Iconic Design – Cackles and Quips

Ryan here, taking over for Alex to expand upon my latest PFS character, as mentioned in the banter segment of Know Direction episode 172.

My understanding of Hollywood changed when I heard The Joker described as a dream character for actors. No longer were super hero movies the bottom rung of the action genre. No longer was playing this famous character -arguably comic’s most recognizable villain- the subject of bribery (in Jack Nicholson’s case) or ridicule (in Mark Hamill’s case [and yes, in the 90s when Star Wars was making its mainstream comeback, Mark Hamill was mocked for having fallen so far as to need to take voice work). This is a different Bat-time and a different Bat-channel, and I will be stepping into the modest shoes of the Clown Prince of Crimes and playing a character based on The Joker.

Build Concept

Any information important to understanding the build or its roots goes here.

  • Classes: Witch (cartomancer) 8, alchemist 3
  • Race: Gnome (dread gnome)
  • Feats: Extra Hex (cackle) (1st), Deadly Dealer (2nd) (B), Accursed Hex (3rd), Improved Initiative (5th), Spell Focus (enchantment) (7th)
  • Class Features: Patron (insanity), hex (evil eye), spell deck, deliver touch spells, alchemy, bomb, brew potion, mutagen, throw anything, discovery (concentrate poison), poison resistance +2, poison use, Bomb 2d6, swift alchemy, hex (misfortune), hex (scar), hex (charm)

Play Description

My ultimate goal with this build is to mess with expectations in as many ways as possible. That extends beyond what I do in character, such as choosing a prone Hero Forge miniature. It’s not a pose I thought I would ever order, but I love how it captures iconic image of The Joker letting loose.

I now regret not adding a mustache to the figure to paint over as a Cesar Romero homage.


Even though The Joker is usually depicted as quite tall (6′ 5″ according to The Joker Wiki), I built a gnome. I love a good gnome, and when I’m playing a character with a few screws loose, it’s my go-to race. I took a subrace (dread gnome) for a few reasons, one of which was to look like a gnome but do things most gnomes don’t do and be unable to do what gnomes are known for (specifically, speak with animals). Mechanically, the gnome’s small size and Con bonus are good for survivability, which is nice since I won’t be putting a lot of effort into defense otherwise. The Charisma bonus is key to the character, and while I would have liked to have found a Charisma-based class, having both high Intelligence and Charisma is important for the concept, and gives me a lot of skill flexibility.

This build started as a gunslinger that can shoot laughing gas bullets, but PFS-legality issues forced the idea to evolve. I ditched virtually everything from that original concept except the laughing gas when I realized the witch was far better for the concept, what with all the messing with people and cackling. The levels of alchemist I took were for the chemist elements of the character (more the weapons he uses than the time we see him in a lab). It ended up synergizing extremely well with witch as they are both Intelligence-based backline characters, with a shared theme of manipulation, complimentary skill lists, and the major deficit of one (the witch’s limited damage-dealing options) made up by a 1st level class feature of the other (bombs!). 

The only witch class feature that wasn’t perfect for my build was a big one: the familiar. Instead of trying to find the most Joker-appropriate familiar (sadly, hyena is not a legal familiar), I used the handy archetypes alternate class features chart on d20pfsrd to see if any witches dumped their familiars like so many Bob The Goons. It ends up that’s a common class feature for witches to drop, and none replaces it as perfectly as the cartomancer. Replacing the pet with a deck of cards? That can be thrown as a weapon?


I went pretty typical for hexes, although because the cartomancer gives up the 2nd level hex, I had to take the Extra Hex feat early or else wait until 4th level to gain cackle. I could have taken it as my first and only hex for four levels, of course, but it is literally useless without another hex to use it on. I make suboptimal choices for flavour with just about every character I make, but that’s past even my acceptable limit. 

Speaking of suboptimal choices for flavour, scar is hardly the best hex, but it has its uses. Mainly I took it to put a smile on NPC faces.

I took a fun witchy spell at 1st level, one I don’t remember ever seeing before. Discern next of kin tells me intimate details about a target’s family. Combined with message and a maxed out Intimidate score and we have Joker-brand fun. The insanity patron grants me hideous laughter, which is important to this build for obvious reasons, and a spell I just assumed was on the vanilla witch list. At least it was tied to my first choice of patron so I didn’t need to make logical leaps to justify taking it. I would have liked shocking grasp but am willing to let that go. As on-brief as a deadly joy buzzer spell would be, I doubt I’ll be going into melee enough to make the spell worth the effort of getting, and delivering it via Deadly Dealer blurs the visual I would be going for. I already have bestow curse (part of my Fel Magic as a dread gnome) and inflict wounds to deliver at range with the flick of a wrist.

For the alchemist side of my build, I debated finding an archetype that swaps out mutagen.  I’ve only played the character once and I took witch at 1st level so I still can go back and change this, but I was OK keeping it because the Arkham Asylum game set the precedence for The Joker mutating himself. It’s not why that character is remembered in that game and more to serve the needs of a video game end boss, but it happened:

I hoped I would be able to translate the bombs into either the chattering teeth from Arkham Asylum, or an acid spraying lapel flower, but either option took more than the one discovery my alchemist levels gain me. Feats are not an important part of this build so far, though, so I could look into subbing out some of my choices for Extra Discovery.

The Joker is a character that has been interpreted in so many ways. I went for a manipulative mastermind with my build, but it’s not the only way I could have built Quippy. If you have any ideas for options you think I missed or other directions a Joker build could go, I would love to hear about them.

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game has turned into an empire of gamers talking about their games. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as a co-host of the flagship podcast, Know Direction.


  1. What were the discoveries needed for going with the chattering teeth or the acid-squirting flower, for those of us willing to trade out a feat for Extra Discovery?

  2. Thanks, Marlynn! I love them!

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