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Crank it to 11: Amping Up Your Bard!

Written by Nicholas - Published on March 21, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

We all know bard is the greatest class ever, end of conversation. With the release of the PHB2 and the introduction of bards into 4e, we can expect an influx of newbies strumming the lute for the first time as well as the old virtuosi coming back to the songs and tales of their old favorite. Whether you are picking up the pan pipes for the first time with a new 4e bard or you are an old-schooler still playing the impossibly difficult to attain bard from the first AD&D, we want to help you make the most of your character.

Make Your Bard Unique

There’s a lot of room to maneuver within the bard class. Bards provide mechanical bonuses to the companions with performances but the way they accomplish that is left largely open to the imagination. Most often these performances are imagined as singing with or without instruments. Just a little bit outside the mainstream is the reciter of epic stories and poetry. You could make a bard who is a traveling actor who gives inspiring monologues and theatric performances. Both very cool but nothing people haven’t seen before. Lets go wild shall we?

What about a genius bard who really makes use of his knowledge and jack-of-all-trades abilities, whose “performance” is to point out the weakest point of an elder white dragons scales, the vulnerabilities of a six tumbler cold iron lock or what joke to lead with when making a business deal with a dwarf.

Or you could try a slight variation on that concept, a nagging bard. He offers constant, unwelcome, but most frustratingly, helpful advice to his friends. “You’re using an overhand axe swing at a zombie? Everyone know that a horizontal slash works better” or “you’re really going to use the three inch hook pick on that lock? I guess you could do it that way”. He’ll be a very memorable character even after the rest of the party kills him (“You’re using fireball on me? Everyone knows I have high reflex, you should target fortitude”).

We could take it another way. Lets go back to the singing and instrumental bard. What if his music wasn’t inspiring his comrades but was actually words and notes of power that invoked the power of a deity. It’s an idea I think about every time I hear the song Hallelujah, “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord, that David played, and it pleased the Lord”. If your bard knows a holy word that calls upon the favor a god he had better take care in using it, someone might try to steal it!

Bring Music to the Table

Now I’m not suggesting that you run out and learn to play the harp for your bard (although that would be awesome!). However you can get recordings of minstrel songs and the kind of music you find a renaissance faires and play it at your table when your bard songs. If you’re gifted or particularly confident you can sing along with them. Ren faire music usually relies on humor value more than singing voice so as long as you aren’t tone deaf, you can accompany it. Obviously if you are already a skilled singer or musician you don’t need me to tell you to work it into your character! If you’re looking for some quirky music, I have to give a shout out to a pair of modern day minstrels, the Brobdingnagian Bards. They do some ren faire and Celtic classics, some instrumental mood music, some modern compositions that pay homage to the classics, some modern day geek culture songs played on autoharp and mandolin and lots of drinking songs! I only discovered them a few months ago but I’m a huge fan already. It seems like no matter what they aim to do with a song they nail it every time.

Be in the Spotlight

Bards come in all varieties, but the one thing they have in common is they are never meek. Bards are usually loud, boisterous and extroverted. You should be too! If you are playing a bard you need to make sure that you talk to the NPCs, befriend the village drunks and generally make it clear that your character is having a grand old time. Let the wizards be cowardly and the rouges be cautious and suspicious, bards are bold and quite often heedless! I’m not suggesting that you trample over the other players in the group. However, you should make it clear that you are present in a scene and you have your own ideas about how things should be done, even if no one wants to listen.

Are you a bard lover? Are you up to 11? Rock out in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

 

 Comments

24 Responses to “Crank it to 11: Amping Up Your Bard!”
  1. Jeremy says:

    Consider this: since DnD is fantasy, don’t feel constrained by the typical idealized view of the late European Middle Ages and early Renaissance. How about a Death Metal bard? Or a twangy redneck bard with a mason jar or some other folksy sort of instrument? And what about the beat box bard? I’m actually not kidding — not entirely, at least.

    Don’t get hemmed in by lutes and harps and crap like that…PUH-LEEZ. Using music other than the suppoesdly tried & true…and yet so obvious…tunes & tones from we’d all expect could make for an interesting feel to the character, especially if you’re playing in a game that’s more high fantasy than fanta-history.

    As for me, I don’t like bards…won’t play them…tend to target them with extreme malice when DMing. It’s an affliction I can’t seem to shake. But with how 4e runs character powers/abilities, I may just throw in a rapping urban storyteller at the next tavern.

  2. Toord says:

    Sorcerers are the best class ever, end of argument.

  3. Tom says:

    *nods in agreement*

  4. Ariannos says:

    Bards rock. But rouge/wizards are the best class ever. Sneaky arcane power!!!!

  5. Tourq says:

    I would love to try out a bard. I have always wanted to, but they never seemed viable until 4e. I think they would be the most challenging and rewarding to roleplay. I thought the bard from A Knight’s Tale was awesome. The next character I make will be a bard… I think he will have very few melee powers, and no *magical* powers. Most of his *powers* will simply be inspirational words, songs, and music.

    I just fell out of my chair.

  6. Nicholas says:

    @Toord: Not-uh, conversation was already over! Although the new wild mage does make a very convincing case.

  7. Duncan says:

    Two years ago, playing v3.5, I played my first bard ever. I didn’t want to play the typical music/singing/etc bard so (with the DM’s permission, of course) I made an Iron Chef bard. Really, I just used cooking as the performing, but since it was Iron Chef instead of just chef, it was much more over the top, and more entertaining at the table. So there are many options available if the player and DM are willing to work together to have fun.

  8. Palm says:

    Rapping bard with a ghetto blaster?

  9. Justin says:

    After playing the 4E Bard during D&D Game Day yesterday I am absolutely in love. The powers are useful and the flavor is great. Using Song of Discord on a bearded devil to turn him on his master is one of my best DnD moments in a long time. Fists were pumped, cheers were raised, and the bard finally got his kudos after almost 30 years. I already have a heavy metal, tiefling bard in the works that I can’t wait to play with.

  10. Nicholas says:

    Heads up to bard lovers! E over at Geek’s Dream Girl is running a bard themed contest to win a PHB2 and there’s still a little time to enter: http://geeksdreamgirl.com/2009/03/18/spring-break-bard-contest-win-a-dd-4e-phb2/

  11. Rob G says:

    Super Bards beaten by the Lion’s Roar!

  12. Steve V says:

    I would love to play a bard for an upcoming 4e campaign but I am not sure it could replace the cleric position. We’re going to run through the Scales of War path. Currently there is a wizard, warlock, cleric- me, then someone is going to play some type of defender and another person is going to play a striker.

    I have always loved playing the bard, ever since I convinced/conned my DM back in AD&D times to let me play one. I’m just not sure they can take a leading role still. From what I have read it still appears that they are a supplementary role for a larger party or perhaps an urban adventure, not a group that is going to play Scales of War.

  13. bards are my favorite class,love to play them only i haven’t tried 4 ed.
    (heck i haven’t even played 4 ed period)
    lol

  14. JMcB says:

    I’m with Jeremy on this. I just introduced a psychedelic bard NPC into my 2E campaign whose act is to give people tiny doses of two different potions (e.g., clairaudience and ESP) and either play songs on the hurdy-gurdy or produce minor illusions. For music, I played Donovan (“Hurdy-Gurdy Man”) and the Doors (“The Crystal Ship”). The players really enjoyed it and begged him to take them around the back of the tavern to get a hit of his product. I may use him later to give adventure clues via potion trips–but of course, there’s always a chance the potions will produce a bad trip with poison damage.

  15. Capt_Poco says:

    Thanks for the inspiration Jeremy! My next adventure will pit the players against Jeremiah, the evil redneck mason jar bard.

  16. Merdok says:

    Last bard I played was NPCed when I was DMing my last 3.5 campaign. One of my players made the comment before we started that Bards where a bit fruity and useless so ofcourse I built a bard/truenamer and put him incharge of the PCs in there mercanary organization “Mercs Inc.” (their choice of name not mine :P ) When they started commenting on how bad ass the boss was I told them he was a bard, the look on their faces was priceless

    This bard was quiet calm and overall not your typical bard. He was good with words but only when he used them and as for his preformance. He had an “instrament” witch is basically a glass orb witch when activated created vairous pretdigitation effects around him. Spinning glowing runes on the ground flashes of light wirlling “energy” waves and it would deepen his voice and make his eyes glow so that when he chanted like he was casting some fantastic ritualistic spell it sounded like a demonic force had taken him over.

  17. RhysHalloran says:

    I decided to go really different with my bard. For a time I played a traditional, funny boisterous Warforged bard but for my new campaign I wanted something different. I ended up having a bard with all the flavor of a shaman. A Longtooth Shifter Bard, who uses the drum, and was his tribe’s spiritual leader. I really like him.

  18. Jym says:

    2e had the Complete Book of Bards, which had tons of cool “kits” (precursor to the prestige class / paragon path). I used one I think was called the blade, where your form of performance was showy fencing. So basically you were like Errol Flynn. Loads of fun.

  19. Fausto Grimoire says:

    This is my first time playing D&D, so I chose to be a bard since I had no musical talent. As I looked through the list of playable races I chose the Tiefling over the gnome, because I did not like the idea of my character being short and child like. My campaign group started at level 8 with 3000gp to spend, so I bought a doss lute. I had imagined my Tiefling Bard playing heavy metal on that doss lute.

    My DM really liked the idea and decided to award me a home brewed axe. He called it the”Infernal Axe,” because it can be wielded as a melee weapon just like an axe and it can be used as a bard implement when it was strummed. Through out the campaign I would be challenged to “Rock Offs” by other npc bards, demons and the devil. Each time I would win a rock off the challenger’s instrument was pink slipped so that in the end, there were enough instruments to form a band. When I reached my epic destiny upon beating Asmodeus to a Rock Off thanks to the help of my band, “Brutal 666”, I became the Prince of Hell and was awarded a home brewed ring that granted Brutal 3 to all damage rolls and a pick that made any combination of dice damage rolls that was divisible by 6 into d6 rolls since 6 was the devil’s number.

    When it was my turn, I would play my theme song just so everyone knew it was my turn, and my time to speak. Each time I rolled to attack, I would point at the target and yell “D’D’DIE!” My DM would say, “OMFG that was BRUTAL!” after I rolled for damage. My DM latter told me that bards had been picked on for being useless in 3.5, but with the advent of Tiefling as a playable race, and the re-invention of the class in Player hand book 2 for 4th edition, wizards of the coast found the best way to popularize tiefling and bards by giving Tieflings the racial +2 ability bonus to intelligence and charisma; and making all bard attacks use charisma and have intelligence modifier as a bonus effect. Although my bard was not 100% by the book, I enjoyed playing my bard and I am sure my group enjoyed having him around.

    Btw, can you guess my majestic word?

  20. Fausto Grimoire says:

    CORRECTION: I meant to say that I had no musical talent but fantasized about being a musician.

  21. Vilegobbo says:

    I played a couple bards, and both turned out bad-ass, my first one was a grunge rocker who became the parties ace up the sleeve, i carried all the left over magic items from our war mage and figured out how to use them in the most effective manner. My second one became the party leader and just did his job as a support character that +1 inspire courage can really turn the tide of a fight real quick. I cant wait to try out the Bard in 4e

  22. The Reaper says:

    Put a bard group together and have them play guitar hero: world tour and use freaking star power on monsters!

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