Tales From the Gazebo – Mile Wide Inch Deep: Bards, Part 2

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Mile Wide Inch Deep: Bards, Part 2
Cape Rust

Ah the bard… Yea… That guy… They guy who does that thing, where he well you know….. As a class, bards are confusing. It is hard to gauge where they fit into a party or even what type of party they fit best in. Sometimes the type of bard a player chooses to play will answer the question above, but sometimes the answer isn’t quite clear. When you have a class that is varied like the bard, it is especially important to take the time to really study its abilities, rather than just dismissing or gimping them for your players.

For bard lovers, the answer to the question of what type of adventuring party does a bard fit in best with should be all of them. For those GMs who are hesitant to allow their players to even play a bard, here are some ideas. First, I have heard many, many players say that the bard is the perfect 5th character class. This statement is based on a “typical” party of 4 players that contains a fighter, cleric, wizard and rogue. You might call this your meat and potatoes party. If your view is that the bard is a fifth wheel rather than a fifth party member, open your mind, think utility. With the normal four person party, that fifth member should be as versatile as possible and that as you know is where the bard excels.

The Bards ability to cast some spells including healing makes them a viable back up castor. Their large array of skills allows them to stand in for the rogue if need be. While not hard hitters, bards can fight. The ability to buff their fellow party members several times a day is not to be underestimated. The problem is that when the rest of the party is doing what they do well, the bard can quickly become marginalized. I could go into thousands of party configurations and how the bard would or wouldn’t work, but what I want to focus on is more the game/situation that your players might find their party in and how the bard can be a game changer.

In a recent game that I ran, in the Forgotten Realms, most of my players were not familiar with the setting. I gave them a primer and some suggested reading, but ultimately little of that reading was done and their eagerness quickly overrode research. Sensing their desire to start rolling up their characters ASAP, I decided to ask one of the players who had been in the Realms to play a bard, she agreed. We already had a good mix of characters based on what the players thought they would need predicated on the information that I gave them. Her playing the bard didn’t detract from the players perceived needs and it gave me what I like to call a plant or snitch player. In my games, the Plant of the Snitch Player is the one that in the know and the one I can use to pass information to the party that they might have missed. Normally GMs will fill this role with NPCs, but I love using players when I get the chance. I will say that this particular player is very trustworthy and responsible with powers or abilities she is given. Because of her knowledge of the Realms as a player, it made sense for her character to have an amount of knowledge that borders on the meta.

Meta gaming is always a problem and some players do it much more often than others, if you have a player who isn’t good at reigning in their nasty meta gaming habits, then the bard might be the class for them. In the case of this game, I had my female player make tons of bardic knowledge checks (low DC) to give the rest of the party tons of information about the setting; too easy. This allowed the rest of the party to get to know the setting through their characters and it gave her some major spotlight time as a player. In this case, the bard player character played that role that one NPC always seems to play in most games. I didn’t allow her to know everything, but on a few occasions I actually gave her “stories” that her bard could tell that added to the players and their characters base of knowledge. You can quickly see what an advantage it was to have a player like this in a game as a GM.

Once again I have rambled on and gotten to and most likely surpassed the good cut off point. I hate to stop mid-encounter, but next week I will dig into a few different types of bards. Stay tuned.

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