For whatever reason, it seems that no one in my campaigns ever chooses to play a bard. I am beginning to wonder if it has something to do with the adventures I construct as our game's DM. These adventures tend to alternate between traditional kick-in-the-door dungeon crawls and mysteries/political intrigues, so that both the kickass warriors and nuanced tacticians get some play. I rarely, if ever, make use of silence spells. It doesn't seem to matter if I play premade adventures (which might theoretically be unbiased against bards) or my own created ones. I guess this lack of bards bothers me because there are so many great literary examples of bard in the books I've read (eg. The Belgariad, The Name of the Wind) that it seems an obvious choice of character. A bard also would seem to solve the "leadership" problem our parties often have. So, it has gotten me wondering, aside from changing the arguably broken mechanics of the Bard in Dungeons and Dragons v3.5, what are the adventure features and bardic bonuses I can incorporate to make my worlds more bard-inclusive or appealing to bard characters?
When a bigger hammer doesn't suffice, intelligent heroes need to use Guile and Cunning... which sometimes includes talking enemies to death.
The concept of the "face" in role playing games exists because of some problems that cannot simply be solved by beating them to death with a bigger hammer. These problems include: getting paid, finding a gig, explaining that "it wasn't us" to outraged authorities, and all sorts of other... politics.
The need for a face, for a bard, is directly proportional to how much political wrangling the party faces. If getting paid is a matter of dropping a head on a desk somewhere and saying "gimmie my money" and... they do, then there is no need for a bard. If there's a entrenched bureaucracy between your (carried) head and that desk; suddenly there is a need for a bard.
Incorporate political problems and consequent bonuses to make playing the face appealing.
Players should be able to earn greater bonuses, avoid some combats, get assistance, and get paid because of the abilities of the face. So long as the group is willing, this can also include scouting duties and other unsavoury "we don't have a big enough hammer to solve this problem" problems. However, since some people play RPGs to get away from politics, this is absolutely something that must be discussed with the group first.
The number one way to make someone want to play any class or race or character option is by showing off some cool ones in your game.
Do you ever include bards? If you do, are they harmless buffoons? I know my Pathfinder play group has a bit of this attitude about bards. You bust in, and the BBEG is some really crazed butch looking villain, and then he... Begins to sing!!! Frequently we'll relax and say "Aw, man, he's just a bard!" This is because the couple bard bad guys we've come across have been pushovers (hint: don't put a solo bard in an adventure - might as well be a commoner).
You should look up some bard handbooks and include some good bards in your game. Friendly and/or enemy. Ideally, a bad guy bard could own them (probably in a courtly intrigue kind of scenario), get them tossed in the dungeon or something. Nothing emulates imitation like success.
(I'll also note that then those bad guy bards drop treasure quite suited to PC bards... A more pecuniary motivation, but one that might sway the gear queens in the group.)
But beyond that, there's a lot of classes and not everyone wants to play certain kinds of characters. Unless you find that people are playing bard-like "face" classes and you're shutting them down, and thus people are thinking "no way I'd play a bard he wouldn't let me do anything," it doesn't really matter that no one plays them...
The bard class is one that ties many more assumptions about the setting and the components of the setting that will be played in than many other classes do.
If you are loooking to entice people to play bards, you should make clear both:
- Where the bard fits into the social fabric of your world.
- How the social fabric of the world will impact game play.
If your game is all about kicking down doors, killing orcs and taking their stuff, many players will be much less interested in playing bards, than if you game is about navigating social scenarios, and gaining access to and guiding the decisions of persons of influence.
A player who wants to play a bard will probably also want to know where the bard fits in the reams in which the game takes place.
- Are you in a psuedo-India where such a character may manifest as a snake charmer?
- Are you in a quest-for-the-holy-grail-esq-England where the bardic instrument is a pair of coconuts?
- Will the bard be playing for nobles?
- Or storytelling in rough dives by the docks?
The D&D rules tend to discourage solving encounters by charisma skills, because doing so may cost X.P., and will probably cost treasure. You can encourage Bards by making it advantageous to use those skills. Adventures where the party has to conserve time and resources can make it useful to have a Bard that can avoid fights, or bring in allies.
Bardic knowledge can be made a really useful skill. Be careful not to have an adventure that requires a successful bardic knowledge roll though, he might not make it. (Unless you want to "roll" in secret to just pretend that the Bard is important but in fact have a predetermined plot, which I personally find a little silly). But you can have bardic knowledge be potentially useful in many situations.
Bards can be socially important. If bards are welcome everywhere, from the seediest bar to the palace hall, that can be useful.
Depending on your campaign, Bards can be mythologically important. Magic rituals might require a bard to participate to be successful. The gate to the ancient underground mountain passage might only open with a certain magic item and a perform check. Epic level arcane magic might be incapable of creating anything, epic divine magic might only be able to create what the god the caster worships has already created, and only bardic magic can create something genuinely new and change the nature of the world.
I've thought about doing a plot line of following the trail of an epic level bard to recover the fragments of his lost epic level magical song. The party could gradually uncover his story in the process, and part of tracking the fragments down would be understanding how he thinks and what he is trying to create, based partly on reading the fragments they do have.
I haven't done it because it's a lot of work, you have to actually provide the lyrics of the song fragments for it to really work, and they need to be really really good. You could plagiarize them from various sources, but they have to sound like one person and fit the plot so it's still a lot of work.
In the unlikely event that you do something like that, it should be pretty natural that the bard in the party would play a key role. Possibly at the end of the campaign he could complete the missing pieces of the song himself.
Maybe your chronicles are not wrong. Maybe your players just don't like to play bards. I use to play Vampire, and I can't some of my fellow players to play a Toreador, for instance. Well, they could play one if it is mandatory, but never on their own will!
Anyway, the easiest way to know why your players don't want to play bards should be to ask them. Maybe you are investing so much effort in being bard-friendly, but it is wasted because they just don't like bards (or being one).
Place the game in a city. Rather than the lone outback with a dungeon in a secluded area full of ruins and ZERO PEOPLE, you place your adventure in the middle of a bustling city. Instead of having to fight and kill some random animals/monsters along the way you have to deal with drunkards, petty thieves, and thugs in an environment where wonton murder is illegal. Instead of wreaking havoc on a forgotten pit genociding all the kobolds inside, you're tasked with protecting the VIP as they go about their daily business. That flower girl may be a potential face-dancer assassin, but you really can't just slaughter her out of hand. Investigating why she woke up last night missing an arm involves more than rolling some intimidate checks to see if any of the maids hide it.
You know, situations where you may want to talk rather than killing everything around you.