Iconic Design: Merci, Cheri

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to look at an Iconic Design for Gambit, of X-Men fame.

Today’s August 1st! That means we at the Private Sanctuary Podcast are starting our special theme month: Harrow Month! All this month the lot of us will be talking about Harrowers, things you can do with Harrow cards, and much, much more! For me, that means that I’ll be spending the month of August doing cool Iconic Designs that involve Harrow Options. Since this article is likely to kick off Harrow Month, I felt that I needed something BIG to get everyone excited, and what gets more people excited than X-Men!

Let’s begin, mes amis!


So today I’ll be doing Gambit, who is an iconic member of the X-Men, a super hero team that I probably don’t need to explain to most nerds. For those of you who don’t know, the X-Men are humans born with mutant powers. Gambit’s power is to make whatever he touches explode; he’s sort of like a super-destructive version of King Midas. He is a very suave, very charming Cajun man with an accent to boot. He’s seen most often fighting with a staff, but he loves to use his powers to throw playing cards that explode after a few seconds at enemies. He’s part thug, part charmer, and all awesome.

Build Concept

Gambit’s love of cards makes him the perfect candidate for Harrow month. Let’s look at how we’re going to build Gambit today.

  • Magus (Card Caster): The card caster is an awesome magus archetype out of the Harrow Handbook (a product that you really do need if you want to make a Harrow-themed character). It has the ability to transform any deck of cards into a pack of ammunition as long as you have at least one point in your arcane pool. It can enhance these darts with its arcane pool and even spellstrike any touch spell or ranged spell through the cards. All around, it is very nasty and it will serve our purposes for a “boom boom BOOM” power for Gambit well.
  • Magus (Staff Magus): It’s pretty awesome that these two archetypes stack. Staff Magus will make Gambit very effective at wielding quarterstaffs, going as far to give him a shield bonus to his AC while wielding one. In all, Gambit’s staff is more for offense than defense and that’s just fine by us: buys him some much-needed time to throw more exploding cards at people.

In its own way, this build is like some sort of freaky, arcane switch-hitter build. (A switch-hitter is a character that can swap between melee and ranged styles rather quickly to try and fake out opponents). Gambit isn’t quite as good as a ranger at this, but as you’ll soon see he is a force to be reckoned with.

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: Magus (Card Caster, Staff Magus) 7
  • Favored Class Bonus: +1/4 Arcane Points (7)
  • Feats: Deadly Dealer (Bonus), Quarterstaff Master (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (Human), Cosmopolitan (1st), Precise Shot (3rd), Quick Draw (Bonus), Weapon Focus: quarterstaff (5th), Weapon Specialization: quarterstaff (7th),
  • Abilities: Arcane Pool Focus (Int + 1/2 Magus Level), Harrowed Spellstrike, Knowledge Pool, Magus Arcana (arcane accuracy), Quarterstaff Defense, Role Dealer, Spell Recall

Can you feel the suave, Cajun goodness already? Let’s talk a little about Gambit’s opening levels. First, the fact that Card Caster and Staff Magus stack is amazingly cool. Its one of my favorite archetype pairings in the game because the combination frontloads several cool feats on you at first level: Quarterstaff Master and Deadly Dealer. For the first few levels, I grabbed Point-Blank Shot and Cosmopolitan. I took Point-Blank Shot because realistically speaking, Gambit is going to do more fighting with his cards than his staff at low levels. The reason you want to focus at the throwing is Arcane Pool Focus and at 2nd level, Harrowed Spellstrike. These abilities only modify your thrown weapons, making your card–darts your powerhouse attacks. I grabbed Cosmopolitan because Gambit is suave and sexy; he speaks a decent number of languages and Cosmopolitan allows us to add Diplomacy and Bluff to Gambit’s list of class skills, which he absolutely needs to be faithful to his comic self. Its true that you could have taken traits to accomplish this, but taking Cosmopolitan frees you up for other fun traits, like Bladed Magic, which allows your arcane pool enhancements to last for 1 additional minute.

One of the really nice things about Harrowed Spellstrike as opposed to ordinary spellstrike is that you can spellstrike with any ranged spell in addition to touch attack spells. This means that you can eventually spellstrike with fireball, using your darts to center and deliver the spell. Arcane Pool Focus will allow eventually allow you to add brilliant energy to your playing cards, which is both thematic and awesome.

For Gambit’s spells, you want the biggest, most explosive spells that you can find. Pick fire over all other types of elements, though if you’re a PC doing this for yourself rather than being identical to Gambit, you can pick basically whatever you want for your spells. (And you probably should. Just know that Gambit’s one trick is making people explode all over the place.)

For one last piece of advice, take the extra arcane points from the human favored class bonus. Arcane Points are fun.

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: Magus (Card Caster, Staff Magus) 14
  • Favored Class Bonus: +1/4 Arcane Points (14)
  • Feats: Deadly Dealer (Bonus), Quarterstaff Master (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (Human), Cosmopolitan (1st), Precise Shot (3rd), Quick Draw (Bonus), Weapon Focus: quarterstaff (5th), Weapon Specialization: quarterstaff (7th), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Improved Trip (11th), Tripping Staff (13th)
  • Abilities: Arcane Pool Focus (Int + 1/2 Magus Level), Harrowed Spellstrike, Improved Spell Combat, Knowledge Pool, Magus Arcana (arcane accuracy, lingering pain, maneuver mastery: trip), Quarterstaff Defense, Role Dealer, Spell Recall, Staff Weapon

Oh Gambit, let’s talk about how bonkers you are at the Mid Levels. One of my favorite magus arcana for this build is lingering pain, and the only reason I didn’t take it sooner is that Gambit is going to need the extra to-hit power from arcane accuracy. (Feel free to disagree and take these two abilities in any order that you like). Lingering pain allows Gambit to throw a card at an enemy spellcaster with spell combat, spellstrike with that card for tons of damage, and then the caster has to succeed on a massive concentration check in order to do anything useful. (DC 10 + the damage you dealt + the spell’s level). Depending on what you spellstrike with, that DC can be pretty scary.

Towards the end of this level bracket, Gambit picks up the tripping line, which allows him to incapacitate martial opponents as well, if he is so inclined. The nice thing about tripping is that if you trip an enemy, you gain a +4 bonus on attack rolls to attack it (tripped opponents have a –4 to their AC against martial attacks, which is the same as a +4 to your roll). In order to make tripping easier, I’ve given Gambit the maneuver mastery arcana with trip.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: Magus (Card Caster, Staff Magus) 20
  • Favored Class Bonus: +1/4 Arcane Points (20)
  • Feats: Deadly Dealer (Bonus), Quarterstaff Master (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (Human), Cosmopolitan (1st), Precise Shot (3rd), Quick Draw (Bonus), Weapon Focus: quarterstaff (5th), Weapon Specialization: quarterstaff (7th), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Improved Trip (11th), Tripping Staff (13th), Disruptive (Bonus), Tripping Twirl (15th), Lunge (Bonus), Combat Reflexes (17th), Spellbreaker (18th), Greater Trip (19th)
  • Abilities: Arcane Pool Focus (Int + 1/2 Magus Level), Harrowed Spellstrike, Improved Spell Combat, Knowledge Pool, Magus Arcana (arcane accuracy, disruptive, lingering pain, maneuver mastery: trip, spellbreaker), Quarterstaff Defense, Role Dealer, Spell Recall, Staff Weapon

The end of Gambit’s career helps him do what he does best: shut down everyone ever. By grabbing Disruptive and Spellbreaker as magus, you are able to use spell combat to throw a Deadly Dealer card at your target spellcaster from 10 feet away, take a 5-foot step to be adjacent to them, and then wallop them with your staff. If the caster is brave enough to try and cast defensively next to you, its DC increases by +4 thanks to Disruptive and if it fails to concentrate (it probably will), you get an attack of opportunity.

If that wasn’t enough, you can also use Tripping Twirl to knock over all of your enemies if you’re surrounded. You can even use Lunge to trip foes that are far away from you. Sadly, you can’t use Tripping Twirl during a spell combat as written, but no matter what you fight you have options that will help you take down foes, especially humanoids.


Personally, I don’t think Gambit is Mythic. If we’re talking X-Men, mutants like Professor X, Jean Grey (as Phoenix), Magneto, and other Omega-class mutants are Mythic. That said, if I was designing a Mythic Build for Gambit, it would likely be a mix of Trickster and Champion, with a path dabbling in Archmage to grab the ability to recast a prepared spell as a swift action for a use of mythic power. I would focus on grabbing things that reduced penalties for Gambit, because he sure as heck has a lot of them. Improved Trip (Mythic) would also be a good choice for Gambit. Mythic Spellcasting to improve his damage-dealing spells would also be a must.

And there you have it; a card-casting staff-twirling build for Gambit! What did you think? Is this the Gambit build that you’ve been dreaming of? What could I have done better? Is this a build you could see yourself or a player at your table using? Leave your questions and comments below and come back next week for another Iconic Design — Harrow Month style!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune card caster, and he wonders why no one did a Card Captors archetype for the summoner in the Harrow Handbook. That could have been neat.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at http://www.everybodygames.net, or support him personally on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg.

PaizoCon 2014 Coverage
PaizoCon 2014 Coverage


  1. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    This is real nice! Though, I think this may be the only Magus build I’ve seen that doesn’t include Arcane Strike 😛

    Another option to add to this is the Rough and Ready trait, as long as you pick something like Profession (gambler) or (card player) or something. With cards being a ‘tool of the trade’ you could then use them as weapons. Plus, you get a +1 trait bonus to attack rolls. Combine with Arcane Strike and you’re throwing around magical playing cards (as long as you have the Caster Level to power Arcane Strike).

    Question, does Gambit get a +5 bonus to seduce the “Rouge” class? 😉

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      You could totally grab Arcane Strike if you want to. Personally, I don’t know what I’d give up for it though. One of the nice things about the Card Caster archetype is that it allows you to use Deadly Dealer without needing Arcane Strike, after all. Plus when you get the ability to add the brilliant enhancement to your deck, you sort of stop caring about your attack bonus against everything save constructs and undead.

      As for the bonus on seducing Rouge, the answer is “Yes, unless you’re playing in the X-Men Evolution campaign setting, where she’s like eight years younger than Gambit and the possibility of romance starts looking icky.” (Rogue is basically the Jubilee character in Evolution, as in the “new girl” whose arrival explains to the viewer what, exactly, the X-Men are all about.)

  2. Isn’t Gambit Omega Class?

  3. Found this quite interesting, and is possibly the first straight human character I’ve felt like playing in a while. Yes I know how strong the almighty bonus feat is, but I’ve always steered away from humans for some reason.

    Anyways, the reason for my posting here is this: If this were jumping into a PF campaign that allowed Gestalt (but restricted it to 2 classes not counting PrC’s, one class on each “track”) how might this build change? What class would you Gestalt in?

    I also thought the 3pp Archetype Spellhammer might be an interesting addition for extra damage. If it’s allowed I was thinking to try to bring in something with a decent spell progression (more spell slots, higher spell levels) with that archetype. What do you think?

  4. Super sad to notice this, but you can’t actually take weapon specialization with this character. Gambit gives up fighter training for Staff Weapon as a Staff Magus. I suppose that’s where you could grab arcane strike?

    • Oh man, I forgot that Quarterstaff Master allows you to take it without being a fighter.

      • For real, though, I don’t think you can use fireball with harrowed spellstrike. It specifies that the spell can only target one person, and fireball doesn’t target people. Also, people not person. Unfortunate, though.

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