D&D 5e: Artillerist Artificer Guide

D&D 5e: Artillerist Artificer Guide

Role in the Party

There is no member of the party more likely to hear the term “Geneva convention” at the table than the Artificer, and among Artificers, none more likely to use the word “Nuclear” than the Artillerist. Often the smartest person at the table, the Artillerist Artificer is the one who will make the Dungeon Master sweat as many bullets as the Artillerist is about to fire. But are they any good at the table?

[Epic]

Good

Meh

Bad

As an artillerist starting at third level, you first gain proficiency with woodcarver’s tools, which are used for most of your artillerist skills. Presumably because asking for ‘gunsmithing tools’ would make your DM start grinding their teeth at night. Anyway, there’s no reason not to take more tool proficiencies, when as an artificer you already have thieves’ tools, tinkerer’s tools, and one other type of artisan’s tools of your choice. That said, when was the last time you ever used a toolkit other than thieves’ tools without being prompted by the DM? Woodcarver’s tools are your holy symbol now, so have fun with the roleplaying there.

You also gain Artillerist-specific spells, which are mostly variants of “Big boom”. Unfortunately, this means you have to wait until level nine to get fireball, but thunderwave at level 3 isn’t bad. To be fair, if you give an artificer fireball, your campaign is going to suddenly be about how to stop all of the forest fires you’ve started.

You also get Eldritch Cannon. Now this one’s fun. You make a small or tiny cannon that can be placed on a horizontal surface or held in your hand, once per long rest (or more if you use spell slots). Magical object, AC of 18, hitpoints equal to 5x artificer level, immune to poison and psychic damage, can be healed with the mending spell. More importantly: You can choose if it has legs (and therefore a movement speed), you can activate it if it’s within 60 feet of you as a bonus action, and it can be one of three types (as of Tasha’s Cauldron), operating as a flamethrower, a force ballista, or giving your party within 10 feet of it gain temporary hit points, depending on which type you choose. There’s nothing quite like surprising everyone with a game of ‘which cannon is Doc making today’. 

At level 5, you gain Arcane Firearm. Never mind the fact that -if guns exist in your campaign- you have proficiency with guns; at level 5 you can make them your damn self. Use your woodcarver’s tools to turn something else into your destructive conduit for spells, but also once you do that, add 1D8 damage to all your spells cast with your new boomstick. A little extra damage never hurts!

At level 9, you gain Explosive Cannon, which just sounds spectacular, doesn’t it? Now when you make an eldritch cannon, your damage rolls increase by 1D8 (just like your arcane firearm), and if you want you can detonate your cannon while you’re within 60 feet of it, making everyone within 20ft of your cannon perform a dex saving throw against your spell save DC and taking 3D8 force damage on a failed save, or half on a successful save. If you don’t have the spell slots for Fireball, storebought is fine. Nothing like having a walking boom stick.

At level 15, it’s time for Fortified Position. Using your Eldritch Cannon, allies have half cover within 10 feet of them (remember, that’s +2 to AC and dex saving throws); you can now have two cannons at the same time and make them with the same action (but not the same spell slot), and you can activate them both with the same bonus action. Good thing this comes in the late game because if you had it any earlier you’d have become the BBEG long ago.

Strengths

Everyone says Wizards are the brainiacs of D&D, but only until they meet an Artificer. Most wizards will figure out Fireball and use nothing else because AOE damage is very attractive. But an artificer is a fan of precision, and is more likely to use controlled explosions placed beforehand– or send out their little cannon friend to be the controlled explosion.

Weaknesses

The Artificer is still your smart guy, not your tank. While they may draw a lot of aggro, don’t expect your Artillerist to be able to handle combat by themself. More often than not, your Artillerist is arranging your victory from the sidelines, so make sure they stay protected if you want your party to succeed. Still, you’re at least tankier than the Wizard.

Best Race Options

Deep Gnome: If you’re the crafty type who wants to be subtle, the sort who wants no one to know you’re there until it’s too late, a deep gnome is a great choice. You’re small (meaning if you make a medium-sized cannon with legs, nothing is saying you can’t ride it, which is especially fun when your cannon can climb up to 15 feet, presumably up walls); you also have dark vision, and gain magic at second and fifth level for disguising yourself. You also gain advantage on intelligence, wisdom, and charisma saving throws against magic, and you can make stealth checks with advantage once per long rest.

Kenku: This is as much flavor as it is functional. The Kenku’s memory is legendary, and since one of the many things they’re good at is copying sounds, they can use that with the Artificer’s ability to make objects repeat sounds. You also have Expert Duplication, so if this game is bound to have more artificers or other exceptional techno-magical items, you gain advantage on any ability checks made to produce an exact duplicate. (You can also choose to be small to ride your cannon up walls if you think that sounded neat). Just ask your DM if you can play a Kenku that can come up with its thoughts because nobody enjoys communicating via soundboard for more than a one shot.

Lightfoot Halfling: Halfling luck, small size (the choice of only small creatures wasn’t intentional, but it is pretty neat), advantage against frighten, and the ability to hide behind your own medium-sized canon or other party members? Seems pretty useful. Stout is a fine choice too, but poison resistance probably isn’t quite as useful.

Choosing the Right Skills

Choose two from Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, and Sleight of Hand.

Always choose Investigation.

If you’re going for a sneaky, clever type, go for Sleight of Hand as your second choice.

If you’re the studious type aiming to create brand new items, try Arcana. If you’re just here to blow things up, consider Perception.

Skip Nature, that’s more of an alchemist thing. History and Medicine are good, but may not be used as frequently as your other options.

As usual, switch things around if your background gives you some of these as freebies.

Fitting Feats

Assuming guns are a thing in D&D and they aren’t something your Artillerist just invented, you should immediately get Gunner. Follow this up with Sharpshooter, for maximum gunslinging action.

Regardless of whether or not guns exist, pick up Metamagic Adept, which is never a bad thing for a caster to have. 

If you don’t have access to guns, consider picking up Telekinetic to extend your skills with Mage Hand, and Skill Expert to gain expertise in Investigation. Plus, these two skills can give you a small buff to your ability scores.

Optimal Backgrounds

Charlatan: If you’re the sneaky no-good type, get yourself a favorite scheme and the False Identity feature. It lets you get really good at forgery, gives you Deception and Sleight of hand, lets you be proficient in disguise and forgery kits -because you needed more tool proficiencies, right?- and along with various items, gives you 15gp to start.

Guild Merchant: A personal favorite, if only because the guild merchant starts with a mule and a cart. This is especially thematic for an artificer who makes things for a living, why shouldn’t you go sell them? You’d do well as a guild artisan as well, either option functions. Proficiencies in Insight and Persuasion, proficiency in navigator’s tools or an additional language (or one more artisan tool set if you choose the artisan route), a language (unrelated to the one above, for a total of two possible additional languages), items, and 15gp. 

Sage: While it sounds boring, the sage gives you free proficiencies in Arcana and History, two languages, 10GP (as well as the usual flavor items you’ll immediately forget about), and the Researcher feature, which will mean you’ll always know where to get the information you need. For an artificer, this is nigh invaluable, though it could certainly derail the whole campaign in your quest to figure out nuclear physics in the forgotten realms. Perhaps you were once a chemistry professor.

Multiclassing Options

– Necromancy Wizard: Playing into your high-int strengths, at 6th level you can animate dead, and add additional zombies to your pile of critters you can summon. The school of necromancy also helps you heal at second level when you kill stuff with a spell (note that it doesn’t say a wizard spell).

Inquisitive Rogue: Along with Sneak Attack and the other things any rogue gets, the Inquisitive rogue gains a skill for identifying lies, and is good at picking out hidden things. You can also use insight checks to get more opportunities to do sneak attack damage. This subclass works better with wisdom casters, but it’s one of the better subclasses for an Artillerist. Alternatively, try out Phantom if this ‘looking at stuff’ business isn’t action-y enough for you. It’s hard to identify the ‘right’ rogue subclass for the artillerist, but I strongly suspect it could be a solid combination for an artificer if done correctly.

College of Creation Bard: At level 3 you can create nonmagical items (which nobody says can’t be MADE magical), and at level 6 you can animate a large or smaller nonmagical item and make it into a construct aiding you, which meshes well with the themes of the Artillerist. Plus, we all love infuriating our DM with more things for them to track. Given you can make a large construct, with a 30ft walking or hovering speed, your large construct can carry your Eldritch Cannon, which can then theoretically move its own 15 feet, or simply use your construct as a platform from which to shoot. 

Would I recommend playing an Artillerist Artificer?

Hell yeah. This looks like a class that would be fun to start playing right now. Mind, the skills of the Artillerist Artificer are very combat-focused, but there’s also a lot of background that lets you have fun with role-playing. You have a lot of tools, a lot of potential ways to make money and run deals with people. You have a lot of opportunities to get creative with how you choose to play the Artillerist. One thing we’re pretty sure of: Few problems in D&D can’t be solved with more gunpowder. 

Sage Gamers

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