In the past four installments of this pseudo-series, I have done columns on archetypes that exist in every single game. Every game has a Warrior, every game has Rogues, every game has Mages and healers of some type. But not every game has Bards, and frankly this is a sad thing. Why in the world does Star Wars: The Old Republic not have a musician class? No, I don’t care about non-combat skills in other Star Wars games because I want to be able to charge specifically into battle with the power of my Jizz.
But while Bards are far from universal, they’re still a well-known archetype to the point that people are still asking for actual Bards in games that do not have them. (It’s me. I’m people.) And as before, I think it’s worth examining universal truisms about how Bards work in any game, whether the Bards in question are some of the best characters or some of the worst or just somewhere in the middle.
1. Every Bard dresses like a weirdo
There are mechanical reasons that Bards wear a certain class of armor, yes. But Bards don’t just get armor; they get outfits that look utterly extravagant and flashy and immediately attract attention. If they share armor with other classes, Bards are absolutely going to get their own sets that are dramatic and over-the-top, often with frilled shirts, huge hats, and a general sense of style behooving them to be on stage with pyrotechnics behind them as they ask are you ready to rock?!
If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that the first Final Fantasy game obviously modeled Red Mages after Bards, and the Red Mage hat has become so iconic that it has to be in every game featuring the job and even some games that don’t.
2. Every Bard is mechanically weird
It’s not enough that Bards look flamboyant and distinct: Bards are contractually obligated to have mechanics that confuse you. Sometimes it’s having weird rules about buffs that stack on top of things that otherwise don’t stack but require you to move around a lot. Sometimes it’s that you’re a combination magical support class and melee fighter. Sometimes it’s just “wait, why does the Bard have a bow?” The point is that Bards always look weird even when you look beyond the aforementioned frilly shirts, which are, in fact, very frilly.
3. Every other player will make jokes about Bards sucking
Yes, everyone seems to think that no one else in the history of humanity has made a joke about how weird it is to have a combat class whose primary means of engaging in battle is singing a bunch. It’s not funny now and has never been funny, but someone is always going to chime in with it.
I don’t even know where this holdover originated. Normally I’d suspect that it was some kind of weird throwback to Ye Olden Dayes of tabletop gaming when Bards had a long history of being terrible, but in Dungeons & Dragons Bards are usually decent at worst and excellent much of the time. Which leads directly into the next point…
4. Bards never actually suck
Despite all of the jokes, Bards tend to be pretty good. Sometimes they’re a bit weaker, but usually they get buffs pretty quickly. Bards just tend to not stay in bad places very long, and when they’re good they’re secretly awesome, like how your Bard in 5th edition D&D is not just a social expert but can also be an expert in hand-to-hand combat, has spells to totally bypass combat, and also probably is able to make everyone else be awesome just as an incidental thing.
So you have a situation where people will not shut up about how Bards are awful but also basically live on the back of Bards. They’re like elves or dragons or anyone who hates turtles but somehow bought a home on the back of Turtle Island. (Which, despite the name, is not actually a giant turtle you live on. It’s technically a tortoise.)
5. Bards are always a balance of extremes
While Bards can all do a few different things, usually including “make the party awesome” and “hurt that guy over there,” Bards are never the best at any of these things. That’s kind of by design. Playing a Bard means that even if you specialize in one of those fields, you’re never quite as good as people who just do one of these things. This is not a big deal most of the time, since usually Bards are still able to do the things they didn’t specialize in pretty well, so it all balances out.
Bards just kind of do whatever, man.
6. For some reason, Bard abilities are seen as weird
Let’s take stock here. You have a game wheren there is at least one class that yells a lot and breaks things, another who poisons people and steals from them compulsively, a nerd who throws fireballs, and someone who waves around and green stuff happens and then you’re not dying any more. But the idea of someone deciding to do basically any of this stuff but while singing, that’s the weird part. That’s a bit too goofy to accept.
7. Bard fans are very vocal
If someone’s main job in Final Fantasy XIV is Bard, you will know it because they will tell you. People who like Bards will not shut up about them, probably in no small part because all of them play Bards and all of them secretly (or not-so-secretly) want to be David Bowie but also be capable of doing anything in a fantasy world.
So basically David Bowie.
I am not excluding myself from this group. Bards are cool and I love them.
8. Music is always a direct buff of some kind
These days I tend to not listen to music when I write, but I used to listen to music all the time while writing. However, I can attest to the fact that this did not in any way improve my physical ability. At no point did I hear a song and suddenly gain the ability to move faster, hit harder, or somehow heal myself because finally, I’m listening to Placebo or whatever.
Not so with Bards, though. Maybe it was a thing David Bowie could actually do during live performances. Or Freddie Mercury. I would and will believe that either of them had magical powers when it came to music. (No other musicians, though.)
9. You will always get a stringed instrument
There are a lot of instruments out there, but every Bard will get a stringed one, probably a lute if this isn’t the kind of setting wherein you can just get a guitar. This has two reasons. The first is the logical one: A stringed instrument makes it much easier to sing while you play while still being portable enough that it isn’t impossible to take it with you. Sure, you might want to play Sir Elton John, but your party wants to get through this dungeon sometime this week and you can’t hire NPCs to carry your piano with you.
The second, of course, is that we have been conditioned by years of pop cultural experience to think that someone standing on stage with a guitar belting out a song is the coolest thing ever, and that’s not going to change any time soon. No, a lute is not the same thing as a guitar, but it’s close enough for these purposes. And sometimes it’s just a guitar anyway. Screw it.
10. You may be cringe, but you are free
All the jokes about Bards being silly and Bards being bad and whatever don’t change the fact that you get to march into combat singing and playing and being effective while you do both. Sure, you’re a little bit silly. So what? You’re fighting slimes and dragons and elves. Of course it’s silly. All of this stuff was silly to start with. It doesn’t become less silly because everyone’s in earth tones and threatening to hurt people and then getting naked. Fantasy being a little silly is more fun.
You may be cringe to someone who thinks that the best fantasy is rusted metal and Dark Souls and glowering intensity on Game of Thrones or House of Dragons or Locale of Elf-Snogging or whatever HBO is showing this week, but you are free. As the proverbial bird. Start the guitar solo that buffs your DPS, why not.