#32 The Warmest of Welcomes

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jun 16, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 51 comments

The powers of a bard are telling tales and singing. Which means that pretty much anyone is a fully qualified bard once they get a few beers into them.

Imagine Indiana Jones, Jackie Chan, and Conan the Barbarian teamed up to fight evil. They would surely leave no ass un-kicked. Now imagine if they let Ricky Martin join the party and started giving him an equal cut of the loot and XP. You’d have no respect for them. They might as well put on dresses and be his back-up dancers, because nobody is going to think of them as brave warriors and adventurers. Everyone will think of them as the three guys that hang around Ricky Martin and keep him from getting beat up.

Take a good look at your character sheet and ask yourself if that’s what you wanted when you rolled him up.

Shamus Says:

I think I originally wrote this as Marcus’s character actually died in the fireball, and they walked another fifty feet and encountered he next one. That joke was something like five or six panels that didn’t really have enough funny to support two strips. So, we trimmed it down and made it work in the established format by having the fireball retconned away instead of killing the new character.

Shawn Says:

I know eventually we were planning on having one of Marcus’s characters last exactly one comic. I don’t remember if it was this character. Man, how is that for some insightful insight?

Also, check out that rocking Fireball.

EDIT 2019:

In the movie The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, we get a similar setup to what we have here in Chainmail Bikini: There are two layers of reality to the story, and our point of view cuts between what the players are doing at the table and what their characters are doing within the fantasy world. At the start of the adventure, the party meets in the throne room of Erasmus the Randomly Biased. The king wants to give the party their quest. During the meeting, two players have an aside. One dude is playing a woman. The other dude is playing a guy with high charisma. He jokes that he uses his charisma to seduce his fellow party member. The other dude instantly agrees and they proceed to bang, right there in the throne room while the king is still talking.

Everyone else ignores this. The king doesn’t react to a couple of people flagrantly copulating in his throne roomI dunno. The dude IS randomly biased, so maybe he’s just okay with this.. The other players don’t say anything. The guards don’t take offense or attempt to stop it. These reactions don’t actually make sense. This is not how the world would respond to this sort of behavior.

So the question is: Did it really happen? 40% of the people at the table acted like it was happening. But if it did happen, then certainly the guards should have descended on the couple and either killed them or dragged them off to prison. The rest of the party would have refused to team up with these two lunatics. As far as the world as concerned, this event never happened.

This creates a world of subjective veracity. As far as the two offending players are concerned, their characters did it. As far as everyone else is concerned, nothing happened. The players taking part in this world disagree on what happened, but everyone is able to just ignore it and move on.

The example in the movie is simple by necessity, but in a real game there will often be multiple layers of unreality going on. One player makes a joke about doing something absurd, everyone goes along with it, then the situation gets more and more ridiculous until the GM steps in and gets everyone back on topic. If you ask the players later, every one of them will have a different view on which of those actions were jokes and which ones could be said to have happened. Some of them might become running gags, or become callbacks to other events of questionable veracity.

In a tabletop game, I think there are four levels of happened-ness:

  1. It happened. Everyone agrees that it happened. It is part of the story.
  2. It subjectively happened. One player says he flips off the queen. Another player joins in. The rest of the people at the table – including the GM – simply ignore them, because they don’t want to derail this intense negotiation scene with an hour of combat as they slaughter their way through the palace guard. Despite this, the player will still reference “that one time I flipped off the queen”.
  3. It temporarily happened. Everyone acts like it happened, but then realizes it would either ruin the game or it wouldn’t make any sense. “Hang on, you can’t have flipped off the queen, your hands are tied behind your back, remember?” So then the GM rewinds the last thirty seconds or so and the whole idea is retconned away.
  4. It didn’t happen. Okay, enough kidding around, let’s get back to talking to the queen.

Did Ivy nuke the new bard? I like to think she did.



[1] I dunno. The dude IS randomly biased, so maybe he’s just okay with this.

From The Archives:

51 thoughts on “#32 The Warmest of Welcomes

  1. CrimsonCutz says:

    If it entertained the weirdo in the group, it didn’t happen.

    If you don’t know who the weirdo in the group is, it’s you.

    1. evileeyore says:

      What if I’m not entertained and I don’t know who the weirdo in the group is?

      1. Mousazz says:

        Then it happened.

  2. Dev Null says:

    This creates a world of subjective veracity.

    Fake News.

    Sorry; I know politics is taboo. In remorse, I offer this tidbit of personal history.

    In an RPG, a friend of mine offers up an idea that seems a bit daft. I think for a second and decide that my character would also think it was daft, and publicly deride it. She replies defensively, and about 2 minutes into the ensuing “argument”, I realize that the air-quotes might not be warranted; she might think that _I_ am calling _her_ stupid, not my character calling hers. And what’s more, I’m not sure what the rest of the room thinks either. So I suggest that we have a brief private conversation in another room, make it evident that I really am role-playing, and we make a deal to try to keep the rest of the gang guessing as to whether it’s real or not for as long as we can. The GM Dave eventually has a quiet word an hour later for harassing his girlfriend and Gina and I high-5 to a confused audience.

    At what point was that argument real? Til when? I have no idea to this day…

    1. This is why I like playing online via text chat with a voice chat in the background, because there are two layers. You can talk all you want in the voice chat and nothing happens in game.

      If you say it in the text chat, and don’t specifically denote that it’s out of character, it’s in character, you did it, now you get to deal with the consequences.

      The interesting fact is that it actually makes the goofing-off that takes place in character less in quantity but MORE FUN, because you know it’s NOT going to be subject to a GM handwave or a retcon. So saying “I flip off the Queen” is actually a ballsy move instead of yet more idiotic faffing about.

  3. Zaxares says:

    Oh, this is fairly easy to tackle as a DM. Just give the player an evil grin and say, “Do you ACTUALLY say that?” 99% of the time they’ll quickly backpedal or make it obvious they were just joking at the table. The 1% of the time they don’t, well… it’s time to pull the DM kid-gloves off. (My favourite classic example for this involved a player moaning that the gods, or usually A particular god, are useless pansies who never do anything to directly aid or hinder their worshippers anyway. “Thor is such a loser.” “Do you ACTUALLY say that?”)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      ‘Oh, you insulted the God of Healing? How odd, those wounds of your don’t seem to be getting any better. What a shame…’

      1. Decius says:

        Some god of healing she is! Can’t even … close a … sucking … chest …wou………

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          It’s just a flesh wound!

    2. Karma The Alligator says:

      Actually had a similar situations the last time I played. One of the other players wanted to rob the weapon’s store (because he was crazy for gold) instead of just selling his loot, and the GM asked him if he really want to try (the rest of the party was chilling at the inn). Player said yes, GM started initiative for him and the few guards in the store. Player ended up thrown naked into the street, unconscious until morning.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        ‘I still get 8 hours rest, right?’

    3. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      Ah, the classic nuclear option for every DM: “Are you sure you want to do that?”
      If the player has second thoughts, you kept the game on track.
      If the player continues, you are free to unleash the full consequences of their own behaviour.

    4. Anachronist says:

      Zaxares: ‘Just give the player an evil grin and say, “Do you ACTUALLY say that?”’

      Even better, the DM should just act as if the players are always in character. Of course, in this strip, that might backfire.

      I recall a story, it may have been on the old WOTC forums, told about a game the writer was playing, where every time a player uttered an expletive, a dragon would appear and do the expletive to the player. Ever been crapped on the head by a dragon flying by swiftly? Damage like napalm! Or the time a player said f*** and got chased around by a randy dragon intent on buggering the offending character. After a few incidents like this, the language at the gaming table cleaned up nicely, so the story went.

  4. BlueHorus says:

    Heh. I bet Chuck would change his tune* if he was playing D&D 5e. Apparently they are powerful bordering on OP…

    Also, ‘pretty much anyone is a fully qualified bard once they get a few beers into them’? I would NOT like to go out drinking with Chuck.
    (Well, I already knew that, but you get the idea.)

    *Tune, bard. Teeheeehee.

    1. The Wind King says:

      Bards in original D’n’D (or maybe AD’n’D / 2nd ed D’n’D) were gods among men, to the point where even being one required multiclassing through fighter, rogue, & druid, and then being accepted by a master at a bardic college, along side prerequisit stats that would have you accused of weighing your dice…

      Chuck knows not what power he insults.

      1. Joshua says:

        Second Edition Bards sucked. Your thinking of the original First Edition Dual Class monstrosity. Third Edition and 3.5 weren’t much better, and I believe this comic was written right before 4th Edition. 4th and 5th Edition made Bards completely viable characters.

        1. The Wind King says:

          Pathfinder bards are a rip-roaring good time

          1. Joshua says:

            Only played Pathfinder briefly, and no one opted to choose that class. I’ll take your word for it.

            1. Decius says:

              The bard spell Blistering Invective causes an intimidate check to demoralize against foes in a radius; targets demoralized by the check catch fire.

              You can literally use profanity to set someone’s on fire.

              Solid Note creates a musical note that hangs in the air.

              The skill replacement class features also help with Being A Bard; using perform:actor instead of bluff or disguise, or perform:dance instead of acrobatics or fly, for example.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                Reminds me: I’m currently in a D&D 5e game with someone playing a bard, and I’m most amused by an ability called Vicious Mockery – literally insulting someone so hard it hurts.

                If it doesn’t come with optional upgrades to a) cause disease and b) change the damage type to fire, I’ll be disappointed. How else are you going to give your enemies a Sick Burn?

              2. Mr. Wolf says:

                Damn, not even Morte could do that.

            2. Joe Informatico says:

              Ran a Pathfinder game with a bard player, and she ended up pretty useless in combat situations. I consulted a couple build guides online, they were clear that bards are a support class. There were three build options that seemed particularly decent:

              1) Secondary arcane spellcaster who also has some healing.
              2) Archer with some buff/debuff ability and healing
              3) Combat trickster: use nets and tanglefoot bags as missiles and the whip as the melee weapon (IIRC , take Finesse with the whip; your primary task in combat is to trip, disarm, entangle, knock prone, etc. opponents to make them easier for the fighter-types to take them down.

        2. Decius says:

          4th edition made bards equivalent to battle clerics or warlords.

          By making battle clerics and warlords equivalent to each other.

          5th made every buff count, by making them rare.

        3. John says:

          I kinda dug (and still dig) Bards in Neverwinter Nights, which is based on the Third Edition rules. The key to Bards’ viability in that game is that it isn’t properly party based (in single-player). You’ve got one, maybe two henchmen and you can’t really count on them to be able to cast, say, Protection From Evil when you’re about to go up against something with mind-affecting spells or spell-like abilities. Bards are worse at fighting than fighters, but better at absolutely everything else. They’ve got magic, music, and a whole bunch of skill points. Now, you could argue that Clerics are mechanically superior to Bards, and you might even be right. They can fight just as well as Bards and have more and better spells to boot. Oh, and because they aren’t arcane casters, armor and shields don’t interfere with their casting. Still, I had a lot of fun playing Bards and Bard-based builds in NWN. Their Jack-of-all-trades-ness works really well in what is almost a solo adventure.

          1. Decius says:

            NWN also modified bardic performance to do direct damage.

            And honestly, bards in 3.5, while performing, have slightly worse attack rolls than unbuffed fighters. What they lose in not having high BaB they gain back with Inspire Courage. Fighters pull back in front with feats, since they have more feats to spend on the weapon focus chain, and fighters of course have higher hit dice than bards and will likely have higher strength for some more to-hit and slightly more total damage.

            But the interesting thing is that a fighter and a bard are significantly better at melee combat than two fighters or two bards; all of the catch-up buffs that a bard gives themselves also apply to the fighter(s) in the party.

            1. Bards in Dungeons and Dragons Online are pretty good. They stand up well as melee DPS, healers, or DC CC casters. I don’t like them much because I try to be all 3 at once and it doesn’t work as well.

              It doesn’t hurt that charms are currently a bit overpowered on high difficulties.

      2. Douglas Sundseth says:

        You’re thinking (as others have noted) of AD&D bards.

        Bards were also in OD&D (well, originally published in Strategic Review during the run of OD&D anyway, which is good enough for me). OD&D bards were decidedly OP and available at first level — no need for complex multiclassing and waiting.

      3. Hector says:

        This is based in semi-history, or at least real legends. Druids and Bards were based on Celtic culture. and supposedly both required pretty absurd tests and challenges. Hard to say what the reality was, but both evidently had very high social status among fierce warrior cultures.

    2. Joshua says:

      I wouldn’t say 5e Bards are “OP”. They compare closest to Clerics, and are pretty comparable in power-level to that class with a few pluses and minuses. Granted, Clerics are usually a pretty good class to begin with.

      1. Decius says:

        4e balanced classes by making everything the same, 5e did so by making everything equally OP in interestingly different ways.

        1. RCN says:

          4e also added a hell-load of cruft to the game for very little variation or gains.

          You had your daily powers, encounter powers, at-will powers, utility powers, had to keep track of everything, but in the end all these different powers were as mechanically different as a variations in particle effects between character skins in a MOBA.

          “I taunt the foe by challenging him to a duel” says the fighter
          “I taunt the foe by challenging him in the name of my god” says the paladin
          “I taunt the foe by challenging him against the wrath of nature” says the warden
          “I taunt the foe by challenging him with a spell” says the swordmage
          “I taunt the foe by challenging him with my presence” says the berserker.

          “What happens if he ignores you and attack someone else?” Asks the DM

          “I hit him” they all respond.

          (As an aside, really? They decided that one of the defender classes should be the BERSERKER?)

          1. Asdasd says:

            Is this the old linear/quadratic problem in another guise? 4th edition definitely felt like everyone got to be a different flavour of Wizard. Fighters were just Wizards who did their AOE burst spells at close range rather than distance and had more HP to compensate. Everything else felt like it existed on this sliding scale of range/tankiness.

            I didn’t like it because it made magic feel less, well, magical. But I’m loathe to say it was worse than the older editions, because nobody except the Wizards liked Wizards being quadratic. Made for fun CRPGs though where you got to play with multiple characters.

  5. krellen says:

    Dorkness Rising also features repeated Bard killings, such that the solution to a problem at one point literally is “Quick, hide behind the pile of dead Bards!”

    Also, First Edition Bards were cosmic badasses such that an organisation of Bards (the Harpers) are one of the most powerful factions on Faerun (Forgotten Realms). 5th Edition Bards are just a return to form.

    1. Joshua says:

      The thing about Dorkness Rising is that Leo bemoans “Bards suck!”, but he doesn’t really play the character like a Bard, just as a really, really incompetent Fighter. He neither wears armor nor casts spells, uses only a dagger instead of superior weaponry, does not try to inspire his comrades, and has to be reminded by the DM and other party members to try to use his Bardic Lore. 3.5 Bards weren’t the greatest, although they had their niche, but it helps if you actually understand he way that class was meant to work.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        I’d imagine he would complain about every spellcaster too. Terrible combat stats, no equipment worth talking about, and all you have to show for it is a weak ranged attack!

  6. Scampi says:

    Imagine Indiana Jones, Jackie Chan, and Conan the Barbarian teamed up to fight evil. […] Now imagine if they let Ricky Martin join the party and started giving him an equal cut of the loot and XP.

    This kind of reminds me of my playthroughs of Icewind Dale, when I arranged a party of movie characters under the banner of Profion the wizard from the D&D movie. If I remember correctly, it included the Sorceress from the Scorpion King as a cleric, Angelika from the “Brothers Grimm” movie as a ranger, I think Gimli (there are not enough dwarf characters in movies to be picky imho) as a warrior, Cary Elwes’ version of Robin Hood as a rogue (maybe an elf, not sure, if only as a pun to the name) and maybe some female second tank, whom I believe to have been a female barbarian. I googled movie pictures of the characters for their portraits and tried to stat them (and align them) at least to some degree appropriate for their respective roles.
    It was a nice playthrough and a lot of fun thinking about these characters interacting as if they were some kind of wild fantasy allstars team thrown together for unknown reasons.
    I lately thought about revisiting the concept with new characters and maybe I might include a bard this time around…and maybe better movies to pick from in the first place.

  7. evileeyore says:

    “Everyone else ignores this. The king doesn’t react to a couple of people flagrantly copulating in his throne room[1]. The other players don’t say anything. The guards don’t take offense or attempt to stop it. These reactions don’t actually make sense. This is not how the world would respond to this sort of behavior.”

    But what if it is? What if public copulation was okay and the culture was such that giving people privacy in public was simply to ignore whatever was occuring that may or may not need privacy or is otherwise embarrassing?

  8. Kathryn says:

    I still like the idea, which I think I stole from a commenter on this very blog many years ago, of playing a lawful bard. This would be a bard who has dedicated their career to preserving traditional forms of music and folklore. They would play the music as written with the original instruments it was written for, even if said instruments were long out of fashion, and they’d know how to make said instruments themselves. When traveling, they’d always have their eye out for old scraps of music and would interview the oldest villagers and record (on paper) their ancient stories and songs.

    As someone who can’t stop her eye twitching when “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is played as a funeral dirge on guitar, I could definitely get on board with such a character.

    As for the comic – this one is indeed amusing :-)

    1. Shamus says:

      You’re making a hipster-bard!

      I applaud your courage.

      1. John says:

        Hipster? My first thought was of the folklorists and musicologists who set out to record and preserve folk music circa the Great Depression. What I mean is that the lawful bard could be a serious, sober academic type who cares about this sort of music for its own sake rather than a hipster.

        Or have I just described what a hipster is? I can’t keep track of this stuff.

        1. Kathryn says:

          Yes, the serious academic is more what I had in mind. Might be I’ve missed an evolution of terms (wouldn’t be the first time, heh), but at my church at least, the hipsters are the ones butchering the classic hymns.

          Anyway, I’m not actually playing in a campaign now and likely not anytime soon, so… If anyone wants to use this idea, go ahead – I stole it from someone else to begin with!

    2. Philadelphus says:

      “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is played as a funeral dirge on guitar

      Great, now my eye is twitching, thanks for that mental image. Mental recording? What’s the sonic equivalent?

      As someone whose musical tastes are approximately two-to-three centuries out of date, that does sound like a fun character. The “historically-informed performer.” If I ever get a chance/the time to play an RPG again I’ll have to remember that.

  9. tmtvl says:

    Typo police:

    They might as well put an dresses

    Put on dresses, I think.

    Marcus’’s character

    I imagine one apostrophe would suffice.

  10. Joshua says:

    One other thing I’ve always said about Bards:

    Ability to cast a bunch of miscellaneous magical effects based around mostly non-offensive uses, including glamorous displays, misleading voices, breaking charm effects, casting light, etc. Maybe even throw a Hold Portal in there for grins.
    Despite being able to cast spells, is no slouch wielding a sword, although not to the extent of a pure fighter.
    However, despite prowess with magic and arms, their most powerful and important role in the party is as a lore-master and advisor: they inspire others to do greater deeds instead of trying to do everything themselves.

    Congratulations, you’ve just described Gandalf (Wizard title notwithstanding).

    So, Bards don’t have to be cheesy or annoying.

  11. Baron Tanks says:

    Don’t really have anything to add to the discussion that hasn’t been said already. Just wanted to pop in to say this is my favorite strip so far, by quite a margin!

  12. Matt says:

    Ever since my very first character, all of my tabletop fantasy game characters have hated bards. I’ve always felt that they were somewhat out of place among the other classes.

    1. Ebass says:

      As someone who mostly loves the role play and creative aspects of D&D, bards have always been my favorite class. You can be the “face” of the party and do the conversations and also have fun using spells creatively, making up songs on the fly is fun too.

      1. Joe_W says:

        And you can combine them well with more bards in the same group (well, at least in 3e and 3.5, never played a bard before that). They can be really useful, “bardic knowledge” anybody? Plus it is fun to make good use of all those skills you can take. I usually made a point of taking such great skills as “flower arranging” or somesuch (useful in the feudal Japan inspired setting, forgot the name). I sometimes play style over substance.

        To be honest, the first time I rolled up a bard the other guys at the table were mocking me. A lot.

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Bards get a bad rap because everyone probably pictures a lute playing twerp from the Daffy Duck Robin Hood cartoon. Instead of like… the guy who told the story of the 300 Spartans as the frame story for (the movie or book) 300. That crazed inspiration they get at the end of that story? That was Bardic inspiration!

      1. BruceR says:

        The ‘300’ example, though, is inspiration *before* the battle.

        The issue with fantasy game bards is they’re basically singing their ballad in the *middle* of the battle, so much so that if they have to stop to dodge arrows the buff effect goes away. Which is a rather ridiculous scenario to contemplate.

        Edit: the better “manly” analogy IMO is Highland Regiment bagpipers at D-Day, etc.

  13. Jabrwock says:

    Thanks for recommending The Gamers. I felt like I was in a university game again.

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