If you remember all the way back to last month (another era!), I wrote here about some possible roleplaying hooks for barbarians – after all, there’s more to barbarians than smash smash rage rage, no matter what anyone might say about it. But barbarians are hardly the only ones who get pigeon-holed into either very specific roleplay hooks, or none at all. Today we’re looking at bards – who you might think get more opportunities to roleplay than they really do.
I mean, we all know the jokes, right? That bards are there to seduce, there to romance and to woo… but what else? It turns out that not all bard players want that to be their roleplaying focus (though some might!).
So here are some ideas to talk to your DM and fellow players about for bringing more than romance to your bard’s life.
Bard vs The World
The Quest for Knowledge – a while back on Twitter, I asked the question “which D&D classes receive formal education?” The obvious answers to start with are wizards and bards. Wizards have to study for years to get their arcane powers, and bards are really no different – their subclasses are even called colleges! Curiosity can be as natural to a bard as it is to a cat, always seeking out answers – especially when they shouldn’t.
Comfort vs Adventure – in a lot of ways, a bard’s profession is reliant on the comforts of a civilized society. You need people who appreciate music and who are willing and able to pay for a bard’s talents. But they also need recklessness and adventure, for the sake of their muse – a bard whose inspiration has run dry is no bard at all. Finding the right balance between the two can be a tricky balancing act.
Leaving a Legacy – I think this is best summed up in the classic Terry Pratchett quote, “No one remembers the singer. The song remains.” When your bard sings the great deeds of their party, who is truly immortalized? How do they cope with their relative anonymity, and their desire to leave a mark on the world beyond just memorializing others? Is it enough to simply record the acts of others?
Bard vs The Party
The Classic… Revamped – the sort of “classic” idea of bard conflict is going to be driven around their sexy exploits getting them into deep trouble, that the rest of the party has to get them out of. A fun twist on this can be leaning into the bard’s charisma in another way – one of the other party members has an ill-advised liaison and they must rely on the bard’s help to get out of the situation.
Clash of Party Roles – bards are the archetypal “jack of all trades” class (it’s even the name of one of their class abilities), so they do a little bit of everything. This can lead to inter-party conflict when it comes to understanding who does what around here. Perhaps someone’s toes feel stepped on because the bard can also do what they do. Or perhaps the bard and another character feel driven to competition and rivalry in the same party niche.
Willful Stereotyping – if we, as players, all know the jokes about bards, do our characters know them too? Do some characters assume the bard gets up to all the classic bard shenanigans, and tease them about it endlessly? Does the bard take offense to being assumed to be something they’re not? This can be a fun bit of bringing the metagame into the story’s world, in the good way.
Bard vs Society
Only ‘Approved’ Music – you remember Footloose? With the town that banned dancing and fast music? I’ve always loved the idea of a similar town in a D&D setting, that permits ordinary non-magical music, but that deems bard music too tempting, too sinful, altogether too magical, and bans it outright. I also personally think that most bards would absolutely love to see themselves as the main character in Footloose, but maybe that’s just me.
Selling Out – a lot of tropes that apply to rock band movies and media can also be adapted to apply to bards in a fantasy world. Did your bard have a few diehard early fans who call later fans bandwagoners? Are there in-world debates about if the bard’s early songs were better than their later songs? And worst of all – can your bard avoid the dreaded label of “sell-out” when they’re rolling in riches from adventuring?
More Than Just a Minstrel – it’s reiterated more than once in the “intro to bards” section in the Player’s Handbook. A bard is more than just a common musician. But does everyone in your setting know that? Is that common knowledge, or is it specialized info, that only the well-educated might have? A bard who is known to be a bard might be able to command respect and better payment, but a bard who everyone thinks is just another guy with a lute is going to be in a worse situation for sure.
Bard vs Self
Following One’s Muse – whatever your bard’s muse might be (a fellow party-member, a more metaphysical goddess-muse, the lure of adventure), following one’s muse can be a tricky proposition. Chasing down inspiration, wherever it may come from, is a common-enough problem for all artists, of all media, and I think bards would be no different, no matter how fantastical the world. What happens when your bard gets writer’s block?
Creating a Masterpiece – some bards may be driven by the desire to create a true masterwork. Not just another song, not just another poem, but something that truly rocks the world, that shakes thrones and raises spirits, that will put them in the history books. How do they improve their skill? How do they hone their masterwork in progress? How do they find people of a similar disposition or training to get critique from? And is that why bards go to college in the first place?
Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Hero – one thing I think about a lot with “support classes” as opposed to frontline fighters is the feeling of being sidelined. You can liken it to a band (especially if you’re in one of the infamous all-bard parties) – the frontman gets all the glory, and everyone else is stuck with the scraps. Is that how your bard sees their role? Can they be content with being sidelined?
So there you have it, some non-romantic conflicts to get your bard character more roleplay hooks. After all, shouldn’t a bard’s first love be their music?
What have been your favorite non-romantic bard moments at the table? How do you make non-stereotypical bards in your parties? Tell us in the comments!