Monday, February 7, 2022

D&D Class Breakdown: Bard

 For new players, it can be hard to choose your first class. For veteran players, it can be hard to choose a class and not fall into stereotypes everyone's seen a thousand times. So now I'm going to deconstruct the 5E Player's Handbook classes (Sorry Artificer, you'll come later) and talk about what works, what doesn't, and some interesting ways to play the classes. 

I won't be going into game mechanics as much as I'll be going into roleplay. 

Let's talk about bards!


What is a bard? 
Historically a bard is a traveling singer/storyteller and news outlet who would travel the world looking for new stories to tell or songs to sing. Usually living off the road they made their money in the occasional odd job, but made a majority of their money by tips from performing. Some lucky bards would be hired by kings or other high ranking officials to chronicle their epic feats in poetry and song. They were a combination Kindle, Spotify playlist and Facebook feed on legs. 

In Dungeons and Dragons bards are all that but with magic, drawing power from their ability to perform. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, they pick up a wide variety of skills from all classes. Bards can also use their performances to enhance their companions or debuff their foes. 

In the Game


Every tavern in your standard Dungeons and Dragons game has at least one bard sitting in the corner tuning a lute or singing a song. Sometimes seen as schemers on the same level as rogues, they're trusted only because they bring a level of entertainment to the commonfolk. They're usually people from half-bred races (Half-elf and Tiefling) or if there human they tend to have a backstory about how their parents didn't appreciate their artistic expression so they left home to find their own path. Essentially this is every person who didn't make it on American Idols fantasy life made into a character. 

None of this of course are what bards are truly known for. The best known bard trope is them being played like Austin Powers with magic. The bard trope of being a sex maniac has permeated every part of the D&D online discussion, from funny memes to conversations about consent. This trope is of course extremely problematic and I would be remiss if I didn't try to go into the specifics. 

First, if you're reading this blog it's likely you're probably at least conservative leaning and probably enjoy a Dungeons and Dragons game to kill some bad guys and roleplay out some laughs, but it's unlikely that you want the bard at the table to go into a lengthy discussion about how he's trying to seduce the bar maid as well as everything else in the room. The even more problematic bards will, when charisma checks don't work, resort to magic to seduce their partners, adding layers to the problematic behavior that the group then gets to endure listening to. Weather by magic or persuasion, a DM may attempt to fade them to black to hint at what's occurring, only for the problematic bard to decide to give a detailed account of their exploits. The entire game session then becomes hearing a player describe imaginary sex to everyone present until the group decides to disband. 

Second, and far more serious, is the fact that while the first issue of the descriptive bard is describing exploits, this can be triggering to people who have been victims of sexual assault, especially if the bard continues to harass an NPC despite them saying no, and especially if the bard decides to use magic to force the issue. Dungeons and Dragons is a game about escaping into a fantasy world with friends, and if not everyone is on board with the fantasy someone at the table is indulging then it's time to stop immediately. 

Breaking the Trope


The fact that the flirtatious bard trope is played so often and is so well known speaks to a lack of creativity on its part. A bard by their very nature should have more creativity to their character than "I roll to seduce" at every opportunity. Here are some ideas to switch up the trope and make some more interesting characters. 

War Bard
Fun fact: Many armies throughout time have had musicians who can help rally the troops and inspire them in battle. A bard trained to be specifically for military reasons and who focuses on the coordination and inspiration of their allies would be an invaluable asset to a team, and give them opportunities to roleplay in military situations when needs be. 

The Writer of the Epic
The wandering minstrel usually seems to have no real destination, just a lute and a few coins in their purse, but most were looking for that one epic story that would put their names in the history books, the one who wrote the great epic that's handed down generations. This bard would always be looking for the bravest adventurers, the most dangerous places and the most terrifying monsters to write about as they compose their epic. 

The Scholar
Instead of one epic story, the scholar is looking for all the stories. They want town histories, charters, journals, and anything else that can give them just a little more knowledge about the world. They'll go into deep caverns to find the lost maps of a long dead adventurer or brave an enemy encampment to find that one document that truly shows the king's heritage. They hope that one day the knowledge will be useful to someone but for now they feel that the most important job they can have is to be the one who gathers it. 

Full Edgelord
It always blows my mind that so few people ever play bards as punk rockers. As my favorite bard trope I can tell you it's a lot of fun to play a burnout bard covered in tattoos and earrings just looking for the next gig, more interested in not sounding like anyone else than they are saving the world. 

Famous Bards


Scanlan Shorthalt (Critical Role)
The gnome bard of Vox Machina, this little guy helped make the flirtatious bard trope famous, despite actually doing it justice. While he was constantly on the search for a romantic partner, he never pressured anyone or used his considerable magic on them to change their minds, even with his crush 
Pike Trickfoot. A gentleman as well as a hedonist, he probably played the trope the best it could be played. 

William Shakespeare
I'd love to just name drop all my favorite authors here but Shakespeare is known as the "Old Bard" so he had to be mentioned. And yes, this is THE William Shakespeare, not some fictional version on Dr. Who. While not using any magic we are aware of, Shakespeare wrote stories that speak to people centuries after his death, and will captivate audiences long after his name becomes legend and the source is forgotten. 

Dazzler (X-Men)
The musical mutant, Dazzler controls light with the use of her voice, and so when she gives a musical performance she can create a light show to augment her singing. In battle her light can blind enemies, create illusions and become focused into a laser beam to devastating effect. 

While fiction contains many characters who express themselves through art, none do so with the power and the usefulness quite like the bard. 

-JOE

Check out the other D&D Classes as well: BarbarianClericDruidFighter

2 comments:

  1. I think in your explanation of a Bard, the famous Bard list is one giant character short...Thom Merilin from the Wheel of Time series. He breaks the trope of the womanizing Bard by ending up devoted to a single female and puts his life on the line to help her through the entire series culminating in rescuing her from a fate worse than death.

    If Thom is included in this list then another glaring omission is Hoid from Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere.... he is the ultimate combination of meddling rogue and story teller that is the extremely advanced upper level Bard every Bard should aspire to be eventually.

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    Replies
    1. HOID is, in fact, so advanced, he has no need to (or even wants to) share his back story....and every Bard wants their story to be known....it allows him to be the mysterious force hiding behind the curtain manipulating everyone.

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