I view the core bard as chronicler of deeds, a travelling minstrel who sets out to record history, and ends up making it. A bard succeeds through his wit, knowledge, and bravado. On this basis the core of the bard should be: lore knowledge, diplomacy, and performance skill of some kind. Personally I would keep the performance aspects non-combat. They rpovide party buffs after a rest.
Then use traditions or specialties to give the bard more traditional roles. The healer bard, the arcane bard, or depending on the setting, a bard who's music taps directly into the weave of magic.
Damn foxface, you should have written the legends and lore on bards! What you said and the way you describe them is great! I totally agree with you.
For a class like the bard, I think it's easy to get lost trying to match up the conceptual and the mechanical. I don't think anyone expects the player of a bard to actually recount the tales and stories known to his character in game. But the perception is that to play the bard WELL, you have to be better at roleplaying and more creative than the average player. This is unfortunate and I hope clever mechanics can bridge the gap from player to character.
A bard should be a 'magical rogue'. In the sense that, a rogue relies on sheer skill and luck to do his special stuff, whereas the bard relies on magical skill and luck to do his special stuff. The skill set, however, is different.
The bard's abilities fall into a few categories: Buffs for allies, debuffs for enemies, Enchantments & Charms, Illusions, and Utility. Mechanically, these abilities should be available very frequently and many (but not all) should require die rolls and opposed checks. A low cooldown would work best. Many spells that require a die roll to succeed might be "reliable" in the 4e sense. A miss or failure means the ability doesn't go on cooldown. But that particular enemy is temporarily immune to that ability. Example: the bard tries to charm a guard. He doesn't fall for the bard's jedi mind tricks, but the bard might try again on another guard.
I love the idea of flexible abilities. Upon using one ability the bard can choose from several different effects. Like Slight of Hand can be used to pickpocket or palm something, the bard has abilities that can be used in a variety of different situations. It is in this way that a bard is the true renaissance man, the jack of all trades.
A Bard is not part wizard, part rogue, part cleric, part fighter. A bard has a trick or solution for almost any situation. And those solutions aren't just lesser versions of wizard spells, either!!! They are uniquely bardlike and equally as powerful.
The bard is arcane in the sense that his powers aren't divine. The bard doesn't learn spells by studying, but he does do his own version of research, in the form of history, cultural tales, and exploring artistic creativity.
His spells come from uttering arcane words like a wizard. The uttering of them taps into a similar power. But his words aren't formulae. They are based on sheer force of will (charisma). He wills these spell effects into existence, and uses the magic of his art as fuel. A bard's art can be expressed in many forms: a song, a poem, spoken word, epic tales and legends, dance, and other visual/physical art.
Here's how I imagine a bard's spell works: A bard can buff his ally in battle by remembering a painting he once saw of a knight slaying the evil ogre king. That motivation could just as easily have been a song or a story of the same event. Regardless of the medium, the magic comes from the power of that moment in history. The fate of the kingdom changed that day, when the Ogre Wars were finally over. The bard merely taps into that moment. He channels the arcane energy from that moment and bestows great courage to his ally. In a way, he is turning memories and feelings into tangible effects.
Channeling such a moment is strenuous. The bard is briefly exhausted (overwhelmed) from the intensity of it. Hence, the spell has a brief cooldown.
The bard is a decent combatant in his own right. He doesn't always use light, finesse weapons though. Bards come in many flavors and their selection of weapons reflects that. Mechanically, I'd give the bard different options of weapon proficiency at creation. I love the idea of the 7-ft tall Mountain Man Bard with a Greatsword just as much as I love the Wood Elf Bard with an Elven Thinblade.
Bards have no restrictions about casting spells in armor. If they want to wear plate, they can do so. But they're probably not proficient in plate at first level. I'd go with Light and Medium armors.
But most importantly, the bard uses his spells and abilities to enhance himself and others in Exploration, Interaction, and in Combat. He is brave and daring, but might have a weakness for a good story.
I always viewed music as the first form of magic that mortals ever mastered. Even in the real world, music has a profound effect on how people behave and think. After all, "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast." Music is the most common form of magic, but Music-as-magic, as the bard wields it, is the most arcane magic. it is the ultimate expression of "The Art," and yet, most wizards would struggle to attempt to use it.
I vision the bard as the magical side of a rogue, via travel and interactions with communities, they have a broad range of skills that are developed with a focus on social skills. From a magical standpoint the bard uses recitations (the bard version of learning and memorizing magic) so they have a mechanism to draw upon the various arcane and divine lores. It would be a combination of ritual and spell casting, with a focus on oratory, songs, and performances. This helps the bard learn diverse magical lores, while at the same time keeping a low profile. In combat the bard would favor indirect techniques that use the bard's wit.
Regarding the Arcane/Psionic/Druidic 'powersource' part of the discussion..
I see the Bard's magic as a "way to do magic" rather than a specifier of "what magic is channeled using that way of doing magic".
A bunch of different Bards drawing on the magic of nature, psionics, arcane currents, innate dragon-magic, infernal energies or shadows and sorrow... they are all bards (although the end result and taste in music may differ..)
Just like an enchanter and a necromancer are both wizards, using the scholarly approach to magic, there may be many types of bards using the musical/harmonious approach to magic in different ways.
Wizards - scholarly magic - spell prep, spellbooks, learning spells Sorcerers - innate magic - a few innate spell-like abilities Warlocks - granted power - a few specific granted powers Bards - harmonious magic - maybe something inbetween sorcerer and wizard, instinctive use of lore
That is the bard I'd want to see. Barris makes me want to play a bard. Everything about D&D rules stops me. No one that has ever played one (that I have witnessed) has ever felt they did much to help themselves, or the party and therefore they have switched.
to me before 4th edition the bard was a arcane caster. he dabled in wizardry becouse that is a kind of magic that can be learned, and to me the bard was about learning a bit of everything. Scorcery is somthing you have to have been born with. divine comes with strings attached having to folow rules of your god.