The Bard for Basic D&D

I think there's perhaps no other class with as long a history in D&D that gets quite as much scorn as the Bard. Now some players certainly like the Bard and I think there are things about the class that are good: more focused on social situations, negotiation, mysterious knowledge, and a jack of all trades approach that makes it a good character choice when the game isn't hyper-focused around one part of the game (eg. Combat). At the same time there's a lot wrong with the Bard in D&D.

In AD&D the Bard was a convoluted mess, and the designers seemed to recognize this and put it in the Appendixes as optional material. Go to level X in one class, change to another class, go to level X, change again etc. Honestly I don't know how many people actually levelled up a Bard in this manner compared to the number that were just created for one-shot high level adventures.

From the outset and into editions where Bards were playable from 1st level they were presented as characters that would sing and play musical instruments in battle. Now, I know musicians would accompany an army onto the field, but in a small skirmish situation a character dancing about playing their flute while unspeakable monstrosities tore into their small band of allies seems absurd. And it's this absurdity that makes other players dislike the Bard. Unless you are playing a light hearted "silly" game the presence of Sir Robin's Minstrels can be disruptive to the tone of the game. Bards playing flutes, mandolins, reciting poetry, or even dancing... it makes no difference. Being a Jack-of-all-Trades is one thing, but making the Bard's contribution look ridiculous is just too much.

Here then, in the spirit of the Paladin and Anti-Paladin is a re-imagined Bard for OSR games.
Magic-User Sub Class

May wear Leather armour.
Can use any type of weapon.

Special Abilities
Hear Noise as Thief of same level
Hide in Shadows as Thief of same level
Learn additional language at levels 1, 4, 7, 10, 13
Identify Magic Items as Thief of same level using "Remove Traps"

Cast spells as Magic-User of 1/2 level starting at 2nd level.

Bard Experience Points
Gains 0 XP from Enemies of Same Alignment
Gains 1/2 XP of a Monster when encountered for the first time (once per each type of monster). The Bard also gets the normal amount of XP if the monster is defeated.
In a similar manner to how the Witch mixes the Cleric and Magic-User, and the Paladin mixes the Fighter and Cleric, the Bard mixes some of the abilities of the Magic-User and Thief. Instead of a comical minstrel/jester type character the Bard is a travelling storyteller or perhaps a playwright. A player may wish them to have a musical instrument but that is unnecessary and certainly not something the character would play during the midst of battle. Our new Bard's focus is on exploration and discovery. They have a knowledge of languages and lore that can reveal the secrets of magic items.

Bards may adventure for many reasons, but seeing fantastic and monstrous creatures is the stuff epic stories are made of and they draw experience from their encounters - even if the things they discover are best to be left well enough alone.


Lord Gwydion said...

Bravo. This actually seems like it would work, is consistent with the source material, and as you mention, gets rid of the ridiculous "playing music in the middle of a battle" thing (although I think there may still be a place for the counter-song, but how often are harpies/sirens encountered anyway?)

Brendan said...

This is my favorite of your recent class posts. It looks like it would work very well, and could also works as a magical assassin (ACKS does a similar magic-user/thief thing with the elven nightblade).

Stuart said...

Thanks guys. :)

Some people like the more light-hearted tone of characters dancing about playing a lute during a battle. For me, I'd rather have the Bard more like this and I'm quite pleased with how this turned out.

David Macauley said...

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the bard class, love the idea, hate the execution. I too think this version is an excellent solution to the problem. Bard as a hunter for knowledge rather than a wandering minstrel does it for me, well done again Stuart. :-)

Gene Sollows said...

I love your minimalist approach, but I think there's a place for a singing bard. I have come up with an OSR bard that is similar to the 3e concept, with his own spell list and a similarly slow spell progression.


anarchist said...

I don't see why a bard should be able to cast spells.

Stuart said...

Knowledge is Power


Andrew said...

Is there a list of links to various B/X house rules you've made? I am having trouble unearthing them all with searches as I'm not sure of everything I'm looking for. And you do great stuff.

Felipe S. S. said...

Having played the Bard class for years, mostly in 3e/Pathfinder, I can definitely say the combat aspect of the bard is awkward...

The ridiculous aspect of a bard's activity in combat I feel comes down to the presentation of his arcane abilities. Pathfinder delved into the aspect of a Sorcerer as someone who has arcane blood and tapped into those bloodlines to describe powers, physical appearance, etc.

The bard has arcane spells but there's really no explanation or lore. He becomes this ridiculous character who can do magic and magical effects just because he can. Is every jokester/actor/singer a bard with magical abilities?

I would like to see the rules/content expanded to explain the origin and manifestation of these abilities. Are bards people instilled with magic by a faerie muse, god, goddess? Are their powers more like the Skyrim Shouts, melodic but powerful? Do aspects of his muse manifest on him or around him as he fights?

If a cleric is a person with a serious sacred relationship with a god/goddess, the bard to me would almost be something similar but an agent of creativity, entertainment, knowledge.

I don't think making the bard as a more magical thief is totally the right step. I feel that would be making him a sub-class of a thief instead of class in its own right.

Brendan said...

I feel like Kvothe from The Name of the Wind is probably the best depiction in literature of a D&D bard. He doesn't whip out the lute during battle, but it's clear that he has some powers with his music during social situations.

The way I see it, a bard gets magic the same way a wizard in D&D gets magic: by studying arcane texts. As a dabbler and dilettante though, the bard progresses slower, and probably less formally. It has always made sense to me. I have never needed to merge the song or performance aspect of the bard with the magic aspect (and in fact that merging is what tends to make some bards ridiculous).

Basically, the bard is a fighter/mage/thief that just is a jack of all trades.

Felipe S. S. said...

there's definitely room for plenty of interpretations of a Bard. I can understand the fighter/mage/thief but it resolves a bard to be nothing more than a multi-class with a proper name.

As a player who plays bards and loves bards, I would like to see something beyond that I guess...

Bard said...

I think you are really hitting the nail on the head with these reworked character classes.

matt jackson said...

My favorite class had always been the bard. I always saw him as an explorer and seeker of knowledge and treasure who used his physical and social skills to his own advantage.
And for the"casting of spells", I always saw the spells add the mechanical effects (ie the game mechanics) to his speaking and manipulation skills. He could inspire someone to recuperate from injuries through his encouragement (the story side) and heal 1d6 hit points (the mechanical side).

David said...

I like where you are going with the Bard, but I think it would fit better as a Cleric Subclass.

The warrior-poet type you describe here seems to echo the Celtic concept of the Bard. For the Celts, the Bard was a living repository of knowledge and culture and was a kind of religious figure.

So use Cleric HD, XP/level advancement, saves and spell table. Keep the hear noise but switch out hide in shadows for Read Languages as thief +2 levels (starts with 10% at level one).

Keep the arcane casting since, as you say, the Bard's power comes from knowledge. The Cleric spell table is slower than the wizard (no spell at level one) and doesn't access the top level spells so the hap-hazard approach to learning magic is represented. With those provisions the half casting level can be taken out.

I like the extra languages and the identify legend/lore type ability. I think you could allow up to Chainmail armour. I think using any weapon fits fine as well.

Obviously Bards can't turn undead, but the Turn mechanic could used when weaving a Suggestion into a performance (outside of combat).

That I think would work a little better and have your jack of all trades presented more simply and give a little tip of the hat to what they were trying to do with the 1e Bard.

Stuart said...

The Paladin and Anti-Paladin are our Fight-Cleric combination class. ;-)

David said...

I understand that Stuart. But the way I have it you can place the Bard right in the middle of your class diagram. A true Jack of All Trades.

Besides, even though I like the bard using Cleric tables and HD it doesn't really fulfill any of the roles of the the Cleric. So your Paladin is safe. The arcane magic, using a spellbook, and the smattering of thief skills are pretty key to keeping the Bard away from that end of your spectrum.

Stuart said...

I agree with you that the Celtic Bard (which the AD&D Bard is based on) is a lot more Cleric like in nature. This one is more Shakespeare than Fionn mac Cumhaill. :)

Enzo said...

I had a player who played a bard under LL rules (no advanced companion), so we used the elf class. He has some spells as charm or sleep, he wears chainmail and functions as a jack of all trades. Fluff-wise, he's a viking skald, and accordingly, he wields an axe.

This guy is a genius roleplayer and he actually sings whatever spell/song his character 's casting. Also has a thing for fat middle-aged bar maids.

Post a Comment