Very long, rambly musings about the Bard below.

Very long, rambly musings about the Bard below.

Very long, rambly musings about the Bard below.

I’m a bit confused about the Bard discussion in the latest Discern Realities podcast episode. Maybe I’m misunderstanding or reading a different copy of the character sheet? Or maybe I’m just a complete noob (have yet to play DW and am relatively inexperienced in tabletop RPGs)?

They talked a lot about not being fans of how the Bard uses Arcane Art in the middle of battle, as though she could just pick up her instrument, play some sick jams, and then enemies would fall down from how awesome her tunes are, or laser beams would shoot from the strings, or something else ridiculous and tone-jarring [this is not literally what they said, I’m just paraphrasing].

While I was listening, I was trying to think of ways to explain in the narrative how exactly the Bard’s music can hurt enemies, but then I went back and read the actual move.

From what I understand, there’s nothing about the Arcane Art move itself that is causes direct damage. It says specifically to choose an ALLY, and then choose buffs that can help the ally. You can give damage buffs to a player, should they choose to attack, but the music doesn’t actually hurt anyone.

Were they talking about how Bards work in other systems or in tabletop RPGs in general? Or is it common for Bard players to argue that the move DOES do damage? Has anyone played DW where laser beams shooting out of lutes is a normal, accepted thing?

It really seems to me that AA should primarily be used in the way that Jason described: outside of combat. And thus the Bard should actually be doing (at least some) H&S during a fight with a sword or a bow or some other physical weapon, not dancing around with a pan flute. EDIT Further discussion has convinced me that AA is definitely allowed during combat.

…And now I’m reading further and see that at level 2 you can pick the Metal Hurlant move and all of a sudden it’s just like “yeah, you totally melt the enemies’ faces off with a righteous solo”, (probably only as long as you can DD from enemy attacks). Is this what they meant when they were talking about how ridiculous the Bard can seem?

IDK. I feel like that mechanic could still be explained in the narrative. Maybe the instrument is enchanted/possessed? Maybe the Bard is (secretly) descended from, possessed by, or enchanted by a Siren or Banshee-type spirit/creature? Maybe the magic that the Bard knows is a particular ‘brand’ of magic, different from the magic a Wizard or Druid might know, one that hinges specifically on music, in the same way a Druid or Ranger’s magic would hinge on the connection to nature? I’m recalling now the series of Young Adult novels by Tamora Pierce called the Circle of Magic, about a group of teens whose magical abilities manifest in ‘abnormal’ ways (i.e.: through sewing, the weather, metal-working, and plants).

It’s likely my feelings on the Bard will change once I get to play as one or see one in action. These are just my thoughts as a very new DW enthusiast.

If you’ve read this far, thanks! You da real MVP.

28 thoughts on “Very long, rambly musings about the Bard below.”

  1. Off to listen now. Post to come


    The starting move, i have no problem with. Bolstering teammates makes sense. Cheerleaders do it all the time, as well as distract the opposing team. To that point, i would cause enemies “negative bolstering” or curses? It fits the ‘cheerleader’ feel i get from a musical performer.

    Note: The bard is an arcane user and does use magic similar to the wizard, just with a different medium.


    Jason is heating up the bard conversation lol 😘

  2. Personally, I can’t stand those Bard’s moves. When I had it in play, I didn’t like the fiction they created. Not the bard I picture in my mind, at leats. I prefer a lot more The Bard playbook by David Guyll. Same thing for the Druid, and his shapechange move.

    EDITED to add some details.

  3. Setting aside the fictional/narrative issues for a moment, one of the things that is mechanically interesting about the Bard is that their Arcane Art and Metal Hurlant moves can ‘ricochet’ to additional targets. This makes them high-risk, high-reward moves, where you can add crazy buffs or do a bunch of damage, but you can just as easily turn those effects back on the party. Basically, Bards add + Epic, usually (but definitely not always) in favor of the group.

    Fictionally, I do think they work best if your setting and theme are heroic in an exaggerated way, like the stories the Bard probably tells. When the Bard narrates their actions, you can almost imagine it as through the lens of their storytelling, exaggerating the force and impact of their song to thrill the audience. This has real mechanical effects, but you can play a bit of a cognitive juggling game where maybe that’s not what ‘really’ happened, yet the morale from the energy of the Bard’s contribution nevertheless turned the battle in your favor.

    I like to think of it as a ‘quantum suspension of disbelief’ where you simultaneously accommodate multiple realities in the flow of the story, in addition to acknowledging the mechanical flow/play of the game outside the fiction. Not everybody enjoys that kind of approach, but it’s an interesting way to think about it if you want to escape the collapse of the move function.

  4. The actual move just says when you weave a performance into a basic spell so you could do that in combat, but I’d make you defy danger to get time/position to do so.

    Conversely, doing it at camp would not require this because your in good a fictional position.

    Fundamentally I think the issue is that breaking out your guitar in combat and weaving a basic spell is kinda crazy. If your Bard wants to do it they are probably defying danger to do so.

    I don’t know what they were talking about in DR either. The starting bard doesn’t shoot lasers from their guitar… Metal Hurlant doesn’t even really do that. You could color it that way, in the fiction, if you wanted but there’s nothing I’m those moves that says Final Fantasy music lasers to me.

  5. I think that removing the Bard’s ability to use AA during combat not only makes the move itself practically useless, but also takes away the Bard’s entire purpose during combat.

    1) Arcane Art has 4 abilities: +1d4 damage forward, Heal 1d8 HP, Remove a mental enchantment, and +2 instead of +1 to the next aid. The healing and removal of enchantments can be done outside of combat, but are far more common to be a split-second response mid-combat. The damage and Aid buffs would be something that are almost useless outside of combat. “While we make camp, i give everyone in the party +1d4 forward to damage” makes very little sense fictionally, and mechanically even less so. The Aid buff is much the same.

    2) The Bard already has 3 abilities to be used outside of combat (or immediately before): Port in the Storm, Charming and Open, and Bardic Lore. If Arcane Art cannot be done in combat, then the bard is practically useless during combat. With a d6 damage die and 6 base HP, it’s not very good at dealing or taking damage. It is unarguably CHA based, but with the starting gear options of Rapier and Bow, DEX is could definitely be important.

    Also, it has 6 starting bonds, 2 more than everything else, and twice as many as the Wizard. That could help to Aid or Interfere, but all of this together combines to make it purely a secondary character during combat, with its most helpful ability being providing a d6 damage at range or giving someone a +1 to hit.

    Both rulings almost entirely take the power from the Bard, especially during such a charged situation as combat.

  6. If the Bard doesn’t engage directly with enemies that are otherwise occupied, I see no problem with using AA in combat. In my campaign we had a dark, brooding Bard that played a dirge violin from hell and it was memorable and awesome. I think they are being too hard on the Bard 🙂

  7. Dylan Green I’m also interpreting the description of the move to mean that the ‘basic spell’ the Bard gets to cast is one that has ONLY the effects that are described afterwards (heal ally, buff damage, dispel enchantment, buff aid). Could others be interpreting the ‘basic spell’ to mean ‘any basic spell, PLUS one of the following effects’? Because that would be just over-powered in my book.

  8. Mark Weis You’re probably right. (Like I said, I haven’t played DW yet, so I don’t have experience about how a Bard would work in combat.)

    I guess where I’m stuck is how in the podcast they seem to be arguing that using AA (or possibly Metal Hurling) in combat = Final Fantasy-style, weird ‘music-makes-enemies’-heads-explode’ thing.

    I’m not really opposed to Bards using AA in combat (so long as it makes sense, ie: they’d have to DD to avoid enemy attacks or fictionally position themselves safely or be protected by another character while playing). The move just doesn’t read the same way as it seems to read for them, and I’m wondering if it’s because I missed something.

  9. Rebecca Her​​ yes those are the only effects a Bard spell can have, RAW. There is no spell list for Bards. There are no other “basic spells” it might be referring to.

    That being said, as a GM I’d be open to other effects if the player could make them work within the fiction we’ve established at the table . Especially if we could come up with compelling stakes for a 7-9 or a failure.

    If we’ve established guitars that shoot lasers are a thing in this world, and we all agree that’s cool and appropriate then I’d allow expanding the concept of “basic spells.”

    Edit: because Metal Hurlant exists I think it would be best to fold this idea into it rather than use it as a “basic spell.” I would be open to other effects, or expanding “basic spells” with advanced moves.

    That being said, I’d take some convincing to want to put that in my game.

    I think the guys at DR might solve their problem by just pushing back on the concept of guitar lasers. They don’t like it, they think it’s silly, they should let their players know and talk it out.

  10. Remember that this is Arcane Art and triggers when you weave a performance into a basic spell. There’s no need to narrowly define art or performance. Maybe you are a silver-tongued orator or a rune master. Maybe you’re sketching spell effects on the cavern wall in pastel chalk or doing a rain dance to call the lightning. The more leeway you give the bard’s player on this move, the better they can weave their performance into the fiction and the more personalize and interesting the bard will be.

  11. At the same time, there is also no reason to let it be stuff that feels wrong or dumb. It’s a conversation and everyone needs to be on board when establishing tone, stakes, and what triggers a move.

    Same with the effects. They need to be compelling and coherent within the fiction as established.

  12. Rebecca Her Well, playing a striking note or shouting with great force (or however the text goes) does trigger Metal Hurlant. Metal Hurlant does deal a d10 (and it’s “sound damage” so i usually allow it to ignore armor) so it can probably vaporize a goblin.

  13. What’s with all the talk about needing to defy danger every time they want to use the move in combat? Its effects are pretty clearly designed for combat situations, and is pulling out a lute really more demanding than pulling out a bow? If they’re toe-to-toe with an axe-wielding maniac (or if there’s another clear and present danger that needs defying) then sure, they’ll need to defy danger just like anyone else would, but as an assumed default any time the move comes up? That seems like a pretty lousy policy.

    Also, if you want an example of what a Bard can look like, try this on for size. There’s even a Metal Hurlant moment in there as a bonus:

    Also also: on the subject of debuffs/curses/antichearleading that Robert Doe brought up, I’m an advocate of letting the Bard Defend using their performances provided they are putting themselves in harm’s way enough to be ‘standing in defense.’ Fictionally, most of Defend’s effects can be explained as distracting the enemy, so it works on that level, and mechanically it gives Hurlant Bards more use for their CON score.

  14. RE: the video – an interesting take. (It also reminded me a little bit of Robert Rodriguez’ film ‘El Mariachi’, probably because of guns and guitars.)

    Maybe the problem people have is that the ‘mythos’ they and their players build for their games just doesn’t have room for those types of Bards?

    Or maybe many Bard players just ‘default’ to making a Final Fantasy gun-guitar-wielder warrior type? I can see how someone playing the Bard who doesn’t understand the class or just wants to be more combat-heavy could kind of… shoehorn the character into that trope. If you’re used to playing that way (being in the middle of the fight, swashbuckling and smashing things up close), or just used to seeing Bards PLAYED that way, it might be hard to think outside of the box.

    I’m really just trying to understand how the DR guys got to the conclusion that they don’t like the Bard because of how he never fits into the genre of the game.

  15. If a player chooses the bard playbook, that should be a flag to the GM that music/art should play an important role in the fiction as part of being a fan of the characters. The GM plays an important role in make the bard work in the fiction.

    The other players should also be asking themselves, what can I do in the fiction to aid the bard’s performance.

  16. James Etheridge​​ makes a good point. Using AA in combat shouldn’t require a Defy Danger every time. If your in a position to use it, then do so.

    In my mind, breaking out a guitar in the middle of a swordfight and playing a song is gonna be hard and you are better off doing it off to the side or from a distance. Getting into that position is gonna probably be DD. But its because of the ficton not because the move is written poorly or thematically inappropriate.

  17. Marshall Miller The part about the players assumes your players are experienced enough or have the motivation to or even KNOW that they can/should be weaving their characters stories together, teasing out each others’ backstories, and giving each other opportunities to have their characters shine.

    If you’re playing with newer players, they might not know how to do that, or be too focused on getting their own characters straight to try and do it. I certainly didn’t.

    Still, if any system is going to teach players how to do this, it’s DW.

  18. Dylan Green I’m beginning to think this is the real reason some people don’t like the Bard. It’s not the mechanics of the class, but how the players/GM imagine or describe the mechanics playing out in the narrative.

  19. What I don’t understand is why people assume the bard is just a normal, non-magical musician, and try to limit their abilities to what music can do in real life.

    If you have a setting where wizards can shoot fire and lightning by chanting magic words, why couldn’t a bard do the same by playing magic music? Heck, maybe they’re even using the same magic, and the bard just sings the incantations instead of speaking them.

  20. The bard in my group plays his character wonderfully. He didn’t take metal hurlant, but he is fantastic at buffing the party. He has since went past 10th level and is almost at the end of his new Dashing Hero class. But in my group’s eyes he’s still our lovable bard. I think they are a great support/social playbook. And metal hurlant itself is great because I took it as a multiclass move for my barbarian (FUS…. RO DAH!!!!).

    I still have yet to play my Jack Black inspired bard. Someday…

  21. I’m not sure how I feel about bards in general and the DW bard in particular. However, I do have a pretty cool bard anecdote. DW was my wife’s first and only tabletop RPG. She chose Bard because she wanted a healer and didn’t like the Cleric or Paladin, didn’t care about music at all. She decided that her “instrument” would be the “pipes” but that meant a pipe for smoking. Her arcane art is vape tricks.

  22. I LOVE Discern Realities, but I think Jason Cordova is way off here. There is nothing in the Arcane Art move that says that the performance has to be musical or done with a musical instrument and by thinking that it does it may be the sticking point that is messing up his view of what the bard could be .

    When I first read the Bard playbook, I was struck that it talks about telling stories and being an orator and then the Arcane Art move only mentions “performance.” To my mind, that meant that a performance could be anything and that can lead to some really cool places. In a one shot that Adam Koebel ran that I watched shortly after picking up Dungeon World, he says as much. Those couple of sentences spoken by him completely opened up my understanding of the game.

    These playbooks are archetypes, but it is the fluff and detail that the players apply to them that makes them characters. And it was that that got me to rethink the Bard and turn it from a class that I always brushed off into one that I wanted to play. Because, now I saw the Bard that I would play as a gifted orator, a political agitator, and pamphleteer. He’d be like one of the people that I saw standing at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London, who was gifted at inciting and motivating the crowd. His words could translate into, potentially violent action. That sounded like it would be so fun to play.

    As I noted in my post about my new appreciation of the Bard in my post to The Dungeon World Tavern, I could now totally see the Bard using Arcane Art in a skirmish with the town guard for instance:

    I was thinking of Bard almost as politician or social revolutionary. “Brothers! Are we going to let the king’s guard tell us where we can go? We are free men! Use your swords and exercise your FREEDOM!” It would be so over the top and fun and, I think, less intimidating than playing the classic stereotypical singing Bard.

    I just watched some of the later episodes of Daredevil on Netflix last night, and I noticed that The Kingpin almost always talks during his (violent) fights. It is like he is pumping himself up. That totally fits with the orator/agitator Bard. And it would be so fun to role play during a battle.

    Aaron Griffin pointed out that they had a bad motivational speaker Bard in one of their games and it sounded hilarious. I want to play that Bard too!

    And now that I see Marshall Miller’s ideas, the bard may become my favorite character.

    And sure, it takes some creativity to drift the basic playbooks away from the standard fantasy tropes. However, the more that I read those playbooks, the more I realize that these tropes aren’t hard-coded into the playbooks themselves, but are instead our own projections onto them.

    There is a lot of wiggle room in how the playbooks are interpreted. To get to your question on how to get your players to think of them differently, Rebecca Her, I think you just need to introduce the moves or the character details in the way that Adam Koebel does. Say that the “art” can be anything, it doesn’t have to be a song (though it could), it could be a speech, or a chalk drawing of runes on the ground, or a graceful series of rhythmic dance movements around the battlefield that bends space and warps reality. It can be whatever they want their character to do that would look cool!

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