Arcane Power: State of the Bard Address

2009 May 1
by Vanir

We were fortunate enough to receive a copy of the new Arcane Power sourcebook for review recently. I was particularly excited to get my hands on this, as I had recently rolled up a bard and wanted some new abilities to play with.

The new Prescient Bard build in the book sets the flavor for many of the new bardic abilities. These turn your bard into something of a short-term prophet, able to see the future and to mess with it a little to his advantage. There are a lot of really cool powers to choose from, but on occasion I feel they didn’t try hard enough to engage the player’s imagination and just relied on the combat mechanics. (This is one of my primary complaints with 4e in general, not just this book.) Take for instance the Horrifying Truth power, whose description reads “Your cruel pronouncement becomes truer with every strike.” It deals damage, dazes the target, and stuns the target if it doesn’t save. With that kind of description, I’m expecting a gypsy to hop out of my lute and rub the target’s nose and say “THINNER!”. Or maybe the ghost of a creepy Japanese girl to appear and proclaim the target not a pitcher, but a belly-itcher, causing him 4d8+CHA self-esteem damage.

They’ve added several bardic paragon paths in Arcane Power as well:

  • Cunning Prevaricator – basically your bard is fantastic at lying and exaggerating. Somehow this translates into making him and all his allies invisible at strategically opportune times. (As an aside, “Lying Lights” sounds to me like the name of something I would have watched on Cinemax as a teenager when my parents had gone to bed.) Later powers let him misdirect the opponent’s attacks back upon himself or other enemies, presumably so the bard can ask him “why do ya keep hitting yourself?”
  • Euphonic Bow – The concept for this one is, in my opinion, one of the coolest things in the book. You’re a bard, except your bow plays notes as you attack. The path description says something about the sound your arrows make as they hit their targets providing percussion for the song of battle, and all I can think of is Freddie Mercury singing, “out of the doorway, the bullets rip — to the sound of the beat!” It’s sort of like multiclassing your bard with an arcane archer, but without quite the range of abilities. Still neat.
  • Grave Caller – Apparently they have bardic assassins. Who knew? This one seemed a little out of place to me, since I guess I always imagined assassins as being quiet and not singing. Then again, I’ve watched enough anime in my day to know that a really talented assassin can use anything they want as a weapon, immense size and noise be damned. Either way, if you’re looking to cause grief (possibly in the form of death) to one unlucky creature at a time, the deathmark ability and its associated powers are a good way to get there.
  • Half-Elf Emissary – Ever have one of those people in your group that tried to max their Diplomacy skill and use it as often as possible? Well, now that person’s empathy and oratory ability are deadly weapons. (For, ahem, “aggressive negotiations”, I would assume.) This path gets automatic points against it for only being available to half-elves. Because everyone knows dwarves and half-orcs can never, ever be charismatic and likeable. This path’s powers are based largely on him being such a galactically amazing social butterfly that the number of people he can see, friends and enemies alike, make his abilities stronger. I kind of want to bludgeon myself into unconsciousness when I think about this one too hard.
  • Karmic Shaper – Sort of the “evolved” form of the Prescient Bard build, this path is all about squaring up karmic debts. Well, sort of. You “interpret” karma, so that means if your enemy does something bad to you, your powers make him pay for it. If one of your allies screws up, you interpret all the good times you’ve had together and replace his attack roll with one of your own. It’s kind of like D&D My Name Is Earl, but backwards and with swords and a touch of godlike power to change fate.
  • Life Singer – You’re a bard who comes from this place where some bad stuff happened and evil spirits cursed you with bad weather. Now, in order to combat the evil spirit (which I thusly dub “El NiƱo”), you become a tree-hugging pacifist hippie. Your power is that of smugness, and atop your ivory tower of morality, you grant bonuses to all your allies only if they do not attack anything. This will almost certainly set a new standard for the paragon everyone regrets picking almost immediately due to everyone hating them forever. This paragon path may ruin long-standing friendships. I worry for the future of gaming now that this is out.

A few odd complaints aside, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book if you’ve got a bard. The only thing I’m really disappointed in is the lack of the 3.5 book Complete Arcane‘s Seeker of the Song prestige class. I had my fingers crossed, and was denied.

Next time, I’ll review the Sorcerer class. Spicy!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Noumenon permalink
    May 2, 2009

    Man, is that fluff ever strained. 4E’s combat focus is a bad match for the bard.

  2. Noumenon permalink
    May 23, 2009

    Dear Stupid Ranger:

    Will you please get a spam filter? This is the only blog that constantly gives me Chinese spam comments in my e-mail.

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