Wednesday 5 October 2011

The Bard as Hireling

So ... if all a bard character does is strengthen your morale and make you feel at home in the wilderness and know lots of semi-useful trivia, maybe you're better off having a bard as a retainer instead of playing one?

Think of the precedent. African kings with their praise singers ... Brave Sir Robin's bard. Xena's sidekick Gabrielle was a bard, and it's hard to think of the roles being reversed, isn't it?

The bard, then, can be seen as a luxurious accessory for a pretty accomplished party of adventurers. Wages for a bard are a base 100$ (gp) a month, with an additional 50$ for each bonus point the bard's Charisma and Intelligence scores give. What do you get for all this? Well ...
  • The bard can sing in a wilderness or dungeon camp. This increases the natural healing rate by 1 for characters 2nd level or higher. (I houserule that you only heal 1 hp/night in camp, but 1 hp/level/night in a safe location such as an inn).
  • The bard with exceptional Charisma, can sing and play at any time to give all other hirelings and henchmen a Morale bonus on 2d6 equal to Charisma bonus; if no bonus, a bard's playing still negates 1 point of any morale penalties in effect. 
  • Some bardic traditions instead give enemies a like Morale penalty. These are the ones that come equipped with bagpipes.
  • The bard can create a spectacle of entertainment as the party enters or wanders around a settlement. This creates a certain notoriety, both for good and bad: urban encounters are twice as likely to happen, and the party is twice as likely to come to the attention of local authorities. This also gives +1 to reaction rolls in situations where a song is appropriate and the audience is receptive to the bard's style, but -2 if the style is disliked. Finding out the king's tastes is very important.
  • The bard can sometimes act as a sage on matters of history and legend for the cultural tradition he or she knows. This translates to a 50% chance of answering a general question in that field of history or legend, 20% of answering a specific question and 5% of answering an exacting question, plus 5% per bonus point in Intelligence the bard has. Chances are cut by 1/5 for a cultural tradition that only borders on the one the bard knows. 
  • If using the carousing rules, the bard increases by a factor of 1.5 the amount of money that can be converted to experience, as people flock to the party trail.
Mere musicians can also be had for 50$ a month, with none of the "sage" or "morale" abilities, and thus no bonus for exceptional scores. Musicians, however, often show poor morale when heading into danger (2d6 morale score 1d6+1) whereas bards are more inquisitive and made of sterner stuff (morale score 2d4+2).


  1. I like this a lot. I was already going to incorporate the music-for-extra-hitpoints rule because I saw it Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. But I love the idea of paying someone else to provide the music too. It makes for another useful hireling to act as a money drain and that might result in dramatic situations because of needing protection in combat. I think Nidus just got a bunch of horn and harp playing hirelings.

  2. Boswell and Watson are bards, I guess. But what about Casanova and Cyrano de Bergerac? (the latter seems rather to support your argument by perversely/ironically stealing the protagonist's role from the lacklustre romantic lead). Byron? Will Scarlet? Is the protagonist appeal so easily brushed aside?

    I have a place in my games for the Persuader, a role which falls to the thief or cleric if there's no bard available. Trouble is, nobody trusts the thief and the cleric's often unwilling to negotiate with monsters. So while I hate the standard bard mechanically, without him I have a negotiator-shaped hole in my games (and correspondingly more violence). FWIW I also hate the fighter mechanically: he does nothing special, he just hits a bit better than the others.

    I see you're still not buying Taliesin or Gandalf as the class archetype.

  3. You had me at 'Gabrielle.' I think this is a great idea and I'm going to give it a try in my game.

    - Ark

  4. I really like this and am surprised I haven't seen this before. Very good idea!

    -Jeff Queen (silentjudas)

  5. Great idea. I love it.

  6. Yes, this is a good idea, sort of the fantasy equivalent of shunting the Cyberpunk/Shadowrun computer-hacking-guy into the NPC role.

  7. @richard: All the archetypes you mention had day jobs. Taliesin was a druid, Gandalf (how was he musical anyway?) a wizard, Will Scarlet a fighter, Byron ... Byron?? If you look back a few weeks at my one page character class system, there's a place for the high CHA persuader, but defaulting to one of the other classes. I don't think "persuader" is a strong or often enough used ability to warrant a whole class on its own.

  8. I guess it all depends on how you cut up your cow - it's certainly possible to pass the abilities around the classes however you wish. My own experience at my own table has been to find persuading to be one of the core PC jobs, although I confess mostly in games other than D&D (to my D&D games' disadvantage, frequently - I find otherwise smart and lateral-thinking players get a bit of Me Axe syndrome when the PHB comes out).

    I'd buy all the figures I named as possible bards, given the breadth of the discussion about the class around here recently (Rients' inclusion of Gandalf strikes me as brilliant). I've never subscribed to the floppy sleeves and lute image. No doubt all that makes me off-canon - something I easily forget, sorry - and likewise in my not finding music to be particularly indispensable to the type.

    And sure, Byron. Why not, if we accept John Carter of Mars?

  9. normal men and men-at-arms might be musical. The same effect may apply.