The Artificer is the only full class released for 5e after its original release. This means it only has a few subclasses to pick from, but each one of them brings a fun new way to experience 5e. One of these is the Battle Smith, a martial-focused Artificer assisted by a construct of their design called a Steel Defender.
So, if you’re interested in playing an Artificer or want to know how to get the most out of your Battle Smith, here is a Steel Defender 5e guide with everything you need to know about your new best friend, the Steel Defender.
Key Info Up Front
- Books: Eberron: Rising from the Last War, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- Class: Battle Smith Artificer
- Roles: Striker, Defender
Steel Defender Overview
The flagship feature of the Battle Smith Artificer is the Steel Defender companion that is unlocked at level three. A Steel Defender is an Artificer’s companion built by their magical tinkering ability. It acts friendly toward your character and their allies, and its appearance can be customized to your character’s liking. The official rules say that players can choose whether it is bipedal or quadrupedal without impacting its stat blocks. Beyond that, you’ll need to talk to your Dungeon Master to determine what appearance changes they are all okay with.
The Steel Defender does have its consciousness, but it will obey commands given to it by its creator. In combat, the Steel Defender always goes immediately after its creator’s turn in the initiative order in combat encounters. However, it will only take the Dodge action on its turn unless the Artificer uses a bonus action to command them to take a different action. This does not apply if the Artificer is unconscious, during which the Steel Defender can take any action on its turn.
Since the Steel Defender is a construct, it cannot be healed through normal means. Instead, it can be healed by the Mending spell. Doing so heals it for 2d6 hit points but does not bring it back from death. If your Steel Defender dies, you’ll have to spend an action to use smith’s tools and a 1st level spell slot or higher to revive it. After you use your action, the Steel Defender will take a full minute to power back up, but it does so with all of its hit points. However, you have to take the action no more than a minute after the Steel Defender was killed.
If your Steel Defender is destroyed or you want a new one, you can make a new one during a long rest with your smith’s tools. However, you can only have one Steel Defender at a time, so making a new one while you already have one results in the first instantly being destroyed.
Steel Defender Stats
The stat block of the Steel Defender is particularly interesting because it derives some of its stats from its creator. This allows it to grow in ability alongside the Artificer that created it so that it is useful regardless of what level the party is at. However, its Armor Class never raises about 15, and its Base Speed stays at 40 feet regardless of how high of a level the Artificer is.
Their base stats remain constant regardless of the Artificer’s level and are not exceptionally high. Their best stats are Strength and Constitution at 14, followed by a Dexterity of 12, Wisdom of 10, Charisma of 6, and Intelligence of 4. These base stats help emphasize the Steel Defender’s capabilities in martial combat by giving it a decent Strength and Constitution, while its lack of mental stats shows its need for commands to be effective.
The Steel Defender then also always has some damage and condition immunities. It cannot be surprised, it is immune to poison and is resistant to the Charmed, Exhaustion, and Poisoned conditions. Finally, it always has darkvision up to 60 feet, regardless of the Artificer’s capabilities.
The rest of its basic stats take the player character’s proficiency bonus and other aspects into account. To start, the Steel Defender is built on understanding any languages that its creator knows, allowing them to always communicate with one another. Perhaps the most significant part of the Steel Defender’s stats derived from the Artificer that created it is its hit points. Its total hit points are figured out by taking the Artificer’s Intelligence modifier, adding two to it, and then adding the Artificer’s class level by five.
The Steel Defender also gets multiple bonuses from the Artificer’s proficiency bonus. Not only is the Steel Defender’s proficiency bonus derived from the Artificer’s, but that is then also applied twice to their passive perception and perception as well as once to its Athletics skill and Dexterity and Constitution saving throws.
Steel Defender Abilities
Regarding combat, the Steel Defender has two actions and one reaction for players to utilize. The first action is called Force-Empowered Rend. This is a melee attack that uses the Artificer’s spell attack modifier for its attack modifier, has a range of five feet, and deals 1d8 + the Artificer’s proficiency bonus in force damage. The second action is Repair, which can be used up to three times a day. This ability allows the Steel Defender to heal itself or another construct within five feet of it for 2d8 + the Artificer’s proficiency bonus.
The Steel Defender’s only reaction is called Deflect Attack. This reaction allows it to interrupt the attacks of enemies within five feet of it that target a creature other than the Steel Defender. This can be used once per round, allowing the Steel Defender to increase the survivability of the entire party during combat encounters.
Roleplaying a Steel Defender
When it comes to making a character that a Steel Defender will accompany, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to consider the relationship between the two. There are many ways that you can take this to help customize your experience playing the character. To start defining the relationship, I recommend thinking about the level of intelligence that you want your Steel Defender to have. You may have to talk with your Dungeon Master to determine how they are comfortable with it being handled as well.
Once you know what options are available, you can determine the level of sentience you want your Steel Defender to have. This can range from a robot with no free thought to a fully autonomous being who is indebted to your character. If you are comfortable roleplaying, I highly recommend giving your Steel Defender the ability to freely think and give it a personality. This can lead to some great interactions between it and your character, leading to great moments. If you don’t want to be responsible for roleplaying two characters, you can also talk to your Dungeon Master about them controlling the Steel Defender outside of combat.
If you decide to have your Steel Defender have a more limited level of intelligence, I still think that it should be given some personality to help you get as much out of the character as possible. This can also help you determine the Steel Defender’s appearance so that it matches your character and personality. This will allow your Steel Defender to feel like a unique character in your campaign.
Playing a Steel Defender in Combat
Once you enter combat, you’ll need to take full advantage of your Steel Defender to get the most out of your Battle Smith Artificer. To do so, you’ll need to keep your Steel Defender on the frontlines of combat. As an Artificer, you may get some options for your bonus action, but you should use it to give a command to your Steel Defender the vast majority of the time.
You should use these commands to use the Steel Defender as a tank for your party. Make sure to use its reactions during every round of combat to help reduce the damage that player characters suffer while using its repair ability to heal back up. This will allow it to soak damage without your party having to expend resources to replace the hit points. Even if your Steel Defender is destroyed, they can quickly be brought back with minimal resources, making them one of the most efficient damage mitigation methods in 5e.
Of course, you can also use the Steel Defender to do extra damage during combat, but I don’t recommend focusing too much. Its attacks are solid but are far from their best use. Use its attacks to deal extra damage to high-value targets, but pay more attention to its positioning to support the rest of your party and put enemies in disadvantaged positions.
Question: Can the Steel Defender be used as a mount?
Answer: The Steel Defender can be mounted to increase a player’s movement speed.
Question: What book has the Steel Defender in it?
Answer: The Steel Defender is part of the Artificer’s Battle Smith subclass, which is found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Eberron: Rising From the Last War.
Question: Do Steel Defenders need to sleep?
Answer: No, Steel Defenders are automatons that don’t suffer from exhaustion and have no need to sleep.
Steel Defender 5e Guide: Final Thoughts
The Steel Defender has the potential to make the Artificer one of the best companion-based classes in 5e. It offers some great roleplay opportunities, especially if you don’t mind playing two characters at once, and helpful combat options that help protect party members and keep the pressure off them.
So, if you want an exciting and unique subclass that has a massive impact on your playstyle, having a Steel Defender as an Artificer is a perfect choice.