Archetypal Spell Compendium: Artificers & Arcanists is a mechanics-heavy supplement geared towards players, presenting 101 new spells and a handful of new archetypes for spellcasting classes (including the official and newly-released-to-the-DMsGuild class, the Artificer). The author’s mechanical knowledge of 5th edition is fantastically showcased, as is the amount of lore that enhances the Forgotten Realms setting as well as touches upon other campaign worlds through the origin notes on several spells. This book is jam-packed with well-balanced, well-researched gaming material you can immediately start using at your table.
Rating: Content 5/5 and Form 4/5.
Read on for the full review!
Archetypal Spell Compendium: Artificers & Arcanists by Jeremy Forbing provides a spellbook’s worth of new spells — 101 of them, as a matter of fact! — three Artificer specializations (notable because the official Artificer class just got added to the DMsGuild as a brand new class), a new divine domain for Clerics, a new Sorcerous Origin, and a new Wizard Tradition. On top of that, throughout the gaggle of spells are a bunch of sidebars that provide alternative spell lists for a psychic-style Sorceror (relevant because the official Mystic class was also just added to DMsGuild), new monsters, and a bunch of setting content that provides context and lore on the spells.
The book starts out with a brief intro that calls attention to the fact that spell lists found within will make reference to not just the spells you’ll find in the Player’s Handbook and this document, but also the spells found in later books like Elemental Evil Player’s Companion and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Additionally, a handful of the spells appearing in this book are revised versions of those found in other Dungeon Masters Guild (AKA DMsGuild) products, so this book truly leverages all of the mechanics that’ve been released for 5th edition D&D so far. Nice touch! The spell lists include all of the spellcasting classes so far, which means you’re getting the addition of the Artificer — making this a great book to quickly expand on that relatively new class since it’s offered via the DMsGuild now.
Before we get to the spells, let’s talk about the sidebars peppered liberally throughout this book.
Among the first is a Psychic Spell List in a sidebar that reflavors the Sorceror into a psionic-style spellcaster, allowing you to ignore or compliment the Mystic class — also newly available on DMsGuild — at your leisure! So, even if you don’t care about the new classes, or don’t want to learn new class mechanics to get a psychic character, this guide offers you something that is a popular means of re-skinning something old to get something new and maintain all the careful balance of the existing classes and spells.
The Changing Deities sidebar provides some mechanics for Clerics changing domains or Paladins changing their oaths. It’s much more in line with mixing roleplaying and mechanical consequences than some of 5th edition’s rules tend to get, which is why it makes a great sidebar/variant rule, playing with the idea of seeking out mentors, performing dedication rituals, and creating decision points after accumulating a certain number of experience points.
The many Spell Lore sidebars that accompany specific spells go into some pretty deep, well-researched campaign setting information that talks about the origins and uses of some of the new spells. You’ll see plenty of Forgotten Realms stuff, but not all of it is strictly defined by the borders of Faerun as we see depicted in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, so you’ll find mentions of the Hordelands, Kara-Tur, and beyond. Moving completely outside of the Forgotten Realms, Kalashtar (Eberron) gets a mention, and you’ll see them talk about Ravenloft domains like Barovia and Darkon. A couple of spots touch on various layers of the Abyss or other places you’ll find in an extraplanar campaign. I can’t vouch for the validity of canon lore for every reference, but everything I could checked out. Clearly, the author is a student of the many D&D worlds, and that’s an awesome thing to see on display in this book whether you’re a grognard or someone just getting a taste of the many campaign settings.
For the Soul Homunculus spell, you receive a brief sidebar about the constructs that the spell creates, as well as a new monster stat block. These little critters are like a familiar but they have some unique properties designed to help out the lab-rat wizards that some players like to play, which is very much in keeping with the added Artificer stuff in this document.
Among the new archetypes are a few more sidebars, and these are generally geared towards providing copious amounts of roleplaying advice to help in getting across the personality and physicality of a character at the table, as opposed to simply providing game world information. There is plenty of that, too: the Shugenja archetype has a big sidebar filled with Kara-Tur info and how to portray Shou characters in the lands of Faerun. There’s also a variant rule or two, so the folks who only came for the rules mechanics don’t feel left out. (As if that were possible in a book of spells and archetypes!)
Since there’s 101 new spells, I’m not going to cover all of them. Generally speaking, you’ll find some great themes, like:
- Lots of psychic damage and mind-altering effects that rely on charm to build out the repertoire of spells that are basically the psionics of 5th edition.
- Lots of spells that are contingent upon a melee (or sometimes ranged) attack, bolstering the spell lists of Paladins and Rangers, especially. Lots of these work exceptionally well as things that multi-classed Monks and archetypes like Bladesingers want to keep an eye out for.
Here are some specific highlights and thoughts among the individual spells.
Anathema: This is a “world-building” style spell, something that a typical player character won’t aspire to gaining, but which will come in handy in a high-level campaign of politically-active characters, the kind of game where running armies, establishing kingdoms and temples, and that sort of thing are important. Once again showing the author’s command of the core rulebooks, this spell — which basically proclaims an individual completely cut off from their patron deity and strips them of any divinely derived abilities (which is horrifying for clerics and paladins!) — contains some notes on how to make it work in a campaign where the DM allows variants and options regarding pantheon worship as opposed to a single patron deity. Mark of the Unfaithful is a spell later in the document that has much the same role as a “game world” ritual.
Arcane Springboard: This neat little spell turns a 5-foot area into a virtual trampoline from which they can launch themselves. Interestingly, characters can activate this effect using their reaction, rather than having it operate as part of their movement or as a bonus action. That’s great for characters with fun bonus action options — rogues being the obvious example — but it also seems to be limiting in that forced movement into that area won’t trigger its effect, which would be awesome (but also very hard to model).
Berserk: This spell will be like the ultimate nuke against spellcasting enemies, as it basically limits them to frothing at the mouth and charging into melee. It’s a Wisdom save, though, so most spellcasting monsters are going to be pretty likely to shake it off…but when they fail, it will be spectacular!
Blood Curse: This great little spell reminds me so much of how Kain sucked blood out of people in the Legacy of Kain video game.
The spell is a little wonky in that the target and the caster both take some psychic damage, but then if the target is hit with an attack, you gain some temporary hit points (automatically more than what you could possibly take during that initial psychic damage). The amounts of hit points potentially lost and gained across the board are rather small, so I’m not sure the mechanic needs to be that involved for such low gains as compared to vampiric touch, though going from a cantrip to a 3rd level spell is a big bridge to gap, so I can see why the author made this decision.
Challenger’s Mark: This spell is exactly the sort of thing people who liked 4th edition D&D are looking for, as it’s pretty much a hallmark of many marking and area-control maneuvers of fighty classes in that edition. Many of the non-4E fans decried such things as video gamey, superhero-y, or board gamey, but here it is translated to cantrip form in a way that calls attention to the question of whether it’s magic or simply martial training. Dread Mercy, Dread Provocation, Echoing Blow, and a few other spells also look an awful lot like ports of 4th edition powers, and make for some great additions to the Paladin and Ranger spell lists, especially.
Ego Lash: This spell is a pretty straightforward attack spell dealing psychic damage, but is just one of many spells that takes ideas from past editions’ psionic splatbooks and turns it into a 5th edition spell. It’s precisely this sort of thing that expands the spell lists enough to create a Psychic Sorceror variant (mentioned previously in the section on sidebars). Psychic Shock, Predictive Focus, Telekinetic Slam, and dozens of others add to this list, and make full-fledged psionics in 5th edition a thing you can achieve with just this book and the core rulebooks.
Lesser Acupuncture: With a casting time of 1 minute, this spell’s effect (+1d4 to your next Constitution saving throw) seems awfully minor, relating only to resisting diseases, poisons, or other effects that linger for a while.
Mantle of the Slime Lord: This is one of those spells that confers a bunch of semi-related protective effects such as immunity to certain damage types and conditions, oozes not wanting to attack you, and so on. While thematic and seemingly balanced, it’s one of those spells that to my mind feels better as a magic item rather than a spell.
Servant Army is basically Mickey’s brooms getting all servant-y with it, but since the summoned army is only useful for menial tasks, this spell seems a bit underpowered for a 5th level spell, which is when many of the conjure [insert monster here] spells show up on various spell lists. Still, it’s a cool spell, and you create 3d4 invisible servants that can do a lot of tasks, so this is a great spell for the purposes of worldbuilding or when PCs are the movers and shakers of a realm, entertaining guests and trying to make a point of their magical abilities.
Shadow Missile: This 1st level spell is highly evocative, gaining benefits when cast from the shadows and suffering hindrances (the target is effectively in cover) in direct sunlight. Basically, the caster hurls a missile of shadow-stuff that deals damage, explodes, and showers the immediate vicinity of its point of impact in enervating, necrotic shrapnel. It’s a bit powerful for a 1st level spell as it can cause not only the damage (1d10 piercing, plus 1d8 necrotic to those affected by the shrapnel), but it also might cause a level of Exhaustion, which can become a nasty effect. Still, it’s not so powerful that it meets most 2nd level damage-dealing spells, so it’s hard to say it’s truly unbalanced or just a very good spell. But it’s on an awful lot of the spell lists in the book, so I’m a little iffy on that.
Speed of Thought: This sweet little spell provides the caster with 2 “speed points” that can be spent on their turn, allowing them to pick from a menu of options that all relate to movement. The options range from increased speed, adding climb speeds, increasing your jumping distance, resisting falling damage, or providing advantage on certain Dexterity-related checks. While I’m normally against spells with added bookkeeping, the options for this spell are tight, evocative, and operate on a limited enough basis that it makes it a cinch to handle. Most of all, it also adds to the feel of “psionics are different” without altering any mechanics or adding anything that isn’t already found in some form or another in the core rules (ki points, for example). The spells Wall Run and Weightless Pursuit oddly have some similar effects, and since all of these are cantrips or 1st level spells, it seems like there’s some rebalancing or redistribution of the spell’s effects that could go towards strengthening each of these spells thematically, or reducing these down to just two separate spells.
Strahd’s Baneful Attractor redirects a spell to another target that you’ve chosen. This spell is a lot of fun, basically a ranged version of throwing your minions in the way of enemy fire, but there’s something about the way it works that seems like it’d be really cool as a Reaction, rather than some enchantment that just sits on a target for some time. Notably, this spell includes a Spell Lore sidebar that talks about using it in Curse of Strahd.
Unleash Instincts has some wonky mechanics that cause its effects to end or the duration to be reduced in a number of circumstances (wearing heavy armor, before rolling initiative, etc.). Seems overly complex and like it might have been born out of some kind of balancing mechanics in 3rd edition psionics that goes against the principles of 5th edition.
And that’s about it for specific notes. If I seem like I’m critical more so than positive here, it’s only because these spells begged some questions. Overall, there’s not much I can say about the other gazillion spells simply because they are awesome: they seem balanced, they do fun things, and they follow the design principles in 5th edition mechanics as far as I understand them.
The archetypes found in here are broken down as follows:
- Three for the Artificer class: the Arcane Sleuth, Eradicator, and the Prodigy.
- The Defier Domain for Clerics.
- Sorcerers get the Shugenja origin.
- Wizards get the tradition of Guild Wizardry.
Here’s a brief look at each, along with my notes. I’ll let the author do the talking on explaining the archetypes, because they are better with words than me!
Arcane Sleuth (Artificer)
You are adept at magically crafting tools that help you find clues and unravel mysteries around you. The combination of these implements with your deductive reasoning, encyclopedic education, and deep understanding of magic make you more than a mere investigator or detective. You have an uncanny ability to read people and situations, allowing you to predict your opponent’s moves before they happen, uncover complex conspiracies with a bare handful of clues, and act with preternatural quickness before anyone else realizes what has happened.
The Investigator’s Kit feature gives a lot of benefits! While it doesn’t seem unbalanced against the existing Artificer archetype abilities, it might at first seem so simply by dint of how much there is (and especially because some of it involves spells).
The Deductive Interaction ability is a little unclear with regard to the DM’s option to give up a piece of historical lore or a personality trait; is this in addition to the two characteristics on the bulleted list or does this count as one of the characteristics?
As a plague takes hold of the body, a darkness has infested the land. It takes many forms: undead. lycanthropes, hags, fiends, unclean spirits, and the like. You do not view these horrors superstitiously, but clinically. They are a disease that must cured. Like a naturalist cataloguing plant and animal specimens, you use a variety of techniques to discern the secrets of the infection. How does mortal flesh sustain a zombie’s unlife? Why is silver better than steel against a werewolf? How does a mummy infect its victims with rot? You use such knowledge to create the tools needed to eradicate these unnatural predators for the good of all mortals. Your weapons in this fight are not only magic and martial prowess, but rationality and self-control. You cannot give in to fear.
This archetype focuses on some great support abilities and monster type-targeting powers.
You believe rigorous logic can explain anything, and rigorous education can achieve anything. You know the universe is not an inexplicable game played with dice by unknowable gods. Rather, it is a place of deep yet comprehensible wonder, where some creatures and forces are so great and powerful that they currently seem beyond mortal ken. In time, however, if enough knowledge is collected, analyzed, and understood, the scientific method will yield understanding of everything. You do your part to bring that future closer, and make yourself an example to others, demonstrating what you believe anyone can achieve if they attain the proper knowledge and discipline.
The 17th level feature Foreseen Possibilities seems pretty complicated: you unravel all the actions you just took and re-do your round in its entirety. While the action economy in 5th edition D&D makes this a lot more bearable, by 17th level any attempts to maximize that action economy are fully in play, meaning there still may be triggered actions from other characters taking place within a character’s turn. This ability may create some funky interactions there, and certainly requires some added bookkeeping.
Defier Domain (Cleric)
Clerics of this domain are not true clerics, though they have similar abilities. They are disillusioned or heretical and have disavowed the worship of any deities they once believed in. Most consider the divine mysteries of the gods (who they often refer to only as “powers”) to be elaborate scams. Many come to believe that the creatures called “gods” are not changeless, ineffable beings, but merely entities that have achieved a greater level of power—and are still as fallible as mortals. Such “clerics” often work tirelessly to discredit the gods, interfering with their clergy and attempting to liberate their congregations from what they consider false faith.
To maintain spellcasting abilities that equal those of faithful clerics, some defiers enter into some kind of arrangement with a powerful being, like the otherworldly pact of a warlock. There are no delusions of divinity or worship involved in these arrangements; the defiers know what they are getting into, and are willing to pay the price.
Other defiers instead align themselves with the supreme force they call “the Great Unknown,” which transcends the alleged gods (who they consider to be powerful beings but not divine creators worthy of worship). After all, some force must’ve created the planes of reality and given mortals their innate sense of good and evil.
Oh man, this the return (and outright mention) of the Athar from Planescape, my all time favorite D&D campaign setting, so I’m in love.
Shugenja Origin (Sorceror)
Unlike many sorcerers, these masters of the elements were not born to their power. Rather, they experience a spiritual calling that enables them to tap into holy forces and balance natural elements through their own bodies.
The divine forces that imbue shugenja with their power vary. Some may be gods or even entire pantheons acting in concert. Others are nature spirits, the souls of venerated ancestors, or the personifications of a sacred philosophy. For example, in the Forgotten Realms, the shugenja of the nation of Shou Lung—on the eastern continent of Kara-Tur—are known as dang-kai. They are adherents of an elaborate religious philosophy known as The Way. As part of their belief system, they reject notions of good, evil, chaos, and law and instead focus on manipulating universal energies toward a desired end.
Shugenjas are very interesting in that they have a lot of moving parts for a Sorceror archetype, and seem to borrow a few neat little twists from the Druid and Monk archetypes to focus in on their elemental-based abilities. There’s a couple sidebars here that provide additional context to Shou characters in western Faerun, as well as talk a bit more about Kara-Tur in case you’re not familiar with that setting.
Guild Wizardry Tradition (Wizard)
Natural talent and a quick mind are only the bare beginning of being able to wield the arcane arts. Achieving true mastery requires personal dedication and self-discipline, rigorous training, and access to libraries full of ancient grimoires and crumbling scrolls. In many places no special organizations or traditions exist to guide wizards and other arcane spellcasters along their way; magic-users come to their full powers and wield their spells as they see fit. But in other lands, magic is regarded as too important—or too dangerous—to be left in the hands of the self-taught dabblers. In these lands, magic is taught and practiced by members of special orders, guilds, societies, brotherhoods, and cabals who jealously guard access to their powers and seek to control their use.
This tradition makes a lot of sense as an alternative to the wizard’s usual “school” based traditions, which is ironic since it’s basically an archetype built around being in a literal school for wizards! The abilities are seemingly a mish-mash of alterations to spells or being able to cast spells you don’t normally have access to, in some ways like a Sorceror, but the social ties to a guild factor in, providing some neat context for these abilities.
This book doesn’t have an index but the Table of Contents is thorough, listing the page numbers for all of the spell lists, the individual spells, all of the new archetypes, and even using indenting to mention each and every sidebar, from the Spell Lores to the variants and worldbuilding info found with the archetypes.
The artwork is all sourced from open content and the like which means you’ll probably see it around in other releases (guilty as charged on my own releases!), but it’s used in evocative and relevant ways to the accompanying text. The overall layout is simple two column format with a page background that’s sort of a darker version of what you find in the official D&D products, so it looks nice on the screen but printing it out is going to consume some ink; make sure you print it at work or on your buddy’s printer without them knowing to save you some cash!
There are a couple minor grammatical errors, but not many, especially considering how much text is packed into this book.
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