Monday, May 2, 2022

Another Bard

In addition to curating spell lists (and deciding the difference between "normal" clerics and their devil-worshipping counterparts) I spent a lot of March/April doing deep dives into the various 1E classes and how/if they needed to be modified for MY particular game world. For the most part, the answer came back: nope.

[in a future post, I'll discuss my deep dive on the whole of race-class-level interactions which was the FIRST thing I scrutinized. However, since I ended up with almost ZERO changes to the PHB standard; I'll save that for a different day]

In some cases, this is just "being practical." Take the monk class as a prime example: there's a lot about the class as written that I dislike. The way it "breaks" normal rules (like ability score adjustments) over and over again. The hodgepodge of special abilities that range from Remo William to David Carradine to St. Francis of Assisi. Surprise adjustments. Just a lot of stuff that could stand to be cleaned up.

Thing is: it doesn't matter at the moment. None of my players are playing a monk. I have no experience playing monks. I don't have any experience running games with players who had monks. I just haven't seen how monks unfold over time in actual play. Yes, I've run NPC monks, both as antagonists and as allies. But if you're not starting them at level 1 and seeing the actual progress, it's difficult to judge just how the character is going to turn out.

So I'm leaving it alone for now. Well, mostly. Originally, the monk was a subclass of cleric and I've put it back into that category (my monk uses the cleric tables for both attacks AND saving throws). And I'm considering upping the hit die type to D6s rather than D4s based on what hit points represent, how they function, the monk's role, and general consistency with other subclasses. But otherwise, if a 5th level or 10th level or whatever level NPC monk is encountered, it will be exactly as written in the PHB. I'll worry about revamping the class if and when I have a chance to observe one in the campaign.

[as a side note, I'll say that I'm quite satisfied with the monk class's unarmed combat skills and how they model within the AD&D combat system...but that, too, is its own discussion]

The bard, however, is a completely different story. 

I've had a LOT of experience with the 1st edition bard. I played bards pretty much exclusively in the days of my youth (well, after we started playing AD&D). And I wasn't the only one. At least three other bards (not played by myself) made prominent appearances in our games, although one (Rob's bard, Taliesin) was short-lived as he was sacrificed by the other PCs to the Machine of Lum the Mad in order to power its planar travel ability. Ah, yes...good times...

A lot of folks look at the 1E bard as written and consider its requirements so onerous as to make playing one prohibitive, but such just isn't the case in my experience. Assuming one has the proper ability scores to qualify, a character can hit the 5th level fighter / 6th level thief mark necessary to begin her bard career with a mere 38,000 x.p. ...hardly daunting when you consider several classes (including rangers, paladins, and magic-users) require more than 40K just to hit 6th level. And a bard that spends the time to get to 7th / 8th level (the BTB maximum per most folks' interpretation) only requires 140,000 x.p.; that sum wouldn't even get a fighter to 9th level.

So...easy-shmeazy. I advanced one of my bards from 0 x.p. in his first class all the way to the high teens in our first "all AD&D" campaign (i.e. our first "by the book" stab at running AD&D with no B/X rule influence/interference). Considering racial level restrictions, it was always a good choice for players who wanted to play half-elves (who didn't?)...and for folks who liked a lot of options (fighting, thieving, spell use) it was quite the no brainer, although the bard's abilities were generally dwarfed by straight fighters, magic-users, and clerics especially at the higher levels.

However, despite the bard class's functionality in play (based on my actual, non-theoretical experience), the design of the class doesn't work with the paradigm of my campaign world in two major regards:
  • the class switching aspect (based on my assumptions of how an adventurer's class skills are learned), and
  • the connection/ties to the druid sect
The latter issue is due partly to world building (I really want these two classes to be separate entities) and partly due to practicality (in practice, I don't like bards using the same high level abilities of the shapeshifting...and I don't see the class using the druidic spells in the same spirit/form as a true druid). It makes the bard feel like a subclass of druid...and the druid is already a subclass. I find that distasteful these days, though I could learn to live with it (we had no qualms doing so as youths).

However, the class switching bit is the real stickler. As I wrote the other day, I've gone through and rewritten the age tables, partly because I've shortened nonhuman lifespans considerably (most are now more-or-less human scale), and partly based on what I feel are appropriate lengths of learning time for a young person to be singled out for training and then complete a course of study and practice such that they'd qualify to be a 1st level character of a given class. 

As such, I find that I dislike the standard "dual class" rules given in AD&D (which are based on the simpler form of class switching given in Volume 1 of OD&D) that allow any human to automatically become a "new class" for which they meet the required ability score minimums. No, that doesn't work for me that (for example) you are suddenly a magic-user based solely on your possession of a high intelligence score. Un-uh.

With regard to dual class characters, my solution has been to do a bit of retroactive imagining for any player that wishes to go down this path: instead of the character "suddenly learning" the new skills, we assume that the new class was, in fact, the character's original training that (at some point, for some reason) was set-aside to pursue her current adventuring class...and NOW the character has decided to return to that "original class," forever giving up the progress she made on her "side career."

And then we add seven years to the character's age...the PC is (retconned) to be older than previously assumed.

That's the easy fix; dual-classed characters still get to be played, but they take an age penalty (in addition to the normal restrictions) in order to maintain the integrity of the (game) world functions. Unfortunately, that doesn't work for a bard who is supposed to progress consecutively through three classes, learning skills and retaining them as an eclectic jack-of-trades. Hence the need for a rewrite. 

In figuring out a "better bard," I looked at the original class (as found in the The Strategic Review) which is different from the AD&D version and includes justifications/references for its design. I also looked at later Dragon magazine articles suggesting various "fixes" of the class, including the variant bard ("Singing A New Tune") and curated spell list ("Songs Instead Of Spells") both found in issue #56. 

Taken in conjunction with the class as presented in the PHB, I decided on a relatively simple rewrite:
  1. The bard is a single class.
  2. The experience table is the same as that given on page 117 of the PHB (the bard starts at 1st level and requires 2,001 experience to reach 2nd level, etc.).
  3. The bard is restricted to 23 levels of experience. It uses 6-sided hit dice and receives one hit die at every level of experience (as is the case with all limited level classes) to a maximum of 23d6. This means that my bard's hit point will, on average, be less than the 1E bard as written (with a lower maximum).
  4. Number of spells by spell level are the same as listed on page 117; however, I have curated a specific "bard spell list," drawing spells (songs) from a variety of lists, not limited to druidic magic.
  5. Bards attack as a fighter of one-half level, rounded down (a 1st level bard attacks as a 0-level man); they do not receive multiple attacks.
  6. Beginning at 2nd level, bards have the same abilities as a thief of one-half their bard level rounded down; they have no backstabbing ability.
  7. Armor is limited to non-bulky types; weapons are as per the PHB. Three weapon proficiencies to start (1/4) with a -3 penalty for non-weapon proficiency.
  8. Charm ability as per Bard Table II (page 118); legend lore ability same but with slightly higher chances up through level 7 (10% at 1st level). Other bardic abilities as per the PHB.
  9. Minimum ability scores: STR 9, INT 12, WIS 9, DEX 13, CHA 15. Dexterity adjusts thief abilities as normal. Charisma 17 adds +5% to charm; charisma 18 adds +10% to charm ability. Wisdom adjusts spells known as per cleric/druid (and affects spell failure chance). Additional languages known are per INT, but the bard knows them beginning at 1st level.
  10. Humans and half-elves may progress to a maximum of 23rd level; dwarves, elves, and halflings may progress to a maximum of 8th level. Demihuman bards may not multi-class.
This bard has yet to be play-tested, but I have high hopes for it.
: )
"Want to join our party? We
don't play with alignment."


  1. Why would Monk be a sub-class of Cleric?
    - Deity worship is not needed.
    - They have no spells.
    - They cannot wear armor.
    - They're clearly modeled off Kung Fu movies, not Catholic priests or monks.
    - They were introduced to give an alternative to the Thief (which is why they have Thief skills).

    If Monk *must* be a subclass, it should most likely be a subclass of Thief. (Though I think a stand-alone class is more appropriate)

    1. Originally, the AD&D monk was a subclass of cleric (when first presented in OD&D's Supplement II). I discussed the reasons for keeping it as a subclass in an earlier fact I included a link to that post in this post:

      Even if the monk was based on "Kung Fu" (it wasn't, though that would seem to be an influence), "Kung Fu" was based on the Buddhist monks of ShaoLin, who were certainly closer to clerics than thieves.

    2. If you go back to the original Blackmoor supplement, Wisdom of 15 is required and it is stated "Members of the Order seek both physical and mental superiority in a religious atmosphere." So monk training is seen as religious is nature and monks acquire supernatural abilities due to their religious discipline. In popular fiction of the time, martial arts study is seen at a minimum as having a spiritual & ethical element even when it's not done in a religious order. So the monk's abilities are all over the place but Cleric seems reasonable. Though I suppose you could argue Monk is to Thief as Paladin is to Fighter.

  2. Did you even consider looking at the 2E Bard class for this? It's not perfect, but it's got a style that I like.

    Anyway, in regards to my post on dual classing the other day, this is really close to what I had been about to reply to your comment:
    "instead of the character "suddenly learning" the new skills, we assume that the new class was, in fact, the character's original training that (at some point, for some reason) was set-aside to pursue her current adventuring class...and NOW the character has decided to return to that "original class," forever giving up the progress she made on her "side career.""

    1. I like 2e, but the 2e Bard is a little to magical for me especially at low levels. Both the bard and the wizard gain access to level 2 spells at 5,000 xp.

    2. RE the 2E Bard

      I'm not unfamiliar with this version of the bard, but (perhaps due to personal bias against 2E) I did not take it into consideration.

      There's a part of me that really struggles with adding the bard as a thief (or "rogue") subclass. Yes, I did so when I was working up my subclasses for Holmes ( but that was more a cutesy afterthought to my mental exercise.

      The original bard class (Doug Schwegman, The Strategic Review vol 2, #1) was not a subclass of ANY of the original classes, but rather a jack-of-all-trades, Swiss army knife character. It had some thieving ability, magic-user spells, good weapon selection, and mitigation/support abilities like a cleric (it also had saves/attacks like a cleric) plus druidic connections. It was rightly its own class, as the character had studied ALL the basic classes in some measure.

      Would a 2E bard be mechanically similar to what I have here? Perhaps...let me just pull out my 2E PHB (*read*read*)...well, it would seem to be much weaker at both fighting and thieving, while GREATLY enhanced in magical ability...near equals to a magic-user (casts 3rd level fireball! 40K x.p. while a mage only needs 20K), and they keep a spellbook and all arcane spells up to 7th level are there purview? And they have a spell book and add spells to it as they find them like a wizard?

      Sorry...the 2E bard is much closer to a magic-user (er..."wizard") subclass than a rogue. Trading off some (high level) magical ability for a bump in hit points, attack ability? Yeah, I'm not sure why this is stuck under "rogue" when its only thief abilities are picking pockets and climbing walls.

      [actually, I know why its under rogue...that's a choice based on DESIGN. However, THEMATICALLY it makes little sense]

      Nah. I'll stick with what I've got here. Give me the jack, not some ex-wizard troubadour.

    3. Fair enough. The 2E class has, IMO, potential, but it is a weak class as written. When I added a Bard to my BECMI game, it served as a baseline for me to add to, though, so I was curious if you'd looked at it.

      I don't think I've ever read Schwegman's original take on the class. Might have to go digging around the internet.

    4. The Strategic Review is available at annarchive, as are the Dragon mags. The issue was Volume 2, Issue 1.

      Having played bards for several years in long running 1E campaigns, they should feel pretty beefy (they are) but they don't come close to the power of the main classes with (perhaps) the exception of the thief. High level fighters are monsters, high level magic-users can teleport and chain lightning and high level clerics (who everyone wants on their "good side" for healing) have armies of fanatic followers. But the bard is (or should be) a GREAT "independent operator." If it weren't for the class-switching thing (well...and the druid concentration), I'd keep the 1E bard as written.

      *sigh* I don't HATE a lot of 2E's design choices when it comes to streamlining and simplifying the 1E system, but the choices they made for the bard are definitely among my least favorite. I would have rather they dropped the class altogether (as they did with the monk and assassin) then give us this particular version. It's kind of a spectacular failure.

  3. Hmmm, interesting take. The biggest issue I have is the whole retconning a characters age, that threatens my view of a consistent world(unless they have an indeterminate age in the first placen shrodingers age lol). IMC this isn't an issue because I require training between each level anyway, so if a character wanted to dual/multiclass they'd still have to undergo the training for the 1st level of the new class.

    My other gripe(which isn't specific to this post) is the general implementation of the dnd bard anyway, my opinion is if we're going to use a very specific cultural/historical term then we should try actually represent it as accurately as possible. So yeah, why should a historical bard have Thief skills? They should definitely be a subclass of the druid, etc etc

    Eh, but thats just me, who am I to tell you how to run your game.

    1. @ Lance:

      I don't think you're telling me how to run my game, and I hope folks don't think I'm telling them how to run their games (at least, not with THIS post). You offering your opinion is valuable...and perhaps MY thoughts will prove valuable to someone else.

      "Bard" *is* a very specific historical term. As are the terms "druid," "paladin," and "monk." The bard class, as Schwegman originally imagined, was a synthesis of the Norse skald, Celtic bard, and European minstrel (he describes this in the original article). It is a fantasy hodgepodge with a short punch title. I really don't have an issue there. It's a shorthand for the game that (for me) is less clunky than "song-thief" or something.

      RE retconning age

      Using the AD&D age tables (at least on the human scale), one finds that age penalties (i.e. "net negatives") only begin upon reaching 'middle-age', an impossible category for ANY character to be in when starting their adventuring career.

      As such, no AD&D character will suffer the effects of aging for many years unless magically aged through some effect...age has LITTLE effect on a PC once play starts, except for the DM to mark a character's birthday with the passing of years.

      [for example, a fighter has the exact same ability scores at age 21 and age 40; that's two decades of ineffectual age]

      As such, this ret-conning is unlikely to have little more effect that changing the number in the box, bringing a character closer to that dreaded 'middle-age' category. When you treat a 30 year old the same as a 24 year old does it really matter much that I tell you your PC is now 37? You're going to continue to behave as a 24 year old.

      By retconning in THIS particular way, characters take the age penalty that should occur (in a world where skills don't just "magically appear" but need to be worked for) WITHOUT grinding the campaign to a standstill while waiting for the character to spend years training.

      Fact is, I do not want to outlaw dual class characters (it *IS* possible to change one's profession/skill set after all), BUT I do *not* want it to A) be a free pass (as in the 1E rules as written), nor B) be a burden on the OTHER players at the table.

  4. From a BX perspective, I've always thought that there should be a human-based class with a prime requisite which maps to one of each of the six attributes. Thus a ranger class for BX has CON and the bard for BX has CHA.

    With CHA as the prime requisite communication, persuasion, performance and storytelling has to be the core abilities.

    I'd be looking at giving the bard:
    1- more languages, starting at common plus 3 then perhaps one every two levels.
    2 - knowledge of the societies and cultures for those known languages. Accrued the level after the language has been gained.
    3 - ability to decipher codes and languages as per a thief.
    4 - ability to inspire, calm, subdue, distract, romance, or enrage a group through performance. Needs to be done in advance and not as part of combat. Maybe also allow recovery of some hit points via an inspiring song or poem (equivalent to CLW once per day). These "songs" or "poems" can be learned at different levels.
    5 - ability to read magic user and cleric scrolls as per the thief, with a chance of failure.
    6 - suggestion ability "these are not the droids you are looking for" to a small group of low level humanoids or a single higher level PC.
    7 - ventriloquism as an ability rather than a spell.
    8 - better perception. Hear noise as a thief and find secret doors as an elf.

    Fights, saves and hp as a cleric. Limited to leather armour, no shield. Any light weapon permitted (up to 1d6 damage). Magic item as.per thieves.

    1. For what it's worth:

      I've published TWO versions of a B/X bard (one in my B/X Companion, another in The Complete B/X Adventurer). I'm not sure what OSE and Advanced Labyrinth Lord may have done with the class, but you can check out my (B/X) versions in either of those two books.
      ; )