The bard is a character class in Dungeons & Dragons. A bard is a performer whose song and word have magical efficacy, and are typically used to strengthen his allies.

Abilities[edit | edit source]

Power source[edit | edit source]

The bard's power comes from song and poetry. It is generally considered a form of arcane magic, but many bardic abilities blur this distinction, such as the ability to cast spells which heal. A bard's magic, like their music, comes from the heart.

A bardic tale says that the multiverse began with the Words of Creation, and by the speech of the gods was given form. Bardic music is said to be an attempt to harness mere echoes of these primordial words.[1]

Appearance and personality[edit | edit source]

Bards tend to wear light armor such as leather and carry one-handed weapons such as the longsword or rapier. They frequently carry musical instruments which serve as the tools of their trade.

Some bards are highly competitive with other bards, highly territorial and constantly jockeying for the favor of local rich and powerful nobles. Not all bards are good-aligned, nor is any one bard necessarily loyal to another.[2]

A bard is a free spirit, and is rarely lawful in alignment.[2].

Society and culture[edit | edit source]

Bardic colleges[edit | edit source]

A bard typically apprentices under another bard until they are ready to begin their own journey. Bards often collaborate to form informal colleges to share information and techniques.[2].

Adventurers[edit | edit source]

Bards are natural adventurers, seeking out new stories to learn, lore to discover, and wealthy patrons to impress.[1]

Bards traditionally follow heroes into battle in order to chronicle their deeds. Adventuring into danger not only makes for great stories, it frequently offers ways to learn new secrets and acquire wealth, as well as giving the bard opportunity to practice their abilities.

A bard's natural charisma and magical charm make them excellent diplomats, and adventuring parties often welcome bards when the situation warrants negotiation, haggling, or deception. A bard is a jack-of-all-trades and contributes something useful to any adventuring group, though he lacks the direct strength of a dedicated warrior or spellcaster.[2].

Religion[edit | edit source]

Bards travel often, and as a result are rarely devoted to a single temple. Many worship gods of travel, such as Fharlangn in the World of Greyhawk, whose shrines they encamp near to earn coin from travelers. Some humans pray to the elven deities for inspiration.[2].

Race[edit | edit source]

The bardic tradition is common among humans, who have long used poetry and song as a way of keeping an oral tradition. Half-elves likewise often take up this tradition, sharing the elven love of song, and for the same reason elves often make excellent bards. The gnomes, famed for their love of humour, often make good bards.[2].

The bards of drow society are held in high regard. They have the privilege to travel anywhere and seek shelter from any drow, a dangerous request to accept since many moonlight as assassins.

Bards are uncommon in the traditions of the dwarves and halflings, though not unheard of. The halfling love of song and dance is well known, while dwarves place great value on learning the history of their clan, often told in traditional sagas of epic skaldic poetry and accompanied by drum music.[3]

Notable bards[edit | edit source]

For a complete list, see Category:Bards.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

Original D&D[edit | edit source]

The first set of rules for the bard appeared in The Strategic Review #7 (Feb 1976), pages 11-12.

This conception of the bard is a combination of thief, magic-user and fighter, a generalist type class which is not often seen in D&D. The bard's abilities include to mesmerize a creature through song and plant suggestion in the enemy's mind (in case diplomacy fails), the ability to recall lore, limited thief skills, limited magic-user spells, and proficiency with weapons. This conception of the bard was generally retained throughout D&D's history.

Humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits can be bards, though only humans can progress past 8th level. Seven bardic colleges are listed, which the bard progresses through like ranks; later editions of the game would retcon these as individual bardic institutions.

The Monk and Bard in Dungeon, Dragon #17 (Aug 1978), p.17, introduced rules for the bard and monk in the Dungeon! board game.

Basic D&D[edit | edit source]

The bard does not appear in the Basic D&D product line from 1977-1999.

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

The bard appeared in of the Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.117-117. The class was optional at DM's discretion and relegated to an appendix due to its controversial position as a generalist class.

The bard now requires a peculiar progression: to become one, the player must first reach at least 5th level as a fighter, then switch to the thief class before 8th level, then become a druid before level 9. Gygax envisaged the bard as a somewhat thief-like class, and the historical connections between the bard and druid of Celtic history were well-established.[4]

The bard now gains druid spells, and is limited in weapon proficiencies. In addition to the abilities of the bard in Strategic Review, they may inspire morale in allies with poetics, and their singing and playing can negate sonic attacks.

Bards must be human or half-elf, and must have at least 15 Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma, 12 Intelligence, and 10 Constitution. They must be of any neutral alignment.

A variant of Gygax's bard with the ability to read languages and cast illusion magic in addition to druid spells appeared in Singing a new tune, Dragon #56 (Dec 1981), p.5-8, by Jeff Goelz; followed by the variant Songs instead of spells. Further variants appeared in Dragon #60 (Apr 1982), p.45-49 with The Jester by Roger Moore and Diarmuid's Last Jest by Arthur W. Collins.

In Dragon #103 (Nov 1985), Gary Gygax announced plans for a new bard subclass, the Jester, for the upcoming AD&D 2nd edition. Following Gygax's departure from TSR, these plans were dropped.

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

The bard appeared in the AD&D Player's Handbook (2e) (1989), p.41-44 and Player's Handbook (2e revised{{UnknownBook}}, p.58-61 as an optional class. In this edition, the bard and thief form the Rogue character archetype.

In this edition, the bard can wield any weapon and wear any armor up to chainmail. They now have wizard spells again, reverting Gygax's druidic shift. They have a chance to identify magic items, and to sing or chant a countersong or poem to negate enemy song or poetry based magic. The bard can now influence the reaction of enemies with speech or song.

Like Gygax's AD&D 1e bard, they retain the human or half-elf race restrictions and neutral alignment restriction, although they are now easier to qualify for, requiring only 15 Charisma, 13 Intelligence and 12 Dexterity. They retain the ability to inspire allies.

The bard received a class-specific sourcebook, PHBR7 The Complete Bard's Handbook (1992). Variant bard kits appearing in Dragon magazine included the Dandy and Outlaw (Dragon #189), Fakir (#225), Dirgist (#252) and Storyteller (#257), with additional bard articles in #202 and #256.

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

The bard appeared as a core class in the Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000) and Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.26-30.

The bard possess arcane spellcasting ability similar to the wizard, but their spell list includes even some healing spells like cure light wounds, unique among arcane spellcasting classes. They receive fewer spells, reaching at most only 6th level spells compared to the wizard's 9th. The bard is a spontaneous caster like the sorcerer and does not require a spellbook.

The bard's music includes the ability to inspire courage (grant attack and damage bonus to allies), countersong against sonic attacks, and to fascinate an opponent. At higher levels they can inspire competence (granting allies a skill bonus), inspire greatness (a strong combat buff), and plant a suggestion in enemies. In D&D 3.5, bards gained improved music with level: stronger inspire courage, mass suggestion, a song of freedom to break enchantments, and an inspire heroics defensive buff. They retain their bardic knowledge ability.

The bard is proficient only in light armor and a few one-handed weapons, but can now use shields.

Like all classes in third edition, the bard is available to any class and has no ability score requirements. The original third edition Player's Handbook depicted Devis, a half-elf as the iconic bard, perhaps due to its traditional racial limit in AD&D 2nd edition. D&D 3.5 replaced Devis with Gimble, gnome bard, to reflect the change in the gnome's favored class.

Expansion books containing material for the bard included Song and Silence (2001), Complete Adventurer (2005) and Complete Scoundrel (2007). Content for the bard appeared in Dragon magazines 277, 301, 311, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 333, 334, 335, 336, 337, 338, 342, 351, and 356.

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

The bard appears in Player's Handbook 2{{UnknownBook}}, p.66-81, where it is an arcane leader class. The bard is fundamentally a support class like the warlord.

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

The bard is a core class appearing in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.51-55.

The bard's music can grant a die to an ally, who can roll it at any point to add a bonus to any d20 roll. Bards gain bonuses to skill use and ability checks to represent their jack-of-all-trades nature, and the ability to countersong mind-effects.

They also join a bardic college which provides individual specialties, such as in lore study and cutting words; or combat efficacy as the Norse skalds.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

According to Doug Schwegman's original article in Strategic Review #6 which introduced the bard, the class takes inspiration from the Norse skald, the warrior-poets and historians of Scandinavia; the Celtic bard, honored storytellers who reportedly followed heroes into battle to retell their deeds and also acted as neutral diplomats; and the southern European minstrel, musicians who entertained royalty.

In medieval Ireland, the bard was a highly respected profession of poets, storytellers and historians. Bards trained for many years, and held the important role of learning and retelling history in memorable poetic form, in a time before reading and writing were commonplace. By some reports, the bards held the highest social caste in society, and it was taboo to refuse them any request; one even asked for the king's brooch, who was forced to comply, though the brooch was later returned.

The skaldic poetry of Scandinavia held a similar purpose, and survives today in the Norse sagas and legends of the Norse gods.

The AD&D 2e Player's Handbook cites Robin Hood's minstrel Alan-a-Dale and his companion Will Scarlet, the mythical Irish poet Amergin Glúingel, and the Greek poet Homer as real-world examples of the bard archetype.

Reception and influence[edit | edit source]

The D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook admits that while the bard is versatile, it lacks the single focus, and is best played as the fifth member of a party that has already filled the four core roles.

In 2017, former TSR employee Tim Kask admitted a dislike of bards as player characters:[5]

"I'm not real fond of bards, for the most part ... Bards, again, are something that I thought would be useful as an NPC, not a PC."

The bard class has appeared in numerous tabletop and computer roleplaying games. The idea of music as the source of magic is key to the Ar Tonelico videogame RPG series.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.51-55.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.26-30.
  3. Player's Handbook (3.5), Web Enhancement (2003), p.2.
  4. "I included that as most fictional treatments of bard-like characters were roguish, engaged in some nefarious activity such as stealing." - ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 1, 2002
  5. Curmudgeon on the Cellar YT5, 5m26s.
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