I believe the last–and only–time I played a bard was way back in AD&D 2nd edition. The character didn’t last long. He didn’t die or get killed. I simply retired him and brought in a character I was more familiar with. At the time, I was just trying to play something different. I couldn’t really get into the character, though. As a result, I haven’t played one since. Variations of the bard in 3.x, Pathfinder, and 5E have sparked my interest, but I still have yet to play any of those.
Now, here I am, neck deep in the 2d20 Conan RPG from Modiphius and I find myself staring straight into the unwavering gaze of a bard. Conan uses Archetypes in place of classes and you won’t find the Bard in the core book. Instead, the Bard Archetype is listed in the Conan the Barbarian supplement.
The Conan Bard Archetype is Different from Others
Having gone through the core book and the Thief and Mercenary supplements so far, I was under this odd impression that I understood more or less how the Modiphius team was doing things when it came to Archetypes. Both the other supplements I mentioned added new Archetypes, but those were essentially variations or subsets of the main Archetype. For Mercs, it even gives a table to roll on for the random character generation, if you originally rolled Merc when it comes to the alternate archetypes.
In the Barbarian supplement, however, these alternate Archetypes are meant to replace choices including scholars, archers, and mercenaries. One of those key Archetypes presented as a new option is the Bard.
The Bard in the Conan RPG is presented in the same format as other Archetypes. There is a description, mandatory and elective skills, a Talent based on the mandatory skills, and gear. Right when you get to gear, however, you start to notice an immediate difference. The first item provided is “Fine suit of clothing worth +2 Gold above normal” and the weapon choice actually suggests which weapons are more likely. This kind of detail is a little more than what I have grown accustomed to seeing in the Archetype descriptions so far.
Beyond those gear options given to the bard, there is what I believe is a new section. I don’t recall seeing this elsewhere in the Archetypes I have seen. Here, under the bard description, there is a section for Privileges & Duties. This includes how killing a bard is considered bad luck or how bards are welcome most places they go or expected to do certain things. I think it’s interesting and I can totally see this being added to other Archetypes. They add a bit of flavor and even hook, but nothing mechanical really. It is definitely something to set the Archetypes apart in a way other than description, skill choice, and gear.
How Magical is Your Bard?
I have read and heard from people in D&D and Pathfinder how, at least in their opinion, the bard is the most powerful/underrated class. I’m not saying whether those folks are right or wrong. I honestly don’t play one and couldn’t tell you how to min-max or make one most useful. I know they have a wide range of abilities and–in a way–are supposed to be jacks of all trades, master of none. They mix blade, personality, and magic.
Here, the bard Archetype gets a description, some skills, gear, and potential story hooks. However, the book adds two new talent trees–one specifically for the bard. Interestingly, unlike the other Talents I have seen added in other supplements for the 2d20 Conan game, the book recommends these talents be restricted to those from the North, teaching outsiders only under extraordinary circumstances, even limiting Northerners not in their Homeland from learning them. I find this even more interesting after the part on the substitute Archetypes being suitable to use for people from other Homelands and modifying the Archetypes to fit.
The Talents provided for the bard Archetype begin, appropriately enough, with Skald. It requires Expertise in both Persuade and Lore, granting you Tradesman and Vagabond Talents in barbaric/nomadic lands. Beyond that, there are three paths for the Talent Tree: Fair, Trickster, and Wise. Each of these is a combination of theatre and people skills, really–not magic.
So, while the Conan Bard is not magical, they can accomplish useful feats that are what I remember the bard originally being described to me as–they know things, they inspire people, the cast doubt upon their foes–they aren’t sling around spells and singing down doom.
I’d Play One
I mentioned earlier that I’m interested in playing at least one or two variations of the bard from more recent versions of my first roleplaying game experienced. Just as quickly, perhaps moreso, I would lean into playing one of these types of bards. These seem based more off the traditional bard of history, which should be no surprise considering the game is based in Howard’s work. At the same time, I like the additional level of customization. I want to be careful to steer clear of limiting options too much, which was something I certainly recall from earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons. I also like the invitation from the developers to customize these things and look forward to seeing some more examples of the more detailed Archetypes in the future.