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The Rhymes and Reels of Bards

My rules variant and titles for the Bard class in the Shadowdark RPG.

By Samuel WrightPublished 4 months ago 3 min read

After reading the new bard class for Shadowdark I was a little disappointed by the lack of magical ability. The Magic Dabbler ability states: “You can activate any spell scroll or wand using Charisma as your spellcasting stat.” This is a good start, it’s flavourful and not overpowered, and Bards are not spell-casters per se, but it is just not enough thematically. The hypnosis ability of the Bard in Shadowdark feels vague and not especially exciting to me. The original rationale for a bard was that they lived in a proto-literate society that needed poetry for mnemonic purposes as songs and poems were used to remember lore and pass it down histories, genealogies, and myths from one generation to another, so I do not see them making much use of scrolls. Based on the myths and legends about bards, I really think bardic music needs to have some sort of magical component to it.

In Celtic tradition a bard had to be able to perform three specific feats while performing to be considered a master of the profession: make an audience laugh, make them cry, or put the audience to sleep. Tales tell of bards writing satires that literally made blisters break out on the face of the subject, leading to the person’s social fall from grace. Orpheus made even rocks and trees dance with his singing and put the giant Argus to sleep with his music.

Expanding on this idea, I have created a specific menu of magical songs that a lucky bard may be able to learn as he or she advances based on legends of bards who used music to perform miraculous feats. Each time a bard rolls hypnosis as a talent, roll 2d6 and learn one of these magical songs instead. If a song is selected again, add an extra use per day or give the bard a +2 on his CHA check to perform that song.

The bard makes a DC 15 Charisma check to affect a target with bardic music. If performing against an audience with multiple people, roll the check versus the audience member who has the highest Charisma score. A song affects anyone in near range who can hear unless noted otherwise.

Roll 2d6

2 Lullaby. Once per day you can perform a lullaby. Anyone who hears this song falls into a deep sleep. Targets will not wake up unless vigorously shaken or yelled at. If left alone, targets will sleep for 1d8 hours.

3-5 Satire. Once per day you can perform a satire. An insult in verse, the song of satire targets a named target who is so insulted and humiliated that it causes blisters to break out across the target’s face and makes the target lose 1d6 CHA for 24 hours.

6-9 Reel. Once per day you can perform a reel. This song makes all creatures listening dance uncontrollably. Each dancer moves in a random direction every turn. Dancers cannot apply their DEX modifier to AC and always act last in a round.

10-11 Tragedy. Once per day you can perform a tragedy. This song makes listeners sob and wail in crushing despair. For the duration of the song, listeners make all checks with disadvantage as their despair makes even the simplest of acts a chore.

12 Comedy. Once per day you can perform a comedy. This song inspires uncontrolled, hysterical laughter. Anyone hearing it will fall into paroxysms of laughter that makes it impossible to do anything but roll on the floor giggling and guffawing. They cannot perform any action but dodge attacks, and they cannot speak or cast spells.


These are based on the traditional Celtic advancement of bards. Alignment is not a factor as bards receive their titles based purely on experience. Historically that meant their years of training, but in an RPG it means their level. Bards were also traditionally given a metal branch hung with bells to announce their entrance to a hall based on their rank. For Doctors of Poetry, the highest rank, the branch was gold. For Noble Stream bards, at levels 8-9, the branch was silver. All lower ranks bore a branch made of bronze.

Level Title

1 Beginner (Ollaire)

2-3 Attendant (Tamhan)

4-5 Apprentice Satirist (Drisac)

6-7 Pillar (Cli)

8-9 Noble Stream (Anruth)

10 Doctor of Poetry (Ollamh)

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About the Creator

Samuel Wright

I am a writer & tarot reader in Oregon. I'm a tabletop RPG fan, love all types of sci-fi & fantasy books, movies, & games, & read voraciously. I write a variety of content, mostly RPG blogs. Tell me where you found me.

Art by Google/Unsplash

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