When Is A Bard Not A Bard

I have a thing against Bards. Of all the core classes for D&D, the Bard is always at the bottom of the list of classes I want to play. I mean, it’s so…well…. wimpish. It’s not as good as a fighter, a weaker spellcaster than a Wizard or Sorcerer, and it’s not as skilled as a Rogue.

The bard is just a nearly-class, not good enough at anything. It doesn’t help that my enduring image of a Bard is a skinny lute player who does nothing to contribute to an adventuring party’s survival.

Bards. Pah!

But given a slight make-over, the Bard becomes a darned cool class that even the most hardcore gamer will rush to play. And there won’t be a single change to the classes abilities at all.

Firstly, let’s lose the name. “Bard” just has too many connotations. For reasons that will become clear, let’s call this class Knight-Commander. This revised class is a leader of men, an inspiration for the troops on the battlefield who’s barked commands and knowledge can turn the tides of war. This is the class for the Caesars, Napoleons and Churchills of your gameworld, of people who lead in warfare.

The Knight-Commander is lightly armed and armoured (usually studded leather and a longsword for defense), relying on his men to bring the fight to the enemy. His skills are in a knowledge of history, land and tactics that far outstrip than of a common foot-soldier. He may be the second son of a nobleman or a commoner who’s shown a wisdom and ability to lead that has marked him out from the rank and file. Think of the Knight-Commander as a Commissioned Officer and Fighters as NCOs.

Knight-Commanders have exactly the same abilities as a Bard, and use Perform(Oratory) as the key skill to rally their troops, inspire courage or even disrupt the casting of enemy magic. These abilities function in every way as a Bard’s Bardic Music ability except that they are only tied to Perform(Oratory).

Knight-Commanders are highly valued by nobility, and receive the best training the coffers can afford. Their studies enable them to make Commander Knowledge checks that function exactly as per Bardic Knowledge. They are also taught by the clergy and magi a little of the magic arts in order to bolster and support their troops in any way possible. This training continues throughout their career.

At low levels, a Knight-Commander may be in charge of a small detachment of Fighters responsible for guarding a Wizard or Cleric. A typical 1st level detachment would be:

  • 1 x Knight-Commander/1
  • 3 x Fighter/1
  • 1 x Rogue/1 (Scout)
  • 1 x Cleric/1 or 1 x Wizard/1

So, there you have it. A Bard who’s not a Bard, but a skilled tactician on the battlefield. He can do all the things a Bard can, but without the silly purple doublet and hose. And not a lute in sight.

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