5e bards’ missing songs

5e bards might be the best bards ever. I love that they’re full casters. I love their spell list, and their magical secrets ability that lets them learn spells from any other spell list. But they don’t… play that much music.

bardHow much of the time is your bard actually strumming a lute? Bards get song of rest, which heals people up during rests. They get countercharm which disrupts mind-affecting spells. And that’s pretty much it. Hardly worth naming your class “bard”.

The problem with bardic music

I think 5e minimized bardic music because music is a somewhat unwieldy activity. You can’t fight while playing a lute, walk while playing a cello, or talk while playing a pipe. If you want bards to play music during combat, they’re incentivized to skip instruments altogether and specialize in humming. Alternatively, they can deliver 6 seconds of music or speech as a pre-battle buff, as in 3e’s inspire courage or 5e’s bardic inspiration. I don’t find either of these alternatives particularly, uh, inspiring.

I think the fix for bardic music is to keep it out of combat. 5e bards are full casters with decent melee skills: they have plenty to do in combat. I picture adventuring bards putting away their delicate lutes before a fight, but noodling around practically the rest of the time: making burdens lighter, inspiring the discouraged, and making themselves welcome wherever they go.

I propose that the list of 2 bardic songs be expanded. The new songs, like song of rest and countercharm, will require no daily resources to activate: the only cost to playing one song is that you can’t play another at the same time. I intend the bard songs to provide party buffs for 5e’s “exploration” and “interaction” pillars, and I intend the bard to spend pretty much all day playing music.

When I can, I like to minimize the footprint of house rules. Instead of adding these songs as bardic class features, I’ll make them treasures, to be learned from an ancient music book or won in a musical battle against a rival.

New bardic songs

Song rules: You can start or continue songs as an action; playing music requires an instrument, both hands, and your mouth; and you can switch songs at the beginning of your turn. A masterwork or magical instrument adds +1 to the save DC of your bard song effects.

Marching song: While listening to this song, friendly hearers have exhaustion penalties temporarily reduced by one level. (This is meant to represent the general morale benefits of bardic music: it lets people travel further under worse conditions. It might even stave off death – until the bard stops playing.)

Song that soothes the savage breast: Monsters that aren’t already hostile make Wisdom saves vs the bard’s save DC. Identical groups of monsters make one save. On a failure, the monsters are charmed. While charmed in this way, they ignore the party. If the party passes through without making a fuss, the monsters will only dimly remember the interlopers’ presence. The charm ends if the party speaks to the monsters, lingers, gets too close, makes hostile acts, takes anything, or in any other way brings itself to the monsters’ attention. (This is meant to address two of the classic bardic-music problems: a song of stealth is an oxymoron, and making extra noise inside a hostile dungeon is generally a bad idea. Rather than a stealth buff, this song is an alternative to stealth. It’s meant to be less effective than a rogue’s stealth, but more effective than a party’s group stealth check.)

Song of accord: While the bard plays, allies (not including the bard) make all charisma skill/ability checks with advantage against listeners who can hear the song. This is a charm effect and is nullified by countersong. (The bard’s charisma is plenty high already: this song is meant to encourage other characters to help out with interaction scenes. I also think it’s cool if the bard’s countersong class feature is of special use against other bards. Bardic duels are like public debates.)

Song of reputation (college of lore only): The bard glorifies or vilifies a person or organization. Listeners of the bard’s choice make a Charisma save vs a charm effect. On a failure, the listeners’ attitude towards the song’s subject changes: friendly to indifferent or vice versa, or indifferent to hostile or vice versa. At the end of the hour, the audience makes a second save: on a second failure, the new attitude is permanent until changed by other circumstances: it can’t be changed further in the same direction by other songs of reputation. (The fluff for the college of lore talks about using songs to make audience members question their loyalty to kings and priests, but there are no official mechanics that bear that out. It may seem alarming that this is a permanent effect, but a) it can only be used on listeners who are friendly to the bard, and b) this is what bards at for, right? Forget about their 9th level spells. A bard’s primary purpose is propaganda.)

Song of courage (college of valor only): This song inspires heroics in its listeners. Listeners of the bard’s choice make a charisma save against a charm effect (which they can fail voluntarily). On a failure, they gain advantage on saves vs fear and on morale checks for the rest of the day. Furthermore, during this time, they value heroism more than personal safety and act accordingly. The effect ends early if the subject fails a fear save or morale check or takes damage, or if the bard publicly shows cowardice. (The college of valor description talks about inspiring new generations of heroes, but, like the college of lore, doesn’t provide mechanics for it. Hey, wouldn’t this be a fun way to start a campaign? The first-level characters are all the people in the village who failed their saving throw vs song of courage and marched straight into the nearest dungeon.)

11 Responses to “5e bards’ missing songs”

  1. terrenblade says:

    I’m going to steal these for my 3.5 campaign. now I have to think of one to add to the list.

  2. redbeard says:

    Just started, but I’m playtesting a 5e noncasting bard. Start with either fighter or rogue, remove something (for rogue, one of their expertise skills), add bardic music. Then pick bard stuff instead of specializing in fighter or rogue. It’s a work in progress.
    But I will be adding these.

  3. Sean Robert Meaney says:

    Thats because they dont understand what a bard is. Historically The bard is the third of the spiritual classes (as cleric and Druid). They emerged at the beginnings of human culture before the whole ‘patriarch’ phase of spiritual development that took us to clerics and gods. A bard’s music was his or her spells. a bard’s spells would heal you ‘psychologically’, its why your mother sang to you as a child…to make you feel safe. So even if Torok the warrior having been gored by an elephant lays dying and in pain his mother, or wife might sing to him to ease the suffering.
    As things progress the bard becomes someone who sings as the other warriors raid that village where their enemies dwell. Some woman up a tree singing a song to terrify the villagers and make her warriors brave might be mistaken for a witch but she is a spiritual leader and healer. Its why charisma should be the prime requisite for clerics, druids, and bards.
    So if a bard is spellcasting in battle in your d&d game it should be a song, and the spell effect lasts while the bard sings.

  4. Jeff M. says:

    In my 5E game Bards are encouraged to not only play instruments but to also Tell stories, recite epic poems, engage in witty insults and puns. Bards never cast conventionally, they are expected to “weave” their spells into their songs, stories, rhymes, insults, and one-liners.

    Vicious Mockery – becomes an insult.
    Longstrider- becomes a marching cadence.
    Cure wounds – is a soft melody
    Tasha’s hideous laughter – is a yo momma joke.

    I will definitely consider adding these songs to the Bardic repertoire in my campaign.

  5. Argamae says:

    “Soothing the Savage BREAST”… LOL. Made my day! 😉

  6. Bobby Evans says:

    Have you ever thought about making the songs usable by anyone proficient in an instrument so those with the Entertainer background can have a bit of bard flavor too.

  7. paul paul says:

    @Argamae: yeah, you won’t find any misquotes at BoH.

    @Bobby: I’d say that these are magical effects that separate true bards from mere entertainers. However, I’d allow them to piggyback along with a feat that gave bardic multiclass benefits.

  8. J. D. Brink says:

    These are great ideas! I really like bards, though I do want them to do more than sing. I do like that “inspiring” other PCs became a bonus action, and I think dancing around and strumming your lute while everyone else is fighting makes you a big… well, you’re not getting your hands dirty enough. But you should certainly be able to pull off more charm effects, like these here. Nice work. :)

    We actually just had our second session today of 5e and we’re digging it! 5th ed was so cool, we old nerds had to come out of retirement after like 15-20 years!

  9. Kyle says:

    Love the songs my Bard (Lore) in my home game wanted this exact mechanic. I’ve been making sheet printout for them as I add in homebrew content and location/NPC profiles; so here is the Bardic Song sheet I made for her. Thanks for the awesome mechanics. They have been super fun so far. https://twitter.com/kjcillustration/status/653462354290601984

  10. Túrin says:

    Really, really great ideas! I was on the brink of making an entirely new arctype, so called virtuoso, but your solution makes it needless.
    Anyway I’ve got some ideas which can spice of these things more, if you don’t mind to be shared with.

    First of all, the bard would begin with 2 songs of these, and can take up another one when he/she chooses archetype, and still another one at every magical secret. (Alternatively he can learn a new song from another bard as the training rules.
    Secondly there can be more songs, some of them are even rare, or in the mist of legends.

    E.g.:
    Song of adventures:
    The bard can play this song only on a long rest at a fireplace, recalling glorious deeds of heroes of the past. All companions of the bard (up to his level) get an inspiration dice for the whole next day, which can be used first, before any other inspiration. (To make it more role-like, the bard player maybe should have come up with a short story and the companions should explain in the situation, which part of the story inspire them.)

    Song a snoring:
    Can be only used, if the bard knows the sleep spell, and uses the proper slot for it.
    The song is part of the magic, so the bard uses his two hands and mouth. In the first round nothing special happens, but the bard can release the spell the original way. In the second round the spell gets the empower metamagic, and in the third round, it’s maximized, in its effect.

    Etcetc, there can be songs to Otto’s dance, and Tasha laughter, and Enthralling, and so on.

  11. Túrin says:

    Song of the deranged cavalcade:
    One of the most dangerous songs of magic, which can rear its head as a plague no one knows from where or why.
    Sages say it was a song of a legendary but lunatic bard who got his talent from a chaotic entity or some demon of eons.

    Those who hear the cacophonic hubbub so called music must make a charisma save (DC is as the bard’s, who leads the crowd, or if he is absent (which is an option) 8+1/every 10 people acutally playing an instrument in the crowd. On a failure the person is charmed. While charmed in this way, he feels an immediate urgency to grab a musical instrument in his nearby, or if there isn’t any, simply just join the group.

    The group is moving at the pace of walking, with rythmical, dance like steps, singing or babbling constantly and pointlessly. They follow the bard who inititated the song, and leads them anywhere like lemmings (they can try another saving throw, if they would follow him to a deadly place, such as a chasm, but if the make it, the just try to find a roundway, or begin to move anywhere.
    Without the leading bard (who can leave the crowd, if he want), the mass moves randomly, but together.

    Those, who see any musical instrument nearby, try to take one, and join the music, even if they didn’t tried that tool ever. If they need to snatch it from some passer-by’s hand, they try it for one round, but not more, than go back to the float.
    The crowd don’t eat or drink, just walk all day and night, taking up exhaustion levels untill the point they lie on the ground (level 5 exh). At that point they can make another saving throw. If they make, they fall to a half-coma like sleep, and if the environment lets them, wake up normally. If they fall the save, they die of exhaustion.

    The crowd or parts of the crowd can be subject to the countercharm bardic song, but only once/day.

    The persons in the crowd try to defend themselves if attacked, but don’t initiate attack to anybody. To get in the crowds road is as dangerous as to get in the road of a herd of beasts.

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