Bards are jacks-of-all-trades, dabbling in a little of this and a little of that. Despite their theme of versatility, many of the core bard abilities focus on music and performance. But not every artist is a musician or orator. The purpose of this series is to provide ideas and options for players who want to explore bards through other artforms.
The first entry of the series provides optional rules and aesthetic suggestions for players who wish to play a non-musical bard. Subsequent entries in the series will present new non-musical bard subclasses as well as new spells, items, and backgrounds for the non-musical bard.
Affected Class Features
Not all bard features are affected by the options in this article. Only the following features are re-flavored. Both the GM and the player must be flexible with these features because they may not be as intuitively spontaneous as musical performance, but in the end, enjoying the character you’re playing and story you’re telling is most important:
- Bardic Inspiration. Your character utilizes an art form other than music or oratory to inspire your allies. This could take the form of rapid drawings or sketches, culinary performances, performance art, improvisational poetry or comedy, or even providing party members with pre-made treats or trinkets. Regardless of the way you describe the feature, it works the same way mechanically as it does for musical bards. For ease of gameplay, GMs shouldn’t impose any additional hardships on bards using these aesthetics than they do musical bards. Perhaps an ally discovers they still have one of the bard’s homemade cookies, glances at a hilarious caricature the bard drew, or draws the hood of the cloak the bard sewed for them.
- Song of Rest. Instead of performing soothing music, the bard uses some other method to revitalize their allies. They might mix elaborate wellness drinks, feed their allies delicious treats, or paint soothing landscapes.
- Countercharm. Instead of singing or giving a speech to disrupt mind-influencing effects, the bard uses a different artform. They might craft the words to a story in their mind as the battle continues and display it with a visual illusion. Or they could perform a rousing dance or feat of agility to pull their allies’ minds out of the influence, such as juggling, sword swallowing, or fire eating.
Non-Musical Bard Concepts
The following are character concepts you can use to re-flavor your bard. It is possible for a character to employ more than one art form for their bardic abilities (GM’s discretion), just as musical bards can use more than one instrument in their performances.
- Artisan. Your bard abilities relate to an artisanal craft, such as knitting, candle-making, whittling, or perfumery. You might inspire your allies with the spiffy clothes you made or the nostalgic scents of candles you light in battle. Or perhaps you whittle humorous or astounding carvings. Or you might sharpen their minds with empowering scents of essential oils.
- Chef. Your bard abilities focus on culinary artistry. You might prepare sophisticated foods in your downtime and distribute them to your allies. Or perhaps you cook for them in between battles, keeping up their strength. You might even perform an on-the-fly culinary display during battle, rapidly chopping vegetables, filleting fish, or lampooning your foes with fruits carved into shapes to make them look bad.
- Fine Artist. Your character’s artistic bard abilities utilize a permanent artform, such as painting, drawing, or sculpture. You sometimes prepare these during your downtime, then display them during battle. Other times, you create rapid works of art on the fly, drawing on your sketch pad, shaping the earth into a sculpture (as if with a cantrip but without requiring an extra action), or creating a temporary image with an illusion.
- Writer. Your bard abilities center on written but not necessarily performed prose, fiction, or poetry. Perhaps you are writing the story of the campaign during downtime and distributing to your allies, providing them with inspiring words to recall later. Or maybe you are furiously scribbling the events of a battle while lobbing spells, thrilling your companions with the knowledge that their actions are being immortalized. Or maybe you are skewering your foes with your writing, holding up the most critical parts when your enemies are vulnerable.
Alternate Starting Equipment for Non-Musical Bards
Core bards have the following starting equipment:
- a rapier, (b) a longsword, or (c) any simple weapon
- (a) a diplomat’s pack or (b) an entertainer’s pack
- (a) a lute or (b) any other musical instrument
- Leather armor and a dagger
A non-musical bard likely needs to start with different equipment. Weapons and armor are unaffected, and the diplomat’s pack or entertainer’s pack should be versatile enough to cover most concepts. But instead of a lute or another musical instrument, the non-musical bard chooses a tool appropriate to their concept, such as cook’s utensils or painter’s supplies.
Alternate Starting Tool Proficiencies for Non-Musical Bards
Core bards start with proficiency in their choice of three musical instruments. As an optional rule, non-musical bards can take three tools other than musical instruments instead, but they cannot take any musical instruments with these three proficiencies. The tools they select must relate to the aesthetic of their bardic inspiration.
For example, a culinary bard might take proficiencies in brewer’s tools, cook’s utensils, and an herbalism kit. An artisan bard focused on wood art might take proficiencies in carpentry tools, woodcarver’s tools, and tinker’s tools. There won’t always be three tools that clearly fit a particular concept, and in that case, the player should work with the GM to select appropriate tools.
A core bard can use a musical instrument as their spellcasting focus. A non-musical bard can use a single type of tool they are proficient in (one of the tools they selected for their tool proficiencies) as their spellcasting focus.
Optional Spells for Non-Musical bards
The following spells can be added to the spell list for non-musical bards. Given that bards must know each spell they cast, and this is small list of spells, it is not unbalanced to add these to the list rather than replacing existing spells. These spells are added to the bard spell list for your character, but you must still select them from your spells known, and they presumably relate to the bard’sfocus. A bard who sculpts might take mold earth, fabricate, and creation. The player should work with the GM to choose other spells that fit the non-musical bard concept they envision. The spells below are just a sample of potential spells that might incorporate into some non-musical bard concepts.
|1st||detect poison and disease, purify food and drink|
|7th||magnificent mansion, simulacrum|