View Full Version : Expanding on the Bard Minstrel

Mr. Mask
2016-04-24, 01:26 PM
I was thinking about bards, wondering how to make their concept more engaging. It's easy for me to expand upon clerics, and fighters, and rogues, but the minstrel bard or skald is hard.

The basic premise seems to be that they're lightly equipped classic adventurer swashbuckler types, musicians and entertainers, charmers. And minor mages for some reason, in DnD. That's good, it's fine, but I feel like it needs something that really makes it click, for me. Anyone also get nagging feelings like that?

I was trying to work out a way to make the bard more connected to the local people than other player classes. Unlike the thief who quietly asks around, or the cleric who might appeal to someone's better nature, or the sorcerer who may intimidate the common born muggles, the bard is the sort to gather everyone to him with a song and a poem, excite the crowd, then wheedle the information out openly or through friendship and drink. They're also the most stereotypical to seduce information out of someone.

I went with this concept further. I based the bard off the rebel poet, someone who can incite the crowds to something, someone who can spread a legend or a song for his purpose. You need a crowd for something, or maybe want to incite a lynch mob, a bard is the best to do that. I also considered making them like shysters and con-artists, able to get people to trust them and think well of them, and then capitalize on this in some way, possibly having to flee for their life out of town when it is discovered.

That's interesting in theory, but it is pretty specific unless you have reasons to do that sort of thing frequently. I may just be lacking imagination of what good gaining the good will of the townspeople will do you. They're not likely to want to come with you on adventures, just having them give you free stuff will make the bard more like a warehouse or a credit card than a bard. You can have the people treat you like kings, but that will get old. Could make for a nice distraction in conjunction with a pickpocket, or a recruiting officer for workers or soldiers. I even considered a mechanic where a bard tries to collect songs and craft a legend for the party, which would become useful to them throughout their adventure (bonuses based off the parties cliches and injokes from past exploits.....?).

Thinking of concepts like this, what would you do to expand upon the bard? What sorts of things would you want bards to be suited to do during adventures? If you could feed my unimaginative brain some ideas, that would be a big help.


2016-04-24, 02:15 PM
Saying bards sing/play instruments is like relegating a cleric to being a healbot. It is a horrible and narrow minded stereotype that is true in whole or part for some, but far from all bards.

Look at THE Bard, William Shakespear. He did not play a lute, caper, sing, or schmooze people. He wrote stories, freaking amazing stories. Bards at their heart, are storytellers. Song lyrics are just poetry, and even the musical notes tell a tale. They know the stories others have made, but any good bard has a better story, THEIR story. Be it fact, fiction, or almost always a mix of the two.

That is why bards adventure. They want to have a story to tell, from firsthand experience. What is that story? Could be anything from slaying a dragon with their bare hands, or wandering the nine circles of hell and living to tell the tale. Could be about how they rose to power by rabble rousing, overthrowing a kingdom. Could be a shadowy web of deception. The singing/playing/storytelling is just how they communicate that story.

As for the magic-words and sounds have power. What starts as a rumor can end a life. The biblical story of Jericho is about a wall being brought down by trumpet sounds. A few words of encouragement can better somebody, where a cutting remark can ruin their day. Any class can rabble rouse, or threaten, or schmooze, but bards use the power of word and sound itself to be better at those things than others. Sure, the fighter might be able to make a show of force and weapon to scare people, but a bard can combine a haunting melody of an instrument and a subtle turn of phrase. Bards use the power of communication itself.

Bards can do anything in an adventure. In fact, they fill in the cracks because in storytelling and communicating, they usually gain a broad background. Getting the story means going there and living it first hand. That might mean climbing a tree, drinking with dwarves, building a house, painting a picture, fighting in a war, stealing money, evading guards, or really anything.

Why are you trying to shoe horn the bard into a rebel poet, or somebody who has to be able to gather the townspeople? Sure, bards can be either of those, but those are two specific things when bards can be just about anything. Shyster, con artist, this can be almost any class. Why do you need to gather townspeople? Sure, the bard might be good at doing that, but they are good at a bazillion other things. Say you are far from town, in the woods. The bard tells the party what berries to pick, the dangerous animals, can climb the tree, sneak past predators, fight off predators, cook animals, dress wounds, tell campfire stories, encourage the party when they lose hope, use magic, and then some.

A few concepts of bards I have played/made:
-A sailor, born at sea, terrible at sailing, wandering from port to port, using stage magic to con and swindle through life. Eventually he had a change of heart and dedicated his life to fighting a great evil, recruiting allies and resources to do so.
-A wild west jack of all trades, from town deputy, town drunk, ranch hand, but his main trade is mortician. He ensures that the dead are given honor, and plays/sings dirges on his guitar. He now wanders, singing the songs to give the dead rest, including the people he puts in the ground.
-A fitness guru who promotes an extreme workout routine. He trains his followers through near torture based exercise, pushing them to superhuman feats by words of encouragement, and sometimes threats. All in service to a dark god of torture and suffering.

If you want a good real life example of one of the most BAMF bards of all time, check out this guy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Churchill).

The Glyphstone
2016-04-24, 03:07 PM
Let's not forget that musicians were a downright crucial part of battlefields and armies for hundreds of years, if not longer; they were the radios of their day, used to communicate orders and initiate maneuvers to troops. Drummers, horns - heck, Scottish Bagpipes were a combination of psychological warfare and long-distance communication. Now take those same musicians, and give their music the magical ability to improve the fighting capability of the troops around them, and they become downright invaluable. Any medieval-style army will be paying through their eyeteeth for bards in their ranks - you're likely to find more ex-military bards than you will rebel poets or simple entertainers, assuming they maintain some ability similar to D&D's "Inspire X".

2016-04-24, 04:49 PM
Bards are characters who:

- Know stuff. Oral traditions used meter, rhythm, and rhyme as mnemonic devices. Knowing the songs of wisdom and the epics of history means you are fantasy google.

- Are good at people skills. Many implementations have Bards as high-Charisma with good social skills. If your version has them as entertainers, that also implies good people skills.

- Inspire. Bards are leaders. A few words from a Bard can make allies better at combat, or resistant to some conditions.

- Charm the masses. Fascinate was an early song feature in 3.x, and the 1e Bard could use charm monster against a large number of creatures at a time.

- - -

Putting this together, some new archetypes emerge:

- Noble - Not an entertainer as such, but certainly trained to play an instrument (as all cultured people are). Not a wandering minstrel, but certainly had access to the best tutors ("knows stuff").

- Scholar - "Knows stuff" is more central to this one. Instead of inspiring allies, the scholar would tell them things about their targets that made their attacks more effective, or would do things that made their enemies less effective (like getting trolls to argue with each other until dawn).

- Fey Enchanter - In many editions the Bard has abilities that seem to be associated with Fey, and may be well-suited to associating with (or learning from) Fey creatures.

- Spy - With their plethora of skills and magical support, they're great infiltrators. With their ability to perform different kinds of spells -- e.g. cure light wounds but also color spray -- they can pose as members of other classes.

2016-04-24, 04:51 PM
Look at THE Bard, William Shakespear. He did not play a lute, caper, sing, or schmooze people. He wrote stories, freaking amazing stories.

Well, some really good ones and some not so good ones. I mean, Romeo and Juliet is about a 16 year old seducing a 14 year old, a murder, and two suicides. Then there's Titus Andronicus...

But for bards you could always go back the the first version where they were fighter/thief/druids. There it was poetry while fighting (no singing allowed) that raised morale, and the only other musical abilities were negating other singing attacks and charming (like the spell) people.

2016-04-24, 06:48 PM
You know what you get if you remove the music thing from a bard? You get an adventurer.

Really, bards are in a way the closest thing to the (or at least my) iconic adventurer. First off because they are one of the few classes that have an inherent reason to wander and to go on an adventure you can't be staying in the same place. OK there are plenty of stories to be had here, but that isn't quite the same.

The bard adventures for adventure, they need no other reason. They wander, meet people who soon enough open up and tell their woes. And the bard manages to fix the problems, with just a little extra flare and grace. And maybe something that may, or may not, be actual magic.

I say this because every "adventurer" character I have ever written has ended up as either A) a guild mercenary or B) with the personality of a bard.

2016-04-25, 02:19 AM
In one of my games, the main skills of a bard are:

- Entertainment - improves morale in the party camp just by being there and spending time entertaining people; morale being the thing that gives you rerolls in this game - if you just marched through marshes, are low on food, and had to fend off several attacks each night, so nobody got to sleep well, the guy with the lute, who is still smiling (even if he just plays it), singing ballads about great heroes, sets an example and you don't want to be "worse than the weak guy with lute" or the guys he sings about.
- Ridicule - he's not the best fighter, but he can make the opponent so angry he tries to hit him with everything he has, disregarding any defence. He can also "sic" the enemy on someone in his own group with the same result. On the other hand this can be used also to "diffuse" a situation.
- Intrigue - he's quite adept at creating or diffusing intrigues. He's the guy you turn to if you want to bring a boaster down, or elevate your own standing. A quick pamphlet about your opponent sleeping with a goat under his arm will do a lot to his respect, and the other way around - few songs about your provess in battle and you are suddenly the hero known as Blade of Vengeance. This gives you bonuses in social checks.
- Rumormonger - he's the guy who can send a rumour out. The player devises a rumor to improve morale - if this proves to be true, it enhances the next rumors he sends out; if proven false - will not be able to use this skill for few weeks.
- Games - he's able to provide entertainment even for some of the "gambling" types, without them losing money and/or temper as they lose.

Overall, the bard improves morale a lot. Especially if the others in the group are the "somber" types. If you've been on a long trip with boring, silent types interested only in reaching the destination, you know how this kind of person - the one who knows songs, games and tells perfect stories - can enhance the experience.

And if we take into consideration the standard adventuring group (the I-loot-drink-kill fighter, the I-backstab-for-money rogue, the I-spend-my-whole-free-time-praying cleric and the shush-I-need-to-memorize-this-spell mage), a person like this is a must. Or they will sooner or later kill each other :smallbiggrin:

2016-04-25, 02:39 AM
A bard would do best in a campaign that isn't entirely combat-focused, I suppose?

2016-04-25, 06:21 AM
I played orator bard who "perform" using inspiring quotes and speeches to raise morale. So that's also a thing I guess.

Jay R
2016-04-25, 09:03 AM
A bard is the only one equally welcome, and equally comfortable, in both a low-class tavern and the king's high court. He is a collector of rumors and stories, and can sift through the facts.

One of his greatest abilities is that he is far more likely to convince the king about the goblin raids on the border, or the peasant revolt in a small town, because he's the only person in court who's talked to those peasants or visited that border.

Similarly, he is the only one in the tavern who has been in court, and actually knows what the king is like. If he sings enough songs about the king's great powerful sword, then the peasant revolt will have low morale when the king arrives with his knights.

When the party sees its first umber hulk, he's the only one who actually talked to the hero who killed one forty years ago.

Mr. Mask
2016-04-25, 09:36 AM
There are some lovely points in this thread, and it has given me some better ideas.

One thought that came to mind, is the Bard might be able to lure and stall enemies. Insult them to get them to attack him or a champion of the bard's choosing, or get them into a sort of insult contest or conversation so that they stop fighting for a few seconds. This often won't work, if the enemy is already busy in combat, but it can help to say, distract foes who would otherwise be reinforcing your enemies. Enemy bards can try to counteract this attempt. They may also be able to use this form of interference effectively against other communicative acts, such as intimidation and diplomacy, downplaying their opponent's words with insults and wit. Other characters would probably be allowed to try this, but the bard should get some kind of bonus for it.

As Jay pointed out, bards are well situated to talk with common and noble persons, and hanging out with a bard could be a good excuse to get invited to a castle. He sells your story well enough, the lord or king may want you to sit at his table, and share your adventures with them.

Hmm, I feel with that idea of entangling enemies in combat, and some of the others mentioned, I'm no longer dissatisfied with bards. I wish I could work out a more impacting effect of making legends and stories about your group. It could be, for example, that when he tells a story, there's a chance something about it will evolve as it's shared like a game of Chinese whispers, and then people will expect certain things about you based off the legend. Leading to the question of whether to go with it, and the fighter gets a horned helmet to benefit from the legend's bonus, or to accept a minor penalty to try and fight against your own legend. That might be channeling a bit of Metal Gear there.

I like that idea....

To add to it, the bard has the option to exaggerate what happened. The better the story, the more money he can make off telling it. If he lies too much with shreds of truth, the legend likely won't go far and people will probably get bored of the story. You could make it so this can work with just mechanics, and with heavy roleplaying. So if a player wants to describe what happened last time in exaggerated fashion, they can. Other players can give suggestions while the bard is telling it. It could make a fun recap at the start of a session. If the bard is concerned about accuracy, they can try to tell it as accurately as possible. Some bards, who value oral tradition, may get bonuses to this end.

The main question with that, how you get the Chinese whispers mechanics without just having 5+ people tell the story to each other and take the last one?

2016-04-25, 09:45 AM
To the "insult contest" - good idea, but would use it before combat. With boasts, maybe? If there is a "proud warrior race/culture" that likes to boast, you could stall them by adding creative additions - "overboasting" them. If they lose nerves, they attack but get penalty due to being distracted, if they continue, it's stalled.

As for the "Chinese whispers"... I'd say that each story the bard devises, should be a roll. If he suceeds, there is a bit of truth in the story - the larger the success, the better the % of truth. If he fails, he still thinks it's true, but GM is free to have fun. The only thing is, how to make players not abuse this?

For the exagerration, you'd need "Fame" as stat, which impacts something in-game. Or just players that don't need that and want to have famous characters... :smallsmile:

Mr. Mask
2016-04-25, 11:19 AM
I agree, the insult contest is best used outside of combat, when everyone is thinking, "err... do we HAVE to fight?" If the bard's player can find a reasonable lull in the fighting, then I think they would be free to try this, at a penalty appropriate to the situation. I'm reminded of a Norse account, where they set someone house on fire and the occupants ran out, and they started fighting. Someone stepped forward to attack the occupants, but one of his allies stopped him, saying, "I recognize this guy as such-and-such, so let us attack him one at a time and whoever kills him will gain honour." Under the right conditions, the lulls in fighting are surprising.

I think a fame stat is a good idea, so adventurers get a sense for how famous they are.

2016-04-25, 11:20 AM
Here's an idea. There's this relatively common limited ability in some games, of paying some sort of token to let you ascertain a fact as truth, or say that you always have something in your belt. An example is the utility belt talent in Star Wars Age of Rebellion, you can mention that you have something prepared in your utility belt, once per session (despite that you only know you need it now).

We can extend it to Bard's legend-making ability. Something like, once per session/campaign/something else the bard can mention how the party's story was known by people (abstracting how the bard spread the party's story off screen). Depending on the system, it might need roll (with the more outlandish story needing harder roll) or no roll at all. For example, if in previous session the party defeat a troll, in the next session the bard can mention how people know the story of the party defeating an army of troll, things like that. Depending on the system as well, this might or might not give tangible benefit to the party.

Also, another idea from another game system, in Legends of the Wulin, Scholar class can make prediction. Paraphrased for example (and from the back of my mind), the scholar can make prediction that bandits will attack the caravan from the rear. The GM then assign difficulty subjecting it to how probable the prediction is (prediction that the emperor secretly love to eat cake is easier than predicting that the emperor is actually a demon from hell). If the Scholar's prediction roll is a success, the prediction takes effect. Basically, taking from previous example, since his prediction is correct, if the GM decides that the bandits won't attack the caravan from the rear for one reason and another, the bandits will get penalty in whatever they're doing instead.

We can also extend this into Bard ability, for example, making the Bard able to do legend roll instead of prediction roll.

Mr. Mask
2016-04-25, 12:38 PM
Hmm, interesting ideas, Fri. In some ways, I'm not sure if I like the Scholar predictions mechanic. It can create an opening for roleplay, but I don't know if I want that sort of initiative class restricted. The downside to consider, is players could end abuse this or just make things less fun by railroading themselves (so that every time it succeeds, it might simplify the encounter).

Though, this does remind me of lore rolls, and it makes me wonder. Maybe this system could use the points you mentioned for legends? Bards could spend points they collect to craft the narrative, and bargain or bid with the GM for how many points something may cost. He can refuse certain bids, or say that the price of one is too high for the bard to meet, or some may be so expensive they don't seem worth it. But for small things, you can keep getting enough points to make those small changes. It's worth considering, as that fits a story teller class, and makes an interesting replacement/addition to lore rolls.

Your idea about fame points gave me another idea in turn. You could have rather than a single legend the bard makes, he can make multiple legends. Each one would end up with a focus. Like Lenara is the best archer in all the land, based off her managing a difficult shot that killed the orc murderer. So, when you meet someone, you can appeal to that Legend. "Don't you know WHO this is? Have you not heard of Lenara the fair, the thunderous arrow?" Certain legends will be more effective in some situations than others, and it may require something of you. For example, the people you're appealing to may want to see Lenara shoot to demonstrate that she is who the bard claims. Or, if you're appealing to a master bowman, he is likely to see this as a challenge, and it's likely to be specially effective. If you succeed in a skill competition, you're likely to receive help.

I rather like that idea, as it would end up involving the rest of the party, creating cross roleplay benefits.

2016-04-26, 03:52 AM
Actually that legend thing where you can introduce a fellow pc is a great, no, awesome idea. I really like it, but there should be some sort of... say, have it named neutrally, so it can be refluffed for different bard concepts (though I'm not sure what, I'm just thinking that maybe some people want to play the kind of bard that don't spread random legends, but still want to use that kind of ability).

Also, the way to limit it, and the afromentioned scholar ability, is to make the token for it relatively hard to get, so they'll only use it for things they thought is worth it. For example, in LotW the scholar can get token to use that ability when someone (GM or other player) agree they roleplay their virtues well (in LotW you build your characters with virtues, say individualism, or righteousness, or whatever. When other player agree that a scene showcase your virtue well, they can give you some tokens at the end of the session, which can be used for various things (an example is that scholar ability). So people won't just use the ability willy nilly, but it should also don't be too hard to get.

2016-04-26, 04:42 AM
There's this


and there's this


Bards are tricky because they are a bit of everything and very difficult to see in a modern, realistic context. An army has a "mechanical" use for people playing music, a smaller group would find its bard very useful while camping: who doesn't like music at camp fire? Or someone who sings a bit while walking?
This is, however, just the mundane aspect. Music can be described as a compelling force. After all, a (very narrow) definition of art is "something which forces you to do something without using threat or violence": some music will make you dance, a performer will make you laugh or cry, some will make you uncomfortable or thoughtful. Then you expand on this, and have Orpheus, who could sing to animals and they would listen. This isn't all that impressive, even my dog tried to sing when he heard someone playing the flute. The impressive part in Orpheus was that, when the Maenads tried to kill him and began throwing stones at him, his music stopped the stones from hitting him.
In a tactical RPG, the bard could be the battlefield controller, not just a dispenser of bonuses. And be on par with main casters, albeit with a more limited selection. In a certain sense, he would be more like a battlefield controlling Warmage or Warlock. Have grass do this, have stones do that, call in animals, have a "power word kill" like spell which breaks the enemy's heartstrings...
In a social setting, a bard would be the ultimate weapon. However, there is the problem of the effort required for creating such a setting. After all, people are made of relations. If you can work on enough relations, you can pretty much control a king's court (until someone bores of you and tries to kill you). But while bards can shine in this role, the question is: if we do this right, with a long in session time spent building up relations and devising a plan, what will the other party members do in the meantime?

Given that Shakespeare was an actor and instrumental music was normal in plays in his days, I'd be pretty surprised if he couldn't play or sing. And I am pretty sure that the fall of Jericho isn't about walls falling at the sound of trumpets, although it is an awesome image and a very memorable one.

2016-04-26, 05:37 AM
That stream poem was awesome, by the way.
Row, row, row your boat
Sneaking down the stream.
Lock n' load in tactic mode
United States Marines.

Mr. Mask
2016-04-26, 10:15 AM
It is difficult to work out bards for the reason you mention. They're sort of all around guys. You could give them a sort of music for everything ability, but I'm not sure if I like that. It would further make them all around guys, just ones that use music to do everything.

As you say, Jericho was more about the faith of the people and the strength of God. The seven trumpeters were priests who went in from of the ark of the covenant, and joined the people on the seventh day where they walked around Jericho seven times (instead of once) and shouted and blew their trumpets. Once they completed what they were told, the city walls fell.

@Fri: Thanks, Fri :smallsmile:.
On legend, well, it'd work something like this: The players retell the story from the last session, applying exaggerations as they like, and then pick a couple of elements of it to make a Legend the bard can use, or possibly multiple Legends. Alternatively, the players just pick one or two impressive parts of last time's adventure without the retelling. They could get bonuses depending on the level of the falsehood.

I'll have to work out something bardy enough to be suitable for getting the points. It could be as simple as entertaining people at an inn or tavern once per session, or it could require someone at the table thinking they did a good job of playing a bard this session. Or, you could make it something interesting like, "solve a problem in a bard-sort of way." And leave it up to interpretation as to what that means. You could even give someone points for if they actually play a song during the session on an instrument or singing, but only one song per session (unless they can do background music).

Anyone else have ideas on how bards would earn points?