Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some BX Bardic Considerations Day 1:
The Schwegman Tradition

Originally, I was going to post a BX/LL bard class today, but I decided to hold off on that. As I was getting ready to format my notes and Excel spreadsheet of the bard class tables, it started to occur to me that I wasn't clear on what a bard should really be.

Originally, I was looking at a simple adaptation of Doug Schwegman's bard from The Strategic Review Vol. 2, No. 1. Schwegman's bard is admittedly "a hodgepodge of at least three different kinds, the norse ‘skald’, the celtic ‘bard’, and the southern european ‘minstrel’." In fact, James Maliszewski blames the "muddled" bardic tradition in D&D on Schwegman.

From Schwegman's intro to the class:
"I believe it is a logical addition to the D & D scene and the one I have composed is a hodgepodge of at least three different kinds, the norse ‘skald’, the celtic ‘bard’, and the southern european ‘minstrel’. The skalds were often old warriors who were a kind of self appointed historian whose duty was to record the ancient battles, blood feuds, and deeds of exceptional prowess by setting them to verse much like the ancient Greek poets did. Tolkien, a great Nordic scholar, copied this style several times in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (for example Bilbo’s chant of Earendil the Mariner). The Celts, especially in Britain, had a much more organized structure in which the post of Barbs (sic) as official historians fell somewhere between the Gwelfili or public recorders and the Druids who were the judges as well as spiritual leaders. In the Celtic system Bards were trained by the Druids for a period of almost twenty years before they assumed their duties, among which was to follow the heroes into battle to provide an accurate account of their deeds, as well as to act as trusted intermediaries to settle hostilities among opposing tribes. By far the most common conception of a Bard is as a minstrel who entertained to courts of princes and kings in France, Italy and parts of Germany in the latter middle ages. Such a character was not as trust worthy as the Celtic or Nordic Bards and could be compared to a combination Thief-Illusionist. These characters were called Jongleurs by the French, from which the corrupt term juggler and court jester are remembered today . . .

I wanted to put the Bard into perspective so that his multitudinous abilities in Dungeons and Drageons can be explained. I have fashioned the character more after the Celtic and Norse types than anything else, thus he is a character who resembles a fighter more than anything else, but who knows something about the mysterious forces of magic and is well adept with his hands, etc."
I thought to myself, "Should I, or shouldn't I, work with this 'muddle'?"

I decided to dig a little deeper into the concept, to figure out what I really wanted to do with the bard, and figure out how it fits in the context of a party of adventurers.

Let's start with the historic archetype for the various influences that Schwegman references:
Skalds were generally poets. (The term skald (or skáld) means ‘poet’.) During the Viking Age, they composed for the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders.

Bards were storytellers, most often employed by a patron. Their subjects tended to be the patron's ancestors, or the patron's own accomplishments.

Minstrels were performers (singers/musicians), often (but not exclusively) retained by high society. The songs of the minstrel told of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events (often memorizing and embellishing the works of others). Later, minstrels were replaced in the court by troubadours, and the minstrels became wanderers. The subject of the troubadours was courtly love and chivalry.
The following is from All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, Volume 1 by Ruth A Johnston.
"There were essentially three categories of minstrels, although the dividing lines are fuzzy. Musicians sang and played many different instruments, and, although they were ranked below the noble troubadours, they were at the top of the generally minstrelsy sacale. Next were the jongleurs and mimes, who could do nearly anything else. They did literal tumbling, acrobatics such as headstand and handsprings... others had learned magic tricks while in the Middle East on Crusade... A third group, the smallest, was made up of dropout scholars. They traveled with minstrels and and used their learning to entertain."

"...the common minstrels gained a reputation for thieving and causing trouble."
Okay, so let's see... we have music, and magic, and lore, and thieving... all from different types of minstrels, but all present in Schwegman's original concept.

Then we get to AD&D, and class takes a turn towards the druidic. It's an understandable take. The bards were one of three orders of druids (along with the ovates and the druids, each of which had its own school). The bards knew the songs and stories of the tribe, the ovates were seer/healers, and the druids were philosopher/judge/teachers.

From here, I was going to compare the Schwegman bard to the AD&D bard, but that task is pretty much impossible, since in Schwegman's model, the bard starts as a first level character and progresses from there, while in AD&D, the bard utilizes a funky progression where a 5th-9th level fighter changes to thief who progresses to 4-6th level before becoming a first level bard (and making me wish I'd stopped reading the PHB back in the psionics section).

As somebody who leans to the BX/LL side of things, it's probably obvious why I like Schwegman's original take better than the AD&D version. For one, it's self-contained (there's no class switching, or any of the associated headaches that come with that). Or at least I thought I did until I tried to start adapting it for BX/LL.

When I started to take all of the various abilities afforded the Strategic Review version, it became apparent that the bard really is a jack of all trades and master of none.
The bard is a half-ass thief... literally. Per Schwegman, a bard operates as a thief at half the bard's level, rounded down! And they get no bonuses for striking from behind.

The bard is also half-ass as a workhorse magic-user. At fifth level, the bard has 3 spells (all 1st level) and a MU (per the LBBs) has 7 (4 first, 2 second, 1 third). However, the bard's charm ability is far superior to the MUs, and the bard's saving grace (from a magic standpoint, anyway). For MUs, charm person is a 1st level spell and charm monster is a 4th level spell, and each affects a single target. By comparison, the bard's charm affect all in hearing range (not just a single target), and it also affects undead (though at a penalty). The bard's charm ability is balanced by reducing the bard's chances based on the HD of the creature. That happens for MUs based on the target's saving throw (which increases with HD/level). The use of the bard's charm is limited, though, to a number of uses per day equal to the bard's level. Honestly, though, that ability is worth it's weight in gold, almost like having a bunch of sleep spells.

When you get to combat abilities, the bard can hold his own, fighting and saving as a cleric, able to use any weapon, and allowed to wear leather armor (or magical chain, but this nullifies chances for climbing and moving silently), and not allowed to use a shield. But the lack of really protective armor and the use of a shield kind of makes the bard a little susceptible (AC-wise).
It's not a bad mix of abilities, though you'll likely still need a magic-user and thief in the party. However, in the BX context of party mix, where race is class, the bard is a good second-tier choice (e.g., in place of an elf or halfling). In some ways, this makes the bard almost a better fit for BX. In AD&D (and LL AEC) multi-classing serves generally the same purpose. But those things don't really exist in pure BX or LL. That's sort of where the bard makes sense... to round out the party in the absence of another class with abilities that cross over between the four base classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief).

Okay, so that's a look at the standalone "Schwegman Tradition" for the bard. And I have a BX version of this class written, but I want to hold off on releasing it until I've had a chance to take a look at another bardic tradition that never saw publication by TSR... Steve Marsh's harpist, a class on which he was collaborating with Gary Gygax as a possible replacement for bards ("with a class that actually uses music for magic") to be used in a campaign focused on the planes of reality.

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