Black Book: Bard Concept

A long time ago Melissa and I played in a Dungeon World campaign where she gave the bard class a shot for like six or so levels.

She hated it so much that we decided to just make our own bard (that a lot of other people also like, so I guess that was more productive than just bitching about it online).

Frankly the only bard I've ever liked (besides the one we made of course) is the one in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, the magic system doesn't make any sense (nothing new for D&D) but at least the class isn't spread so thin that it can't reliably do anything besides maybe make lore and Diplomacy checks.

One of the big things with Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book is that I wanted to make the magic systems actually make sense in game (and not be assumed or basically required just to get by). We succeeded with the other spellcasters so far, but the bard was giving me trouble until recently.

For the wizard and sorcerer I gave them Mana points and variable spell drain to simulate unpredictable and dangerous magic. For the cleric and druid I gave them Favor, which is safe and predictable, but replenishes more slowly and they are beholden to their god: piss off your god and you could lose your powers. Warlocks have a mix of magic that can be used at-will, but they can also spend Boon to increase it, and like cleric and druids they have to answer to something.

These all work and make sense in-game, and I'm not opposed to using the same or similar system if it makes sense, but that's just it: none of them really scream "bard".

As with Dungeon World classes, Melissa and I prefer to start from a purely flavor perspective, imagining/explaining how various things work in-game, and then dress it up in mechanics later. When I think of a bard using music, I imagine it requiring some sort of build up in basically two ways.

The first is that the bard just starts playing a song that affects creatures that can hear it. If the bard plays a lullaby, then creatures can get drowsy and fall asleep. Not instantly, mind you: I think of it more like they make a Will save, if they fail they become effectively dazed, and then if they fail again on their next turn they fall asleep.

I could see a fear effect working similarly: you start playing, creatures that hear it make Will saves to avoid being frightened, and if they fail twice start running away from you.

The catch for this sort of stuff is that the creatures can't be hostile towards you before you start playing. Like, if a band of orcs is charging at you, you can't start playing a lullaby to put them to sleep.

The second are effectively spells with longer casting times.

I had this idea years ago when working with Josh on a D&Dish game that never saw fruition. The idea was that a wizard could use a Standard Action to make a ranged attack that dealt let's say 1d4+Int mod damage, but they could opt to build up magical energy for a round, and then on the next round throw out an attack that could deal something like 4d6+Int mod damage.

So, assuming your Int mod was +2, you could take two turns doing a total of 2d4+4 damage (9 on average), or two turns doling out 4d6+2 mod (16 on average). The drawback was that you could be attacked, which would force a skill check or saving throw to avoid losing the spell (or maybe even having it go out of control).

(There was also something like where you could take HP damage or spent  Magic Points or something to speed up the process, but I forget because this was back in 2012 I think, before I was even playing Dungeon World.)

So a bard could have a kind of area-effect cone attack could require 2 rounds of playing in order to build up the song before suddenly releasing it (like a song building up to the chorus). Since a wizard's Burning Hands talent requires only a Standard Action and deals 2d6+Intelligence fire damage (Reflex save for half), the bard's what I'm calling for now the Soundwave talent could take 2 rounds to cast and deal 2d8+Charisma bludgeoning damage (doesn't seem much better but then the bard doesn't have Mana or anything like that to worry about).

Other song spells could have effects that change on a round-by-round basis, reflecting the song reaching its chorus before starting over again. For example, a haste spell could give you a bonus to Speed on the first round, a bonus to AC and Reflex saves on the second, a bonus to hit (or maybe even a bonus attack) on the third, and then it starts all over again.

Of course the bard will be able to do other stuff: scaling bonus on all checks made to recall information (Bardic Lore), actually good in melee (what with the actually flat math), and since the bard doesn't have any sort of currency (like Mana or Favor) you could feasibly make a bard without any magical music what-so-ever if that's really not your thing.

Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book is out! It's our own take on a D&Dish/d20 game that features (among other things) simple-yet-flexible classes, unassumed magic and magical healing, a complete lack of pseudo-Vancian magic, and more mythologically accurate monsters.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

1 comment:

  1. I think you can take a look in the 13th Age's Bard -- in my opinion, is the best concept implementation for the d20 system as a whole (in pair with DnD 4e). Link to the material here:


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