I like to think of myself as a pretty clever player who has had some pretty clever DMs, but nothing has felt so clunky as trying to create an artificer-style character (envisioned as a technomancer or tinkerer) in 5E D&D. As much as I’ve been inspired by Magic: The Gathering’s Saheeli Rai, it’s been really hard to create that kind of character within the current structures of 5E. I’ve tried using a Ranger archetype to create a construct-driven character who had a constructed “animal companion” while trying to translate animal handling into some sort of mechanical intelligence stat.
Back in 2015, the smart folks at D&D released an Artificer subclass for the Wizard, and in a separate Unearthed Arcana for Modern Magic (intended for play for D&D set in a modern era), they also had included experimental rules for both a Warlock who shot guns and a Wizard whose school of magic was Technomancy. While I still had trouble cobbling together a proper tinkerer the way I was hoping to play them, it showed me that the game devs were thinking about this for quite some time at the very least.
And then for the first UA of the year, the development folks at D&D released experimental rules for the Artificer class, with the boomstick-wielding and alchemical specializations as subclasses. Suffice to say, I am stoked, and anyone who has sought to play a proper tinkerer of things (which is extremely common in the M:tG ‘verse yet very rare in Forgotten Realms.)
Breaking down the rules themselves, it’s really interesting. Picking their specialization at their first class, an Artificer relies on their magic items as well as spells. It seems that they’re a hybrid class, similar to Rangers or Arcane Tricksters, having access to spells but also heavily relying on their class-specific abilities which separate them from true casting classes, like Wizards. The specializations offer two routes: an Alchemist who can basically create a variety of useful potions and the Gunsmith who is far more straightforward in terms of combat than their alchemical counterpart. Comparing the two specializations within the same class is a lot like comparing Batman (the Alchemist, with a belt full of crazy stuff like Bat-Shark-Repellant) and Iron Man (the Gunsmith who likes to make things go boom). Of course, both can create wondrous items and have rivals in various aspects of their life (or rather, every aspect of their lives. Competitiveness is very much an Artificer trait.)
Either way, the Artificer, no matter their specialization, has access to really cool magic items (like a bag of holding at level 2), a mechanical servant at level 6 (I’ll be naming mine Pennyworth), appropriate spells and skills. Despite only having 2 subclasses, this feels pretty robust for the kind of archetype I was looking to fit that seems under served but also relatively common in the universe. Magical technologist seems like an industry that would be both as useful and common as assassins and heroic traveling troubadours.
There’s a cleverness that is present in the class as whole which excites me as a player and why I’ve tried time and again to create a type of Artificer in D&D to no avail. That said, I understand why it’s taken this long to create a class of this nature. The game devs admitted back in March that this class was being worked on back then, but there are certain considerations to expanding the game in this way. While it’s one thing for a player to take on a class for themselves, its all that much more work and knowledge for DMs to master themselves.
The game devs also rely very heavily on playtesting and feedback from the community. As they said back in March, “Sometimes, a gap might not exist until we try to fill it. We might see a concept that we want to take a chance on, like presenting a new, artificer-based character class. In that case, we rely on playtesting to tell us if the new concept fills a genuine need.” As such, I know I’ll be filling in the survey letting them know what I think, and I’ll be looking to playtest this class and giving feedback in the future. You can fill in the survey too and let them know what you think.
Who do you think would do better in D&D: Batman or Iron Man? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image & Blog Credits: Wizards of the Coast (Magic: The Gathering)
Teri Litorco classes her D&D sessions up with sparkling wine, which pairs well with Doritos in her experience. She’s also the author of The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming. She shares pictures of her cats and miniatures on social media: Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.