I love the bard. In most role-playing games (RPGs) the bard is categorized as the jack of all trades, master of none. Though the bard in Dungeon World (DW) is a unique class, it feels similar to the other magic/divine wielding classes. We need to tease out the uniqueness of the class. This series is a re-tooling of the Dungeon World Bard.
The word bard brings images of song, musical instruments, storytelling, and lore. For me, there is no casting of spells or standing in for the fighter. There might be outdoor survival skills as bards may travel from steading to steading, dispersing news and delivering messages. The magical properties often attributed to the bard are because of what they know and how that knowledge is applied, rather than what they can do.
Some of my experiences with “bardic lore”
In most RPGs, what they know is usually distilled into a single ability or a grouping of abilities (bardic knowledge [area of expertise]). In such a case the game master (GM) might ask for a roll, and the result would determine how much or how accurate the knowledge in that specific in-game situation.
Though a bard is supposed to be well read on many eclectic subjects, I have had a GM claim the knowledge is restricted or forbidden because either the bard had never encountered the subject (a foreign culture for example) or had limited access (the lore behind a named magical sword). Even the basic wizard is generally more useful in the latter case as he or she might have access to some form of detect magic, and be able to glean the capabilities of the sword; whereas the bard might have read a dusty tomb or heard a legend, probably exaggerated through time and translation (that’s the excuse I was normally given for my “lack of lore,” though my roll was a critical success).
At the other extreme, I have had a GM — because of a successful bardic lore roll — just hand me source material from the “GMs” section or some of his personal notes for the game, and give me 10 minutes to read it. No note-taking of my own allowed until after the read, and the material included information that was completely meta (hit dice and abilities of potential enemies) or somewhat irrelevant (the roll was concerning a named sword, and the first 11 pages of material talked about the culture of each of the individuals that had possessed the sword - interesting, but not what the roll was for).
In many ways, DW bypasses some of the issues that may arise when using bardic knowledge through play to find out. Rather than waxing poetic or handing over a ream of reading material, on a successful roll the bard may be able to spout bardic lore on the subject. However, for me, this sometimes takes away from the fun — but that is a subject for another post at another time.
Besides, why would a bard want to be seen as a wizard with a lute? Wizards are weird, and some of them are even in cahoots with demons and such! No … bards are classier than that, and if they are going to cast spells of some sort, it should be with style!
What is unique about the bard?
In the massively multiplayer online game (MMO) EverQuest, the bard is very differentiated from the other classes by both magical abilities (generally a single song every level, the song effect lasts a few seconds past the end of casting) and use in play (twisting multiple songs for multiple simultaneous effects, juggling instruments to maximize the effect of the current song being cast). To properly run the bard the player had to be focused and constantly twisting songs to be effective. In no other MMO is the bard so different in play.
Unfortunately, the EverQuest uniqueness of the bard does not transfer well to table-top RPGs (though a valiant attempt was made in the EverQuest (d20) table-top RPG). Most table-top RPGs cast the bard as another magic-using class that focuses on utility spells that require or are enhanced by a performance check.
There is one specific unique feature though — lore.
The bard is expected to be a fount of knowledge and wisdom in generally everything, and specifically a few chosen areas. However, personal play experience in table-top RPGs has shown that this feature is usually abused, or down-played to non-existence, depending on the GM.
The following is a list of the different pieces-parts I am throwing into the pot with the premise for this project:
- The original bard class from DW;
- Beyond the Wall type character creation;
- The spirit, if not the letter, of Jason Cordova’s compendium class The Storysmith (Discern Realities Podcast - Episode 15; hosted by Jason Cordova and David Lafreniere), and general discussion concerning bards in the Discern Realities podcast series;
- Aspects of the bard as envisioned in Shadows of Esteren (one of my personal favorite settings);
The goal for the final product will include:
- a new base The Bard class;
- a compendium class for bard wanna-bes that leverages parts of the new base class;
- an origin worksheet for character creation (think Beyond the Wall playbook character creation);
- a few unique bard centric maladies and melodies, troubles and triumphs, instruments and items.
This series is an attempt to bring back the unique feel of the bard in both at-the-table play and the bard’s niche mastery of knowledge. Many re-imaginings of the DW bard playbook have been accomplished, but in this series, I am looking to re-tool the bard from the ground up. I love the Apocalypse Engine in general for what it brings to the table as a structure for assisting a group to tell stories, and DW in specific because I have always had a weakness for fantasy. Its time the bard contributed properly to that conversation.