Once Upon A Bard

The game I am a player in at the moment has a Bard in the party. There are three important facts about this party/game that you should know. The first is that we are still what the GM calls low level, the party is 4th to 7th level. The GM is using accelerated leveling so we seem to be jumping a level or two for every about 10hrs of play. The second thing is that this is a very high magic world. Even peasants in the fields can cast cantrips and almost every family has a caster that knows at least one list and the first level spell. Finally, there seems to be a lot of role confusion in the party.

I will deal with the role confusion firstly.

The party is made up of a Magician who dresses like a barbarian, kilt and claymore, the whole chebang. That is how we met him and at first level our OB/DB combinations were so low that he could easily have been a real warrior/barbarian. The player is one of those that bought a rank in his claymore at 0th or maybe 1st level and has not touched the skill since. The player is one of those that has to grab every possible magic item for themselves. Much to other party members displeasure, he is hoarding a magical ring and sword that give a total OB bonus of +50. His total OB is probably +60 now. I think he is 5th level and has ~30PP.

We have a Noble Warrior. Also about 5th level, chainmail hauberk, sword and shield or a big old two-handed mace. He really, really wanted that sword and ring! I haven’t seen much magic from this character beyond the occasional Shield spell.

Me, my character is a 7th level lay healer. I am learning plate armour (AT17), I wield a spear, with shield most of the time. I have an OB of +48 (two-handed) or +28 one-handed. I am capable at Adrenal moves strength and speed with total bonuses of about +50 in each. I have more powerpoints than you can shake a stick at from background options and a multiplier.

The Bard. Our bard is wearing chain 13, uses a sword and is growing into his magic. I believe he has only just hit 4th level. He is lagging behind because he missed a couple of game sessions and was NPCd by the GM and picked up less exp during those sessions.

The role confusion comes from the magician looking like a barbarian, having the highest OB and only magical weapon in the party but being fight shy. The character talks the talk but when it comes to the action he wants to be as far away from the nasty monsters as possible. In our last fight against a particularly nasty and bigger than normal wyvern we wall charged in to save the innocent bystander but at the last minute the magician used Leaping to jump out of the combat and back out of danger.

The bard in this battle tried Calm Song but without success. He then spent a couple of rounds after the battle had started to get behind the Wyvern during which time he had both Shield and Blur) Attack Avoidance and either Cloaking or Brilliance lists. He then entered melee using position and magic to aid him.

Our bard seems to have just enough DPs to be able to pick up both some of his base lists and a couple of Open Mentalism lists. What he is lacking is anything overtly offensive. As a character, he was fully engaged in the combat.

Out of combat, he does have a lot of options and is one of the most useful characters. We are on a long ol’ quest and city hopping with long journeys in between. The noble warrior just seems to see the cities as R&R locations. The mage is turning into a pretty one-dimensional artillery piece. It is in these city sessions that the bard shines as our major source of information and of reputation.

From the players point of view his main complaint about the profession is that he feels inactive a lot of the time as he has to keep playing/concentrating to maintain his spell effects. He described it as prep, prep fail, prep, prep succeed, do nothing. It doesn’t help that he is the lowest level party member. I already have some spells I can snap off in a single round as I am now 7th level. I also get subconscious spells so even when stunned I am still doing stuff. I can un-stun myself, I can clot wounds and I can heal.

The player is mitigating this by buying up more non-bard lists to give himself more options. The Bardic lists that he has don’t get particularly useful until 5th level, when the effects start to last after the song ends. I would have said that all of the bardic lists ramp up from this point onwards. The open mentalism lists, in contrast, are giving him utility, more instant cast spells and a least a few subconscious spells. I can see why he may be seeing them as more immediately useful.

I think this is a shame. The character is from a supposedly affluent background, attended the best musical colleges so the backstreet thief style bard does not really suit. Combat boosts are not particularly fitting either.

If I was going to give the character a boost I would possibly consider something along the lines of reading people and body language. An Anticipations List based upon being able to see the person you are trying to anticipate the actions of. This could have combat and social uses. It would fit in with the social element of the bard and also with their mentalism realm. A first-level spell that gave a small boost to either OB or DB because you could anticipate your opponent’s action would not be overpowered or out of character with the profession. These could ramp up and be used in more situations as the list progressed. I would also see these as instant spells so the bard’s magic would be useful to them right from 1st level.

This just needs the GMs approval, a DP investment and time for the character to do the research. That is what I would do.

Rolemaster Professions – The Bard

The Bard is one of the nicest semi spell user professions in Rolemaster. It has a nice combination of magic, stealth, combat and social skills to make them really useful in all situations. Obviously there is no one profession that can do it all without any restrictions or everyone would choose it and no one would play anything else. The bard profession is not like that, it is nicely balanced whilst at the same time capable.

A fantasy role playing Bard
Really cool looking bard although I prefer my bards armed with axes.

The D&D bard is often quoted as the Leader Profession and the Rolemaster bard also fits into that niche quite nicely. In fact leaving all game mechanics and rules aside the cultural role of the bard means that doors open to them at all levels of society and their access to ‘behind closed doors’ information is unparalelled. In fantasy culture bards are the bearers of news as well as entertainers. They are welcome in lordly halls but get to eat with the servants and so on. As a leader the bard has the social skills to inspire and motivate groups and instill morale.

So what makes the (Rolemaster) bard so good? The first element has to be their magic. The Bardic base spells fall into two camps, magic relating to songs and magic relating to knowledge. Their songs give them the equivelant of charms, sleep and fear type spells and as they progress in levels they can effect more targets and at greater ranges. Their knowledge based spells influence how they learn languages by doubling or more the rate that skills are learned for the same points cost. They can also magically assess mundane and magical items. The ability to learn skills more cheaply and to magically emulate ‘lore’ type skills gives the bard the option to devote more development points to other areas of character development.

Bards are not restricted to just their base lists though. They can also learn the 1st to 10th level open Mentalism lists. These include self healing, illusions, detections, invisibility type spells, a variety of defensive spells and even a bolt style attacking magic (shock bolt). The truely great thing about the realm of mentalism is that magic can be cast whilst wearing any armour all baring helmets.

So magically they are really good all rounders. The only thing they cannot really do is movement, no flying or teleporting. This great flexibility is tempered by the fact that spells are expensive to learn for bards so they have to pick what is important to them.

Skills-wise the bard the bard gets professional bonuses in just about everything except directed spells (spells such as shock bolt and lightening bolt) and body development (hitpoints). The bard only has one directed spell in their entire repetoire and that is only if they choose to learn the open list of Brilliance so this no real disadvantage.

The Bard’s primary skill costs are pretty generic with nothing too expensive but nothing being particularly cheap iether. The primary skills are things like weapons skills, spell lists, magical skills, climbing, swimming and so on. the core of what an adenturer would need to do. The Bard has about the most expensive magical skills of all the spell using professions but that is the balancing fact with having the best possible mix of spells and being able to use them in nearly full armour.

It is in the secondary skills that bards really start to shine! All of the social skills from acting and singing to public speaking and seduction are all coming in at just a single development point for the first rank and most secondary skills right across the board are only 2DPs for the first rank each level. Remember that higher level bards can use their magic to learn languages at upto five times the regular rate means that spending a single development point could get you two to five ranks in language.

All RPGs have some element of combat in them. The bard as an all rounder is never going to be a stand out warrior. They are somewhat restricted in that their first weapon skill is affordable but it all gets very expensive after that. If you are restricted to just a single weapon then that generally suggests spear, shortsword or hand axe as your weapons of choice. It really depends on the game and setting as to which one I would go for. In my opinion the spear is the best weapon in the game in terms of flexibility being similar to staff, club, polearms and the lance. It can also be thrown giving a ranged option. They are also a lowest common denminator weapon requiring very little metal manufacture so are widely available. If you are washed up on a beach you can find a big stick and use half your spear skill with it as a big club. If you are a swordsman you are unlikely to find one of them on he beach.

You cannot chop down a tree with a spear in a hurry. If your game is a bit more out in the wilderness then the hand axe comes into its own. It is a practical tool as well as a weapon. It can be thrown to give you a ranged attack and it is similar to short sword for when nothing but a sword will do. I you are in a hack and slash type game then you can learn it left and right handed and two weapon combo to give you two attacks a round. Bards can be pretty good at adrenal moves so combine Adr. Speed with a pair of axes and you are up to four attacks a round or two attacks with axe and shield.

The third option is the shortsword. Again it works well as a two weapon combo, it is throwable and of these weapons it is the most consealable. It is also similar to all the most common longer blades such as broad and long sword and smaller weapons such as daggers, dirks, sais and all the short axes.

All of these options give you a range of weapons you can turn your hand to in a pinch all using just the one weapon skill.

Armour-wise chain is the best option. You do not need much skill to get away with the lighter chain armours, the heavier ones give good protection and cost wise it is certainly affordable. I would probably get fully trained int he first fiew levels and then turn those development points over to more spell lists as soon as you are fully trained.

So there is the bard. They are the smooth talking all rounder and leader of men who can in theory at least do everything from hurling magical bolts, slay dragons and play the wise old sage, all in a single profession. That is not bad going.