Monday, February 25, 2019

The Bard

Like fighters, I don't like the way that D&D has historically done bards. They're a disjointed mess of oratory, swashbuckling, thievery, and spellcasting that ends up insulting things without ears for d4 damage a round, or trying to make Bluff checks on every NPC for every possible social interaction. I'm so done with that kind of gameplay, so I tried to bring out what I like most about the bard - music-as-magic. It's definitely more on the gonzo end of fantasy, but music is such a compelling thing to play with in game that I think it fits right in with more tongue-in-cheek campaigns, or the high fantasy stuff that my games tend towards. I also am not particularly enthused by representing bardic music by simple wizard spellcasting, so I've thrown together a system based on GLOG spellcasting that acts more like playing a song - hopefully one of my players dies and rerolls as a bard; I'm excited to get a chance to test it.

The Bard
Image result for dnd bard
from wankadoodles on Tumblr
"Music is the strongest form of magic."

Bard 1: Music is Magic, Genre, 2 Songs
Bard 2: Busking, +2 Songs
Bard 3: Groupies, +2 Songs
Bard 4: Arena Anthems, +2 Songs

Hit Die: d6
Starting Equipment: Instrument of choice, pile of assorted sheet music, parchment, quill and ink, earplugs for your party members
Skills (d3): 1. Entertainer, 2. Traveller, 3. Noble

Music is Magic: You can sing magic songs. Even when you're singing mundane songs, you can evoke powerful but nonspecific emotions in all listeners by expending a Music Die (you can make listeners feel amorous, but not towards particular people; you can make listeners feel deeply sad, but not suicidal). Whenever a significant event happens around you (the death of a party member, a climactic battle, a budding or dying romance, etc.), you can write a new song about it. Bards can teach each other bards magic songs, even outside their genres.

Genre: Pick a Genre. You have its Genre perk and learn your songs from it.

Busking: During a long rest in town, you can spend your time busking on street corners and in market squares to get (Bard level)d6 gold in assorted small change from passers-by, as well as a local rumor.

Groupies: You can play a gig in town or anywhere with a sympathetic audience. It attracts (Bard level)d6 audience members (increase or decrease the die size for larger or smaller venues), and Bard level of them will come along with you as groupies. They won't usually put themselves in harm's way, but they'll do minor tasks for you and carry your stuff. Whenever you give them a Bad Vibe, one leaves. They'll all disperse when you go back to town, but might sign back on at your next gig.

Arena Anthems: Your voice and songs can carry for up to a mile.

Music Rules
You have MD (Music Dice) equal to your Bard level plus one. Songs begin at 1 Intensity, and as you play a song, you have 3 chances (one each round) to expend any number of MD to try to boost the Intensity (this doesn't take an extra action, it's part of playing the song). To do so, roll the MD you're using. If one or more of your MD show a 4-6, boost the song and increase its dice by 1, then expend the die. Any dice that roll 1-3 are returned to your pool. If you roll a 1, there's a Bad Vibe, which might end the song entirely. MD return on a short rest.

Bad Vibes
1. Burnout. You can't sing this song for the rest of the day, and have to stop immediately.
2. Hoarse. Lose your ability to sing above a whisper. Until you spend a day recuperating, no one besides you can hear your songs.
3. Snapped. Your instrument breaks and is unusable until you spend a short rest repairing it.
4. Lost The Tune. Invert the effect of the song this round, then it ends.
5. Voice Crack. Anyone listening can voluntarily ignore the effects of the song, and any further songs you sing, until the end of the day.
6. Earworm. You can't sing any other songs for the rest of the day.

When you take damage the song decreases in Intensity by 1 die, unless you have other Bards backing you up and covering for you. If this brings it to 0, the song ends. Taking actions that would interrupt the song end it entirely.

Additional Bards playing the same song can expend MD to nullify Bad Vibes. Bards can join in on any song a Bard with the same Genre is playing whether or not they know it, but they can't boost it unless they know it too, just salvage it.

Sample Genre: Metal
Axes Up!: Your instruments count as d6+STR damage melee weapons, and you can make attacks with them without interrupting your song.

Breakin' the Law: You can violate one law of choice without penalties while playing this song. Consequences will come later. Intensity 1: law of man. Intensity 2: law of nature. Intensity 3: law of god. Intensity 4: law of the game.
For Whom the Bell Tolls: Everyone else in earshot besides your allies needs to save or turn their attention to you. At Intensity 2, they approach you slowly, with curiosity. At Intensity 3, they run towards you, with reckless abandon, and you can exclude people of your choice besides your allies. At Intensity 4, they are physically pulled towards you, through obstacles and walls.
Master of Puppets: You animate nearby inorganic material into Intensity HD of crude homunculi. They'll follow any orders you can shout while you're singing, without interrupting the song. When the song ends, they disintegrate.
Paradise City: Everyone else in earshot must save vs. hallucinations of their most positive memories. While hallucinating, at Intensity 1, they have disadvantage on saves vs. other mental effects. At Intensity 2, they will treat other people as if they're people from the memory. At Intensity 3, you can convince them of damn near anything so long as it doesn't break their reverie. At Intensity 4, you can shatter the illusion at any time to immediately cause them to gain d6 Stress and roll to Crack with disadvantage.
Raining Blood: A red cloud manifests in the air above your head, and stretches as far as your music carries. It rains blood, which obscures vision and makes the ground slick. At Intensity 2, you can move the cloud as fast as you can run. At Intensity 3, the blood burns, dealing d4 fire and necrotic damage to everyone it touches besides you each turn. At Intensity 4, the blood melts through thin ceilings and scorches the ground, making it unable to grow anything for a year and a day
Realm of Pain: Unfortunate accidents befall all who hear this music. Each round, Intensity of the following effects occur to everyone besides the players. At Intensity 2 or greater, you get to pick one of them: (d4) 1. A random item on their person shatters, save vs. d4 slashing damage; 2. They slip and fall prone, if already prone they save vs. writhing in pain; 3. They misspeak, divulging secrets, giving incorrect commands, or babbling incoherently; 4. They are flung 10' in a direction at random by sudden gusts of wind, if this throws them into an obstacle they save vs. d4 bludgeoning damage.
Ride the Lightning: You summon a lightning bolt that, when you end the song, you can travel on to any point within earshot and line of sight. It deals (Intensity)d6 lightning damage to everyone at the destination, including you. At Intensity 2, it deals damage to everyone and everything it passes through. At Intensity 3, you can bring friends you're touching with you. At Intensity 4, it passes through walls and obstructions, and you can transport d6 times in a row (only take damage on the last one).
Run to the Hills: You and allies multiply move speed by Intensity, and have advantage on tests to perform feats of agility like jumping distances, climbing walls, dodging projectiles, etc.
Through the Fire and Flames: Whenever you or an ally would take elemental damage, roll Intensity d6 and reduce the damage by that much.
Tornado of Souls: The souls of everything that has died within earshot in the last day/month/year/forever (Intensity 1/2/3/4) rise to surround you in a howling storm. You can make out the barest whispers of information, which may be relevant on an Intensity-in-6. Each round, Intensity souls will try to possess a body of similar HD to that it had in life within earshot. If the body has a soul already, it gets a save vs. possession. When the song ends, so does the possession.

More Genres

...more to come (first: Jazz!), and feel free to write your own, or expand the lists of songs to add your personal favorites! These are very broad looks at very deep genres, and you could make bard "genres" down to the level of detail of individual albums. Some ideas to get the juices flowing:
- J- and K-pop
- Punk rock (hey, someone did it! see More Genres above)
- Sludge metal
- Dubstep (what happens when you drop the bass?)
- Gothic
- Queen
- John Cage's 4'33"
- Bards and all-bard parties based on musicians and their discographies, rather than the entire genres


  1. Wow, this is really great. It's the first time I've seen a bard that really feels musical.

    Some thoughts:
    Should wizard MD and bard MD be cross compatible? I could see the argument for keeping them seperate, but also like the notion of a more unified magic system where warlocks can channel the power of their patron into song, and where bards can use the power of music to make their magic missiles thrum with extra power.

    Keeping track of a stat like Intensity imposes a memory burden. I like how elegantly you solve the issue. The dice that add to intensity are spent, so you can use the the dice themselves as an intensity marker. Maybe this idea could more generally extend the GLOG magic system. With something like [invested] indicating the number of dice that have been expended (rolled 4-6) in the casting of a spell. Might add another interesting lever for spell design, along with [dice] and [sum].

    I did some quick calculations to see how many dice you should role for intensity boosts, using a simplified model where Bad Vibes just make you loose all your intensity, and your goal is to maximize Expected Intensity from the roll. If you are at 1 Intensity, then you should dump all 4 MD into the song if you can. If you are at 2 Intensity, then you should only roll 2 MD. At 3 Intensity, you should only roll 1 MD. And if you are at 4 Intensity,then don't boost at all; you'll lose intensity on average.

  2. The practice of adapting Bard spells from actual songs is one of those ideas that deals 1d8 psychic damage when you realize how genius it is.
    Might I suggest a section in the genre template that describes what a bard of that specific genre might look like? That could be very useful for us who want to use them as NPCs (I so want to populate the Blasted Lands with boombox-armor-clad Neurofunk bards).

  3. I found this post invaluable in my fulfilment of this year's secret santicorn: please have a look, I have made a (very rough) jazz bard based on your template! Also, while doing that, I started to think about Robert Johnson as a kind of Blues Bard-slash-warlock, having sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads to gain his monumental talent: anyway, you can find my hatchet job here


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