Fellow adventurers of Khorvaire!
As a huge Eberron fan (I mean, Maze Arcana, helloooo…), I’m always excited when @MikeMearls, @JeremyCrawford, and the rest of the design team invest their time into some of the iconic Eberron content. Knowing they’ve been tinkering with it since the early stages of 5th edition, and personally having had many discussions with many of them about it, I know they want to see it welcomed into the world in the right way. This week's Unearthed Arcana of the Artificer was a long step in the right direction. I have, with some help from Keith Baker, created a class for one of my players in wait of the official Artificer, called the Arcaneer, which I intend to release later this year. Along with the show’s weekly production, adding new shows, Patreon, module writing, and the film & television career I have to plan these things around, the Con schedule Maze Arcana is currently tracking, it’s a wonder I get any sleep at all. Let’s get down to it.
So, points right up front:
- No one has had a chance to playtest it just yet. This is simply my impressions and a symptom of my experience of hundreds of hours of theory crafting, reading multiple editions worth of content in Eberron & Forgotten Realms, and TONS of your classes on the DM’sGuild. This might not even reflect the stance that Maze Arcana as a whole takes and I could be dead wrong, so take it with a grain of salt and don’t hesitate to add your 2 cents. Just do us all a favor and keep it constructive, don’t be a dick, and remember it’s a game… we’re here to have fun and facilitate that fun for everyone, including the DM.
- As WotC isn’t currently releasing content for Eberron, it likely isn’t designed for the setting, so the flavor might not be right on. As I speak of my thoughts, it’ll be through the lens of the setting, which means that it might have nothing to do with the lens that the design team is looking through. Creating the artificer without Eberron in mind could seem a little shortsighted but we don’t have all the information they do, so bottle up any vitriol from that part of the argument. Express it, just keep it constructive.
- It is a living document! YOU have the opportunity to add your voice to the design by completing the survey that will come out later this month. So, do your duty as a fan, and let the Elder Brain know what you think!
First, I’d like to point out one of the great things that the WotC team does to keep the focus on storytelling, is set the mood early with great introductory situations in, what has now become, the classic three paragraph set up. This UA was no different and a great hype setup for what’s to come. Specifically, the Intense Rivalries section is spot on!
Class Chart (Modifications, in my Arcaneer)
I know class spell progression is an odd place to start, but hear me out. The most viewed graphic in D&D isn’t the beautiful illustrations in the book, or even the artwork on the cover, but rather these tables and charts that help a player understand a lot of the jargon that might confuse new players, and even some veterans, and usually taking up half or more of the classes’ table, and making up much of their power, is the spells portion.
For the artificer, it seems as if they went with a quarter caster, along the lines of an Eldritch Knight or an Arcane Trickster, and that just feels off to me. I think the class deserves to have a more significant role, especially since they aren’t an offshoot of another martial class. For the arcaneer, I turned to the mechanics of another class that is a bit of a misfit on its own, the Warlock. The warlock’s spell progression, for both levels, slots, and increases, really gives it a specific feel, and basing that to the artificer’s arsenal would have given it a distinct feel, and a very techno-magical feel to counterbalance the other-worldly magic feel of the warlock. Not to mention, the super low level and late progression of the artificer spells seems as though it was front loaded to be enjoyed in the earliest level but make for a pretty boring class in the late game.
Alongside the wimpy power curve, I feel as though the warlock progression feels more thematically appropriate, as the inventor would do his best to stockpile his resources wisely and pack the greatest punch at the perfect moment, instead of a dribbling out of minor magical essence over alongside a fighter. Couple a stronger, yet limited number, of spell slots with the ability to regain your spells at each short rest, and you’ve given the artificer the “MacGyver” versatility that the class was designed to have, the right tool for every situation.
Finally, the Invocation idea fits nicely alongside the idea of a tinker obsessed with Crafting Theories, which is what I called the arcaneer’s invocations. Heck, that would even flavor the artificer’s go-to cantrip-like features inclined toward the power they’ve given them in this update.
Right on line with my version and feels about right considering one of the major attributes of the Class is a physical Constitution that should be able to take a hit or two.
I’m pretty happy with these selections. If I were going to knitpick at all, I’d want to reinforce the theme of the class by giving them tinker’s tools and the feature like the gnomes receive. One of the things my Arcaneer does, is use the tinker’s Tools in place of thieves’ tools for all lock and trap checks, and even gets that double proficiency bonus throw in, too.
When making the Arcaneer, I teetered back and forth between the subclass selection at first or third level but ended up making the same decision, and thematically, it makes sense, as most artificers would likely have attended a trade school before graduating to adventurer status. I was hoping to see a third to give us a little broader idea of the implementation but it’s just a playtest.
Magic Item Analysis
Feels right, feels goooooood… although, I might have limited the number of uses a day or increased the ritual time of them to an hour.
Here she is! Still, tinker’s sounds more appropriate to me instead of thieves’ tools.
Hats off to the boys for keeping one of the iconic features of magic creation in-line with adventurer’s league magic item threshold. I might even have given them access to some strong items toward 20th level, I just applaud the idea of the “situationally useful” item over the “combat advantage” item. I shied away from magic item creation in Eberron for now, expecting to implement it later and grant the artificer options in reducing time, or cost, or effectiveness (“good/fast/cheap, pick two”) based on their artificer level but my intent was also to keep it on par with organized play, as well. So, BRAVO!
Perhaps my biggest qualm with this UA artificer is that it is a spell caster at all. In the discussions I have had with Keith Baker, we’ve discussed the artificer not necessarily being naturally gifted in arcane or divine magic, but able to duplicate the effects based on intense study of the pattern and application. My arcaneer uses his homunculus as an Infusion Focus to apply his modifications to himself or his allies, and that sounds more thematically in the spirit of the Eberron version of the class. I know that this UA isn’t focused on Eberron, but since that’s where the artificer’s D&D roots come from, it seems like a good way to pay homage, since it doesn’t disrupt the flow of other settings very much.
This ability comes at 4th level, and is an impressive addition giving the artificer a boost unique from other classes. However, the 8-hour time frame makes it a bit limiting, especially since the artificer spells recharge on a long rest, and another limitation is that it can only be added to nonmagical objects. At higher levels, when most characters will be wearing magical armor or using magical weapons, this handwaves one of the most iconic abilities of the artificers. The ability to weave additional magical spells into their armor and weapons is something that is not just an Eberron fan favorite, it’s Keith Baker’s favorite feature of the class. What’s the power balance issue here? That you could give a +2 item a single cast of Haste? Late in game, it feels like the idea is to limit infusing spells into whatever other mundane item you can get your hands on.
I have something like this in the arcaneer features, called Optimal Conduit, only the arcaneer’s allows him to add these spells into permanent magic items, as well as spending Modification Slots (spell slots) to recharge an item that already contains some sort of spell-like effect. Finally, a fun little quirk, is that if you are going to try to infuse a spell-like effect into a sentient item, it (the DM) must consent OR, if you insist and don’t mind chancing the consequences, you can force the item to make a Charisma saving throw to resist your infusion. Following the warlock’s feature progression, this sits at 6th level for the arcaneer.
Ability Score Improvement
Standard pacing, let’s keep moving.
It’s pretty sweet, though it feels too early, especially with such a late scaling feature. In my version, this is a part of a 10th level feature, Magic Hack, that allows your number of attuned items to increase by your Intelligence modifier, as well as removing the restrictions from all magic items, just –and just a little– before the rogue’s thief subclass, which makes sense because magic item manipulate is one of the major tenants of the artificer. If I were to keep this feature the same, I’d likely still bump it up to 10th level (and 15th) to keep the excitement coming later in game. Like I said, the interesting features of the class are front loaded.
For 6th level, we’ve got a nifty little feature here but it doesn’t feel as though it was fully developed. What is basically a homunculus will eventually become a burden later in the game as its hit points and proficiencies don’t scale and you have few, if any, ways to heal a construct.
If it gets killed, it could cost 1,000 gold pieces and a week to fix. If the DM decides it isn’t too bad… it only requires a long rest to rebuild but returns with a single hit point, and we are back to the healing quandary. Did I miss something? Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford are VERY specific with their wording and the only mention of using a spell that one might not normally consider on a construct is revivify. If they intended cure wounds to be used on the construct, they would have stated that plainly, or not included the restriction in the cure wounds description. I added a “repair” modification to my arcaneer class, which is basically cure wounds, and I would suggest fixing this by adding a bullet point that says if an artificer uses the cure wounds spell, it heals constructs instead of its normal range of targets. For the “Servant” portion, it falls in-line with my arcaneer’s homunculus and for the fully combat oriented portion of this feature, I’d look to Lucky’s subclass, the architect, currently played by Kyle Vogt on the show.
The real meat of this feature is “You gain a +1 bonus to all saving throws per magic item you are currently attuned to” which is hella strong because of the first portion of the feature, “you can attune to up to six magic items at once”. However, that part half feels like a previous feature, Superior Attunement, which takes some of the bang out of it for me. A bonus of +6 to ALL saving throws is amazing in its own right. Mechanically it’s one of the best in the game but the way its phrased, and coming along after the ~Superior Attunement Improvement~ it sounds like a fizzle. In my opinion, this capstone should pack a hell of a punch, something mechanically in-line with the Paladin or Warlock but themed appropriately for the artificer.
Curious about the arcaneer’s? To accompany an earlier feature that I haven’t mentioned, Power Sense, that allows the artificer to basically locate magic items and traps like a paladin locates undead, Remote Detonation, allows you to cause a magic item to explode in much the same way a staff of power would. This creates a strong roleplaying element to the decision making as we all know big bads love to carry or wield strong magical items, which would be a major pro to detonation, while adventurer’s really want those strong magic items, and a perplexing con. Couple that with the cost of a top tier modification/spell slot, and having to use Power Sense first, and that’s the sort of thing I wanna see in a capstone feature. Again, mechanically, that +6 to all Saving Throws is AMAZING! I’d just rather see something like that come up a little sooner.
On to Artificer Specialists
I won’t call the base class amazing but it is hands down a Rockstar next to its faux-wizard sibling. Let’s tiptoe down to the Specialists. First up--
I’m a fan of a lot of this, so I’m gonna skim over the stuff that works and just poke at the stuff that strikes me sidewise. Alchemist’s Satchel feels good, Alchemical Formula seems to work pretty well. I really like the idea, and I’m not someone who wants to see new mechanics complicating the world we play in, but I am yearning for a potion tossing formula that doesn’t assume every adventurer is a college level quarterback. I wouldn’t think that process is too hard, and my recent theory crafting is an ascending DC scale based on the distance from the target. Maybe I’ll find time to finish it soon, big things are coming for MZA, so we’ll see.
The one thing that does feel like an odd update to the current mechanics, is adding a d6 every two levels down the line. It’s basically a cantrip, but it defies the current cantrip break down… and it feels like it’s because the subclass features are a little listless. Good news is, you get access to all of them at 1st level, bad news is, the only thing you have to look forward to is another option and d6. I suppose that variety is a boon to fit the right situations, but I would rather that be fitted into the actual build of the artificer class, not the subclass. Beyond the additional d6, it just feels like a slightly different skin. I’m a fan of the variety though… my suggestion would be to attach a spell slot to it and make it that much better. Again, my understanding of the artificer is that they don’t actually have the magic within them, as much as they have mastered the infusion of the magic in the world into their builds.
Unlike the alchemist, the gunsmith does get a full battery of new features. Unfortunately, it stems from the same problem as the alchemist. Now, it’s obviously an issue of “intelligent design”, and Mearls, Crawford, and Perkins are right up on the top of my personal pantheon of the most creative people floating about the United States BUT this doesn’t feel like enough to make it worthwhile past second tier.
Smith tools and mending cantrip. Eh… somewhat thematic? Shouldn’t all artificer’s be able to mend inanimate objects?
The fluff… I love it. It is beautiful. I love it. The weapon just doesn’t really measure up to the flowery prose. It also doesn’t seem to have much to do with the artificer… If the world now has access to gun technology, why wouldn’t warring nations manufacture the crap out of these? Even if they don’t have access to Thunder Monger it hits as hard as a greatsword at up to 500 feet! Don’t get me wrong, the Thunder Cannon (like my arcannon’s boomstick) is solid on the mechanic – even with the weird feeling the additive d6 process gives me – but it doesn’t feel like “INFUSING”. I’d cut that damage in half…. And I’d also attach a spell slot requirement and have the extra d6 advance by spell level.
For the arcannon subclass made famous by IVAN VAN NORMAN on Maze Arcana, the first feature modification allows the boomstick to increase the caliber of the shot fired to the next higher die, d8, d10, d12, etc. This isn’t redefining mechanics but is still unique to the defining features of the subclass. There are just too many fun things we can do with the weapon that I feel have fallen a little short.
For those of you that remember the recent crack at the Arcane Archer, the Arcana Magazine is pretty darn attractive. The question is, why? It is decidedly non-magical, so it makes sense when the ammunition type is tied to the classes features in a magical way (arcane archer… but they only got two shots) until 3rd level when the bonus damage is attached by way of thunder you make a special attack with. It still doesn’t have anything to do with the Arcane Magazine. My biggest issue with it isn’t the feature’s mechanics it’s that it takes an opportunity for roleplay interaction completely off the table without giving us something substantial in return. That doesn’t feel like the D&D Mearls, Crawford, and Perkins have done their best to give us. Sure, I could make the artificer narrate his process of making lead shot… but how many times? I guess it’s about how many DM’s are going to track your ammo, but taking that away from the ones that do… and hand them nothing in return… Eh, I’ll do without.
Blast Wave, Piercing Round, Explosive Round
I’m actually a fan of these. All three of them have no resource expense except an ammunition cost, that Arcana Magazine nullifies anyway… I bet you know what I’m going to say. Limit uses to Intelligence modifier or spell slots, or something… I guess the DM could have it stolen every three days?
Finally, Artificer Spell List
Most of the spells feel on point. I’d drop cure wounds, at least without it being altered toward a construct or a spell-storage device. I’m not an advocate for a whole bunch of splat but if you’re going to make a whole new class, I’m sure you can find the time to create ONE spell mechanic for repairs. Or give the Artificer “healing kit” type feature or boost to mending.
I know it sounds like I’m not excited about the artificer. I am ecstatic that it is being brought into the world but, beyond a little mechanical bend, it doesn’t seem to embody what the artificer (an Eberron-native) should feel like from the earlier editions, to me. I have absolutely no desire to regress in mechanics because we don’t need a more complicated system for the artificer to work, we just need to fine tune the flavor. Overall, it’s closer but feels like capitalizing on missed opportunities would go miles.
What is important here, before you Eberron-faithful get up in arms, is that it is just a playtest and these guys have a ton of projects flying around their heads at any moment you haven’t even dreamed up. Now, roleplay playtesting is incredibly dependent on the DM and the players at the table to judge the length of a leg on a stool. What gives me faith, as always, is a quick thumb through the PHB, Curse of Strahd, and even the Sage Advice. These guys are committed. However, they CAN’T do it without you! Don’t forget to let them know in the survey! It’s sort of like voting, if you didn’t voice your opinion when it might matter, consider keeping it to yourself after it’s between hardcovers.
So, am I off my anvil? Is this Artificer everything you’ve been waiting for? Has it just been so long since the glimmer of dragonshard had caught your eye? Let me know what you think in the comments below!