Reading Dark Matter 3: The Gadgeteer

Let’s talk about the Gadgeteer, Dark Matter’s version of an Artificer-like class.

Dark Matter Title Page

As expected, it’s a low hit points support, not-exactly-caster, using only light armor but leaning into energy weapons, and pretty much every tool you can think of that fits thematically. So, they get a blaster in their standard equipment pack and also the tools of the trade.

The class’ first defining feature is called AI Companion. It starts by giving you a kind of Reliable Talent on Tech checks which I think is a bit overpowered in a setting like this and it can do this for additional skills as you level up.

The second defining feature is Gadgets. These are like an Alchemist’s Elixir, a Blood Hunter’s Maledicts, or a Warlock’s Invocations. There’s a big list of them after the class section so they will be detailed appropriately after.

Overcharge is the Gadgeteer’s ability to enhance their blasters, so even at 2nd level, they are more damaging with the weapons than anyone else using them.

With Prototype at 2nd level, they’re also leaning more into Artificer territory by getting another cool instrument only they can use but can only choose one. The Experimental Frame is an exo-skeleton that resets their size and speed, making them very useful for small and/or slow races. They also come with regenerating temporary hit points (which I choose to theme as advanced self-repair protocols) and weapon mounts that allow the use of Intelligence as the attack ability. I get why it’s done but I still kind of hate it when it happens. It also functions as this class’ Extra Attack. The next option is Mechanized Autonomous Construct. It’s what you think it is, like an Artillerist’s cannon, it’s a companion for your Gadgeteer and an extension of your AI. I don’t think it justifies telepathic command. You can just have it in words or in special code. Now for the statblock itself: I don’t like the AC as 10 + intelligence. It can only go as high as 15 and that’s not a lot at higher levels. Hit points are level dependent, though, so they can get quite beefy, considering. I’m a bit surprised it’s not otherwise upgradeable as the stats are nothing too exciting. I also don’t like the separation into offensive and defensive mode per combat encounter as both of those are somewhat annoying in their limitations. The attack option it has is also kind of meh. Later on, it is mentioned that you can replace its weapons and that it gains an Extra Attack. It’s annoying that this isn’t mentioned in the statblock itself. The third option is Utility Matrix. Another multiple choice quiz. It can be a cloaking device that can make you invisible for a turn but not in a way that includes your action. It can be a Flashbang which is a nice reactions preventer. It can be a forcefield which is like a pre-Shield spell only better. It can be a grappling hook which is something I always love but I hate that it’s limited by your movement and that it prevents opportunity attacks. And it can be another gadget or gadget upgrade. This choice can be done after a long rest. But the book doesn’t tell you in what circumstances you can change the function of the Utility Matrix, which I guess means it’s at will. I get why mechanically but it doesn’t sit right thematically.

Level 3 gets the Tech Specialty, the Gadgeteer’s subclasses. There’s features at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels. That’s similar to the Artificer’s spread but actually closer to the Barbarian. More on that later.

As you would expect, Ability Score Improvements at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.

The 7th level feature is called Bluescreen Protocol which I find funny but is probably a very dated reference. Should probably have called it “Crash” or “Break” something or “Forced Exit”. It incapacitates constructs in a radius but it’s only a single turn and it’s a short rest ability. As such, I would consider it underwhelming, despite being AOE. I would have made it “ability modifier” amount of times per long rest. It still affects only constructs so a guide would have to prepare specifically to allow use of it.

Override Protocol comes in at 18th. It’s, basically, a single use per long rest, save or suck, “Dominate Construct”. It’s very limited in targets, it has nothing in the description about hostile targets or the construct attacking their allies, and it would rather much suck if you tried this and failed. I consider it a mess in both being too good in some respects and downright bad in others.

The capstone is called Antimagic Pulse. It’s like an “Antimagic Field Grenade” that disrupts magic, magitech, as well as energy blasters and constructs. That is a very cool ability but I would have made it the pinnacle in a list of possible “Throwable Gadgets” and make that the pillar of what a gadgeteer is, like the Artificer can infuse items and not just their own.


The Gadgeteer’s subclasses are called Tech Specialties which would make me expect that Gadgets do divide into several categories and share some properties with every other gadget in that category, and that specific Gadgeteers can enhance those gadgets. I like the implication that they represent a Gadgeteer’s passion and hobby developing into an actual specialty and expertise.

The Drone Jockey comes first.

I always like the summoner/decker/minion master classes. This one gets me interested from the start.

The first feature, Hivemaster, feels like the Artillerist’s mobile cannons. You get two of a defender, a medic, or a scout drone of your choice. It already seems like it’s on the right path. While anyone can probably get a drone (I will look at the statistics later), this feature enhances the drones. Cool. You can also get more drones (for backup if you lose one) at higher levels and can change drones on level ups. There’s nothing about it at this stage but the monsters section tells you how to repair a “dead” drone but nothing on how you usually get one, which is peculiar.

Sacrificial Dive is a cool concept. You can sacrifice a drone to save yourself. It requires a specific setup and costs a precious resource but like Tomb of Levistus, it could be exactly what you need in a clutch moment.

The phrasing for Focus Fire is a bit wonky, in my opinion. Something about not needing your bonus action to command drone if you attack. I would say something like “When you use your attack action, you command one or more of you drones as part of the attack”.

The Drone Jockey’s capstone is Omega Drone. I’m guessing most players will nickname this feature Voltron Mode. It combines three different types of drones you have active into more than the sum of their parts. While on, it’s the only one you can control but it’s a full fledged minion/companion rather than 2-3 small harassers. I like it but it’s hard for me to judge its utility and power without trying it in action.

The Futurist is the second on the list.

This subclass focuses on the AI portion of the Gadgeteer. This always has a chance to turn out bad.

Advanced Subroutines gives you AI companion some extra abilities. It can either prevent damage (which I consider a bit generic), it can add damage when you have advantage (which I expect a way to achieve somewhat consistently), or it can start adding a consistent bonus to your attacks (which is also somewhat generic). I also don’t like the names of these abilities: Genetic Algorithm, Heatmap, and Neural Network don’t really invoke strong related themes.

Luckily, you get another 3rd level feature called Novel Intelligence. This is a nice more utility and thematic ability that gives you the AI Companion ability to another skill right now as well as a constant Tongues/Comprehend Languages active and perfect memory up to a month. Definitely like this.

Tactical Analysis is another feature I think is too much and not enough. You can get advantage to attack and disadvantage to attacks against you but it’s only one turn and it’s only once per rest which really sucks. Should be PB bonus times per long rest, or something like that, or have it target X opponents and run for more rounds.

Recursive Deterrence is another wierd one. Gives you a ranged attack reaction when being attacked at range? Where did that come from? How does that play into the theme of the subclass?

Singularity, the subclass’ capstone, feels wierd on so many levels. An AI focused subclass, obviously meant as support, is getting an offensive feature which is actually really cool but only once per rest. The power is on par with what I’d expect but it still feels wierd.

The Hardlight Architect is subclass number three.

If you played Portal 2 (or watched the Ms. Marvel show), you know what they mean by this. They project energy and solidify it into constructs that can be used as any item.

With the first feature, Hardlight Projector, you get something like an enhanced Prestidigitation creation effect, you create simple objects you can use for whatever you want. I like things that are basic but encourage creativity. You also get Hardlight Needle, a simple attack cantrip, for free with no material cost.

The Projector also comes with Hardlight Spellcasting, a feature that allows you to cast certain hardlight spells directly from the projector once per long rest. I like the concept of the hardlight projector replicating hardlight magic but I always feel like a long rest reset doesn’t feel good tied to an item. And this feature just gives you a few one use spells. It’s on par for power but it just feels wierd.

Lightforge sort of enhances your projector allowing you to create more complex and usable items such as weapons and tools. This is cool but feels out of place for something that comes from a unique item and only available at 6th level. This just feels underwhelming.

At 10th level, you get Prototype Luxcannon. I don’t really get what’s so prototype about it but it allows you to cast the Hardlight Blaster spell (basically, a 1st level spell that creates a magical blaster for a turn) at will and overcharge it. That is very powerful. The problem is that they don’t specify a limit. I’m guessing, and that’s how I would rule it at my table, that it’s only 1st level this way, but they should specify. Other than that, I think it’s super powerful. It also allows you to attack targets in melee with you and out of line of sight, and at the level you get this, it does 5d6 force damage. One level later, 6d6 plus Intelligence modifier. At will. Every turn. It’s about equivalent to dropping a 4th level Dissonant Whispers (except the turning effect) on a target, every turn, for as long as you want. I don’t know how this wasn’t nerfed.

The Transient Avatar feature allows you to cast an 8th level summons (When a full caster only has access to 7th) as a bonus action (when it regularly takes 1 minute). The downside is that a day long summon is shortened to just one turn. So, on the one hand, insanely powerful, and on the other hand, a serious detriment. This is not fun design. This does not spark excitement (or joy). It feels like the decision was “Let’s give them something powerful for the capstone”, “Ooh… it’s too powerful. Give it a serious drawback”. And it’s still once per long rest, like Mystic Arcanum. It would have been better if it was just one turn now, an option for an action cast and 1 minute duration at 16th level, then 1 minute cast and 10 minutes duration at 18th level, and 1 minute cast and 1 hour duration at 20th level. Not as powerful as someone who actually spends the resources to cast it but a lot cooler.

Subclass number four is the Mastermaker.

It’s a subclass that focuses on improving their own physical body thus, a wierd name, me thinks. I would expect something of an inventor who distributes boosts.

Infra Red Vision, or as they call it Thermalsight, is always cool. It’s kind of like Darkvision but not. They pretty much follow my thoughts ono it but I would allow it to do slightly more at my table. For example, if some used an illusion to make themselves taller, you would notice the discrepancy. And it should work on invisible creatures unless they have advanced Thermoptic Camouflage.

Embedded Gadgets allows you to graft a gadget or blaster to your hand so it’s concealable and can’t be taken away. It’s cool it’s a bit minor for a subclass feature. I expected more.

Yes! It has Subdermal Plating, or Carbon Fiber Skin, as they call it. You implant extra armor under the skin. Always cool. I’m getting more and more of a cyberpunky vibe but I still don’t get the name.

Wait, an additional ASI at 10th level? Well, that’s what Reconfigure does. And it’s modular. That’s… a bit overpowered.

Construct Perfection starts to feel more like a subclass capstone. Increase Intelligence, gives some nice immunities. Might also be overpowered but I’m actually here for it.

Last and, hopefully, not least is the Nanoengineer.

The theme here is always intriguing to me and I really hope it’s good.

Cutting Edge Nanobots start by giving a resource and some abilities to waste it on. I always like that. Keep going. One of them is Deconstruct is an attack that cause damage per nano point spent. Not sure I like the auto hit at 15ft but this is expected. Nano-Hack allows you to boost your Data skill checks to hack a machine. Also pretty cool. We got a Decker here. Finally, Reconstruct lets you heal or mend targets per nano point spent. Very versatile as I would expect from a nano-boosted individual.

Nano-Duplicate is an ability that allows you to use your swarm to replicate an object which is great for keys or for faking lots of things. I would limit the use of it by concentration and not a set time limit, though.

At 6th level, it starts to get a bit scary and I love it. Recycling Protocol gives your swarm the ability to make more nanites from bio-matter, a mini Ferro Plague of your own. Quite horrific. I like it.

The Nanite Weave allows you to make your nanites into ablative armor. This is really cool and can be quite powerful. I don’t know why it precludes using a shield, though.

The capstone ability, Network Response, is kind of underwhelming. You can now use your reaction to Deconstruct or Reconstruct. I would think a reaction could be much better spent elsewhere and only on rare occasions would this be preferable to just waiting for your turn to do it.

And that’s it for the Gadgeteer. A lot of interesting concepts but less than stellar execution. If I was to include one in my game, they will undergo serious modifications.

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