Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bards- part 1

                                                   How to find wandering monsters.

Bards have been a part of the D&D universe for a long time.  Originally appearing in the 1st edition of AD&D, they have been a part of the game ever since.  In each version of the game, the bard has been radically different, changing more across each edition than any other class.

The first edition bard is one of the strangest, most convoluted classes the game has ever had.

It's also the hardest class to qualify for, requiring a 15 in Str, Dex, Wis, Cha, a 12 INT, and a 10 CON.  I looked up the odds for rolling that on a strict 3d6 (in order), and somebody figured out that 20 characters in one million would qualify.  Of course, you've also got to factor in the chance of character death on the way to becoming a bard, and since he's got to get to 5th level in fighter and thief classes first, that's a distinct possibility.

Now, it's true that the 1E game strongly advised against the 3d6 method that had been the standard up to this point.  The PHB flat-out states that a character should have at least two 15+ scores to ensure his survival.  Even stranger, the PHB does not tell the player how to roll his ability scores at all, instead telling the player to ask the DM (who will consult the DMG) who will presumably select a method that offers higher than average scores.

Now, given some of the extremely generous character generation methods proposed in the DMG, this made it much more likely that you'd get a special character class.  but even then the bard could be hard to get.  Method 1, probably the most popular option, only got you a bard about 1.5 percent of the time (to put that into perspective, Method 1 can generate paladins about 24% of the time) .

Unfortunately, a lot of DMs stuck with the old 3d6 (in order) enshrined in OD&D and the Holmes D&D set, which made it virtually impossible to get a bard.  It didn't help that the PHB and DMG were released a year apart, and that no character generation methods were presented in the PHB.

No wonder the 1E bard languished in obscurity.

Which is kind of sad, because it's actually a pretty interesting class.  It starts with 5-7 levels as a fighter, followed by 5-8 levels as a thief.  After that, they can start training as a bard, using the special advancement table provided.

While that might seem like a tall order, it actually takes less XP to get to 5th level as a fighter, thief, and bard than it does to get to 7th level as a single-classed fighter.

Unfortunately, the bard's fighter class doesn't really contribute much to the his skills, since the fighter doesn't really have any class-based skills of his own.  Only his d10 hit dice and THACO are retained, and the bard's THACO never improves afterward.  At low levels, this means that the bard is pretty badass compared to clerics, thieves, and magic users, but all of them will eventually overtake him.

A bard with maxed-out fighter levels (level 7) will be equal to or worse than level 10 clerics, and level 13 thieves and assassins.  Sadly, by level 16, wizards will actually hit more often than the bard does.  If he didn't max out his warrior levels he'll be even worse (and he'll have less potential HP too).

The thief's skills all carry over to the bard, however.  Effectively, this leaves the bard with all of the percentage-based skills, thieves cant, and backstab.

The bard's class abilities are based on a modified version of the druid (with weaker spellcasting), and the bard's own unique abilities.  He still gets all of the druid's goodies (including the ability to shapechange into animals), but he doesn't have to fight druids to advance, since he's technically a bard, not a druid.

The end result is a mediocre combatant with good hit points, with thief skills, druid skills, limited druid magic, and special bard abilities.  This is a very versatile character, but it's really not overpowered, since he's not allowed to use any of the higher level capabilities of his component classes.

Nonetheless, I think this is a good example of the worst excesses of the first edition.  It's unnecessarily complex (I'd hate to see that character sheet), hard to qualify for, and the individual parts really don't go very well together (fighter/thief/druid/bard?).  The whole thing feels rough and experimental, like a beta version that was never supposed to be released to the general public.

There's also this:  The PHB states that the bard must always have stringed instrument.  Fair enough.  But it never tells us why that is, or what would happen if his stringed instrument is lost or destroyed and he cannot find a replacement.  Given the delicate nature of stringed instruments, and the rigors of adventuring, it's bound to come up sooner or later.

Given the wonkiness of the 1E bard, it's no surprise that they were rarely used.  Sadly, it wasn't until the 2nd edition of AD&D that the bard really hit its stride.

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