The protean scribe class clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Chassis-wise, the protean scribe receives d6 HD, 4+Int-mod skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-saves as well as proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. A protean scribe wearing heavier armor than light or a shield suffers from arcane spell failure regarding some of the abilities they have…but more on that below.
A protean scribe begins play with a stylus, a special instrument that is hardier than its mundane version. The stylus can be used to erase something the protean scribe has written. Without a stylus, using her abilities requires making a concentration check with a DC of 10 + twice the number of eloquence used. Eloquence? We’ll get there in a second.
As the name scribe implies, the protean scribe obviously is all about writing – writing is categorized in three distinct categories: Embellishments represent buffs; phrases are used offensively as debuffs or damage and stories are about creating creatures, objects etc. from thin air. Regardless of the type of writing used, protean scribes may add primordial words to their writing. Adding a primordial word adds at least +1 eloquence to the cost, potentially more depending on the word in question. A protean scribe begins play with 4 + Wisdom modifier points of eloquence and gains +1 eloquence per level. This pool refreshes upon resting. Upon death, effects of writing persist for 24 hours before dissipating.
Now let’s take a look at the types of writing: Embellishments have a range of 30 feet and grant the target affected a morale bonus to atk and damage or a morale bonus on all skill checks. The morale bonus is equal to the total number of eloquence used in the embellishment and may not exceed 1/3 of the class level, minimum 1. Embellishments are supernatural and last until erased or when the protean scribe recovers eloquence and are suppressed in antimagic zones etc. or when removed further than 1 mile from the protean scribe. Starting at 7th level, protean scribes can choose to grant the bonuses granted to an additional creature within range per point of eloquence spent.
Phrases allow for the direct assault of enemies – as a standard action, protean scribes may make a ranged attack against a foe within 60 feet, dealing 1d6 of either slashing, piercing or bludgeoning damage, using Wisdom as the governing attribute to determine bonuses to atk and damage. Phrase base damage increases by +1d6 at 8th and 15th level, respectively. If a primordial word was added to a phrase, it affects the target even when the phrase fails to damage the target, with a save DC of 10 + 1/2 class level (min 1) + Wis-mod to negate unless otherwise noted. Starting at 11th level, a single phrase may target an additional creature in range, including the effects of any primordial words added, sans additional costs.
Stories can be distinguished in two categories – storied objects and storied creatures. Both have in common that they emit dim light in a 5 ft-radius and that writing a story is a full-round action that costs 2 eloquence. Upon completion, the respective creature/object manifests within 30 feet of the scribe. Storied objects may be any nonmagical object (or well-defined set of objects – you’d get a set of lockpicks, not just one) and may not exceed 5 ft. in the longest dimension. Storied objects must be composed of relatively common material and those with a certain complexity or moving parts require a Perform (Oratory) skill check against the Crafting DC of the object to be created in a manner that actually is functional. Masterwork objects can similarly be created via Perform (oratory) versus DC 15, though failure by 5 or more provides a broken object instead. Storied Creatures can either be Medium or Small and share an array of base stats, with each additional eloquence spent providing one Hit Die to the storied creature. At 3HD and every 2 HD thereafter, the creature gains a feat of your choice and similarly, skills are covered. Stories remain in effect until they are removed more than 1 mile from the protean scribe, reduced to 0 hit points, willingly erased or the protean scribe regains eloquence.
Beginning at 4th level, the protean scribe may generate magical storied objects – this requires no less than 10 minutes and make Spellcraft check against Dc 10 + the item’s caster level + twice the number of spells listed in the item’s construction requirements. On a failure, only a mundane version is created. On a success, the scribe spends an additional 2 eloquence, plus additional eloquence depending on the item type and price: Consumable items are more expensive than non-consumables and the break-down is pretty simple.
Beginning at 2nd level, the protean scribe receives her class level as a bonus to Linguistics checks and at 5th level, she may write 60 words per round when writing mundane texts. She may even scribe scrolls for other characters, at the pace of 5 minutes per spell level. At 6th level, the protean scribe learns a so-called spell word, which is an SU duplication of a 1st level spell she may write 1/day sans expending eloquence; any subsequent use costs eloquence equal to the spell level. At 8th level and every 2 levels thereafter, the protean scribe learns an additional spell word for a higher level spell, as noted in the class table. The governing attribute for spell parameters is either Int or Wis, whichever is higher, and CL is equal to class level.
Now I’ve already mentioned primordial words: The protean scribe begins play with 3 of them and gains additional primordial words as the levels progress, up to a total of 13 known at level 20. Not all primordial words have effects for all types of writing, so there is a chance that a given word only has an effect on embellishments and storied creatures, for example. Unless I have miscounted, a total of 24 such primordial words are provided. With the exception of one word, they do not have prerequisites, since their effectiveness is directly tied to the bonuses e.g. embellishments grant. From adding different types of energy damage to phrases to providing temporary hit points, making storied creatures undead, the effects are wide and diverse and contain unique boons like the ability to seemingly occupy (one or more) contiguous adjacent square for the purpose of flanking, teamwork feats, etc. Disguise self (not properly italicized, as are other spell-references in one of the few glitches herein), adding senses to creatures, growing in size, SR, miss chances – the interesting component here is most certainly the means by which the effects are concisely capped via bonuses and the like.
Starting at 13th level, the protean scribe reduced the eloquence cost of the first primordial word added to a given piece of writing by 1. Starting at 17th level, the protean scribe may 1/day ignore the eloquence cost of a single primordial word and add it to her writing – whether she knows it or not. This ability can be used an additional time per day at 19th level.
Starting at 3rd level, protean scribes may inscribe harmful words directly onto foes: As a standard action she, may use a melee touch attack to affect targets with primordial words, but unlike utilizing phrases to deliver them thus, the target takes a -4 penalty to saves against it. At 9th level, the effect of phrases is also added to this. At 15th level, she may incur a penalty of -2 to such a tattoo combat attack to basically flurry versus all creatures within reach, applying the effects to each. OUCH!
Capstone-wise, protean scribes may select from gaining one permanent embellishing tattoo, Constitution bleed causing phrases or stories that have their eloquence cost reduced by 3..oh, and if the cost is reduced to 0 or below, the creature/object becomes permanent.
The class comes with no less than 5 archetypes: The scrollblade makes stylus and scrollblade a weapon and gains Two-Weapon Fighting at the expense of reduced eloquence and the loss of the Linguistics-enhancer. The worldwriter replaces phrases with the ability to write a demiplane in a book: At first, it is only a sensory experience, but at higher levels, you can enter it and even shove unwilling creatures inside. The Censor flips embellishments on their head, making them debuffs (yes, with proper language). Runewriters replace the creation of magic items via stories with Craft Wondrous Item – no wonder, they replace stories with a limited array of runes that are used as eloquence-powered spells. Orators may prepare writing in advance, though it only takes effect upon being spoken aloud – this does not require a stylus or writing material. Instead of tattoo combat, orators get increasingly powerful taunts that duplicate the effects of phrases, at higher levels even against mindless targets.
The pdf also contains a total of 6 feats: More range for phrases, higher DCs, making stories linger when refreshing eloquence, extra eloquence, recovering a bit of eloquence when erasing a story or adding eidolon evolutions to storied creatures…all possible.
Editing and formatting are good or very good, depending on how you look at it: On a formal level, there isn’t much to complain about, even though the italicization-missing spells annoyed me. On the plus-side, the internal formatting of the class is precise and to the point and I can field no complaints there. The rules-language is similarly rather precise, particularly for the complexity of the subjet matter. Layout adheres to the beautiful two-column full-color standard used for NeoExodus-supplements and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. the artworks featured herein are absolutely gorgeous. The pdf comes with minimalistic bookmarks for general sections, but not e.g. individual words, but at this length that’s still okay.
So, the protean scribe is a class that you will either love or hate – if raw damage is what you’re looking for, then there may be better choices. I won’t lie, this is a class that, on paper, didn’t look like it would have too much staying power or too fun in play. I was pretty wrong in that regard, as the playtest showed. While it takes a bit to grasp how the system works (presentation here could be a little smoother), Michael McCarthy’s class actually played rather well – in a 15-pt.-buy context, I needed no nerfing and at higher point-buys, it still worked rather well, though eloquence is a conservative resource; you will want to take that extra eloquence feat as soon as possible.
Role-wise, we have a support-class here, but one that exceeds in spontaneous modularity just about every class I know and has some serious crazy-prepared tricks written into it. The option to create glowy creatures and objects can offer a TON of fun and roleplaying potential. In a pure hack-and-slash campaign, the protean scribe may be useful, but she shines brightest in an intrigue and roleplaying-heavy campaign where there is a lot of problem-solving beyond “I bash its brains in” – in such scenarios, the flexibility of the class becomes absolutely impressive and extremely rewarding.
As a word of warning – more so than the bard, for example, the protean scribe is a jack-of-all-trades; this does mean that it requires really understanding the class, which could have been made a bit easier from a didactic point of view. (Explaining primordial word use in the primordial word section again, for example.)
Beyond that, though, there is one aspect that will determine whether you enjoy the class: Your own creativity. In an interesting way, the focus on creativity inherent in the act of writing the protean scribe uses, also extends to the player: The more creative the player, the more fun and efficient will the protean scribe be. In short: The class can reward improvisation rather well and does so beyond the confines we usually see in class design. I know a bunch of classes with modular systems; Bradley Crouch delivers them rather often and in crisp precision and detail. However, this class may not reach that level of precision, but it does make up for it in creativity. Younger players that are frustrated by the confinements of most classes in particular, provided they grasp the rules/have them explained, have enunciated that they were more than pleased with the protean scribe class.
In short: This class, even after the literally hundreds of classes for Pathfinder I’ve reviewed, feels fresh in its playing experience and remains reigned in, in spite of its wide-open focus. Ultimately, beyond didactics, there is but one gripe I do have: We can really use more primordial words for this fellow. Well, that and the TWF-archetype is a horrible trap – melee focus (instead of last-ditch resort) with d6 HD? Not a good idea. If you want to know a quick analogue for the class – to me, it feels like “Read or Die” – the class, with the focus taken away from the medium of paper and geared towards the content itself. But how to rate this? See, that’s where things get tricky – I *really* like the class herein, but, in a rare case, I actually believe it could have used a bit more eloquence per level; plus, it does have a trap option; while the rules are pretty clear, their presentation could be a bit clearer…but at the same time, this was met pretty enthusiastically and does offer a novel playing experience unlike any I’ve seen in a while. So how to rate this? Well, the engine can be modified pretty easily sans breaking the class, which is a good thing indeed.
Oh, and it allows for truly astonishing flexibility. This may not be perfect…but I don’t often find myself enjoying a class to this extent. If you’re looking for a class where creativity and flexibility are the bread and butter, you’ll love the protean scribe. In the end, I will settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, and while I’d love to round up, the pdf could be slightly more refined in the presentation of its concepts and the class could use favored class options…so I’ll have to round down. But since I really, really enjoy some things this guy lets me do, I’ll still slap my seal of approval on this guy. Can we have more material for this great class?
You can get this unique, evocative and creativity-rewarding class here on OBS!