Sunday, November 25, 2012
Bards 2, The 2E Bard
The Second Edition AD&D Bard is my favorite class in the game.
Unlike the 1E bard, the 2E bard has rather lenient stat requirements. You need a 15 CHA, 13 INT, and a 12 STR. That's not unduly harsh (even for a straight 3d6 in order), and most DMs are more lenient than that.
As the description says, the bard is a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. He fights decently, has a few thief skills, can cast a good selection of spells, and has his own unique bardic abilities. There's also a good selection of magical and mundane equipment that he can utilize. He's a character that can be useful in almost any situation.
While he isn't a tank, he is a fair combatant. His THACO advances at half the rate of the warrior classes, which puts him near the middle of the pack, lagging just a bit behind the cleric.
The cleric has the advantage when it comes to taking damage, though. He's got better hit dice (d8) and can wear any armor and use any shield. The bard will usually lag behind in hit points and is limited to chain mail or less, and can't use a shield.
But the bard is capable of dishing out a lot more damage. His ability to use any weapon means that he can use the best weapon for the situation, and he can use heavier weapons that do more damage. His ability to use a bow allows him to provide much better fire-support than the cleric (who is limited to slings).
Even better, the bard can take advantage of some of the really awesome optional proficiencies listed in the Complete Fighter's Handbook. In particular, two-weapon specialization gives the bard the ability to dual-wield like a ranger, which doubles his combat attacks. The cleric can't do this (he gets an inferior weapon/shield combo instead).
The bard's thief abilities aren't amazing, but they are useful and flavorful. He can pick pockets, hear noise, climb walls, and read languages. Climb walls, in particular, is a very useful skill in a game based on exploration, and hear noise and read languages aren't bad, either. Picking pockets may or may not be useful depending on the DM, but that's a whole different issue...
The bard's best (and most powerful ability) is the ability to use magic-user spells. Magic is incredibly powerful in AD&D and spellcasting classes have a huge advantage over those classes who cannot cast spells. While the bard cannot access magic spells of 7th level or higher, I would argue that he is the second best spellcaster in the Player's Handbook (behind the mage/specialist wizard).
Sure, the cleric has more spells (some very powerful), but clerical magic is much more restrictive, and it lacks the utility and damage spells that make the magic user list so amazing and versatile. The clerical spell list has nothing like a fireball or a lightning bolt, or even something as simple and versatile as Grease.
And while the bard may have less spells and a slower learning rate than a typical wizard, he casts spells at the same power as a wizard once he learns them. A 7th level wizard and a 7th level bard both cast Fireball spells with 7 hit dice.
The bard also has some unique class abilities of his own. He can shift reaction rolls, buff his allies, counter music/sound based attacks, and he's got a special Legend Lore ability that allows him to know about obscure things in the game.
Legend Lore is an under-appreciated ability, but it can be extremely useful if used correctly. Information is power, and the bard has a built-in ability to know a little bit about almost everything.
The bard's high natural charisma and ability to shift reaction rolls make him a great diplomat (or instigator), and a good party leader. If you want to loosen up the tongues of a tavernful of townsfolk, there's nobody better than the bard for this task. Put on an entertaining show, sing a few classic drinking songs, and you'll be pulling in rumors in no time.
He's also a good bet for scamming or weaselling his way into places where he can cause mischief. Sure, the paladin might have higher charisma, but he's much too scrupulous to take advantage of anybody. The bard, on the other hand, is naturally a bit of a rascal.
And speaking of bards and paladins, I've got a little story for you...
Back in an old high school game, I played the bard in our group, along with a paladin named Kylinar, and a couple of other characters. We were all 2nd level or so, and we were doing a dungeon crawl when we came across a skull sitting on the floor, with gemstones in the eye sockets.
Knowing damned well that the DM was an asshole, I yelled out "Don't touch it, it's a demilich!"
So Kylinar, the paladin, walked over to the skull to poke at it with his sword. And just as I'd suspected, the skull flew up and started screaming, and it killed everybody in the room... except for Kylinar.
Needless to say, we were all pissed off. The DM was generous though, and he allowed the paladin to raise our characters from the dead, even though this is normally not possible if you die in this manner. I guess the DM was feeling guilty for putting us up against something so nasty, so he gave us a little wiggle room to come back.
The first thing my bard did when he woke up was to compose a new song called "Kylinar the Klutz". The DM thought it was hysterical (as did the rest of us who were slain), and the guy playing the paladin learned a valuable lesson when the song proved to be popular and it kept popping up in taverns wherever we went. It took him a long time to live that down.
Which brings me to the best part of the bard class, and the one thing that keeps me coming back to it again and again.
The bard is FUN.
The druid may be out of his element when he's in dungeon. The wizard may be useless once he's out of spells. The fighter may be standing around, picking his nose, when there's no fighting to be done. But there's always something useful to do when you play a bard.
As the "Swiss Army Knife" of character classes, the bard gets to be in the middle of everything. And quite often he gets to dominate the game, particularly in role playing situations where he shines. The fact that he's not the "best caster" or the "best fighter" de-emphasizes the tendecy to power-game, and encourages the player to be creative and wily. And the fact that he's an singing, dancing, juggling, attention whore brings out the role-playing element of the game out like no other character class.
I can honestly say that playing a bard has helped make me a better DM. It's helped me loosen up, and take more risks as a role player, and has allowed me to really dig in to the personalities of the characters I play.
I don't get a chance to play very often anymore (I usually DM because it's hard to find anybody else playing AD&D), but whenever I do, it's the bard that I gravitate toward. Did I mention that the 2E bard fits nicely into 1E?