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I'm DMing a game in 5th edition for a group of people whose experiences in D&D range from "zero" to "very little." Two of my players, one with no experience and one with about one session's worth, both wanted to play the same class. Because I didn't want to discourage them from the game, I let them.

Here's the problem: they're both bards. Their party is two bards, a rogue, and a paladin. I have no idea how to keep things balanced and running smoothly, especially at the lower levels when they have about two spells between them.

I'm worried they'll be constantly competing for the buffer/charismatic face of the party/primary magic user role, especially in the early levels before they can really pick specifications at all.

What can I do about this? Do I have to make one of them switch classes? Is there anything I can do as a DM to make things easier on them?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do you think things won't run smoothly? What problem are you trying to solve? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Dec 24 '17 at 4:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I'm worried they'll be constantly competing for the buffer/charismatic face of the party/primary magic user role, especially in the early levels before they can really pick specifications at all. \$\endgroup\$ – clevercleric Dec 24 '17 at 4:08
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In short, let them play the same class, but check that they play different characters.

It's not a class problem

You mention that you were worried they might compete for the same role, this is something to look for and you know that already. But this is not so much class problem as it is a player problem. For example, if two players want to be the face, it doesn't matter if they are both bards or if one of them is a bard and the other a sorcerer. It matters that both players are trying to do the same thing at the same time.

What you should look for while they create their characters

Talk to them and check these things:

  • That their personalities are different. Similar background, classes and skills can make vastly different characters if one decides to be nice with others while the other decides to be an egotistical yet compelling thief.
  • Similarily, make sure the way they approach problems is different. One bard may want to talk to people while the other may try to trick or cheat his way out.

For those first two points, look at their backgrounds and what they tell you about their characters.

  • That their specialisation is different. One bard might prefer to be a storyteller or mediator while the other focuses on music. One might favor diplomacy while the other favors performance and sleight of hand.

    For this point, look at their skill proficiencies, stats and spell selection.

  • Make sure they have mechanically different roles. In combat, they would ideally have two different battle plans. One might want to kill while the other wants to facilitate kills or protect his allies.

    For this, check their spell selection and weapon of choice.

Redundant classes is rarely an issue by itself. Especially in 5e, where party (class) balance is less important than it used to be. And especially with a class as versatile as the bard. Even those tools they will have in common work well together; more bardic inspiration just means more opportunities for skill challenges. Being charismatic just means that your social challenges can be more diverse.

In case they play the same character

And finally, in case they play the same character, make sure both know about it and they know what they are getting into. You might find the players will play off of each other's roleplay and become in-universe friends. Or they will incorporate the rivalry into their roleplay. Again, the players need to know what they are getting into.

If they do make similar characters, check up on them after a few sessions. If one of the players feels bad about the situation, you would do better to change the characters before the tension seeps too far into the game.

Personal note

To give and idea of how many similar character can coexist. In a game I am currently in, admittedly a mostly social and investigative one so far, we have 4 face characters. Two of us specializing in intimidate/bluff, the other two specializing in diplomacy and sweet-talking. What happens is that one character takes the lead while the other one helps on the roll or go for secondary tasks.

For example, an indimidator might try to get info out of a witness by force while the second character tries a bluff to pressure the witness. Vastly different backgrounds in the two helps for that. One of the charactet is ex-military while the other is a quick-witted rich kid.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not a D&D example, but I once played in a Shadowrun game where both I and another player had separately built social "face" characters. I had built a very "noble" runner, and he was an expert lier and con artist. The dynamic between the two characters was some of the best RP I've ever had. +1 for "same class, different characters & specializations". \$\endgroup\$ – Bobson Dec 25 '17 at 10:27
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Not only are two bards amazing in a party, but it's often hard to turn down extra bards!

To tackle the more important part of your question, however, many books have been published that have several official subclasses for the Bard to take. Having one bard pick one subclass while the other bard picks another can more than differentiate their play styles.

What is even more, a Bard in and of itself is such a skilled class in nearly everything it does, no two or three bards in the same party could be built the same unless they tried. They are the single most multitasking class of them all and your group will love having more than one of them to get them out of sticky situations.

Encourage them to talk to you and each other about how they want to build their Bards and see if they have different play styles.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer should focus more on the social aspects of the situation, since that's what the question is about. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Dec 24 '17 at 10:22
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I have personal experience on playing a class when someone else does the same class, and I have experience on having different classes, and people barging onto my characters forte.

In both of the cases, its the worst feeling when what your character is supposed to be doing, someone else comes in and steals the spotlight. So my advice would be to make the players thoroughly discuss what each of them should do, without stepping on each others toes.

In your case of bards, choosing different kind of proficiencies, expertises, spells, colleges would be the way to go. Make them compensate each other, such as for skill proficiencies one chooses intimidate, bluff and acrobatics, while the other does diplomacy, arcana and nature (these are just examples).

However, if the players are ok with it, their characters can be pretty similar. I strongly encourage for you to have three way didcussion about it.

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Give them some gentle experiences where two similarly-skilled bards could be problematic. Escalate until it’s challenging but not overwhelming. Let them experience the problem. They’ll work it out. Or you may discover that they’re enjoying themselves, and it’s not a big problem for you.

Give them an encounter with two experienced bards who started out too similarly skilled. Oh, the tales they will tell about what went wrong, and how they learned to divvy up their roles.

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