For reasons of narrative flexibility, my group is considering house-ruling the artificer to permit using ordinary arcane foci (wands, staves, orbs, etc.) in addition to artisan's tools for spellcasting.

I can't think of any obvious balance implications to house-ruling arcane foci for artificers. Were it not for the class's explicit requirement of using artisan's tools, an argument could be made that ordinary arcane foci would already be usable by any arcane spellcasting class. But maybe I'm missing something?

To be clear, although I'm talking about house-ruling the base class, the only subclass I'm concerned about is the artillerist, because it'll be the only one at the table. Also, in case party composition matters, we'll have a Life cleric and a rogue (probably swashbuckler, but we're starting at 1st level, so that's yet to be decided).

I'm not interested in answers that problematize whether the proposed house-rule is needed; it's our narrative. I'm just looking at the balance issue.


3 Answers 3


Usually, Not Much

As you've realized, the artificer class has somewhat strange requirements that seem more specific than necessary. At low levels, it really doesn't matter whether you're using artisan's tools or a normal focus. At high levels, you have a lot of options that are superficially similar with minor differences. These can probably be reasonably flattened with little to no mechanical impact.

...Unless You're Multiclassing

This is really the main balance implication that I'm aware of. Having played specifically an Artificer/Wizard multiclass build, I can also say that it's not exactly a small one.

You require artisan's tools to cast your artificer spells, but those cannot be used to replace the material components for your wizard spells. Further, the spellcasting foci gained by the artificer subclasses are also restricted to artificer spells (and I would argue that the infused items implicitly are as well, since they're replacing the tools).

This conflict imposes real costs on certain Artificer/Wizard multiclass decisions, especially one which wants to dedicate one hand to a shield. You're pigeonholed into finding something that can work for both. Enhanced Arcane Focus is great for this, but it uses up an infusion slot, and you will likely come across things you'd rather be holding with that hand.

Otherwise, you're left with doing complicated action economy things like sheathing your tools one turn to use a component pouch, and hoping you won't need to cast a spell as a reaction before you can draw them again.

...But Even Then Only Sometimes.

This is all very frustrating, until you get to artificer level 5. Now suddenly even magical arcane foci are on the table, and you have your infusion slot back.

But is getting to artificer level 5 desirable? For my purposes, a three level dip gave me everything I wanted from the class, while keeping eventual access to 9th level spells in a campaign that would someday hit 20th level. Pushing to level 5 for just this convenience is also not a trivial decision.

So, Maybe. Sometimes.

This is the only place I'm aware of where there is a severe mechanical impact to the distinction. Like so many things in D&D, it's extremely contextual. But in my circumstances, your simplifying ruling would effectively give my character an additional infusion slot back, and the ability to gain stronger spellcasting foci indefinitely.

Remember, this isn't a hypothetical. This is a particular character build that does exist, that would gain substantial mechanical benefit from your ruling.

Does that matter to you? Honestly, probably not. Dungeons & Dragons has so many contextual mechanical interactions that even if a rules choice unbalances some of them, it's extremely easy to just never encounter them in a campaign. If you aren't multiclassing, you're probably fine. Even if you are multiclassing, you're probably fine.

But artificers are a complicated class, with a lot of options, and giving them more options does have consequences. For someone. Somewhere.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is exactly the sort of assessment I was looking for -- thank you. I'll hold off picking an answer a bit longer just in case any others come in (even if that's unlikely given that the question has been downvoted into the negatives). \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Aug 12, 2021 at 13:04

There is no major balance problem with letting an artificer use arcane focus items.

Waving a wand or manipulating your thief's tools are functionally identical, it's just an object that takes up one hand. The only difference I can see is possibly being able to keep a magic wand in hand while casting other spells, the benefit of which depends entirely on how strict your table is about switching out held items (specifically whether putting away one item and pulling another are one interaction or two) and whether it's likely to even come up.

However, the lack of traditional focus items is the greater part of the class's flavor:

To observers, you don't appear to be casting spells in a conventional way; you appear to produce wonders from mundane items and outlandish inventions.

If you cast cure wounds using alchemist's supplies, you could be quickly producing a salve. If you cast it using tinker's tools, you might have a miniature mechanical spider that binds wounds. [...] Describing your spellcasting creatively is a fun way to distinguish yourself from other spellcasters.

By changing the Artificer's relationship to focus items, you are potentially removing a lot of the flavor of how an artificer works.

If you're engaging with the theme of the class, then the limitations are part of that engagement. If you don't want to engage with the theme, that's fine; you don't have to -- but the mechanics are the way they are to support that theme.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Due respect, but we obviously differ in the way we see the class. I certainly have it in mind to play the narrative as magic guns and gizmos, and I'll humbly disagree that altering mechanics to facilitate that is somehow "not actually playing an artificer." I'm all for frame challenges, but this one smacks of "your fun is wrong." \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Aug 12, 2021 at 1:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ This isn't actually a frame challenge. The simplistic answer is what I bolded: No balance problem exists. But because you go into great detail about how various mechanics "don't make sense", the best way I can address that is to say that those are all mechanics that reflect a specific narrative for the class, as much as a wizard's spellbook does. The problem isn't that the mechanics are badly written or incoherent; you're picking out a specific part of the theme and arbitrarily declaring all the mechanics related to that "weird". \$\endgroup\$ Aug 12, 2021 at 13:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Adding options doesn't necessarily expand functionality. One focus is pretty much like another, outside of specific mechanical abilities like "a staff can also be a weapon". They all take up a hand and enable spellcasting, and beyond that it's all just flavor text. The only difference I can see is possibly being able to keep a magic wand in hand while casting other spells, which is rarely of particular benefit, but I'll note it in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 12, 2021 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since the question has been updated to remove most of the specific comments I was responding to, I've cut my answer down significantly to match. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 12, 2021 at 14:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Fair play. +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Aug 12, 2021 at 15:35

Artificers cast spells by creating custom magic items.

In general, Artificers cast spells by creating custom, temporary magic items that cast the spells for them.

As an artificer, you use tools when you cast your spells. When describing your spellcasting, think about how you're using a tool to perform the spell effect. If you cast cure wounds using alchemist's supplies, you could be quickly producing a salve. If you cast it using tinker's tools, you might have a miniature mechanical spider that binds wounds. When you cast poison spray, you could fling foul chemicals or use a wand that spits venom. The effect of the spell is the same as for a spellcaster of any other class, but your method of spellcasting is special.

As a result, they by default require access to tools to create those items to cast spells with. Casting a spell with a woodworkers tool, for instance, might take the form of carving some runes onto a magic wand.

Then, once they gain the Artificer Infusions ability, they can use the magic items it produces to produce spell effects by taking advantage of the magic they've imbued it with, and possible custom modifications they've performed with it. For instance, if they're using their armor to cast the cantrip Thorn Whip, they might have some sort of spool of wire that gets cast out to drag the enemy closer attached to one of their forearms.

Similarly, at level 5, an Artillerist Artificer can modify a wand to serve as their Arcane Firearm, which boosts the damage of spells cast with it. These modifications, unlike an Infusion, can be used on a magical wand, and enable them to cast spells with that wand.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see that you have really answered the question here - I don't think you have addressed balance at all. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 12, 2021 at 12:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm addressing the OP's confusion about how artificers use wands. "The end result is an awful lot of mental gymnastics over why, in the fiction, an artillerist can use this wand to produce this magical effect at these levels but not that wand to produce that magical effect at those levels." \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Aug 12, 2021 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review \$\endgroup\$
    – Smart_TJ
    Aug 13, 2021 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Smart_TJ It does. It's addressing the underlying confusion that led them to ask the question in the first place. It's an X-Y problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Aug 13, 2021 at 5:58

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