After playing two characters in a homebrew campaign, we switched to Pathfinder. I found myself with an alchemist that was potentially a little crazy and threw bombs. Sadly, we only played one session before life got hectic and we stopped playing altogether.
Many years later, I am complaining -- to myself, really -- that there are no classes in DnD that even come close to that. I was oddly excited about a chaotic character, tossing bombs with different effects left and right. Even with the introduction of the Artificer class, bombs aren't present. It's a small thing but I sometimes wished that there were Pathfinder-level customizations in 5e. (And then I dabble with Pathfinder again and regret that wish.)
And then I learned about reflavoring.
The Artificer class was actually trying to teach us something. You can't really play the class without a little bit of reflavoring. The entire concept was lost on me until I ran across a Reddit post about a conjuration wizard. In it, the poster described that, despite the actual low amount of spells that conjure a creature, you can simply reflavor other spells to do it, too. An Ice Shard spell could summon a being that, well, shoots an ice shard, for instance.
That's when I created my razorwitch, and I haven't looked back since.
Today, I'm going to bring back my bombing alchemist and walk through how I would reflavor the Artificer class (or, honestly, any other class with access to spells) to become a psychotic bomber!
The Bare Minimum
For this build to work, all you need is access to spells. Not all spells are easily reflavored into bombs, though. Using the Artificer as the example, here are some cantrips that I think are very bomb-like:
- Acid Splash: Easily the most bomb-like cantrip. It even has the splash damage from the original Pathfinder bombs! Win!
- Fire Bolt: This may end up being your default bomb. You have a good throwing arm or a bomb launcher -- maybe both, depending on the distance.
- Ray of Frost: One of your "specialty" bombs. Once it explodes, the water inside it freezes and makes it harder for the target to move.
- Frostbite: Very similar to Ray of Frost. Because this is a save spell, I would reflavor this bomb to produce a mist or dangerous temperature drop. Or if the target saves, you can say that narratively the bomb missed.
- Poison Spray: I would reflavor this very similar to Frostbite.
- Magic Stone: I was surprised at how easily I thought this could be a bomb. Either you follow the description in the spell, turning ordinary pebbles and infusing them with explosive energy, or you have mini-bombs that don't immediately explode if given to an ally. The source of damage for these bombs would end up being shrapnel, reflecting the bludgeoning damage that it does.
For help picking cantrips or adding some to your existing class choice, you can check out the following blog posts:
The Dreaded Verbal Component
All of the cantrips above, and most spells that would be featured in this article, are going to have a verbal component that must be dealt with. In the real world, throwing bombs does not require you to utter a sound. In DnD, we must account for it for balance reasons. This isn't too hard to deal with, though. Here are a few examples of what I would do.
- Embrace the chaos: Make the character have a quirk where they literally cannot throw a bomb without giggling (which could suffice as a verbal component). This character would have some trauma where they have to laugh maniacally when they attack. This could provide plenty of fun roleplay opportunities, especially when they have to be sneaky but their laughter is uncontrollable. Alternatively, your character's quirk could be where they have to announce their attack before they do it, like a superhero.
- Voice-Activated Smart Bombs: Make them a genius. In fact, with this kind of flavor, the voice activation could work for countless other spells. You throw a bomb and it has a "delayed" release until you activate it. For instance, narratively you could plant a bomb and walk away, and you'd tell your DM, "I want to ready to cast Firebolt. I'll wait until the target moves within range of that spot." The target moves within range and you shout "ALEXA, ACTIVATE FLAME BOMB X200!" Kaboom.
- Swiss-army Bomb: You actually only have one type of bomb. Each time you activate it, however, you tell it what to be. Maybe you whisper some arcane or eldritch words, then the bombs capture and evolve from them. If I were to pick this method, my character would use his words to infuse magic upon normal, mundane things which would turn into explosions.
The Not-As-Annoying Spellcasting Focus
If you're an Artificer, you must have a spellcasting focus.
You produce your artificer spell effects through your tools. You must have a spellcasting focus—specifically thieves’ tools or some kind of artisan’s tool—in hand when you cast any spell with this Spellcasting feature (meaning the spell has an ‘M’ component when you cast it). [...]
This can make throwing your bombs a bit awkward, as you must be holding some tool in your hand as well. This is only a slight inconvenience. Maybe you insert the tool into the bomb before it activates, like some sort of key. Maybe the tool functions as simply a conduit: you use it to channel electricity -- or magic! -- to charge the bomb before letting it fly.
However, once you get to Level 2, the issue of a spellcasting focus is no longer an issue.
After you gain the Infuse Item feature at 2nd level, you can also use any item bearing one of your infusions as a spellcasting focus.
Any of your infused items is suddenly a spellcasting focus for you. Depending on what kind of Artificer you are, you can reflavor the item to contain the bombs. For instance, with the Enhanced Defense or Enhanced Weapon infusions, you can say that in your tinkering of the armor or weapon, you've installed a compartment that manufactures your bombs. A simple command word or button causes the compartment to open, giving you easy access to your bombs. However, the simplest way to do this is to learn the infusion for a Bag of Holding. Say you took the time to knit a special pouch in the inside lining, containing the many, many bombs you have. You make more each long rest during your watch. Now, you just pull a bomb out of the bomb whenever you want to throw one.
Easily Flavored Higher-Level Spells
Cantrips are your default, but they won't pack quite the punch you're looking for all the time. Luckily, most spellcasters will have a few higher-level, specialty bombs. Not all of these will do damage, either!
My criteria for picking these spells were that they had to be ranged. No self, touch, cone, or line spells, as I can't grasp how they can be thrown or placed bombs. Burst spells not centered on yourself, however, are fine.
1st Level Spells
These two scream bomb even when they aren't flavored as such.
- Faerie Fire
- Fog Cloud. For Artificers, you have to jump through hoops to get this spell. But if you manage to figure out how, this could easily work as a smoke bomb! Maybe your Arcane Trickster picked up this spell and uses this for a quick escape.
2nd Level Spells
A bomb that causes a smokescreen or fire; easy. And a huge glue bomb!
For these, the bombs contain a mist that either disrupts magical energy or infuses targets with adrenaline.
- Dispel Magic
Sadly, there are very few spells on the Artificer spell list after 3rd Level spells that are flavorful bombs. Luckily the Artificer subclasses provide a bit more spells.
This subclass provides the most spells to our list of bombs. Healing World, Ray of Sickness, Acid Arrow, Mass Healing World, Blight, and Cloudkill all make excellent specialty bombs.
Magic Missile, Hypnotic Pattern, and Shatter are the easiest to reflavor. If you get creative, Passwall and Wall of Force have potential.
Scorching Ray and Ice Storm are easily bombs. This class is the only Artificer with access to thee bomb: FIREBALL!
Sadly, at first glance, Mass Cure Wounds is the only bomb-like spell here. But if you look harder, you may be able to break some of my suggestions earlier ("No self, touch, cone, or line spells"). This opens up Heroism (instead of touch, you throw an adrenaline-laced smoke bomb nearby) and Conjure Barrage (you take the weapon or ammunition and tie a temporal bomb on it, then toss it into the air).
Need some inspiration for your next Artificer? I have the blog post just for you.