Well, WoTC’s revised Artificer Unearthed Arcana has been out for about two and a half months now, so I thought it might be time to compile some of my thoughts on it. The new version is heavily reworked, most of its similarities to the original Artificer UA lying only in its steampunk, magitech flavor. Very few mechanics remain from that first version – and honestly, I have to say that that’s a good thing.
The original Artificer UA was intriguing in both flavor and mechanics, but it suffered from lack of a strong core mechanical concept, overload with weak features, and glaring imbalance between its subclasses – the Alchemist and the Gunsmith. The revised artificer has fixed all of these problems while retaining – and even enhancing – the fun steampunk vibes that made the Artificer so tempting to play in the first place. However, while successfully injecting the Artificer with some much-needed power, WoTC may have gone a bit overboard and produced a class that overshadows its peers at low levels and steps on DMs’ toes when it comes to meting out magic items.
Fuzzy to Focused
To start with, I’d like to go through each of the original Artificer’s class features and compare them with their corollary features in the Revisited Artificer. The changes here were almost universally positive, with just a few exceptions that tip the new Artificer over into overpowered territory.
The original Artificer was a 1/3 caster – that is, they gained spell slots at 1/3 the rate of a full spellcasting class, such as the Wizard or the Sorcerer. Their spellcasting table followed the progression of the Eldritch Knight subclass of Fighter, meaning that they only gained 4th level spells at 20th level, and were only ever granted one spell slot at that level. Unlike the Eldritch Knight, however, the original Artificer did not gain access to cantrips. This left them with very little magic available to them at any given moment, and none once their meager spell slots were spent.
The Revisited Artificer has been given a major upgrade in spellcasting. They are now 1/2 casters, gaining spell slots in step with Rangers. Unlike Rangers, however, they prepare their spells from the full Artificer spell list, like Clerics or Wizards, meaning that they have great flexibility in picking the spells they’ll need for any given situation. They also have access to cantrips, albeit few and far between – they learn new cantrips even slower than Warlocks.
To me, this seems a good balance. Artificers can count on having magical abilities available to them any time they have their artisan tools (which count as arcane foci for Artificers, instead of wands and staves and such), but they must weigh their options between utility cantrips such as mending, message, and spare the dying and damaging cantrips such as fire bolt, ray of frost, and shocking grasp. When it comes to dealing damage, Revisited Artificers also have to choose between cantrips and weapons, as they can now make a multiattack starting at 5th level. Any choice they make here means a sacrifice of something else they probably dearly want to have, and thus that there are many mutually-exclusive builds to increase the replay-value of the class.
The Revisited spell list is mostly unchanged from the original Artificer’s list (aside from the addition of cantrips and 5th level spells, of course). The only gripe I have with it – and it is a very minor one – is that it’s still missing tiny servant. WoTC seems very protective of spells exclusive to the Wizard list – although they did break that rule in giving Bigby’s hand to Revisited Artificers – but it just doesn’t make sense to me when it comes to tiny servant. If anywhere, this is where I would have chosen to break Wizard exclusivity. Sorcerer’s Apprentice references notwithstanding, tiny servant is right up the Artificer’s alley in terms of flavor, and it’s hardly an iconic member of the Wizard list (unlike Bigby’s hand, I’ll note).
Magic Item Analysis vs. Magical Tinkering
Nothing but improvement here. Magic Item Analysis (from the original Artificer UA) was relatively useless aside from granting a few additional spells that are covered in the Revisited spell list anyway. Magical Tinkering, however, adds a neat little bit of flavor and ensures that players have something cool to do even at level one. There’s huge room for creativity with this one, and that’s nothing but good. The only drawback is the feature’s long, clunky description – necessary in order to keep the scope of the ability in check, but also difficult to remember.
This one hasn’t been changed much – double proficiency bonus to checks with artisan tools the Artificer is proficient with – but it has been moved from 2nd to 3rd level in the Revisited Artificer. I’m definitely in favor of the change, as it prevents players from nabbing that sweet doubled proficiency bonus with just a two-level dip. A three-level multiclass is still doable, but the sacrifice is more appropriate to what you’re getting from this feature.
Wondrous Invention/Infuse Magic vs. Infuse Item
One of the best changes in the Revisited Artificer was the consolidation of these two features from the original class. Rather than gaining free magic items AND the ability to put spells into items, the Revisited Artificer learns certain infusions that they can choose to use to replicate magic items from the DMG or to make items unique to the class. This was a great way of salvaging and streamlining both ideas.
It’s also resolved an ambiguity in the original Artificer – what was supposed to happen when one of your Wondrous Inventions was lost, destroyed, or stolen? Uh oh, bye bye class feature! See you next character! In the Revisited Artificer, item infusions are inherently tied to the Artificer that created them. If they die, the item loses its magic. If they decide to create something else, they can choose to deactivate the first item and invest their magic into another instead. This also means that the Artificer is almost certainly going to be the swiss-army knife of the party – not only can they prepare spells for any given scenario, they can also swap out their infusions to ensure that they have the best equipment possible for whatever they’re up against.
Speaking from my own experience trying out a Revisited Artificer in my wife’s game, this is a really fun feature. Unfortunately, it can also be a little overpowered. Having access to a broad range of low-value but highly useful magic items regardless of what the DM chooses to offer to the party makes the Revisited Artificer a bit of a potential wrench in the DM’s plans. Not ready to offer your players +1 magic items or armor? Too bad! Those infusions are some of the first available to Artificers, and they’d be foolish not to take them.
This lack of control could, of course, be fixed by the DM simply choosing to restrict the Revisited Artificer’s choices of infusions, but such things can sometimes make players a little resentful. Unless they know at the outset that they’re entering into a heavily limited campaign, people generally expect to be able to use their class features as-written – and that’s a fair expectation.
I would suggest that DMs should award infusions to their Revisited Artificers as they would magic items – when the players level up, they happen to come across schematics or recipes for infusions that the DM is willing to let the party have access to. This keeps magic item distribution firmly in the DM’s hands, where it should be, but still allows the player to use their class features fully. It should also reduce some of the algorithmic thinking that can go into character building, forcing players to think of their characters as people bound by the strictures of the world they exist in rather than as a collection of mathematical equations governed by abstract rules.
Aside from stepping on the DM’s toes in magic item distribution, some options for this feature are also just a bit unbalanced at low levels. The ability to have a +1 magic weapon at level three is a sweet, sweet gift, especially combined with the Artificer’s new exclusive spell, arcane weapon. Between the +1 bonus to hit and damage and the extra 1d6 arcane weapon provides, low level Artificers will be meting out hefty amounts of damage and easily bypassing resistances to nonmagical damage that can be so important to monsters’ threat level during that part of the game. And that problem is only going to double once they hit 5th level and gain their multiattack.
Both the Enhanced Weapon and Enhanced Defense clearly need a level requirement. I would suggest at least 7th level – allowing the Artificer to enjoy their second attack for a few levels before beefing up once more, and sliding in around the point that the party is likely going to be finding +1 equipment in their adventures. However, putting a restriction on these also means that there needs to be more options for infusions available at low levels. Without those, there just aren’t enough choices at 3rd level, and most players would end probably end up selecting three different types of magic item replications.
Superior Attunement/Mechanical Servant vs. Arcane Armament
Both of these features from the original Artificer class have been almost entirely mothballed in the Revisited version. Instead of the ability to attune to more than three magic items and a clunky mechanical servant whose attacks and hit points will quickly grow obsolete as the party levels up, the Revisited Artificer gets a second attack with the Attack action – provided they have a magic weapon to make that attack with, of course.
That caveat is almost pointless, considering that not only can the Revisited Artificer create +1 magic weapons with their Infuse Item ability, they can also make any weapon temporarily magical with arcane weapon (or magic weapon, or elemental weapon, but why would you use either of those when you have access to arcane weapon? It’s better in every way). The only foreseeable circumstances that could deprive the Artificer of their second attack is if they are in an anti-magic field, or if all of their equipment, including their artisan tools, have been taken from them. Still, I suppose it adds a bit of flavor to the ability, but it’s certainly not a functional limitation to the Revisited Artificer’s strength.
I love the second attack. It tempts the player away from damaging cantrips, differentiating the Revisited Artificer from other spellcasters. It also lets the Artificer’s magic items shine, and as the focus of the class that’s exactly what they should be doing. Aside from that, I think it goes without saying that the original features, although theoretically intriguing, were clumsy and not balanced for level progression. Some may mourn the loss of the mechanical servant, but both of the new subclasses – Alchemist and Artillerist – get their own pet(s), so I think we’ve been fully compensated here.
The Right Cantrip for the Job
This feature lets the Revisited Artificer swap out one cantrip for another during a short or long rest – yet more flexibility. The Revisited Artificer truly has been designed to be the swiss-army knife of the party. This one doesn’t really have a corollary in the original class, and I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. On one hand, it is cool to have access to all Artificer cantrips. But on the other hand, it also serves to erase distinctions between builds and lowers the replay value of the class – if you had access to all Artificer cantrips with one character, you’re unlikely to be excited about trying different ones the next time you play one.
Spell-Storing Item and Soul of Artifice
As is relatively common with Fifth Edition classes, noticeably less thought has been put into the Revisited Artificer’s high-level class features. Both of these – gained at level 18 and 20 respectively – are holdovers from the original Artificer. Spell-Storing Item is much like the Infuse Magic ability, albeit buffed significantly because it’s gained at 18th level; Revisited Artificers get to use spells they store in items multiple times rather than just once.
Not a single word of the Soul of Artifice feature has been changed from the original, and consequently it is just as overpowered as it was originally. It’s a tempting ability, and one that the Artificer can put to great use with their Infuse Item feature. I’m not going to dwell overmuch on how good it is; I don’t think anyone pretends that 20th level features need to be balanced save with each other. While Soul of Artifice certainly overshadows some 20th level class features – I’m looking at you, Warlock – it’s noticeably weaker than others, such as many of those given by Paladin subclasses. Sweet, but not too sweet.
Alchemist vs. Alchemist
There’s almost nothing left of the original Alchemist in the Revisited version, which will certainly be a relief to anyone who had an interest in playing that subclass. The original was unplayable – both boring and pathetically weak.
The Revisited Alchemist, however, is quite fun. It’s definitely a support subclass to the Artillerist’s blasting and control, but it fills that role in a flavorful and unique way. The homunculus pet it grants can’t do much damage, but it has some hefty buffs to hand out in battle – flight, inspiration, and temporary hit points. None of these are throw-aways, and when they run out the homunculus can still use its attack. Both its hit points and attack bonus scale with the player’s level, and I’m enormously relieved to see that WoTC has finally figured out that pets should not roll their own initiative.
Aside from the pet, the Alchemist gets buffs to healing, certain types of damage, and can pretty much promise to end any status conditions anyone in the party suffers… ever.
Gunsmith vs. Artillerist
The Gunsmith was the original Artificer’s one strong point – focused, well balanced, and flexible. Unfortunately, WoTC got beaten out of the firearm class market by the fame of Mr. Mercer’s Gunslinger subclass for Fighter. As far as players go, that choice was always pretty clear – why play a Gunsmith when you could get most of the same things (and more) out of Gunslinger, while also reaping the rewards of the Fighter class and emulating Lord Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo the third?
In response to this, WoTC wisely backed away from the pistol-packin’ tinker archetype a bit – although Revisited Artificers may be proficient in firearms, at the DM’s discretion – and focused in on something even more perfect for the Artificer’s flavor: a turret builder. The resulting Artillerist subclass feels ripped straight out of Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch, but it’s a fun idea so who really cares?
The central feature of this subclass is the arcane turrets: mobile constructs that can deliver single target attacks, area of effect damage, or a defensive aura. The turrets are temporary pets, and benefit from the same pet adjustments that make the Alchemist’s homunculus viable. They also have the same ability to be healed by the mending spell – something that makes sense for the homunculus, as it persists outside of battle, but is relatively useless for an arcane turret that lasts only 10 minutes, as the mending spell has a casting time of 1 minute. Not something that could be used mid-battle – something tells me that WoTC forgot to check the spell’s casting time before slapping that detail on. Aside from that, though, the turrets are wonderful, and I’m looking forward to being high enough level in my wife’s campaign to actually try them out in combat.
Even without their turrets, the Artillerist is fully capable of blasting the battlefield. Their subclass spell list is filled with area of effect spells of every kind, from fireball to cone of cold. The most powerful of these spells won’t be at the Artillerist’s disposal until very high levels because of their half-caster spell progression, but it’s still something sweet to look forward to. They also get to add their Intelligence modifier to the damage of cantrips through their 10th level feature, bringing the Artillerist on par with Grave Clerics and the handful of other subclasses with equivalents. With all of these things combined, the Artillerist is going to be raining damage down like nobody’s business.
The Revisited Artificer is a sleek, streamlined, and balanced class, improved in almost every way from the original UA. It’s few flaws – overstepping the bounds of magic item distribution and, through that first flaw, overshadowing other classes at low levels, can be fixed with extremely minor tweaks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Artificer appear almost unchanged in WoTC’s next source book. Well done!
Until next time, this has been DM Vesper!