I've long been disappointed by how brief and largely meaningless D&D 5e's handling of musical instruments is. Bards can use them as spellcasting focuses, but other than that, there's not much to them. Hardly anyone has a reason to play a musical instrument for any length of time, nor does it really matter much if you're any good at it.

To address that, I decided to make my own subclass that focuses on crafting and playing musical instruments. It's a subclass of the Artificer, using class rules from Eberron: Rising from the Last War (which is not the same as any of the earlier drafts of the Artificer in various Unearthed Arcana documents).

Here's the subclass, my questions about it are below:

Arcane Luthier

An Arcane Luthier is a master of the magical crafting of musical instruments. While less innately talented than a Bard at musical performance, an Arcane Luthier's skills at musical composition and the ability to create their own personalized instruments often makes them among the best instrumental performers around. Their abilities to manipulate emotion with music can make them very popular with those who hear them play.

Musical Instrument Proficiency and Crafting

When you adopt this specialization at 3rd level, you gain proficiency in two musical instruments of your choice.

  • If you spend an entire long rest touching a musical instrument you are not proficient with, you can exchange one of your existing musical instrument proficiencies for proficiency with the touched instrument. You are always proficient with musical instruments you have crafted yourself, even if you are not proficient with their instrument type.
  • Musical instruments you are proficient with count as tools for your other Artificer class features (so you may use them as spellcasting focuses, create them with The Right Tool for the Job, and use double your proficiency modifier on ability checks made with them after you gain the Tool Expertise feature at 6th level).
  • If you create a musical instrument with The Right Tool for the Job and keep it with you continuously for one week, you may use appropriate materials worth half the instrument's normal cost during a long rest to make it permanently become a normal item which will no longer vanish if you use The Right Tool for the Job to create another tool or instrument.

Arcane Luthier spells

After you adopt this specialization at 3rd level, all spells on the Bard spell list count as Artificer spells for you.

  • You must use a musical instrument you are proficient with as a spellcasting focus to cast any spell not normally on the Artificer spell list.
  • At 3rd level, you learn Minor Illusion cantrip. You may not exchange this spell for another cantrip, but it does not count against the number of Artificer cantrips you know.
  • You always have certain spells prepared after you reach particular levels in this class, as shown in the table below. These spells don't count against the number of artificer spells you prepare.

\begin{array}{c c} \textbf{Artificer Level} & \textbf{Spell} \\ \hline 3\text{rd} & \textit{Charm Person, Silent Image} \\ 5\text{th} & \textit{Calm Emotions, Enthrall} \\ 9\text{th} & \textit{Fear, Hypnotic Pattern} \\ 13\text{th} & \textit{Compulsion, Hallucinatory Terrain} \\ 17\text{th} & \textit{Dominate Person, Seeming} \\ \end{array}

Instrumental Virtuoso

At 3rd level, you know how to blend spellcasting into your instrumental music.

  • While you are playing an instrument you have crafted (either with The Right Tool for the Job or more mundane means), you may change the casting time of an Enchantment or Illusion spell with a casting time of 1 action to instead have a casting time of 1 bonus action. You must follow the normal rules for casting spells with a bonus action (briefly: you may not also cast a leveled spell with your main action, cantrips are OK).
  • When you cast an Enchantment spell in this way, you can prevent one or more affected creatures from knowing they were magically charmed and from becoming hostile when the spell ends. For each creature you wish to do this for, you must spend one action during the spell's duration performing music they can hear and succeed on a Charisma (musical instrument) check with a DC equal to 10 plus half the creature's CR or level. The creature will still know their emotions or behavior have been manipulated, but will assume it is just a natural effect of your music, rather than a magical effect.
  • You may play music with an instrument you have crafted in place of the vocal or somatic components of any spell you cast. If a spell has costly material components that you have in your possession, you do not need to use a free hand to manipulate them (though they will still be consumed if the spell says so).

Beguiling Melodies

Starting at 5th level, you can compose musical themes that enhance the abilities of your spellcasting to manipulate the senses and emotions of those who hear you.

  • Whenever a creature makes a saving throw or an investigation check against a spell you cast from the schools of Enchantment or Illusion, it does so with disadvantage if you are playing a musical instrument you are proficient with and the target can hear your music.
  • You are a skilled accompanist, able to compose and play fanfares and harmonies that bring out the best in the performances of others. When you are playing music with an instrument you are proficient with, you may use the Help action targeting any number of creatures of your choice, but only to give the targets advantage on ability checks to perform before an audience who can also hear your music. The performances you accompany do not need to be musical, you can also accompany dramatic or oratorical performances with your music.

Magically Charged Instrument

At 9th level, you can add additional magic to musical instruments you create.

  • This feature works like the Spell Storing Item feature of the core Artificer class, but it may only be used to store a spell from the Bard spell list in a musical instrument that you have crafted. If you store a first or second level spell, it follows the normal rules for Spell Storing Item. You may instead store a 3rd level Bard spell in the instrument, but if you do, the instrument will be destroyed when the spell ends the first time it is used.
  • This feature operates separately from the regular Spell Storing Item feature, so when you have both after 11th level, you may store spells in two different items, one instrument from this feature, and another item (which may also be an instrument, since they can be spell focuses for you) from the normal Spell Storing Item feature. Use the normal Spell Storing Item rules for the second item, even if it is another musical instrument.
  • Starting at 15th level, you may use this feature store a 4th level Bard spell, with the instrument being destroyed after one use. If you store a 3rd level spell, the instrument will only be destroyed after its second use, rather than its first.

Battlefield Instrumentation

At 15th level, your instrumental performances awe your enemies, even in the thick of battle.

  • Creatures that are not immune to being charmed have disadvantage on attack rolls against you if you are playing music with an instrument you have crafted and they can hear your music.
  • While you are playing music with an instrument you have crafted, you may cast the Sanctuary spell on yourself, without needing to have it prepared or using a spell slot. The spell has no effect on creatures that cannot hear your music, and ends immediately if you stop playing. You may cast the spell this way a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier, and regain all uses after you complete a long rest.
  • While you are playing music with an instrument you have crafted, you may cast Mass Suggestion, without needing to have it prepared or using a spell slot. After you cast it in this way, you may not do so again until you finish a long rest.

My questions:

  1. Are there any ambiguities in the rule presentation, or ways I could better or more consistently phrase things? Because some of my previous reviewers were not as much mechanics geeks as I am, I have deliberately included some text restating some existing rules (like how bonus action spellcasting limits your main action, and which Artificer features interact with their tool proficiencies). But other than that, I'd like to be a bit less wordy if I can get away with it without introducing ambiguity.
  2. Is this subclass balanced? I'd appreciate comparisons against other Artificer subclasses, as I've only had a tiny amount of experience playing with an Artificer in the same game as me. I'd also like to compare Arcane Luthier Artificers to Bards, since there's a bit of overlap between them, given that my subclass gets access to the Bard spell list. One of my reviewers was particularly concerned since Artificers can choose to prepare any spell on their spell list, while Bards can only learn a few of their spells, swapping them out only as they level. Is that versatility really problematic, given that an Artificer is a half-caster?

I have also asked a separate question about a thematically related Infusion.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a very broad question as written; reviewing a subclass for balance is doable, but thematic overlap with the bard is an entirely different issue and should probably be asked separately. (Technically clarity/ambiguity is a separate concern as well, but I think we've typically allowed it as part of the same question.) Your last question about "diverging from conventional D&D norms" seems to focus on "does it fit the setting?", which may depend on the setting and also seems primarily opinion-based. I'd suggest editing the question to focus just on the issue of balance (and maybe clarity). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 23 at 7:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: Is there a rule or guideline stating that each post should only ask a single question? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 23 at 7:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your homebrew infusion is also entirely separate, mechanically speaking, from the subclass - as it can be taken by any artificer. As such, you should ask about that as a separate question as well. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 23 at 7:10
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the question feedback @V2Blast, I've edited out questions 3 and 4 and the Infusion. I'll probably be asking about some of them tomorrow. \$\endgroup\$ – Blckknght May 23 at 8:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you want the spells cast using Magically Charged Instrument to benefit from Beguiling Melodies? Do you realize that the second part of Beguiling Melodies is only helpful if multiple performers are making separate performance checks at the same time? You can already use the help action to grant advantage on a performance check and usually if there are multiple performers the rule on "Working Together" comes into play. \$\endgroup\$ – Odo May 25 at 6:24

This is a huge job, much too big for me. But I'll give some thoughts that hopefully others can build on.

  • Musical Instrument Proficiency and Crafting: I think these are clear and not overpowered.
  • Arcane Luthier spells: Free minor illusion? Certainly a good cantrip.
  • Instrumental Virtuoso: The first point is extremely powerful, the second is powerful. The third is a great change, but I doubt it would cause problems. The first is concerning, a pure Luthier doesn't have many options (besides spamming minor Illusion), but a multiclass could take advantage of it to spam vicious mockery. I can't think of anything abusive at the moment, but it's a dangerous feature. You could limit it to artificer spells to cut out that possibility.
  • Beguiling Melodies: Powerful, but quite situational. Not more powerful than other artificer features
  • Magically Charged Instrument: Other archetypes tend to have more minor Lvl 9 features. I feel this is quite powerful. If you introduced spell storage as a core class feature earlier, then having it level up here would be appropriate.
  • Battlefield Instrumentation: Again, strong (but not too strong), lots of new effects.

The main problem I have with this class is that it has so many different effects. Other archetypes focus on 1 mechanic. Artillerist has the cannon, Battle Smith their robot, etc. I think your features introduce new mechanics at every stage, sometimes multiple in one level.

I know it's not what you want to hear, but your class could do with a lot more focus. The Luthier buffs their own spells, debuffs enemies' resistance to their spells, and has a lot of other random effects to do with playing their instrument. It's a lot to keep track of for me. If I were to try and describe the class, I'd say "their spells are really good so long as they are playing an instrument", it's a bit ill-defined.

However, nothing stands out as overpowered, and even the potentially abusable mechanics don't really go anywhere. Compared to other artificers, it's perhaps a little weaker, but only because it has more utility. This seems to me to be an extremely powerful control caster.

Personally, I would overhaul the class to focus on spell storing. If you could store spells in your instruments, and then cast them as bonus actions later, I think that's a great mechanic that could define a class.

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