Let's Play...A Low Intelligence Artificer
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! As we continue looking at unique character concepts using the D&D archetypes, we're looking today at the newest class archetype: the Artificer. I haven't personally played one yet, but the more I see the more I'm liking the options available to you.
Today we're looking at what a low Intelligence Artificer would look like, and why you'd play this kind of character.
I. Character Concept
Intelligence in D&D is such an interesting stat: it covers people who know a lot about history, people who know a lot about religion, people who know a lot about magic, and people who know a lot about trivia (aka, whatever the Investigation skill is supposed to cover - more on that the overstretch of that skill in our post here). So to say that a person is "low Intelligence" can mean all manner of things, especially since almost every character will take proficiency in one or more Intelligence skill.
So for the Artificer, a "low Intelligence" can mean all manner of things; if an Artificer tinkers and creates based purely on instinct rather than training, they might be low Intelligence and high Wisdom (perhaps with a few burn marks or missing fingers to prove that they are figuring this out by feel instead of through study).
Perhaps the Artificer is more of an "artist" than an "artisan," focusing on the aesthetics rather than being focused on the functionality, lending more of their skill to Charisma than to Intelligence. Or maybe the Artificer is just a half orc who likes building bigger and bigger things that go "boom," and crudely makes things with little thought to planning and pure emphasis on how strong/durable it makes him.
And this doesn't even get into the "mad scientist" or similar concepts that could also fall into the realm of low Intelligence depending on how you play them (as not all mad scientists are low Intelligence). This is the character we are building: a character that is a bit "off" from your average tinker.
II. Character Build
Now typically we would start off by mentioning what you're losing by taking a low primary stat, and to be fair, you do have setbacks with taking Intelligence as your dump stat. But you actually gain a lot, depending on your subclass, by not having to invest heavily in Intelligence.
If you're playing the Armorer, for example, you get a lot of value from having both a high Constitution and a high fighting stat, but typically one of these two is running behind thanks to having to have a high Intelligence. But now you could have a high Dexterity, for example, combined with a high Constitution and a good Strength (giving you options for good damage at range and up close all while wearing good armor with a good hit points pool), and not really be sweating.
You could also have a good Wisdom score, perhaps with proficiency in Perception if you take the Sailor background or play an elf. You can also have a good Charisma score if you have a desire to be good at talking to people in addition to building things. So you have a lot of options that make for a very different play experience for your Artificer, some of them really good in and out of combat.
So what do you actually lose by having a low Intelligence? A few things.
First, some of your spells suffer. This is not abnormal, and we'll go into a deeper dive into spell selection in a bit. But on the whole, you don't actually lose that much from this because you're a half caster: you aren't casting as much as dedicated casters anyway, so weaker spells don't hurt you as much.
The exception to this is that if you play a Battle Smith you actually lose a lot, as you have the ability to use your Intelligence stat as your weapon attack stat, and you gain Extra Attack at 5th level. So you already have a stronger attack stat with the Battle Smith than any other Artificer (as you're down to 2 stats, maybe 3 if you want Dexterity to boost Initiative rolls and the like). So I don't recommend doing this with a Battle Smith.
But beyond this, you don't really lose anything - your magical tinkering is unaffected, most of your infusions are unaffected, and most of your class abilities are unaffected. So it's not that bad to have low Intelligence.
With this cleared up, let's look at the spell selection.
Cantrips: You only start with 2 cantrips for Artificers, so we don't need many good options. Out of the gate Booming Blade is a good choice, as it 1) relies purely on our martial stat - Intelligence doesn't come into play at all - but also 2) it encourages the enemy to stay still, which is a good thing. If they move on our more squishy allies they take damage. If they stay still, they get to tango with us.
In addition, Guidance, Mage Hand, and Message are just really good choices, and one of these should probably be your #2 spell (unless you plan to have a construct friend you need to patch up with Mending, in which case you should take that). Some of the others are nice, but they require a saving throw that is relatively easy to pass or a sub-optimal to-hit roll, but you can take those if you'd like.
1st Level: You actually have a lot of really good choices here, despite not being up to par for spell attacks or saving throws. Spells like Absorb Elements, Detect Magic, False Life, and Identify will never not be useful, and spells like Alarm, Disguise Self, and Feather Fall will be situationally useful.
If you want a damage option, you can take Catapult. Your chances of hitting aren't super great, but if it hits, you deal a pretty good amount of damage and it's not reduced by your Intelligence stat. But truthfully you don't get a lot of attacks at this level - most of what you're getting is support/utility spells, and you can do this very well with a low Intelligence score.
2nd Level: As we go into 2nd level, we get even more support! Spells like Aid, Blur, Heat Metal, Invisibility, Lesser Restoration, Rope Trick, and Spider Climb will get you good mileage in any setting, and other spell choices will also net you a lot of value in specific situations (which you can easily adjust to, as you can prep different spells after a long rest).
The big thing to keep in mind is that, since you don't have a lot of choices for attack spells, don't have great cantrip damage yet, and you're relying on martial stats for weapon attacks without being a martial class, you will probably lag behind the rest of the party in damage output at this level.
3rd Level: Yet again, not a lot of damage spells at this level, so keep that in mind. That being said, you get some A-list spells that are not hurt by a low Intelligence: Blink, Dispel Magic, Fly, Haste, and Revivify will be just as effective with an 8 as with an 18 (where you'd likely be by now if you had maxed out your Intelligence stat).
And with the ability to boost the damage of arrows you fire and turn non-magical weapons into magical weapons with added damage of a different damage type, you get some nice bonuses to your damage output with weapons as well, just as your cantrips are doing more damage to the enemy.
4th Level: At this level, not gonna lie, I'm less than impressed. You'll probably want to live off of your 2nd and 3rd level spells, because these spells are okay but not great compared to what we already have. You get access to Fabricate (classic Artificer spell so I'm glad you get it) and Stoneskin, which are very useful. You also get access to Arcane Eye and Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum, which are also very useful. If you're willing to take a chance on a low Dexterity saving throw DC, Otiluke's Resilient Sphere is a lot of fun to use, and it can take a person out of the fight for a good long while if you can successfully get it off.
But on the whole, I look at this list and think, "Is it really better than what we already have?" I love the Stoneskin spell, but is it better than Blur at 2nd level? Is the sphere more useful than Haste or Fly, both of which also use your concentration. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren't, and I think there's a good case to be made for relying more on lower level spells and boosting them rather than jumping all-in on your 4th level spells.
5th Level: Ah, here we go: some really good spells. There's a high percentage of spells at this level that are unaffected, and they are some of the best on the list. Animate Objects, Greater Restoration, and Wall of Stone are all good, and if you are creative Creation can also be a useful spell.
You also get access to Bigby's Hand, which admittedly uses your Intelligence, but you know it actually doesn't use it for much (one action choice uses a spell attack roll, another uses it to calculate damage, but that's about it). So it's probably worth at least looking at, even though it won't be as effective as it would otherwise be.
It's worth noting that the Alchemist (not my favorite subclass for Artificer, but not bad) gets access to additional spells that are not on the Artificer list, and has the ability to create elixirs, which are kind of like spells that are in the game, but aren't technically those spells.
From that list, Healing Word is not a great choice (as 1d4-1 is just a bad idea) and Ray of Sickness probably won't work because it's a Constitution save with a low DC, but beyond that, the list is actually really nice, with some of them not being affected at all by your low Intelligence and giving you nice benefits.
And from the elixir list, only one of them uses your Intelligence modifier at all - the rest just give a static boost to the consumer. So as long as you don't roll a 1 you're fine, and even in that case it's a 2d4-1, which means at least the person gets a bonus from it, even if it's meager.
Playing a low Intelligence Artificer will cost you a lot of opportunities, as it restricts what you can effectively do with your spell choices. But what you have is still really good, and when seen as a support class that assists the party in its work, it's not that bad. And your ability to be a "skill monkey" to the group is not affected as much by this setback either. So if you want a very different play experience, consider a low Intelligence Artificer.
In our next post we'll be looking at why you would play a low Dexterity Monk, which was surprisingly informative to me about the class as a whole. So stay tuned!
Until next time,