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5E Bards have an identity problem!

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Bard are not just musicians, they're an magical tradition of their own. If a spell can be inscribed in a book then surely it can also be sung?
Wizard spells are very specific in the words, gestures and components that they require. Saying that an inscribed spell can surely be sung is like saying that surely those finger gestures can be replaced by flapping arms. Bards have their own spells that are sung and they learn them in a way that is closer to Sorcerer than Wizard. Innately.
 

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Coroc

Hero
In 5e the Bard is as good of a caster as a Wizard or Cleric. But Bards that cast spells like Wizards cast don't feel very Bard-like. They feel more like a Charisma Wizard. That makes for a mechanically strong class but a thematically weak one. Do 5e Bards have the identity they should have?
From an RP pov they really have an identity problem: A bard, if I would not know D&D s 5e take on the class is one or more of these:

1. A travelling musician/poet
2. A (court-) jester
3. A gigolo
3. A skald

They implies to me these archetypical skills:

1. and 3. charisma, charming qualities maybe some enchantment magic

2 Acrobatics, wits, intelligence maybe some mage tricks or illusion magic

4 Knowledge history maybe some divination magic.

At no way any of these classical takes can be represented very well by 5e bards.
Neither is he a full caster, nor should he have access to clerical cure spells. He should be able to resolve conflicts verbally or by pacifying / dumbfounding his enemies with his skills. Apart from the gigolo (who needs this skill for the unavoidable honor duels), he also is not the sword/rapier artist, for the jester e.g. some double dagger build would be most realistic, or maybe something with improvised weapons.
A skald most surely uses the same weaponry as his tribe of "Northmen"
 

see

Explorer
1e bard was a "prestige class" sotospeak with levels in fighter and rogue as prereq.
Thing is, the 1e bard wasn't the original bard, the 1e bard was what Gygax created because he didn't like the original mishmash bard but was putting all the already-published D&D classes into the 1e PHB.

The original bard, created by Doug Schwegman and published in The Strategic Review #6 (February 1976), was very much the precursor of the 2e bard -- "a hodgepodge of at least three different kinds, the norse ‘skald’, the celtic ‘bard’, and the southern european ‘minstrel’" and "a jack-of-all-trades . . . both an amateur thief and magic user as well as a good fighter". Could use any weapon, could wear leather armor or chainmail, had thief skills at 1/2 level, had a magic user spell progression, had a charm power and a legend lore power, knew languages up to their intelligence score, used the cleric attack progression and save table.

The 5e bard keeps some of the trappings of that hodgepodge origin around, but as a full caster really leans heavily into the music is magic trope, which is at least as sensible as the excuse for any of the other full-caster classes. And it'd be a lot clearer, really, if the sorcerer and warlock were moved to different casting attributes to emphasize their stories (probably Constitution for innate power and Intelligence for pacts, assuming you don't just admit that "taught magic by a creepy being" is an alternate wizard origin story and "agreed to be a channel for greater powers" is a cleric). The bard would then clearly be the one whose music is so moving that it actually causes animals, spirits, and even inanimate objects to react.
 

In 5e the Bard is as good of a caster as a Wizard or Cleric. But Bards that cast spells like Wizards cast don't feel very Bard-like. They feel more like a Charisma Wizard. That makes for a mechanically strong class but a thematically weak one. Do 5e Bards have the identity they should have?
You've got it backwards.

Wizards have an identity problem because they ripped off Bards/Druids mythologically. If anything, we should adjust Wizards so they're less like Bards.
 

1. A travelling musician/poet
2. A (court-) jester
3. A gigolo
3. A skald
At no way any of these classical takes can be represented very well by 5e bards.
None of those things except maybe a Skald is a Bard. They're jobs. That's like saying Wizards aren't great for sages, scriveners, researchers, librarians and so on. Yeah, because those are jobs, not classes. Same could be said for clerics and various religion-adjacent jobs or religious leaders who don't traditionally possess UNTOLD MAGICAL POWWWWEEEERRRRSSSSS (booming voice - Thaumaturgy, natch).

So that's an utterly nonsensical objection, and that the OP is giving it the thumbs up shows you guys are the source of the problem here, not the Bard class. If you want to be a gigolo, i.e. a male escort, you can do that as whatever class you like. Indeed, I daresay Bard has never been an ideal class for that. You don't want huge charisma in a gigolo - you want good looks, etiquette, attentiveness, compliance, and possibly athleticism. People should be listening to and staring at you, not hanging on every word of your hired escort. If you want to be a jester, work on your stand-up and get a stupid outfit. That's not a class. A travelling musician is not a class either - indeed, if they aren't gathering lore and so on, such a character actively could NOT be a Bard in any edition.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
You've got it backwards.

Wizards have an identity problem because they ripped off Bards/Druids mythologically. If anything, we should adjust Wizards so they're less like Bards.
How do the D&D wizards match the popular fantasy-literature wizards that the players are more familiar with? (That from the appendices and later. And how much has the D&D wizard influenced what's in those books over the past two decades?).

As far as being based on the Druids, how much do we actually know about the Druids (as opposed to say the later state of the Norse mythos, for example).

None of those things except maybe a Skald is a Bard. They're jobs.
Is fighter a job and rogue a state of mind?
 

How do the D&D wizards match the popular fantasy-literature wizards that the players are more familiar with? (That from the appendices and later. And how much has the D&D wizard influenced what's in those books over the past two decades?).

As far as being based on the Druids, how much do we actually know about the Druids (as opposed to say the later state of the Norse mythos, for example).
One of the major problems D&D has always had is that the Wizard class isn't a great match for fantasy-literature wizards. D&D Wizards have had very limited influence on "wizards" in fantasy literature post-D&D (barring that directly based on D&D or parodying D&D). Most fantasy from say, 1985-present has wizards/sorcerers with fairly limited/specific powers. None, that I'm aware of it, uses a "fire and forget" approach (which is from the novels of Jack Vance). TH White, Ursula K. LeGuin and others have, overall, been bigger influences, and superhero comics and their approach to powers have been an increasing influence in fantasy fiction (indeed, as, I'd argue, have Steven King and others been).

I read tons of fantasy fiction, and it's notable that when fantasy has wizards with even D&D-levels of magical power, that's exceptional, not usual.

What real Druids did is irrelevant, but the mythology around Druids, particularly Irish Celtic mythology (as written down largely by Christian monks/clerics) is profoundly influential on a lot of stuff that leads to what we think of as "wizards". For example, Merlin was Myrddin Wyllt - explicitly a bard - before he became thought of as a wizard.


Is fighter a job and rogue a state of mind?
What? What are you even talking about? Gigolo is a job. Jester is a job. Caravan Guard is a job. Musician is a job. Clerk is a job. Scrivener is a job. Night Watch is a job. Soldier is a job. Apothecary is a job. Do I need to go on?

Fighter is a class. A Fighter could be a gigolo, or a caravan guard or even a scrivener. Likewise a Rogue could be any of those things as a job, but would remain a Rogue as a class. The idea that because a Bard doesn't make a good "gigolo" they're not a good Bard class is a total logic failure. It's ridiculous and nonsensical.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
1. D&D Bards are based on charisma and wit. They are dabblers. Decent at many things but not experts at many.

2. D&D bards are based Musical magic.

for 2, Music itself has no magic properties. What is the source of the bards music magic? That’s where I find fault in treating bards as about music magic. There needs to be more elaboration on how his music magic is coming about.

for 1, that’s what I envision as a bard. It doesn’t really mesh well with the concept of someone who is primarily concerned with music magic.

i think that’s the issue. To me the current bard is composed of 2 competing concepts. Smooth talking entertainer/Dabbler and music mage.
 

1. D&D Bards are based on charisma and wit. They are dabblers. Decent at many things but not experts at many.

2. D&D bards are based Musical magic.

for 2, Music itself has no magic properties. What is the source of the bards music magic? That’s where I find fault in treating bards as about music magic. There needs to be more elaboration on how his music magic is coming about.

for 1, that’s what I envision as a bard. It doesn’t really mesh well with the concept of someone who is primarily concerned with music magic.

i think that’s the issue. To me the current bard is composed of 2 competing concepts. Smooth talking entertainer/Dabbler and music mage.
There's a lot of "facts not in evidence here". It's fine as an opinion, but I hope you're not suggesting 1 or 2 is actually fact.

Re: music magic - you don't need any more elaboration, I would suggest. There's no elaboration on where the magic that other classes use comes from in 5E. It's all extremely brief and vague. Indeed the most elaboration is probably Sorcerers and Warlocks, of all things. If you really want it, you can make it up. However I would suggest they're not "music mages" at all and this is in fact your own, somewhat idiosyncratic viewpoint.

As for "dabblers", that's just an outdated view. If they were "dabblers", like in 2E, they'd need a much faster XP table and so on. Rather all Bards in 5E are masters of lore and many are powerful spellcasters in their own ways, which are somewhat diverse. They fit much more closely to mythological accounts of sorcerers and wizards than actual D&D sorcerers and wizards tend to. Singing and music are very, very, very often magical in mythology. You seem to think this is unusual - on the contrary - magic that doesn't involve music or chanting (not stage magician, Harry Potter or SHAZAM-style phrases of power, either) is rarer in mythology.

Your own examples are incoherent. "Smooth talking entertainer" could be any class, in any edition. Dabbler is meaningless and clearly not the case in 5E (and it's got nothing to do with being a "smooth talking entertainer"), and "music mage" is your own projection. In fact most mages/wizards/sorcerers should be using music, chants, and understandable curses as part of their whole spellcasting deal, mythologically (and often in fantasy fiction too).

I think the real problem here is 3E.

3E had an exceptionally bad and stupid take on the Bard. It was ineffectual, it was bad at everything, and it had nonsensical magical abilities that seemed more like they were derived from EverQuest than earlier Bards or mythology or fantasy fiction. 3E introduced and locked in the mind of many people this ludicrous concept of the Bard as a fop with a lute who stands around singing "Sneak, sneak. sneak!" to help the Rogue. Some people want to return to that, I guess, just like some people want to return to LFQW, and so on.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Re: music magic - you don't need any more elaboration, I would suggest. There's no elaboration on where the magic that other classes use comes from in 5E. It's all extremely brief and vague. Indeed the most elaboration is probably Sorcerers and Warlocks, of all things. If you really want it, you can make it up. However I would suggest they're not "music mages" at all and this is in fact your own, somewhat idiosyncratic viewpoint.
Read the Music and Magic section of the 5e bard. It's pretty clear that music is the primary focus for their magic. While it does mentions words as well, it's almost an after thought when they do it. The vast majority of the section about music.
 

Read the Music and Magic section of the 5e bard. It's pretty clear that music is the primary focus for their magic. While it does mentions words as well, it's almost an after thought when they do it. The vast majority of the section about music.
Uh-huh. They have a short, vague, meaningless section just like other caster classes. A section that conflicts with their class identity and lore, and actual use in settings. Just like Cleric and Wizard and Druid.

Only Warlocks really have a solid link there because it is the core of their class. Sorcerers have more going on too.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Uh-huh. They have a short, vague, meaningless section just like other caster classes. A section that conflicts with their class identity and lore, and actual use in settings. Just like Cleric and Wizard and Druid.
Just because YOU don't find meaning there, doesn't make it meaningless in general. It makes a whole lot of sense to me. And oh, look. Virtually all of their abilities use song and/or words. I find no conflict at all with their class identity and lore. The lore is music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill. Their abilities back up music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill. That section also backs up music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill.
 

Just because YOU don't find meaning there, doesn't make it meaningless in general. It makes a whole lot of sense to me. And oh, look. Virtually all of their abilities use song and/or words. I find no conflict at all with their class identity and lore. The lore is music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill. Their abilities back up music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill. That section also backs up music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill.
You literally just claimed it was all music, and words were "an afterthought".

Now you're saying it's "music magic, word magic, knowledge and skill".

Make your mind up, those two are mutually exclusive.

The vast majority of Bard abilities for all subclasses have nothing to do with music, I note. Many Bard subclasses are even somewhat antithetical to traditional "music" in the sense of sitting around playing a lute and singing. So anyway, I agree that "music magic" is part of it, but it's only a part, and not necessarily a large one. That vague section is contradictory to the actual lore and actual abilities, and you're the one who pointed this out by saying words were "an afterthought" when far more of the class identity and magic is based around words than music.
 

FrozenNorth

Adventurer
nit complaining about the bards effectiveness. Complaining about it’s wizard ness.
That seems to be a wizard problem, not a bard problem. Wizards “versatility” generally means “do everything magic related, except healing”.

This causes several problems: first, subclasses that don’t feel like subclasses (abjurer doesn’t feel like an abjurer, it feels like generic wizard no. 5 with a recharging shield). Second, the wizard doesn’t really give up very much for the ability to cast every type of magic except healing: slightly lower hp (which doesn’t really matter past low level), lower AC (unless they MC), and limited weapons (that aren’t necessary).

Plus, that leeches design space from enchanters, illusionists, necromancers, etc., and their 10 subclasses starve classes that actually need subclasses.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
What real Druids did is irrelevant, but the mythology around Druids, particularly Irish Celtic mythology (as written down largely by Christian monks/clerics) is profoundly influential on a lot of stuff that leads to what we think of as "wizards". For example, Merlin was Myrddin Wyllt - explicitly a bard - before he became thought of as a wizard.
That's been pointed out several times upthread. How much of the "prophet and a madman" of the original survive in what most players would probably think of as Merlin? Does his Welsh origin matter any more to the Merlin (and Wizard) than the actual historical druid does to what we think of now with the name?

What? What are you even talking about? Gigolo is a job. Jester is a job. Caravan Guard is a job. Musician is a job. Clerk is a job. Scrivener is a job. Night Watch is a job. Soldier is a job. Apothecary is a job. Do I need to go on?

Fighter is a class. A Fighter could be a gigolo, or a caravan guard or even a scrivener. Likewise a Rogue could be any of those things as a job, but would remain a Rogue as a class. The idea that because a Bard doesn't make a good "gigolo" they're not a good Bard class is a total logic failure. It's ridiculous and nonsensical.
Various folks being a stickler on definitions for Bard and Rogue and Wizard got me thinking about those others. The OED seems about as good a place as any to me for the common use of words.

From the OED: Fighter - one who fights (warrior), one employed to fight (a champion, bully).

A ranger, a paladin, a monk, a barbarian, and a rogue all do those things too. Is a fighter who has a special calling any less distinguishable than those? Is that a sign fighter is too broad a name for the fighter class? Or is it a sign that those others should be a sub-class? If one is a scrivener, the usual definition of fighter doesn't seem to apply except to the training they may have received and don't use. If they are not fighting or employed to fight, they are not fighters, are they?


Why is a Rogue even a vaguely good name for a class?

From the OED: Rogue - a dishonest, unprincipled person; a rascal, a scoundrel. A michievous person (disapprovable, but likeable or attractive).

Is an inquisitive who is a detective a rogue by the standard meaning of the word? Is a swashbuckling duelist better described as being a fighter than a rogue?


However I would suggest they're not "music mages" at all and this is in fact your own, somewhat idiosyncratic viewpoint.
From the OED: Bard - An ancient Celtic order of minstrel-poets, whose primary function appears to have been to compose and sing (usually to the harp) verses celebrating the achievements of chiefs and warriors. Still the word for 'poet' in modern Celtic languages; and in Welsh spec. A poet or versifier who has been recognized at the Eisteddfod. In early Lowland Scottish used for: a strolling musician or minstrel (into which the Celtic bard had denegrated, and aainst whom many laws were enacted). Applied to the early versifying minstrels or poets of other nations, before the use of writing, as the Old English gleeman, Scandinavian scald, etc.

The Druid seems to get the magic:

From the OED: Druid - One of an order of men among the ancient Celts of Gaul and Britain, who, according to Caesar were priests or religious ministers and teachers, but who figure in native Irish and Welsh legends as magicians, sorcerers, soothsayers, and the like. Hens in some modern applications: a priest, religious minister, chaplain, or philosophic bard or poet.

One of the paragraphs in the Wikipedia article expresses Tolstoy's theory that Merlin seems more like a druid.

Anyway, googling around has me wanting to put Tim Clarkson's "Scotland's Merlin" on my list of books to read.
 

see

Explorer
for 2, Music itself has no magic properties.
And neither does scholarship itself have magic properties, so obviously wizards have no excuse for being able to cast spells either.

Or, you can take the fact that real-world human culture has millennia of stories of music invoking magic, and go, "Yeah, and bards are the class for the people in the game that are able to invoke magic with music, even if a random lutist can't." Just like "Wizards are the class for people able to use scholarship to invoke magic, even if a random scholar can't."

Granted, this would suggest a more general revision to eliminate some of the elements (and subclasses) that are holdovers from previous editions and views of bards, and emphasize that bards do song-magic. But that makes at least as much sense as deciding to go a different direction and eliminate their full casting.
 

How much of the "prophet and a madman" of the original survive in what most players would probably think of as Merlin?
Merlin has been pretty reliably portrayed as "a prophet and a madman" since Excalibur (a particularly good portrayal by Nicol Williamson). Hell, Cursed came out weeks ago, and that's the portrayal there. I'd say that's actually the core of majority of modern Merlin portrayals. Some element of trickster/manipulator is usually also significant. Not un-often he's literally presented as a Druid (Cursed, again, or the 2004 King Arthur, for example). Sometimes he even has no magical powers at all.

TH White's Merlin is something else - and something extremely influential - but that's TH White, not all Merlins.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The vast majority of Bard abilities for all subclasses have nothing to do with music, I note.
Let's test that. Here are the abilities and those that have something to do with music.

1. Spellcasting: Music? Yes.
2. Bardic Inspiration: Music? Yes.
3. Jack of all Trades: Music? No.
4. Song of Inspiration: Music? Yes.
5. Expertise: Music? No.
6. Font of Inspiration: Music? Yes.
7. Countercharm: Music? Yes.
8. Magical Secrets: Music? Yes.
9. Superior Inspiration: Music. Yes.

So for main Bardic abilties, 7 out of 9 have something to do with music.

College of Lore

1. Cutting Words: Music? Yes.
2. Additional Secrets: Music? Yes.
3. Peerless Skill: Music? Yes.


I think you may be overlooking that since Bardic Inspiration has something to do with music, every single ability that uses inspiration also has something to do with music.

Many Bard subclasses are even somewhat antithetical to traditional "music" in the sense of sitting around playing a lute and singing. So anyway, I agree that "music magic" is part of it, but it's only a part, and not necessarily a large one. That vague section is contradictory to the actual lore and actual abilities, and you're the one who pointed this out by saying words were "an afterthought" when far more of the class identity and magic is based around words than music.
Bards are also storytellers, so words can take the place of music. The key is entertainment and USUALLY that takes the form of music with a Bard, but not always.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Merlin has been pretty reliably portrayed as "a prophet and a madman" since Excalibur (a particularly good portrayal by Nicol Williamson). Hell, Cursed came out weeks ago, and that's the portrayal there. I'd say that's actually the core of majority of modern Merlin portrayals. Some element of trickster/manipulator is usually also significant. Not un-often he's literally presented as a Druid (Cursed, again, or the 2004 King Arthur, for example). Sometimes he even has no magical powers at all.

TH White's Merlin is something else - and something extremely influential - but that's TH White, not all Merlins.
Thank you for the things to look up!
 

MarkB

Legend
1. D&D Bards are based on charisma and wit. They are dabblers. Decent at many things but not experts at many.

2. D&D bards are based Musical magic.

for 2, Music itself has no magic properties. What is the source of the bards music magic? That’s where I find fault in treating bards as about music magic. There needs to be more elaboration on how his music magic is coming about.

for 1, that’s what I envision as a bard. It doesn’t really mesh well with the concept of someone who is primarily concerned with music magic.

i think that’s the issue. To me the current bard is composed of 2 competing concepts. Smooth talking entertainer/Dabbler and music mage.
For me, bards are about accumulated lore as stories, whether set to song or simply orated. They're about an oral tradition of knowledge as opposed to wizards' written tradition, and they acquire and comprehend their magic through those same traditions. It's not that music is magic, it's that you can learn and memorise a spell by structuring it as verse and rhythm in the same way that you would commit an epic tale to memory, and once you've done so, you don't need to write it down in a book.
 

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