The Bard is a class that I never played before, so when I was invited to play in a new Tomb of Annihilation campaign earlier this year – I figured it was time to give it a try. I lived vicariously through the exploits of other players talking about Bards and celebrating them through social media. The concept of playing a Bard always seemed enjoyable to me; it’s a character with high charisma that can solve problems in unique ways and bolster the efforts of the rest of the party. When playing in a campaign, I typically like to be up-close and personal in melee range making attacks and eliminating monsters, so playing a character that does not exactly shine in one-on-one combat would be a stretch.
I took on the challenge!
One thing I wanted to do with the Bard was come up with a relatively simple backstory that did not rely on the character going through significant traumatic experiences early in life. Perhaps influenced by recent fatherhood, I created a character that is a family man first, performer second, and adventurer third. He’s got a stable home, a spouse, several children, and he travels the Realm from time to time to perform his music and assist other adventurers.
During our first session, I even had him ask the first major NPC we encountered, Syndra Silvane, to send money to his family in the event that he did not survive the quest to locate the Soulmonger. It was interesting to roleplay a character that expressed hesitation about the perils of adventuring rather than being eager to run in the direction of the next big, bad evil thing.
When creating my Bard, I thought about his name for a long time.
A very long, long time.
I borrowed/stole a device from Saga and named him The Stone. For a few moments before my son was born, I thought about Stone as a possible name; my wife wasn’t as keen on the idea. Pearl Jam is my favorite band, and Stone Gossard is one of the members. Plus, I’ve been curling for the past 5-6 years, and the rocks in curling are often referred to as stones. My wife and I ultimately decided on the name, Hugo, for our son – mostly inspired from this lovable guy.
With the name locked in, The Stone, the next step was to find some art that inspired me. While creating the character, I noted that a Bard could specialize in a small variety of instruments. The instrument that jumped out to me was bagpipes. YES! My Bard is going to play the bagpipes, and that obnoxiously glorious noise will be a part of future gaming sessions. I thought about a band we saw at a Renaissance Festival many years ago, Tartanic, and how they were wildly entertaining with pipes and drums. The next step was to conduct an Image Search on Google for: bard bagpipes.
Yes, this guy is – without a doubt – The Stone.
Oh, he’s magnificent!
Swap out the jug for a hand crossbow and we are set! I sent a question to our Dungeon Master, and asked if The Stone could have a companion animal. I clarified that the only thing the dog would do is carry around a tip jar on his back for times when The Stone performs. She enjoyed the idea, and allowed it, which has provided for some hilarious situations as The Stone tends to his pet in the severe jungles of Chult!
Of course the dog needed a name as well, and that came to me more quickly. A dirk is a common accessory while wearing a kilt, and it’s also the name of this daring fellow. Dirk is now a member of the party, and he loyally follows The Stone around, and scampers to find cover whenever a horde of zombies or dinosaur bursts forth from the jungle.
Spell Book or Song Book?
When thinking about how to play a Bard in a game, a bunch of silly thoughts came to mind. For example, anything I say would have to take the form of a haiku. So when responding to Syndra Silvane’s request, The Stone might say:
Find the Soulmonger?
Sounds rather deadly! Send gold
To care for my kin.
While this would be hilarious to me (and me only, most likely), it would be impossible to execute at the table as I would have to fumble around with phrases to ensure they fit the 5-7-5 pattern before speaking. Given that Bards are often the most charismatic voice in the party, this idea was quickly scuttled. (It still makes me laugh though!)
One concept that I settled on was using learned spells as a way to express some lyrical creativeness. I figured I could develop some basic lyrics for each spell The Stone knows, and he could perform the lyrics whenever the spell is cast. Likely influenced by the past year of me singing lullabies to our son each night, my hesitation to sing in front of others has declined. (Incidentally, my brain defaults to 80’s rock bands when signing to my son. I Remember You and 18 And Life by Skid Row, What You Give by Tesla, Rocket Queen by Guns N’ Roses, High Enough by Damn Yankees, etc…. it’s either that or show tunes with the occasional grunge classic like Don’t Follow by Alice in Chains thrown in for good measure.)
My lack of prowess as a singer meant I didn’t want to have a cringe-worthy performance any time The Stone cast a spell, but I did want to use that as an opportunity to demonstrate that The Stone is paying attention to his surroundings and is invested in the livelihood of his fellow adventurers. Since I choose some healing spells, I decided to craft lyrics for healing that were specific to whoever was on the receiving end of The Stone’s healing spells. It was also around this time that I was preparing to see “Weird” Al Yankovic perform in concert for the first time (he was amazing). So I dabbled in some parodies of well-known tunes and musical styles, which produced the following results.
The first member of the party I crafted lyrics for is Rogal, a Human Cleric. I landed on an idea of rhyming everything with “light.” It’s simple, a bit goofy and overly dramatic.
You are right, I hear your plight
You have might, it’s time to smite
Get in the fight, remove this blight
Noble knight, embrace the light!
Perhaps I’ll build off this and continue to develop lyrics for spells targeting Rogal that only rhyme with “light.” At the very least, there are plenty of words to choose from!
Sora is a Dragonborn Barbarian, and she’s quite a direct-line thinker. Often right in the middle of combat or accidentally disrupting a hive of stirges, she is a likely target for monsters and usually in need of some healing. I had the idea to parody Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Bravely bold, dear Sora
Fought on for Bahamut
She was not afraid to die
Oh brave, dear Sora
She was not at all afraid
To be killed in nasty ways
Heal, heal, heal, heal, dear Sora
With each of these songs, I did not want to overstay my welcome by performing at the table. Time is an enormous commodity during sessions, so instead of creating another verse of lyrics, I’ll allow people to come up with their additions – or maybe I’ll craft another verse for the next time “brave dear Sora” needs healing.
Vakova is an Elf Ranger, and the player that inhabits that character has a lively sense of humor. This led me down the dirty limerick road, though I settled on a limerick that was much more tame and featured elements of Vakova’s background. Perhaps the limericks will get more risque as the campaign wears on; we’ll see!
There once was an elf from High Forest
Vexed by city living, so sorest
He returned to Star Mount
Eliminating orcs beyond count
So he could focus on being a florist
Shalius is a Tiefling Rogue that enjoys the shadows and conniving his way around any situation the party finds itself in. The player the inhabits Shalius has played with me in other campaigns, and all of his characters are showman in one way or another. So I wanted to boom out some lyrics for whenever he required healing. The parody that came to me was Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede. (Whether you think of Reservoir Dogs or Guardians of the Galaxy is perhaps a generational thing.)
You’rrrrrrrre – touched by a demon!
You need some relieving
Or else you’re gonna bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed!
That’s it. The Stone always leaves the audience wanting more.
You’re never gonna fight again, painful screams rack at your melon
It’s not easy to defend, and you’ll likely die too
The possibilities with each spell The Stone learns over time will be fun, and the goal is to come up with something humorous (and brief) to increase the awesome Bard quotient at the table.
Creative Problem Solving
In a recent session, The Stone and his allies found themselves in a dicey situation inside Camp Vengeance when Commander Breakbone declared that the party had to take on another quest, which would take us out of the way from our current goal. Tensions escalated when we pushed back on the demands, and then our Dragonborn Barbarian, Sora, kinda-sorta assaulted a nun (long story). The Stone and others in the party were marched to a watchtower in the camp to “think over” the offer from Commander Breakbone, and I decided to gamble that The Stone’s performance abilities would save the day.
“The Stone starts to play his bagpipes to disrupt the current activity in the camp.”
Our DM responded, “He does what?!”
She allowed it, and rolled to see if Breakbone was a fan of bagpipes – or not – while I played some Tartanic on my phone for all to hear. I believe The Stone and the rest of the party were quite fortunate, as Breakbone’s mood was significantly sweetened by the song and he decided to negotiate with us.
Playing a Bard has pushed me to play D&D with a different mentality, and it’s been something I’ve enjoyed. So go play a Bard and find a way to make the character your own.
<exhale> Made it through the article without making a Rolling Stone reference!