Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Backtracking to Bards    

Here we are returning to the subject of bards, which we briefly skipped over!  Bards have a fascinating history in Dungeons & Dragons.  Sure, it's easy to become a bard now, but back in the day, you really had to work for it.  Bards first appeared in core rules back in First Edition D&D (technically AD&D).  To create a bard, you had to meet stringent requirements.  Your human or half-elf only character had to have extremely high ability scores to even begin to attempt to become a bard.  You would then create a fighter character, and go off adventuring.  Sometime after you reached fifth level, you would then dual class (a variant type of multiclass) into a thief.  Finally, after many adventures as a thief, you would dual class again, to a druid.  You would keep your fighter and thief abilities, and now you could also cast druid spells!  This idea of a fighter/thief/spellcaster was very appealing, and had previously only been available to elves.  Humans could get this combo, but they had to work for it.  However, when Third Edition came out, everyone could multiclass freely.  Fighter/thief/spellcaster types were now available to any race, and in a variety of different interesting combinations.  Where did the bard now fit into the game?

The core of bards in D&D is that they are knowledgeable about many things, they are jack-of-all-trades, and they can charm people with their music.  This last ability is greatly expanded in Third Edition and Pathfinder, and becomes the core of what makes a bard unique.  When Third Edition came out, I felt that there was a great deal of excitement about bards.  Like the monk, here was a class with an entirely new set of abilities.  However, as time went on, I noticed that interest in the bard had waned.  Bards were underpowered, it was argued, and often didn't really fit into the adventure in the same way that the other character classes did.

How Did the Jack-of-all-Trades Become the Least Flexible Class?

To understand the problems with the bard, you have to look at the multiclass system.  Multiclassing is highly favored among many players of the game, both in D&D and in Pathfinder.  And yet, as I've discussed in earlier posts, there are some multiclass combinations that just don't work very well.  And, unfortunately, that includes pretty much any combination that contains the bard.

The first problem is that the bard is a spellcaster.  Any class that combines with the bard that is also a spellcaster is going to be at a significant disadvantage.  That includes a lot of classes!  But fighter/bards, rogue/bards, and even monk/bards are still quite feasible.  Why do we not see more of them?  Part of the reason is that sorcerer gives a lot more bang-for-your-buck as a multiclass spellcaster.  Sorcerers get access to a larger variety of spells and can cast more of them.  Then, with the advent of the magus class, bards were even less useful, as the magus blends their spellcasting and fighting in a much more efficient way.  Another reason is that there is too much overlap between abilities.  The bard offers better fighting and better skills than the sorcerer, but a fighter and a rogue, respectively, already have those things.  Monk/bards have an issue with ability scores:  they need all of them to be viable, which spreads their scores fairly thin.

But I believe that the main reason that bards don't get multiclassed (or played) as much is that players have a hard time figuring out what to do with the musical component of the class.  The idea that bards will play music and aid the rest of the party through their song is a very specific one.  It feels sort of odd and out of place in epic fantasy.  The most popular example of a bard that regularly uses bardic performance to support his allies is one that pokes fun at the very concept.  And it is this musical support ability that the majority of bard archetypes reduce or get rid of.  Pathfinder has done their best to expand the different ways that one can play a bard, but the fact is, it remains a very narrow character concept.  A good analogy would be the necromancer.  A great concept for a character, but clearly not for everyone and not suitable for every game.

Performers in the Fantasy Genre

My approach to the bard, to address some of these issues, would be to focus on the bard as a performer, and allow this to include a broad spectrum of abilities.  A Performer component would encompass the traditional "play music to enchant and buff allies," but that type of performance would not be overly critical for the class's function.  Performers in fantasy can be broken down into a number of different categories, all of which would be accessible by the bard.
  • Actor:  Actors in the fantasy genre are often associated with masks and the type of very stylized acting represented by Commedia or Mummery.  They are more closely associated with illusions than other bard types, as well as trickery.
  • Dancer:  This type of performance is almost always associated with combat, as well as the normal bard functions of enchantment and buffing.  The class of Dancer is a mainstay of Japanese fantasy RPGs.  It should be noted that dancers in the fantasy genre are almost always female and often tend to be sexualized.  Being aware of the problematic tropes associated with dancers is important, and I'll talk about it more in my next post, which is all about charms and enchantments.
  • Juggler/Acrobat:  Another performance that is often associated with combat.  Jugglers do not tend to be able to enchant with their juggling.  It is seen as skill, not magic, and is often used for pranks or thievery.
  • Musician:  The typical D&D or Pathfinder bard, this performer plays instrumental music and generally this has a magical effect.
  • Singer:  Enchantment through song is a strong theme in fantasy.  It is often gendered (women tend to be singers more than men) and often sinister.  The harpy and the siren are examples of singers that enchant male heroes, often to their doom.  See my notes on Dancer, above.
  • Storyteller:  Performers of this type are often used by an author of a fantasy story to introduce the myths and tales that are the core of the fantasy world.  In other words, they exist mostly for exposition.  Storytellers as protagonists do exist in fantasy as well, however, and they tend to be knowledgeable about many things.  They also tend to be the guardians of lore that would otherwise be lost.

Components of a Bard

We know, from prior posts, that our bard might include Spellcasting as a secondary component and Agile as a tertiary component.  Their other Secondary component could be Scholar (making them more like wizards) or Versatile (making them more like sorcerers) or Healer (making them more like clerics).  For now, let's look at a Performer component, which would be the primary component of the bard class.


Requirements:  None.

Hit Dice:  Primary Performers gain d8 hp, others have no change

Skills:  Performer characters gain the following class skills:  Acrobatics, Bluff, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Intimidate, Knowledge (local), Linguistics, Perception, Perform, Sense Motive, and Sleight of Hand.

Base Attack Bonus:  Primary Performers gain base attack as rogues, others have no change

Saving Throws:  Performers begin with a +2 Will save and advance quickly.

Additional Spells:  Performers add the following to their spell lists:
  • 1st - cause fear, charm person, comprehend languages, confusion (lesser), hypnotism, remove fear, sleep, ventriloquism
  • 2nd - animal trance, calm emotions, daze monster, enthrall, heroism, hypnotic pattern, pyrotechnics, rage, scare, shatter, sound burst, suggestion, summon swarm, whispering wind
  • 3rd - charm monster, confusion, crushing despair, deep slumber, fear, glibness, good hope, haste, sculpt sound, slow, speak with animals 
  • 4th - dominate person, freedom of movement, legend lore, modify memory, rainbow pattern, shadow conjuration, shout, speak with plants
  • 5th - dream, false vision, heroism (greater), mind fog, nightmare, shadow evocation, song of discord, suggestion (mass)
  • 6th - analyze dweamor, eyebite, find the path, irresistible dance, sympathetic vibration, veil
Special Abilities:  Tertiary Performers gain a single special ability from the list below at first level.  Secondary Performers gain one ability at first level, and one additional ability every two levels, starting at level two.  Primary Performers gain one ability at first level, and one additional ability every level, starting at level one.
  • Acrobatic:  As the feat.
  • Affect Animals (Su):  Use all Perform abilities on animals as well as people.
  • Alertness:  As the feat.
  • Animal Affinity:  As the feat.
  • Athletic:  As the feat.
  • Calm Emotions (Su):  Calm down listeners and make them peaceful.
  • Catch Off-Guard:  As the feat.
  • Countersong (Su):  Counter magical effects that rely on sound.
  • Dazzling Display:  As the feat.
  • Distraction (Su):  Counter magical effects that rely on sight.
  • Dramatic Display:  As the feat.
  • Fascinate (Su):  Distract others, so that they receive penalties on certain rolls (such as Perception).
  • Gather Crowd (Su):  Compel all within a certain range to come closer to see and listen to your performance.
  • Hero's Display:  As the feat.
  • Inspire Competence (Su):  Grant allies bonuses on certain skill rolls.
  • Inspire Courage (Su):  Grant allies bonuses against fear effects.
  • Inspire Fear (Su):  Increase intimidation effects.
  • Inspire Ferocity (Su):  Grant allies bonuses in combat.
  • Intimidating Prowess:  As the feat.
  • Mass Charm (Sp):  (Primary only) Extend the effects of certain enchantment spells to all who see and hear the bard's performance.
  • Masterful Display:  As the feat.
  • Mocking Dance:  As the feat.
  • Murderer's Circle:  As the feat.
  • Savage Display:  As the feat.
This is a draft of the Performance component, and it is far from complete.  But it should give you an idea of the direction that this component would go in, and the types of benefits that it would offer to characters.

Next post I want to talk a bit more about charm effects, as they are often used by bards.  Then we will move on to druids!

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