Sidebar: Reimagining the Bard

I enjoy playing support characters. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than controlling a battlefield, or bolstering other characters. In fact, one of the most exciting games for me was one in which I played a sorcerer standing on a mountain, a staff of evocation in my hand, and a group of bloodthirsty zombies clamoring up a sheer cliff face towards me. As the party fended off a group of skeletal dragon riders attacking us from the sky, I realized that I stood alone against the zombies. However, rather than unleashing a volley of fireballs, and lightning bolts against the zombies climbing towards us, I erected a wall of force around the cliff face, preventing the zombies from reaching us, leaving the rest of the party free to attack the dragon riders.

This love of support characters is one of the reasons that I’ve always been so disappointed with bards. Bards are designed to be support characters, and as such you would think that they would be able to, you know, support characters. Unfortunately, the way they’re written, it makes it difficult for them to fulfill the support role because, unlike my sorcerer, they don’t have a lot of flexibility in their powers. Take, for example, the way songs are designed. Bards can only sing one song at a time, and generally must expend all of their focus on sustaining that song. Unfortunately, most of these songs are only useful in very select situations, many of which take place outside of combat. Since support characters need to be able to respond to a variety of different combat situations in order to be effective, they need to have powers that give them that flexibility.

As I redesigned the bard class, I tried to think of how bardic music could be redesigned to reflect that sort of flexibility. As I did so, I tried to think of what bardic music is supposed to represent, and in my view, it’s meant to be a combination of battle commentary and ally encouragement. That’s why, in redesigning the class, I decided it would be better to have bards sing verses of a sustained, musical narrative, rather than individual songs. For example, if an ally slays an enemy, the bard can immediately burst out with a verse that praises the character for her victory and helps her find the strength to take on additional foes. If an ally falls victim to a mind-affecting effect, the bard bursts out with a verse that encourages the character to resist the effect. This mechanic gives bards the kind of flexibility that they need in order to effectively play the support role they were intended to play.

Another thing that I wanted to do, in redesigning the bard class, was take advantage of the immediate action. In my entry, 4E Inspirations, I talked about how 4E inspires me to create house rules for 3.5, and one of the things that I really like about 4E is the fact that players can take actions, even when it’s not their turn. After all, there’s nothing more boring about 3.5 than sitting in your chair, waiting for four to six other players to resolve their actions, with nothing more than arguments over grapple rules, and tired diatribes about why wizards are better than sorcerers to occupy your time as you wait for your turn in the initiative. Giving players the opportunity to interrupt combat with immediate actions helps keep them engaged in the game even when it’s not their turn, and it’s a design concept that I hope to take advantage of as I continue to reimagine classes for 3.5.

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