This article was first broadcast in Episode Forty on 12th September 2018.
Ryu: Hey guys? I was talking to KayDee a little bit ago-
Lennon: Who? Did you hire someone? That has to go through HR you know.
Ryu: The Killer DM. Kay, Dee? Get it? I thought it was cute.
Lennon: I have several worrying questions about this…
Ostron: Was there something specific she said? Anything about needing organs, for example?
Ryu: Well not really but she really seems to hate Bards.
Lennon: Yeah, I can see that
Ryu: Well it confused me. Bards seem like a great class.
Ostron: Oh, they are, but not if you’re a DM
Despite not being one of the classes available in original editions of D&D, the Bard has since evolved to be one of the core classes in the game. Mentally a lot of people think of Bards as comical characters if not outright farces; terminal optimists who bring a mandolin to a sword fight, somehow sing the opponents into submission, and afterward bed down with all the local maidens and/or brawny lads before the group moves on to their next stop. If you have a bard in the party, most people will assume they’re going to handle all negotiations, explanations, and lodging responsibilities.
[Editor’s Note: See: The Gamers: Dorkness Rising for an excellent example of this trope]
In defense of the stereotype, most of the Bard’s abilities are based on Charisma, so if the player is at all trying to make their character effective, they’re going to end up with high modifiers in the social skills out of the gate. Bards are really good at skills in general, but we’ll touch on that in a moment.
The “Singing into submission” thing isn’t necessarily wrong either, although the in-game explanation for how it works could be a little less silly if people wanted. The point is that bards are all about disruption. While they are spellcasters, the basic Bard spell list focuses very little on damage spells and has a lot of things that either disrupt the enemies or make their allies better at things.
Case in point, bardic inspiration. Right out of the gate, an optimized Bard will have three or four dice they can gift to their comrades. The die can be added to an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. They do this as a bonus action on their turn, but it’s usually not hard for a player that’s paying attention to know who will need the die in advance.
That’s helpful for the players but is probably not what angers our behatted friend. Bards start to frustrate DMs starting at second level, where they get half of their proficiency bonus added to any ability check they aren’t proficient in. So as they climb in levels, there are very few skill checks the Bard won’t be able to overcome.
Their role as healers and protectors begins to expand as well. Bards get access to many of the same healing spells Clerics do, though they can’t do the resurrection ones. They also provide bonus dice when recovering HP during a short rest.
However, their limitation on spells available only lasts until level 10. At that point, and every four levels thereafter, the Bard chooses two spells from any spell list and they become class spells. So if you need a bard to do resurrection, just wait a while.
That’s also where further frustration and confusion come up for the DM. They could have been treating the bard as a supportive character that causes annoyance but isn’t actually a threat, but come level 10 if the player wants to focus on damage, they can decide that suddenly fireball and sacred flame are on the table, so now instead of a windtalker the DM has an artillery piece in the back of the field they have to deal with.
These DM problems can be compounded depending on the college the Bard picks. If they want to start being magically confusing early, they can choose the college of Lore. In addition to getting proficiency with any three skills, they get any two class spells they want at level 6, in addition to the bonuses at level 10.
Or if they want to be able to deal with any of the baddies the DM will start sending their way if or when they’re flinging lightning bolts across the field, they can go with the college of swords and start using their own inspiration dice to do extra damage and pile on the extra attacks. Actually, with that college or the college of Valor and a focus on particular spells, the Bard can become a decent close combatant, similar to a hexblade Warlock or a little below a Cleric for effectiveness.
However, the Bard still shines best when disrupting the enemies around them. Imposing fear and protecting allies from charm effects are at the center of most of the Bard’s basic abilities. On top of that, almost any spell that includes “charm” or “dominate” is in the bard spell list, along with things like command and hold person and monster. Right off the bat they have access to the Vicious Mockery cantrip that only deals 1d4 damage but imposes disadvantage on the next attack the victim makes, greatly reducing the danger present from long range attackers and so-called boss monsters.
Most of the college abilities are also a big help out of combat. Apart from the abilities that grant them extra bonuses to almost any skill check, most of the colleges have an ability where the bard gives a performance for a period of time. After the performance they impose conditions on the audience, from making crowds of people more disposed to liking the bard to causing extreme fear and encouraging their victim to betray information or actually double-cross their allies.
Because of the abilities available to the bard and their role in most parties, bard is actually a good gateway class. If you have a newer player who has a campaign or two under their belt as a fighter or a ranger and they want to try a more complicated class or spellcasting without the pressure of being called upon to perform major party-saving moves, bard is a good choice. It has some complexity to it without being totally overwhelming, and while allies might suggest some helpful ways they can support the party, they aren’t going to be clamoring for area damage like with a wizard or demanding healing like they were a cleric. That combination also makes it a decent choice for someone comfortable with complex character structure but not familiar with D&D.
Ryu: Okay, yeah I see why KayDee gets annoyed at them.
Ostron: Speaking of, we have an HR department?
Lennon: Yeah, the Oblex
Ostron: I’m sorry what? We have an Oblex in charge of HR!?!
Lennon: Sure. I mean, after someone meets with HR, if they quit, we don’t actually have to lose the employee.
Ryu: That…actually makes a twisted kind of sense. Does the Oblex have a name?
Lennon: …for some reason I can’t remember it.
Ostron: Okay, we have so many things I need to talk to both of you about