Dungeon Fantasy: The Musical! (feat. Bards)

Ooh, look! Yet another “They oughta write a book” article from me! Because it’s so darn easy to lay out the work that someone else should do for my amusement!

You know the still-nascent Dungeon Fantasy: Denizens line of books, each showcasing an adventurer archetype? The next installment ought to be Bards.

Actually, when the line first launched with Denizens: Barbarians, I thought Bards would be next. You see, I drew on my knowledge of game industry publishing, brought the full breadth of my intellect and reasoning skills to bear, examined and analyzed all relevant factors, and arrived at a deduction:

“Bard” comes after “Barbarian” in the alphabet, so that should should be next. (You: “Sharp one, this guy!” Thank you.)

It turns out that Denizens: Swashbucklers came out next. Maybe there’s some deep reason for that. Or maybe Swashbucklers had a ready and raring author before any other book in the series. Either way, I still think Denizens: Bards should be next, or at least soon. For one good reason:

The bard re-tuned

“I call this next one ‘Oud to Billie Joe'”

The bard is being rebuilt for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (DFRPG)! Word from SJG has it that DFRPG is giving the bard a makeover to address weaknesses in the DF build. DF players buying Denizens: Bards will definitely want to see this new rendition!

Hm, maybe Bards yielded the stage to Swashbucklers so SJG could give the remastered minstrel an exclusive release in DFRPG format first, then make the character available to DF players later via the Denizens platform. Who knows.

Well, whether the new troubadours are wandering lost backstage or just planning to show up fashionably late, they’ll get here when they get here. As long as we’re on the topic, though, what say we take a moment to imagine what else could be in Denizens: Bards. While I’ve never had a special hankering for the character type (having only played one long ago in D&D, I think), the more I ponder it, the more it seems that this most entertaining of professions is really rich ground for a splatbook.

Composing the minstrel magnum opus

The following cacophony of ideas tosses up far more than the Bards book could hold and more than a reader would actually want. It’s a big wall of noise, really – although, at the risk of tooting my own horn, some of the ideas do have a fun ring.

Here it is, in loose stanzas ordered roughly from most to least suitable for a Denizens book: 

Bard basics

Following the example of Barbarians and Swashbucklers, Dungeon Fantasy Denizens: Bards needs to include these:

  • “Please, guys. I’m the king. Would you leave my bedroom?”
    The original classic: A recap of the bard from Adventurers.
  • The remix: The new bard from DFRPG.
  • Covers: Variations on the theme. Adventurers doesn’t specify named variants on the bard, but a few alternative builds could be worked up from its customization notes. These could go beyond variants of “minstrel” to cover court musicians, oral historians, storytellers, jesters, and more (see below).
  • Day jobs: All the cross-trained mixed professions from DF: The Next Level, like the Bardbarian. (That’s The Next Level‘s bon mot! The only punny name I can come up with is one for a psi bard: the Instrumentalist. [sad trombone…])
  • Power ballads: All the Bard-Song abilities from Adventurers, plus new ones.
  • This one goes to eleven: All the bardic power-ups published so far, plus new point sinks.
  • No brown M&Ms: A medley of musician quirks… 
  • Perfect Pitch: …and perks.
  • B-side filler: Whatever other DF-themed stuff for bards has been published in DF books, Pyramid, etc.

Bardic abilities

From natural talent to musical training and spells, a bard is all about the ability to perform:

  • Orpheus. Or how all bards picture themselves.
    Organology: The Musical Instrument skill covers many types of instruments. Basic Set doesn’t detail those, but Low-Tech and Low-Tech Companion I do, complete with defaults among instruments. Bards would be a great place to repeat that information.
  • New releases: Are there any new bardic skills worth noting, whether instrumental, vocal, or professional? Any use for an esoteric new skill like Musical Theory? (Maybe not.) On the performance side, how about copying Whistling from Low-Tech Companion I, to add a bit of range to a cappella bards? (Side thought: How about a cross-default between Whistling and Mimicry (Birds)?)
  • Études: Low-Tech Companion I offers Sight-Reading as a technique. Are there any other musical techniques of note? How about Improvisation as a technique for jazzy bards? A yodel-like technique to boost vocal range? A High Note technique for shattering glass? (I’m not sure that just anyone could learn this; require a perk called “Memorex”. Or “Here Comes Treble”.) Would Humming be a technique of Singing (and not just an OPH)? How about Polyphonic Throat Singing? A One-Handed technique for use with two-handed instruments? And what’s that thing where the minstrel plays his lute behind his head to impress the tavern maids?
  • Inborn talent: We have Bardic Talent and Musical Ability, plus Bard-Lore in DF 11: Power-Ups. Are there any other bardic talents of note? Elsewhere in traits, the Voice advantage adds to certain skills; should it have any other special effect on bardic abilities? How about Disturbing Voice? The Mimicry advantage?
  • Exclusive tracks: Bards use a sub-set of wizard spells. Just as DF sets certain spells aside for clerics and druids, should there be some spells reserved for bards, or new ones written especially for them?
  • Multi-instrumentalists: Hmm, any need for a Weapon Master-like advantage to boost a musical prodigy’s defaults and effectiveness with a broad class of instruments? (Maybe not… but come on, “Trained by a Maestro” is too good to pass up…)
  • Musical stylings: Would there be room in Bards for performance styles, modeled after martial arts styles?
  • Manifestations of the Orphic muse: The bard isn’t a summoner profession, but perhaps there’s room for some sort of a spirit ally, or at least Intuition-type advantages, explained as the work of a personal muse.

Bardic tools

With their arsenals of noise-makers, bards are gear-based professionals. Their instruments really deserve some special love in the book:

  • Medieval instruments of music
    Ye olde luthier shoppe: New additions to the selection of instruments found in Adventurers would be welcome.
  • Accessories: More instruments and related miscellanea! Exotic plectrums, reeds, and bow resin. Sitar strings of rakshasha gut and drum skins of wyvern hide. Water- and fireproof instrument cases. Kits for instrument crafting and repair. Fast-draw lute straps. Goblin megaphones and amplifiers. A clockwork Dwarf-like figure that beats a steady rhythm. (You know. A metrognome.)
  • Customizations: How about standard weapon-like modifiers for cheap, fine, and very fine instruments? Or Elvish and Dwarven models? Orichalcum and meteoric and silver? Anything special about a violin made with wood from a lightning-struck tree in a Sylvan glade?
  • Wee bagpipes: Got a Halfling harpist or barbarian bassoonist? Bards is sure to offer a simple rule to resize those instruments for all PCs’ paws and maws.
  • Improvisation: Did that last trap leave your bard with an ooze-slimed lute? Don’t fret! A crafty musician should be able to cobble a replacement from dungeon or wilderness scrap. What can she make, what are the skills to do it, and how awful will it sound?
  • They don’t call it an “axe” for nothing: We have the deadly bow harp from DF: The Next Level, and piano string garrotes in reality. What other noise-makers can double as instruments of murder? Drumsticks with baton heft? A bugle built for pummeling? (Brass knuckles! Ha!)

Bardic rewards

Because you’re in it for the lute…

  • They just don’t write ’em like that any more
    Instruments of power: What better reward for a dungeon gig than magical instruments? Like bardic wands (conductor batons, obviously). Artifacts like the Pied Pipes of Vermin Charming, the Ominous Cello of Shark Summoning, Barris’s Gong of Rejection, the ego-boosting First Chair, the Fast-Talk-enhancing Big Fat Lyre…
  • Sheet music: Tablature, fake books, and scores! (That means bardic scrolls, primers, and tomes. Any special notes on how they’d work?)
  • Turn on, tune in: Not to stereotype, but… What sort of alchemical enhancements, shall we say, would fantasy musicians prefer? (I don’t see Addiction as one of the recommended Disadvantages in Adventurers, but it does appear elsewhere; see Rageahol addiction in Barbarians. It wouldn’t be amiss to offer similar… er, sources of creative inspiration for bards.)

On stage

The book will have to take a good look at bardic exploits:

  • “Hey, do ‘Foggy Mountain’.”
    Bad acoustics: An overview of conditions and modifiers affecting bardic abilities would be nice. An example of something that might affect song-based powers: Would a typical battle, with its din of roars and clashing steel, diminish bardic abilities in the same manner as “far from nature” withers druid spells?
  • Virtuoso skills: Notes tying existing skills to tasks would be great. What’s the skill for a professional luthier? Is there a use for Connoisseur (Music) or Connoisseur (Musical Instruments)? Is there a Fast-Draw for instruments? Does a Kiai battle cry benefit from operatic training?
  • Dueling dulcimers: The standard Contest of Skills nicely handles a fiddle showdown against that stranger who smells oddly of sulfur. But would a bard’s other abilities add anything special to a duel?
  • Really underground music: Bards already shine in town. Are there any special notes on making sure they have fun in the dungeons, where the audiences are always hostile? (Tiny GM tip: Don’t forget a huge working pipe organ in any church-based dungeon.)
  • Hit singles: DF: Dungeons has a nice little rule for letting bards earn from their music, and DF: Taverns adds much, much, more. Should any of this be repeated or expanded in Bards?
  • Mood music: A bard’s social skills alone will make him good at social-related exploits like taunting and intimidation, but what other bardic abilities might enhance such skill uses? What happens when enthrallment skills, magics, and Bard-Song are exploited for mundane tasks like gathering information, advertising for henchmen, or – closer to a munchkin player’s heart – buying and selling in town? If nothing else, it’d be useful to see a note on what social skills (Sex Appeal? Diplomacy?) might reasonably benefit from a musical complementary skill roll.
  • Street fighting man: Conventional combat isn’t a musician’s forte, but a DF bard is still a competent fighter. Are there any particular techniques or combat moves that would aid a bard in stayin’ alive?

Celebrity!

While other adventurers may or may not seek attention, bards are all about the spotlight.

  • They have their own college.
    Fame: For some bards, fame is everything. You could argue that Reputation is effectively Status among bards. A negative Reputation can mean a minstrel performs from behind chicken wire; Reputation +4 can grant him coveted mononym status. (“Omigod, Albetha! It’s Elvish!”) Is there anything on this topic that should be covered in more detail?
  • Fans: A DF bard could have a Reputation in town to represent a fan base, but is there anything more to fandom that should be noted? Can fans be Allies? Can fans just be a big nuisance?
  • Patrons: If it weren’t for dungeons, patronage is the only way many bards would eat. Any special notes on patrons of the arts in a DF world?
  • Rivals: Musicians are famed for jealous feuds. Enemies (Rivals) seems perfect for this; any special notes on what the disadvantage means in a DF setting?
  • Enemies: It’d be nice to see a few foes designed to challenge bards (beyond the obvious: “Uh… these are deaf trolls”). How about creatures that react oddly to music… traps deactivated by the right tune… and, I don’t know what these are, but: Polkageists! (Don’t thank me; thank this guy.)
  • Managers, roadies, and groupies: Are there any special hirelings, Allies, Dependents, pets, familiars, etc. especially suitable for a bard? (If choice of instrument matters (see below), a “caddie” who hands over the right horn for the job would be amusing.)
  • Worshipful Company of Musicians: That’s an actual historical London guild. It’d be nice for Bards to offer a smattering of organizations – guild, conservatory, troupe, etc. – of interest to bardic PCs.
  • Earworms: GURPS has nifty rules here and there for the use of memetics, propaganda, and other means of messing with society’s collective head. A bard’s social skills alone make her the PC party’s best-equipped member for such tasks; toss in her enthrallment skills, magic, Bard-Song, and Bardic Immunity, and she could be a master of drumming up rage against the king, sending a rumor humming throughout the city, or just getting everyone whistling that catchy “Hire the Discount Delvers Adventurer Company!” jingle. Perhaps Bards could bring a bit of this mental mucking into the dungeoning world.

Diabolus in musica

Music always has its sneering bad boys:

  • I don’t trust this man.
    Trained at Ghoulliard: Is there more to Evil Bard than just heavy metal hair, the Demonologist lens, and a penchant for trashing inn rooms? Maybe bad bards long to become Death’s herald, or take a chair among the mad pipers of Azathoth, or steal rivals’ souls through diabolic musical showdowns. Are there any special abilities to help them get dirty deeds done?
  • Unholy racket: Musically-cast spells seem ideal for summoning zombies. Or demons. Could Evil Bard do so in a way that binds an invoked infernal not through a Contest of Will but through a fiddle throwdown?
  • Taught by Erich Zann: Taking a hint from Lovecraft, it’d be fun to see a dangerous, forbidden music that unleashes fearsome powers – along with magical corruption, the unwanted attention of Others, or similar nastiness.
  • No encore: Bards should include the Damned quirk from Power-Ups 6: Quirks. It’s perfect for a “sold soul to Devil at the crossroads” musician.
  • The thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes: A couple of evil instruments would be nice. Like a devilish tritone harp. Or a cursed Aztec death whistle. (That’s a real thing. Did those Aztecs ever lighten up about anything?)
  • ‘Ello, Keef: Not sure why this sounds awesome, but let’s have a lich-bard! Bards have access to wizard spells; they should be able to lich up in appropriately bardy fashion. (“Now, my prisoners! You will listen to my 70s Megalan hit, ‘Dire Muskrat Love’, for all eternity…”)

Quirks and perks

Musicians are notorious for performance- or practice-related superstitions and routines (among other oddities and peccadillos). Some suggestions:

  • Derpy bard is still a bard
    Quirk: Requires Warm-up. You sing or play at -1 to skill until you take a half hour that day for scales, solfège, deep-breathing exercises, tuning up, cracking knuckles, eating fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, etc.
  • Quirk: Musical Monotasker. You sing, or you play, but you never do both at the same time. (Common among practitioners of the minstrel arts style B.B. King Fu.)
  • Quirk: Barroom Streisand. You think you sound awesome when you’re drunk. (Actually, that’s not for bards. That’s for everyone.)
  • Perk: Pickled Piper. Also known as “Brahms and Liszt” (a real term!) or “Dungeon Dean Martin”. You actually do sing or play better when soused. (This is the performance version of that perk that lets you fight better when drunk. Leave some extra room in that lute case for one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.)
  • Perk: Duck Walk. This is useful for… Well, something. Maybe. I guess the point is that signature steps, flourishes, licks, and so on could be interesting perks, for color if nothing else. (Or maybe these could offer some minor power-up, once per performance or encounter – your own little “show-stopper” that you unleash at a climactic moment. Any ideas?)
  • Perk: Theme Song. You’ve composed a signature tune for the adventuring party. Playing it as a buff has the effect of Encouragement (DF: Dungeons p11). Give the bard’s Musical Instrument or Singing roll a +1 for every player (bard player included) who sings or hums it…  
  • Perk: Standard Operating Procedure – Stay Tuned. You always keeps your instruments in top condition (repaired, tuned, oiled, de-slimed, etc.).
  • Perk: Vocal Range. This is the ability to hit unusually high and low notes, perhaps represented as a leveled perk of 1 to 3 levels in each direction. It would have no major game effect, but would make a bard more distinctive, and perhaps let a singer mimic a famous soprano or properly sing the Frog King’s favorite basso march. It could even – GM’s call – act as an enhancement or requisite for an unusual Singing technique or Bard-Song.
  • Perk: Built-in Instrument. Some sort of loud anatomical scraper, chirper, etc.; perfect for Coleopteran bards, if not cricket for other races.

Deep cuts

These things look even more optional. Does anything here belong in Bards

  • Way ahead of you, Euro-bard!
    World music: The Celtic-infused bard is fun, but it’s one pretty narrow interpretation of a fantasy musician. Bard-like figures from around the globe would be interesting as inspiration for more colorful characters. Names alone suggest a lot: Bard, minstrel, jongleur, storyteller, skald, scop, griot, aois-dàna, fili, gleeman (a historical term, not a Robert Jordan coinage!), troubadour, balladeer…
  • Jazz Elves: Minor tweaks to the bard profession for DF‘s races could be fun. What does a Dwarf sing? Does magical Goblin-Kin music affect humans normally, and vice-versa? Just how creepy are Elder Thing dirges? Is any of that as bad as Cat-folk gathering to caterwaul at 2 a.m.?
  • Sing or strum?: A bard’s choice of instrument should be as important as a swashbuckler’s choice of blade or a cleric’s choice of god (a topic that earned its own book!). That is, with so many choices in weight, cost, and convenience, why select a given instrument? (In munchkin terms: Why not select the smallest, cheapest one?) The initial question: Why select an instrument at all, when your voice costs nothing, weighs nothing, can’t be dropped or lost, and leaves both hands free? Should there be some drawback to adventuring a cappella? For example, does ability with the listener’s language matter when Singing is the base for Bard-Song?
  • Instrument selection: For those bards who do take on the cost and bulk of an instrument, what’s the benefit of one noise-maker over another? While it’s not necessary to “balance” every weapon against others (I’m sorry, but Maracas Bard just deserves to get eaten), it’d be fun to see some benefit for a choice that’s expensive, bulky, heavy, and/or fragile. What’s the effect of an instrument that requires two hands versus one that leaves a hand conveniently free? Hands-only instruments that allow singing, casting spells, and shouting orders, versus blown instruments that prevent all of those? Rhythm-and-melody instruments vs rhythm-only percussion? Is there any benefit to an instrument like a piano, which costs a fortune and has all the portability of a boulder?
  • One-man band: With the above in mind, what’s the benefit to a bard who makes the investment in Singing and Musical Instrument, and who occupies voice and hands by using both skills together? That’s gotta be worth something! (The task should also involve a modest skill penalty for the difficulty of doing two things at once, improvable as a technique, if that’s not beyond DF‘s preferred level of detail.)
  • Requirements for instruments: Would any instruments involve an extra Ready requirement? How about a Min ST stat for significant size and weight? Or, for fun, (Manual) DX requirements for complex stringed instruments, HT requirements for loud brass, etc.?
  • Volume: Banging the above drum a bit more, loudness would be fun as an option. Low-Tech introduces the audibility range concept, which sounds like a great way to differentiate instrument choices (with big drums, heavy tubas, and barbarian-scaled oboes enjoying a greater “maximum range”). Should HT boost the range of horns, and ST the range of cymbals? (Why not, I say!) Should ST, HT, SM, Penetrating Voice, and Breath Control skill all boost the range of Singing? (Sounds good to me!)
  • Other special effects: Unique optional effects could further make instrument choice fun. Gentle pipes could give a bonus to charm effects but a penalty to attack powers; blaring horns would confer the opposite. Then there are drums: hmm, good for morale-boosting martial buffs, not so good for seduction? And so on.

Got my mojo workin’

Further ideas for the magical side of music-makers (if probably too esoteric for Bards):

  • Playing a fancy harp, or washing a really weird dog
    Spell-jamming: If bards use wizard spells, and if wizard spells allow group ritual castings, then we would surely see bards casting spells together – in other words, bands! Is there anything special to be noted about bands of bards casting in concert? Does it matter whether they play the same or different parts? Is there a special role for a leader or conductor?
  • Crowd control: Then there are non-caster participants: the audience. Can they passively contribute FP if the bard asks for silence while he sings? If they refrain and join in the song, does that help or distract? Does it help if they hold up tiny torches and sway? 
  • Do ‘Freebird’, man!”: A special effect idea: Moreso than wizardly ceremonial castings, perhaps musically adept bardic castings could draw in “supporting” spectators who lend FP without even knowing they’re taking part. (They just chalk up the FP drain to “Wicked set, dudes.”) And maybe the number of these could go way beyond 100. (Stadiums, right?) But audiences are fickle! Bards hitting a sour note, or not taking shouted tune requests, might sense a surge in disgruntled spectators. “El lame-o, dudes” definitely counts as “opposed” to the casting…
  • Boosting the gain: With or without a band and a crowd, sometimes a spell-casting bard still needs more power. What can he gain by “sacrificing” a valuable instrument with a good smashing on stage? Should there be any version of a “sanctified” location or other special “power spot” for a bard (other than a high mana zone)? I’m thinking man-made or natural amphitheaters with great acoustics, or the hallowed Wodenstock stage…
  • Canticles: There are of course Bard-Clerics and Cleric-Bards, humming orisons and banging their holy cymbals. But is there a way to completely replace the wizardly spells component of a bard with clerical magic? (Wait, that should be easy: Just drop all wizard traits and skills, and buy cleric stuff instead. I forgot, this is GURPS…) Say a bard did just that; would there be any special synergies from the combination of high-powered singing abilities and ecclesiastical hymns?
  • Music therapy: Could bards invoke the healing power of music, even at a low level, to act as back-up medics? If that risks nicking clerics’ thunder, perhaps bards could just use music as a complementary skill roll to aid real healers – say, assisting an Esoteric Medicine roll through New-Agey pan piping, or boosting the Cure Disease spell with a fever-reducing cowbell beat.
  • The day the music died, hilariously: There’s nothing wrong with bards using the standard critical failure table for wizard spells, but a custom table would be more fun. Toss in results like “Shattered instrument” and “Vocal fry” (ouch!).

Further riffing

Miscellaneous noodling, backstage banter, and off-Broadway ideas that really stray beyond the probable bounds of DF. For curiosity value if nothing else:

  • “Wake up, I got a hundred more!”
    Genres: How would you represent a musical genre in GURPS, beyond descriptive color? An optional specialty of Musical Instrument, Singing, Musical Composition, etc.? It’d be of interest if it the specialization had game effect – say, if bards could use their Blues specialty to better call down misfortunes, or use the peppy Show Tunes technique for more energizing buffs. Or just roll against Singing (Opera) when a patron prince demands a nice aria. (Actually, DF 11: Power-Ups touches on moods of music, as part of the Songs ability. Specialization with appropriate genres could perhaps affect these abilities. All that said, there’s nothing wrong with the dead-simple current method – which is, when you use the Song called Dirge, just invoke an appropriately gloomy genre or tune if that sounds like fun!)
  • In the mood: A slight tweak on the above: If not specific genres per se, could musicians learn optional specialties or techniques for specific reactions? That is, perhaps a bard could tweak his skills to better soothe targets using cool jazz, seduce like a dungeoneering Barry White, rouse listeners with Sousa marches, etc.
  • Profession playlists: Completely unnecessary, but just wondering: What might be a favorite sort of genre for each bardic mixed profession? Necromancer-Bard? Gotta go with goth. Holy Warrior-Bard? Wagner-esque opera. Druid-Bard? Something hippie-folksy, maybe pagan-meets-bluegrass. (“Wiccan and grinnin'”, they call it.) Martial Artist-Bard? Gregorian chant, if you’re thinking Friar Tuck-type monk. (Tangential confession: As an AD&D player long ago, I thought the Monk class was some sort of tonsured monastic euro-priest with inexplicably odd weapons. “Weird, but whatever…” It was years later that I made the connection with Shaolin Temple-ish monks…)
  • Repertoire: This is unimportant and maybe of interest to nobody but me, but I’ve wondered a time or two: Do performance skills like Musical Instrument and Singing cover technique alone, or do they equally address how many works are in a performer’s learned repertoire? If the latter, can Repertoire be improved as a technique? If performance skill doesn’t cover repertoire, then what does a bard roll against to know a tune when it counts? (“If you’re one of the court musicians like you say you are, you’d know the Royal Lullaby. Play it.”) Is there, or should there be, a Bardic Lore skill (a Hobby, Professional, or Expert skill?) to represent a body of known works? Or would this be Literature or Poetry or some such?
  • The Entertainer: Musicians are a subset of a far broader class of character: entertainers. Could a very different (or really not so different?) “bard” be built around the arts of dance, storytelling, or acting, instead of music? If so, core skills like Dancing, Storytelling, and Acting are obvious, but where does Performance skill fit in? Can bard-like abilities be built on artistic skills like Literature and Poetry? (Even more sketchy ideas come to mind, like a “bard” variant built around visual art. That might be useless in the dungeon: “Keep holding those poses, monsters! C’mon, just another hour or two!” But here’s a strange one that could work: the Cheerleader, a “bard” who uses chants and acrobatic performances for encouragement and buffs from the sidelines.)
  • “Thank you, I’ll be down here all week”: Anyone interested in a comic variant of bard? Not some Weird Elf Yankovic singing funny tunes; I mean an actual comedian patterned after a court fool, jester, harlequin, or clown. This joker would be killing it in the dungeon with Rapier Wit, a rubber cockatrice, literally offensive one-liners, and “laughter is the best medicine” healing buffs. An arrow through the head is optional (and sometimes unintended). Favored enemy: Dire Hecklers. (Yes, I’m envisioning Dungeon Seinfeld. Come on, you want it too. “Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to clear a room of Giant Rats, but your Cat-folk guy won’t stop toying with the last one…”)
  • Troupe play: Know what sounds like fun? A band of all-bard PCs. With the profession’s wide range of abilities and gear, each PC could still have a unique identity (beyond “the cute one”, “the funny one”, and so on). It’s not hard to imagine a campaign arc:
    • Starting out as unknown indie adventurers, the PCs earn Patrons, Allies, and renown along their (game)world tour of cities and dungeons. But then come the rivals, the rumors, and the inevitable slide in Reputation as invitations and dungeon gigs dry up. Younger minstrels now take the center stage at Trollapalooza; the PCs play opening act to a marionette show. Just when things couldn’t get worse, a scandal – perhaps some disastrous dalliance at the palace – leads to a tongue-lashing by the Queen (with the dread threat “castrato” uttered more than once), followed by exile from the kingdom. (“There goes The Banned,” the gossips quip.) What starts as a not-so-magical mystery tour of the wilderness eventually leads the PCs to encounters with gurus and masters of mind-opening musics (from whom “the quiet one” picks up an esoteric new style). Fortune finally smiles on the band when they discover unexpected popularity in a faraway land – surprise, they’re big in Sahud! They climb back to adventure and fame in their new home, even earning exotic accolades and titles (what exactly is a “Karaoke Knight”?). Things go well for the PCs, and “the smart one” develops a love interest in a local artist. But her growing demands on his creative direction strike a sour note in the group harmony. Some even name her a succubus-like she-demon, intent on tearing the band apart! Oh no!… And the beat goes on from there. Sound like fun to anyone?
  • Rename that tune: A side thought: It goes without saying that bardic powers, spells, and other abilities should carry cool bardy names. Like “Harmonic Dissonance” for a confusion power, “Command Performance” for a compulsion spell, “Transposition” for soul-swapping magic, “Alla Breve” for an Altered Time Rate buff, and “Reveille” for a power-up buff. (Just looking at a list like this suggests all kinds of musically-themed abilities.) At the least, Bards should urge players to come up with melodious names for their abilities. (If your signature combat move combines your weaponized piccolo, the Blowpipe skill, Stealth, and the Hit Location technique to place a dart between foes’ vertebrae, you might as well label that “Spinal Tap”…)
  • Coda: One final suggestion for Bards: When outlining any nifty tricks involving music, instruments, story telling, social skills, and the like, take care to note whether the exploit is strictly for bards only, or whether anyone with the right skills and tools could attempt the same. There will be non-bard PCs with musical and social skills who’ll want to perform bard-like exploits; they just won’t do so as skillfully as magical minstrels. For tasks like those, Bards could be of use to all kinds of PCs!

Outro

“I can too play a dual-exhaust muffler, dammit!”

Wow. Quite an idea dump, with the emphasis on dump. I trust the actual Bards book will sanely limit itself to quality content with real play value. If, though, its future author should see this page and find a lyric, lick, riff, or verse worth sampling and remixing, I yield it gladly!

(Oh, and a final note to the future Bards author: In keeping with the Dungeon Fantasy spirit, don’t hesitate to toss some bad puns and jokes into the book. I’ll be happy to suggest some, if I can just think of any…)

How about you, Listener? Anything up there sound like solid gold for a Denizens release? Or perhaps you’d like to lay down a track of your own in the Comments?

Edit 2017-05-06: There’s a nice forum thread on the Musical Composition and Musical Instrument skills here. A future Bards author would probably get some good ideas from that!

Edit 2017-05-10: To accompany your minstrels, would you like some well-crafted, delicious adventure seeds? Try these instead!

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