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Artificer Barbarian Multiclass Guide for Dungeons and Dragons 5e

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Artificer Barbarian Multiclass Guide

Ultimate Nerd Rage

Artificers are mad inventors, pioneers of unexplored sciences who harness magic as if it were merely another natural force. Barbarians are slabs of muscle fueled by adrenaline and unbridled rage that can go berserk and tear dragons apart with their bare hands. Put them together and we get one heck of a contradiction that somehow melds into a buff scientist able to invent new and clever ways of tearing dragons apart with their bare hands. Grab your warhammer and your alchemical flasks as we go through everything you need to know. 


Why Play an Artificer Barbarian Multiclass?

This is for sure a strange dual-class option that can be surprisingly strong but won't set off your DM's min-max alerts as a broken class. Barbarians typically don’t mix well with spellcasting classes since the barbarian’s key feature rage specifically prohibits any spellcasting while using it. Artificers are special however and can use their magical prowess to create items and for combat buffs in ways that doesn’t technically count as “spellcasting”. This effectively lets us magically enhance our barbarian or add some enraged toughness to an otherwise martially inclined artificer with just a couple levels. It’s a surprising mix, but I genuinely think artificer is the single best caster class to combine with barbarian to enhance melee combat with lots of skills and utility features on the side.


What are the Downsides?

Artificers still often cast some spells during combat, even if build down a more martial combat route. Rage still blocks that off, so we’re going to have to optimize assuming that all our spellcasting happens in preparation for a fight or as utility features out of combat. This limitation isn’t the end of the world, but it does mean sacrificing more capabilities than other multiclass options. The biggest of which is the artificer’s otherwise excellent assortment of healing spells, which we’d otherwise want to make use of. Rage’s limit on heavy armor is also a drag, since a combat artificer would otherwise typically gravitate towards armoring up as much as possible. 

And just like with any multiclass options, we’ll be getting mid-game features later and losing out on high level features like capstones entirely. Artificers were never getting 9th level or higher-level spells to begin with and cap out at 5th level slots, but we're still going to be delaying or giving up even on those. Multi - classes in general tend to be weaker than just spending your experience levels on a single class unless you take advantage of specific synergies and combinations.

Finally, the combination tends to lend itself towards even further multiclassing with fighter to pick up a fighting style and action surge or rogue to pick up sneak attack, or paladin to pick up divine smite. All of which all starts to become its own beast. It can be a bit funky keeping to just this combo and fighting back the class level soup. 


What Class Features Do We Care About?

While not every barbarian class and artificer class feature is going to play a big role in our builds, you should be aware of the following class features while putting your artificer barbarian together.


Significant Artificer Features

  • Magical Tinkering. Gained at 1st level, you basically get to create a number of “tiny gadgets” equal to your Intelligence modifier. They can emit light, record and replay sounds, emit noises or odors, or relay messages. None of this is particularly impressive or useful to us, but having some bonus utility shenanigans under your belt is never a bad thing.
  • Spellcasting. Artificer spellcasting works a bit like an Intelligence-based cleric that's pretty close to half the wizard spell list, you get to prepare any artificer spells you’d like each day but are limited by your spell slots. We’re going to want to focus on a lot of utility and pre-combat spells, since rage will shut us off from casting mid-combat. Thankfully the artificer spell list is chock full of them, and healing spells are useful in and out of combat.
  • Infuse Item. Starting at 2nd level the artificer gets to essentially “make” magic items that only last for a while. This, however, opens access to things like +1 weapons and armors, along with excellent utility items. Note that what magical items you can make depends on your artificer level, so we’ll have to go hard into artificer if we want the really good options.
  • Artificer Subclass. Artificers gain their archetypes at 3rd level and several of our builds rely on the 3rd level archetype features. We’ll go more into them in a bit but just know for now they’ll factor into some of our builds.


Significant Barbarian Features

  • Rage. As a bonus action you flip your berserker switch and gain a huge pile of buffs at the cost of a few restrictions. You gain resistance to all the physical damage types, you do bonus damage on your Strength based melee attacks, and you get advantage on all Strength saves and ability checks. You can’t cast spells while you rage, and you can’t do it in heavy armor even if you get heavy armor proficiency. You’ve also got to keep on fighting for the 1-minute duration of your rage or it’ll end early. The bonus damage and the damage resistance are the standouts here and are incredibly useful. 
  • Unarmored Defense. While not wearing armor, you get a special AC equal to 10, + your Con modifier, + your Dex modifier. We’re getting medium armor anyway from artificer, so using this at all is optional. Personally, I’d say ignore it and just use medium armor instead but depending on how you build your character out this might be slightly more AC for you.
  • Danger Sense. The advantage on Dex saving throws is a nice extra way to make sure you don’t die to random fireballs. 
  • Reckless Attack. Gained at 2nd level, you can choose to gain advantage on all your attacks for a turn but in exchange all attacks against you also have advantage. Best used when you think you can just finish off threats entirely if you land your swings.
  • Primal Path. There’re a few options, but I’d argue there is enough in their initial 3rd level feature to justify the 3 level dip. I’ll go into each one in more detail later, but for now know that getting up to 3 levels of barbarian for the subclass abilities is worth doing.
  • Extra Attack. Gained at 5th level, extra attack is the quintessential martial character feature that practically doubles the effectiveness of a lot of characters with an entire additional attack. 5 levels is quite a bit, so think hard what higher level features you're willing to give up to reach it.
  • Fast Movement. Also gained at 5th level, barbarians get a flat 10 foot bonus to their movement speed so long as they aren’t wearing heavy armor. Speed is nice, especially when we can stack it higher with some artificer features.

What Level Does an Artificer Barbarian “Kick In”?

At minimum we’re looking to pick up the artificer’s infuse item feature at 2nd level, and the barbarian’s rage feature with just a single level. Which means we can consider it kicked in at our 3rd character level. However, most of our builds really require the artificers’ subclass at level 3, the barbarian’s 3rd level archetype feature, or both. So, for some of the build concepts you’re looking at either 4th level or 6th level to fully kick in. 


Do I Take Artificer or Barbarian First?

We don't get many additional proficiencies or lose out on anything important like martial weapon proficiencies or shield proficiency starting in either, so both are solid options. There’s an argument to be made for either, but I recommend taking barbarian for your first level. Taking barbarian first gives you a barbarian’s chunky starting hit points and gets you set up for a martial strategy right off the bat. Starting with artificer will net you an artisan’s tool proficiency and swaps the barbarian’s Strength save proficiency for Intelligence, but I don’t think that’s better than just starting with a full 12 hit point barbarian hit die. 


Artificer / Barbarian Ability Scores

Normally this would be a very awkward spread of abilities but since most of the artificer features, we care about don’t actually use Intelligence we can get away with quite a bit.

Like most barbarians our highest ability score should be Strength to max out our attack damage. Typically, we should be spending all our ability score improvements on Strength.

Your next highest ability score should be Constitution. One way or another we’re trying to be a front-line fighter and we’ll need as many hit points as we can get. Depending on exactly how your points line up, it can also play into unarmored defense. 

Next, you’ll ideally want a Dexterity score of 14 to hit the maximum bonus allowed by medium armors which is +2. If your combined Con and Dex modifiers equals 7 or higher you should switch to unarmored defense, otherwise just wear some half-plate or a breastplate.

Finally for our Intelligence all we’ll actually need is a 13 to meet the minimum class requirements. You can push this higher if able, but 13 is really all we need. We'll have access to spells, but very few of the spells we plan to cast actually care about our modifier.

And for this build Wisdom and Charisma can be used as dump stats as we’ll have no class features that interact with them.


Artificer Barbarian Equipment

Considering that the artificer is essentially the “equipment class” , what to wear is a complicated question. But if we ignore all the potentially infused items for a moment, all we’re really doing is suiting up like a normal barbarian.

To start with this means going over the debate between medium armor and making use of the barbarian’s unarmored defense which are both viable options. This comes down to how high your Dexterity is. Half-plate with a +2 Dexterity modifier gets us to a solid base AC of 17 and will likely be your best bet for most builds. If however, you manage to get your combined Constitution and Dexterity modifiers to +7 or higher, go with unarmored defense for a higher AC (or the same AC but removing the stealth penalty from half-plate).

The next question is to take a one-handed weapon and shield, a big beefy two-handed great weapon, or a pair of one-handed weapons. And as always this just comes down to if you want to prioritize DPS or tanking, with some of our builds pushing in either direction. Take the shield and a one-handed martial weapon if you’re trying to be the party tank. The DPS options are a bit trickier, as two-weapon fighting maximizes our bonus rage damage but uses our bonus action to do so. Rage uses our bonus action right off the bat, and that makes me partial to the greatsword or maul as the “correct” DPS option for some additional damage. Greataxes are also great picks, but do slightly less average damage (2d6 vs 1d12), although rolling extra d12s is significantly better than d6s if you manage to get critical hits once we get up to the 9th level brutal critical. The differences are minimal amounts of damage though, so really go with the weapon that feels best. 


Artificer Barbarian Spells

Due to rage, we are planning on spending our combat frothing at the mouth rather than using our spellcasting abilities. This means we have to prioritize uses for our spellcasting outside of combat as we'll be too angry to cast damaging spells. Thankfully, the artificer spell list has some good options for us with access to spells that fit the bill.

The first thing to consider is cure wounds. It’s way less useful when you can’t effectively cast it mid combat, but it can still be incredibly helpful to have some healing in your pocket. This also applies later to spells like lesser restoration and greater restoration which should always be at least considered as viable options.

The next things in the running are all the utility spells that you’d be casting outside of combat anyway. Detect magic, Identify, and rope trick are staple spells that are no less effective due to our combat casting limitations. Disguise self and invisibility are also at your disposal, though we aren’t exactly built for subterfuge. 

Mainly though, we want to use spells that we can cast long before combat ever starts, that will still aid us once initiative is rolled and preferably without needing concentration on spells. False life grants some temporary hit points, lasts for an hour, and doesn’t use concentration. Longstrider similarly lasts a whole hour and boosts our movement speed without requiring concentration. If you have other plans for your infusions, consider casting magic weapon on your sword of choice for an hour’s worth of a +1 weapon. Do keep in mind that magic weapon does use concentration, so you can get smacked out of it.    


Artificer Barbarian Multiclass Builds

We’re putting these two classes together in various ways but ultimately we’re building a weird martial front liner. Consider these build ideas when working out your artificer barbarian character. 


God of War

Our goal for this one is to freeze our target in place outside of melee range as we endlessly throw axes at them from a safe distance while the axes magically return to our hands. Son tagalong character and severed head optional. Can't make this one with just the players handbook though cause we're going to make good use of Glory of the Giants

To accomplish this we need an artificer level dip with 2 levels of artificer and 4 levels of barbarian taking the path of the giant archetype. We also want to use our 4th barbarian level’s ASI to pick up the feat strike of the giants taking the frost strike option. If your dungeon master is cool with variant humans, then you can also pick this up earlier and save yourself the 4th level ability score increase.

We need the two levels of artificer to pick up infuse item, specifically we want to grab a couple hand axes and infuse each of them with the returning weapon infusion. Returning weapon gives them a cool +1 bonus, and magically returns the axes to our hands after we make thrown weapon attacks with them. We really only need the two levels for infusions, but you can go for the 3rd to pick up a subclass if you want. I'd recommend either the armorer artificer or the battle smith as the battle smith's steel defender can run interference on enemies you haven't frozen.

Path of the giant has a lot of little bonuses and extra skill proficiencies, but the giant’s havoc feature is what we care about. It comes in two modes, and most people use the second mode that increases our size but we’re going to take the crushing throw option that grants our rage damage to thrown weapon attacks.

Next, the strike of the giants grants us one of many different giant themed bonuses that we can choose to apply to any melee or thrown weapon attack. We can use our chosen bonus a number of times per day equal to our proficiency bonus, and we can base any saving throws from it on our Strength or Constitution. We want the frost strike option, which adds 1d6 cold damage to an attack, and if they fail a Constitution save their speed is reduced to 0 until the start of our next turn.

Let’s put this all together. With our infused magic items the returning weapon axes, we can make two thrown weapon attacks and apply our frost strike to one of them, hopefully freezing our enemy in place and out of melee combat range. With our target frozen, they won’t be able to close the distance, and should be helplessly stuck as we throw axes at them and our allies in combat lob whatever ranged attacks they have at them with impunity. We’re getting a +1 bonus on both axes, our 2 damage from rage applied to each, and 1d6 extra damage from frost strike for an average 25 (3d6 + 8 + 4 + 2) damage a turn while playing frozen keep away. If things go well, you’ll be able to hurl axes all combat for copious amounts of damage while your enemies stare helplessly from their frozen prisons!  

Jekyll and Hyde 

This build lives out the trope as you chug magic potions before raging into a monster, bristling with tons of stacked buffs as you barrel into combat. 

To accomplish this we need 3 levels of artificer selecting the alchemist subclass and at least 3 levels of barbarian selecting the beast archetype. Now, cards on the table, the beast barbarian archetype isn’t… great. But it is thematically perfect. If you’re looking to optimize for damage output ancestral guardian, storm herald, or zealot are all good alternative options, and go for path of the totem warrior for tanking since a totem barbarian can shrug off everything but psychic damage. We’re going to stick with the suboptimal form of the beast for the style points, just know that it's a flavor decision. 

The alchemist subclass gives us experimental elixir which gives us a random magical potion for free each day from a table of 6 and lets us create specific potions at the cost of our 1st-level or higher spell slots. This gives us an outlet to use our spell slots that isn’t technically spellcasting. Each of them is useful, but we particularly want “resilience” which grants a +1 AC bonus for 10 minutes, “swiftness” which grants extra movement speed for an hour, and “boldness” which adds a 1d4 to all our attacks and saves for 1 minute. Each day we’ll get one randomly, then we can use our 3 1st-level spells to get the potions we want. If we happen to roll into one of the good ones, we can use the last slot to make a healing potion.

Next, for our infusions we’re going to use the super simple combination of enhanced weapon for our two-handed damage dealer of choice, and enhanced defense on our armor. There are some fun alternative options, but just the basic bonuses are probably your best bets unless you're looking for utility features.  

On the barbarian side, or beast master gives us an option of 3 natural weapons to gain from our beastly rage transformation. Sadly, the bite and claws are easily outclassed by just holding onto our weaponry, but the tail is weirdly useful. It's a d8 weapon with a 10-foot melee range and it gives us a special reaction bonus to our AC we can gain if attacked in melee.

Let’s put this all together. At the start of the day, we mix our potions and we save them until we get “near combat”. Once it looks like a fight might happen soon, we start chugging our “resilience”, “swiftness” and “boldness” potions, saving the boldness for absolutely last since it has the shortest duration. Once the initiative actually starts we enter rage and transform from our Dr. Jekyll into our Mr. Hyde beast, choosing the tail attack and charging forward with a maul or greatsword.

We’ve got half-plate with a +2 Dex as our baseline AC of 17, +1 from the enhanced defense infusion, and another +1 from the resilience potion for a solid 19 AC. And when they retaliate, we can use our tail to gain 1d8 to our AC as a reaction, giving us a solid 20 to 27 AC for the worst of what comes back at us. Our sword will be swinging with a +1 bonus from the enhanced weapon infusion, along with a bonus d4 from the boldness potion for an average of 14 (2d6 + 4 + 2 + 1) damage. 

Now, you can work this build to deal more damage easily by simply taking practically any other barbarian archetype but come on. Your nerdy alchemist ravenously downing potions before erupting into a monstrous mad beast is the perfect Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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