, and radiant damage. Resistances to these damage types are almost nonexistent. Throw this on a bear totem barbarian and they're nearly unstoppable.
Artificer Specialist: See "Subclasses - Artificer Specialists", below.
Tool Expertise: There's a reason WotC is comfortable granting universal expertise with tools: unless the DM is going out of there way or you are making a truly impressive effort, most tool proficiencies rarely matter beyond the flavor of your character. I can't think of an instance where a character made frequent checks with Brewer's Tools over the course of a campaign, for example. However, the notable exception of Thieves' Tools means that Tool Expertise has at least one important use case in a typical campaign.
Arcane Armament: At 5th level your cantrip damage scales, and you need to make a conscious decision between relying on weapons or cantrips as your default offensive option. Arcane Armament requires that you use a magic weapon, but between Infuse Items and the ability to cast Magic Weapon and Arcane Weapon you have plenty of options to make Arcane Armament work. The difficulty is in justifying it. You probably spent your 4th-level Ability Score Increase on Intelligence, so your Dexterity modifier is likely either +2 or +3. Two attacks means applying that bonus twice, but with +4 Intelligence you may be more accurate with a cantrip like Firebolt, potentially netting more damage on average. Personally I would lean toward cantrips, but that's more opinion than math.
The Right Cantrip for the Job: By this level you have enough options that your choice of cantrips shouldn't make or break you. Still, there are nearly no ways to replace cantrips, and its hard to argue with the additional flexibility which this provides.
Spell-Storing Item: It may only be a 1st- or 2nd-level spell, but you can cast it up to 10 times per day at 20 Intelligence. Obvious options include Cure Wounds, False Life, and other restorative or protective spells. Unfortunately you can't choose a 1st-level spell cast with a 2nd-level slot. Remember that you any creature can use this, so consider passing this off to an ally if the spell you choose makes more sense coming from someone else.
Subclasses - Artificer Specialists
Not specialties: specialists. No, it doesn't make sense.
- AlchemistUA: The Alchemist focuses more on healing and supporting allies, and gains few directly offensive options. Unfortunately, these additions still don't allow the Alchemist to rival the healing capabilities of a cleric or druid, and many of the Alchemist's features are extremely situational by nature. When I ask myself "what does the alchemist do really well?" I have trouble coming up with an answer. There's nothing strictly wrong with the Alchemist, but the fact that the Artillerist has a much clearer function and has much more exciting abilities makes the Alchemist disappointing.
- Tools of the Trade:
- Proficiencies: Alchemical items are fantastic, though there is an admittedly limited menu of them in 5e currently. Herbalism allows you to make healing potions, and at high levels the cost of basic potions of healing is negligible enough that you can afford to make piles of them to drink between fights.
- Crafting: A basic potion of healing now costs you 12.5gp to make, and you can make 4 in a day. You can make other potions, too, but that's a great example of what you can do with this.
- Alchemist Spells: Many situational options, and the offensive options are generally AOE spells with a debuff effect. None of the spells are on the Artificer spell list.
- 3rd Level: Purify Food and Drink is situational, and Ray of Sickness is bad.
- 5th Level: Acid arrow is mediocre, but Web is a good area control options.
- 9th Level: Create Food and water is neat, but situational. Stinking Cloud has a great effect, but it's hard to apply it more than once because targets need to start their turn entirely within the cloud.
- 13th Level: Wither is situational, but Death Ward is amazing.
- 17th Level: Raise Dead is situational, and by this level other spellcasters have much better ways to raise the dead. Cloudkill is decent damage, but only if you can find a way to hold enemies in the area.
- Alchemical Homunculus: Far better than a familiar, the Alchemical Homunculus has a lot going for it. At 5+int hit points per level, it will have more hit points than you. Its AC is only 13 so it's going to get hit a lot, but all of those attacks are attacks not directed at someone important, and if it dies you can raise it at full hit points with an action and a 1st-level spell slot. You can even do it in the middle of combat! The Alchemical Homunculus is proficient in Perception and Stealth, it has Darkvision, and it can fly, making it an excellent scout. Unfortunately it can't speak so it can't communicate whatever it learns verbally, but with 10 Intelligence it could certainly pantomime or draw you a picture.
Like a familiar, the Alchemical Homunculus's actions are limited to a fixed list. In addition to the actions available to familiars, your homunculus can spit acid at stuff, dealing damage roughly equal to a weapon. Finally, the homunculus can apply a magic salve to buff other creatures. Buoyancy is situational, Resilience is fantastic but will eat your daily uses almost immediately, but Inspiration will dramatically improve your party's success rate with ability checks.
- Alchemical Mastery: There aren't many cantrips which deal poison or acid damage, so expect to learn Acid Splash and Poison Spray and use them a lot. The damage also applies to Arcane Weapon, but only on the first time you roll the bonus damage. The increased healing notably applies to using Mending on your Alchemical Homunculus, but you usually want to do that out of combat, so it doesn't matter much. Lesser Restoration removes some status conditions which occur frequently, so being able to cast it up to 5 times per day without spending a spell slot is really great.
- Chemical Savant: The resistances are great, but casting a 5th-level spell for free once per day without the 100gp price tag is extremely useful at high levels where difficult status conditions are common.
- Tools of the Trade:
- ArchivistUA: Despite the lacklusters Tools of the Trade, the Archivist is a really exciting subclass. It has a perfect balance of utility and offensive options, and it has some totally unique tricks which interplay in really nice ways. It's notably a casting-focused subclass, so expect to rely on cantrips rather than dabbling in weapons. You'll need to focus on maximizing your Intelligence to keep your offensive spells reliable, and even then you'll fall behind a dedicated spellcaster since Artificers only get 5th-level spells.
- Tools of the Trade: None of the stuff you get is particularly useful.
- Proficiencies: I'm not sure how Calligrapher's Tools and Forger's Tools are meaningfully different, and neither of them are useful frequently in a typical campaign.
- Crafting: Scrolls are great, but they're best when created by full spellcasters who have access to higher-level spells. Scrolls are a nice way to pad your spell slots, but they can get expensive very quickly if you rely on them too heavily, even with the reduced crafting cost.
- Archivist Spells: A really interesting mix of divinations and mind-affecting spells. No truly bad options, but some options makes other obsolete quickly, and others are too situational and obscure to be important.
- 3rd Level: Comprehend Languages dramatically reduces your party's need for actual knowledge of languages, and Dissonant Whispers is decent low-level crowd control.
- 5th Level: Both situational options.
- 9th Level: An upgraded version of the spells gained at 3rd level, your party no longer needs to worry about learning languages, and you can subdue groups of creatures with Hypnotic Pattern.
- 13th Level: Locate Creature is situational, and Phantasmal Killer is just Dissonant Whispers with ongoing damage. Of course, you've had Mind Network for several levels, and if I'm reading things correctly the damage bonus applies to every damage roll, so Phantasmal Killer is especially horrifying.
- 17th Level: Legend Lore lets you peek behind the DM screen to get information which the DM probably spent hours writing but has no other way to share with the players. I've never found a good use for Modify Memory, but it seems neat.
- Artificial Mind: For a single 3rd-level class feature, Artifical mind is really complicated. You get a lot: two skills, a cantrip-like attack option, and a free invulnerable magic scout.
- Telepathic Advisor: Two skill proficiencies and you can replace them every long rest. Tragically, the metal option will see little use because it only provides Charisma-based skills and the Artificer typically dumps Charisma. Still, if you were to create a magic RPGBOT head and parade it around in your game, it would make me unbelievably happy.
- Manifest Mind: The manifested mind can fly (albeit slowly), has Darkvision, and you can see and hear through it. It's very similar to a familiar, but it can't take actions and can't take damage. It's basically a perfect Scout, allowing you to safely explore dangerous areas at almost no risk. The ability to cast spells through the mind is useful, too: despite the low cap, 3-5 uses daily is enoguh to deliver crucial healing and buff spells to your allies, or to deliver spells like Thunderwave from an unexpected direction to displace your foes.
- Information Overload: This is similar to a cantrip in many ways, but has some quirks. First, your Artifical Mind must be manifested, which means that you're sinking your bonus action into moving it around 30 ft. per turn. Second, the mind must be adjacent to the target; your own position doesn't matter (except possibly for line of sight). Unless you walk up to the target to manifest your Artificial Mind, you're limited to targets within 30 ft. of the mind due to its severely limited movement. Third, you can boost the damage will spell slots at the same rate the Paladin uses Divine Smite.
- Mind Network: Following the theme of the Artificer's spell list, you get one utility option, and one offensive option. Both options are fantastic, and you should use them constantly.
- Magical Telephony: Verbal communication is dangeorous when you're surrounded by enemies. Communicating telepathically, especially over unlimited distances, is a huge asset. You'll need to share your infused items with your party, but you were probably doing that anyway.
- Psychic Damage: The wording here is very important: "When you make a damage roll". Similar abilities like Empowered Evocation typically say "when you make the damage roll." I'm not totally certain, but I think this means that the damage bonus can apply to multiple damage rolls, making ongoing damage spells like Phantasmal Killer truly terrifying.
- Pure Information: Another excellent pair of options.
- Mind Overload: Burn your 1st-level spell slots to stun a creature for a round. Easily worth the cost.
- Infoportation: This is profoundly useful. The obvious use is to teleport to your spectral mind to get around the local area, but there is no limit on the distance you can teleport. If you have the Many-Handed Pouch infusion, you easily teleport to up to 5 locations for the price of a single Infusion.
- Tools of the Trade: None of the stuff you get is particularly useful.
- ArtilleristUA: The Artillerist is as cool as the description makes it sound. They're good at blowing stuff up and setting up defensive positions. Turrets allow you to both attack enemies and defend your allies, and the Artillerist spell list adds a slough of fantastic new spells which play to the theme of the subclass.
- Tools of the Trade:
- Proficiencies: Tools you would need to make weapons, armor, and shields. You also gain the ability to use any magic weapon as a focus. That's a nice addition, but you can already use any item which you have infused, so unless you found a magic weapon that you want to use more that something which you infused you'll rarely need the extra option.
- Crafting: 5e's wands are among my favorite magic items. They're small, portable, easy to use, and recharge daily, making a new wand good enough to replace normal access to a spell. E.g. if you have a wand of fireballs, there's no need to prepare fireball.
- Artillerist Spells: The Artillerist's spell list is primarily offensive with some area control effects thrown in. None of the spells are on the Artificer spell list, which is strange compared to similar class features on other classes which typically saddle you with at least a few situational spells that are already on your class's spell list.
- 3rd Level: Shield is a great spell at any level. Thunderwave isn't a ton of damage, but it's nice for pushing enemies away.
- 5th Level: Two really good offensive spells.
- 9th Level: Fireball is one of the best AOE damage spells in the game, especially for its level. Wind Wall is fine, but it's really situational so you may go your entire career without casting it.
- 13th Level: Two good area control spells, neither of which are on the Alchemist's spell list. It doens't make sense with real-world logic, but you can overlap the areas of the spells to force enemies to move slower around the wall of fire.
- 17th Level: Cone of Cold's AOE is great, but the damage isn't significantly better than that of Fireball. Wall of Force is the real winner here. It's a reliable, no-save way to shut off one or more enemies for the duration of the spell, and most enemies are totally powerless to escape or counter it.
- Arcane Turret: The arcane turret is basically a pet with one action. They're severely limited by their 15 ft. movement speed, so creating them well ahead of time may not be helpful because they'll slow your party down so much. However, if you know you've got time to drag turrets around, it may be helpful to have a turret ready to go so that your first turn isn't locked into setting up a turret.
In addition to their active abilities, your turrets make a decent tank. With an AC of 18 and a decent pool of hit points, they can take a lot of damage which would otherwise be dealt to your party members, and you can heal them between fights using a cantrip. The turrets are medium, so they're big enough to use for cover, and in tight quarters they might be able to completely prevent enemies from reaching you by interposing themselves.
- Flamethrower: With 15 ft. speed and a 15 ft. AOE, it will be difficult to keep the flamethrower in range unless you're in small areas like a cramped dungeon.
- Force Ballista: Your go-to damage option. It's only slightly more interesting than a crossbow. The damage is decent and it uses your Intelligence for the attack, so if all you need is to kill one creature this is a good addition to your arsenal.
- Defender: False Life is only a 1st-level spell and provides largely the same benefit, but False Lift doesn't affect your whole party and you can't spam it all day long. Even if your turret spends all of its time following your party's tank around to replenish their temporary hit points, the Defender turret can go a long way to stretch your party's limited daily resources. Between fights, activate the turret repeatedly until you roll an 8 to ensure that you go into a fight with as many temporary hit points as possible.
- Wand Prototype: This comes online a level after Arcane Armament, so you may spend 5th level swinging a weapon then immediately give it up in favor of cantrips. Like similar abilities, it's likely that the bonus damage only applies once, so you can't do things like use Acid Splash to apply it to two creatures. You're also limited to Artificer cantrips, so you can't choose Eldritch Blast.
- Fortified Position: Half cover means +2 AC for your entire party, which is a significant boost. The second turret means that you'll spend less time stressing over which turret to choose, and if one of the offensive options is clearly the better option you\ could even choose to make two of them.
- Tools of the Trade:
- Battle SmithUA: The simplest of the Artificer subclasses, it allows the Artificer to focus on Intelligence and Constitution, allowing you to thrive in melee without worrying about Dexterity. The Iron Defender is really simple pet, and the cost of it dying is low enough that you don't need to feel bad about it. If you want to play an Artificer, but are intimidated by how complex they are, the Battle Smith is a great option.
- Tools of the Trade: Probably the best of the Tools of the Trade entries.
- Proficiencies: Great tools for crafting weapons and armor.
- Crafting: Probably the best of the Tools of the Trade Crafting features. Nearly everyone can use magic armor, and shield users can use two pieces of it at the same time.
- Battle Smith Spells: Most of the spells are from the Paladin spell list, which is exciting. Expect to spend a lot of time in melee if you want to enjoy the smite spells, but if you need to back away the support options are still fantastic.
- 3rd Level: Heroism and Searing Smite are great spells at low level. Heroism is a signficiant defensive buff when a few points of damage are a big part of your hp maximum, and searing smite can be a big pile of damage on a creature with poor Constitution saves.
- 5th Level: Both options are situational. Warding Bond is hard unless you built yourself with a big pile of hit points.
- 9th Level: Aura of Vitality isn't nearly as good as Healing Spirit, but it's still 20d6 healing for a 3rd-level spell slot. Blinding Smite is cool, but Constitution saves tend to be high so it may not be reliable.
- 13th Level: Aura of Purity helps against a huge variety of saves. Staggering Smite is good for its psychic damage, using a save other than Constitution, and for applying a decent debuff, though the debuff only lasts one round.
- 17th Level: Both options are situational, but you don't have another good way to deal with extraplanar creatures and your best group healing is Aura of Vitality, which is too slow to use in combat.
- Battle Ready: Finally a way to use Intelligence for your weapon attacks! You also get martial weapons, which offers a small improvement to your options. Be sure to take 14 Dexterity to max out medium armor.
- Iron Defender: The Iron Defender is primarily a defender. It has a potentially massive pile of hit points (7 plus your Intelligence modifier per Artificer level since its Con never changes) and what amounts to Fighting Style (Protection). It gets damage equivalent to a longsword, but its primary function is to protect you while you do the real damage. It also has a poor AC at just 15, so expect to spend a lot of time repairing it between fights. Repair allows it to repair itself, but at 3 user per day you'll get a lot more out of Mending.
- Arcane Jolt: The biggest benefit is treating your Iron Defender's attacks as magic. 2d4 damage/healing up to 5 times per day simply isn't much, but fortunately it doubles at 14th level. The best use is to use it in place of Healing Word so that you can still use your Bonus Action to attack with your Iron Defender.
- Improved Defender: The improvements are really minor. 2d4 more damage on Arcane Jolt makes it a little more useful, but still not fantastic. The tiny bit of damage on Defensive Pounce is nice, too, but at this level 1d4+5 (I'm assuming that you have 20 Intelligence by now) isn't much at this level, but if you can force enemies to miss you between a decent AC and imposing Disadvantage on their attack you can get reliable damage out of it.
- Tools of the Trade: Probably the best of the Tools of the Trade entries.
Artificers live and die by their Intelligence score, but Dexterity and Constitution are just as helpful to the Artificer as they are to everyone else. The Artificer has and impressive three total dump stats, allowing you to dump all of your points into the abilities which we care about and leave the rest at 8. Replicate Magic Item gives you access to ability score boosting items, so even if your Strength is garbage you can get Gauntlets of Ogre Strength and lift horses with your scrawny arms.
Str: Typically a dump stat.
Dex: You'll want some Dexterity to fill out your AC and to help with weapons at low levels, but you'll never need more than 14.
Con: Always essential.
Int: Your primary stat. Fuels your spells and all of your class abilities.
Wis: Technically a dump stat, but it complements many of your skills nicely so it may be helpful to put some points into it.
Cha: Dump stat.
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The most important thing you can get from a race is an Intelligence bonus, but even that isn't completely crucial. Because the Artificer has workable options beyond spells, you can get by without a racial Intelligence increase. Of course, if you choose a race without an Intelligence increase I strongly recommend a Dexterity increase so that you can rely on Dexterity-based weapons to compensate.
AarakocraEEPC: Nothing useful for the Artificer.
Dwarf: Dwarves are an all-around good race, but they lack the critical Intelligence increase which the Artificer sorely needs, and they lack a Dexterity increase to fall back on.
DragonbornPHB: Bad ability spread.
ElfPHB: High Elf is the only subrace which gives us an Intelligent increase, but the Elf's base racial traits are great, and the Dexterity increase allows us to easily fall back on weapon attacks until you can increase your Intelligence.
- Drow: Nothing useful for the Artificer.
- High Elf: Dexterity, Intelligence, and a free wizard cantrip all nicely complement the Artificer's skillset, especially at lot levels when you don't have many abilities to throw around.
- Wood Elf: Nothing useful for the Artificer.
GenasiEEPC: A Constitution increase is always welcome, but the Genasi's traits come primarily from the subrace, and the Fire Genasi is the only option which is truly appealing.
- Air: The Dexterity increase works, but the Air Genasi's features don't do anything that Artificer couldn't already do.
- Earth: Bad ability spread.
- Fire: An intelligence increase and a decent offensive cantrip complement the Artificer's spellcasting nicely, and
- Water: Bad ability spread.
Gnome: An Intelligence increase, Darkvision, and Cunning all make the gnome a fantastic option. Any of the gnome subraces work well with the shared gnome traits as a basis, allowing you to plenty of flexibility.
- Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG:
- ForestPHB: Dexterity will help with weapons until your cantrips become more effective, but minor illusion is partially redundant with Magical Tinkering, and honestly how often does Speak With Small Beasts apply?
- RockPHB: Probably the most obvious option, the Rock gnome seems tailor-made to be an artificer.
GoliathEEPC: Bad ability spread.
Half-ElfPHB: You can get the ability score increases that you care about, and two free proficiencies to complement the Artificer's skillset nicely.
Half-OrcPHB: Bad ability spread.
HalflingPHB: Dexterity works reasonably well for the Artificer, but without an Intelligence increase it's hard to keep pace with other racial options. Beyond the base racial traits the subraces both work equally well.
- LightfootPHB Artificers are capable of being stealthy and rogue-like, but you'll need to get Stealth proficiency from your background.
- StoutPHB if you want a tanky Artificer, the stout halfling does it better than a dwarf can.
HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: CLASS really only need two ability scores, but a +1 to all of your scores can be helpful if you use the point buy ability generation method to give yourself low, odd-numbered base abilities to save points.
- Variant: You still get crucial bonuses to your ABILITY and ABILITY, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1. If you're looking at the Skilled feat, consider a Half-Elf instead.
Tiefling: Many Tiefling subraces offer an Intelligence increase, and with so many variants and subraces you can easily find an option that will suit your play style. The Flames of Phlegethos feat is tempting for Artillerists looking to boost the numerous fire damage spells on the Artillerist's spell list.
- AsmodeusMToF: Charisma is wasted on the Artificer, but you get an Intelligence bonus and the Tiefling's other core racial abilities are great.
- BaalzebulMToF: The same ability score increases as the Asmodeus tiefling, but a different set of racial spells.
- DispaterMToF: Bad ability spread.
- FiernaMToF: Bad ability spread.
- GlasyaMToF: Bad ability spread.
- LevistusMToF: Bad ability spread.
- MammonMToF: The same ability score increases as the Asmodeus Tiefling, but with different racial spells. The Mammon Tiefling's racial spells focus more on utility than those of the Asmodeus Tiefling.
- MephistophelesMToF: Again, the same ability score increases as the Asmodeus Tiefling, but with a different set of racial spells. The leveled spells are purely offensive, focusing on new ways to deal fire damage. This makes a nice complement to the Artillerist, especially with Flames of Phlegethos piled on top.
- ZarielMToF: Bad ability spread.
- Variant: FeralSCAG: If you're happy with the Asmodeus Tiefling's spell list`1`````````````
- Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG:.
- Variant: HellfireSCAG:
- Variant: VanillaPHB:
- Variant: WingedSCAG:
- Arcana (Int): Among the most important knowledge skills, and you have the intelligence to back it up.
- History (Int): Situational, and how usreful it is is heavily dependent on your GM and the campaign you're in.
- Investigation (Int): With high Intelligence, you're a great candidate to use Investigation.
- Medicine (Wis): A great way to complement your abilities to heal allies using magic.
- Nature (Cha): One of the most important knowledge skills, but because it's Wisdom-based you don't be as good at Nature as you will be at Arcana.
- Perception (Wis): The most-rolled skill in the game.
- Sleight of Hand (Dex): Sleight of hand is neat, but it's not especially useful in most campaigns.
This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.
Look for backgrounds which provide additional Intelligence-based skills. Proficiency with more tools fits the theme of the class very well, but you'll get at least 5 tool proficiencies from class featues alone.
This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.
- Defensive DuelistPHB: A good way to boost your survivability in melee, but a dagger is the only thing you're proficient with.
- Elemental AdeptPHB: Acid for Alchemist and fire for Artillerist. Sure, you've got ways to deal damage with other elements, but those are the easiest elements fort the subclasses so it makes sense to minimize their weaknesses and maximize their value.
- HealerPHB: Without a real cleric in the party you may find it helpful to complement your magical healing with this.
- Heavily ArmoredPHB: Strength doesn't help the Artificer, and +1 AC relative to 14 Dex and Half Plate is not enough for a feat. Look at Medium Armor Master instead.
- LuckyPHB: Good on any character.
- Magic InitiatePHB: Despite their existing spellcasting ability and a spell list which takes options from both clerics and wizards, the Artificer can still benefit greatly from cantrips taken from other spellcasters. Green-Flame Blade, Firebolt, and Find Familiar will give an artillerist options in melee and at range, and gives them a more versatile pet than their turrets. Taking offensive cantrips with the feat which you know you will always want allows you to use your Artificer cantrips to focus on utility.
- Medium Armor MasterPHB: Many races like elves and halflings could easily end up with 16 Dexterity without cutting into your Intelligence. If you have 16 Dexterity, this will make Stealth easier and give you a nice +1 AC bonus. Not essential unless you're playing your party's Scout, but still good.
- Ritual CasterPHB: Artificers can already cast rituals, provided that they have the spell prepared. Ritual Caster will broaden your ritual options, but that's probably not enough to justify a feat.
- SkilledPHB: In a small party you need to wear many hats to fill gaps in your party's skillset. More proficiencies help you do just that.
- Spell SniperPHB: Many artificers rely on cantrips for their primary damage source, and this can make crucial spells like Fire Bolt more useful. Unfortunately the Alchemist's reliance on Acid Splash and Poison Spray (neither of which uses attack rolls) won't benefit much.
- War CasterPHB: War Caster seems like a great option conceptually, but it's mostly redundant with what the Alchemist can already do. You must use a focus to cast Alchemist spells, and that focus can be an infused weapon or shield, allowing you to perform somatic components with the occupied hand. The ability to make a weapon attack after casting a cantrip sounds nice, but artificers usually aren't great with weapons and your bonus action will be better used by your Alchemical Homunculus or your turrets.
- Crossbow, Heavy: A great go-to until you hit 5th level, at which point the Loading property becomes a problem. Crossbow Mastery is a possibility, but the Alchemist leans on their Bonus Action heavily so it's a terrible idea.
- Crossbow, Hand: The Light property doesn't do anything helpful for you, unfortunately. You can already hold a heavy crossbow in one hand while you're casting spells with the other, so all you're doing is giving up a bigger damage die.
- Dagger: Your go-to melee weapon. It works in melee and at range, and since it's a finesse weapon you can use it with Dexterity. The damage isn't as good as the heavy crossbow, but you can't make opportunity attacks with a crossbow.
- Shortbow: If you plan to use a weapon once you get Arcane Armament, the Shortbow is your best ranged option. It won't match the Heavy Crossbow's base damage, but it isn't limited by the Loading property and it has better range than a dagger.
- Studded Leather: Bad choice for starting armor.
- Scale Mail: Starting armor.
- Half Plate: Your ideal armor.
- Shield: You can hold your spellcasting focus in one hand and a shield in the other, but if you're using a bow or crossbow you won't have a hand free for a shield, and it takes an action to don/doff a shield so it's difficult to switch mid-combat.
This is not a comprehensive guide to every available spell, as that would be an exercise in madness. The following is a brief compilation of the most notable spells available to the class. Spells available via Magic Initiate are also excluded; for suggestions for Magic Initiate, see the "Feats" section, above.
If you started with the February version of the Artificer, be sure to grab the updated PDF. The new version adds spells from Xanathar's Guide to Everything to the Artificer's spell list, dramatically expanding your options.
- MendingPHB: You need this cantrip by 3rd level. With the exception of the Archivist, artificers get too much out of mending to live without it.
- Arcane WeaponNew!: This is frustratingly similar to elemental weapon. Elemental Weapon grants +1 to attacks, 1d4 damage, and makes the attack magical. Arcane Weapon drops the +1 to attacks in favor of very slightly more damage, and the two spells scale very differently with higher-level spell slots, but at their normal level the spells are weirdly similar. For a 1st-level spell, Arcane Weapon is surprisingly good. Even at high levels, if you're not using Concentration for anything else the 1d6 extra damage can be a ton of damage for such a low-level spell slot. Arcane Weapon also notably affects magic weapons (unlike Magic Weapon and Elemental Weapon), which is great for class with such easy access to permanent magic weapons. However, Arcane Weapon makes the weapon magic if it wasn't already, so you can't apply other buffs like Magic Weapon after applying Arcane Weapon.
The Artificer has an interesting note in its Multiclassing rules: when you multiclass as an Artificer, you round your Artificer levels up for determining spell slots instead of rounding them down like every other class with Spellcasting. This, combined with the Artificer's absolutely spectacular multiclassing proficiencies, make the Artificer a perfect class dip. A single level gets you medium armor, shields, two tool proficiencies, 2 cantrips, and a full level of spell slot advancement. The Artificer's 1st-level class features are really boring, but honestly with that many benefits it doesn't matter. If you want a tanky wizard, take a level of Artificer. If you want to play a Spellsinger, consider three levels to pick up Battle Smith's Battle Ready feature.