Become Iron Man with the armorer artificer
What is an armorer?
The armorer is a subclass of artificer capable of forging powerful suits of armor that are not only capable of protecting against devastating blows, but provide powerful weaponry much like Iron Man’s suit. These super-powered suits are enhanced with an artificer’s talent for magic and technology with your armor becoming increasingly powerful as you gain levels.
There are 2 types of armor you can craft; the guardian armor with its thunder gauntlets and force field (think Iron Man armor for this one) and the infiltrator armor, a less heavy duty piece, perfect for long-range combat and stealth (it also has a lightning launcher, reminiscent of Iron Man’s chest beam). This means that how you want to play is up to you, though the guardian armor does provide a very fun method of wading through enemies and bashing them with your gauntlets.
While the armorer isn’t the highest damage dealer (even among artificers, battle smiths and artillerists do this better) but they do make very versatile tanks, capable of absorbing a fair number of attacks.
Armorer subclass features
|Party Role||Utility, Support Caster, Control|
|Saving Throws||Constitution, Intelligence|
|Hit Dice||1d8 + Consitution modifier per level|
|HP at 1st Level||8 + Constitution Modifier|
|Spell Casting Ability||Intelligence|
|Armour Proficiency||Light armour, medium armour, shields|
|Weapon Proficiency||Simple weapons, firearms (if agreed by your Dungeon Master)|
An armorer only receives 1d8 hit die which is less than any other tank, but, the armorer does have a bunch of features that allows them to to mix it with your other frontline warriors despite this obvious handicap. It’s worth being aware of this though, especially as before level 3, you won’t have the benefit of your arcane armor so will likely pivot how you use your artificer once you hit level 3, playing more cautiously before then. Of course, maximising your AC is crucial to give you a chance in close combat (though less crucial if you choose to use the infiltrator armor).
Armorers have access to a range of spells but are not full spellcasters like wizards and clerics, operating more as half-casters like rangers and paladins. For starters, artificers max out at 5th level spells meaning none of the meaty spells a full spellcaster might get in the later levels. On top of this, even 5th level spells are locked out of reach until the lofty heights of level 17. If you’re hoping for a spellcaster that can lay waste to enemies with terrifying spells, an armorer probably isn’t the class you’re looking for. On the plus side, armorers do get cantrips which rangers and paladins don’t get making them more of a 2/3 spellcaster.
Armorers have available to them all the usual artificer spells along with some extra spells granted by their subclass which don’t count towards your known spells. We’ve outlined these in the table below:
|Artificer Level||Armorer Spells|
|3rd||Magic Missile, Thunderwave|
|5th||Mirror Image, Shatter|
|9th||Hypnotic Pattern, Lightning Bolt|
|13th||Fire Shield, Greater Invisibility|
|17th||Pass Wall, Wall of Force|
Armorers get a pretty strong bunch of spells and while something like magic missile is unlikely to do more damage than your regular attacks, spells like thunderwave, lightning bolt, mirror image and greater invisibility are all excellent options.
Of the generally available spells for all artificers, we’ve also picked out the best options for an armorer in the table below:
Best armorer spells
|Spell Level||Best armorer spells|
|Cantrip||Guidance, Mage Hand, Mending, Prestidigitation, Sword Burst, Thorn Whip|
|1st Level||Cure Wounds, Detect Magic, Faerie Fire, Feather Fall, Sanctuary, Tasha’s Caustic Brew, Thunderwave|
|2nd Level||Aid, Continual Flame, Darkvision, Enhance Ability, Enlarge/Reduce, Invisibility, Lesser Restoration, Levitate, See Invisibility, Spider Climb, Vortex Warp, Web, Mirror Image|
|3rd Level||Haste, Intellect Fortress, Revivify, Hypnotic Pattern, Lightning Bolt|
|4th Level||Arcane Eye, Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere, Stone Shape, Fire Shield, Greater Invisibility|
|5th Level||Bigby’s Hand, Creation, Greater Restoration, Skill Empowerment, Wall of Stone, Wall of Force|
As you gain levels, you’ll gain access to a bunch of different abilities. Above are the features you gain access to over time including the artificer features. To learn more about these, check out our artificer 5e class guide. Below you’ll find the features unique to an artillerist and how these features work.
|Artificer Level||Armorer Abilities|
|3rd||Tools of the Trade, Arcane Armor, Armor Model|
Tools of the Trade (3rd): You become proficient with heavy armor and smith’s tools if you aren’t already proficient with these (or another set of artisan’s tools if you are). While not that exciting, being able to use heavy armor for your arcane armor can be of huge benefit for maximising your AC.
Arcane Armor (3rd): The armorer’s primary ability is their arcane armor (think of it as the iron man armor that you can gradually upgrade). Some of the biggest immediate benefits of your armor are the fact that there’s no longer a strength requirement for wearing heavy armor (so you can get a high AC while focusing points away from strength and dexterity and into other ability scores, especially intelligence and constitution). You can also add infusions to your armor to make it more powerful as it’s not considered a magic item.
Because the armor is a full body suit, it does cover the whole body meaning that at first, you won’t be able to wear other magical items like boots and gloves. This is rectified at level 9 but it’s a long time to wait. You will also have to buy the armor and full-plate costs 1,500gp (more than most level 3 characters will have).
Armor Model (3rd): You can choose from a couple of different armour types (and a long rest will let you switch between them). You can either use the guardian model (the tank melee option) or the infiltrator model (for a stealthier, ranged approach). The guardian model is definitely the stronger but both have their uses.
If you’re using the guardian model, you’ll get a pair of thunder gauntlets that give you 1d8+int for thunder damage (so not much will resist them). On top of this, you can still hold a shield or another weapon while wearing them allowing you to get even tankier. You can also create a defensive field using your bonus action to gain temporary hit points which is always handy.
The infiltrator armour will give you advantage on stealth rolls, increase your walk speed by 5 feet, and you’ll get a lightning launcher gem attached to your chest that you can fire long range at enemies. One attack per turn will cause 2d6+int lightning damage with any other attacks just getting the 1d6 lightning damage. It’s a good weapon with a long range and, importantly for artificers, you get to use your intelligence modifier on your attack rolls.
Extra Attack (5th): As you progress to level 5, you’ll receive an extra attack which will really help you keep up with the other combat focused classes, especially as your attacks are now more powerful than your cantrips.
Armour Modifications (9th): At level 9, you’ll be able to use armour modifications that let you use more infusions.
Perfected Armor (15th): At level 15, you perfect your armour gaining a useful ability for each armour model. The guardian armour will allow you to pull enemies to you from up to 30 feet towards you and still be able to attack them (if you pull them next to you) as this ability is a reaction. You can even safely pull them through area of effect spells. The infiltrator armour will light people hit by your lightning launcher giving the enemy disadvantage if hit, advantage on the next attack against them and an extra 1d6 lightning damage.
Optimising an armorer
Below we’ve provided some advice for how to optimise your armorer. This doesn’t mean this is the only way to play an armorer though. You might want to go for a flavour build or have a particular setup in mind. This is of course fine and there can be many ways to optimise a character.
Best ability scores
For armorers, your spellcasting ability is intelligence so you’ll want to make sure this is enhanced as much as possible. This becomes particularly important when you get your arcane armor at level 3 as the weapons that come with this armor (which are your best weapon options) use your intelligence modifier for attack rolls. This has the added benefit of saving you from having to invest in strength or dexterity.
If you’re using the guardian armor, then you can dump dexterity as your heavy armor will give you all the protection you need. Infiltrators will need to use lighter armor making dexterity more important, especially as you’ll want it for all the stealthing you’ll do. You can change your type of armor when you rest so may want some investment in dexterity for when the need arises to use the infiltrator armor.
Constitution is always an important ability score and especially do for armorers that intend to make heavy use of the guardian armor, especially with your low hit dice.
On the other hand, strength is an obvious ability score to dump as you’ll get very little use out of it. Charisma has little purpose unless you intend to be the face of the party (and for the odd saving throw). Wisdom also has less purpose for an artificer though many saving throws are linked to it and so are a bunch of important skills.
We’d prioritise ability scores for a battle smith roughly in this order:
Typically, you’ll want to make sure you take a race that adds to your intelligence ability score with dexterity and constitution as a secondary option. With the customised origins rules outlined in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you can technically take any race and choose how the ability scores are distributed. Also, many more recently released races, particularly those released in Monsters of the Multiverse, have these rules already baked into them.
With this in mind though, we’ll take into consideration the rules as they’re presented in their most recent release for each race and consider features that complement an armorer well. In particular, we’d say that Autognomes and Bugbears are very well suited to an armorer’s capabilities though we’ve listed a bunch of other good options below too:
- Autognome – 2 extra tool proficiencies, easy healing outside of combat, resistance to poison, immunity to disease, advantage against paralyzed and built for success stacks nicely with flash of genius. Autognomes feel almost built for armorers (literally) and their abilities work nicely together.
- Bugbear – The ultimate combination of strength and stealth is perfect for an armorer that might go from guardian to infiltrator armor. You can enjoy the extra 5ft reach with your thunder gauntlets and and additional 2d6 damage when striking an enemy before they’ve had a turn. You also get proficiency in stealth and can combine this with the infiltrator armor’s advantage on stealth checks. Just make sure you bump up your dexterity a bit.
- High Elf – +2 to dexterity and +1 to intelligence suit an armorer quite nicely. Proficiency in perception is always useful and a free cantrip from the wizard’s spell list is very useful.
- Githzerai – The easiest way to get access to shield as an armorer to make you even tougher to hit. Especially useful for this low hit dice tank. Resistance to psychic attacks can come in useful too as is advantage on saving throws against charmed and frightened conditions.
- Goblin – Nimble escape is great for keeping an armorer safe with disengage or hide as a bonus action, especially as you’ll be putting yourself in danger’s way a lot without a large number of hit dice. Fury of the small is also great as you get extra damage on attacks or spells when attacking something of a size larger than yourself (which most creatures are), and you’ll likely be making quite a few spell attacks.
- Hobgoblin – Fey gift is great for melee combat with allies with some great perks to turn the tide of combat. Fortune from the many can turn near misses into hits when fighting with allies too. Armorers aren’t so tough that you’ll want to leave them completely isolated so working with your friends makes sense.
- Shadar-Kai – Blessing of the Raven Queen lets you teleport into the fray and gives you resistance to all damage for a turn. Proficiency in perception and a different weapon or tool proficiency each day are handy too.
Backgrounds are great for adding a bit of flavour to a character and providing some small skill perks, gear and minor abilities. Generally for an armorer, you’ll want to focus on intelligence based skills and extra tool proficiencies (as the tool king). With that in mind, below are some of the better background options for an armorer:
- Acolyte – Decent skill proficiencies in insights and religion, 2 languages and perks at temples (like free healing).
- Clan Crafter – History and insight are good skill options for an artificer. You’ll also get proficiency in a type of artisan’s tools and you get an extra language. Plus it’s very thematically appropriate.
- Faction Agent – Insight and the choice of another skill make a great choice of proficiencies. You also get 2 languages and affiliation with a powerful organisation.
- Far Traveler – Insight, perception and a language are decent for an artificer, though you’ll likely rarely use persuasion as artillerists are rarely the best option for a party spokesman. You get proficiency in an instrument too for what it’s worth.
- Sage – Arcana and history are good skill proficiencies for an armorer and you get 2 languages too.
When taking an ability score increase or using a variant Human, you can gain access to feats, taking one instead of the ability score increase. Some DMs will also give you a feat when you create your character for added flavour. Just check with your DM that they allow feats.
Feats can add powerful options to a character, but it’s important you pick feats that will complement an armorer’s skillset nicely. We’ve pulled out some of the best options below:
- Chef – Gain 1 constitution, get some healing powers and temporary hit points. Pretty good for a utility class.
- Dual Wielder – Because your gauntlets aren’t light weapons, you can’t normally dual wield them unless you have this feat. Means you can use your bonus action to get an extra attack in.
- Fey Touched – Increase your intelligence by +1 and get misty step and another 1st level spell with a free use every long rest. Misty step is a great spell for artillerists to get out of danger (and isn’t on the artificer spell list).
- Lucky – Making 3 rerolls a day is powerful for any class!
- Magic Initiate – Get 2 cantrips and a 1st level spell from any spell list. Great for getting top cantrips from other classes like toll the dead.
- Metamagic Adept – Enhance your spells with the metamagic ability from the sorceror class.
- Medium Armor Master – +1 AC if you have at least 16 dexterity (when wearing medium armor) and no disadvantage on stealth checks when in medium armor. A great option for a class that relies heavily on medium armor to make sure they’re not too vulnerable. Especially as you might invest a little more in dexterity for your ranged weapon.
- Sentinel – Gives you more opportunities to use your opportunity attack and makes it more powerful (stopping your enemy’s movement). Combine it with a bugbear for extra reach. A great feat for armorers using guardian armor alot.
- Skill Expert – Better at even more skills is great.
- Skilled – 3 more skills to be proficient in is also great.
Armorers should focus on intelligence, and with only wizards occupying the dedicated intelligence space, it means armorers are capable of being very good at some skills almost everyone else isn’t good at. There are a few fairly important intelligence skills in arcana and investigation too that you’ll want to make sure your party is pretty capable at.
We’d recommend the following as a rough order of importance for the most important armorer skills. As always though, you’ll want to make sure your party has a complementary set of skills available to them:
- Stealth – Why else are you using that infiltrator armor other than stealth (I guess that lightning launcher is also pretty cool)? With advantage and proficiency, you should pass most stealth checks and be a great resource for stealthing.
- Investigation – Really important intelligence based skill that you’ll likely use often.
- Arcana – Another really important intelligence based skill that comes up often.
- Perception – Important for everyone, though your wisdom likely won’t be that high, but proficiency will help compensate a little for that. This is particularly important for stealthing characters that want to avoid things like traps.
- Nature – Not quite as common, but nature skill checks are not unusual and work well for high intelligence characters.
- History – The importance of history will likely depend on your DM, but if anyone is going to be good at history, it’s probably going to be an artificer.
- Acrobatics – It’s worth having decent acrobatics or athletics and as you’re likely decent at dexterity, acrobatics is the one to go for.
Your armor comes with powerful built in weapons that are better than any other options generally available (unless you find a really powerful magic item). If you’re using the guardian armor and need some range, use a cantrip, otherwise, your thunder gauntlets are your best bet. Infiltrators will want to be using their lightning launcher in most cases but you may need a close combat weapon for the occasional bit of melee action.
Your best option for the infiltrator armor is to use breastplate (the best armor that won’t impose disadvantage on stealth checks). For the guardian armor, you want to go with all our protection so full plate is the way to go. Take a shield too as you’ll want all the protection you can get (unless you take the dual-wielder feat for double gauntlet attacks though the extra protection from a shield is probably a better, if more boring option).
These are expensive pieces of kit though, so initially, you might want to go with chain shirt for the infiltrator armor or scale mail for the guardian armor until you can afford something better.
Best multiclass options
Multiclassing can be a powerful way of getting extra abilities from another class and when used right, can really optimise a character. Getting it wrong though, can leave you with abilities that don’t complement each other well.
With that in mind, some classes just don’t work well for an armorer. For example, Spellcasters using wisdom or charisma tend not to work so well like bards, sorcerors, warlocks, paladins, clerics and druids as you’ll likely dump these ability scores (though there is a case for at least decent wisdom on an armorer), even if they do grant access to some better spells. Barbarians also offer a poor choice as rage is difficult to recommend on a class that will be casting spells (and rage is the main reason to multiclass in barbarian).
However, there are a couple of great classes for armorers to multiclass into which include:
- Rogue – Rogues are excellent for armorer as they help you pack a bit more punch with your attacks through sneak attack while helping you with your stealth with skill proficiencies and expertise for an even stealthier character. You can take advantage of your stealth even more by going for the assassin subclass at level 3 with assassinate doing even more damage against surprised enemies and enemies that you attack before they’ve had a turn.
- Wizard – Wizards are intelligence based which works in your favour as an intelligence based character. The main thing you’ll want from a wizard is their subclass options at level 2. War magic and divination are both great for armorers but beware the bladesinging sounds great for a guardian type, but will give you no benefits if you’re wearing medium or heavy armor or using a shield (which you really should be) so is one to avoid.