Saturday, June 2, 2012

Making Bards More Musical

In which we discuss the world of the Bard, musicians, and how to make bards more musical than magic...

I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water.
-Ray Charles.

Good Gaming Blog: Making bards 32% less spoony.
When I think of bards I think of this quote.  Music should represent the world of the Bard, and the Bard represent his world in music.  Their powers are derived through their souls expressed in performance, and to be honest I'm just not feeling the world being too excited by the Bard who makes his spells writ in the same form as every other caster.

So for the last few days I have been thinking on what Bards could do with what they are given. I want to see how songs can be made into spellcraft that is unique, and differentiated from the Bard list.

So what about music?  The bard's bread and butter is made through performance, and we should see that reflected in their spellcasting.  I see the Bard as a musical Sorcerer; but music does not easily account for the invoking of the Art in short, violent bursts.

Unless you're a Punk.  Or rocking Power Chords.

In my ideal world the Bard's music builds, building to an effect that is greater and develops its true focus over time.  It invokes elements, allows passing/increasing of powers between multiple bards, and changing in dynamics that allows for the bard to actually alter the effects of his songs on the fly.  The master Bard would be indispensable to his party through his spellcasting, but by placing his heart and soul into the music makes himself a conduit for the forces around him, and can deconstruct both meter, pitch, and form... Along with his enemies.

Below are the basics of a single song, made for a single combat, and tuned to the needs of a combat bard.

Figured I would go with a great song from the Fantasy genre, and there just aren't many better than The Rains of Castamere.  Both a boast and a demoralizer, Rains can be the basis of any Boast song, and altered to the uses of the Bard.

Title: Rains of Castamere (Boast/Demoralize), [Lvl 1 Song]
Royal Key
Focus: Vocal, (Option: Strings/Drum).
Length: Maximum 20 rounds, Crescendo: 5 rounds.
Performance: 11 + 1/rd.
Dischord: Break Song, Reverse Effect on 1.

Benefit: The Song tells of the defeat and destruction of the House Reyne by the young general Tywin Lannister.  It provides the following effects:

Rise: Each round the song is played the Bard inspires a single target in his party.  Each round it is played a single member of the party gains a +1 morale bonus to saves versus charm and fear effects and attack rolls.  This effect lasts until the end of the Song.

Crescendo: When the Crescendo is reached by the Bard all targets within radius of hearing are effected by Prayer for a number of rounds equal to the number of rounds played.

Fall: The Fall of the song demoralizes your opposition, granting a -1 morale penalty to saves versus charm or fear effects and attack rolls.

Option: If the Bard Accompanies himself on String or Drum the bonuses and penalties are doubled.

Now, let us go through the listing:

Title: Does what it says on the Tin.  It lists the initial Level of the Song which determines the Performance Check (DC: 10 + song lvl base, additional penalties as listed).  It is also a good place for the basics of what the ability does.

Key: These are a form of 'school' for the spell.  Specific Bards would have access to a certain amount of Keys, and could specialize in a Key for granted effects.

Focus: What is needed to channel the song.  As this is mostly a boast the performance uses Voice.  Optional Accompaniments (available for the song when you gain the appropriate Accompaniment class ability).  Accompaniments

Length: This pegs the longest the song may be played for benefit, and the earliest point at which you can 'cast' the Crescendo ability.

Performance: The song associated DC.  To perform the Rains of Castamere you need to be able to reliably make a DC 11 Perform (Vocal) check.  This should not be an issue for most Bards, but it is when they start to get to the point of Crescendo (DC: 16) that a 1st level Bard may have trouble... but allows for higher level Bards to gain not only the Crescendo abilities but also powers of the Fall.

Dischord: When you screw up, you get the Dischord effect.  This one is pretty minor, unless you Fumble the roll in which case your penalties become bonuses and vice versa.

The Bard would also gain abilities known as fills that allow for further enhancement round-to-round.  These accompany the Performance check, but increase Performance to prevent their overuse and the breaking of a specific song.  Fills may be played during the Rise of the song, only after the Crescendo minimum has been reached.  Fills take a standard action to play.

A few sample fills:

Piker's Fill
Keys: Warrior, Common, Dirge.
Effect: This simple earthy fill provides encouragement, providing DR 2/magic for the round to a number of up to 3 target.
Difficulty: +3.

Sir Elmore's Fill
Key: Warrior, Noble, Common.
Effect: This militant fill raises the blood of those around, providing +2 to melee damage to up to 3 targets.
Difficulty: +3.

Monger's Fill
Key: Common.
Effect: A bawdy fill inspired by the The Costermonger and Lady Wilhelm the song inspires feats of daring.  A single target gains a +4 morale bonus to Bluff checks for the round.
Difficulty: +4.

Blessed Fill, Minor
Key: Holy.
Effect: This floating series of notes surrounds the bard in a nimbus of blessing. Living targets within a 5' radius gain 1d6 HP, while undead targets in the area are dealt 2d6 positive energy damage.
Difficulty: +5.

St. Lionel's Fill, Major
Key: Holy, Noble.
Effect: The Lionhearted Saint's fill draws forth the fortitude of the target.  The fill allows for any affected by it to re-roll any save they have failed to ignore a status effect during the song's duration.
Difficulty: +7.

The powers of Fills are offset by their use and their availability to certain specific Keys.  However, there would be a Feat available to allow for 'key changes' during play at a penalty... As of right now I am not sure of the specific 'penalty' that would be required.

In theory lower level 'songs' have longer times to build to their release in Crescendo while higher level songs have higher penalties but quicker Crescendos.  Thus a Bard may decide to play a specific higher-level song to Crescendo, let it fall into another song, then keep it up using fills.

So what do you think?  What powers/balancing would you like to see with the Bardic workup as presented?
As always feel free to comment or chat with me via Gmail at my name.

Good Gaming.