How to Get Your Bard Properly Killed

So we all know what a bard looks like in a fantasy roleplaying game (RPG) — what’s that?  Oh, right: some people don’t.  In fantasy RPGs, the bard is the classic go-to character class for people who like talking their way out of problems, or looking cool, or who like being generalists.  They typically have some magic, can use a sword without cutting their own heads off, and can sneak a little — but what they’re really good at is talking, and/or soaking up attacks.

Well, maybe there’s no ‘or,’ there.

Now, you might think to yourself “Why on earth would I need to be told how to adapt that concept to other genres besides fantasy?”  And you’d be correct: you don’t need to be told, do you?  But as the above video link suggests, there are so many creative ways to have your bard die entertainingly; it seems a shame to not discuss them.  Note that I am talking about how the player can make his bard die entertainingly, not how the gamemaster (GM) can. This is all about getting the most out of your bard’s nigh-inevitable death.  It’s also kind of biased towards how to go out entertainingly: after all, dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.

Cosmic Horror: the problem with being a loremaster in a game world where forbidden lore will eat your brain should be immediately obvious, but in case it isn’t: being a loremaster is practically a death sentence in game worlds where forbidden lore will eat your brain.  So go with that.  Decide that your bardic character is just going to flat-out die from learning Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, and go to town with it. Read all the books, go on all the dubious drug-induced vision quests, max out that Cosmic Horror skill. Be the GMs friend, in other words.  This, paradoxically enough, will keep you alive longer in the adventure than otherwise; because if you get put down in the middle of Act II, then who’s going to be the pitiful figure harbinging the terrifying anagnorisis in Act V?  Believe me, this will be a consideration for the GM.

Noir/Hard-Boiled Pulp: this one is possibly the most artistic of the bunch, and will probably require a little player-GM coordination. Torch singers and the like are often pre-made victims: they’re presented as bright little flames of beauty and elegance in a dingy, largely colorless world.  And then they get rubbed out, so that the hero has a motivation worth killing over.  So why not play that victim?  — And then spend the rest of the game haunting the heroes (who would, obviously, be the other players). Anything from internal monologues to flashbacks to playing a succession of non-player characters (NPCs) who remind the heroes of the angel that they briefly knew, and so eternally lost.  This may result in a lot of face time for the player, but it’d certainly be intense.

Steampunk: these days, games in this genre concentrate on the ‘steam,’ and not so much on the ‘punk’ – but who among us has never wanted to bring down an entire corrupt and decadent edifice, just like Samson did? — And yes, Samson died.  But he’s also still a literary reference thousands of years later, which counts for something, surely.  So take that silver-tongued rascal of yours and start encouraging rank sedition among the underclass of Geartown!  Call for the burning of the zeppelin-stations! Expose the tyranny of the Clockwork Guard!  They’ll kill you for it, but it’ll be a Pyrrhic victory for them.

Superheroes: …nobody ever really dies in superhero comics, do they (Silver Age ones, at least)?  Well.  There’s your character conception, right there.  Make a character who comes back from the dead.  Give him the ability to sing and play a musical instrument.  If there are any points left over, pick abilities and skills that will encourage the bad guys to think that he’s a legitimate threat.  Then go over-the-top.  And laugh at death!  Laugh. After all, getting yourself killed is your preferred combat tactic.  If they’re killing you, they’re not blowing up the bank or something just quite yet, and if you do it right hardened criminals will eventually break down at the mere sound of your trademark jingle. That horrible, evil, swarmy jingle that WILL NOT SHUT UP… well.  And we’re now right back to Cosmic Horror, only approaching it from the other side.