Singing a new tune
A different bard, not quite so hard
(A conversation of a DM with two NPCs; Jake Armageddon, a half-orc fighter/assassin, and Jake’s brother Alphonse, a cleric/assassin.)
DM: Guys, I’m glad you could come. I want your opinion on a particular subject.
Jake: Go ahead, boss. Whatcha wanna talk about? DM: Urn . . . bards.
(The two valiant half-orcs immediately run into the nearest corner, cowering and whimpering.)
Alphonse: Ach, sss, it hurts uss. It hurts usss, nasssty DM.
DM: Don’t worry, I’m not going to bring one here right now. I just wanted to talk about them.
(Jake and Alphonse apprehensively come back from the corner.)
Jake: Boss, bards are just plain mean! Me and Alphie will probably be in the runnin’ for guildmaster pretty soon now, but these bard guys could lick the tar out of both of us.
DM: Which ones are worse, the old-type bards or the newer type ones?
Jake: Well, I’ll tell ya, I’d rather run into a division of Sherman tanks than one of the old ones, and the newer ones are just as bad ‘cept nowadays there sure are less of ‘em, ‘cause it takes them so long to become one.
Alphonse: Ach, sss, nasssty bardsses.
DM: Jake, where did you learn about Sherman tanks? . . .
There is one great drawback to the bard class as described in the AD&D Players Handbook, that being that you have to go through 10 to 16 levels as something else before you may become a bard. The modified bard class described in the article which follows removes this inhibiting factor; the bard class, as redefined according to the author’s experience and opinions, is one which a beginning character may enter without having to gain fighter and thief experience first. It is also a class which, unlike the official AD&D bard, does not possess thieving abilities — but does have limited power in the use of illusionist spells.
In planning a revision of the the bard class, a path could have been chosen toward one of the two possible extremes: either to rework the material in the Players Handbook without altering any of the basic structure underlying the class, or to literally start from scratch and design an entire new class, perhaps having only its name and a few of the most basic characteristics in common with the official version. In the end, the path chosen lies between the extremes but ends up closer to the second one than the first.
I chose the Welsh version of the bard as my source, for several reasons. The bardic heritage of the Welsh people is rich and continues even to modern times, with annual gatherings at bardic festivals. More importantly, the version is readily available to most people in Evangeline Walton’s version of the Welsh Mabinogion tetralogy.
Similarities may be found between this version and the version in the Players Handbook. (After all, they both describe essentially the same thing, only from different perspectives.) When there was no evident reason to change a characteristic or attribute, that item was kept fundamentally the same. Many differences will be noted, including but not limited to those mentioned above.
It is easy to see how thieving abilities could be introduced into a non-Welsh version of a bard, but not in the bard as viewed by the Welsh themselves. Welshmen had a somewhat poor reputation in the eyes of other British peoples. The concept of “welshing” on a bet is derived from the Welsh people. Also, there is a British saying that equates Welshmen with thieves. If the Welsh bard is assumed to be the prototypical bard (the Irish may have a quarrel with this), non-Welsh writers may have understandably included this thievery aspect in their literature.
The “illusionist connection” is demonstrated well by Evangeline Walton’s works, such as the incredible illusion Manawyddan created at the court of Caswallon in The Song of Rhiannon.
This description certainly portrays a bard differently than the Players Handbook — but no claim of superiority is made for it. The differences arise from different perceptions, probably derived from a difference in sources. I can state that this bard is better for my purposes, and I believe that it has more versatility and fewer restraints than the official bard. I hope other players will find it useful as well.
Bard abilities and characteristics
A bard must have certain minimum ability scores. These are: strength 9; intelligence 15; wisdom 12; constitution 6; dexterity 16; and charisma 15. A bard does not gain 10% to earned experience for exceptional ability scores in any area.
Race: A bard may be human, elven, or half-elven and have an unlimited chance for advancement. A halfling or dwarf may be a bard and attain up to 5th level.
Alignment: The alignment of a bard may be either lawful good, lawful neutral, (pure) neutral, neutral good, or (rarely) chaotic neutral or chaotic good. Bards tend to be lawful, since they depend on custom and culture to make their living. Bards may expect to be allowed admittance to the homes of most nobles and other wealthy patrons to play for their dinner, and if they are superb they may also receive other payment, perhaps a gold chain or a bag of coins thrown to the bard by the patron for his excellence. Bards are not evil, for this evil intent would pervade their songs and ruin the beauty inherent in them. Evil people are generally portrayed as being against beauty in any event.
Arms and armor of bards
The only armor a bard may wear is leather armor of any type, and only a wooden shield is permitted. A shield may not be actively used when a bard attempts charming, since a string instrument must be played which requires the use of both hands. The weapons usable by a bard are: hand or throwing axe, club, dagger, darts, hammer, javelin, horseman’s mace, scimitar, sling, broadsword, longsword, and short sword. A bard may use flaming oil, but not poison.
Bards use the same “to hit” table as fighters; however, they never strike more than once per round as fighters do when they attain high levels. Likewise, they do not gain multiple attacks against opponents of less than one hit die.
When a bard character starts his career, he is proficient with only one weapon, and suffers a -4 penalty whenever using any weapon with which he is not proficient. A bard may become proficient with one additional weapon for every four levels that have been attained; i.e., a 5th-level bard can be proficient with two weapons. Note that in no case may a bard use a weapon in each hand, such as a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other.
Magical items usable by bards
A bard may employ magical weapons of the types normally usable by a bard (see above). Magical leather armor and a magical wooden shield may also be used by a bard. They may use potions, scrolls, rings, rods, wands, and miscellaneous magic items which are usable by all classes, Any books. librams, manuals, or tomes that are read by a bard cause the same effect as if the bard were a druid. Bards may also use a Rod of Beguiling and all types of the Horn of Valhalla. Of course, they may also use any appropriate Instruments of the Bards.
The bard may employ some magic items with better than usual effect. These are:
- Drums of Panic — saving throw is made at -1 on the die.
- Horn of Blasting — 50% greater damage.
- Lyre of Building — double effects.
- Pipes of the Sewers—double number of rats in half the usual time; also, a bard may substitute the pipes for a stringed instrument when attempting to charm children, utilizing it as such rather than for summoning rats.
- Horn of the Tritons — Calm water in a two-mile radius, double the number of summoned creatures, double duration of fleeing by creatures.
- Horn of Valhalla — double amount of summoned fighters.
A bard makes his saving throws as a cleric of equal level, except for saving throws vs. paralyzation, poison, and death magic, which the bard makes as an equal-level magic-user.
Spell use and languages
Due to their training under the tutelage of druids, bards can cast most druid spells. Some spells are unusable by bards of any level, however; these will be enumerated below. The effectiveness of a druid spell cast by a bard is the same as that of a druid one level lower than the bard; i.e., a 3rd-level bard would cast a spell with the same effectiveness as a 2nd-level druid. However, effectiveness greater than that of a 12th-level druid cannot be attained until the bard becomes a Master Bard, in which case spells are cast with 13th-level effectiveness.
Bards also have some illusionist spell powers, derived from their ability to enter strong impressions upon people’s minds. Just as with the druid spells, there are some illusionist spells that are off limits to bards, and they are listed below. A bard’s effectiveness in casting illusionist spells is 3 three levels less than they have attained as a bard; a 5th-level bard casts an illusionist spell as if he were a 2nd-level illusionist. A bard determines which illusionist spells are known by him, just as an illusionist does.
Spells not usable by bards
1st level: darkness, hypnotism
2nd level: blindness, hypnotic pattern, misdirection
3rd level: continua/ darkness, rope trick
4th level: minor creation, shadow monsters
2nd level: barkskin, fire trap
3rd level: stone shape
4th level: control temperature 10’ radius, produce fire, plant door (May pass through undergrowth or thickets with this spell, but may not enter trees.)
5th level: insect plague, pass plant, sticks to snakes
6th level: conjure fire elemental, transport via plants, wall of thorns
7th level: conjure earth elemental, chariot of Sustarre, creeping doom, finger of death, fire storm.
Since bards are a scholarly sort, often perusing old works or learning songs of foreign languages, they have the ability to read languages and also have knowledge about many magical or legendary people, places and things.
The bard’s “Read Languages” percentage determines not only whether or not the bard can comprehend a particular work, but how much of what is there may be understood. For instance, if a bard has a 25% chance to read languages and is successful in the roll to determine whether the item can be read, he can still read only 25% of the information there, so his knowledge of the work in question will still be rather sketchy. Unlike thieves, bards may read languages that are now extinct. Bards are different in the way in which they may learn languages. A bard does not need to be taught by a person who knows the language, but must study the language for an amount of time equal to 1 month, minus one day for each point of intelligence above 12 and minus one additional day for each language already known. However, this does not allow a bard to learn more languages than his intelligence would indicate. A bard may also, if he wishes, learn languages in the same way other classes do.
The bard’s lore
The bard’s ability to determine the nature of magical or legendary people, places, or things is expressed as the bard’s “Lore Percentage.” Usually this knowledge will be dispensed to others as a riddle, poem, song, or in some other cryptic form. This ability is not a substitute for a detect magic spell. A typical +1 sword is generally not able to be identified as such by a bard, but the sword of a legendary hero could be identified, and the alignment (at least) of an intelligent sword could be discovered. Any magic item bearing magical inscriptions can be detected as magical and its properties determined by use of the bard’s Lore Percentage. Any item to be identified must be closely scrutinized, and if it is possibly usable by the bard it must be actually handled by him. Artifacts and relics can be identified as such by the bard, but their powers won’t be known, or will only be hinted at. Bards may also have knowledge about a legendary place, if the name is known or if the site has been visited.
Note that the dice should not always be allowed to dictate the course of events on a Lore Percentage roll. If there is some knowledge that the DM does not want characters to find out, he may disregard the result of a Lore Percentage roll and state that the bard knows nothing about the item or subject at hand. This should only be done for the sake of the adventure or the campaign as a whole, and the tactic should not be used so often that the bard’s ability becomes worthless.
Charms and suggestions
Another ability of bards is that of charming creatures of at least animal-level intelligence by use of their singing and playing. Creatures that are immune to charms are not affected, nor are deafened creatures. All non-associated creatures within 4” of the bard are subject to the bard’s charm. Previously associated creatures who are now hostile to the bard may be affected.
To check the success of a charm attempt, percentile dice are rolled. If the number rolled exceeds the bard’s “Charm Percentage,” none of the creatures within range are particularly impressed with the bard’s song and must merely delay their actions for 1 segment. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the bard’s Charm Percentage, all non-associated creatures must make a saving throw vs. spells. If the creature makes its saving throw, it will listen to the bard for one melee round, doing nothing else, as long as the bard continues to play.
A bard can, if he wishes, while a creature is in this charmed state, try to implant a suggestion (as the spell), in which case the charmed creature must again save vs. spells—this time at -2 on the die — and if it fails, it will suffer the full effects of the suggestion. If the second saving throw succeeds, the creature is totally free of the bard’s charm. To plant a suggestion, the bard must be able to speak in a language that can be comprehended by the intended victim. It is not necessary to speak the creature’s language to simply charm, however.
A bard may attempt to charm as often as he wishes, but any individual creature or character may be affected only once per day. Loud noise which would drown out the bard’s singing, or a physical attack upon the bard, will immediately negate charms, but not suggestions, which may be in effect.
Charming by a bard is exclusive of all other activities other than walking. If the bard begins to walk while charming, the charmed creatures will attempt to follow until or unless they are forced to be farther than 4” away, at which time the charm will be broken. A bard must use both hands to play his instrument while charming.
Other effects of a bard’s songs
A bard’s singing and/or playing also has other effects. By merely singing a poem or song, a bard increases the morale of associated creatures by 10%; gives +1 to those creatures on saving throws vs. fear, submission, or other attacks which act to dishearten the individual; and inspires ferocity in attack, so that “to hit” rolls are made at +1. Both of these characteristics require 1 round of poetics to produce the desired effect; during the second round after the bard begins to sing or play, the ferocity and/or morale bonuses will be in effect. These effects last for one full turn, as long as the bard continues to sing throughout this time. The bard can melee while he sings and still produce these effects, but cannot charm or cast spells and invoke the ferocity/morale bonuses at the same time.
A bard’s singing and playing negates the song effects of harpies and prevents similar attacks which rely upon song. A bard’s song gives +1 to the saving rolls of associated creatures and the bard himself against attacks which are based on sound, such as the keen of a groaning spirit, or the roar of an androsphinx or a dragonne. The bard’s playing also stills the noise of shriekers.
When two opposing bards are in a conflict of songs, the charm percentage of the lower-level bard is subtracted from the charm percentage of the higher-level bard, thus giving a new charm percentage for the more adept bard in this instance. When two bards of equal level oppose each other, their songs have no charming effect since they cancel each other out, though the duet may sound exquisite!
A bard is useful to his party when traveling in the wilderness because a bard’s songs are soothing for a road-weary traveller, thus allowing an additional 20% of normal movement per day if on foot; if all party members are mounted, a gain of an additional 10% per day is obtained.
When a bard gains the title of Bard (11th level), he also gains the power to change form, as a druid is able to do.
An instrument is needed for all bard abilities associated with song, except for inspiring ferocity or raising morale. In no way is any loyalty or reaction adjustment for high charisma any benefit to a bard’s functions.
A Bard cannot employ henchmen nor hirelings until he gains the title of Bard (11th level), and then he may employ only druids or fighters of the human, half-elven, elven, or halfling races.
A bard will work with no other bards while adventuring, although they may practice their music or poetry with each other. Like monks and rangers, bards will retain very little of the money they gain. They will attempt to buy serviceable clothes for traveling, and will buy fine clothes and the most exquisite instrument they can acquire for use when they perform, but will keep only enough money to maintain themselves in a modest manner. Any other money will be donated to a worthy cause or give away at whim — although not to player characters! Occasionally, when a bard amasses an amount of wealth that is a burden to his creativity, he might use it to have an extravagant festival or party instead of giving it away.
One interesting sidelight of the bard class is that if a player with a bard character has the ability or inclination to write or recite short poems or songs for particular situations, he should be encouraged to do so. For example, if a bard was to charm a creature and then plant a suggestion of sleep on the creature, a lullaby could be appropriately sung by the player. It could add additional flavor and enjoyment to the game.
DM: Well guys, how do you like it now?
Alphonse: Taaasssty, taaasssty!
Can a ranger or a paladin become a bard? The Players Handbook makes it sound as if only true fighters can become bards. Is it possible for a bard-to-be who is neutral evil to become an assassin instead of a thief?
The answer to both questions is no. The bard description in the Players Handbook makes this clear by using the words “fighters” and “thieves” in italic type, for emphasis. A player character who intends to become a bard is not allowed to have the special skills and benefits of a fighter or thief sub-class during the preliminary stages of the character’s development; the special skills and benefits that the character receives when achieving bard status are more than adequate to compensate for this “disadvantage.”
Also, consider that the decision to become a paladin, ranger or assassin involves making a commitment in alignment that might prove uncomfortable later in a would-be bard’s career. This is especially true of a paladin, who would automatically have to undergo an alignment change (and suffer all the appropriate penalities for doing so) when switching to the thief class.
When bards start as fighters, are they limited in the armor they can wear?
No, because they’re not bards yet. A would-be bard who is currently a member of the fighter profession is treated exactly like a fighter, and can use any armor or weapons while following that profession. Of course, it’s good to apply some forethought; if a fighter intends to eventually become a bard, he should plan to direct his weapon-proficiency training toward the weapons which a bard can use, and it would be a good idea to find a suit of +1 chain mail during the fighter phase and tuck it away in a safe place during the thief phase of the character’s development.
According to the Players Handbook, a bard is permitted to wear magical chain mail and carry a bastard sword, but a thief cannot use either.
Can a bard employ these things while using thieving abilities without penalty?
Yes — assuming, of course, that the bard has attained proficiency with the sword. One of the significant benefits of becoming a bard is the ability to use armor and weapons not normally usable by a thief, and still be able to perform the various thieving abilities. All that’s necessary to properly play a bard with respect to this is to interpret the Players Handbook literally: A bard is able to use any of the armor and weapon types listed as permitted to the class, and a bard is able to function as a thief of the level which the character attained while pursuing that profession. Nothing in the description given in the Players Handbook puts any limitations or restrictions on either of these characteristics. The bard is an exceptional character class, for truly exceptional characters who are able to attain and accomplish things which are beyond the ability of “normal” characters.
A bard is limited to the use of certain weapons. However, is it possible for a bard to use a weapon he was previously trained in (for instance, a bow), perhaps with a penalty involved?
Again, this is a matter simply resolved by realizing the Players Handbook means what it says. No, bards cannot use bows, because that weapon does not appear in the list of weapons permitted to the class. A character who intends to become a bard should make a point of gaining proficiency with at least some of the weapons usable by a bard, in addition to skills with weapons (such as the bow) which the character might prefer to employ during his tenure as a fighter. A bard-to-be might wisely decide to become proficient with bow and arrow, to improve his chances of surviving during his fighter phase. But the use of that weapon is prohibited when the character switches to the thief class, and it can never again be legally employed before or after the character actually becomes a bard.
The Players Handbook says that bards-to-be must switch to thieving before attaining 8th level as a fighter. A footnote on page 181 of the DMG indicates that a bard could have 8th-level fighting ability. Of course, this only makes a difference if one opts for the special note regarding fighters’ progression on page 74 of the DMG. Please clarify.
Okay, I’ll try. The Players Handbook does stipulate that bards must stop gaining experience as fighters prior to attaining 8th level. But it also says that bards are subject to the effects of “magical books/librams/tomes which pertain to druids, fighters or thieves,” and these magic items can raise the effective fighting or thieving level of the bard beyond the usual limits.
Thus, a bard who has 7th-level fighting ability and comes under the influence of the effects of a Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms will operate at the 8th level of fighting ability for as long as the manual’s benefits remain in effect.
A bard is limited to “between the 5th and 9th level” in his advancement as a thief, which the sage interprets to mean that the bard-to-be must stop at the 6th, 7th or 8th level of thieving ability — between, but not including, 5th and 9th. Yet the same footnote on page 181 of the DMG allows for bards with 9th-level thieving ability — and it is possible for a bard to obtain that effective level of ability by settling down with a Manual of Stealthy Pilfering, providing he had 8th-level thieving ability to begin with.
It’s also worth noting the table on page 181 of the DMG, to which the troublesome footnote refers, is designed to generate non-player characters for an encounter and has no bearing on the definition of a bard as a player character. If you don’t want to assume a non-player character bard with 8th-level fighting ability has gained that ability magically, then you can assume it is possible for a non-player character bard to have powers and abilities far beyond those of a normal (player character) bard. For justification of this position, see the “Adjustments to Ability Dice Rolls for Non-Player Characters” on page 100 of the DMG; many of these bonuses apply only to NPCs, and the overall effect is to make non-player characters generally more formidable (in some respects) than a player character of the same class and race. In some cases, this means non-player characters can possess ability scores higher than the maximum attainable by a player character. By the same reasoning, a NPC bard might have a higher fighting or thieving level than it is possible for a player character to possess without magical assistance.
Doex-fighters (such as bards) keep their exceptional strength when they become a member of another class?
No. For bards, this is a case of giving up something to get something else: No character who is not an actual member of the fighter class can have exceptional strength. But when the ex-fighter becomes a bard, he does gain many benefits which are designed to make up for the prohibition on keeping his exceptional strength. The Players Handbook list 18 — not 18/01, or any other higher number—as the maximum strength possible for all non-fighter characters. As soon as a bard-to-be switches to the thief class, the character becomes a nonfighter. And although there will come a time when the bard-tobe regains the ability to use the skills he had as a fighter, he will never again be a fighter.
What are the maximum fighting and thieving levels of bards?
How do you determine druid level for spell-casting ability for a bard?
Does a bard of 7th level or higher possess the druidic ability of shape-shifting?
Unless something sneaky is hidden in these questions that the sage isn’t picking up on, they are all clearly answered by the description of the bard class in the Players Handbook:
The maximum fighting level of a bard is 5th, 6th or 7th, depending on how far the character progressed in the fighter class before switching to thief. The maximum thieving level of a bard is 6th, 7th or 8th level, depending on when the character chooses to leave the thief profession and enter the next stage of training as a bard.
A bard is able to use druidic spells according to the chart which is part of Bards Table I: One first-level druidic spell at first level, two first-level spells at second level, and so on. It is also clearly stated that a bard “gains druidic powers as a druid of the same level,” with the exception of the spells usable per level. These druidic powers include the identification, movement and language skills which begin at 3rd level, plus the immunity to certain forms of charms and the shape-shifting power which is first acquired at 7th level.
Is the original bard class, as printed in Best of The Dragon, or the bard class from the Players Handbook, supposed to be used for a player character? The earlier version of the bard indicates dwarves, halflings and elves can be bards, while the Players Handbook says only humans and half-elves can be bards. In the article from Best of The Dragon, bards have magic-user spells. In the PH, they have druid spells. Which is right?
The original appearance of the article on bards was ‘way back in the sixth issue of The Strategic Review, the predecessor of DRAGON magazine, and was printed before the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS rules came into existence. As such, the original bard class could possibly be best employed in a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® campaign, because this is the game for which it was developed. However, a bard player character which is going to be used in an AD&DTM campaign should be built around the rules given in the Players Handbook, which was published more than three years after the original appearance of the bard article. To make the “new bard” fit into the rest of the AD&D framework, many particulars in the original description of the class were altered. The result is a bard class that is more “right” than the first presentation — at least for the players who intend to use the character in AD&D adventuring.
|Level||Experience Points||Title||HitDice||Charm %||Lore %||Read Languages %||Ill\. Spells L1||Ill\. Spells L2||Ill\. Spells L3||Ill\. Spells L4||Druid Spell L1||Druid Spell L2||Druid Spell L3||Druid Spell L4||Druid Spell L5||Druid Spell L6||Druid Spell L7|
|1||0 - 2,000||Rhymester||1||10||0||0||1|
|2||2,001 - 4,000||Versifier||2||15||1||5||2|
|3||4,001 - 8,000||Lyrist||3||20||2||15||3|
|4||8,001 - 16,000||Sonnateer||4||24||5||50||3||1|
|5||16,001 - 33,000||Troubador||5||28||8||25||2||3||1|
|6||33,001 - 67,000||Minstrel||6||32||11||30||2||1||3||2|
|7||67,001 - 135,000||Skald||7||36||15||35||3||1||3||2||1|
|8||135,001 - 270,000||Lorist||8||40||18||40||3||1||3||3||1|
|9||270,001 - 500,000||Muse||9||44||22||45||3||2||1||3||3||2|
|10||500,001 - 75,000||Laureate||10||48||26||50||3||2||1||3||3||2||1|
|11||750,001 - 1,000,000||Bard||11||52||31||55||3||2||2||3||3||2||1|
|12||1,000,001 - 1,300,000||11 + 1||56||36||60||3||3||2||1||3||3||3||2|
|13||1,300,001 - 1,600,000||11 + 2||60||41||65||3||3||2||1||3||3||3||2|
|14||1,600,001 - 1,900,000||11 + 3||64||46||70||3||3||3||1||3||3||3||2|
|15||1,900,001 - 2,250,000||11 + 4||68||51||74||3||3||3||1||3||3||3||3||1|
|16||2,250,001 - 2,600,000||11 + 5||72||57||77||3||3||3||2||3||3||3||3||1|
|17||2,600,001 - 2,950,000||11 + 6||76||63||79||3||3||3||2||3||3||3||3||1|
|18||2,950,001 - 3,300,000||11 + 7||80||69||80||3||3||3||2||3||3||3||3||1|
|19||3,300,001 - 3,700,000||11 + 8||84||75||81||3||3||3||2||3||3||3||3||2|
|20||3,700,001 - 4,150,000||11 + 9||87||81||82||4||4||3||2||3||3||3||3||2||1|
|21||4,150,001 - 4,650,000||11 + 10||90||87||83||4||4||3||2||4||3||3||3||2||1|
|22||4,650,001 - 5,400,000||11 + 11||93||93||84||4||4||3||2||4||4||3||3||2||2|
|23||5,400,001 or more||Master||11 + 12||98||99||86||5||4||3||2||4||4||3||3||2||2||1|