My new tablet (Wacom Intuos 3 USB — the much larger than it looks A5 variant) has arrived, and I got it to work.
The trick is to throw out the stock kernel modules and use the linuxwacom ones instead. Edit xorg.conf (yast2 doesn't add a pad section for the tablet's expresskeys and the strips), configure the strips and expresskeys using wacomcpl (written to ~/.xinitrc / ~/.xsession), enable the new inputs in GIMP and inskcape (without worrying too much what the funny numbers or the "disabled" buttons mean), set up a good work environment in the GIMP (like you've been meaning to forever — I'm left handed, so all the tools and dialogs go to the left so I can rest my hand while drawing if I want; for me, that's tools, custom colour palette, brushes/fonts/gradients/patterns in the leftmost colum; paths, layers, tool options in the next column, and the rest of the screen estate for the actual image), and you're ready to roll: Then, it's just a matter of learning to draw on a tablet again …
Example ~/.xinitrc snippet:
## make right strip equivalent to mouse-wheel
xsetwacom set pad StripRDn "Button 5"
xsetwacom set pad StripRUp "Button 4"
## put Control, Alt, Shift, Super (Win) on right button-block
xsetwacom set pad Button8 "CORE KEY SUPER"
xsetwacom set pad Button7 "CORE KEY CTRL"
xsetwacom set pad Button6 "CORE KEY ALT"
xsetwacom set pad Button5 "CORE KEY SHIFT"
## F11/F12 are previous/next drawing tool in my GIMP, so put them on the left strip
## It's worth configuring the combos (within GIMP) too, so Alt-LeftStrip changes through
## the brushes etc.
xsetwacom set pad StripLDn "CORE KEY F11"
xsetwacom set pad StripLUp "CORE KEY F12"
## You probably don't want this. I have GIMP-desktop/main-desktop/undo/redo on the
## left button-block. choose whatever you like. If wacomexpresskeys
## works for you, you can also make these settings different for each application!
xsetwacom set pad Button4 "CORE KEY ALT F4"
xsetwacom set pad Button3 "CORE KEY ALT F1"
xsetwacom set pad Button2 "CORE KEY CTRL z"
xsetwacom set pad Button1 "CORE KEY CTRL y"
Example /etc/X11/xorg.conf snippet:
## may already have an entry for mouse
I lost use of the stylus for some reason.
Discovery 1: the eraser still works.
Discovery 2: /var/log/Xorg.0.log shows: ''(==) Wacom device "stylus" top X=0 top Y=0 bottom X=0 bottom Y=0 resol X=5080 resol Y=5080''
In other words, X for some reason thinks the tablet size for the stylus is 0. Since the eraser is set up correctly, we can hotfix this while X is running by copying over the correct values from the eraser, like so:
xsetwacom set stylus BottomX `xsetwacom get eraser BottomX`
xsetwacom set stylus BottomY `xsetwacom get eraser BottomY`