Bard (Dungeons & Dragons)

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For other uses, see Bard (disambiguation).
Bard
Characteristics
Primary role Leader
Secondary role Controller
Power source Arcane
Alignment Any neutral (1st and 2nd editions)
Any non-lawful (3rd and 3.5 editions)
Publication history
Editions All except "Basic"
(as a standard class) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th, 5th
(as an alternate class) O
First appearance The Strategic Review - Volume 2, Number 1
Based on Bard
Image Wizards.com image
Stats OGL stats

The bard is a standard playable character class in many editions of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game.[1] The bard class is versatile, capable of combat and of magic (Divine magic in earlier editions, arcane magic in later editions). Bards use their artistic talents to induce magical effects.[2] The class is loosely based on the special magic that music holds in stories such as The Pied Piper of Hamelin,[2] and in earlier versions was much more akin to being a Celtic priest or a Norse Skald, although these elements have largely been removed in later editions. Listed inspirations for bards include Taliesin, Homer, Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale.

Publication history[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1976)[edit]

The bard first appeared in The Strategic Review - Volume 2, Number 1.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1988)[edit]

Bards in First Edition AD&D were a special class unavailable for initial character creation. A character could become a bard only after meeting specific and difficult requirements, achieving levels in multiple character classes, becoming a bard only later. The process of becoming a bard in the First Edition was very similar to what would later be standardized in D&D as the prestige class — in fact, the First Edition bard eventually became the Fochlucan Lyrist Prestige class in the Third Edition supplement Complete Adventurer.

To become a bard, a human or half-elf had to begin with very high ability scores: Strength 15+, Wisdom 15+, Dexterity 15+ and Charisma 15+, Intelligence 12+ and Constitution 10+. These daunting requirements made bards one of the rarest character classes. Bards began the game as fighters, and after achieving 5th level (but before reaching 8th level), they had to dual-class as a thief, and after reaching 5th level as a thief (but before reaching 9th level), they had to dual-class again to druid. Once becoming a druid, the character then progressed as a bard, but under druidic tutelage.

Bards gained a limited number of druid spells, and could be any alignment that was neutral on at least one axis. Because of the nature of dual-classing in AD&D, bards had the combined abilities of both fighters and thieves, in addition to their newly acquired lore, druidic spells, all level dependent druidic abilities, additional languages known, a special ability to know legendary information about magic items they may encounter, and a percentage chance to automatically charm any creature that hears the bard's magical music. Because bards must have first acquired levels as fighter and thief, they are more powerful at first level than any other class.

This version of the bard is a druidic loremaster, more than a wandering minstrel and entertainer, though the bard does have song and poetic powers as well.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)[edit]

The bard, as part of the "rogue" group, was one of the standard character classes available in the second edition Player's Handbook; in this edition, the bard was regularized.[3] According to the second edition Player's Handbook, the bard class is a more generalized character than the more precise historical term, which applied only to certain groups of Celtic poets who sang the history of their tribes in long, recitative poems.[4] The book cites historical and legendary examples of bards such as Alan-a-Dale, Will Scarlet, Amergin, and even Homer, noting that every culture has its storyteller or poet, whether such as person is called bard, skald, fili, jongleur, or another name.[4]

In Second Edition AD&D, bards were of the rogue group,[5] which meant that a character could not multiclass between the bard and thief classes. They also became a more integral part of the game, being moved from an appendix in the back of the Players Handbook to the normal listing of classes. This iteration of the bard class was based on the version that appeared in the Dragon magazine article "Singing a new tune: A Different Bard, Not Quite So Hard" (issue #56).

A bard required ability scores of Dexterity 12+, Intelligence 13+ and Charisma 15+, and only humans and half-elves could be bards. Bard was the only character class (other than thief) in which any non-human could advance to unlimited level, as both humans and half elves did not suffer a level limit, unlike every other character class in which a demihuman could become.

The 2nd edition bard was explicitly a jack-of-all-trade class, with a limited selection of thief skills (pick pockets, detect noise, climb walls, and read languages) a limited wizard spell progression, access to proficiency in any weapon, and some special bardic music abilities and bardic lore. Beginning at 2nd level, a bard began to gain spells as if a wizard, and like wizards, they had to keep a spellbook and could not cast spells while in armor. They could learn any spell they had access to (as a mage would).

Bards' biggest advantage was their use of the rogue advancement table, which was the fastest in the game. Bards cast spells using their actual class level as their caster level. Since bards were usually higher level than the party's wizard, the spells they could cast were often more powerful than the wizard's. A bard who focussed on spells that improved with caster level (such as Magic Missile and Fireball) was a very potent magical threat. Their ability to use any weapon, combined with rogue THAC0, made them credible second-line offensive threats even without magic, provided they had some form of magical Armor Class-boosting equipment.

In this edition, bards had the same alignment restrictions of First Edition, meaning they could not be Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good or Chaotic Evil.

The Complete Bard's Handbook significantly expanded on the 2nd edition bard, allowing bards of any race, reasoning that most races would have an analogous role for keeping oral and/or artistic traditions. The sourcebook also allowed a wide variety of multiclassing options, even Bard/Thief combinations. Bards of races that allowed no wizards, including the core races dwarf and halfling, could not cast spells, but gained immunity to spells instead. Gnomes, who could be wizards, but only specialist illusionists, could be bards, but were restricted to the spell schools allowed an illusionist.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (2000-2007)[edit]

In Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons, the bard class continued its change from a druidic loremaster in first edition into a jack-of-all-trades (retaining mainly the original Bardic Knowledge ability, an almost universal chance to know anything based on character level and Intelligence).

In Third Edition D&D, bards now could be any non-lawful alignment, meaning Bards could no longer be Lawful Neutral, but now could be Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil. This was explained on the grounds that a bard wanders freely and is guided by intuition and whim. The rules also state that a bard's powers are incompatible with law and tradition, although authentic historical bards were in fact keepers of traditions and knowledge; this portrayal of the bard might be a misinterpretation, creative or unintended, of the laws which put a bard above a common free man due to their erudition and place as sacred speakers of rote and history.

The D&D bard, despite the roots of the word itself, is inspired more by wandering minstrels who were indeed considered "rogues" of a sort (for instance, attempting to earn free food and rooms at inns through doing odd jobs like killing rats, singing, or just wooing the bartender). D&D bards are described as not necessarily opposed to tradition, but to the staleness and risk of corruption that comes with a settled life.

Bardic magic also changed once again. Now, like the sorcerer, the bard casts arcane magic but without a need for spellbooks or preparing specific spells; unlike Second Edition AD&D, bards are now limited to a list of specific bardic spells. Unlike wizards and other arcane spellcasters, they can cast a small number of healing spells like Cure Light Wounds (a relic of the druidic origins of the class).

Other abilities, like bardic music and the aforementioned bardic lore, were retained but overhauled to be more compatible with the streamlined d20 System rules of the Third Edition. Old abilities like Read Language became new d20 skills like Decipher Script, and the mix of fighter and thief abilities was retained in the mix of weapon and armor abilities.

3.5 Edition Revisions[edit]

In 2003, the Revised "3.5" edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released, including several minor but significant changes to the Bard class. Bards gained increased access to skills and the ability to cast bard spells while in light armor. The bard is the only Core class able to freely cast arcane spells in armor, as well as the only Core class with Speak Language as a class skill (supplementary 3.5 books later introduced new base classes with these abilities).

Perhaps more significantly, one of the bard's trademark abilities—that of bardic music—was both strengthened and tied more closely to the bard class. In the previous 3.0 edition, the bardic music abilities available to a character depended only on the amount of Perform skill that character possessed, not advancement in the bard class. These abilities largely did not improve, once acquired, and no new abilities became available at high levels; only the number of daily uses of the music increased with bard class level. In the 3.5 version, not only was the availability of bardic music abilities tied to bard class level as well as Perform skill, but also most of these abilities now significantly improved in potency with progression in the bard class. New high-level bardic music effects were introduced as well as progressive improvements of existing ones.

Finally, in this edition, bard became the favored class for the gnome race, replacing the traditional illusionist. The dvati (an obscure race, composed entirely of sets of twins, that first appeared in Dragon magazine #271), also have bard as their favored class, and the satyr also shares this class as a favorite. The star elf race from the Forgotten Realms setting's Unapproachable East sourcebook also has bard as its favorite class.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-2014)[edit]

The bard class was introduced into Fourth Edition with the release of Player's Handbook 2. Like all Fourth Edition classes the bard's powers are exclusive to the class. Bards have the Arcane power source, the primary role of Leader and the secondary role of Controller, with most of its powers related to invigorating allies and hindering enemies through magical song (although the player is encouraged to describe these powers in whatever way they please).

The bard retains its role as a jack-of-all-trades with its large number of class skills. The bard is also unique in that they are free to take as many multiclass feats from other classes as they please, whereas all other classes are only able to take multiclass feats from one other class.

Members of the bard class can use wands, songblades, and magical instruments as their arcane implements. Several new rituals in Player's Handbook 2 can only be cast by bards, making them the only current class with exclusive rituals.

A major change from Third Edition is the fact that the bard's abilities are not related to Perform skill checks, as these types of skills are not supported by the game. Instead, the player is expected to determine for themselves what level of performance ability the character has. It is implied that any character of any class can be just as good at performing as a bard, but that only bards can turn performing into an act of spellcasting.

Another major change is the addition of the 'Prescient Bard' build, and several ranged weapon attack powers unavailable before the release of Player's Handbook 2. This option makes the bard playable not only as a melee or magical combatant, but also as a viable ranged attacker.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014-)[edit]

As of the Next playtest Bards were a playable character class. Bards have been included as a character class in the Player's Handbook.[6]

External links[edit]

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ Livingstone, Ian (1982). Dicing with Dragons, An Introduction to Role-Playing Games (Revised ed.). Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-9466-3. 
  2. ^ a b Ewalt, David M. (2013). Of Dice and Men. Scribner. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-4516-4052-6. 
  3. ^ Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-87975-653-5. 
  4. ^ a b Cook, David (1989). Player's Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-716-5. 
  5. ^ "Dungeons & Dragons FAQ". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  6. ^ "Keeping it Classy | Dungeons & Dragons". 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2014-09-21.