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My curiosity arose after reading When did Warlocks make their first appearance in D&D and how do they differ between editions? by aaron9eee:

A quality answer would have more than just a release date, and would ideally cover what makes each edition's version different from other editions.

When did Artificers make their first appearance in D&D, and how do they differ between editions?

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1996—AD&D 2e, but it wasn’t a separate class

As another answer of mine discusses, the 1996 Player’s Option: Spells & Magic for AD&D 2e introduced “artificer” as a “kit” (kind of like 5e’s subclasses) for the wizard class. The artificer focused on item-improving magic, so that much is similar to the Eberron artificer, but since Eberron itself didn’t exist yet, the 2e artificer was necessarily very different from the one we know today.

The 2e artificer’s big thing was the ability to store spells in items. This meant that they could have vastly more spells available at a time than a regular wizard, but it took a week of solid work to store a single spell in this manner. A potentially-significant benefit of this ability is that stored spells could be released “with a casting time of 1” regardless of the spell’s usual casting time. I’m not super-conversant in 2e, but it seems likely to me that it might be useful to store spells with long casting times so they could be released more quickly than they could ordinarily be cast.

2004—D&D 3.5e, first publication of Eberron, including its iconic artificer

Eberron Campaign Setting was a sourcebook published for D&D 3.5e detailing, shockingly enough, the Eberron campaign setting, which was brand-new at the time. It introduced a new artificer character class to 3.5e, which didn’t have “kits” or anything like them, and hadn’t replicated the artificer option for the wizard class.

The new artificer wasn’t a wizard, and technically didn’t cast spells at all—instead, it cast “infusions,” which are literally identical in every way to spells but technically aren’t. The main things about infusions is that they were neither arcane nor divine (as every true “spell” in 3.5e was) and they could only target items, objects, and/or constructs (though that wasn’t unique; plenty of existing spells shared that property). Its other class features were dedicated to creating and using magic items, including magical construct minions.

The Eberron artificer did replicate the spell storing option of the 2e artificer, though it was perhaps less unique—any spellcaster in 3.5e could easily create scrolls and wands for that purpose. But the artificer was simply better at it than other spellcasters, and on top of that had an infusion for creating a temporary “wand” on short notice.

2009—D&D 4e Eberron update including the artificer

2009’s Eberron Player’s Guide brought Eberron into D&D 4e, including the artificer class. Within 4e, the artificer was a “Leader” class, meaning it focused on buffs and healing. Its special trick was that its healing could be handed out to other characters ahead of time, which could trigger them on their own without the artificer’s involvement. This is again perhaps reminiscent of the 2e specialty of storing spells.

Aside from that, the 4e artificer was explicitly an arcane class, and therefore cast spells—no non-arcane, non-divine “infusions” here (though its healing ability was “Healing Infusion”). It also retained some ability with magic items—being able to restore their daily powers or empower them—and also knew some magic-item-creating rituals by default.

2019—D&D 5e Eberron update including the artificer

A decade later, Eberron: Rising from the Last War brings Eberron and the artificer to D&D 5e. A similar repertoire of item-improving spells as previous artificers are on display, and “infusions” are now special artificer-only features that allow them to create specific magic items, including some unique ones that aren’t otherwise available. The 5e artificer is in a somewhat awkward place as there aren’t any core 5e rules for creating magic items, but the infusion system is a pretty solid approach to handling it.

Note that, prior to Eberron: Rising from the Last War, numerous “artificers” were tested for 5e as Unearthed Arcana content. We have a question about that history, if you desire details.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Describing the finalised version of the 5e artificer as a "pet class" isn't quite accurate, one of the subclasses do get a "pet", another can summon some (expending resources to do it and can summon multiple at higher levels) and the third doesn't get a pet at all. The description as given matches one of the playtest versions much better (self-promotary more detail here). \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Mar 9, 2020 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil Missed that they’d changed the alchemist to ease off on the homunculus, but the turret really is pretty minion-like. But ya know what, I’ve been meaning to actually buy Eberron: Rising from the Last War for a while and this seems like a good opportunity to do it. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 9, 2020 at 23:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not vital to the answer, but I think prestige classes would qualify as an equivalent to kits and sub-classes, as they allowed specialisation and modification of base classes and often had class prerequisites? Off the top of my head I can’t think of an official prestige class that resembled the artificer, though. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10, 2020 at 7:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ While there are still some comments open for refinement and clarification, I think it is already clear that this is an excellent answer, so I have no qualms to accept it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Mar 10, 2020 at 10:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Guybrush Gondian Techsmith and there was also the candle caster and a master alchemist that made Potions above normal levels. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 19, 2021 at 12:47
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White Dwarf #68 (AD&D 1e) - 1985

While not an official class it was written by a AD&D designer (David Marsh) and published in White Dwarf, this was when White Dwarf wrote material for the 'big' TTRPGs at the time and was not an in house magazine for Games Workshop.

This incarnation of the Artificer is quite interesting as it is a spellcaster but can only cast spells up to 3rd level but know and are able to cast spells from 1st level. They poses their own spell list that focuses on 'mechanically oriented' spells such as Rustproof (pretty self explanatory) or Sabotage (will render a mechanism non-functional).

Additionally the Artificer features a percentile skill table - like the Thief class - which focuses on: detect traps/mechanisms, find/remove traps, open locks, see irregularity (basically find secret doors), know value, and illusion immunity. The latter 'skill' is quite unusual as generally you would expect a class ability to provide a flat bonus - which in itself is atypical for early editions of D&D - to a saving throw rather than add an entirely new percentile mechanic but given this unofficial I guess a weird mechanic/gimmick is to be expected.

It also features Material and Skill specialties which let the Artificer do things that we would recognise from the modern version of the class, like create magical weapons/armour.

In earlier editions 'specialised' / 'exotic' classes such as Ranger or Paladin have minimum ability score requirements. The Artificer is no exception. The ability score minimum requirements are at least 12 in STR, with INT, WIS, and DEX all being at least 15. Which is a big ask for earlier editions such as 1e/2e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The percentile-based illusion immunity mechanic isn't quite as unusual as you make it sound. 2E Dark Sun's Dragon Kings supplement (1992) added Detect Illusion (among several other skills) as an optional skill for Thieves (though it still required a round to examine the illusion for the skill to kick in). Later, Skills & Powers (1995) added the rule for Thieves in any setting, and simplified it to a straight up automatic check for all illusions within 90', that, on success, made it appear as a light mist to the Thief in question. Both of those were fully official, mainline TSR products. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2023 at 23:43
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Artificers first appeared in the Eberron Campaign Setting in June of 2004, a follow-up to 2003's revised 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons ("v.3.5"). They were a class focused on the edition's unique player-accessible magic item creation and some quick emulation of those mechanics, and augmenting teammates by enhancing their equipment; they held a strong focus on the Charisma-based 'Use Magic Device' skill to manipulate the canned spells in wands and staves, as well as their Intelligence-based infusions (pseudo-spells) acquired at a rate somewhere between a sorcerer and a bard in level progression, some of which were just reproducing actual spell effects (some minor war magic suiting their role in the Last War that defines Khorvaire, the central continent of Eberron), while others were wholly original, and the infusions tended to be centered around interacting with magic items and constructs such as warforged.

In the 4th edition of D&D, artificers likewise appeared in the Eberron Player's Guide in June of 2009, this time using Intelligence as their primary attack ability and Wisdom and Constitution as secondary abilities, adjusting the efficacy of secondary effects like healing or the bonuses granted to teammates by their arcane powers. Their role shifted from "knock-off wizard" to Leader, which meant their powers usually helped teammates with bonuses and healing, alongside dealing attack damage; rods, staffs, and wands served to focus their magical attacks, while they gained special ability to recharge magic items' daily powers. The class also had access to summoning, a luxury few other classes had. In terms of advancement, non-psionic classes (plus the monk) tended to have a unified progression scheme in 4e, with "spells" simply being arcane powers, as opposed to divine "prayers", martial "exploits", primal "evocations", and psionic "disciplines".

With the 5th edition release of Eberron: Rising from the Last War in November of 2019 (and the update to Keith Baker's licensed Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron), artificers now use actual worker's or thieves' tools to cast spells based on Intelligence, at a rate not unlike a paladin (plus cantrips), with a strong focus on utility to complement the normal combat enhancement.

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Dragon Magazine 1, page 8, June 1976.

Artificers were not presented as a player option, and were not given stats. They were presented as a highly technological race that had developed their technology in response to and as opposed to magic. A number of such magical devices were described in brief blurbs. They were pretty clearly intended to be a tool for DMs to make interesting threats and puzzles with which to challenge their players, or to provide weapons in the hands of the enemy (and, presumably, loot to be seized). The stated purpose was as a way to integrate technology into D&D in a fun and interesting way. They have essentially nothing in common with any of the later versions of "artificer".

For the White Dwarf #68 printing, I must refer you to the answer by @Sunkist, as I do not have any information on that instance myself. I do note that, as it was produced by an entirely separate set of publishers, it may not count.

For the AD&D 2nd edition Artificer, I again do not have my own information, and must refer you to @KRyan's answer.

2004 - 3rd Edition's Artificer, Eberron

The Artificer was a bit of a strange beast. It had middling BAB, middling skills, and d6 HP. It was by design mostly a caster, but it didn't hve the same level of power as a full caster. It used infusions rather than spells, which meant that it didn't benefit from anything like the same breadth of spells as standard divine and arcane casters eventually got. Further, infusion levels never got above 6, relegating them to half-caster status. With all of that taken together, they were sort of a gish, and not an amazingly impressive one. They could also be made into one of the most broken classes in the game. The artificer received a Crafting Pool every level, that was effectively a pool of points that could be used to pay the exp costs for crafting magical items. Further, they could take a number of feats that would reduce money, exp, and crafting time costs for crafting magical items, and they got significantly easier access to the magical item crafting system in general. Stacking all of these together, it was possible for an artificer to claim an enormous advantage in magical gear over anything that other characters could normally bring to bear, which, with sufficient mastery of the magical item lists, could result in a character whose overall abilities were really quite impressive.

2009 - 4e Eberron Artificer

in 4e, the artificer was... okay. They were a Leader, which meant that they tended to focus on healing and buffing allies, a bit more focused on the buffing side. They were interesting in that they had an even mix of implement vs save and weapon vs AC powers. For weapons they tended to like crossbows. They were arcane, which worked well enough. They were rather severely hampered, however, by the fact that Eberron came out after Arcane Power (if only by a couple of months) which meant that they basically only ever got the feats and powers they were originally printed with. There were bad classes in 4e, and the artificer wasn't one of them, but they weren't great. The one thing that made them really unique among leader classes in 4e was that they prepped their healing infusions before a fight rather than triggering them during the fight... and that the healing surges were packaged with them at time of creation. Thus, the artificer had the near-unique ability to heal one character with the healing surges of another. They also had some benefits associated with making daily power objects more interesting or useful. The changes to 4e meant that they lost very nearly all of their early item-crafting dominance. They still had the same ability to create and disenchant magical items as anyone else (indeed, the disenchanting was discounted) and they even got the pertinent rituals for free, but it wasn't at all the same.

For the 5e artificer, I again do not have anything particularly useful to add to @KRyan's answer, except to note that Magic Item Adept now makes it faster and cheaper for artificers to craft magical items, if the magical item crafting rules are in use, bringing back at least a little fo what the 3.x artificer brought to the table.

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Let's return back to 1976 in The Dragon magazine, issue #001. Article by James M. Ward on page 8.

He argued that DND had room for both magic and machine, whereas he describes others arguing that magic would have made machine irrelevant.

From this future standpoint, if magic was limited to only those that understood it... then it would have been replaced by technology... example "Onward" the movie giving a fantasy version against another fantasy argument. :)

Anyway, enough arguing over a DM's choice in his own world....

The Artificer was a 'race' that had machines and they used technology to remove 'atlantis' to another dimension...considering this was a 1976 article... i now wonder which writer for Star Gate Atlantis.... stole that idea...;)

With it being described, and his machines being detailed. I submit that this was the first DND creation of the artificer...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to the site, and thanks for taking the time to help fellow gamers! This sounds like really interesting stuff! Unfortunately, I’m finding it a little hard to follow—you seen to be bouncing around between a few different tangents here maybe? It might help to adopt a somewhat more formal tone; it’s not required but we are trying to produce a repository of answers that are clear and authoritative and tone can help with that. The biggest thing that’s unclear to me: did Ward use the word “artificer” here? Or are you saying it was a similar idea? (To be clear, I haven’t voted here.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 26, 2021 at 1:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. All answers must directly answer the question; this seems to sort of generally comment on the topic, but doesn't really answer the question fully. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jul 26, 2021 at 23:48

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