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D&D 5E Bards Should Be Half-Casters in 5.5e/6e

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
The title gets the point across, but I want to support my viewpoint here (as usual).

But before I do that, I understand that this may be a contentious topic (as are most threads discussing/debates what things "should be like" in D&D), and will kindly ask that posts below remain respectful or constructive. I'm not adding a (+) to the title, because it's perfectly okay for you to post in this thread if you disagree with the premise. However, still treat this thread as a "if I don't have anything constructive to post, don't post at all" thread (which is how most, if not all, threads should be treated, but I wanted to make the reminder). Feel free to disagree (and preferably, if you're going to post that you disagree, explain why), but disagreement doesn't equal disrespect. And, if you don't like Bards in the first place (I'm sure you all know who I'm talking about), maybe realize that this thread may not be for you (this thread isn't to discuss whether or not D&D should have bards, it's to debate how they should be mechanically executed). Now, onto the topic.

Bards have (IMO) always had a weird place in D&D. The main part is that they're one of the 4 Charisma-based caster-classes from the PHB, while Intelligence has 1 (Wizards, but now has Artificers), and Wisdom has 3 (Clerics, Druids, and Rangers). I've addressed a way to solve/reduce this issue (which is an issue, in my opinion and experience, but you may disagree) in a thread about making Sorcerers be Constitution-casters, but this could also be used to give Warlocks a bigger thematic niche as the full caster (or full-caster equivalent) Charisma-based-class. (However, I don't want to make this change just because of this relatively small issue, I'll elaborate more below.) Additionally, the bard's spell list is thematic and great at lower levels (Tasha's Hideous Laughter, Vicious Mockery, Charm Person/Monster, Disguise Self, Gift of Gab, Suggestion, etc), but at higher levels they start to not fit as well (Teleportation Circle? Since when do Bards teleport? Forcecage? Regenerate/Resurrection? Prismatic Spray/Wall??? Foresight? POWER WORD KILL!?!? What the hell do any of these (or many of the others that I didn't mention in order to save space) have to do with being a bard?!?!). It seems like when Wizards of the Coast made the list of spells that bards could get at higher levels, they just kind of blanked and decided "Okay, let's throw in all the Illusion spells, because those are kind of tricksy and bards are tricksy. Oh, also some resurrection/regenerating spells because bards are support, and the only way we know how to emulate support mechanically is through healing/restoration magic. What about after that? Eh, screw it, let's just throw in any Wizard spell that isn't straight-up blasting, and a few others from the Cleric list for good measure." This also feels like the reason why Wizards of the Coast gave Bards Magical Secrets, because they figured "Well, we don't know what spells they should get at higher levels, so we might as well let them steal spells from anyone's spell list, and flavor it as 'Jack of All Trades'". In fact, the only high level (6th level) spell that I think really fits Bards is Otto's Irresistible Dance, and that could just be bumped down one level to a 5th-level spell, which half-casting bards eventually would get access to.

And that's only scratching the surface of the issue. What role do bards fill in the game? They're primarily support characters, but a lot of the time they're not supporting through their spells (their spells are primarily de-buffing in nature), and are instead spamming Bardic Inspiration to help their team-mates. In fact, the bardic niche in 5e is so incohesive, that of the 8 official bard subclasses, 3 of them focus their main/beginning mechanical effects on enhancing their own weapon combat (the Colleges of Valor, Swords, Whispers), two more share practically the same thematic niche but achieved slightly differently (College of Eloquence and College of Glamour), the College of Lore just asks the question of "What if I was even more a Jack of All Trades?", the last two are basically the only mechanically and thematically unique (but also kind of weird) subclasses for the Bards in the game (College of Creation, and College of Spirits. Both of which I'm actually quite fond of, but 2 of the 8 subclasses having actually thematically different and interesting mechanics isn't good, if you ask me). The subclasses are disjointed, the higher level spells are a jumble, and the class can't decide whether it wants to be a part-martial spell-and-slash class, or a primarily buffing/debuffing musician/storyteller. (And there's also the minor theme of a bard that wants to play screamo hard-rock so much that their enemies are all killed by the thunder damage delivered to their ears, which is only supported through the Thunderwave and Shatter spells being on their spell list, even though it actually makes sense for someone that is known for playing musical instruments in a magical manner.)

The theme is . . . disjointed at best (incoherent at worst), even if the mechanics are solid. (Another minor gripe, there's absolutely on reason for Song of Rest to use a different die-size than Bardic Inspiration.)

And my solution for this? Turn the Bard into a primarily support-based half-caster. Give them cantrips (like the Artificer), only give them spells up to level 5 (because the ones beyond that aren't very bard-y), and lean more into focusing off of Bardic Inspiration as a base mechanic (with the various subclasses having different usages of it, like the newer ones do, but built in from the start and having more mechanical diversity). Bardic Inspiration becomes the Half-Caster Bard's equivalent of the Artificer's Infusions. The class still gets to be a Jack of All Trades through the Jack of All Trades and Expertise features, but the get more support as a "Jack of Supporting the Party" class as a base. Furthermore, the subclasses would determine more than they did before, giving the bards automatic known/prepared spell lists that fulfill their thematic niche, as well as mechanical features at more than just 3 levels (seriously, why do bards only get subclass features at 3rd, 6th, and 14th level?!?! Subclasses should do more than that!!!).

There would be 1 subclass for martial combat (the Bardic equivalent of the Battlesmith that gets spells like Compelled Duel, Wrathful Smite, and Staggering Smite), one subclass for charming and deceit (Eloquence that gets charming/social interaction spells), one subclass for distracting enemies with illusions and giving THP to allies through Bardic Inspiration (Glamour, getting illusion and THP spells), a subclass for frightening effects and psychic damage (like the Whispers bard, but without the martial theme, and getting spells like Dissonant Whispers, Geas, and Fear), and a subclass for playing your instrument (or singing) so loudly that people's ears start to bleed (College of Thunder/Sound? Getting spells like Thunderwave, Thunder Step, Thunderclap, Destructive Wave, etc). Then, they could get more "out-there" subclasses like College of Spirits and College of Creation. (And the class would drop countercharm and replace it with something that was actually good, like a Song of Courage that they can activate to sing an aura of charmed/frightened prevention.)

Another (fairly minor) issue that would be solved by this if if the class kept Magical Secrets, they wouldn't get the Paladin's/Ranger's/Artificer's 4th-5th level spells before the classes they're meant for (which can be an issue for balancing new spells for those classes, as they tend to be slightly more powerful than full-caster spells of the same level).

So, what do you think? Should the bard be based more off the Artificer than, say, the Wizard? Any ideas similar to this, or ones that would promote this same general idea? Anyone have any criticisms of this?
 

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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
There seems to be a bit of confusion about what makes a "Half-Caster" and a "Full Caster." Are there any rules, or at least widely held and agreed-upon qualifiers, that you would use to define these two terms?
 

Faolyn

Hero
There seems to be a bit of confusion about what makes a "Half-Caster" and a "Full Caster." Are there any rules, or at least widely held and agreed-upon qualifiers, that you would use to define these two terms?
Full casters get cantrips and spells of 1st-9th level. The majority of their powers come from their spells.

Half casters don't get cantrips (except for the Artificer, which does) and get spells of 1st-5th level. Fewer of their powers are spell-based.

Third casters get cantrips and spells of 1st-4th level. Most of their powers are not spell-based. So far, only martial classes have third-caster archetypes.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
I use the term "half caster" (properly partial caster) to mean any spellcaster who cannot reach slot 9 spells. So, Rogue Arcane Trickster and Paladin are both half casters (tho some call them third and half, respectively). By contrast, Warlock is a full caster because it does reach a slot 9 spell at level 17.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
The present bard is great! …if you’re looking for a Merlin-the-enchanter-with-a-lute kind of character. You can re-fluff it, but I agree with you that the default fluff isn’t solid and doesn’t align well with the subclasses.

I’d like a return to the « rogue bard » of 2e AD&D. Half caster frame sounds appropriate, with evocation/infusion like powers to round it up.
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
There seems to be a bit of confusion about what makes a "Half-Caster" and a "Full Caster." Are there any rules, or at least widely held and agreed-upon qualifiers, that you would use to define these two terms?
Paladins, Rangers, and Artificers are the only half-casters in the game (they get up to 5th level spells). Paladins and Rangers are martial half-casters (not getting cantrips, but getting Extra Attack, more weapon/armor proficiencies, a Fighting Style, etc), while Artificers are spell-based half-casters (like I would like Bards to become), getting Cantrips and mostly support/debuffing magic, along with feature (like Infusions or Bardic Inspiration) to make up for the loss of the martial proficiencies and Extra Attack.

Make sense?
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
And my solution for this? Turn the Bard into a primarily support-based half-caster. Give them cantrips (like the Artificer), only give them spells up to level 5 (because the ones beyond that aren't very bard-y), and lean more into focusing off of Bardic Inspiration as a base mechanic (with the various subclasses having different usages of it, like the newer ones do, but built in from the start and having more mechanical diversity). Bardic Inspiration becomes the Half-Caster Bard's equivalent of the Artificer's Infusions. The class still gets to be a Jack of All Trades through the Jack of All Trades and Expertise features, but the get more support as a "Jack of Supporting the Party" class as a base. Furthermore, the subclasses would determine more than they did before, giving the bards automatic known/prepared spell lists that fulfill their thematic niche, as well as mechanical features at more than just 3 levels (seriously, why do bards only get subclass features at 3rd, 6th, and 14th level?!?! Subclasses should do more than that!!!).

Any ideas similar to this, or ones that would promote this same general idea? Anyone have any criticisms of this?

There's nothing wrong with the half-caster model that you've presented here, @AcererakTriple6. I like it better than the "full caster" version in the Player's Handbook at any rate.

(My preference would be to make it a subclass of rogue and reduce it to a "third-caster" class, but that's a different thread.)
 



Faolyn

Hero
The most important thing, @AcererakTriple6, I feel, is: what do you want their theme to be? Not their role in the party--we don't need to know if they're meant to buff or heal or fight or whatever right now. That comes later. Paladins are oath-sworn warriors. Warlocks gain knowledge from sources that humanoid dare not name. Druids are emissaries of nature.

Right now, bards are mostly a musical hodge-podge of a class who knows things. It's not a great theme, I know. But with that theme in mind, it actually kind of makes sense that they get such random spells.

So: focus on their musical knowledge. Instead of making them half-casters, make them more like warlocks (but MAD, focusing on both Cha and Int). Few spell slots (but they get those slots back quickly) and a host of invocation-like abilities that are dependent on them playing music, telling stories, or reciting history or myth. Actually make them a knowledge-based class.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
A love the full caster Bard because it is mythologically accurate. The word "bard" comes from reallife Celtic tradition, refering to a kind of mage. This mage did magic by means of formulating magical spells into words. Especially, the bard foresaw and manipulated the future by praising someone to bless them, and making fun of them to curse them. They are known for many other kinds of magic as well.

The famous Merlin is in fact a Celtic bard.

The slot 9 spell Shapechange allowing perpetual shapechanging into anything ultimately comes from a story about another Celtic bard, Taliesin.

The slot 9 spell Foresight is also a Celtic bard thing relating to the ability to foresee the future.

Power Word Kill is something the Celtic bard is famous for, where the satire litery deals body harm.

Generally, the main themes of the D&D class are prescience, healing, teleportation, shapechanging, and of course mind magic, of enchantment and illusion. These themes are mythologically correct.

I appreciate the accuracy because the term bard is a reallife term from a reallife culture. For the sake of cultural sensitivity, there is an ethical obligation to use the term in a reasonably appropriate way - and here D&D does this well.

The Bard class models Celtic magical traditions. But it turns out, the Bard class also describes Nordic magical tradions well. The healing, resurrecting, and protective magic relate to the Songs. The prescience relates to the Spa by the volva. Mind magic of enchantment and illusion relates to Seidr. The shapeshifting and teleportation relate to Form Travel.

The Celtic and Nordic traditions sometimes describe very powerful magic. The high level spellcasting of the Bard class is accurate too. The Bard is an important and excellent class.
 


vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I think you are right that the Artificer could be a really good model for what a half-casting Bard could look like.

I wonder if someone could do a reskinning of the Artificer with bard-like flavoring to see what it would feel like to play.

I think it may require a new, custom archetype, but the class itself lets you Infure some instruments and some other bard-y items:

  • Eyes of Charming
  • Pipes of Haunting
  • Hat of disguise
  • Boot of striding and springing
  • Pipes of the sewer
  • Horn of Blasting
 

If I was redoing the 5e bard from scratch, they’d be a general charisma-based class centred around support and inspiration, and the base class would have no spell casting abilities at all. Their subclasses would be heavy, with lots of features - one of which would give half spellcasting of the ‘traditional’ bardy enchantment/illusion/thunder sort. This would allow the class to also have for instance, a Marshal subclass that grants weapon/armour proficiencies and Extra Attack and so on, but which remained largely martial rather than ending up a spellcaster at high levels just because Bards Cast Magic.

it’s probably a sacred cow too far, but I’d even look at changing the class name.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
That change would definitely push me further toward making my own version of the Bard, since it would push the Bard further from what it should be, IMO.

I do agree that the high level spell list sucks, though.

I just don’t see why that would ever be support for the argument to “make it a half caster”. The best solution to that problem is to fix the spell list.

And not with more kind control magic, for the love of song.

Inspire Courage/Wrath/Cleverness spells that give big meaty group buffs. Spells that turn the world against the target. Druid spells.

Mass versions of spells like Longstrider, Jump, Enhance Ability.
At very high level (7-9) look at things like multi-target spells similar to haste.

spells that are similar to divine “Turn X” abilities but more tuned toward “I speak and you feel my rebuke in your bones and want to be anywhere but where you can hear my words of rebuke” flavor.

The Bard needs to grow past the Jack of all Trades, which fits the Ranger or Rogue better anyway, and reach toward a more mythic archetype of a lore keeper, a speaker of truth and whose deception are especially dangerous bc they have the power of truth, someone who can lay down curses and cure the sick with word or song or secret knowledge.

In D&D, it’s just harder to do any of that without Spellcasting, and at high levels it requires full casting.

I’d give the bard more known spells, strong ritual casting, and features that leverage knowledge and social skills to magical effect.
 


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