Continuing my recent trend of attempting to redesign 5e classes to better fit the Primeval Thule low magic setting, I've finally decided to tackle the 5e Bard.
The Bard is a particular problem for a conversion to a low magic setting because it is a full caster in 5e, with spells all the way to 9th level. The Bard spell list tends to focus on healing, illusion, charm and sound themes, with a strong dose of utility and a smattering of combat magic. Which is great, but when you take the magic away, what is left of the 5e Bard? Well, in addition to their spells, 5e Bards have great skills, poor to reasonable melee capability, and built in buffing (and possibly debuffing) capabilities.
I'm going to confess straight up that converting a full spell casting class to a non magical variant is not something I think is really possible! Instead, I've decided to make my Bard more of a hybrid Fighter-Bard: a capable and charismatic warrior, who motivates and unifies her party to greater effect through inspiring words, songs and deeds. Possibly with a few extra tricks up her sleeve.
So what particular abilities would make my spell-less Bard a useful addition to a party? Taking away the full suite of spells is a big deal. What can we put back in to substitute to keep the class competitive, balance wise?
For me, the answer to this question is partly tied up with my version of the 5e Warlord. When I designed the Warlord, I went with strong healing, damage mitigation and action enabling abilities. A class that could fight hard but also carry the healer load, as a quasi substitute for the cleric.
I don't want my spell-less Bard to compete with the Warlord by occupying the same design space. I dont want the Bard to fill the same niche, not role wise nor mechanics wise. I want a party to be able to have both a Warlord and Bard in their ranks if they wish, and for each class to be valued and bring it's own special abilities to the table.
So, the version of the spell-less Bard that I've settled on has ended up as much Fighter as Bard. My spell-less variant is a dangerous warrior, with a wide range of arms and armour, who supports his allies by inspiring them to fight longer and harder. He is highly charismatic, well versed in the arts of performance and persuasion, perfectly suited to negotiating with NPCs and entertaining the masses. Additionally, this character is an expert in a wide range of skills, and develops a number of unique abilities based on intimate knowledge of ancient legends and obscure lore.
Reflecting on the wide spectrum of bards from history and fiction alike, I'm not exactly sure where this spell-less Bard fits. I feel like it has a strong warrior aspect, perhaps a skald or warrior-poet like stamp on it, more than the charismatic scoundrel who picks up a bit of everything on her wide ranging travels (though there are certainly aspects of that too).
In any event, what this Bard does not have is magic*, and I hope you can find a use for it (or some of it's mechanics) in your game.
Houserule #7: Spell-less Bard for DnD 5e and Primeval Thule.
*Disclaimer: Spell-less Bard may or may not in fact have a touch of magic, around Level 18!
Low Fantasy Gaming - free PDF book:
Low Fantasy Gaming Googleplus Community