Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Gentleman's Guide to Being a Bard

So, I sat down to watch Comedy Central's How To Be A Gentleman, and realised after about ten minutes that I could have spent the time used far better, by ripping my testicles off and feeding them to passing stray animals.

(Which is a shame, because it has Murray from Flight Of The Conchords in it. Poor, poor Murray)

Instead, I thought I would purge the psychic garbage acquired by that god-awful excuse for a TV show, and write up this handy guide!

Being a bard is more than trying to have as many half-human offspring as you can. (I've lost count of how many players have "excused" their Half-Elf character by having a Bard as one (or both!) parents).Playing a Bard is about being the party "Face", about talking your way out of any situation, lying through your teeth, and, most importantly, trying to have sex with one of everything.
Step One: Know Your Audience
This applies to all Bards - if you want to be a smooth-talking mofo, you need to learn your campaign setting, inside and out. When you're flattering the Orcish Warrior-Tribesmen of Kurst, you'll need a different tact than when you want to con the Royal Treasurer of Chantry-Post out of an extra 10% of your fee.

Different cultures have different standards of beauty, taste and decency, and you need to know them - involving yourself in politics and social conflict is just as dangerous as physical battle - while, by the rules, D&D punishes being bad at fighting far worse than being bad with people, in the right campaign, it's a death sentence. Like anything involving the complicated politics, backstabbing and double crossing of the Drow - one wrong word, and all your family will be poisoned. Stick to what you know - or, better still, learn about them. Ask the DM for as much info as he will give, or steep yourself in the lore of a setting to get an idea how a character from there would react in such a situation - though be careful not to get yourself into metagaming territory.

A high Charisma score can only get so far - as a somewhat strict GM, if I knew that a Bard character was dressed like a foppish noble, the Orcs would kick the shit out of him before they'd listen to him, regardless of how good a speech he can give with rolls. Should he (somehow) manage to roleplay it out convincingly... well, that's another matter.

Step Two: Dress To Impress
You'd be amazed at what a decent set of duds can do for you. For a start, should you roll up to a noble's party wearing your leather armour (with the dried-in Kobold blood and the edging frayed due to Gelatinous Cube damage), don't expect a warm welcome.

A goodly part of your cash income should be set aside for clothing - everything from a beggar's cloak to a nobleman's robes. And, if you're hob-nobbing in high society, I might also advise making hygiene a strong point - soaps, razors, and perfumes should always make an appearance on your shopping lists.

I would be inclined to provide a small bonus to a player who spent some time ensuring his character was appropriately dressed, for certain situations. Say, an extra +1 to Reaction bonuses, or Diplomacy checks. This might rise to +2 if they have spent time grooming and otherwise preparing themselves (or if they spent a lot of money on their clothes and scents).

Remember as well - many Bards are played as very attractive, so possibly consider adding an extra bonus when dealing with those who are of the right orientation!

Step Three: Specialisation Is For Insects
You're not as good in a straight up fight as the Fighter. Your spell selection isn't as good as the Magic-User, and you're not as talented as the Thief.

This is fine, because you're none of those things. You're all of them.

When the Magic-User would be crawling back from a physical fight, you whip out your sword and go to town. When the Thief gets stuck with a trap, or caught in a lie, you have spells to help you out. And, when the Fighter would be trying to kick down every door and person in your way, your social skills and Thieving abilities come into play.

You are naturally a multi-role support specialist, so try and stick with options that allow you to do a little bit more. Filling in for any other character in a pinch will make you very popular amongst your group.

In old-school games, your high Charisma also allows you to hire a wider variety of Hirelings - so you can ensure that not only are you prepared for every eventuality, but you have a team to fill out any roles you might not be able to!
Step Four: Never Fight Fair
At least, if you can get away with it. Use trickery and misdirection, throw sand in their eyes, use Bluff to feint at an enemy, use Diplomacy to finish a fight before it starts, have a spring-loaded knife in your shoe - do whatever it takes. While you can fight, you're not a front-line Fighter, and you should use every trick in the book to level the playing field.

Your weapon selection is somewhat limited, but you might want to ensure you have both a melee and ranged option. Small hand-crossbows make for great covert weapons, but a bow can be used as part of a disguise - whether as a hunter, archer, mercenary, or (with a bit of luck), an Elf.

For close-up work, daggers lack a decent punch. Take a short sword, or preferably a rapier. Carry a few spare daggers just in case you need a backup, an improvised ranged weapon, or cutlery.

For 3.5, you want to look through the equipment books for anything that might give you the upper hand - hidden blades, disguised weapons, items that enhance your Sleight-of-Hand, Bluff, and Diplomacy skills, extra sneaky spells, whatever you can!

Step Five: Don't Spend All Your Time Whoring
Now, whoring is important - but, when the party are in the local tavern, you have a job to do. You're the Social Character, so go and be social! Whether it's chatting to the locals about goings-on in town, getting rumours and hints, buying drinks to ensure loyalty to you and yours, or hiring Henchmen, the tavern is your playground - make the most of it.

And yes, when you're done, then you can go whoring.

Step Six: Go Big or Go Home
How many Bards have you heard tales about who stuck to the back of the group, never really said anything, and made themselves as inconspicuous as possible? Very few, I'm betting.

Take chances. Make your name known. Take risks that will make your character known in gaming groups for years to come, as "The Bard who rugby tackled the Evil Overlord off a bridge mid-speech" or "The Bard who seduced a GOD", or "The Bard with a high enough Charisma, Diplomacy and Bluff to let him get away with digging up the Pope and putting him on trial for his sins."
Yes, this really happened.

Bards are not just heroes - they're Heroes, capital H. Use every little trick in the book to go down in history, and drag the bastards kicking and screaming with you.

Required Reading
For D&D 3.5 - Complete Scoundrel. The equipment list is both exhaustive and awesome, full of lots of little fun tricks. The character options (including Skill Tricks) can add an extra layer of versatility to your character (always a good thing for Bards!), and, rather unusually, it provides information for making a scoundrel as any Class - from Paladins to Wizards, so long as they're cheeky and awesome.


  1. Based on a bard type character in our current game - I say type, we're playing a completely homebrewed game with no classes, technically he's a Skald - another bit of advice I would offer is; you're never off stage.

    No matter what you're doing, even if it's downtime in the groups head, there's always something you can be doing with your massive skill set and natural charm. get the lads in a tavern into a raucous sing along; highlight the beauty or solemnity of the moment with a few well chosen verses. the world is your stage, and you will only stage left when the reaper comes knocking.

  2. Indeed!

    Bards might have less utility in combat and dungeoneering, but when it come to a more social setting, they're at their best - make the most of it!