Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Articles of Dragon: "Singing a New Tune"

Last week, I said I was going to be starting a new series of posts relating to Dragon magazine. Today, I kick off that series, "The Articles of Dragon." I wanted to do this series because, while I was re-reading this venerable gaming periodical for "The Ads of Dragon" series, I frequently found myself looking over many articles that I remembered fondly from my younger days. Back in ancient times, before the Internet, the monthly arrival of Dragon was an important part of many gamers' lives, as it was one of the main sources of information about the wider hobby. Just as importantly, it was a place where we could read other gamers' ideas, some of which were good enough that we adopted them into our home campaigns.

A good case in point is Jeff Goelz's "Singing a New Tune," which appeared in issue #56 (December 1981) of Dragon. The article presents a single-class bard for use with AD&D rather than the multi-class monstrosity included at the end of the Players Handbook. At the time, never having read Doug Schwegman's original bard from Strategic Review #6 (February 1976), the idea of a bard that didn't require levels in fighter and thief beforehand was nothing short of revolutionary. In addition, Goelz's bard had a high degree of intellectual coherence. For example, his bard could cast illusionist spells in addition to druid spells, which made sense for a class of wandering performers. However, this new bard's selection of both types of spells was limited to those that made sense for the class. No longer, for example, could bards cast healing spells.

Goelz's bard is probably my favorite version of the class. If I ever decided to include them in my Dwimmermount campaign, I'd be sorely tempted to base them on this one. The PHB bard never made much sense to me and, in any event, they were unduly powerful given the archetype they were supposed to represent. I only ever allowed one PHB bard into my campaign back in the day and it did not end well. Later on, I readily used Goelz's bard and it proved a popular option for many players.

28 comments:

  1. Anyone else remember "Be Aware and Take Care" and the controversy it started?

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  2. This is largely the direction that the bard took over later editions. In fact, the 3rd edition bard is actually much closer in spirit to the 1st edition illusionist (still my favorite class) than the 3rd edition illusionist.

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  3. I had someone play a Dragon #56 Bard in my last campaign. I thought it worked pretty well. I ruled that the spells had to be cast as song (and therefore unique to the class) and I said I would give a bonus for any impromptu song/doggerel made by the player when casting.

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  4. Castles & Crusades has my favorite version of the bard. I like the fact that the C&C bard does not cast spells, is not primarily a wandering musician, and is more of a warrior who inspires his allies with word and with song.

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  5. I played this class once back in high school; I *loved* it. This and the revised monk (both were in Best of Dragn vol 3) completely replaced the original classes for us.

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  6. lige says "I said I would give a bonus for any impromptu song/doggerel made by the player when casting. "

    Shades of Piers' Blue Adept.
    Probably the only thing I really liked from that series.

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  7. The dual classed AD&D bard was crap. Do it right as a proper class or don't bother. I'd go with a Bard combining stage magic sleight of hand, a bit of swashbuckling fighter and some spell like buffing/debuffing abilities based on oration, songs or music.

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  8. A little before 1981 I had created my own bard class, based very much on the set-up for the Houri class from White Dwarf (which I wish somebody would do a similar thing like you are doing with Dragon).

    More music based (less warrior poet I guess) skills and abilities, and the eventual magic they could do would be of a more musical, whimsical nature. In my recently ended, two year Night Below campaign one of my players ran this class of mine and just loved how it complimented his vision of the character more than the standard one.

    Still, part of me would like to see the official 1st edition bard in one of my campaigns just because I've never had a player run that version.

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  9. I think I understand where Gygax was coming from with his multi-class monstrosity of the AD&D Bard featured in the back of the PHB. This was a very inept and a hamfisted way of adapting a follower of Wotan (or Odin) from the Norse mythology. Wat struck me abou Norse Gods was that each and every male one of them is really a representation of a professional soldier and a combat veteran, each deity is a representation of a distinct soldier personality type at a different age/stage of masculine development. Wotan is a patron of bards. He is a middle age warrior who has lost an eye and has suffered for his wisom by being hanged upside down from the tree of life as a fool. He has recovered from the edge of death and hell by becoming a sort of trickster witha twisted sense of humor. Legend has it that Wotan takes on many disguises and that he likes tio sneak up on comfortable middle class men and drink with them, exceot that Wotan sikes his own magic into the cups of the suburbanites that he is drinking with. Those imbibing of Odin's water (for that is what it is before the Odin's touch), turn into POETS and they get wanderlust. And they get the urge to leave behind their homes and families, and to wander the world as soldiers and criminals and to write songs about the greatness of Wotan, and their own exploits and their lifestle. So, you get a bardic charcater, who is a sort of a Fighter/Thief (in D&D terms) with the gift of the gab and the stand up improvisation. Ergo we get the multi-class chimera from Gygax as well as some sort celtic "colleges" more appropriate to Druids than to followewrs of Norse Gods (not quite the Barbarians of the UA).

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  10. Anyone else remember "Be Aware and Take Care" and the controversy it started?

    Yes! I also hope to see writeups of the 45 articles on the BEST way to calculate falling damage.

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  11. This is probably the best iteration of the bard in the development of D&D. This article convinced me to buy Evangeline Walton's beautiful retelling of the Mabinogion. I can't recommend her work highly enough.

    I think the original bard in the Strategic Review was a mash-up of the Celtic, Norse, and Occitan traditions. I would not be unreasonable for a class "splitter" to separate these three traditional figures into three classes (bard, skald, troubadour?).

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  12. James, I've been eyeballing this particular iteration of the Bard as an NPC class.

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  13. What was the big deal about "Be Aware and Take Care"?

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  14. Brooser Bear --

    The Irish filidh (poet with foretelling powers) was indeed supposed to be a warrior (but never a murderer!) who accompanied, entertained, and counseled his lord during the fighting season and the boredom of winter; and during the non-fighting season spent time on his farm; or traveled around with his band of bards, reciters, musicians, harpers, and other entertainers, making poetry and collecting gifts in exchange. They were highly educated in several fields, and were also held to have either holy or magical powers in many fields.

    Gygax's level names and "colleges" were an exact carryover of filidh school grade-names, roughly corresponding to year of schooling at an Irish monk school. (Even today, the idea is that you get a doctorate after 7 years of higher education, the same length of time it took to get to become a teacher/master in Irish religious studies, brehon law, or filidh studies.)

    IIRC, the druid level names were stolen from the Irish monk school grades. (Which is really really hilarious, because the monk school advancement was partially based on how much Scripture you knew by heart, as well as other theological and liberal arts knowledge. So Gary was thinking of druids as being St. Kevin of Glendalough, with a birdnest built on his arm.)

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  15. Oh, and of course a filidh's dignity demanded that he always ride a horse; he had many obligations to various people and a whole section of the law always regulating his actions; and there were various typical Irish things that he would and wouldn't do, for the sake of respect for his art and his powers, and even to keep them from leaving him. The huge amount of fencing-in by this would be the logical way to control a "super bard".

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  16. Went looking... my recollection of the druid level names was incorrect, or drawn from some obscure article. Man, my memory's not what it used to be.

    The flipside of the filidh (highly educated, rich, of high caste, with big political responsibilities) was the bard, who might be free or unfree, and who might or might not be from a family of bards, and who might or might not be part of a band of some filidh or another bard, and might or might not be educated. They dealt with people who weren't as rich and powerful, and so they weren't as bound by laws. Some were held to have powers, but not every bard. We really don't know a lot about Irish or Scottish bards of this rank.

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  17. Oh, here you go. Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (ie, filidh for the most part). I'll try and find Joyce for y'all too.

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  18. Going to be using this version of the bard in my next AD&D campaign.

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  19. And if a Bard could cast illusion spells why bother with an illusionist? When I think bard I think Bulgarian BattleSinger. There was a woman in a Eurovision Song Contest. She was amazing and you could literally believe that she was the sort to sing as her fellow bulgarian horsemen rode into a village and butchered all the villagers.

    A Bard should provide Combat bonus magics. They should have weird abilities like:

    Battle Hymn (+1 to hit bonus for 1 round per level for friendly warriors)
    Fearful Harmony (-1 to morale of opponents in range of singing)

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  20. I think that different character classes would be expressed differently in different cultures. In my campaign I have addressed this issue with a skill system. A Nordic Skald, and Irish filidh and a Bulgarian Battle Singer would all be Bards in my campaign, but they would have different skillsets available to them, and of course, would be followers of different mythos. I think with regards to the Filidh, they are a cultural extension of the historic Celtic Druids, whom Romans have eradicated as an institution. It appears that some of their traditions and social funtions (but not theology) have outlived the Romans, and possibly entered the (Christian(?)) Irish Monk-Schools via Syncretism. Keep in Mind that Historic Druids practiced human sacrifice, typically burning the powerless and unwanted (retarded peasants whom the village felt they can get rid of with minimum cost), burning them alive in a Wicker Man ritual, when a condemned criminal could not be found. I don't think that the ancient Druids were necessarily evil, but neither they were these Nature Children reciting poetry and picking up after squirrels in sacred groves. Survibvibng accounts of Druids by Romans (Pliny among them), decribed Druids as an erudite power elite, highly educated and highly indoctrinated into theology of reincarnation in a religious tradition which had no writing, so Druids memorized their sacred texts, which were passed verbally from generation to generation. I think that Julius Caesar may have also commented on the Druids strong beliefs in reincarnation, but he viewed these beliefs as a prodict if indoctrication, which made for dedicated and fanatical figters, who were not afraid to die. Kinda very modern take on the Druids from a very anciet Roman. Anyway, sorry about digression.

    Needless to say, AD&D did not serve up historically accurate Monks, Druids, or Bards. I was able to do so, quite easily, via afore mentioned skill sets. Initially I brought those in to force Magic Users to seek ways besides the typical - Magic-Missile - Sleep- Fireball - Finger of Death GARDEN PATH. When I got a player, who wanted to play a Monk, I gave him a choice - Do you want to play a Shaloin Martial Artist? A Christian Monk (if so, which order fascinates you the most?)? A Bhuddist Monk or an Ancient Hndu Yogi?
    He wanted to play a Zen Bhuddist. I had no Zen Monks, so I had to write the Monastery into the campaign and then do research and modify the AD&D Monk class and give player several tables of different skills to pick from as he grows in levels.

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  21. At least I found the article online...

    I would caution James that many reading this new series might wish for excepts and greater context only afforded by access to the original article. This could lead to some backlash to those that are enjoying the renaissance, but don't have access too, or ambition for, old Dragon magazines.

    Just a thought.

    Much thanks for bringing this article to the light though!

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  22. Great idea for a series; I think you'll get lots of interesting reactions.

    FS said: "I also hope to see writeups of the 45 articles on the BEST way to calculate falling damage."

    http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2009/06/oed-environment.html

    You're welcome! :-)

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  23. I still think that the best version of the bard is the one from AD&D 2nd Ed. It's the only one that makes sense IMHO in the usual D&D fantasy world: a traveller/adventurer/jester/performer/singer that goes from town to town as an entertainer and a source of news and stories from afar. Someone like this would need to pick some varied skills to survive in a world filled with dungeons and monsters. IIRC the AD&D 2nd. Ed bard had fighter, thief and mage skills, but was useles as a main fighter, thief or mage. But still it was fun to play as "it's own thing". The problem, I think, is the name: "bard" is not the most appropiate as it will lead people to compare it to the real world bards, skalds and troubadours, and the D&D bards are just a different sort of adventurers.
    Historical bards in D&D would be just warriors or thieves (or almost any other class) with a good musical or performing skill. That can be achieved with roleplaying mostly, there's no need for a class.

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  24. I'm looking forward to this series. Your "Ads of Dragon" series was great nostalgic fun, but I can see much more useful bits coming out of this. There are so many buried treasures in the pages of Dragon.

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  26. Always liked this version of the bard class.

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  27. I always liked the 2e bard. I liked the feel that it was just someone who had been around and had picked up a little bit of everything.

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  28. This was the first issue of Dragon I ever purchased, and I remember being thrilled with this version of the Bard (only later to be crushed by Gygax's diatribes against using 'unofficial' classes when playing AD&D).

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