The Cartomancer – A Deck-building Diviner
This class clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The Cartomancer gets d6, 4+Inst skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor (receiving arcane spell failure in all pieces of armor/when using shields s/he is not proficient with, but none with those s/he is proficient with), 1/2 BAB-progression and good will-saves. The class being card-based, its hand-size increases from 2 to 6 over the 20 levels, while the active deck composition (least/lesser/greater) starts at 4/1/0 and amps up to 23/10/5 at level 20 – but how does this cartomancy work?
First of all, you don’t have to be afraid of this class requiring a specific deck of cards – as the class specifies, it’s not what’s ON that card, but rather the cartomancer’s narrative that’s associated with it that makes the magic work. The cartomancer’s magic is called “portents” – these are surprisingly treated as divine magic (even though the cartomancer suffers from arcane spell failure chance in equipment s/he’s not proficient with) and are spell-like abilities, completely with associated schools of magic and thus can be enhanced via items, feats, etc. Portents can be counterspelled by any spell of the same school as the associated school, an extremely important distinction to regular spell-like abilities, which cannot be counterspelled. Least portents count as 1st level spells, lesser as 2nd level and greater as 4th level spells for the purpose of concentration. Each portent has a somatic component and requires a Cha of at least 11, 12 and 14 to use the respective portents. Cartomancers instantly know all portents, much like clerics get access to their whole array of spells. Saves, if applicable, are higher than spells – 10 + 1/2 class level+cha-mod.
A cartomancer has a so-called active deck, which includes the cards s/he can use this day – and has to adhere to rules: No duplicate portents (though at 11th level, 2 least portents may be in the active deck at the same time. The deck must include 2+class level least portents, 1 lesser portent + 1 for every two levels beyond 1st and starting at 4th level, also one greater portent +1 for every 4 levels beyond 4th. To change the composition of the active deck, a cartomancer requires 8 hours rest + 1 hour study, but does not need to study to refresh the daily uses of her active deck – just 8 hours of sleep suffice. Since a cartomancer knows all cards, the cards not included in the active deck of the day are called “collection.”
Playing a card (and AFTER THAT unleashing the portent) also may deviate from how spell-like abilities usually work – some portents can be played as swift or immediate actions and these do not provoke AoOS, while those that require a move action or a standard action do provoke AoOs. So yes, the playing of a card is one effect, the portent unleashed another – counterspelling the portent does not cancel the effect from playing the card. Cards that are played go into the discard pile – and whenever the cartomancer plays a card, all cards of a lesser type than the one played (i.e. lesser and least if you play a greater card, least if you play a lesser card) are shuffled back into the active deck, adding further strategy, especially since there are effects associated to discarding certain types of cards and discarding the cards to produce such an effect does NOT trigger the reshuffling. Now to play a card, a cartomancer must draw it from the active deck into the hand, which can be done once per round as a move action as long as you have not reached your maximum hand size. There would also be the terminology “Reveal”, which flips up the face of the uppermost card of your active deck. More on that later.
Starting at 1st level, cartomancers may 3+cha-mod times per day tell a fortune, for good or ill, providing one of 20 random insight-bonuses, with 1, 13 and 20 reversing the effect. The insight bonuses last for class level X 10 minutes and the process takes 1 minute per fortune. Cartomancers also get a fatespinning pool at second level, amounting to 1/2 class level +wis-mod points. Whenever a cartomancer uses such a point, the cartomancer rolls on the aforementioned table. At 3rd level, the cartomancer can tell his/her own fortune, Starting at seventh level, +1 use of the ability allows the cartomancer to roll twice and make both effects come to pass, whereas at 9th level, +1 use can result in rerolls of all but 1, 13 and 20s (those can only be rerolled at 19th level) and at 17th level, telling fortunes can be rushed to only take a full-round action, but also shortens duration to 1 minute per level and requires the target’s consent. These modifications do not require additional ability expenditures when applied to the cartomancer herself and at 13th level, the class gets an upgrade for the bonuses/penalties to +2/-2, respectively.
Points of fate can be used in various ways – as a standard action to look at the top 3 cards of the deck; as a swift action, to draw a car; play a lesser portent as a move action, but only when also playing a greater portent in the same round, or play a least portent as a move action, but only when playing a lesser or greater portent in the same round. Starting at 2nd level, cartomancers also get access to a seal, +1 every 4 levels thereafter. These talent-like abilities also have a fate points cost, often a minimum requirement, and require you to discard a card to kick off their effects. The more powerful the card, the better the effect. DCs, if applicable ,are 10 +1/2 class level + wis-mod. Each seal has a different activation action, with actions ranging from swift actions to full-round actions and a total of 12 seals are provided.
To give you an example what these can do: The “Seal of Pentacles”, which costs 1 point of fate, actually makes crafting mundane items much more feasible – the duration lasts for 1 day and increases production speed by factor 2 for least, 4 for lesser and even 10 for greater portents discarded. The “Seal of Persistent Fate” is also interesting, allowing you to exchange a card on your hand with a portent of equal power from your discard pile at the cost of one point of fate. The “Seal of the Read Palm” on the other hand would be a chaotic debuff, allowing you for 1 point of fate and a standard action, to apply Tell Fortune-benefits (or penalties) for 1 minute per class level to a target within 30 feet, with. Granting retroactive skill-bonuses (1d3, +1d6, greater also to saves) to atk and skill-checks as an immediate action also makes for a very interesting ability. 10th+ level cartomancers may also spend 3 fate points to create a 1-minute persisting 1-charge wand that they can share with allies, with divine casters treating the granted portent (which is chosen from the discard pile) as being on their spell-list for UMD-purposes. While I would have preferred an explicit statement clarifying that activation of the wand follows the wand-rules and not the portent’s, that is arguably a very minor nitpick and hence won’t influence my final verdict.
As a capstone, the class can discard lesser portents for 1 fate point, greater portents for 5 fate points – okay, but not as cool as most Interjection Games-capstones. We also get FCOs for Aasimar, Drow, Hobgoblins, kobolds, Orcs, Tieflings and Puddlings as well as the standard races. It should be noted that the half-orc’s benefit requires greater portents to work, but taking it prior to access to the card type will render it more powerful.
We also get a massive array of 26 feats for the cartomancer – these add further gambits to the cartomancer’s arsenal. Remember the ability to place two copies of the same least portent in the same active deck? Well, if one of the two is in the discard pile and the other on your hand, 2 points of fate let you look through your deck for said second card and put it in your hand. Increased hand sizes, -2 least portents for +1 lesser portents (and analogue, for greater portents), shorter duration for penalties incurred by telling fortunes, increased bonuses/penalties for telling fortunes, better DCs for seals, using fate points to target additional creatures with portents that are eligible targets and within 10 feet of the first target. Interesting would be Morning Rush, which adds + 2 to max hand size when drawing a hand in the morning, but also increases drawing cards from a move action to a full-round action whenever your hand’s empty. Interesting risk-reward scenario. Using seals to draw a least portent from the discard pile is also an option in here (including abuse-proof caveat). Also interesting would be “Fate by Association”, which lets you spread all Tell Fortune outcome rolls applying to one target within 3o feet to all other creatures within 10 feet of the first target – will-save negates and shorter duration, but still – interesting. The improved version even takes the save away from adjacent targets and further expands the AoE – this feat in particular can be used for some VERY nasty combinations. My favorite feat, though, would be one granting you a Monty Deck – it’s Kobyashi for your foes: Choose one of three cards (this deck can be used 1/day, does not go in the discard pile and has no interactions with your regular deck) – 1 is a lesser, 2 are least portents. If the lesser is drawn, it affects the target. If the least is drawn, both least portents are unleashed on the target.
Now if you don’t have the print & play cards in the end of this document printed out, massive tables for use with playing cards are provided, with associated portents and power-levels all collated on one page. Prefer Tarot? 3 pages of card/portent-connections are provided for these decks as well – awesome! Better yet – the respective portents have their associated cards mentioned as well, making use at one glimpse rather easy.
Notice something? So far, the class does not look too impressive on paper. That changes right now. Quite a few of the portents have an a caveat that allows you to benefit from e.g. playing an additional, just drawn card when drawing a greater portent. The portents allow you to reflectively deal slashing damage to foes that damaged you or an ally, buff them…and generally, there are some pretty neat ones to choose from. Portents are grouped in 3 categories – least, lesser and greater. Take as example for least portents e.g. the guilt portent: When the subject attacks you, it takes force damage equal to the base weapon dice used. Or what about limiting the target’s hands? Alas, not all can be considered well-balanced – take needles: These reduce movement rate by 5 ft. whenever the target moves and renders the subject HELPLESS if movement ever becomes 0. This is a dragon slayer, in spite of its ref-save. A less deadly condition would be appropriate here – perhaps an entangle-effect that also precludes movement? Now it should be mentioned that some of these have a synergy with greater portents – for example the “Spark”-portent, which has its class level x 1d4 damage upgraded to x d6 when cast in the same round as a greater portent. A better shield other, a fire aura, an auto-counterspell dependant on school, treating the next roll of a d20 as a natural 21 or as a natural 1. Multiple healing and hp-rearrangement options can be found herein as well.
Among the Greater Portents, adding damage on a target that has botched last round (sans save), adding a heal-effect to drawing cards, a glamer that duplicates full concealment (but still allows you to be targeted) – generally, these are cool. The Downfall-card does require a nerfing, though – a creature targeted takes max hp- current hp damage, max 6 X cartomancer level; While unable to kill targets, this one is a dragon-slayer. Worse, there is one that establishes a link that sees a creature die if the linked creature dies – the problem with this one is quite distinct, link kitten to enemy, kill kitten -> save or die save for dragon/emperor/whatever. This one needs some kind of HD-based connection or other limitation that prevents abuse in that regard. We also receive for example, energy-conversion, rerolls – quite a few unique tricks.
It should be noted that pages 29 -42 contain playing-card-like cards that contain all the cartomancer’s unique tricks, allowing you to print them out at a handy convenience – these cards sport swords, shields and x’s for easy overlook of what category they fall in. Their power-level is coded in colored borders, from least = green, to lesser = blue to greater = red.
Editing and formatting are very good, I did not notice any glaring glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ 2-column b/w-standard, is printer-friendly and the pdf comes with nice thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience, though not excessively so.
Bradley Crouch knows how to make complex, uncommon classes and this time around, he takes a look at the concept of a card-based class. I won’t lie – I wasn’t stoked to make this review. Regular Interjection Games-classes are already difficult to review and Dreadfox Games Gypsy-class back in the day took quite some time to properly analyze and so did this one – and its well and good that I took the appropriate time and tried this one out in game. The massive issue of different card-based classes would be the luck-factor of the draw and balancing this with being useful – lack of control + power makes for a rather hard design to pull off.
The cartomancer can offset a certain amount of bad draws, has unique mechanics and the limited, yet still existing level of control makes for a rather cool playing experience – in fact, a much better one than the class looks on paper. While some of the portents herein could use some minor nerfing, over all the cartomancer fared quite better than a first reading suggested – the overall performance of the class by far outclassed the gypsy and while a first reading made me gulp at some of the combos and options available, in play the class proved to be powerful, but not necessarily broken. Now it is not perfect or as streamlined as most Interjection Games-classes, the cartomancer still makes for a powerful, cool class. As for my final verdict – I will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since the class does not deserve a mediocre rating.
You can get this uncommon, card-based class here on OBS!