OSH: The State of the Bard

The blogosphere has lots of discussion about the bard. I think “Old School Hack: The Fictive Way” can satisfy a broad range of opinions on the subject.

Other Character Class That Can Play Music. If you think that the bard is someone who can play music and sing songs, you can use the ability to learn musical instruments and performance instead of picking up a new Attribute point upon leveling (or just take it at generation) to create that character concept. This works with about any other template, so you can make a fighter, thief, elf, etc. You can even take a talent to compose music (that has an in-game effect), from the Bard template, as a cross-template talent.

Jack of All Trades Including Some Magic. If you think that the bard should have a little bit of a broad variety of talents (including magic), you can make a wizard, give the wizard musical talent at generation, and pick up some spells and lots of cross-template talents starting by taking Bard talents.

Loremaster. If you think the bard should be a mystical lore-master, make a Scholar (know all languages even dead ones!?!) and take a restricted bardic talent at generation, explaining the crossover background and getting DM permission to take other bardic talents as cross template talents as you level.

Music as a Superpower. The Bard inherent ability grants profound knowledge of music, so you get a bonus and others get penalties resisting it, and you can play any musical instrument. Then you can get half your talents from the Bard list and half from elsewhere to choose a more nuanced direction. If you want to add magic, if the DM lets you start with or get the “Mystic Prodigy” talent you can add spells one at a time.

An Amusing Anecdote. So the gladiator had a goblin who followed him, and felt safer riding on his back. In exchange, the goblin started oiling his exposed manly muscles, and cheering him on (because the gladiator’s ego required a fan base to function properly.) The goblin leveled, and between sessions, enrolled in a school and learned to play music as well as picking up the talent to compose.

When next we saw the pair in action, the goblin now could play the goblin lute (an impythri–pronounce it out loud and it’s funny) and craft ballads about the exploits of his hero.

My Stance on These Matters. I understand that you can role play with tremendous latitude, eschewing system and replacing it with mutual trust, creativity, and delight. (I’ve done that.)  I understand that you can make up rules for any situation (or try to) and end with something so cumbersome it is not ever used rules-as-written by anyone, including its creator. (I’ve done that too.)

I believe that the role playing is enhanced when there is in-game crunch to reward you for playing your character along certain lines, just as mechanics are rewarded for using a hammer instead of a wrench in some situations.

I believe that rules should be like the form built of wood into which concrete is poured; a well built form combined with responsible use of concrete, floating, and a level will do much better than pouring the concrete and shaping it into place with a ditch, or your hands. Rules matter; whether you have to work around them, within them, or through them. I think through is great. Player choices should matter, when they make their characters and grow them and play them. If you hand-wave everything, keeping fairness in view (even the perception of fairness) becomes extraordinarily difficult, and the DM shoulders more of the burden than should be needed, by taking over for a rulebook too.

I really am not asking for people to agree or disagree, just expressing my design principle. Confucian view of law is that a good law is enforceable, and a bad law is difficult to enforce; that is a good view of game rules too. Inspiration is another key factor; seeing the rules for the Book of Power inspired me with visions of plots for adventures to get one. The rule for Very Heavy Weapons inspired me to dream up a character with a life size statue of his ex wife chained to him. Rules should enable fun and creativity and storytelling and adventure.

So, rather than building the One True Bard, or leaving it out altogether, I think I’ve used this elegant and flexible system to allow various parties to get just what they want without peeing in anyone else’s cornflakes. That delights me.

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