This class clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
All righty, the cartomancer as envisioned by Purple Duck games, comes with d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons (but not any armor – they interfere with spellcasting), ¾ BAB-progression and good Will-saves. They are arcane spellcasters, gaining spells of up to 9th level, drawn from their own spell-list, using Charisma as governing spellcasting attribute. The cartomancer’s spellcasting engine is pretty unique, as it interacts with the deck of cards that grants the class its name: At 1st level, the cartomancer has a deck of 54 cards. When the cartomancer prepares spells, each spell must be attributed to a different card of the deck. The deck is composed of six suits, with 9 cards each: Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood. When preparing spells, the cartomancer gets to choose which suit each spell card is from. This deck may not contain more than 9 cards of a given suit. There also are trick and trump cards, which must be of a specific suit, but I’ll return to those later.
While the cartomancer is within 5 ft. of his deck, he may execute a number of tricks, none of which provoke AoOs: The cartomancer may draw a card as a swift action, creating a “hand”; at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the cartomancer may draw an additional card. Previously held cards are discarded. The cartomancer may discard the cards in his hand, shuffling them back into the deck. Discarding cards does not lose them, and they are intangible, so they may not be caught etc. There are effects that do get rid of cards – the terminology for this would be “consume” – a card consumed is lost and no longer available until the cartomancer manages to prepare spells. When the cartomancer casts a spell from a card, he has to discard a number of cards from the hand equal to the spell level of the spell cast, including the spell’s card – casting 6th level spell, for example, would require discarding 6 cards, including the spell’s card, while casting a 1st level spell would only require the discarding of the 1st level’s spell card.
The cartomancer may only prepare a limited number of cantrips per day, and this number is equal to the maximum number of cards that may be assigned cantrips. Cantrips are assigned a suit, any any card of that suit may be used to cast a cantrip associated with it, without requiring the discarding of cards. A cartomancer may choose to keep a card as if he had not cast it – this ability is known as clean draw, and may be used a number of times per day for each spell level equal to the number of sorcerer bonus spells per day the character would get, as based on Charisma modifier. This allows for some control and features a unique limitation that is, engine-wise, interesting. The cartomancer begins play with Eschew Materials. While cards are definitely recommended, the pdf does note that alternate means of randomization would be possible and provides basic guidelines.
Starting at 2nd level, the cartomancer chooses a favored suit, with 8th and 14th level providing the same choice: If the same suit is chosen multiple times, progressively better abilities are gained, rewarding both specialization and diversification. The first benefit of the suit specializations, for example, include a +4 dodge bonus to AC versus AoOs provoked via trick cards, a 1/day minor healing effect, new class skills, replacing a Fire card’s spell with burning hands, etc. The second effects include CL-increases for the suit, while the 3rd option provides, once more, unique effects: For earth, that nets, for example, a cumulative natural armor bonus equal to the spell level of Earth cards cast for 3 rounds, allowing you, with the right hands, to truly withstand punishment. No AoOs for trick card water casts, a defensive whirlwind (that has a very minor verbiage issue that does not compromise rules – “deviates” should be “deflect”) or metamagic use. These are unique and add meaningful differentiations between specialists. Like them!
At 3rd level, aforementioned trick cards come into play: You choose a trick card, which acts as a SP, with 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter yielding another trick card. Trick cards take up a slot in the deck, and using it is a standard action that does provoke attacks of opportunity unless otherwise specified. Trick cards take up a card slot when assigned, obviously. It should be noted that the favored suit choices do NOT lock the cartomancer out of trick cards – while associated trick card of the favored suit can benefit from the favored suit, a cartomancer specializing in air could easily take an earth trick card, for example. 5 trick cards per element are provided, and they include unique effects, like e.g. a rod of wonder effect, gain a massive +5 morale bonus to Charisma-based checks for a minute, though this one does consume the card. Some of these have high level prerequisites that unlock combos: Consuming trick card +2 cards to draw twice as many cards as usual, for example, makes for some unique gambits.
Also interesting – instead of burrow speed or the like, an earth trick card allows for the SWIMMING through earth, stone, etc. – with all the complications that swimming entails! I really loved the visuals here! Reducing required discard numbers, moving fires around, making foes lose one of their highest level prepared spells – there are quite a few really interesting and creative tricks to be found here! The unique tricks do not end there, though: At 5th level, the cartomancer gets a second type of card: The trump card. An additional trump card is gained at 8th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Like trick cards, trump cards are associated with a given suit, and they work in a unique way: You basically discard them as part of discarding cards for spellcasting, in addition to the discard cost of the spell. These cards are basically the “metamagic”-y tricks of the class, and once more, all trump cards may affect all spells, regardless of favored suit chosen.
Once more, the class goes the high road, offering quite a few unique tricks: One air trump card, for example, allows you to increase the distance between targets of a spell, allowing you to increase distances between them by 30 ft. – interesting tweak for, for example, haste etc. That being said, there are a few minor snafus – there are, for example, no “contact spells”: That should be “touch spells.” There also is a unique option to penalize summoned targets, to change spell damage to slashing, etc. – once more, I considered these to be interesting, and any complaints regarding rules are based on cosmetic glitches. It’s always clear what’s meant. The capstone lets the cartomancer choose to consume cards instead of discarding them, up to a minimum deck size of 14, and the cartomancer my Cha-mod times per day choose a card of choice when drawing. Beyond the custom spell-list, we get one of the most massive favored class options lists I have ever seen: Not only are the core races and the more exotic ones covered, we also get a vast amount of support for the significant array of Porphyran races. And yes, these include psionic races.
There also are two different archetypes included: The card reader gets an expanded spell-list of divination spells that may be cast in a kind of spontaneous manner without having them in the hand. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, one of these must be taken. At 8th level, the card-reader gets harrowing as a SP, Cha-mod times per day, with 14th level providing greater harrowing, which replaces the trick cards at 8th and 14th level.
The second archetype is the dice master, who must be chaotic, and represents basically a die-based alternative to the cartomancer, gaining a luck pool at 3rd level, equal to ½ + Cha-mod points, which may be spent to improve skill checks and saves before rolling, using the spell-die sides to determine their potency. Since the archetype does not gain trick or trump cards, the class feature instead unlocks new uses for these luck points. I liked these, but the lack of a proper capstone for it is a bit of a pity. The pdf does have a total of 11 feats as well: Atypical Deck lets you replace a trick card with a trump card or vice versa, and may thereafter choose trick cards instead of trump cards and vice versa. Cool! Bludgeoning Box lets you wield the card box as a weapon. Once/round discarding and redrawing, a bonus trick card, having your box in the ethereal plane and accompany you there, better concentration for spell-card casting…cool. Looking at the top card prior to drawing and putting it at the bottom, if you like, adding wizard’s spells to the spell list and decreasing discarded card requirements complement this section.
The pdf also has a new array of spells that introduces the (invisible) spell descriptor, which makes identifying it harder, imposing a -5 penalty to Spellcraft. These are really cool, in that they provide pretty significant benefits that are triggered as immediate actions while the brief durations lasts. There is, for example, a spell that triggers when a certain amount of enemies come nearby! Really cool spell array, and yes, these have some unique interactions with the cartomancy-engine! The pdf does provide extensive advance for integrating cartomancy and comes with a sample ratfolk cartomancer NPC, with stats for levels 1, 5, 10 and 15.
The pdf does not stop here, though: We get a massive amount of support material: We get a worksheet table for customizing the deck (cool!); we also get printable versions of the trick/trump cards, with the respective suit’s glyphs on each page, and finally, a page of blank spell cards to print out! Big plus there!
The pdf does also come with a bonus pdf penned by Perry Fehr and Mark Gedak, depicting the CR 1 fur-bearing trout based famously on the cryptoid. The pdf also includes a variant, the bush mackerel.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the pdf is precise and tight where it counts, but sports a few deviations from the standards. Layout adheres to the printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with purple highlights we’ve come to associate with Purple Duck Games, and the pdf sports quite a few really nice pieces of full-color artwork. The pd comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with nested bookmarks making navigation simple and painless.
Nikolaï Samarine’s cartomancer has some really tough competition – the cartomancer by Interjection Games is a rather impressive direct comparison. However, and I did not expect to say this, I do kinda prefer Purple Duck Games’ take on the card-based caster. The synergy with spell-based casting means that the class can interact in meaningful ways with the vast spellcasting engines of PFRPG. More importantly, the class does have plenty of unique things it can do: From how simple the base engine is to grasp, to how the trick and trump cards offer for meaningful twists, the class is intriguing in that it actually play rather well – the card-based chaos-casting is notoriously hard to get right, and it’s even harder to actually judge on paper. Sans playtest, it is nigh impossible to judge how the like fares. This class has obviously seen use at the table, or otherwise is an example of excellent theorycrafting – either way, I am quite smitten by the engine presented and by how it works, as it generates a smooth flow of ebbs and tides that makes spellcasting feel fresh. The innovation does extend to quite a few of the class features the pdf offers, and stretches to small tidbits that add unique twists to concepts. Playing a cartomancer is unlike playing a wizard, and allows you to do things only the class could pull off.
As much as I adore a lot this class does, I did also notice a few minor hiccups that bled into the rules, which might confuse less experienced players, and the dice archetype’s lack of a unique capstone is an unpleasant oversight. While this does cost the class my highest accolades, I consider it to be an impressive achievement and, in spite of the minor flaws, worthy of a final verdict of 4.5 stars, and since this pdf does provide a ton of cool and helpful supplemental material, I will round up. Well done!
You can get this fun card-using class here on OBS!
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