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I'm playing a Battle Smith artificer currently, and my DM is a very by-the-books kind of guy. When the question came up of whether or not I could change its appearance, he just said "if it's in the book."

From the entry for the Steel Defender, it just says that you determine its appearance and whether it has 2 or 4 legs. Given this, we can't decide if its appearance is static upon creation, or if it can be changed on a whim without creating a new one.

Can a Battle Smith artificer change the appearance of a Steel Defender after creating it?

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Yes, if you want

The rule for the Steel Defender states:

You determine the creature's appearance and whether it has two legs or four; your choice has no effect on its game statistics.

The wording is sufficiently vague that you could say "My steel defender has reconfigurable limbs, allowing me to change it between 2 legs and 4."

The rules do not say that you determine the Steel Defender's appearance when you create it. Obviously, this does happen, but the wording permits the interpretation that one can choose to alter its appearance subsequently because no timing is specified.

And why should they? You might also paint it or glue a wig on it. These are cosmetic changes permitted by the fact you're playing an open ended RPG and do not violate any explicit rule.

Since your DM is so "by the book," it's worth remembering that Rule zero is in the book and grants wide leeway to DMs and players to act as they want.

  • The players describe what they want to do.

  • The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

Given the fact that we're dealing with a cosmetic or narrative decision, you have plenty of (ahem) leg to stand on.

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It's unclear if you can change the appearance of an existing Steel Defender. But you can absolutely build another Steel Defender with a different appearance.

And building another Steel Defender simply requires a bit of down time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ OP clarified that they are explicitly interested in the rules around changing an existing defender. Focusing on that would be helpful \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 14 at 21:45
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NO, you cannot change the form after the fact

but, you can choose any design for your steel defender. After you have one in existence, you can just create a whole new one after a long rest.

ERLW PG. 61

You determine the creature's appearance and whether it has two legs or four; your choice has no effect on its game statistics.

At the end of a long rest, you can create a new steel defender if you have your smith's tools with you. If you already have a steel defender from this feature, the first one immediately perishes.

Personally I like the ape, because of its humanoid like fingers and limbs. I think a steel defender ape would be able to anatomically wear gauntlets of ogre power, turning it into a grappling machine!

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