Monday, September 01, 2008

The Classes: Bards

Keepers of the Sacred Song

As opinionated and fractious as Wune’s rare chroniclers and sages may be, there is one point upon which they all agree- the ancient gods Sang this world into being. And while the great hymns and prayers that can restore life to the dead or rain fiery judgment from above are the auspices of their orphaned servants alone, only those known as bards can access the fabled Song of creation, the divine loom upon which the fabric of reality is woven. As potent as it sounds, their abilities are subtle in both nature and application- reweaving reality to enhance and enspell more than lob balls of flame or turn others into toads- but its mythical origins give those that loudly proclaim themselves to be bards an undeserved reputation as blasphemous charlatans or dangerous madmen. Most prefer to travel hither and yon in the guise of a harmless minstrel or restive sage, using their abilities as their alignment dictates and as gently as they dare- for those that tickle the underbelly of creation one too many times find the consequences to be dire.

No one knows for sure what separates a bard from a mundane performer, and since no one race produces bards more than any other, speculation abounds as to their origins. Human bards in particular are a font for the confusion that surrounds the class. Loquacious even amongst their own people, each has their own pet theory on how the abilities of their fellows came to be, eagerly sharing it with any who ask (and even a few who don’t), and aren’t afraid to draw steel upon those who disagree a little too strongly for their tastes. This pride and passion creates heroes and villains in equal measure, as human bards simply refuse to be ignored.

Surprisingly, halfling bards flourish in the background. They prefer to use their abilities passively, tapping into the Song to learn as much as they can about the world around them. This makes them natural storytellers and historians: professions that make it easy to hide their true calling. They do this in part because of the stigma bardic magic bears- it boorishly takes where clerical magic graciously borrows- and corrupts over time, the elders warn. A halfling known to be a bard may be tolerated for a time out of courtesy, but are ultimately encouraged to move on before they bring the wrath of the gods down upon them and those in their company.

Among the elven people, only common elves cleave to the idea of a sacred Song with any regularity- although the peculiarities that plague their magic make their abilities seem more profane than divine. Of course, their atheist cousins reject the idea of Song being divine. The Shuu consider Song a special form of magic associated with what their mages consider the “fifth element” of life (and its absence). Many consider this a grave responsibility and show great respect to all living things. Some have been known to embrace non-Shuu bards as brothers in arms in a fashion similar to druids, and a rare few act as ambassadors on behalf of their people. Unfortunately, there is a growing minority that prefers to use their abilities as a weapon, emanating a siren song from the Yggdrasil that lures any who hear it to an untimely demise. Half-elven bards fall somewhere in between these two extremes, sometimes choosing philosophies contrary to those embraced by their adoptive society to define themselves while frustrating their peers.

Half-orc bards are uncommon, but not unknown. They delve into their abilities with reckless abandon at first; reveling in the things that other races take for granted: respect, admiration and acceptance. Those who mature enough to realize that magically enhanced emotions are no match for the genuine article sometimes become adventurers with an eye towards righting the wrongs they committed during their life of hollow luxury…or dedicated grifters looking to bring their schemes to a grander stage.

Bards are rare among those of dwarven and half-dragon descent, the former due to a lack of musical interest among the populace (many of whom are phonophobic when climbing out of their cups), and a lack of sophistication on the part of the latter, who rarely distinguish between a bard’s Song and a cleric’s hymns. To such straightforward folk, power is power, no matter the source.

In an adventuring party, bards are most comfortable near the middle of the marching order, eagerly filling roles that provide freedom from the burdens of leadership, yet simultaneously ensure that they will be taken seriously without having to employ mind-altering magic. This is not to say that the average bard is irresponsible, a lackadaisical know-it-all or an erudite bully (although such specimens certainly exist), just that they never know when the stigma both they and their abilities bear will come to a head. If they must beat a hasty retreat, they reason, it is better to leave the pack as a capable and respected beta wolf, not an envied alpha or cringing omega.

Because they spend so much time on the road, bards appreciate the abilities of other classes more so than most. Those bereft of magical abilities- fighters, reavers and barbarians- are highly prized for their physical prowess- and if the bard leans towards evil, their mental malleability as well. Those whose abilities stem from unique sources- druids, paladins, sorcerers and rangers- are considered kindred spirits, for they too have been born with a gift of which they must prove themselves worthy, or in the case of the monk, exercise regularly in order to maintain a certain level of competence. Although bards pride themselves on their ability to work with anyone, wizards and clerics can be a challenge. Wizards are often too busy pouring over ancient texts to communicate with the bard beyond the occasional demand for silence so they can memorize their spells in peace. Furthermore, the fantastic rumors surrounding their origins make bards natural specimens for study. Wealthy evil wizards have paid small fortunes for bard corpses to dissect, and would rejoice in having a live one to experiment upon; even good wizards would be very interested in obtaining a few sample humors for later examination. Clerics and bards will eventually come to some kind of impasse concerning the ethics or morals of Song. Neutral clerics will counter the defiler with stoic debate at every turn while lawful ones prefer direct and occasionally violent confrontation.

Bard Traits:

As Bard in the Player’s Handbook, except as follows.

Bardic Knowledge- Bardic Knowledge now represents what a bard learns by opening his mind the resonance someone or something creates within the Divine Song as opposed to mundane gossip. A bard can make a single Bardic Knowledge check only after interacting with the target through one minute of personal conversation OR ten minutes of uninterrupted observation (if a person), or ten minutes of physical manipulation/exploration OR a full day of research in a dedicated library or with someone who has a detailed, first hand account(if an object or location). No other bardic abilities (such as bardic music, or bardic magic) can be used to augment what a bard learns using this special ability, although use of invisibility is a notable exception to this rule if the bard is attempting to observe someone unnoticed or filch an item for later examination.

In any case, if the bardic knowledge check fails, the bard receives a blistering headache for their efforts and cannot use bardic knowledge against the target for the rest of the day. Should they succeed, the bard enjoys a bonus on various checks related to the situation, and learns some information as detailed on the table below.



Effect (Person)

Effect (Object)



The bard picks up faint strains from the target that provide only the most basic information.

The character adds half their level in bard to all Sense Motive checks to resist Bluff attempts and Spot checks to see through disguises.

The character adds half their level in bard on Appraise checks

The character adds half their level in bard on relevant Knowledge checks (such as Knowledge: Local or Knowledge: Dungeoneering. Knowledge: Engineering does NOT count).


The bard hears the subject within the Sacred Song, if not particularly clearly.

As above, and the bard can immediately re-roll any one failed Bluff or Diplomacy check.

As above, and the bard can immediately re-roll any one failed Use Magic Device check relating to said item (if magical)

As above, and the bard can immediately re-roll any one failed Survival or Search check that occurs that day at that location.


The target resonates strongly within the Song.

As above, and the bard learns one part of the target’s alignment, determined at random.

As above, and the bard can Locate Object as the spell, save that the duration is for one day.

As above, and the bard may act as if they have cast a special version of Detect Snares and Pits that finds complex and magical traps with a Search DC equal to 25 plus the bard’s intelligence modifier in addition to its normal effects. This lasts for one day and only at that location.


The target’s every move creates a harmonious crescendo, telling the bard almost everything they need to know.

As above, and the bard can estimate the target’s CR- treat like Detect Magic cast upon a magic item where the target’s HD correlates to the spell’s level- and learns a number of the target’s special attacks and/or qualities equal to their Intelligence modifier.

As above, and the bard can treat the object as if he cast a special version of Legend Lore upon it, learning cryptic yet factual information in the space of one round. This information can be used to learn more information on actual castings of the spell.

The bard can use Evasion as if they were a rogue for one day at that particular location. If they already have Evasion, they enjoy a bonus on their Evasion checks equal to their Intelligence modifier.

DM’s Option: Reality Bites- Bards draw their abilities from the Sacred Song, the tapestry upon which all reality simultaneously rests upon and woven from. Although it is not a living entity, it asserts itself when disturbed. Each time a bard fails a caster level check, bardic knowledge check, or if an enemy makes a save against bardic music- NOT a spell- the DM adds 1 to any random encounter checks made until the character has rested for 8 hours(so, yes, that means the bard and his party are still in trouble while the bard is asleep). A character can only accrue a number of points up to their level in bard.

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