What's the best build for an artificer in 5e?
What are the best artificer feats?
Artificers are the first official class to be added to 5e since the beginning and it was a long time coming. Artificers have bounced around in playtesting for years before getting a real launch, and for good reason. Artificers are complicated, versatile, and walk the line between underpowered and downright broken. How do you play these mechanical geniuses? Put your safety goggles on as we go through everything you need to know in this complete guide to artificers in D&D 5E.
Artificer Ability Scores
As you’re starting out creating your shiny new artificer character, the ability score you need to prioritize is Intelligence. Int dictates your spellcasting, your “flash of genius” ability, and generally all of your relevant class features rely on Intelligence. You’re going to want a +3 in Int VERY badly at the start, and you should likely increase that to a +4 at your very first opportunity.
I highly recommend prioritizing Dexterity next. Not only do you really need that boost to your AC but you’re going to find yourself making a lot of Dex checks when you utilize your tool sets.
Finally, your D8 isn’t bad for a spellcaster, but you’re really going to want to boost that up, especially if you want to go with the battle smith archetype. Try to gain at least a +1 bonus in Constitution to make your new artificer a bit less squishy.
Wisdom, Charisma, and Strength aren’t specifically useful to artificers. You’ll get little use out of them beyond the occasional bump to a skill check. Feel free to use any or all of these as dump stats, though I’d try for at least a flat +0 in Wisdom so you can potentially pass some Wisdom (Perception) checks.
Best Races for an Artificer
5e is extremely flexible and you should never feel forced to squeeze out every possible stat bonus. However, if you do want to try and optimize your abilities the following races provide some of the best synergies with the artificer class:
Gnomes are the only official race in 5e so far that gain a coveted +2 bonus to Intelligence. That inbuilt boost to your spellcasting and relevant abilities is a godsend. Not to mention the flavor of the race seems tailor-made for artificing. Gnomes gain the Gnome Cunning ability that gives you an advantage on pretty much all mental saving throws (over-powered if you ask me) and the Darkvision is always appreciated. Strangely enough, I recommend the forest gnome over the rock gnome. Forest gnomes gain +1 Dexterity, which I’d value over the rock gnome’s +1 constitution bonus. Also, the rock gnome’s Tinker ability sadly does a lot of things the artificer already gets to do and the ability (though flavorful) is sadly wasted.
Hobgoblins gain that crucial +1 bonus to Intelligence and a huge boost to their survivability in a +2 Constitution bonus. Saving Face is a particularly strong ability and is very similar to your 7th level Flash of Genius ability. Getting this early along with the early martial weapons make hobgoblins a promising option for battle smiths.
The +2 bonus to Constitution keeps you alive longer, and you can select Intelligence using your flexible +1. Artificers are already getting a +1 bonus to their AC due to their infusion (most of the time) and with medium armor, +2 Dexterity and a shield they can already be pretty damn tanky with a 19 AC! Make your artificer a warforged for that extra +1 boost and you’re sporting a whopping 20 AC! Not too shabby for what is primarily a caster.
Take variant human and pick +1 Intelligence and +1 Dexterity for your ability score improvements. Then just pick one of the feats needed for a specialty build. Variant humans are always good, just be aware that they’re often banned.
How to use Artificer Class Features
Artificers get a TON of pretty useful stuff. It can be a bit confusing as a class at first glance so let’s go through the class features that you really need to understand and use properly.
Spellcasting - Artificers are a ⅔ spellcaster, which means you’re getting fewer spells than full casters like wizards and sorcerers, but more than off-casters like paladins and rangers.
You automatically know all the spells on the artificer spell list, like a cleric. The spell list is pretty limited in comparison to other classes, but you don’t have to hunt down spells like a wizard either.
You get a small number of cantrips, and rather uniquely to the class you get to swap out a cantrip if you’d like whenever you level up.
Finally, artificers are a bit weird with their spellcasting focus, you can use your tools, or any item you’ve infused (more on that later). You’re still casting though, so you need a free hand. HOWEVER, you can infuse your shield or armor and use that as your spellcasting focus. It’s weird, but just know that you need to infuse your shield or your armor if you want to cast while using both hands for other things.
Magical Tinkering - You get to cobble together little magical doodads that sort of act like a better prestidigitation. You can make a magic light stick, a mini message recorder, a noise maker or the equivalent of a mage mark. Just like prestidigitation, this ability is only limited by your imagination, and you can think up genius ways to use it to your advantage. Drop light sticks down shafts to see their depth or use noise makers to distract enemies.
Infuse Item - This ability is the heart and soul of the artificer allowing you get to make magic items. You get a bunch of different choices, but most of them boil down to creating specific magic items from a list (with a ton of good options I might add) or making +1 versions of things.
You get to make these items during long rests (lightning fast by crafting standards) and you can even let the other players use them.
You can only infuse so many items (check out their chart) but in the early levels you’re typically able to infuse 2-3. I recommend infusing either your armor or a shield with a defensive buff, giving one of your allies an offensive buff, and keeping the third for a flexible choice when you need specific magic items or solutions to problems.
Flash of Genius - At level 7, you can use your reaction to add your Intelligence bonus to a check or saving throw that you or one of your friends fail. This can make a HUGE difference. Your Intelligence should hopefully be a +4 by level 7, and +4 can easily save yourself or an ally from something deadly. You get to use it a number of times per long rest equal to your Intelligence mod (again, should be 4) and that’s a ton of excellent dice manipulation.
At 3rd level, artificers get to choose their class archetype or “specialty”. You essentially get to choose from healing artificer (Alchemist), shooty artificer (Artillerist), or smashy artificer (Battle Smith).
Artificers already have cure wounds on their roster of spells, but alchemists gain healing word (which has saved countless characters from certain doom). At 5th level it really comes together with the Alchemical Savant ability. In addition to your normal bonuses, you get to add your Intelligence modifier to any spell’s healing, and to the damage of any spell that deals acid, fire, necrotic, or poison damage. You also get a hilarious (if unreliable) random potion in Experimental Elixir.
Alchemist is a great option if your party is short on healing or you want to focus on an elemental damage type like a technological pyromancer or fume spewing plague doctor. I also find it’s the least complicated of the artificer specialties, so it’s a good pick if you’re new to the class and aren’t quite sure how to run them yet.
Artillerists get an Eldritch Cannon and it’s every bit as amazing as it sounds. You get to set up a little turret and blast away at your enemies with it. Or you can alternatively set it up as a little healing station that sends waves of positive energy at your crew.
Everything about the artillerist is about dealing damage, so if you want to serve your party in a DPS role this is probably your best option.
The big risk with artillerists though is getting your cannon destroyed. You lose a lot of your combat effectiveness if it gets taken out and you can’t build a new one until you finish a long rest. Just defend your cannon well and make sure to pop it out of danger if things are getting dicey.
Battle smith turns you into a more martial class by giving you martial weapon proficiencies. Here’s the kicker though, you get to use your Intelligence for making attacks and doing damage. This means that unlike those complex muscle wizard builds that need like 4 good stats, you only really need to worry about Intelligence and Constitution.
You gain an Extra Attack, which is vital for your now martial build, and a bunch of paladin spells to put some real damage behind your most likely infused weaponry.
The real big draw of this archetype though is the Steel Defender, which a robot pal that helps defend you while you fight. It’s not that great of a damage dealer, but it can soak up a ton of hits that were meant for you. Your steel defender is easily abused, and with some thought you can do some insane stuff utilizing both your infused items and your robot pal.
Best Artificer Feats
Elemental Adept - If you’re going hard into damage dealing, artificer can focus very hard on specific damage types and this feat can make sure you don’t get sidelined due to a monster’s damage immunities. Alchemists will do best choosing acid damage, and artillerists will do best choosing fire damage.
Lucky - I could write a whole article about how broken and amazing the lucky feat is. It works for any character and I’m never surprised when my DMs ban it. I will say though when combined with the artificer’s Flash of Genius ability you’ll almost never fail a save.
Magic Initiate - As a ⅔ caster, you can get extremely pinched on spells and can benefit from grabbing a couple more useful cantrips. I especially recommend this if you’re running a battle smith to pick up greenfire blade and booming blade. Both spells add a ton of damage potential for you as a caster in melee.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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