“Please bring it back in one piece, Bond” The unlimited quirk and flavour of Artificers.
The Antikythera mechanism, Roman plumbing, water mills, siege engines, printing presses, clocks, and deadly Greek fire. These are just a few technologies and sciences of the classical and mediaeval ages that were marvels and bragging examples of civilizations reaching new heights. The engineers, tinkerers, and artificers of precious knowledge mixed with quirky and practical curiosity spurred superpowers with automation and adorned their palaces with nuanced mechanisms. How great is it that we get to apply the collectively-inspired minds of those inventors into a fantastical world?! Friends, the Artificer is not a class to pass up even in a low-magic setting. I implore you to make them incredible additions to any party.
“But my world is low magic so they really don’t fit.”
My experience with artificers is limited but I immediately noticed their wonderful flexibility in application in any world. Are you the kind of Dungeon Master that is having a hard time trying to justify their mechanics in-game? I know a few with aversions to arcane-tech themes but I promise it does not break immersion in a low-magic world. If you put our own historical experiences into perspective all it will take is some reflavouring on how the technology is created and what it’s used for. Although it was pretty loose at the time, I played a Barbarian in a Theros-based campaign with an Artificer who was loved by the Purpheros, God of the forge. Therefore they were blessed with the ability to infuse items and make small inventions of metal to his liking. This flavouring really played out the fantastical feeling of Hellenistic cinema classics like Clash of the Titans with its mechanical owl Bubo (Who made a cameo as the Artificer’s companion later after being found in a dungeon). Of course, as a barbarian, I wasn’t complaining since he infused my trident with +1 and the returning ability which played so well with my Leonin’s uniquely-flavoured fighting style. It was this very supportive relationship that made me realise something fun about them; They are the mediaeval-fantasy equivalent to Q in the Bond franchise.
Now by saying all of that you’re probably thinking “well that’s all well and good, but you haven’t solved my problem” Hold up, I’m getting to it. See Artificers need thieves’ or artisans’ tools in order to create their magic items and practice spellcasting since their arcane knowledge comes from their practical and academic tinkering and experimentation. Reflavouring these kits as something unique to the Artificer in your game creates a mystique about their knowledge and application of it all. Here’s a good default you can use.
A curious variety of rudimentary and finely customised tools, collected minerals, and rare optics slipped into a sturdy leather satchel that can be slung over one’s shoulder. Anyone who is not this particular Artificer will have a hard time knowing how to utilise these tools. It’s very likely most of the expendable materials took an incredible amount of time to gather and the tools have been painstakingly created far beyond most limits of this era’s technology. This kit is a spellcasting focus and although it’s likely priceless in its rarity and value, one would be hard-pressed to find an interested buyer.
Automatons are animals armed to the teeth
An easy way around the Homunculus servants and Steel Defenders in low-magic settings are to make them armoured and well-trained animals the Artificer has adorned with special armaments. Homunculi could include intelligent and trainable creatures like dogs, monkeys, and Parrots. Steel Defenders can be larger creatures like bears, tigers, and rhinos. This could lead to some great roleplay and a sense of permanency to those companions that can add plenty of grit and flavour to their mechanics in a more grounded setting. Scientists have done experiments and weaponized animals for ages so here’s a chance to apply it.
Character Inspirations: from the spy-gear engineer to a mercenary cannon-caster
Of course, as I mentioned before, Q is a great template for a fun character model as he equips the more martial classes with a little comedic wit. That being said, a couple of the subclasses encourage really heavy-hitting action in combat which makes them flexible. For Battle Smiths and Artillerists, a great creator like the Transylvanian cannon engineer Orban, who cast huge artillery weapons for the Ottomans when they besieged Constantinople in 1453 would be an idyllic choice. In short, he was an engineer who turned on the Emperor of Constantinople when they couldn’t pay him or provide the right materials to make such a large cannon, so he went to the very Sultan who would besiege the great city, Sultan Mehmed II paid handsomely, and got his money’s worth.
There’s plenty of innovative gameplay and roleplay to be had in the Artificer subclass! So get inspired by scientists and inventors old and new, sling-on your tool satchel, and innovate through every challenge! Or… you know… blow them up.
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