General Prestige Class : Charlatan
by Nicolas Logue, Dragon #335
There are those who pretend at power, and there are those who excel at this pretense. Anyone can dress up in an embroidered robe with hocus-pocus symbols on it or toss on a phony holy symbol and play cleric. Anyone might fool a dull-witted guard or a couple of simple peasant folk, but to convince an entire kingdom of your unquestionable arcane might or walk among anointed clerics as one of their own takes a true charlatan.
Wizards and sorcerers spend their lives in pursuit of the arcane secrets that grant them ultimate power. Clerics devote themselves to celestial powers in hopes of someday eternally serving their divine masters. The charlatan mocks both with her uncanny ability at deception, pretending at the power others seek without wasting her time with prayer or dusty tomes of magic. She lives by the age-old adage, "power perceived is power achieved." The charlatan can convince nearly anyone that she is an archmage or a pious cleric of a religious order. Whether the charlatan plays the part for power, profit, general mayhem, or her own inscrutable ends, her talents help her pass for the real thing. By the time anyone realizes otherwise she has long since moved on, with a faked death or a mysterious disappearance creating yet another legend.
Bards and rogues most often become charlatans, snubbing their noses at stuffy uptight spellcasters. Occasionally, sorcerers or wizards who tire of the arduous path to arcane power give up the pursuit of magic and take up the mantle of the charlatan instead. These former practitioners of arcane magic make some of the most successful charlatans, as a little true power can go a long way in convincing others of assumed archmage status. Clerics who have fallen from grace sometimes become charlatans out of scorn for their former brethren. These charlatans use their deceptive tricks to sully the name of the church that turned its back on them. Deities who provide the Trickery domain sometimes even encourage their clerics to become charlatans as a means of causing greater discord. Charisma is the key ability for any charlatan, although a high Intelligence also frequently proves useful.
To qualify to become a Charlatan, a character must fulfill all the following criteria:
- Skills: Bluff 8 ranks, Knowledge (arcana) 2 ranks or Knowledge (religion) 2 ranks, Performer (act) 4 ranks, Spellcraft 2 ranks
- Feats: Skill Focus (Bluff),
The charlatan's class skills are Appraise, Bluff, Concentration, Craft (Any), Diplomacy, Disguise, Forgery, Gather Information, Intimidate, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (religion), Listen, Move Silently, Perform, Profession, Search, Sleight of Hand, Speak Language, Spellcraft, Spot, and Use Magic Device.
Skill Points at Each Level: 6 + Int modifier.
As she gains experience, a charlatan accrues a number of abilities that allow her to convince others of her magical prowess. At later levels she even gains the ability to shut down real spellcasters with nothing but guile. None of the charlatan's abilities are supernatural in any way. They are extraordinary effects and therefore do not need to bypass spell resistance (although saving throws are still allowed) and are not affected by an antimagic field, dispel magic, or similar effect. The charlatan relies on her skills and natural Charisma to turn the mundane into the seemingly mysterious and magical.
Unless otherwise noted, the save DC for any of the following effects equals 10 + the charlatan's class level + her Charisma modifier.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: The charlatan gains no proficiency with any weapons or armor.
False Reputation (Ex): Every good charlatan knows that her reputation must precede her. Spreading tales of her greatness far and wide, she creates the facade of her legendary stature as a spellcaster. Anyone inquiring after the charlatan with a bardic knowledge, Gather Information, or Knowledge check turns up false tales; gossip, and specific "facts" which corroborate her claim to greatness, unless the check result exceeds the DC by 10 or more.
Pretender (Ex): A charlatan focuses her talents in impersonating arcane and divine spellcasters. She gains a circumstance bonus on Disguise checks equal to her charlatan level when attempting to pass as a spellcaster.
Tricks of the Trade (Ex): A charlatan learns of the creation and implementation of flash paper, smoke powder, and other alchemical mixtures that she can use to emulate the effects of certain spells. These are alchemical in nature, and therefore do not need to bypass spell resistance (although saving throws are still allowed) and are not affected by antimagic field, dispel magic, or similar effects. The charlatan can use these tricks a number of times per day equal to 1 + her charlatan level + her Charisma modifier, and her effective caster level equals her charlatan level.
At 1st level the charlatan can duplicate the effects of burning hands and flare.
At 3rd level the charlatan can duplicate the effects of glitterdust, obscuring mist, and pyrotechnics.
Feigned Casting (Ex): At and level, the time a charlatan practices imitating gestures and arcane words pays off, allowing her to pretend to cast any arcane or divine spell (as appropriate to her disguise). Onlookers must defeat the charlatan's Bluff check with an opposed Spellcraft or Sense Motive check to detect the ruse. Those who fail this check believe the charlatan cast a spell, per her desire. The charlatan cannot fake a spell with an obvious visual effect, such as fireball or wall of stone, but spells such as detect magic and mind blank are perfect examples. Those who cannot both see and hear the charlatan gain a +4 bonus on their opposed checks. The charlatan's false spell does not affect its targets and any creature targeted knows the "spell" had no effect.
Fortune Teller's Eye (Ex): At 2nd level the charlatan learns to scrutinize a subject with the trained eye of a con artist. By picking up on a person's attire, bearing, and habits, the charlatan may discern general facts about a subject creature. This requires 1 minute of observation and a successful DC 20 Sense Motive check. If the target attempts to conceal the truths of its nature the charlatan's Sense Motive check is opposed by the target's Disguise check (minimum DC 20). Success allows the charlatan to discern one aspect of the target's alignment, basic class abilities, and relative power (based on level). This ability reveals only general information about the target, such as, "This disciplined fellow nearly always follows the letter and spirit of the law. He is obviously a warrior of some sort, but his skills are not yet developed." The charlatan can feign powers of divination with this ability by stating her mundane deductions as if ascertained through arcane power or divine revelation.
Steal the Credit (Ex): The charlatan learns to convince others that great deeds and earthshaking events are actually her doing She gains a +4 competence bonus on any Bluff check made to take credit for naturally occurring phenomena (gathering thunderclouds, an earthquake, or even the natural end of a drought or plague) or a deed performed by another.
Fearsome Reputation (Ex): Beginning at 3rd level, a charlatan's false reputation increases in potency as the tales of her power become even more outrageous and terrifying. The charlatan can draw upon the reputation she has created for herself, declaring her power to all around her. As a full-round action, she may make a Bluff check to render anyone who can hear her shaken for 1d4 rounds. A creature can make an opposed Sense Motive check to resist this mind-affecting language-dependent effect. Any creature succeeding at the Sense Motive check is immune to the charlatan's fearsome reputation ability for one week. The shaken effect does not stack with itself; so a charlatan cannot use it to make a target frightened.
Lesser Mind Trick (Ex): Also at 3rd level, the charlatan gains the ability to convince others that she has cast a spell that affects their minds. Through sheer force of will the charlatan can make a Bluff check as a full-round action to affect her target's mind in a way that duplicates the effect of charm person, command, scare (one creature only), or Tasha's hideous laughter. A creature can make an opposed Sense Motive check to resist this mind-affecting language-dependent effect. Any creature succeeding at the Sense Motive check is immune to the charlatan's lesser mind trick ability for one week. The charlatan can use these tricks a number of times per day equal to 1 + her charlatan level + her Charisma modifier, and her effective caster level equals her charlatan level. Spells with durations longer than an hour fade after 1 hour has passed unless the charlatan is present to maintain it.
Master of Lies (Ex): At 4th level the charlatan becomes so submerged in her false reputation that any divination spells cast on her reveal only information appropriate to her assumed identity and nothing about her true self.
Fake Healing (Ex): A charlatan's powers of persuasion are so great by 4th level that she can convince the afflicted that she has cured them. The charlatan can duplicate the effects of atonement, remove curse, or remove disease a number of times per day equal to 1 + her charlatan level + her Charisma modifier, and her effective caster level equals her charlatan level. None of these abilities actually heal their targets, but unless the targets beat the charlatan at an opposed Bluff check (opposed by Sense Motive) they believe the "spell" healed them for 1d4 hours (although they still incur all penalties caused by any "healed" ailments).
Distracting Dispel (Ex): In order to prove herself against true wielders of magic, the 4th-level charlatan learns to use every dirty trick in the book. By preparing a standard action ahead of time, a charlatan may feign a counterspell attempt against another caster. To do this, the charlatan must prepare to counterspell as normal and make a Bluff check (opposed by her target's Concentration check). The spellcaster gains a +2 bonus on this check if he cannot both see and hear the charlatan and is immune to the distracting dispel if he cannot see or hear her. If she succeeds her target loses the spell being cast as if the charlatan had counterspelled it normally.
As an additional use of this ability, the charlatan can attempt to disrupt the concentration of a spellcaster concentrating on an already cast spell. The ability check is made and resisted in the manner previously described, and a successful Bluff check ends the spell being concentrated on.
Because this ability requires the charlatan to reveal all her tricks, she may only use it (in either form) once per day against any particular spellcaster.
Greater Mind Trick (Ex): At the height of her "power," the charlatan learns to convince others that she has cast more powerful spells. She may cast bestow curse (only curses that do not change the target's physical features), crushing despair (one creature only), fear (one creature only), and suggestion. The charlatan can use these tricks a number of times per day equal to 1 + her charlatan level + her Charisma modifier, and her effective caster level equals her charlatan level. Spells with durations longer than an hour fade after 1 hour has passed unless the charlatan is present to maintain them.
Puppet Master (Ex): The charlatan's ultimate power allows her to influence the attitudes of whole population centers, bending the wills of the people to love or hate whomever the charlatan wishes. This ability requires one full day of rumor mongering, giving speeches, and assembling mobs of supporters. At the beginning of the following day the charlatan makes a Bluff check to shift the population center's attitude one step (such as from friendly to helpful or indifferent to unfriendly), so it takes five consecutive days of successes to shift a community's attitude from helpful to hostile or vice versa. The DC for this check equals 15+5 per community size. A thorp, therefore, requires only a DC 20 Bluff check to influence, while a large town's DC is 40 and a metropolis needs a DC 55 check.
The DM should set the population center's attitude toward a public figure. In general, unless the target is a known criminal or a hated leader the community's attitude should be no worse than indifferent. If the target of the charlatan's puppet master effect actively attempts to counter the charlatan in appropriate ways the DM can adjust the DC as follows:
|Giving speeches, spreading rumors, assembling mobs||+2|
|Distributing personal wealth or providing food||+5|
|Devoting all available time to maintain image||+10|
|Charlatan||Hit Die: d6|
|1st||+0||+0||+0||+2||False reputation, pretender, tricks of the trade|
|2nd||+1||+0||+0||+3||Feigned casting, fortune teller's eye, steal the credit|
|3rd||+2||+1||+1||+3||Fearsome reputation, lesser mind trick|
|4th||+3||+1||+1||+4||Distracting Dispel, fake healing, master of lies|
|5th||+3||+1||+1||+4||Greater mind trick, puppet master|
Playing a Charlatan
As a master of deceit, the charlatan walks a dangerous line. Pretending at powers you do not possess provides both a challenge and a thrill. Bluff is intrinsic to a charlatan's survival, but juggling lies is like juggling knives - not entirely safe. If caught in a lie, a charlatan must have the skill to talk in circles and to carry herself with confidence and an air of mystery - even in the face of great danger. Most people never think to question her power, but if they do she always manages to convince them of it.
As with any con artist, confidence is tantamount for a charlatan. She relies upon her skills to see her through and never wavers in the face of a nonbeliever. Her gift of gab allows her to explain away inconsistencies in her portrayal of a cleric or wizard. A charlatan's potent imagination is her best weapon. When faced with a situation that threatens to expose her as a fraud the charlatan concocts perfectly plausible excuses for why she can't cast or pray herself a solution to every problem. She talks her way out of using her "powers" whenever able. A true charlatan claims to reserve her potent spells and prayers for only the direst situations. If called to the test she stages elaborate stunts involving hired help, optical illusions, and alchemical equipment to demonstrate her magical might.
A charlatan might gain rewards as great as the magical prowess she pretends to possess. The satisfaction of deceiving an entire town or even kingdom gives her as much reward as gold. A charlatan rarely passes up the chance to pull the wool over someone's eyes.
Combat: Charlatans avoid combat if at all possible. They attempt to stop fights before they start with a display of power or the promise of deific destruction if an opponent dares attack. If a foe is implacable, the charlatan seeks to delay confrontation until such time as she can prepare tricks and stunts to harm enemies or frighten them. When a confrontation looms a charlatan uses her false reputation to curry favor with powerful associates and sway allies to her defense. If all else fails, the charlatan might even fake her death rather than face it at the hands of a foe.
If forced to defend herself; a charlatan falls hack on her tricks of the trade and mind trick abilities. If facing imminent defeat in public, she loudly proclaims that her powers are temporarily unavailable to her or have no effect on the attacker for some reason, in hopes of preserving some shred of her false reputation. She uses her Bluff skill to turn foes against one another whenever able.
When facing other spellcasters, the charlatan attempts to convince them they are no match for her superior powers. If forced to duel them she attempts to stage displays of her might and embarrass the enemy caster with her distracting dispel class feature.
Charlatans in the World
The charlatan might appear nearly anywhere: from standing on a street corner posing as a missionary cleric to sitting by an emperor's side as his personal archmage. Some wander from town to town while others cultivate their reputations in a single place. A charlatan's roots never grow too deep, though. If revealed as a fraud a charlatan prefers to beat a hasty retreat than to face the music.
Organization: Charlatans often live solitary lives and rarely act in concert. As lying is central to their lifestyle, not surprisingly charlatans have a difficult time trusting one another. On rare occasions two or more charlatans might go into business with one another for short periods of time. Such a partnership, while it lasts, creates a terrible force to be reckoned with. Two charlatans working together can hatch all manner of complex and insidious cons, scams, and schemes. A common trick among charlatan partnerships can fleece an entire town by pitting one against the other in a scheme of "good wizard/bad wizard." One charlatan arrives, putting on a show and intimidating the folk, while the other strolls into town a few days later offering to rid the township of the "villainous mage" for a not-so-modest fee. A grand wizards' duel ensues in which the "good wizard" vanquishes the "evil wizard." The victorious charlatan departs town the following day, meeting up with her companion on the road and splitting the reward money.
Although charlatans do not trust one another, an unspoken pact exists among all true charlatans. No charlatan ever publicly exposes another. A charlatan who violates this covenant finds herself hunted by her brethren with frightening vehemence.
People never react well to a charlatan revealed as a fraud. Charlatans captured after abusing the trust of a community often do not fare well, facing imprisonment at the least - and in some cases execution.
On occasion, a ruler might spare an unmasked charlatan. Most leaders can always use a good liar and a powerful patron might intervene to save an exposed charlatan in order to use her to some end. A powerful wizard might even hire the charlatan to act as an evil wizard so he can defeat the charlatan publicly in order to gain notoriety. A cleric of a faith seeking converts might force the charlatan to impersonate a cleric from a rival order and then defeat her to gain more faithful for the flock.
Uncovering truthful information about a specific charlatan almost always proves impossible and such attempts yield only tales of a charlatan's greatness per her false reputation ability. Characters may research charlatans in general and make a Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (religion) check to do so.
A check reveals all the information for the appropriate DC plus all the information for lower DCs as well.
- DC 10: "Charlatans don't really exist. They are only urban legends spread by paranoid wizards."
- DC 15: "Charlatans are con artists who pretend to be wizards or clerics. They prey upon small firming communities, fleecing simple folk out of their coin."
- DC 20: "Charlatans are skilled tricksters who often succeed in convincing those they meet that they are actually powerful spellcasters. They can even mimic some of the powers of real sorcerers and clerics."
- DC 30: "A true charlatan is so skilled that she can even fool those she pretends to be. Some even take part in ceremonies with real clerics, wizards, and sorcerers without being noticed."
Charlatans in the Game
Charlatans allow a DM to throw a curve ball at experienced players by presenting them with an apparent archmage beyond the party's power level to intimidate and embarrass them. Imagine the players' chagrin when they finally discover they've been had, and their subsequent joy at the revenge they take on the offending charlatan.
The charlatan is a natural choice for players who enjoy guile over power, and who appreciate roleplaying encounters more than straight-up combat Besides presenting a single player with a challenging and fun option, a charlatan brings unique assets to a group of PCs. With a skilled charlatan in the group adventurers can convince enemies to give them a wide berth and possibly even gain the attention of monarchs, nobles, and other powerful patrons attracted by the charlatan's false reputation. In addition, a charlatan can enhance her powers by including the rest of the party in her schemes. With others helping to stage simple stunts or even pretending to be under the sway of enchantments, the charlatan finds it even easier to convince the public of her power. Charlatans often prove their usefulness in an adventuring party even if their antics get the group into trouble every now and again.
Source: Dragon #335