... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bards Without Spells

Zak once explained that bards suck, mostly because "playing the lute" is a secondary skill, not an adventuring skill. Plus, people who play bards either want to show off their poetic or singing talents (or worse, play the drums) or get stuck with a GM who forces them to do so, in the insane belief that slowing down play improves the adventure.

But I think we can salvage the bard with the "without spells" paradigm.

Concept: The quick-witted, silver-tongued rogue who relies on influencing others: Felimid Mac Fal, Jurgen, Joan of Arc, only one of which is a musician.

XP/HD: Experience as Cleric. Hit Dice as original Magic-User (1 HD every other level,) but saving throws are as Thief.

Weaponry and Armor: Limited to weapons purchased when character is created. Must train (use spell research) to add additional weapon skills. Heavy armor prevents thief abilities, and helms or any other face covering prevents bardic voice abilities.

Abilities: Thief abilities (excluding surprise attack) and the ability to pacify or charm creatures using just the voice. Calm intelligent or semi-intelligent non-supernatural living creatures with a Turn Undead roll, using the creature's HD as a guideline; for a temporary charm, the target HD is the lower of the creature's HD or the spell level (1 for Charm Person, 4 for Charm Monster.) This can only be attempted once per creature per encounter, and only last for an hour (or less, if the bard leaves the creature's presence.) If the bard is three levels higher than the creature's HD, the creature can become a permanent follower, but the bard can't have more followers/henchmen than indicated by Charisma. Creatures that don't understand the bard's language can't be charmed, but other emotional effects (and Hold Person) can be used as long as the creature can hear the bard's voice, or a substitute (musical instrument.)

Bards can use any magical item usable by a thief, or any item associated with charming others or affecting emotions.

(EDIT: Changed the HD progression. As mentioned in the comments below, the thievish Bard should be more like a pre-Greyhawk Thief or a Delving Deeper Thief, with one ability dropped and the charm ability in its place. An alternative would be a warrior Bard that progresses exactly like a Cleric, uses any one-hand melée weapon or any armor, plus the charm ability.)


  1. You know Talysman, this might just be the one. After 30+ years of failed bard classes I think you may have cracked it.

  2. Actually, on second thoughts I'd dump the thief abilities (which I was never comfortable with - just another thief with a lute) and instead grant the bard spell-like effects at various levels, such as suggestion, charm, hold, confusion, etc.

    1. If you dump the Thief abilities, you should probably make the bard a limited Fighter. Actually, I meant to make the Thief-y Bard HD progression the same as the original M-U (1 HD every other level,) and an alternative Fighter-y Bard would progress like a Cleric, perhaps with a broader range of weapons and armor.

      I would not suggest specific spell-like effects. First. because those are included in the 2d6 turning roll (use HD of target or level of spell as HD of equivalent undead.) Second... well, earlier today I was writing a large post about exactly why, but my computer blue-screened. I will be writing that post sometime this weekend.

    2. I would not suggest specific spell-like effects. First. because those are included in the 2d6 turning roll...

      Ah yes, sorry, I can see that now. Yep, that would give the players some flexibility in coming up with ideas for the bard character.

      And yes the Cleric progression would tie in well with a less thiefy bard. :-)

  3. I like bard charm as turn, which is a nice way to use the same rules for other things, like assassination or something. OTOH if you streamline the game so classes work alike everybody feels bland.

    Personally my main problem with the Bard is that D&D doesn't model social conflict with rules - that's roleplaying, or a player challenge rather than a character challenge. Traps, tricks, puzzles, combat, adventure logistics, resource management, all of these are some combination of player skill and character skill.

    Let me give you an example: a PC trait or class that makes you good at managing equipment. You're really good at knowing what to purchase, for a good price, packing and maintenance, generally just handling inventory. You can tear off the part of your character sheet that deals with non-magical invetntory because you can just make a skill roll to handle that now.

    Maybe some people like that idea. But I think it takes away a huge part of the player skill in the game. It's the same with social skills in my opinion.

    It's possible for the game to turn into:
    DM Describes Obstacle
    Player Makes Roll
    DM Says Fail or Success
    Return to Step 1

    You could boil that game down to a PC on a playing card with 10 stats and a standard "roll d6+stat over obstacle rating". You don't even need to describe the stats, just Stat1 is used against Obstacle1 and so forth.

    That's an extreme example and a slippery slope fallacy, but what I'm trying to get at is that some things are good to model with game mechanics and others are good to model with player skill. Most will be come combination, because mechanics create structure and player skill creates involvement.

  4. How does it work when an NPC enemy bard attempts to use the "influence" ability on a PC?

    See also here:


    That being said, I like this a lot.

    1. Probably I'd use sorrow and anger, which interestingly I wrote around the same time as your post. But there's also the question: should there even *be* such a thing as an NPC Bard?

  5. You know what else would be useful? A list of all the perks and costs that make up classes, and guidelines to putting them together to make classes. Something like a 9 and 30 Kingdoms guide to building custom classes.

    Also, you have used "magic research rules for languages and weapon proficiencies" in several classes now; maybe that deserves a dedicated post? It's a very interesting idea, though I'm finding that in my current game the costs seem very prohibitive (the magic-user player is going to be so happy once the wizard lock research is finally done).

    1. Actually, the large post I was writing that got deleted was about building custom classes, so that's coming up. And the re-purposing of research rules for training was in a separate post, somewhere... I'm just summarizing it in the classes for those who missed.