Handbooks & Resources > Handbooks

Xenken's 3.5 Artificer Basics


Xenken's 3.5 Artificer Basics

I was originally planning to make this doc a huge guide answering every Artificer related question. It was gonna have a snappy intro and title cards and everything, but it turns out that idea was impossible. Definitely for me and almost certainly for anyone else too. Why? Well, because a discussion of Artificer is essentially talking about the entire game, twisted through its lens. You get, just as a part of a normal gameplay, access to every spell list, enchantment, and magic item. Making a guide for all that is just too much, even the D&D obsessive in me doesn’t have that kind of time. But I’ve played 2 full campaigns of this class and had to do a hell of a lot of research, so I think I’m at least qualified to leave you some notes.

Firstly, Spell Storing Item (Eberron Campaign Setting, p. 115), henceforth known as SSI, is your heart and soul.

 A lot of comments hanging about the internet space say that Artificers are terrible in campaigns where there is too little gold or time to craft. They are all liars because this spell exists. If you really want to play Artificer, you’ll need to read that. Probably multiple times. How does it affect gameplay? Well for starters it turns you into a full caster for levels 1-10. That’s pretty good.

-You should always be SSI storing some spells at the beginning of the day, at least enough that you have options if you get caught off guard. This isn’t really different from a prepared caster just preparing spells, I’m just mentioning it because my first Arti used to have a bad habit of only casting SSI reactively, which almost got me killed when our party got ambushed. So, uh, don’t do that.

-Almost all the time you cast spells in combat, you’ll actually be activating a wand. This is both good and bad. The good is that you won’t get AoO’d for doing it, and also there’s a lot of verbal/somatic component malarky you get to not think about. The bad is that your magic items use magic item save DCs, and those are based on the minimum score needed to cast the spell and not your actual stat. Your SSI Glitterdust has an effective INT of 12, compared to the wizard’s 18 or higher. This is compounded by the fact that other fullcasters get to trick out their spells in ways you just can’t. Say you’re 8th level and got an orange ioun stone, so now you cast spells at CL 9. Even though you can now cast SSI at CL 9, the spell it makes in wand form still has max CL=artificer level. Because of this, almost all feats and abilities that can improve your CL or spell save DCs don’t help Artificer. Similarly, spells that give your next cast spell extra stuff (example: Spell Enhancer) don’t work because you aren’t casting a spell.

-That said, you don’t really mind, because you have the best spell selection in the entire game. Right off the bat, your “spell list” is effectively every spell list ever printed, you can have as many different spells as you have slots, and you can switch all of them on a day to day basis. Also, despite being a level behind a full caster on paper (level 2 spells at character level 4 instead of 3, and so on), you always cast bigger spells than everybody else. Why? Because SSI can cheat on spell levels by accessing faster progression spells from classes like Paladin or Divine Crusader or Trapsmith, and it also just cheats on spell level inherently because the level of spell you can put into an item goes up automatically while SSI itself is always still first level. Both of these effects stack, leading to things like an 8th level Arti potentially casting the 8th level spell Summon Giants, as a 4th level Disciple of Thrym spell, from a 1st level spell slot. Oh, and just as icing on the cake, since it’s a wand (and therefore a magic item) you can UMD it to emulate race or alignment, for fun things like getting dragonblood spell bonuses as any race.

How do you know what to put in an SSI? Well do you have every 4th level or lower spell in the game memorized? I don’t. Go look at these if you wanna start reading up:
Bargain Bin: http://bg-archive.minmaxforum.com/index.php?topic=12661.0
Druid Spells: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Geg_EBkDf1yzQN-c7TUIhUS8CUVvAufnxR2suKx_4eA/edit
Goodstuff: http://minmaxforum.com/index.php?topic=11111

Here’s some of my favorites as a place to start:
1st: Snowsight, Haste, Grease, Magic Mouth (mostly because casting it at your max CL can help buffer you and your items vs enemy area Dispel Magic), Lesser Restoration
2nd: Obscuring Snow, Kelpstrand, Alter Self, Air Walk, Glibness, Luminous Armor (Sacrifice costs aren’t expensive material components nor xp costs. Have fun.), Primal Instinct, Dimension Door, Lesser Celerity, Heroics, Ray of Stupidity
3rd: Black Tentacles, Wall of Stone, Stone Shape, Scrying, Greater Dispel Magic, Disobedience, Fabricate, Divination, Flame Sands, Greater Mighty Wallop, Darkbolt
4th: Contact Other Plane, Animate with the Spirit, Restoration, Transmute Mud to Rock, Wings of Flurry, Celerity, Greater Lum Armor, Ethereal Mount, Polymorph, Lesser Holy Transformation (to allow Outsider Polymorph), Bloodfreeze Arrow

I see a lot of people note SSIs's xp cost as a major concern, but honestly after playing with it in two different campaigns I can confidently tell you it isn't. This isn't even an "xp is a river so you catch back up" sort of thing, nor is it a matter of SSI letting you fight stronger encounters while dying less (although note that both of the above are true,) it's just that the XP cost itself is tiny. You could cast 7, 8, 10 of the things at max power and still just watch as the encounter day you solved with them gives you a sum that's an order of magnitude more. Maybe two, if you're conservative. It's just not an issue, don't worry about it.

But something you should worry about, and by far SSI’s biggest drawback, is the stupidly high UMD check you need to hit to make one. The good news is that Artificer is in eberron, so if you get to use it at all then book-wise you probably have a little bit to work with to help you out. The check for higher level spells doesn’t scale as fast as your skill bonuses, so it’ll get easier as you go up, but even then it's still the thing you have to pivot your whole build around. If you’re spending a huge chunk of the game at level 1-2 then you're pretty much locked in.

Target DC: 23

d20 base: 1
Ranks: 4
Stat: 1-3 usually, but in this case you should have high CHA, so 3.
Be a bonus feat race, get Iron Will+Hardened Criminal: get to take 10, so under these circumstances basically +9
So we’re at 17. Still a bit short. How do we finish?
Well, you could buy a masterwork tool for (a skill), which can be UMD. that’s a +2.
If you know you’re mostly gonna be lower level, then you could max CHA, for an extra +1 from an 18. Maybe a +2 if you have spicy point buy.
Could spend 1 spell slot on Skill Enhancement before SSI preps, that’s a +2
And if creating an SSI counts as activating an item you could snag a +2 for reuse.

If you have extra flaw-feats or similar, this gets much easier. Shape Soulmeld Mage Spectacles (as an Azurin) gets a +6, and even basic Skill Focus is a +3.

Most 3.5 campaigns aren't centered around 1-2, true, but even if you aim beyond that this UMD requirement is still gonna have to be accounted for in your build.

A common example of more minimal investment is crafting a UMD-boosting item like circlet of persuasion by level 3 for a +3, getting the masterwork UMD for +2, then taking Item Familiar on your boosting item for +6 on top of your 6 ranks. Add in a base 16 CHA and you'll hit SSI on a 3 or higher, with an optional skill enhancement to always hit. That gets you set by level 3.

(Note: A few guides recommend a similar route but using a custom skill boosting item in step 1. I broadly agree with this advice, because I think skill boosting is by far the most likely custom item to be actually allowed, but don't expect it to just be freely available. Many DMs just ban all custom items outright, and rightfully so since a lot of em are busted as all hell.)

It wouldn’t be all that reductive to say that an Artificer’s life consists of either improving Spell Storing Item or finding abilities that are peerless enough to not be left behind by it, and this just spills over into everything else. Take ability scores for example. You want charisma but only insofar as it helps boost your UMD to make SSIs, and you want intelligence for bonus spell slots (read: bonus SSIs) but you don't actually want it that much because your save DC has nothing to do with your casting stat.

Ok so what's in that second category? What else does Artificer do? If you choose to only have SSI online by level 3, what do you do in the interim?

Mostly using Personal Weapon Augmentation (Eberron Campaign Setting, p. 117). This spell does for +1 enchantments what SSI does for spells. It has a 10 minute/level duration, which is impressively long for their level, but it also has a one minute casting time, which is disastrously slow. It’s Touch range, which is really good for you. Have you read the rules on holding the charge yet? Too bad, I am literally just gonna put them right here because they’re that important:

If you don’t discharge the spell in the round when you cast the spell, you can hold the discharge of the spell (hold the charge) indefinitely. You can continue to make touch attacks round after round. You can touch one friend as a standard action or up to six friends as a full-round action. If you touch anything or anyone while holding a charge, even unintentionally, the spell discharges. If you cast another spell, the touch spell dissipates. Alternatively, you may make a normal unarmed attack (or an attack with a natural weapon) while holding a charge. In this case, you aren’t considered armed and you provoke attacks of opportunity as normal for the attack. (If your unarmed attack or natural weapon attack doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity, neither does this attack.) If the attack hits, you deal normal damage for your unarmed attack or natural weapon and the spell discharges. If the attack misses, you are still holding the charge.

The biggest problem with this spell is its casting time giving it awkward pacing. 10 minutes is long but it’s not nearly long enough when you can’t cast reactively. Holding the charge solves this by allowing you to cast even earlier and (at the admittedly real cost of not being able to touch anything) hold until a fight actually happens, at which point you touch the item you want to enchant (at worst a move action you can do while moving, like drawing a weapon,) and you still have your standard for whatever fun times you had in mind.

Just as important as the actual casting, holding the charge lets you make decisions reactively. People talk a lot online about Personal Weapon Augment (Bane), for example, but without Holding the Charge it doesn't actually amount to much, because they have to guess the type of the next encounter and on top of wasting the spell if there isn't an encounter in time, they also waste it if they just guess wrong. Compare this to when they cast and Hold charge. Not only can they save the Bane until the combat starts, but they can also see who they’re fighting, pick the most relevant Bane on drawing their weapon, and shoot all in one turn. Oh they’re fighting a ghost? They just picked Ghost Touch instead. Nuts.

So what effects should you use? Honestly my best advice is just going here and searching through stuff and doing comparisons yourself. But that can take a while so here are my favorites:

Bane, Elemental Power Large (yes this needs a prereq synergy enchantment. It doesn’t matter, go get one. It’s so undercosted for what it does,) Sudden Stunning (melee only holds it back, otherwise it would easily be the best weapon augment on this list and also in general), Spellblade, Warning, Merciful,  Magebane.

A lot of this is true for all the weapon/armor enchant spells, I just think Personal Weapon Aug is the one you’ll use for the most things, although shoutout to Armor Enhancement (Fearsome), and Armor Enhancement Greater (Undead Controlling, Etherealness, and a few more that I forget).

Crafting scrolls can be nice, too. I tend not to love them because they aren’t very efficient in terms of value-for-time as consumables that still take at least a day to craft (although you can ease that by chaining multiple spells into a single scroll,) and I tend not to have a lot of downtime. Your options are also usually not quite as strong as SSI equivalents because you have to pay for higher minimum caster levels. That said, they have two obvious advantages. First, the needed UMD check is far less murderous. The DCs are usually 2-3 lower off the bat, there’s no question on +2 for activating the same kind of item before, for crafting you get to retry checks, you get the +2 UMD synergy bonus for scrolls, and you get to use your +2 Artisan bonus since you have scribe scroll. Second, because Artificers add two to their caster level for crafting, the max spell level of the scroll you can make is always at least one higher than the level of spells you can cast or SSI, giving them good potential as silver bullets for situations you can't quite tackle with what you currently have. This is especially true later when they become critical to your ability to cast spells of 5th level and beyond.

Ok so we’ve seen good non-SSI options, now how do we go about boosting SSI? Later on down the line you get Power Surge and Concurrent Infusions, which could act to extend its value, but the more important step comes earlier than that.

Metamagic Item
After spending 1-3 feats on UMD boosting, you’ll probably want to spend more still on metamagic feats because Metamagic Item is silly. It’s so absurdly silly. I remember when Divine Metamagic trading 7 turn attempts for Persist was considered one of the strongest things you can ever do. Meanwhile, since Infusions are spells, Artificer literally just spends a 1st level spell slot on SSI (Metamagic Item) for the same payoff while laughing maniacally.   

Which metamagic feats do you use? Well, you have like a dozen options but I see most great artis go for one of 2 common feat routes that are taken as soon as UMD is established (usually using your level 4 bonus feat and level 6 feat, or at worst trading one of those for your level 8 bonus feat):

Extend > Persist

As popular as it is consistent. Persist buffs from the best spell list in the game, eventually Extend those persists for 48 hour buffs. Later down the line you also get the option to just raw Extend an SSI to carry it’s 1 hour/level duration into the next day, which is pretty nice. Some of my favorite spells to persist include: Prayer, Adoration of the Frightful, Swift Fly/Haste, Cone of Euphoria, Magic Savant, and Linked Perception.

Reach (or Ocular, see below) > Chain

The basic plan here is making an SSI of the spell SSI, then you can Reach spell on it to qualify for chain and Chain it to get a (caster level) number of extra SSI copies. Proceed to start casting spells and never stop. It’s a good thing chain doesn’t make you pay costs over and over, because otherwise this would have finally started to reach levels of xp drain I’d actually have to think about. You also have the option to reach or chain your offensive spells. This is an especially good route for those without as much access to buying magic items or time to craft.

After picking a starting pair, you usually add on a 3rd down the line (think of your level 8 or 12 bonus feat) as an attempt to take advantage of the fact that by that point it’s not a huge cost to slap on 2 metamagics on one SSI and possibly Power Surge it too. Options include:

-Ocular Spell. This needs 4 ranks in a skill base Artificers don’t have, but you could get it as soon as 6th level even with that limitation, and of course you could always take a feat or dip to get it at 4th or even earlier. Either way, it's a very strong pick, because it does a lot of things at once. It makes any non-personal targeted spell into a 60 ft ray, qualifying it for both Chain and (if it’s not instantaneous) Persist. It lets you shoot 2 spells at once as a full round action, letting it be a more specific version of a Quicken effect. And finally, *you* cast the spells, so your INT score and traditional DC boosters work again. Also, you get to use items and qualify for feats that need you to cast spells, which is a huge list. Glyphseals, Craft Contingent Spell, Arcane Mastery, Greenbound Summoning, and on and on. If you can take this one, take this one.

-Twin. Strictly in terms of casting more spells faster, Twin is probably better than Ocular, since there are a lot of good multitarget and AoE spells that Twin doesn't restrict into single beams. If the latter isn't allowed or you already have it, this is the next best one.

Quicken: Probably the least efficient 3rd metamagic route in terms of gain per resource expended, but it does offer the most flexibility of the 3, as it lets you freeform cast any two spells in a round, including unrepeatable ones like Wall of Stone. If you have access to Celerity, skip this and get more of those. If you don't, this is probably your best remaining immediate action spell enabler and thus your most important 3rd metamagic.

As an aside, you almost certainly can’t use your 9th feat slot on these because Wand Mastery exists. It's basically a feat tax, since it’s one of like 3 ways in the entire game to boost SSI’s Save DC while also boosting its caster level just as a bonus. Even if you have Ocular Spell, there are just so many good multitarget spells that don't work well with it, so you'll probably take this anyway.

Crafting, and Crafting feats:
So, just to recap feat picks for a level 8 arti so far: you have 4 standard feats and 2 bonus feats, with the option for +1 from race and +1 or 2 from flaws if you're lucky. Getting big UMD took anywhere between 1 and 3 feats and enabling Metamagic Item popoffs took 2, maximum 3. So irregardless of your setup you usually have space left over after the mandatory picks. What do you fill it with? Craft boosting feats are your first and best option, as they have high value payoff while being exceedingly modular. (Well, ok, your first and best option would be Leadership, but imagine finding a table where Leadership isn’t just banned. Couldn’t be me.) Think about the resource you have the least of, between time/gold/xp, slap the appropriate eberron Artisan feat on to remediate the problem, done. If you have 2 spare feats, slap on Magical Artisan on that first artisan feat and laugh.

As for what you should be actually crafting, the split in options I discussed earlier resonates here too. There are items that get you more SSI slots as efficiently as possible, (mostly in the form of UMD boost items and Memento Magica) and SSI+Metamagic Item is so good that these hedge out most of the rest of the game. Why get concealment items (even really good ones like Smoking Weapons,) when you can spam Snowsight and Obscuring Snow? Why get flight items when you can persist Swift Fly? Etc.

So 2 categories of items remain. Those that are cheap enough to be craftable pre-6 that can compete with SSI alone, and those that do something so wild or so powerful that not even your full casting suite can replicate it.

Shapesand: ridiculously flexible and only 100 gp. I’d call having at least one jar of this mandatory if possible. If you get the volume right to shape it into armor that’s easily a 4-5 gp for 1 of value, and that’s literally the least creative way to use it I can think of.
(See here for more ideas.)

Wand Chambers: Also 100 gp, and totally mundane. You’ll want to remember that these exist.
For similar reasons, you should remember that Gauntlets are weapons and can be enchanted as such.

Artificer's Monocle: borders on infinite componentless Identity for 1500 gp.

Handy Haversack: Extra storage+move action draw. 2000 gp.

Crafting enchantments on ammunition: It's pretty nuts. If you’re worried about getting a book thrown at you, there’s a very safe application of this where you make or buy Shock/Corrosive ammo, so you can Personal Weapon Augment (Elemental Power) them yourself.

Anklets of Translocation: There are a lot of possible movement options you could choose to go for, like a Chronocharm of the Horizon Walker or a Shadow Cloak or the Greaves of Aundair, but Anklets have 3 big advantages:
-they're a teleport effect, and not just movement.
-swift action activation, which is fast by teleport standards
-Some of the cheapest versions of the effect around, at 1400 gp for 2 uses/day, meaning you can get it long before Metamagic Item shows up.

This isn’t to say that it’s the best movement item of all time or anything, merely that it works the best for a class that can already get itself Lesser Celerity and eventually Persisted (Shadow Magic) Flicker. (Although if the former is unavailable, consider looking into getting those greaves.)

Tunic of Steady Spellcasting: big bonus to a good skill for 2500 gp.

Getting maneuvers via the ToB magic items: There are a lot of things maneuvers can do that spells can't, and a good chunk of them belong to maneuvers low enough to be found in novice versions that only cost 3k. Their various prerequisites can be met via either UMDing having maneuvers as a class feature, having the spell Heroics up over a day or two, or making a 2nd item to give knowledge of a lower level maneuver.

-Ring of the Diamond Mind (Mind Over Body/Moment of Perfect Mind), turning a save into a concentration check is a good way to probably auto-pass that save. Getting to do it again 5 minutes from now for only 3000 gp is insane. Also if you wanted you could switch between those two maneuvers by reactivating the headband over a few days to grant a different one. Only problem is, it's a ring, and you can't craft those for a long long time.

-Crown of the White Ravens (White Raven Tactics) direct extra actions are within the realm of spells, but definitely not within the realm of the kind of spells you have when you can first afford to craft this. Yes, it's more limited than that, between the finicky method and the limited range, but you're also paying 1/4th the price of a Belt of a Battle for an effect you get to use once per encounter instead of once per day.

-Iron Heart Vest (Iron Heart Surge). Not as good as you might think, since it can't win action economy wars. It's closer to a Restoration sort of effect in application, with some measure of versatility against grapples and such. It's still good, but not quite to the level of most of the rest of this list.

Third Eye Clarity: Stunned and Dazed are two of the most lethal conditions in the whole game, Ocular + Persist Favor of the Martyr could take over this protection eventually but a spare 3000gp (actually 1500, since you can craft it) will come much sooner than double metamagic. Hell, there aren’t even a lot of combat items that compete for the Face slot so when you don’t need this anymore you can just give it to another party member. Very solid 3rd or 4th item.

Headband of Consciousness Effort: This is a very good magic item. It's much worse than a Ring of the Diamond Mind, but that should tell you more about the ring than this. You can actually craft this one, so if there's no magic mart then you take what you can get. 4000 gp.

Ring of Silent Spells: There are a surprisingly high number of items that qualify under the header of "ring to help you win spellcasting wars" (Ring of Counterspells, Ring of Enduring Arcana, Ring of Spell Battle,) but they mostly very between overkill and redundant, especially when you consider that componentless, uncounterspellable Spell Like Abilities mess with every single one of them. If you really want to throw a ring slot at the problem, this item is the cheapest by far, most helpful for allied casters besides yourself, and the most useful for other things, so while I wouldn't call it a top tier item it's pretty good for sure.

Your real anti-magic plans can just consist of stuff you already have. Have high initiative with spells like Primal Instinct plus the Warning weapon enchantment to strike first and take enemy casters out before anything happens. Spread out your magic items and put magic mouth on them to buffer against Dispel Magic. Mix in Wings of Cover, a few choice Spellblade or Dispelling weapons, and some extra action economy and that's all you really need.

Glyphseal: You can't use it yourself, because you can't put infusions in it and using SSI doesn't count as casting a spell, but if you have any other casters in your party you should make one, and if you don't but spellcasting services are available you should still make one. Any sort of contingent spell effect, even low level ones, are naturally hideously strong, and despite not getting an extra SSI it can still double as a bonus slot per day, and it's only 1000 gold. Absolute steal. I'd recommend waiting until you have access to big skill boosters like Divine Insight first, so you can hit the DC 30 Search check on a 10 instead of a 20, but definitely a top purchase.

Headband of Intellect: Not nearly as good on you as a wizard, but the +2 version is probably still worth picking up sometime after Ocular Spell and before Craft Staff. +4 and above? You should be spending that kind of money on crafting staves.

Chronocharm of the Uncaring Archmage and Ring of the Darkhidden: I don't really recommend either of these, because I don't think they fit into Artificer's gameplan very well, but they are firmly hard to duplicate effects that are generally cheap for the price range, especially the 500 GP Chronocharm. I figure you should know they exist even if you never make one.

That’s it, then. The best spellcasting, one of if not the best metamagic enabler, and crafting, with a nod to weapon/armor enchants. Your 3.5 pillars of gameplay. You can do lots of other things, after all Artificer has literally infinite capacity to be too cute, but from what I could gather this is most of the really important stuff.

Alright, have fun!


[0] Message Index

Go to full version