As the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game evolved between editions, so did the Bard class, going from underwhelming to very powerful.
In a Dungeons & DragonsA fantasy-style world full of monsters and magic, the Bard has surprisingly risen from a weak character class to one widely considered to be overpowered. In the third edition of J&D, the bard had a reputation for being undernourished. However, the bards of J&D 5th Edition are notoriously versatile “jack of all trades” classes with abilities useful for dungeon crawling, combat, and narrative role-playing.
In the Basic J&D Beginner’s game kits from the 1980s and many modern Old School Revival-style RPGs, players can usually choose from just four main character classes: Fighter, Wizard/Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief/Rogue. Each of these J&D character classes were designed to fulfill certain roles in a classic fantasy adventure party; Fighting player characters were damage absorbing “tanks” that could wield any weapon and wear any armor, wizards were fragile “glass cannons” that could unleash destructive or manipulative magic from the environment, Clerics were “healing” holy warriors who could repair and strengthen their allies, and Rogues were “skill monkeys” adept at stealth, lock picking, and detecting traps. From a certain point of view, all the other character classes introduced in later versions of J&D were mechanical hybrids of these four main classes and their roles in gameplay…especially in the case of the Bard.
The original Bard class Dungeons & Dragons, first described by Doug Schwegman in a 1976 issue of the Strategy Review, drew heavily on the supernatural bards of ancient mythology and medieval romance, able to charm the fiercest beasts with their beautiful music and to learn powerful secrets. Mechanically, Doug gave his first J&D Bards a mix of abilities from the Fighter, Thief, and Magic classes, along with the attack bonuses of a Cleric, skills to tell stories about the game world, and the ability to potentially charm creatures with musical performances. This concept of a “magical musician with many useful tricks” has remained central to the Bard class, even though the game mechanics for bards have changed drastically with each new edition of J&D published.
Bards in the first and second editions of Dungeons & Dragons
According to this J&D history article on Tribalitybecoming a bard was an epic and arduous quest in the 1st edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons; to acquire the Bard prestige class, players first had to gain multiple levels in the Fighter and Thief, eventually gaining access to new skills, language proficiency, and Celtic mythology-style druidic spell casting. When Bards became a base character class in 2nd Edition D&D, they were designed to be hybrids of thieves and wizards who could counter certain hostile magic attacks with a “counter-song” and could level up surprisingly quickly thanks to a quirk in their XP rules.
Bards in Dungeons & Dragons Third and Fourth Editions
The 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the base of the Scout spin-off TTRPG) seems to be where bards got a reputation for being underpowered (or at least unoptimized). The move from 2nd to 3rd edition gave the Bard class a new selection of healing and charm spells as well as support abilities based on songs such as “Inspire Courage” or “Song of Freedom”. Since most of these abilities were increased by Charisma score and the Perform skill, a decent level 3rd edition bard was a force of nature in diplomacy or socializing scenarios, but not as adept at combat than in previous editions such as the 2nd edition. .
The functionality of the bard has been greatly improved in the 4th edition of J&D. His base abilities and skills were designed to allow him to play the role of an “Arcane Leader” in a classic adventuring party in any given session. Spell selection could heal wounds, empower allies, and damage enemies with elemental damage. Casting ritual spells and powers like “Song of Rest”, meanwhile, gave the 4th Dungeons & Dragons Bard excellent utility between fights.
Bards as from Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
The modern bard of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition brings together arguably the best concepts from previous editions of the game. From the original version of Dungeons & Dragonsit took the “jack of all trades” and “magical musician” design premise, while the 5th edition J&D Bard subclasses like the “College of Lore” or the “College of Valor” owe a lot to the “Kits” of J&D 2nd edition. The 3rd Edition Bard’s emphasis on the Charisma attribute informed many of the 5th Bard’s core characteristics, and his current arsenal of enchantment, healing, and damage spells owe much to the powers of the 4th Bard. The inspiration die of J&D 5th Bards acts as a mechanical template for many of the bards’ “support chant” abilities in previous sets, while the high-level “Magical Secrets” feature allows bards to acquire spells from other character classes from potentially revolutionary way.
The Platonic Ideal of a Dungeons & Dragons Bard
The next editions of Dungeons & Dragons The role-playing game will likely continue to update and refine its gameplay mechanics to create an ideal ruleset to represent the iconic fantasy Bard. But what exactly is the ideal bard in a fantasy RPG like J&D? Narratively, Dungeon & Dragons players should have the freedom to create bards that don’t quite fit the minstrel or troubadour archetype, i.e. poets, orators, dancers, and other performing artists . At the same time, players should still be able to use the Bard class to embody the silver-tongued musical heroes of ancient fairy tales and modern fantasy fiction – Orpheus from Greek mythology, the mythological bard Väinämöinen from Finn KalevalaDandelion of the Witcher books and video games, etc.
Mechanically, bards should also continue to be “Jack Of All Trades” characters – capable of fulfilling a wide range of roles within a J&D part of an adventure without eclipsing the more specialized character classes. They should be able to cast arcane spells almost as powerful as a wizard’s, heal not as well as a cleric, and perform feats of skill and precision that almost match the grace of a cleric. thief. For all the flashiness and self-aggrandizement associated with stereotyping Dungeons & Dragons Bard Players who choose the Bard character class should be mechanically and narratively encouraged to inspire, promote, and support other PCs in their adventuring party. The traditional duty of the historical bard, after all, was to sing and spread the legends of worthy heroes and the feats they performed.
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