Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Bard, a Weird Fantasy Specialist

Hope there's room on the bandwagon for one more...

I've never liked the idea of the Bard class, but I've been reading the Prydain series out loud to my son, and the bard character Fflewdurr Fflamm starts to grow on you after a while.  The funny thing about Fflewdurr is that he really hates magic - he wouldn't be caught dead doing little druid or magic user tricks.  Then again, he's a pretty crappy bard, too.  However, I've warmed to the idea of wandering storytellers that gather bits and pieces of lore and can entertain folks with song and music.

Here's the approach I'd take to sliding the bard into a game; I'd use the LOTFP Specialist class (James' replacement for the Thief) and just add skills to cover the bard's mundane capabilities.  Presto chango, instant bard.  (A free version of the LOTFP rules are available here: Lamentations of the Flame Princess).

In case you haven't seen the LOTFP take on the thief, the specialist, the character assigns 2 points to their skills each level (they start with 4 skill points to assign).  It allows for a highly customizable specialist, and rewards a group that has multiple specialists - one could focus on bushcraft, stealth and sneak attack, the other could specialize in locks and traps.

Adding skills to the LOTFP skill list lets us cast the bard as a mundane jack-of-all-trades that knows how to perform and has picked up a bit of oddball knowledge.  Works really well as a skald, too, and doesn't require any new classes.

New skills:  ­ Performance (1 in 6), ­ Lore (1 in 6)

If the bard is able to perform for an audience for at least a half hour, he can add his performance skill as a charisma modifier to any reaction or morale roll for the audience members, as long as the roll isn't made more than a day after the performance.

Whenever the bard encounters an item with legendary significance, this skill may be used to try and identify the item and recall a piece of lore or history about it that would exist in song or poem.

I realize some folks want the bard to have magical capabilities; this can be achieved through magic items that can only be used by characters with sufficient skill in Performance.  Thus we can explain legendary bards like Orpheus, and have simpler magic items like lutes that can put monsters to sleep.


  1. Fflewdurr does end up with an enormous cat companion though - and purely because she loves his music.

  2. Llyan! - it's an awesome companion. That's the kind of thing that could happen spontaneously during the game; I could see a character maxing a reaction roll after a performance picking up some followers (and not just animal companions). Touring with the band on the road...

  3. Funny I picked up the five-volume set at Half Price Books yesterday just yesterday and was thinking of writing a post or two about the influence of Prydain on my pre-D&D younger self. Glad you are reading them to your wee one, I am reserving these for my own's later years.

  4. That's a very cool take on the bard, more especially because points the way towards using the LotFP Specialist in new ways. I see how you've dealt with the magic angle, but would you put any class restrictions on the LotFP Bard (wrt the LotFP cosmology)?

    I only read one of the Prydain books as a kid, apparently not knowing it was in a series. Did a book report on it. As I reflect back, the only thing I remember from that entire book is the scene where (copy and paste from above) Fflewdurr has to burn up his harp for firewood. The strings twang mournfully as they break, or something. Weirdly that's all I retained of the book.

  5. The nice thing about LOTFP is that there are no armor or weapon restrictions on any classes, so the bard could wear heavy armor like a fighter and carry a big sword (lots of folks say the bard should be able to swing) though that hurts the thief abilities; so making him a lightly armored secondary thief with a side of charisma would be pretty fun. Swaying groups of people with performances would lead to nothing but mischief.

  6. I like this approach, even better than ours. It also takes away the "instant charm" ability, which even when "mundane" in nature is awfully powerful. As you present it here, the Bard's persuasive abilities are (a) tied to performance, and (b) more general (i.e., more Reaction Roll-ish) than the spell-like ability to charm persons or monsters. Well done!