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You’ve Never had it so good: Bards

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So you want to play a bard

Image of a Bard

You might have read my first blog post in the series when I focused on the changes which have happened with the magic-user class and how the present 5th edition rules of D&D provide a lot more variation and survivability for the class. Well if you enjoyed that post then you will definitely enjoy this one. Bards seem to be a very popular class to play within many campaigns, strumming/beating/blowing their instruments to bring inspiration to the party and being able to use their own range of spells to deal damage and heal. But things were not always like this. To play a bard in my day, you needed to be more dedicated than any bard today – today, if you play a bard, you have never had it so good!

The Bard Song

My eyes have seen the glory of the umpteen level bard
He’s been a thief and fighter and he thinks he’s really hard

Male Bard playing a lyre

I remember singing the above song to the tune ‘My eyes have seen the glory!”. There were several verses including one dedicated to ‘umpteen level Lord, Thief and I think Priest’. Many of the lyrics escape me now, but the ones for the bard actually still cling in my memories. Why? Well, I always wanted to play a bard. Being vaguely musical I wanted to be able to strum along to the party as well as using several spells. Being a bard was up there with psionics and possessing an intelligent sword! (Thanks to Black Razor for making me want one of those!).

But why did I not just create a bard and head off into the local Caves of Chaos and kill some Kobolds? Well back in 1st edition AD&D, bards were slightly different.

Creating a Bard back then..

So back in 1st Edition AD&D there was no bard class to start of with. In Basic D&D there was no bard class at all! You couldn’t just decided as the magic-users and clerics were being rolled up that you wanted to be a bard. If you did make this decision then you had to be prepared to embark and a long and tiring quest for your bardship!

First, you needed to roll up a fighter. Yes, you heard me correctly, a fighter. At this point you didn’t get an instrument or even any spells you were just a plain run of the mill fighter, armoured and armed. You were probably not the ‘main’ fighter so you were delegated to second rank of the marching order or even allocated rearguard with the thief who just kept stepping into the shadows as soon as danger threatened. You had to continue to be a fighter until you achieved 5th level and then change to join the thief class before you reached 7th. But this was not the end.

Female bard

You would progress through the thief levels until you reached at least 5th level, but before you reached 8th, then you eventually changed again to join the druidic profession and gain your bardship!

Even then, you didn’t have your own unique group of spells related to your instrument and dulcet singing voice. No. You had the druid spell list including faerie fire and purify water! Sadly up didn’t inherit the druid’s shape-changing abilities.

Editor’s Note: I was just looking at webpages and found that apparently bards could actually inspire via poetry if they did this for two combat rounds – must admit, I never knew about this!

Okay, close your mouth. Yes, it was hard and long journey to become a bard but it did come with both its advantages and disadvantages.

Hit points and Ability scores

One of the good things about the journey of the bard was that you kept your hit points from your previous class. When you passed your previous level you then started to add new hit points. So if you stopped at 5th level within your fighter progression, you would be a first level thief with 5d10 hit points and you would keep these until you advanced to 6th level thief when you would add another 1d6. This meant that when you actually got to being a first level bard you would probably have way more hit points than the rest of the first level characters put together!

However, if you kept progressing with the same party, you would suddenly find yourself at a disadvantage in combat since you would be 1st level trying to hit other mobs higher level than you.

The other area which was a real disadvantage was the ability scores. Due to having to meet the restriction of three classes the ability scores had to be over 15 in several abilities. I remember trying to roll the desired scores for a bard and never actually getting there. We used to roll using the roll 4d6 and discard the lowest one. In the end, I just gave up, plus I never got the opportunity to play in any case!

In summary

So to conclude, yes bards were available in 1st edition AD&D but it involved a long and very arduous process to achieve bardship! So next time to start playing 5th Edition with your bard its own class at first level, strumming your lyre and providing inspiration for everyone around, just remember how far the bard class has come and remember, you have never had it so good!