ver the past couple of weeks, I've touched on the design process behind the sorcerer and warlock classes. This week, we turn our attention to the bard.
The bard has always been cast as a jack-of-all-trades. In AD&D, the class started as a peculiar mix of fighter, thief, and druid, before 2nd Edition merged those concepts into a mash-up of spellcasting, thief skills, and fighting ability. Unfortunately, being a jack-of-all-trades has often left the bard a master of none. In a story with a single character, the bard can easily shine as a resourceful, clever hero. In a game with a team of characters working together, the bard too often comes off as second best at everything.
Despite this, the idea of a clever, resourceful hero with quick wit and quicker reflexes is hard to step away from. Though the rogue captures many of the archetypes that those traits bring to mind, there's something about the panache and charisma that a bard can bring into play that makes the class so appealing.
In our design work on D&D Next, we took a sledgehammer to a few of the bard's traditional concepts in order to give the class a clear, unique place in the game.
A bard casts as many spells per day as a wizard or cleric. Rather than being limited by a reduced casting slate, the bard can match any of the other caster classes in bringing magic to the table. A bard's magic focuses on trickery, words of power, and the ability to sway emotions. The class straddles the line between clerics and wizards, though it leans a bit closer to cleric with its access to healing magic.
This is a simple change, but it goes a long way toward leveling the field when comparing the bard to other classes. Rather than forcing the bard to rest somewhere between a caster and a noncaster, we've pushed the class hard toward fully embracing magic.
Bardic music has been replaced with a mechanic called Bardic Inspiration. A bard has a number of uses of this ability each day.
A bard can inspire a creature with a performance or speech, using natural and trained leadership abilities to help others achieve greatness. The affected creature gains a d6 that it can add to any check, attack, or saving throw. The nice thing about this mechanic is its flexibility. Bardic Inspiration can be applied to any situation a party faces, and allowing the recipient character to determine how it is used helps to build the narrative component of a game.
As an example, in my own campaign, a bard once used Bardic Inspiration to help a rogue before she slipped into a chamber teeming with bloodthirsty demon cultists. The bard's player described taking the rogue aside and giving her a pep talk that bolstered her confidence before she snuck into the room. The rogue's player knew that she could use that inspiration die at any point, whether to boost a Dexterity or Charisma check, or to improve the attack roll needed to take out the cult leader. The confidence the bard bestowed on the rogue was reflected in how the rogue's player approached the situation.
Reflecting the feel of the bard as a resourceful hero across multiple editions, we've added two new features to the class. From 2nd level, a bard who doesn't apply a proficiency bonus to a check instead adds half the value of that proficiency bonus. A bard is thus always halfway between skilled and unskilled on any check.
In addition, like the rogue, the bard is a master of certain skills. At different points, a bard picks two skill proficiencies and adds double the character's proficiency bonus to checks involving those skills.
The bard created by this array of class features is a talented leader who combines spellcasting with a flair for skill use. A bard can easily take on the role that a cleric fulfills in a party, or can even stand in for a wizard. Though the class misses out on some of the wizard's signature combat spells, a bard's ability to extend the effectiveness of other characters in combat can easily make up the difference.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.