D&D Tinker’s Tools: What They Are and How to Use Them
In the course of a long and challenging battle with a minotaur skeleton, the party’s fighter took a direct hit from the creature’s greataxe that left his chainmail in tatters. While recuperating that evening, the party’s rock gnome wizard sits down with his tinker’s tools and mends the sundered armor.
After the party’s rogue successfully disabled the trapped lock that kept the party out of the Vault of Arcane Splendors, the party decides on their way out of the dungeon that they should reset the trap. The vault is full of dangerous magic that ought to remain sealed away. The rogue, having been a member of an artisan’s guild before turning to adventuring, uses his tinker’s tools to repair the disabled device.
What Are Tinker’s Tools?
The core rule-books don’t have much to say about tinker’s tools other than that they are a type of artisan’s tool that costs 50 gp and weighs 10 lbs. Rock gnomes may use them to construct tiny clockwork devices, but it is not clear if that ability extends to characters of other races who are proficient in tinker’s tools.
As it does with many of the more vague rules of the game, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything elucidates the in-game uses of tinker’s tools. The capabilities of Xanathar’s version, however, seem to be at odds with what a rock gnome can create with the tools as described in the Player’s Handbook.
This leads me to conclude that rock gnomes, being naturally inventive, can do more with tinker’s tools than anyone else who is proficient with them.
The toolkit includes everything an artisan needs to repair objects from torn cloth to dulled blades: a needle and thread, cloth and leather patches, a whetstone, a hammer for working out dents, pliers, and glue. The utility of this kit is similar to that of the mending spell.
In addition to repairing objects, a character proficient with tinker’s tools can also examine objects and determine their age and origin as well as how the object was damaged.
Who Can Use Them?
Rock gnomes begin with proficiency in tinker’s tools. Backgrounds that grant proficiency with artisan’s tools can be used to take tinker’s tools proficiency. Rock gnomes, it seems, can do much more with tinker’s tools than characters of other races.
Rock gnomes can use their natural inventiveness to create all sorts of interesting objects. The objects listed in the Player’s Handbook don’t seem all that useful, but even those objects have many creative uses.
The rules specify that these items can move only 5ft per turn and have only 1 hp. You can spend 1 hour and 10 gp to create such an object, but who’s to say you can’t spend 8 hours and 80 gp to develop something much cooler?
Clockwork Toy. Of course, the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans comes to mind immediately. A rock gnome wizard who spends hours in a workshop and adventures in search of new machines and new techniques would likely cast the find familiar spell while tinkering in the workshop, creating a tiny mechanical mouse or bird that can deliver spells and messages. Such a creation would need one hour of upkeep per day, but that’s a small price to pay to have a unique familiar.
Fire Starter. Such a device could help a character with no skill in magic to convince others that he was a magic user of some sort. Together with the “improvise” ability described below, this could also be a useful skill to have when caught in the soggy wilderness with no other way to start a fire.
Music Box. Use this item to mimic the minor illusion spell, placing it somewhere that it will attract attention, confuse, or distract. Or, spend more time to craft a larger, more complex music box—something like a serinette—that can accompany a bard’s performance.
Of course, the decision to extend these creative abilities to all tinkers, not only rock gnomes, is entirely up to the Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters). You can still have fun if you stick with Xanathar’s rules for tinker’s tools:
Repair disabled devices. As in the anecdote near the beginning of the article, tinker’s tools can be used to repair a disabled device, just as thieves’ tools can be used to disable devices.
Improvise an item using scraps. This use of tinker’s tools opens the door to boundless creativity. Think MacGyver, from the classic (or just old) TV series of the same name, who could create just about anything he needed out of chewing gum, paper clips, and duct tape. In one episode, MacGyver builds a bazooka out of a muffler and a lighter. A rock gnome rogue who solves problems by slapping together whatever items he has at his disposal is a compelling character concept.
Investigate objects. The nature of the “object” is not specified; a tinker can look at anything and determine when and where it was made. This could be useful in identifying magical items when the identify spell is not available.
Like many other tools listed in the Player’s Handbook, the applications of tinker’s tools are left enticingly vague. D&D is a game where you can try anything; the worst that can happen is that you fail! What kinds of interesting things have you tried to do with a set of tinker’s tools?