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Friday Reviews: The Artificer Class by Wolfgoat

This review is on the Artificer class for OSE by Wolfgoat, who was kind enough the send me the pdf to review. I'd like to start out by saying that, for those readers unfamiliar with Old School Essentials, Necrotic Gnome has really embraced the "two-page class", where all of the information on a class is given in a two-page spread. For a lot of classes this is fine, but, in reality, classes such as the magic-user require much longer to describe; OSE contains a whole chapter on spells, researching magic, copying spells, etc. This class is done in the same two-page format as is standard OSE, to both good and bad effects. The document itself checks in at 3 pages: a title page and two pages of text. It's missing the OGL license, but does have the stamp on the front cover indicating compatibility with OSE.

However, let's start off with the basics. The artificer is an Int based class, requiring an Intelligence of 9 but with Constitution being a prime requisite. It has 14 levels, and 1d4 hp per HD. Artificers can wear leather or chain but not use shields, and can use crossbows or one-handed melee weapons. All of this is fine. As I mentioned in last week's review, a class built on the magic-user chassis isn't going to want to get involved in melee if they can help it, but certainly opening up the crossbow and one-handed melee weapons isn't going to hurt anything, and in the case of the crossbow fits with the class thematically.

We are then told that "Artificers utilize their mechanical skills and imbue their creations with arcane magics." I really want to like the artificer as a class, but too often I see them as more bomb-throwing alchemists and less mad scientist tinkerers. 5e and Pathfinder are especially guilty of this, I think. However, we're told that artificers can only craft "When constructing inventions, the artificer must be in an area where proper materials can be found. No travel is permitted by the artificer during the construction process without halting its progress". This, to me, implies that the artificer's craft is one of slow deliberation, not unlike the crafting of magical items, and less whipping concoctions together on the fly.

Artificers can do the following: create and command a mechicompanion, cast and research spells as a magic-user (albeit with a delayed progression), use magical items as a magic-user as well as cast spells from scrolls on their spell list (I am unclear as to whether the artificer has a specific list of spells they can cast, or if this means they can only use scrolls that contain spells they know), create inventions, and at 9th level found a workshop, attracting 1d4 apprentices. When using their workshop time and money required to create inventions is halved.

Artificers don't gain the ability to case spells until 2nd level, and they gain spell slots at a delayed progression, reaching a max of 4th level spells at level 14. Until they reach 3rd level all inventions are single use. They require 2,500 XP to reach 2nd level. I haven't done the math on the XP, but I've got to say that this feels like a perfectly balanced class. I've looked at -- and created my own -- quite a few homebrew classes, and it's always tricky getting the XP right. Even using a guide like the Welsh Piper's B/X Class Builder, or my own Classing up the Joint, is that the methodology used to determine XP is reverse engineered from the original classes, which were not determined by any formula. The author of this class, however, seems to have hit the nail right on the head by sticking with the magic-user XP progression.

A stat block for the mechanicompanion is also given. A 1 HD creature with a 1d6 bite attack, the companion can attack once per round, impose itself between the artificer and an attack to auto-block the damage, or patrol, which means that it basically explores a 30' radius and screeches if it finds something of interest.

My biggest complaint with this class is that there is a lot of information missing; how does crafting an invention work? Can mechanicompanions be "advanced"? How are they healed? How much do inventions cost and how long do they take to make? This is partially a function of the two-page class layout -- there's simply not enough room for a full write-up -- and partially, I think due to the barebones nature of the presentation. It is also not necessarily a bad thing! While reading through the document I had a half dozen "aha!" moments where I was thinking of cool ways to incorporate or build on the class features. I think some of the rules can be clarified -- the artificer's use of spell scrolls, for instance. I also think it would be possible to add some thief abilities at a delayed progression without disturbing XP balance; the artificer could open locks and disarm traps, at least, using their tool kit.

But don't let my complaints above dissuade you! Overall, this is a strong class, well balanced and interesting, that would make a great addition to an OSE or similar game. A lot of the issues can be handwaves. The Referee can easily ballpark an invention's equivalent spell level and determine that it costs and takes the same amount of time as researching a spell, for instance. I would certainly recommend checking it out, especially if you don't mind doing a little filling in of details. I know that I certainly have a tendency to want to have *everything* spelled out, and I recognize that a lot of folks aren't like that. In my mind, this would be the perfect artificer class if the text was increased to three pages, but it would not fit in with the OSE "two-page class spread".

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