The Dulcimer is listed in official sources as a tool available for use and purchase [SRD p.70]. However, I cannot seem to find official clarification on whether this refers to a hammered dulcimer or a strummed dulcimer.
Here are relevant observations I've gathered from official sources:
- The Dulcimer weighs 10 lb.—the heaviest instrument on the Tools list by far, suggesting either a large size or construction with dense materials befitting a sturdy many-stringed percussive instrument.
- The Dulcimer costs 25 gp—a price on par with, even noticeably slightly less than, the Lute (35 gp) and Lyre (30 gp), suggesting that crafting a Dulcimer is not substantially more taxing than other stringed instruments. This may be odd, considering that hammered dulcimers have many many strings—sets of which would need to be skillfully tuned to be approximately in unison. The strummed Appalachian dulcimer, on the other hand, only possesses three or four strings and could be cheaper to manufacture.
- A hammered dulcimer requires multiple objects to play: the instrument itself, and mallets. This is peculiar given that every other instrument on the Tools list is self-sufficient (assuming, somewhat reasonably, that the Drum can be played by hand). The strummed dulcimer requires no other objects to play.
Here are relevant observations I've gathered from external sources:
- The hammered dulcimer is period-appropriate for the Forgotten Realms, having a long history and seeing extensive use during the Middle Ages.
- The Appalachian dulcimer, which I use here as an archetype for a strummed dulcimer, is only a couple of centuries old and largely only present in American history. However, it is nonetheless a dulcimer, and I cannot readily discount the possibility that the game designers would abstract out the term "dulcimer" to refer to a broader category of strummed zithers, which have a much longer history across multiple cultures.
My question boils down to:
If RAW provides no direct answer, are there related official materials or historical context from D&D that suggests, by developer intention, whether the officially listed 5e Dulcimer is of the hammered or strummed variety?
This question is arguably not trivial because:
- The action economy of utilizing these two styles may be different.
- The strummed variety only requires one object interaction—equipping the dulcimer—before it can be used.
- The hammered variety requires three object interactions—equipping the dulcimer and equipping the two mallets—before it can be used (or just two interactions with the Dual Wielder feat).
- Proficiency in utilizing these two styles may be different.
- In the real world, the finger dexterity and hand-eye coordination for strummed versus percussive instruments varies. Although skills can transfer, proficiency may not; they are different types of instruments in earnest.
- "Each type of musical instrument requires a separate proficiency." [PH p.154]
- The fact that one instrument entity listed in the rules may encompass two actual instruments presents a possible RAW kerfuffle where one proficiency can be applied to what should be two types of instruments.