I Can See the Future, part 2

This is part 2 of going through the Dark Archive playtest. You can read part 1 here, and you can find the playtest document and feedback pages here.

Thaumaturge is another new class… sort of. In 1e, the Occult Adventures book had a class called “Occultist” which was a spellcaster that relied on types of magical items called ‘implements’ to determine what spells they could access. Thaumaturge takes this concept in a different direction; they use implements and get powers from them, but they have no spells at all. Despite having zero spellcasting, a thaumaturge still get magic abilities from their items. Think of it as fantasy-Batman. No superpowers (spellcasting) but enough gadgets (implements) and the know-how to use them to be just as powerful, and a big influence on studying enemies to learn how best to approach the situation. Their main mechanics are ‘esoteric antithesis’ and, as mentioned before, implements. They seem to have a routine of identifying creatures, activating bonuses, and then mixing attacks with implement abilities.

Thaumaturge Basics

Thaumaturge has a similar chassis as the investigator. It’s a martial class with 8 base hit points and relies on class features to spike their damage, and like investigator their key ability score is not a physical stat like most martial classes. Thaumaturge uses charisma for a lot of abilities, including a special way to use it with Recall Knowledge. They start with expert perception and will and trained fortitude, reflexes, light and medium armor, and simple and martial weapons. By 20, they get legendary will, master in perception, weapons, and armor, and expert of everything else they get. The result is solid offense and passable defense. 

Thankfully, for such a skill-heavy class that doesn’t prioritize intelligence, Thaumaturge gets a glut of free proficiencies and upgrades. They start with the most automatic skills of any class: arcana, nature, occultism, and religion. They only get 2+int more after that, but this does mean they start with the majority of Recall skills and can identify any sort of magic. They also upgrade an extra skill from those four as they level to keep the identifying-role feasible without compromising other skill possibilities.

Batman, by DC Comics, 1939

The class’s core actions are a pair of linked abilities “find flaws” and “esoteric antithesis” as well as the implements I discussed before. Find flaws is the thaumaturge’s universal-identify-button. You use your proficiency of whatever you’d normally use for Recall Knowledge, but you get to use charisma for the stat added, greatly reducing the MAD (multiple attribute dependency) of the class. The ‘capstone’ ability at 19th-level makes find flaws a free action, but it’s always only once per round. You learn the creature’s weaknesses on top of any other info, but more critically for the class, it allows the use of esoteric antithesis as long as you don’t critically fail. This acts sort of like a ranger’s hunt prey. You mark a target by identifying it, using an action if you failed the Recall check or a free action if you succeeded or better. If the creature has a weakness, you treat your Strikes as if they have that type of damage. If they don’t have a weakness? Make one up! The ability adds a minimum of 2+half level to damage against the target with a custom weakness that only works for you. The example they give in the text is using a broken chain of a freed captive to do extra damage to a tyrant, but it is super open to imaginative uses and seems super fun.

Implements give some thematic ability that can increase up to twice as you level. Some abilities only work on the target of esoteric antithesis, and some only with your implement. You eventually get a total of three implements and two upgrades that you can spread or double up on a single choice.

One simple but very potent feature is “implement empowerment” where you get to increase your damage as long as one hand is free or holding your implement. This looks like an attempt to compensate for needing to hold your implement in one hand which restricts you from using a two-handed weapon without compromising your abilities. It’s a flat bonus that scales as you level like weapon specialization. Between insta-weakness, this, and all your standard tricks of boosting yourself, thaumaturge can do quite a bit of damage.

Class Options

Mavaro, Erasmus, and Mios, Iconic Occultist, Medium, and Thaumaturge, by Paizo

The only really unique class option for the thaumaturge is the implement feature. It kiiiiiinda feels like they mixed occultists’ implements together with the 1e medium class. They would channel one of six spirits each day to unlock certain abilities. Super fun, but not the easiest to build if you wanted to use all of them. Which is also true here.

You get one implement at first level, a second at fifth, and a third at fifteenth, and you get an upgrade at seventh and seventeenth. Personally I would really like more upgrades. Something about only being able to max out a single class-choice out of three doesn’t feel good. Even just one more automatic upgrade would feel loads better. 

There are five implements in the playtest with four more promised by the full release.

Darkest Dungeon’s Occultist, Red Hook Studios 2016
  • Amulet – This is the protection based implement. It acts just like the damage resistance portion of good champions’ reaction abilities, but only if your esoteric antithesis is the source of the damage. There’s no additional effect like for champions, but the 15 foot range limitation only applies to the target, not the source, and you can use this on yourself.
    The upgrades increase the defense it provides. Adept lets your target retain part of the damage resistance until your next turn, and paragon spreads the effect to all allies in range. Overall not a bad option for upgrades since it’s likely to be used frequently.
  • Chalice – Here’s the healing implement, which comes in two flavors: restored temporary hit points and restored hit points. As an action, you or an adjacent ally can “sip” or “drain” the chalice. Sipping gives 2+half level of temporary hit points for a round, while draining heals triple your level. Not bad at all. Once the chalice is drained, it needs to go 10 minutes of not being used before it can be again. You can still sip from a drained chalice, but that resets the timer.
    Upgrades make it so the effects increase (to Cha+level and 4 x level) if you get crit or take bleed damage, which is a big upgrade but situational. Paragon makes it so drinking reduces a bunch of conditions’ values by 1 and (once per day) counteracts poisons, diseases, and curses. It’s not going to be useful as often as the damage reduction from amulet, but when it is, it’s hugely impactful.
Darkest Dungeon’s Antiquarian, Red Hook Studios 2016
  • Lantern – This is one of the more flavorful options, using the lantern to reveal things and let you see what you’d normally miss. The light gives a bonus to perception and Recall checks in 20 feet and gives you automatic Search checks like the trapfinder feat. It’s not as staggering as reducing damage from a big hit or a burst of healing, but this is a constant, solid effect. One note about it: the light has the evocation, light, and magical traits… but no given level. Typically the default rule here is to treat the effect as half the source’s level, and when I asked about a clarification that was the consensus.
    Adept lantern makes invisible and ethereal creatures become visible. Simple, if situational. As far as an automatic ability, it’s pretty good. Paragon lantern automatically, secretly, attempts to counteract illusion and transmutation effects that hide or conceal something. Once again, this might amount to absolutely nothing in some campaigns, but if it does work, it’s huge. Automatic effects like this are nothing to sneeze at.
  • Wand – If you want to play a thaumaturge but want more overt magic, this is the way to go. Effectively this gives you a cantrip, right down to the damage scaling at 1d4/”spell” level plus your charisma mod. Pick fire, blizzard, or thunder fire, ice, or electricity damage, and you have an unlimited supply of single target blasts out to 80 feet. Since you don’t have a spell attack roll, the target makes a basic reflex save vs. your class dc. It’s not… flashy, seeing as there are lots of ways to just get an actual cantrip that has a bonus effect of some sort, but it’s not terrible.
    Upgrading a wand, however, is fantastic. Both adept and paragon give you another of the three damage types, which you choose when using the ability, and they both increase the range to a total of 180 feet. On top of those increases, adept adds additional effects, and paragon lets you do a 10-foot burst instead of single target. Of all the implements, this seems like the best in terms of getting all your upgrades.
  • Weapon – The last playtest option for mystical implements with hidden powers is… something you whack your enemies with. It’s the simplest option by far. You get an attack of opportunity-like reaction against your esoteric antithesis, and at 5th level you get the critical specialization for your implement. That’s it. As is it’s the only built in option to get critical specialization with this class, but at least it doesn’t also limit it to your antithesis target.
    Upgrading keeps it simple too, making your AoO do more. Adept lets you do 1 damage to your target even on a failure, which still triggers your antithesis weakness. Paragon makes it disrupt on a success as well as a critical success. It’s not bad at all, but it still relies on enemies provoking the attack. Given the emphasis on one-handed weapons, you’re not likely to be using anything with reach, which is by far the easiest way to get lots of AoOs. Honestly, this is the number one choice I’d make for an unupgraded implement. 

None of the base implements seem like a bad choice really. Whatever you pick will have its uses. Upgrading is a different story though. Wand strictly increases its power each time, while lantern could wind up never being useful.

Thaumaturge Feats

Mios, Iconic Thaumaturge, by
Paizo

Thaumaturge has a weird selection of feats. First, lots of uncommon options with big roleplay requirements, which are very flavorful but not typically the most popular picks. Second, lots of feat chains, which 2e generally avoids. Rather than built in scaling, thaumaturge gets multiple feats to build up to full potential. Beyond fluffy options and feat taxes, things are either mediocre or freakishly good. As with the last post, I’ll try to keep things brief. 

  • 1st-Level
    • Binding Oath: Very cool, very thematic, way too weak and infrequent. 
    • Divine Disharmony: Very cool idea, but it works out as a slightly variable Feint. If it had just a little more it would be great. 
    • Esoteric Lore: Bardic Lore but triggering on any magic tradition skill. Oddly, since you’re already trained in four of the five common Recall skills, not as useful, but still not bad.
    • Familiar: No cantrips, spells, alchemy, or focus points to utilize makes this a weird option, but familiars are still useful in lots of ways.
    • Haunt Cunning: Trapfinding for haunts. Not bad if your campaign uses them. 
    • Root to Life: Automatic stabilize is good, but hitting all persistent damage checks for one more action and lowering the DC is amazing. Perfect for support builds. 
    • Scroll Thaumaturgy: This is trick magic item on steroids. Handy on its own, great with follow up feats. 
  • 2nd-level 
    • Call Implement: A neat trick that might save your butt and adds some flair to things.
    • Enhanced Familiar: If you take a familiar on thaumaturge, you might want to take a specific familiar like a faerie dragon since a lot of abilities don’t with for you. Otherwise probably skip this.
    • Esoteric Warden: Short lived though it is, this is automatic and helps your defenses while you get started. Fantastic.
    • Talisman Esoterica: When I told Mark Seifter I loved Talisman Dabbler and looked forward to a bauble-rich thaumaturge, he told me I wouldn’t need to take the archetype. Because it’s built in.
  • 4th-level 
    • Draw Warding Circle: Potentially a very strong, interesting way to hinder your target, but rather difficult to use.
    • Pact of Fey Glamour: This is the first uncommon option in the feats. It feels like one of those “your GM might just disallow this anyway” uncommon tags. It’s just a makeover with illusory disguise built in, and you need to be nice to fey. Very roleplay heavy but still kind of neat. 
    • One More Activation: Once per day, you can squeeze one more use out of invested items that have limited uses per day. AMAZING depending on your gear.
    • Thaumaturgic Ritualist: Uncommon because all rituals are. If you use rituals, this is unbelievable. If you’re like the rest of us, you probably won’t take this. 
    • Turn Away Misfortune: Use your reaction to cancel a misfortune effect. Again, situational, but a very cool little ability. 
  • 6th-Level 
    • Handy Esoterica: Rogues get it, investigators get it, now thaumaturge gets it. Makes sense. Still great.
    • Scroll Esoterica: When I told Mark Seifter I loved Scroll Trickster and looked forward to a scroll-happy thaumaturge, he told me I wouldn’t need to take the archetype. Because it’s built in. Yes I copy-pasted, it was the same conversation. 
    • Role of Three: At first I thought this was absolutely too good. Over the first three turns, you build more and more steam. Round one, find flaws and esoteric antithesis for extra damage. Round two, +1 to hit. Round three another net +3 to hit. However, as soon as you get in a fight with a bunch of minions, this feat stops being worth it. Still l crazy powerful.
  • 8th-Level 
    • Elaborate Talisman Esoterica: Mark Seifter comment blah blah blah.
    • Incredible Familiar: Thaumaturge familiar comment blah blah blah.
    • Know-It-All: Just as vague and possibly okay as the bard version.
    • Pact of Infernal Prowess: Get a daily get-out-of-crit-fail-free card in exchange for YOUR IMMORTAL SOUL. So… alright? Best part is the special text of having to go to Hell to rip up your contract in order to retrain. Probably best for story.
    • Sympathetic Weakness: Sort of a weird action economy saver. If multiple creatures have the same (non-custom) weakness, your insta-weakness Strikes work on them too. Not bad at all.
  • 10th-Level
    • Share Antithesis: Spend an action to let an ally use your insta-weakness Strikes (but not on a custom-weakness). Great when weaknesses become more common.
    • Thaumaturge’s Investiture: Like the incredible investiture feat, but scaling. If you need it, cool.
    • Twin Weakness: Two actions, two MAP steps, double your insta-weakness. Kinda like power attack, which is good.
  • 12th-Level
    • Elaborate Scroll Esoterica: Mark Seifter comment 2 electric boogaloo.
    • Pact of Final Breath: Live twice as long and get an emergency heal once per day. In exchange, kill undead. Good deal.
    • Quick Circle: Draw circle is suddenly good and usable. 
    • Thaumaturge’s Demesne: Make a personal magically protected bat cave that’s the size of a dorm room. Sure whatever.
  • 14th-Level
    • Esoteric Reflexes: Standard issue class-specific bonus reaction. Terrific if you have them. 
    • Grand Talisman Esoterica: blah blah talismans blah blah blah. 
    • Shared Warding: Take your defense boost and spread it to allies. Cool.
  • 16th-Level
    • Implausible Esoterica: The same thing as the other classes’ upgrade. Still good.
    • Implement’s Flight: If you ever wanted a character to fly around by holding on to a fancy cup that carries them through the air, you now have your chance.
    • Sever Magic: Dispelling strike. Useful, fitting, solid.
    • Trespass Teleportation: A special teleportation version of the no escape feat. Hilarious, if potentially dangerous.
  • 18th-Level
    • Grand Scroll Esoterica: It’s the thing with the stuff.
    • Implement’s Assault: Hit ALL the things! Fueled by magic-nonsense!
    • Intense Implement: A feat that lets you upgrade an implement an extra time is awesome. And should be 6-10 levels lower.
  • 20th-Level
    • Ubiquitous Antithesis: Share Antithesis, but in an area. Really powerful.
    • Unlimited Demesne: Move out of your bat dormroom and into your bat mansion.
    • Wonder Worker: This is, without exaggeration, an option of wish, miracle, etc. Daily.

The spread of feats seems super strange to me. We have a ton of feats that lean hard into the flavor of the class, but many of them are only useful to very specific characters in very specific circumstances. Some of them just aren’t very good beyond their cool factor. Then you get a couple that seem to have absorbed all the power of several feats together. 

Blah Blah Feat Chains Blah

So in that run down, you might have noticed I sort of skipped actually commenting on a few. Each of those were feats that were powerful for the right build, but only because they are upgrades to previous feats. Of course they’re good! They’re just previous feats but better! Feat chains don’t feel good. It’s one of the things 2e tried to get away from for good reason. This class has a ton of them. 12 out of 43 require another feat, and 5 feats are uncommon. Over one out of three feats. For comparison, core barbarian only has 8 feats with other feats as requirements. It has a number of feats dependent on instincts, and many of those are the same as the feat trees. Even that feels better though, since it’s not just a “feat tax” to unlock good versions like feat trees are. Depending on how you count them, between 4 and 12 are feats that other classes already have, too. It’s fine for classes to overlap in areas, but this class starts feeling very same-y after a while. 

Conclusion

I was stoked when I heard about thaumaturge. I loved the occultist in 1e, and turning them into fantasy Batman sounded awesome. What we got is certainly fun and interesting, but it needs a lot more work than psychic does before final release in my opinion. That said, I think the potential awesomeness in this class is much higher than that of the psychic.

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