Rain bullet hell on your foes with the artillerist artificer
Artillerists are a subclass of artificer with a penchant for projectiles. Like all artificers, artillerists merge technology with magic to enhance their equipment and create spell-like effects. Where they differ though, is in their obsession with firearms. While all artificers can wield a firearm (if the setting and DM allow it), artillerists are renowned for their personal artillery known as an eldritch cannon which can be used to devastating effect.
They’re one of the better artificer subclass options (most of them are good anyway), but are the best option for players that want to deal damage at range. In fact, there aren’t many better options for ranged damage dealing for D&D character classes (unless you want to deal with spells) though an arcane archer will probably give the artillerist a run for their money when it comes to pure damage dealing. Of course, playing an artificer isn’t all about dealing damage and you get some nice utility options including a version of your eldritch cannon that can provide small amounts of healing to allies each turn.
What is an artillerist?
Artillerists are an artificer subclass. They use magic and technology to allow them to cause ranged damage through the use of their artillery. As artificers, they make great utility characters, the artillerist abilities though allow them to deal plenty of ranged damage too. The best example of an artillerist is probably Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy with his plethora of guns and inclination towards tinkering with technology. Din Djarin (The Mandalorian) also fits this archetype, as does Gru from Despicable Me.
Playing as an artillerist is perhaps easier than most artificer subclasses as the action economy tends to be fairly straightforward (even if they remain more complex than most classes to play). Your eldritch cannon will use your bonus action to activate and you’ll usually want to be firing this in combat. Your action is therefore more like most spellcasters. Do you fire with a weapon (preferably a firearm) or do you use one of your spells (an eldritch cannon isn’t a spell so you can use whatever spells you want).
At 5th level, you get access to an arcane firearm which basically adds d8 to the damage of your spells meaning you’ll likely want to use damage dealing spells more than your weapons. This is particularly handy paired with area of effect spells (and the artillerist gets a few of these) like shatter and fireball.
Artillerist 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 artillerist receives 1d8 hit die which puts them on the same footing as rogues and bards who can fill a similar role of utility characters. Fortunately, as a ranged character, this is often sufficient, but you’ll want to be careful of getting caught in an ambush. Maximising your ac here will be helpful which you can do with some decent armour, dexterity and a shield (though you may need to trade for a slightly less powerful weapon if you do this). You also get the shield spell for even better defence.
|Level||Cantrips Known||Spells Known||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th|
Artillerists 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 artillerist probably isn’t the class you’re looking for. On the plus side, artillerists do get cantrips which rangers and paladins don’t get making them more of a 2/3 spellcaster.
Artillerists 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||Artillerist Spells|
|5th||Scorching Ray, Shatter|
|9th||Fireball, Wind Wall|
|13th||Ice Storm, Wall of Fire|
|17th||Cone of Cold, Wall of Force|
Artillerists get a bunch of damage dealing spells including several area of effect spells like fireball and shatter which work nicely with arcane firearm for an extra d8 damage against each affected creature, not just a single target. Shield is also a hugely useful spell to increase your durability a bit (and is a reaction so won’t use up your precious action or bonus action which you’ll likely want to use on spell damage and your eldritch cannon).
Of the generally available spells for all artificers, we’ve also picked out the best options for an artillerist in the table below:
Best artillerist spells
|Spell Level||Best artillerist 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, Shield, Thunderwave|
|2nd Level||Aid, Continual Flame, Darkvision, Enhance Ability, Enlarge/Reduce, Invisibility, Lesser Restoration, Levitate, See Invisibility, Spider Climb, Vortex Warp, Web, Scorching Ray, Shatter|
|3rd Level||Haste, Intellect Fortress, Revivify, Fireball|
|4th Level||Arcane Eye, Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere, Stone Shape, Wall of Fire|
|5th Level||Bigby’s Hand, Creation, Greater Restoration, Skill Empowerment, Wall of Stone, Wall of Force|
|Level||Proficiency Bonus||Infusions Known||Infused Items||Features|
|1st||+2||–||–||Magical Tinkering, Spellcasting|
|3rd||+2||4||2||Eldritch Cannon, The Right Tools for the Job|
|4th||+2||4||2||Ability Score Improvement|
|7th||+3||6||3||Flash of Genius|
|8th||+3||6||3||Ability Score Improvement|
|10th||+4||8||4||Magic Item Adept|
|11th||+4||8||4||Spell Storing Item|
|12th||+4||8||4||Ability Score Improvement|
|14th||+5||10||5||Magic Item Savant|
|16th||+5||10||5||Ability Score Improvement|
|18th||+6||12||6||Magic Item Master|
|19th||+6||12||6||Ability Score Improvement|
|20th||+6||12||6||Soul of Artifice|
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||Battle Smith Abilities|
- Eldritch Cannon (3rd): The artillerist’s signature ability is their eldritch cannon. It’s a versatile gun that can move a small amount on its own with legs, or can be made small enough to be carried easily (and shoot using its own action) or be large enough to create cover for party members, especially in tight situations. On top of this, there are 3 different cannon types you can use depending on your situation; flamethrower, force ballista and protector. The flamethrower is great in close quarters and cramped situations (but you may need to make yourself vulnerable to use it effectively). The force ballista does good damage to one enemy at a time while the protector will dole out temporary hit points to multiple nearby allies each turn which can be very helpful in the midst of combat.
- Arcane Firearm (5th): At level 5, the artillerist is able to make all their offensive spells more powerful adding a d8 to their damage (4.5 on average). This is done by enhancing a wand, staff or rod as a focus for their destructive spells. This is particularly devastating for the multiple area of effect spells the artificer is packing.
- Explosive Cannon (9th): At level 9, your eldritch cannon’s all gain an extra d8 to damage, plus they can go for broke by blowing themselves up causing increased damage to those around them.
- Fortified Position (15th): At 15th level, you can not only create 2 eldritch cannons at once (which now have the extra d8 of damage), but they also give half cover to allies within 10 feet of them. The artillerist is a powerful subclass for the artificer with the ability to deal out high damage at a distance and with lots of area of effect spell options on hand. They can also provide regular healing effects with minimal action usage which also makes them a potential team player too.
Optimising an artillerist
We’ve gone into a load of detail below about how to optimise a artillerist with a bunch of options to choose from. This doesn’t mean this is the only way to play an artillerist 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 artillerists, your spellcasting ability is intelligence so you’ll want to make sure this is enhanced as much as possible. This is particularly important for artillerists who will likely be using a lot of spell attacks and use their intelligence for attacks made with their eldritch cannon.
You’ll want to have at least 14 dexterity for the medium armour AC bonus. You’ll likely be using ranged weapons so there is benefit to increasing this further, though it may depend whether you want to build around spell attacks more than weapon damage as to how worthwhile this is.
Constitution is always an important ability score though is less important for artillerists as it is for battle smiths and armorers who will be in the thick of battle more often.
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 artillerist well. In particular, we’d say that Autognomes and fairies are very well suited to an artillerist’s capabilities though we’ve listed a bunch of other good options below too:
- Astral Elf – Teleport as a bonus action is great for artillerists who often need to get out of danger. Proficiency in perception is useful and sacred flame ensures you always have a damage dealing cantrip.
- 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 artillerists (literally) and their abilities work nicely together.
- Eladrin – Fey step is very handy for teleporting away from danger while trance gives you a couple of extra proficiencies which you can change according to the needs of the party, all very handy for an artillerist.
- Fairy – The big draw here is flight. Get up high and blast away from a distance. Faerie fire is pretty good too, as is enlarge/reduce for some extra spell options.
- High Elf – +2 to dexterity and +1 to intelligence suit an artillerist quite nicely. Proficiency in perception is always useful and a free cantrip from the wizard’s spell list is very useful as you get minimal spell options and will stack with arcane firearm.
- Goblin – Nimble escape is great for keeping an artillerist safe with disengage or hide as a bonus action. 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.
- Shadar-Kai – Blessing of the Raven Queen lets you teleport out of trouble 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.
- Thri-Keen – The main draw is your extra arms which can be used to carry your eldritch cannon. Of course, a generous DM will allow you to attach your eldritch cannon to a backpack or shoulder. Telepathy and advantage on stealth is decent 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 artillerist, 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 artificer:
- 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 artillerist 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 artillerist’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.
- Elemental Adept – A little more power for some of your spells (just make sure you theme some of your spells around the element you choose), plus it cancels out resistance to this element so fire and acid are good options (lots of creatures have resistance to these elements and lots of spells use them too). With spells like scorching ray, fireball and wall of fire, fire makes a good option for your element.
- 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.
- Skill Expert – Better at even more skills is great.
- Skilled – 3 more skills to be proficient in is also great.
Artillerists should focus on intelligence, and with only wizards occupying the dedicated intelligence space, it means artillerists 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 artillerist skills. As always though, you’ll want to make sure your party has a complementary set of skills available to them:
- Investigation – Really important intelligence based skill that you’ll likely use often.
- Arcana – Another really important intelligence based skill that comes up often.
- Nature – Not quite as common, but nature skill checks are not unusual and work well for high intelligence characters.
- Perception – Important for everyone, though your wisdom likely won’t be that high, but proficiency will help compensate a little for that.
- Stealth – Stealth is always important and you’ll likely want decent dexterity. Only issue is you may be wearing medium armor. The medium armor master feat can compensate for that though.
- 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.
While you may choose to focus on spell damage, before you get access to arcane firearm, you’ll likely get more out of using certain weapons for your damage, especially if your DM is allowing firearms or you’re using infusions. We’d recommend the following weapons for an artillerist:
- Hand Crossbow – Great if you use the repeating shot infusion which will allow you to wield a shield and a hand crossbow (as you won’t need to reload so have a hand spare). Great for ranged combat with extra AC.
- Light Crossbow – Up until 5th level, this will do more damage than your cantrips so if you want to go heavy on damage, this is a strong ranged option but you will need to make sure you have strong dexterity.
- Dagger – Can be used for ranged and melee attacks giving you attacks of opportunity but only does d4 damage.
- Musket – If your DM allows firearms, this is your most powerful option. d12 is a lot of damage for a ranged weapon (the best damage actually) but it does need loading so if you have an extra attack, you may want the repeating shot infusion.
- Pistol – If you want to go more defensively minded, you can have a pistol, a shield and use the repeating shot infusion. At d10 damage, pistols still pack a punch and are probably your best option for an artificer if firearms are allowed by your DM.
As you have proficiency in medium armor, and you won’t want to invest so heavily in dexterity that light armor is worthwhile, you’ll probably want to start with scale mail and upgrade to half plate once you’re able to. Artillerists don’t have that many hit points so having a shield (even if it occupies one of your hands) is often worthwhile at the sacrifice of a little damage output. This becomes less of a sacrifice once arcane firearm kicks in at level 5 and you use your spell attacks to do more damage than weapons.
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.
The main thing to think about is your ability scores. Typically, as an artillerist, you’ll have high intelligence and solid dexterity and constitution so you’ll want to learn into classes that utilise these ability scores (though it is possible to be competent in other ability scores too and this may change which multiclass options are best for you). We’ll focus on a typical artillerist build though, like the type we’ve described so far.
With that in mind, some classes just don’t work well for an artillerist. 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 artillerist), 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 some great classes for artillerists to multiclass into which include:
- Rogue – Rogue gives you a load of skills which is decent plus sneak attack will add a bit more punch to some of your attacks. The main thing to consider with rogues though is at 3rd level, you can become a thief and get fast hands allowing you to more easily use loads of different objects. A little fiddly to make work completely, but ideal for an artillerist.
- 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, divination and blade singing are all great for artillerists.