D&D 5E [+]"Instrument of the Bards" Alternative/Reflavouring for Non-Musician Characters?

Rocker26a

Explorer
So, it feels relatively uncontroversial to say that Bards shouldn't be necessarily required to choose between either a musical instrument or a components pouch for their spellcasting focus (despite the rules as written suggesting that is exactly the case). Even just in general, nevermind considering the existence of Bard subclasses that explicitly lean away from that sort of flavour.

This is somewhat complicated by the fact that, Bards have a pool of signature magical items, "The Instrument of the Bards". Which are, y'know. Instruments. Mechanically, they are absolutely the sort of thing a Bard player begs their DM for. They lessen the misery of being a spells known caster. Getting a daily cast of a few standard spells would be great on it's own, but each variant having a unique grab bag of additional spells besides is the Cherry on top! Only wrinkle is... Yeah. If your character is not a musician, you've either gotta ignore that detail, or commit and forego them.

So yeah, I feel like a token non-instrument entry to the "Instruments of the Bards", or an equivalent pool of non-instrument items with basically the same function, would be nice. Problem being, I'm a bit stumped on how would be best to go about it.

There's the "what the actual physical objects could be" problem; I've seen some posts on the subject suggest things like a conductor's wand, or an orator's quill, things like that for a non-musician Bard's focus. Those could work I think, they just don't immediately grab me like "oh yeah, that's perfect". I've also seen gaming sets suggested. Decks of Cards, Dice sets. I like those a little better, but again somewhat particular.
And then there's also how they ought to be worded, mechanically set up. It's not as simple as rewording a magic weapon, turning a Shortsword into a Longsword or what-have-you, the language of the item(s) in question is very particular about the musical instrument bit. So I'm unsure how much I should adhere to their structure. Assuming I should at all, or if I might be better served following the logic of other items like staffs or something.

What do you folks reckon? I'll take suggestions/recommendations/ideas!

(For the sake of clarity, this is particularly nagging me because I'm mulling over an Eloquence Bard. They're not a musician, they're a smooth-talker, a fixer, one of those people that seems to know everyone. They could've just as easily been a Rogue if not for my specific desire for spells on them. Just, yeah, there is not necessarily an item you'd immediately associate with that sort of character carrying. And even if something works, would take some doing mechanically.)
 

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jgsugden

Legend
I make homebrew items all the time - over half of what my PCs find is homebrew, taken from a third party source, etc...

There are two ways to think about introducing the items:

1.) Cater to the PC - This gives a very flavorful option that builds upon the PC and helps create a good story.

2.) Agnostic to the PCs - This preserves that sense of 'realism' where the world is not built just for the PCs, but is a 'real place' in which they live ... and it encourages players and PCs to get creative with how they use the items they find.

To me, both are critical. To that end - finding an instrument when you're not a musician can encourage you to be creative as a player and isn't an entirely bad thing.

On the other hand, if you want something that caters to the PC and builds upon the character concept, just look to that character concept for inspiration.

In your case, I might add an Intelligent Tome of Leadership and Influence - that was read 35 years ago and can't be read again for 65 years. It complains constantly about how people only care about it for 6 days a century. It carries with it the personality of a washed up actor (or orator of some type) that laments that nobody wants them for good roles/speeches anymore, despite having so much to offer! And it does have things to offer. It provides bonuses to certain knowledge checks, perhaps. And it can cast a few cantrips and a few spells as well! But IT casts them and IT chooses when to cast them. The PC can try to persuade the book to cast (or not to cast) those spells, but it is a stubborn book and sometimes decides it is the one that knows best.

Now - a premise like that can be gold - or reallllllllllllly annoying. You'll have to decide if something like that would work for your group. A lot of it comes down to how well the DM can sell it, and how well the DM will incorporate it into the game.
 

aco175

Legend
Magic mirrors are a thing and bards that care about their appearance might use one a lot. It can capture the PCs image and speak back or then be used to cast a spell.
 

Rocker26a

Explorer
There are two ways to think about introducing the items:

1.) Cater to the PC - This gives a very flavorful option that builds upon the PC and helps create a good story.

2.) Agnostic to the PCs - This preserves that sense of 'realism' where the world is not built just for the PCs, but is a 'real place' in which they live ... and it encourages players and PCs to get creative with how they use the items they find.

This particular case of wanting to supply an item for a particular character did prompt this train of thought, but if I was to make something functional as a result, I'd want it to be applicable elsewhere in the future. That is part of the appeal of the Instruments of the Bards, you can easily create your own from the framework they set. They just have to be instruments and offer no wiggle-room in that regard. That's what's preventing me from cutting ahead off my own back.

In your case, I might add an Intelligent Tome of Leadership and Influence - that was read 35 years ago and can't be read again for 65 years. It complains constantly about how people only care about it for 6 days a century. It carries with it the personality of a washed up actor (or orator of some type) that laments that nobody wants them for good roles/speeches anymore, despite having so much to offer! And it does have things to offer. It provides bonuses to certain knowledge checks, perhaps. And it can cast a few cantrips and a few spells as well! But IT casts them and IT chooses when to cast them. The PC can try to persuade the book to cast (or not to cast) those spells, but it is a stubborn book and sometimes decides it is the one that knows best.

It's not really here nor there, but. That feels like a premise for a character unto itself, and it also skews more towards Tome Warlock or a Wizard's spellbook than anything Bard related. In fact it's notably similar to a guest character that was on Critical Role a little while ago. That having been said; sure, a variety of texts could theoretically work as an alternative to musical instruments.
 
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Stormonu

Legend
In your case, I might add an Intelligent Tome of Leadership and Influence - that was read 35 years ago and can't be read again for 65 years. It complains constantly about how people only care about it for 6 days a century. It carries with it the personality of a washed up actor (or orator of some type) that laments that nobody wants them for good roles/speeches anymore, despite having so much to offer! And it does have things to offer. It provides bonuses to certain knowledge checks, perhaps. And it can cast a few cantrips and a few spells as well! But IT casts them and IT chooses when to cast them. The PC can try to persuade the book to cast (or not to cast) those spells, but it is a stubborn book and sometimes decides it is the one that knows best.
\Rodney Dangerfield voice
"I tell ya, I get no respect!"

Another option might be a suit or other fancy dress - the bard pulls the spells out of various pockets or liners in the suit. Or, perhaps a puzzle box, solve a face and it allows the bard to cast a spell. Mayhaps something like the Ring of Gaxx - an ornate ring with a gemstone set in a small ring full of sigils. Twisting the gemstone to a certain sigil activates the spell.

Overall, in this case, the musical item is a tool. Switching it to another tool would probably be the best thing to do.
 

Meech17

WotC President Runner-Up.
I am currently planning a bard who fancies himself a gonzo journalist akin to Hunter S Thompson, minus the guns and drugs. I was thinking his focus could be a journal or something.

(For the sake of clarity, this is particularly nagging me because I'm mulling over an Eloquence Bard. They're not a musician, they're a smooth-talker, a fixer, one of those people that seems to know everyone. They could've just as easily been a Rogue if not for my specific desire for spells on them. Just, yeah, there is not necessarily an item you'd immediately associate with that sort of character carrying. And even if something works, would take some doing mechanically.)

For this my first thought was a briefcase. When you said fixer I immediately thought of Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He didn't carry a briefcase but he acts so matter of fact, and professional. It feels right. Walk into a room, slap the case onto the table and pop it open. It conveys the message that it's time to do business. Stuff just got real.

My next thought was a badge. Not for anything in particular but just a badge in a leather holder. Your bard whips it out and flips it back closed before anyone gets too good a look at it. Just to give them a small level of authority. The attitude is more important here, but the badge helps.

EDIT: Language.
 
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bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
The Instrument of the Bards, should be the instrument of the Bard -- the item they use for their art.

In the case of the fixer, a pouch of coin seems to me the type of thing they would use. Or if a more Eberron-y setting, an address book.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Marionette.

Jim Henson Netflix GIF by The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance


The Eloquence Bard could use a fortune cookie. Eating optional.
 

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