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Busting Stereotypes Part 6 – The Bard

They’re dandies in fine clothing, carrying the obligatory lute, and always ready to give a chipper song.  Sure, they’ve not made their way in with 4th Edition, but word on the street has them coming in the PHB II.  That’s right folks, I’m talking about the good old bard, one of the most maligned classes in all of D&D.  However, bards are incredibly useful and don’t have to suck quite as badly as people think!

Of course, the first thing you need to do before playing a bard is make sure there’s plenty of role play opportunity for your character.  Bards tend not to excel in combat, and players get bored inspiring their companions alone, so if you’re playing a hack & slash type campaign, take my advice.  Play a rogue instead.

However, if you’re fortunate enough to have a heavy role play campaign, the bard can be a very useful class.  With the typically high charisma, they make great diplomats.  The 3rd Edition bards had healing spells that could serve a party well also.  Bards aren’t completely useless in combat either, though to say their useful is a bit of a stretch.

Yep, but bard is a pretty cool class when played to it’s potential.  But the stereotype is that of a performer who seems to want to play his lute more than anything else.  So, how do you stay true to what a bard is good with, without playing the stereotype up to the hilt?  Easy.  Storyteller.

Most of the bards abilities are based on CHA.  By making him a storyteller, you eradicate the dreaded instrument they typically lug around.  He also has more chance to interact with people, possibly encouraging a DM to give them a plus to his bardic knowledge check.  In addition to that, he may get synergistic bonuses to diplomacy, bluff, and intimidate!  In short, the bard can be the “mouth” of the party!  He’s definitely better suited to it than the arrogant wizard who thinks that everyone should kiss his feet anyways, right?

His dress can be muted, and he can carry a typical adventurers equipment. Perhaps he has multiclassed as a fighter or something, and therefore has some skill with a sword that even the average bard doesn’t have.  So, what people would see is a man in regular clothes, carrying a sword and regular gear.  Maybe some leather armor.  NPCs would think “low level fighter” (if the DM wants them to anyways).  Or, if dressed in finer clothing of a non-bard nature, perhaps a lower noble traveling through.  Either way, nothing necessarily screams “bard” to anyone.

The bard, to break the stereotype, must be played against the stereotype.  Most of what makes the bard unique is in 3.5 class abilities.  As we still don’t know what they look like in 4th edition, no one can really speak of how that all will work, but I suspect they’ll be powers instead.  Same difference really, as far as playing a bard.  Those powers/abilities are necessary since they are what makes a bard!

However, the crunch doesn’t dictate how you play them.  In truth, it’s trickier to play a bard against stereotype because the crunch doesn’t make it easy.  However, if it were easy, the stereotypes would have been crushed long, long ago 😉


September 11, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 5 Comments

Busting Stereotypes Part 3 – Roguish Looks

They’re sneaky little bastards.  They’ll rob you blind and still call you a friend.  You just can’t trust them, regardless of their alignment.  However, you need the little bastards because they can find and disarm any trap, pick any dungeon lock, and can be wicked in combat if used right.  That’s right…the rogue.  I was going to do this one next week, but a comment by Craig propted me to step up and do it now.  After all, the rogue is a common character, and they’re played to the hilt within stereotype confines.

In his comment, Craig made some great suggestions.  For example, he says he likes to play rogues who have never broken the law.  Within the 3.5 system, it’s fully possible to create a rogue who can do a great many things without ever breaking the law.  With the wide variety of skills available, you can create characters like Craig’s gnomish clockmaker, or his stage magician who uses slight of hand instead of actual magic.  I remember a buddy made a rogue character with a high INT score and because a jack-of-all-trades…and master of most of them 😉

Of course, 4e doesn’t really stop a player from going this route either.  Even without Craft and Profession skills, the Thievery skill doesn’t mean that it can be used only to steal.  A locksmith can pick locks after all, and a trap maker can also disarm them.  Creating the fluff to go with that skill is, and has always been, up to the player, so if he’s not a criminal then give a backstory that explains why he has those skills and it’s all good!

Another twist that’s been used, but not enough to be a stereotype, is the criminal gone good.  Perhaps something made him change his wicked ways and now seeks to use his talents doing good works rather than just fattening up his own purse.  This would create some great role play opportunities (perhaps he’s wanted in one town or another), while giving his companions the opportunity to trust him.

There are even more ways to play rogues other than as thieves.  For example, the spy.  The skill selection wouldn’t be unusual for a rogue, but the execution would be.  Sure, he could pick locks and pockets, find and remove traps, and everything else, but his points would be geared more towards bluff, diplomacy, disguise, etc.  Some cool equipment, and POOF!  You’ve got a D&D version of James Bond!

Another route to go is as the military scout.  In all honesty, the Scout class that I’m particularly enamoured with in 3.5 is really just a rogue with some modification.  A rogue can move quietly, take out enemy guards without anyone knowing, hide indefinitely to make note of troop movements, everything a military force needs in order to plan an attack!  Rogues, in games without the scout class, can do all of that better than anyone (scout’s advantage is really in more hit points should they find themselves in a fight).

In all honesty, rogues have so many ways to play them, that I couldn’t begin to go into them all.  Regardless of what edition you play, they can still do a lot of the same things and be played a lot of the same ways, so have some fun!  For versatility within the rules as written, it’s hard to beat a rogue!

September 6, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 5 Comments

Busting Stereotypes Part 3 – Elves That Don’t Bake Cookies

For 4th Edition readers, remove elf and insert Eladrin, since they seem to fit this stereotype better than 4e elves do.

Aloof and often arrogant, the elves are one of the most played races in most fantasy games.  Now, how do you break the monotony of your typical elf?  I’ve seen them play almost every class, and use almost every skill.  They’re the rare example of a race other than human who is good at almost everything.  However, by breaking it down to the details, we can find plenty of places to have some fun busting the stereotype.

First, elves are graceful, right?  So, why not give yourself a low DEX.  Granted, I’d do this only if I were a fighter or some other armor wearing class, if nothing else for your own survival, but it would go a long way toward breaking the stereotype.  “I fail my DEX roll.”  “But you’re an ELF!”  “Yeah, but I’m a clumsy one!”  It would be hysterical.  Almost as hysterical as an elf named Keebler 😉

Elves are also typically aloof, so why not role play him as a hothead or as someone who’s passionate about something even the human characters things is pointless, like tavern chairs.  Elves are often seen as emotionless, not because they don’t have them, but because they don’t show them.  Give them some flair and passion, make them like the artist from films who seems beauty and art in everything.  Not necessarily flighty or flaky, necessarily (though those work too), but playing a fighter like a bard in role playing situations can be extremely fun.

Elves are also typically patient, so busting this one is easy.  A tapping of the feet, a constant check on the son, the occasional question “are we there yet?” and POOF!  Instantly busted stereotype.  Elves are patient because of their long lives.  They’re OK with the idea of thinking taking a while.  But not all elves have to be that way.  After all, if your elf character has something else he wants/needs to be doing, he can and should be impatient.  That other thing could be world changing, or it could be trivial.  It doesn’t really matter, so long as he’s impatient!

So there you go, a few ways to bust the elf (or eladrin) stereotype.  I hope you try this and let me know how it goes!

September 5, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Busting Stereotypes Part 2 – The Dwarf

They’re always gruff, love to work with stone and metal, and for some reason many of us (including me) play them with a scottish accent.  The dwarf has more stereotypes surrounding it than most any other race.  Couple that with whatever class stereotypes the get saddled with, and you’ve got a character who has a lot of baggage to deal with.  However, that doesn’t need to be the case.

First, their demeaner.  Dwarves of D&D are typically seen as gruff and blunt, which can make them less appealing to companions.  Playing a dwarf as friendly and extroverted would provide a slightly odd twist.  However, that alone won’t make a dwarf sufficiently different from standard dwarves, right?

Probably the biggest stereotype about dwarves is really their affinity with the underground world.  Working iron and stone (both from underground) and living in caves are typical.  However, your dwarven character is adventuring, so he/she isn’t living underground anymore.  Perhaps he’s clausterphobic.  Perhaps he just hates dirt and rock all around him.  Maybe he really like trees and grass.  There’s really tons of gems to mine from this one, no pun intended.

Dwarves tend to gravitate towards martial fields, like fighter or the occasional paladin.  They also have their fair share of clerics as well.  So, why not break that tradition by going with something like bard in 3.5?  If you’re playing 4e, why not a warlock?  Wizards are a fun choice in any edition!

Take a look at the typical dwarf, and have some fun with it!  Don’t go with the pack on how to play any character, just make sure you DM knows what you’re doing beforehand so they don’t think you’re playing your character incorrectly (and they still may…some DMs fear change ;))!

September 3, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , , | 6 Comments

Busting Stereotypes Part 1 – The Fighter

Playing a stereotypical character takes about as much creativity as eating a pizza.  Sure, you can do it creatively, but there’s only so much room to play with.  In D&D especially, stereotypes exist for every race and class.  If you’ve read this blog much at all, you probably know that I’m not real big on fitting into stereotypes.  Ravyn has written a bit about this on her blog, and she makes plenty of good points that I don’t need to go into.  Go read her blog, then book mark it.  She always has some good stuff there, you won’t be disappointed.

Now, the purpose of this series is to talk about about how to bust the stereotypes.  Busting the typical stereotypes for any class can be fun for both yourself and the rest of your group.  For example, I’m currently playing a character named Merrick.  Merrick is a fighter.  He wears plate armor and is strong as an ox.  Pretty stereotypical, right?  Not really.  He’s also pretty smart, and enjoys reading a variety of subjects.  He’s got ranks in Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (Nobility), and a variety of other subjects.  Why?  Simple…he loves to read.

The stereotypical fighter is intersted in war, and skills that relate to war. They usually wield a sword or maybe an axe (especially if they’re a dwarf), maybe a shield, and wear the best armor they can.  They tend to be a little dull, not that great with people, low will saves, and probably more interested in getting laid than most anything else besides hitting people with their weapons.

All the crunch in every edition of D&D supports this.  While I feel 4th Edition is the worst offender, even it can be worked around.  Fighters are given skills like climb and swim.  The idea is that no one is skilled in anything that can’t directly affect their class.  Frankly, this is a pet peeve of mine, and a house rule I’m instituting when I DM will be outlined soon doing away with this system.  However, now is not the time for that.

Now that we know what the stereotype is, how can we break it?  Well, there’s a lot of ways we can go about it.  So, let’s create a character.  We won’t worry so much about stats right now since they are pretty unimportant all things considered.  After all, most of the time your fellow players don’t even know what your stats are!

First, let’s name him.  How about Joe (I am NOT using my cool names here after all ;)).  Joe is a 1st level fighter.  Let’s start with his skills.  He gets four.  Well, his background says he was raised as a farmer, so let’s give him Profession (Farmer).  As a farmer, he had animals, so he gets Handle Animals as well.  He had to tend to his family’s illnesses and injuries, so let’s give him Heal as well.  Now, let’s give him a hobby.  According to his background, he spent a lot of time in the nearby village talking with a scholar about the planes, so he gets Knowledge (The Planes).  Now, that skill set is hardly typical and it helps round out the character.

Next, let’s look at equipment.  The typical weapons of the fighter, the sword and axe, are pretty typical.  However, they’re typical for a reason…they work damn well.  On equipment, it’s important to decide why is this part of the stereotype.  With the sword and axe as weapons, it’s because they work well, are priced reasonably, and frankly they fit the model of the fighter everyone is used to.  Now, a memorable and cool fighter can still fit with this stereotype if necessary…or you can look at some unusual weapons.  For example, as Joe was a farmer, the scythe makes an interesting weapon opportunity for him.  Not only that, but they can be pretty nasty as well 😉

As for armor, there is a simple reason why fighters wear the best armor they can.  It’s because they can! Fighters take a lot of pounding, and they need the armor.  Don’t feel to bad about going the typical route and wearing whatever armor you want.  However, it can be fun to stick to one type of armor simply for style.  I’ve got a character, my first, who is now an NPC in my world.  He wears nothing but scale, even at 20th level.  Why?  Style baby!  He likes the look better! Not always the best route to go, but it sure can be fun.

I’m not going to sweat feats right now, because frankly they can all customize your character and I can’t really think of a feat that is stereotypical for fighters.  Just with skills and equipment, you can create a pretty unique character that has some life in them.  Not only that, but they don’t fit the conventional stereotypes at all which will make them seem that much more real to you and to the rest of your group!

September 1, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 13 Comments