A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Preview: The Ethereal Bard

The fiolliowing is an element from Chapter 2 of my campaign, The Coming Dark. If you are one of my players and have not reached Chapter 3, you may not want to read this.

D&D 4e has very specific rules on how certain powers affect "allies" and "enemies", but those rules always make the assumption that there are two sides to every conflict. What if there's a third party that's laying down effects that change every round?

For one of my favorites scenes in my campaign I created a thing I call the "Ethereal Bard". Imagine walking in to an inn and, instead of seeing a band on stage or a sole minstrel playing music, there's a semi-transparent illusion of a bard playing music, and that magical construct reacts to requests from patrons, plays songs according to the situation or mood in the main area, or simply plays songs at random. And, when violent action ensues, it doesn't quite know how to react to everything that's going on, so it starts to play random songs more frequently.

Furthermore, each song is similar to a bard's power, treating *everyone* within range of the music as either an ally or as a friend depending on the power.

Here is my official write-up of it:


The “Ethereal Bard” is a magical device that appears as a humanoid musician with any number of different instruments in hand. The musician himself is an illusion, powered by the magically infused pedestal it stands upon. There is a tip jar near the pedestal at its feet that contains mixed silver and copper pieces.

The bard plays music appropriate to what is going on in the lobby, or will play a completely random song. It will also take requests, giving preference to any creature that adds coins in to its tip jar.

When combat in the lobby begins, the Ethereal Bard floods the room with inspirational music. At the start of each round, it will begin to play one random song that has a magical effect on everyone that can hear it in the lobby.

At the start of each combat round, roll a d6 against the table below to determine the effect. The effect applies to every non-deafened creatures in the lobby until the end of the round, when the device will choose another song.

1) Song of Courage: The device plays an uplifting song that includes shouts of encouragement, making it seem as if a large crowd was cheering.
Effect: Any creatures that hears the song gains a +1 power bonus to attack rolls.

2) Song of Defense: The device intones a battle hymn, bolstering your abilities to resist attack.
Effect: Any creature that hears the song gains a +1 power bonus to AC.

3) Song of Conquest: The device begins to play a bolstering song that makes everyone fight with renewed vigor.
Effect:  Any creature that hears the song and hits an enemy with an attack gains +3 THP.

4) Song of Recovery: The device begins to play an inspiring song that instills a sense of perseverance.
Effect: Any creature that hears the song gains a +2 power bonus to saving throws.

5) Savior’s Song: The device begins to play a song inspiring determination and focus, with hopeful verses of battles won despite daunting odds.
Effect: Any creature that hears the song can reroll one saving throw that he or she fails during the turn.

6) Song of Speed: The device begins to play a rousing refrain, imbuing everyone with increased speed and agility.
Effect: Any creature in earshot gains +4 power bonus to speed and can shift 1 extra square whenever he or she shifts.

I mean, just imagine it... Our heroes and the bad guys are duking it out in the lobby, upending tables and throwing chairs at each other, all the time while music from an illusionary bard plays in the background and boosts their abilities.

I considered giving this device an XP weight, but since both the allies and enemies could take advantage of it I decided not to. Just another zone effect to add to the excitement of the encounter.

So what do you think? Anyone out there used something similar?


On a semi-related note, Chapter 1 of my campaign is pretty much complete and being reviewed by a few people. Soon it will be released to the public, and I hope you enjoy it!

And there is a little over a day left in our contest to win "Heroes of Shadow"! Get those submissions in quick!

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