Posted by : David Guyll September 02, 2009

Its been awhile, but Silent7Seven has conscripted me into another review by dangling free pdf-produce with promises of card-slinging, gambling-goodness by the name of Huxtropy. Huxtropy runs 19 pages that contains a card game, variant ranger-build, new warlock pact, some magical goodies, and a new-if-unrefined skill. It runs about $5, but until the end of September its a buck off so thats almost 5-pages per dollar.

As per usual, the art isnt anything to write home about. It looks like a changling decked out (har har) in a purple outfit and throwing some playing cards. Kind of like an emo version of Gambit, just badly drawn.

Though art may not be S7S's strong suits (har har groan) everything I've gotten from them has done, if nothing else, stirred my own creative juices. Andrew does some things that I would consider unorthodox, inventing new rules and mechanics with mostly a focus on the concept and not necessarily on balance, and thats fine by me. Even if I dont use it as written, it provides a conceptual foundation for me to build on.

The Game
First things first, huxtropy is the name of a game of chance that also refers to a special card deck that can also-so be used in fortune telling or as a weapon of varying efficacy. In fact, roughly half of this pdf is devoted to explaining the history of the cards, the rules of the card game, and how to use it as a fortune telling device as opposed to a new class like I'd initially thought. In a (very tiny) nutshell, the original card deck was created by a gypsy that stole power from a group of epic-tier gamblers after he bound them to play for eternity, souping up his own deck with Ultimate Power. Really, is there anything those gypsies cant do?

Now, I'm personally all for introducing immersive elements into a game, but my players arent the type to hunker down and play cards as fictional characters for fictional goodies: they prefer the more direct approach of prying valuables from the cold dead hands/tentacles of the previous (and likely rightful) owners, but I digress. In another nutshell, this half of the file just aint for me.

Luckily, we get crunch.

The Weapon
The huxtropy deck as a weapon occupies about a page and a half, coming in one of two flavors: a standard deck or razor deck. Both are superior ranged two-handed weapons (one hand to hold the deck, the other to throw a card) with the draw free property (which obviously means that you can draw cards and throw as a free action).

The standard deck does dick-for-damage, described as being about as dangerous as a "kamikaze dragonfly". It can deal ability modifier damage if used with a power that deals [W] damage, but thats about it. Even magical versions bring nothing to the table aside from the damage modifier. Aside from doling out paper-cuts, they can be used to trigger delicate switches and buttons by making an attack roll (typical AC 20+).

The razor deck, on the other hand, deals 1d6 damage and has a better proficiency bonus. Its also a light blade, so a rogue player can pick it up and sling cards like its no-one's business. Optimizers need not worry/nerd rage/proclaim brokenosity/generate 1000 threads, as the card proficiency feat applies to ALL card weapons.

Finally, there is a deck holster that costs 1 gp and lets you use decks with one hand instead of two. Definitely something I expect everyone to be carrying.

The Magic
This is where we get a new damage resolution mechanic for D&D. Huxtropy decks dont use damage dice, but cards. Whenever you land an attack, you draw one card per damage die you would normally roll. If its a number card, thats your damage result.

Face cards do various thinks like increase your crit range, attack bonus, or damage. You have to draw other cards until you hit a number card. The real shitter is if you draw a joker and roll a nat 1: you are CURSED WITH BAD LUCK! Its like a disease, but you get better by making social skill checks instead of Endurance.

You shuffle your deck at the start of each encounter. Thrown cards are expended, but your deck regenerates cards every short/extended rest you take, so you basically get 38 shots per encounter when you consider that face cards require that you draw more cards (assuming I did the math right).

A sidebar talks about upgrading the deck without having to fret about finding a better one or falling back on Enchant/Disenchant Item rituals, so DMs dont have to sacrifice logic and reason to placate the player. There's also four magical aces that you can insert into your deck, giving you extra properties when you draw that specific ace.

The Deckslinger
The kinda-sorta new class is the deckslinger. The idea of any character running around chucking magical playing cards strikes me as more than a bit strange, despite some exposure in mainstream media. Not because it sounds bat-shit crazy, but just because I would be very curious as to how you'd pull it off while making it more than a one-power pony that differs greatly from the ranger and/or rogue.

The answer? You dont.

To be fair, Andrew only mostly takes this route, opting to partially reskin the ranger instead since there is already a ranger build that focuses exclusively on ranged attacks. Having helped a friend work on a ranged martial controller class, its hard to make exploits that dont step on the ranger and rogue's toes, so this might be an ultimately simpler-yet-functional approach given the fact that since razor decks are also light blades that any rogue player can just use them as written with absolutely no problems.

The Pact
The gambler pact is for the warlock class, mechanically allowing you to use the card-damage mechanic for double dealing (new pact at-will) and your encounter spells. You get to use card decks as implements, but still have to roll damage normally for eldritch blast and your daily spells. As a plus, the pact boon lets you scope out cards ahead of time whenever you drop an enemy.

My only complaint here is that daily spells specific to the gambler pact would have been useful. Unless I'm missing something this pact is below par without spells that get extra oomph from the gambler pact.

The Path
There's a paragon path to boot, which expectantly makes you really badass with cards: you get skill bonuses to many Charisma skills, a free Expertise feat, can modify energy damage, treat kings as wild cards (or whatever damage card you want), and even reroll missed attacks as long as you have jokers in the discard pile to burn. Its basically the paragon path you're going to take if you decide to go all out with the deckslinger or a gamblock/warbler.

The Feats
There's eleven Heroic feats, almost half require classes other than deckslinger to select, and one of them is a multiclass feat. With all the generic feats out there, I'm sure that there's more than enough to go around.

The Skill
Last we get a new skill, Gambling, and the gambler background (which is linked to only the Gambling skill, though I would also add either Streetwise or Thievery to the list). Gambling has no real mechanical benefit at all except for I guess making opposed checks to determine who wins in a game of chance. The author recommends that you just allow players to substitute Bluff, Insight, and Thievery when playing games of chance, and I agree. There's not enough oomph to make it work, but if a player really wants to play it up then its there.

If possible, I'd like to see Gambling skill powers (perhaps in a skill power-themed product, hint hint Andrew). Those would make the skill more appealing and balanced in terms of what it can do in-and-out of combat. Simulationists will likely cope just fine, since they tend to also pick up "role-playing" skills like Craft and Profession.

The Conclusion
Whether you will like this depends on if you like social immersion devices. My group doesnt, and we arent necessarily clamoring for new classes, either. I know a lot of groups like engaging in social activities within the game, and the addition of a card game and fortune telling rules will probably have some appeal. It relies on a standard deck of cards, so you dont need to buy a Three Dragon Ante or Harrow Deck in order to pull it off.

Otherwise, its got a very narrow niche appeal in terms of style. You get a new damage resolution mechanic which a select few players might dig, but its not going to appeal much to players who are heavily into crunchy content. If zipping around slicing things apart with cards is your thing, then there's something here for you, just maybe not as much as you were hoping for. That being said, it does make it very easy to introduce these things into your games (and remove them just as easily).

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