Posted by : David Guyll March 10, 2014

Bards have often ironically been pretty much a joke, especially in 3rd Edition where they are billed as the "ultimate generalist" and best in a "supporting role".

The reality is that with only two cantrips per day, fewer skill points than the rogue (a good chunk of which are probably getting dumped into various Charisma-based skills, particularly at least one Perform), a cleric's attack bonus (which starts out not so bad, but impacts her more and more down the road), and a rogue's Hit Die they were basically only really useful for talking to things, which was in turn largely as useful as your Dungeon Master allowed.

Mearls claims that the designers "took a sledgehammer to a few of the bard's traditional concepts", which is not exactly true: what they really did was add more spells and some skill mechanics, and rename bardic music and make it more broadly applicable. Granted, it makes the bard a more attractive class since it will probably be actually competent at doing something besides possible Diplomacy-abuse, but that is less breaking it apart and rebuilding from the ground up/removing stuff entirely, and more just...piling more crap on top.

Another bit of irony is that what Mearls describes makes me think of 4th Edition's bard. It was very much different from the traditional bard, by which I mean it was fucking awesome and competent. They can, for starters, be built around a melee, ranged, or mixed concept (you do not have to pick a style and stick with it), have the same number of spells as other spellcasters (including a killer joke), get a big bonus to talking to people, can multiclass more than anyone else, and even have thematic feats that, for example, gives them a small bonus to any skill they are not trained in.

It would have been nice if they did break the class down, ponder the rubble for a bit, throw it away because aside from 4th Edition—which they are loathe to acknowledge—it has never worked, consider what it is supposed to be doing, and completely rebuild the class from the ground up with mechanics that actually support the mission statement. But, hey, people are not calling it D&D Previous for nothing.

(Or wondering how it took them over two years to arrive at this point.)

So of course we have the lazily designed, uninspired nonsense magic that in no way evokes a bard weaving music into magic (or, frankly, anything that any spellcaster does). That is a given, and we just have to accept it, because it is not like they have another book from the epoch that they are for some reason exhuming rules from that would at least be a step towards giving magic some semblance of mechanically-supported flavor. Besides that, what confuses me is why Bardic Inspiration has a daily limitation for any other reason than a purely mechanical one.

Mearls mentions how its flexibility can be tied to the narrative component of the game, which is a good thing because when done well it can evoke that whole feel thing (that by Mearls's own definition 5th Edition does not). The problem is how its daily limitation disrupts the narrative. A lot. I mean, it does not sound magical (not that it being magical would make any more sense), so...why the limitation? How is it that the bard can inspire someone only a set number of times? Do they, I dunno, run out of words?

Why not, say, have the bard make a check. On a success she grants a bonus, while a failure imposes a penalty? This could reflect bad advice, the bard disrupting the character's concentration, misinterpreted instructions, or the character becoming overconfident and making a mistake. That way you would not need to give it a nonsense daily limit, and it would be more risky.

Nah. Why go through all the trouble trying to make something great, when "good enough" will probably sell juuust fine.

{ 24 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I have always seen the bard as a RED MAGE from FINAL FANTASY, a hero that uses White Magic, Black Magic and have some Warrior Exploits, with the bardic music being an extra

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    1. That's a common comparison, the problem is that prior versions of the bard sucked at pretty much all of those things. :-P

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    2. 4E Bard FTW, I have an epic Bard McRogue/McSwordmage that I just love, going back to 3E/2E ways will not be the same, I think I'll stick with 4E a little bit longer

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    3. Yeah, 4th Edition is going to be my D&D of choice for a long, looong time.

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    4. Same. I am not moving from 4e for a while, as I see it.

      With that said I kinda dislike the idea of the bard trope generally. The whole 'bring a lute to a sword fight' thing always went over the line that my suspension of disbelief draws. I just found the whole concept incredibly trite.

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  2. I believe there might be a way to get back some inspiration as you level up.

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    1. It is not a matter of not being able to regain inspiration within the day, it is that it has a daily limitation at all. How does that make sense? How is that explained in the context of the game? It feels so very, VERY lazy. So much of the game is based around the adventuring day, and I am not sure why since it is a terrible unit for determining resource replenishment.

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    2. well if it was in 4e and it was an encounter power or a daily power how does that makes sense?

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    3. If it is a martial power, then those get chalked up to narrative control. As in, your fighter does not consciously choose to use Brute Strike, but the player using Brute Strike is basically making a declaration that his character hit the monster really, really hard. Kind of how in FATE you can use Fate Points to tag aspects on stuff. I am still not a fan of the per-day stuff, because it can mess with adventure pacing.

      Magic, oddly, does not make sense. At least, it does not make sense because of the at-will, per-encounter, per-day, and ritual stuff (same problem with 5th Edition, just without the encounter spells). This is because spellcasters are making a conscious decision as to what spells they are using and there is no connection between them all.

      As I have said before (and no one has answered me): what do spells levels/slots represent? If it is more energy, then how come a wizard cannot use numerous lower-level slots to cast a higher level one? How come a wizard using a 9th-level slot to cast a 1st-level spell has nothing left over? Stuff like that.

      So, in short, non-magical stuff makes sense in 4th Edition, but really there are better models that they could be using.

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    4. The At-Will, Encounter, and Ritual stuff of 4E worked alright fantasy-wise, in my opinion. The odd one out are the Dailies, but those were mostly done away with once Essentials was released. I do think the Encounter power mechanics could be improved on though, especially in the case of magic. I'd prefer placing the limiter on the number of Encounter powers that can be performed each encounter but allowing the character to reuse the same ones within that limit, rather than placing the limiter on the Encounter powers and exhausting them individually.

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    5. On reason I favor encounter resources is because by and large D&D is built on the encounter as a block of interesting stuff going on. It works out much better than giving most things a per-day limit.

      However, in "my D&D hack that I will totally get to work on when I am done with my Dungeon World/FATE stuff", my current thought is to do a Vitality Point/Wound Point split, with VP based on your class and WP based on Constitution.

      VP replenishes very quickly after a fight, representing martial skill/exhaustion/luck/plot armor, while WP heals with each day of rest.

      To represent exhaustion, wizard (and sorcerer) spells drain VP first, then WP, so it gives you a variable encounter-based usage for magic, though some spells might cost you WP. I will probably even make each spell burn a die of damage, making magic dangerous and unpredictable, but allows a wizard to really go all out when she needs to.

      That, or go with an actually Vancian model and make all wizard magic require that the wizard lugs her books around with her, can only hold a few spells, ever, but can get them back after a short rest so long as she has the book on hand.

      Either method is simple, and better models the stuff we see in fiction.

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  3. 4e Bard, along with the Warlord kinda dethroned the cleric as the default party healer/leader, they were flexible, unique, interesting and very good at what they did...well, too bad for MM & company, 4e don't exist...

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    1. Mearls and WotC did not take your books away. If you still have 4e you can still play it. the RPG police wont show up at your door and fine you for playing that edition.

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    2. It would be nice to not have a required healer since, you know, none of the fiction D&D is allegedly inspired by had a character dedicated to funneling healing magic into the other characters.

      I find it very ironic that D&D is pretty much the worst game for trying to recreate those stories.

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    3. Actually under 4E rules you DON'T need a healer, you have Second Wind during a battle and you can use your Healing Surges during your short rest, having a Leader just makes it easier, and I do believe that 4E is the closer edition to have a good damage dealing/healing system, sadly 4E was really misunderstood, by far my favorite D&D edition.

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    4. @David: Assuming you were responding to me, I was referring to 5th Edition (and 3rd Edition). In 4th Edition you definitely benefit from having a leader, but I have run games (and sessions of Encounters) without one and it still works.

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    5. @Frank Foulis they may not take the books away from the players, but the future of 4e DDI is still a mystery, and a huge chunk of 4e playerbase never bought any D&D books and relied completly on DDI

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    6. @David, my mistake I misunderstood, I tought you were talking in a general manner,
      @spearheadstudios, Actually DDI future is not a complete mistery, I have just received a mail about this, I am going to copy the most important points on this:

      As we look to the future launch of D&D Next, we are shifting our focus to the development and support of the new rules set, which will impact the Dungeons & Dragons Insider subscription service:

      • DDI will remain available to those who still wish to access all the great 4th Edition Magazines and Tools as part of the DDI subscription.
      • Starting in March of 2014, the DDI tool set (Character Builder, Adventure Tools and Compendium), will no longer be updated with new 4th Edition game content.
      • Existing issues of Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazine will continue to be offered for viewing.

      If you have questions about your DDI subscription, please contact us at http://www.wizards.com/customerservice.

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    7. Well that is good, at least. The tools are pretty awesome. :-D

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    8. maybe now they will sell the tools instead of an 80 yearly charge that i cant keep paying. I bought most of the books, except forgotten realms, but its a hassle going through every last one of them to see my options.I have already given them hundreds of dollars for the DDI and can't continue

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    9. I doubt they will sell them for precisely that reason: it is a way to continually rake in $80 a year per head.

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    10. I just wish I had time, or someone else would create, a similar application with some extended functionality. Stuff like custom feats and items, similar to the custom monsters, or being able to select/limit sources/classes/races when creating custom characters. For example, I'd love to do an Essentials game, but would want to allow a few more classes (like Blackguard and Executioner Assassin) and races (like Goliath or Shifters, or even a Tiefling Fighter) than the Essentials character builder allows. You can tell players what sources are available, but it'd be nice if when you hit the Custom button you could actually create custom campaign sets.

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    11. Yes, being able to make custom content (besides monsters) easily would make it ten times better.

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    12. It's an ugly thought - but it really seems like WotC threw 4E ideas under a during the development of D&DN - maybe they did so knowing full well that customers would continuing paying for 4E tools if they didn't like 5E's direction.

      Incidentally - I'm tired of the 3E paradigm where everything supernatural was magic, and everything magic was a caster. I prefer the 4E paradigm wherein fire demon can breath fire because he's made of fire, so fire.

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