Thief, musician, clown, actor, acrobat - just a partial list of the many twists on the bard class to be found in this book!
Seventeen bard kits, multitudes of abilities and powers, new magical items, new proficiencies, rules for gaining patrons and followers, over 100 bardic instruments, and much more await you within. The Complete Bard's Handbook gives you everything you need to create a bard the world will never forget
PHBR7: The Complete Bard's Handbook (1992) by Blake Mobley is the sixth book in TSR's "Complete" series. It remains one of the most fun, creative books in the series; it also marks the point where consistent power inflation started to show itself in the handbook series' kits. As a result, this title is a little bit of a contradiction: an incredibly fun, creative sourcebook that needs some DM adjudication in order to keep bard characters well balanced. If you like good ideas and want to see how a 2e AD&D class can have its boundaries stretched, and you don't mind making a few tweaks in the name of game balance, it's the book for you.
Actually a Complete Handbook. One of the factors that makes this one of the best organized books in the PHBR line is that the author takes time to gather charts, tables, and rules from other game supplements. The chapter on character creation includes all the basic information needed to generate a bard, from spell progression to thieves' skills to even the various methods of rolling up ability scores. This fills only a few pages, so I'm not sure it counts as padding, and it saves the player from having to flip between multiple rulebooks. It'd be nice to have seen this as a regular feature for the series.
Kit and Caboodle. Yes, horrible pun. I apologize. But it's also a good introduction to the twelve new bard kits that this book introduces. Well, technically 13; the true bard is the first kit listed, being the normal bard straight out of the PHB. The other kits include the blade (an assassin and spy-master), charlatan (a trickster and con artist), gallant (a romantic warrior-bard, like a cavalier), gypsy-bard (a druidic oracle), herald (a linguist and orator skilled at scouting and persuading), jester (a clown and buffoon), jongleur (a juggler and acrobat), loremaster (a chronicler and historian), meistersinger (a "Pied Piper"-like animal charmer), riddlemaster (a clever puzzle solver), skald (Viking poet/warrior), and thespian (an actor and mime).
Make no mistake, the kit descriptions are entertainingly and imaginatively written. Each has a first-person introduction, a description of the kit, a summary of the role, a list of secondary skills and proficiencies, many varied and creative special benefits, and almost no special hindrances.
That's where the balance issue comes in.
Every single kit is superior to the core "true bard." Most kits offer no special hindrances at all, and the ones who do focus on minor and inconsequential abilities or roleplaying guidelines. The charlatan, for instance, can non-magically charm an entire audience at 1st level (!). The gypsy-bard gains a number of druidic abilities, scrying, and psionics, at the expense of only being able to climb trees instead of walls. In all, this power creep is frustrating because the special benefits have fantastic flavor. The kits do a great job of setting the bard character apart from other bards, and in highlighitng unique roles as a bard.
To Be Fair. As long as a DM doesn't mind a little power inflation (which, to be honest, is something the under-powered basic 2e AD&D bard could probably use), then these kits are fun and interesting.
Game Mechanics. Chapters 3 through 6 focus on game mechanics. Demi-, dual- and multi-classed bards are discussed at length, including racial kits for dwarven chanters, elven minstrels, gnome professors, and halfling whistlers (bringing the total count of kits in the book up to 17). New proficiencies are added, bard abilities are explored, and new spells and magic items are presented. Pre-existing magic musical items that have special effects when used by a bard are also listed, in almost every case increasing the item's power.
Note: DMs who introduce the lyre of wounding, a cursed harp that slices off the musician's fingers, just ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Song and Dance. The remainder of the book gives useful information about music and instruments, advice on roleplaying bards, rules for performances, and rules for bard colleges and patrons. The chapter on music is especially useful, particularly for players who don't have any knowledge of musical theory or ancient instruments.
Shining with Creativity, Loaded with Power. Re-reading The Complete Bard's Handbook for the first time in almost 20 years, I'm reminded by how incredibly imaginative and entertaining the book is. Compared to the Complete Priest's Handbook, which seems almost dour and matter-of-fact in comparison, this was written by an author who loved bards and who took great delight in gaming. The ideas presented here are consistently creative and fun to read; if they didn't have such a negative effect on game balance, this book would have been a mainstay supplement in most campaigns. As it is, it remains reasonably indispensable for bard players just for the roleplaying advice and rules presented within.
About the Creators. Blake Mobley is also the author of the superb Ravenloft adventure "Feast of Goblyns," as well as Greyhawk Ruins and several other well-received gaming works including the game Metascape.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.