New: D&D Artificer Capsule Summoner
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Last week saw us examining the Stitchling Artificer, and this week we're taking a break from Zurn content to bring you a second new subclass (because we don't want to fall behind on the Let's Play series): the Capsule Summoner. The concept for this subclass was heavily influenced by the concept of the Pokémon Trainer from the 90s, and with the arrival of the artificer class with Eberron, we now have an excellent opportunity to pursue such a character in-world seamlessly.
As always we will begin by looking at the high concept of the subclass, and then move on to a discussion of the ensuing mechanics.
Capsule Summoner: Theme and Inspiration
As noted above, the Pokémon Trainer played a heavy influence on this subclass: the concept of summoning a creature from a capsule and having it fight for you is both a cool and fun idea, but also strategically useful in meeting needs and protecting the party. And this also proves one of the other advantages of this kind of subclass: it's not just another magic-centric support character. Yes, there's magic involved in the capsules, but no spell effects: we get a different way to help the party than just casting a useful spell.
To maintain the theme, there are three things we need: 1) a limit on how many you can have out at a time, 2) a wide variety of options (because you've gotta catch them all), and 3) a way for them to "evolve" and grow over time, gaining power.
The trick, of course, with this last one is allowing them to level up so that they will be useful, but not so much that they replace the need for a party member/overshadow a party member. And that's what got tricky.
What I landed on was 1) a limit of one summon out at a time, consistent with what you'd see in a Pokémon duel, 2) a starter set of 19 preplanned creatures with their respective advancement trees, and 3) a balancing mechanism for them: those that start with a weaker first level creature will often get a far stronger evolution later on to make up for the deficiency at lower levels.
And since the system is pretty simple (CR5 or less for the third evolution, and each evolution should give you a higher CR creature), you can create your own if you want. We provide those 19 as a good starting point, but it's by no means supposed to be exhaustive.
What's more, we opted to make it a collection of plants, beasts, and monstrosities, as that gave us a pretty wide base for options without going too crazy. So there's a wide variety of abilities from the choices in the list.
And of course, your abilities as the summoner also grow as you are learning how to control these spirits. We want you as the trainer to become better at what you do to help in staying on-par with the rest of the group.
And so with that, Capsule Summoner: I choose you!
Capsule Summoner: Mechanics
You can find the details of the subclass here, easily printable for your game master to consider if desired thanks to the team at Homebrewery. The subclass begins at 3rd level by giving you two capsules containing spirits from the list provided. It also lays out the mechanics for capturing your own (which basically comes down to a Wisdom saving throw being made as an appropriate creature in range dies), and you gain advantage on attacks against creatures within 5ft of one of your capsule spirits.
I won't go in-depth into the different kinds of creatures you can summon as you can see them on the chart, but at a glance you get two plant options (one that's based on blights and myconids, one that's based on awakened plants), several birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates, and even one set of dragons (because of course there's going to be a dragon option).
So from a flavor perspective you get a wide range of possible summons, and any time a beast, monstrosity, or plant dies in range, you can (if you have a capsule free) bring it in, so if it's not on this list (if you want a spider, or a weasel, or whatever), you can still capture it. Just work out with your DM what the upgrade tree is, or feel free to reach out to use at email@example.com, and I'd be glad to give ideas that you can run past your DM.
At 5th level your capsule spirits advance to their second form, and you gain the ability to recover spell slots like a wizard, allowing you as the trainer to cast far more spells than your average artificer. This adds to your utility in protecting the party, boosting the damage total, and preserving your spirits.
At 9th level your spirits start to deal magical damage and gain resistance to non-magical weapon attacks, and you as the trainer also gain the ability to cast a cantrip as a bonus action when you cast a spell as an action (which could be another cantrip or the same cantrip - so it's kind of a version of Extra Attack, but for spells, and it uses your bonus action). You also gain the ability to cast a cantrip after using a reaction spell, but it will mean you cannot take a bonus action on your next turn (so you get a form of retributive/punishing casting). So you get out more attacks, all while your spirits are doing more reliable damage for longer against the enemy.
And at 15th level, your spirits reach their final form, manifesting both their greatest version and with added abilities (gaining both hit dice and a higher proficiency bonus to boost their attacks, skills, etc.). You as the trainer gain the ability to cast Shield (which is not typically on the Artificer list, and pairs nicely with the reaction ability of your 9th level boost), can cast it without using a spell slot a number of times each day, and you gain other protection spells pre-prepared each day. So you have a wide range of defenses to augment the added damage and abilities of your summoned spirits.
I love heavily thematic subclasses that provide useful options - in this case an extra attacker with a wide range of possible abilities and utility functions - and give you the freedom to replay the subclass in the future with a radically different experience. And this class does that: you get such a wide range of options all while maintaining a pervading simplicity (pick two creatures, as you level up they get better, and you can have one out at a time). If you enjoy this playstyle, I highly recommend trying it out.
Until next time,