D&D 5E The lazy fix to alchemists

From admittedly little hands-on experience (I played an alchemist to 4th level once, and my current campaign has a 1st level artificer with alchemist on his mind) I'd argue that the major weakness of the class is when it comes to actual in-combat options to put the hurt on someone. I mean, it's generally going to be a cantrip, which makes life hard (although you do eventually get to add your Int bonus to cantrip damage, which is something) You just don't have any major combat buttons you can push when you need to, and it can be frustrating.

I'm not 100% convinced that simply upping the alchemist's already significant buffing and utility capacity will make much of a difference to alleviating its major issue. But I’m having trouble thinking of an alternative that doesn’t take away the alchemist’s unique style and feel. You can easily turn them into Grenade Guy or Poison Guy or Healing Guy (or even Melee Guy via a Hyde-type potion), but is that what an alchenist really is?
And level 4 is just before alchemists really fall off; they don't get the huge spike most classes do for level 5. Instead at level 4 they have level 1 spells, and their alchemy and items can cover for level 2. Instead their extra damage thing is the extra d8 to their cantrips that clerics get (although slightly earlier)

As a rule of thumb approximate contributions are:
  • Battle Smith is a (Tasha's) Beastmaster ranger (different skills, the magic weapon worth archery fighting style, and their other magic items worth skills and/or shenanigans); even the spells match
  • Artillerist is similar if and only if they start with their canon in play. If they need to use the first turn to bring it out that's a huge loss of effectiveness.
  • Armourer has a problem that they can't actually use magic armour and magic weapons for a long time:
    • Infiltrator is a ranger-without-a-subclass. Similar AC, similar stealth capability if they aren't' in the heaviest medium armour, similar skills and contributions level as mentioned earlier but no Hunter's Mark or extra damage from their subclass
    • Guardian is a smiteless paladin (or one who has to use smite-spells) and has weak gauntlet damage because no duelist style, no magic weapons if they have magic armour. And they don't get the aura.
  • Alchemist? Does baseline damage like a cleric but lacks the big stuff. Or even the workhorse of Spiritual Weapon. So round by round like a full caster, burst damage like a half caster - and not even a smiting paladin.
 

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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
The armorer really benefits from a bit of multiclassing. 3 levels of EK to get the shield spell, fighter damage boosts etc is a decent example, but there are other ways I'm sure (In a game I run the party's armorer is a warforged and they multiclassed into wizard). But single class it does underwhelm. The AC is high but not unhittable, and the damage is just too underwhelming.

(2nd time trying to do this edit)
The alchemist's damage is indeed underwhelming, which is why I added a bit of zap damage via the homunculus (which is also quite useful).
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Not every concept needs to be a whole new character class, either. I wrote a Guild Alchemist background for a player's druid, who wanted their character to have just a touch of familiarity with potions... they didn't want everything about their character to be a potion. It wasn't complicated, just a couple of skill proficiencies, a couple of tools, and a feature that let them identify substances by studying a sample. It's still one of the more popular backgrounds for my table, especially for clerics, rogues, and wizards.
That sounds like a very fun background.

I played a fighter with the sage background and the chef feat reskinned as alchemy and it worked quiet well too.
 

The armorer really benefits from a bit of multiclassing. 3 levels of EK to get the shield spell, fighter damage boosts etc is a decent example, but there are other ways I'm sure (In a game I run the party's armorer is a warforged and they multiclassed into wizard). But single class it does underwhelm. The AC is high but not unhittable, and the damage is just too underwhelming.
And with multiclassing there are still issues - like not stacking up standard abilities, and that you can't multiclass before level 5 or you lose a lot of the initial curve.
(2nd time trying to do this edit)
The alchemist's damage is indeed underwhelming, which is why I added a bit of zap damage via the homunculus (which is also quite useful).
At AC 13 and hit points equal to 1+Int+level that thing's probably going down in one attack if it's any sort of threat. And it can't come back until the next day.
 

The armorer really benefits from a bit of multiclassing. 3 levels of EK to get the shield spell, fighter damage boosts etc is a decent example, but there are other ways I'm sure (In a game I run the party's armorer is a warforged and they multiclassed into wizard). But single class it does underwhelm. The AC is high but not unhittable, and the damage is just too underwhelming.

(2nd time trying to do this edit)
The alchemist's damage is indeed underwhelming, which is why I added a bit of zap damage via the homunculus (which is also quite useful).
The issue with the armorer is that it doesn't fit the play meta of "all the damage now" to succeed in conflicts which unfortunately is understandable due to the lack of real counterplay features This means when they want tougher NPCs they just crank up the numbers.

There just isn't much room for someone that is providing long term party mitigation even if it's like a free casting of cure wounds every round.Breaks down with end game boss NPCs that have high enough attack bonuses they are practically hitting on every roll regardless(see above about math bloat).
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
That sounds like a very fun background.

I played a fighter with the sage background and the chef feat reskinned as alchemy and it worked quiet well too.
Well here it is, if you are interested.
GUILD ALCHEMIST
You are an alchemist of some renown, having established yourself in the field after a lengthy apprenticeship to a well-established master. Forgoing the mercantile side of the profession, you’ve spent years tinkering, experimenting, and improving upon alchemical concoctions and received instruction directly from a master of the craft. You may not have the mercantile success that comes with the Guild, but that has allowed the freedom to experiment and explore new theories of your own.

Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Nature
Tool Proficiencies: Alchemist Supplies, plus your choice of either the Poisoner's Kit or the Herbalist’s Kit
Equipment: A set of alchemist’s supplies, a poisoner's kit or an herbalist’s kit, one vial of acid, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing ten empty vials.

ALCHEMICAL SPECIALIZATION
Alchemists live in large cities where they can develop and enhance their craft, but it is not unusual to find them even in the smallest of villages. Often eccentric and obsessed with a particular field of study, most alchemists choose a specialty to master:

Specialization (d8)
1 Snake oils and “miracle” cures
2 Deadly toxins
3 Restorative elixirs
4 Explosives and inflammables
5 Glues, solvents, and similar agents
6 Acids, bases, and caustics
7 Cosmetic aids and alterations
8 Hangover cures and home remedies

Your choice of specialization may give you Advantage on ability checks to use, produce, identify, and sell related items, at the DM’s discretion.

FEATURE: LABORATORY EXPERT
As an alchemist, you are commonly exposed to a wide range of chemicals, and you have learned to work safely and efficiently with materials. You never risk accidental exposure or contamination when examining, using, or identifying unknown liquids, powders, potions, poisons, or other chemical substances. If you have access to a laboratory, you can identify these items and their properties with a successful Medicine check over a short or long rest.

FEATURE: LONG LIFE
Your knowledge of bodily functions, toxicology, long-term health, and medicine has served you well. Your maximum lifespan extends by 10 years or by +10%, whichever is greater.

SUGGESTED CHARACTERISTICS
Though it is not a requirement, I recommend choosing your Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond, and Flaw from those available to the Sage background, on page 138 of the Player’s Handbook. Alchemists are academics like any other, but tend to focus more on chemicals and compounds than on books and scrolls.
 

The issue with the armorer is that it doesn't fit the play meta of "all the damage now" to succeed in conflicts which unfortunately is understandable due to the lack of real counterplay features This means when they want tougher NPCs they just crank up the numbers.

There just isn't much room for someone that is providing long term party mitigation even if it's like a free casting of cure wounds every round.Breaks down with end game boss NPCs that have high enough attack bonuses they are practically hitting on every roll regardless(see above about math bloat).
The thing here is that simply imposing disadvantage (just like everything else in 5e does) doesn't make you very good at defendering; even the Battle Smith's robot dog does that. And the armourer isn't particularly tough; the force field needs its first use to put the armourer onto the base hp of the paladin or fighter
 

Zardnaar

Legend
The armorer really benefits from a bit of multiclassing. 3 levels of EK to get the shield spell, fighter damage boosts etc is a decent example, but there are other ways I'm sure (In a game I run the party's armorer is a warforged and they multiclassed into wizard). But single class it does underwhelm. The AC is high but not unhittable, and the damage is just too underwhelming.

(2nd time trying to do this edit)
The alchemist's damage is indeed underwhelming, which is why I added a bit of zap damage via the homunculus (which is also quite useful).

Armoror blooms late and you want to take sharpshooter.
 

Alchemist? Does baseline damage like a cleric but lacks the big stuff. Or even the workhorse of Spiritual Weapon. So round by round like a full caster, burst damage like a half caster - and not even a smiting paladin.
That's actually a much more accurate statement of the problem than mine.

The alchemist badly, badly needs a couple of solid workhorse combat options that aren't just 'cantrip'. I mean, i found myself routinely using a completely unmodified and un-infused crossbow at level 4. It's got a wide and useful variety of out-of-combat options (being able to create a Bag of Holding for myself at level 2 was a HUGE boon in a Tomb of Annihilation campaign when we were exploring trackless jungle), but a lot of the actual real-world time in a D&D game is combat. It's pretty rough to feel useless all that time. Even a support character should be able to support meaningfully in combat, not just before it.

Armourer has a problem that they can't actually use magic armour and magic weapons for a long time:
  • Guardian is a smiteless paladin (or one who has to use smite-spells) and has weak gauntlet damage because no duelist style, no magic weapons if they have magic armour. And they don't get the aura.

I'm not quite so pessimistic on armorer, though that's purely from a theorycrafting point of view, i haven't actually played one.

Any armorer who gets their hands on magic armour can use it as their arcane armour, it only requires an action. And that leaves you free to use an infusion to boost your integral weaponry (although this is mostly for the purposes of extra attack and damage bonus, the Guardian especially as it does thunder damage which almost nothing resists). And of course any armorer is free to use a shield, and apply an infusion to that to boost their AC.

Yeah, the loss of a fighting style stings a bit when it comes to damage output though.
 

I'm not quite so pessimistic on armorer, though that's purely from a theorycrafting point of view, i haven't actually played one.

Any armorer who gets their hands on magic armour can use it as their arcane armour, it only requires an action. And that leaves you free to use an infusion to boost your integral weaponry
Doesn't work that way. You can explicitly only infuse non-magical items. And you explicitly get the ability it infise the armour's special weapon separately from the rest of the armour only at level 9
 

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