There are two key structures that I want to design into the bard character, and both were discussed in the comments section of the last post. In this, I want to be clear: these rules are based upon what I see as the necessary elaboration of the bard character. I've been pulled once (it is so hard to resist being an emotional being) into what is a bard and who is a bard, and I don't want to discuss that again. I want to talk about the mechanics of making a bard work. Esoteric discussions that do not involve metrics are actually of very little help.
I know that is bound to choke discussion, as I have found whenever I get into the metrics of something. I am hoping, however, to obtain some understanding for my end goal with the bard. Very well, down to the meat of it.
Art vs. Product
I'm taking the point of view that a bard, once reaching the status of being a 1st level, is a competent craftsperson. They can play songs, write with efficiency and clarity, cook well, throw a pot, fashion leather, sculpt and so on. It isn't a question of whether or not they can do these things well. They can. This is a fixed ability, not something that needs a roll to check.
Use this as a guideline: if a 1st level bard draws a lute out at a tavern and begins singing, people all around will enjoy the singing. Again, it isn't a roll the bard needs to make to find out if people tell him to put the lute away. They don't. At first level, the bard is as competent as an average modern day artist who people read and go, "Hey, that fellow can write," or, "Wow, that picture looks just like me."
However, most of what the bard produces is "Product." The songs sung at the tavern are familiar songs, the meter used to make the poem is a familiar meter, the story told by the puppeteer is well-known, the food is commonplace and recognizable. And 99% of the time, this is what a bard does. Bards take the stock forms of their individual skills and abilities and make proficient, workaday, conventional products therefrom.
As well, the bard never really moves away from this. Bards have a small repertoire of things they know at 1st level and as they grow in level, that repertoire grows as well. But it never stops being about producing product. Shakespeare rewrote Marlow and used earlier works as his fundamental guidelines for churning out play after play, the Impressionistic crowd copied from each other, filmmakers borrow techniques, potters watch other potters, jewellers steal, everyone does it. Over time, it only looks unique and artistic because most of the hoi polloi aren't sophisticated or engaged enough in the field to recognize the difference between something new and different and something regurgitated.
This can be a tremendous frustration for an artist, when something is celebrated as Brilliant and Unique, when in fact is it derivative of some style or particular work that has simply dropped sufficiently out of fashion that the 25-year-old reviewer has failed to acquaint themselves with it. Those inside the profession, however, know; and so, too, do the creators themselves, who are perfectly aware of the stealing they've done and are also perfectly willing to keep quiet about it. If the masses want to be duped, and want to give me money for duping them, then all the power to me.
All this, then, is product. Art is what product steals from.
Art is what a bard does 1% of the time. That up front needs to be understood clearly. This is not a case of a bard deciding between A and B. This is a case of a bard having to do A because B just isn't there. The bard will absolutely rush to do B, the moment B presents itself, but so long as B is a fickle bitch, then A will have to do.
So when does "art" present itself? Here we are looking for a specific word, that being "inspiration." Art happens when the bard encounters inspiration, which isn't a case of just wanting it. Inspiration has to be gotten ~ and regarding inspiration and the game of D&D, it needs to be gotten out there.
We can make a few guesses at what in D&D would be inspiration. A legitimate near-death experience. A magnificent undertaking that ends well. Something horrific on the Lovecraftian level. The death of a friend. A love affair of note. Something truly memorable.
But, no, the obtaining of an inspiration is not experience, it is not another level, it is in fact absolutely nothing but air. Having an inspiration means almost nothing in terms of creating an art work. Remember, 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. All we are saying is that once the inspiration has been sought for and obtained, thereafter the bard has to figure out ~ in their capacity as the representative of a particular art form ~ how to make the inspiration real.
Success vs. Failure
Before we can talk about this, we have to define the difference between these two terms. This, fundamentally, is what the last post was about, though I think that was missed by some.
It is almost habitual to think that "failure" means bad. But remember, we are defining the bard as an able, competent artist, not a wannabe who someday is going to be able to make art. That is nonsense. J.D. Salinger was only in his late 20s when he wrote Catcher in the Rye ~ which, for all its faults, is without a doubt a distinct, different voice in literature. We only fail to see that because is in not 1951, when the book was published. But Salinger was certainly not a 9th level writer. However much we want to believe the equation that Level = Art, we need to get away from that concept. The real equation is that Work = Art. Characters with level only have more resources, and therefore the capacity to create larger pieces of art, more expensive pieces of art, pieces of art that require dozens or hundreds, even thousands of participants.
Moreover, resources mean distribution and notoriety. Quality is not, in itself, a guarantee of notice. Very often, "art" as I've defined it is often so different, so obscure, so uncomfortable, that it is only understood by other artists . . . who in turn make product out of it that is less different, less obscure, less uncomfortable, and therefore more easily consumed. This formula is so completely misunderstood by non-artists, despite the endless works that try to describe it, that it is strangely "natural" to think that good artists will automatically be recognized as such.
To use an example from a different field, it has been said that Newton's Principia Mathematica was incomprehensible to nearly everyone who read it, even other mathematicians. But because it is math, even ignorant people are by and large willing to accept that the book is highly valuable. Yet at the same time, we encounter no hesitation whatsoever to call great artworks "worthless" and "shit" when they prove too hard to read. "Yeah, War and Peace. Why would anyone ever read that?"
From this, I postulate that "failure" does not mean bad. We could rather argue that failure implies a disconnect between the artist and the audience, even with other artists. An artwork that inspires no one to produce product certainly falls short of affecting anyone.
There is another "failure" that is worth noting, that I did touch upon with the last post. That is, the failure to get the result wanted. Let us say that I produce a song about the solitude of individuals facing a terrible oppressive nation, to offer solace to the few intelligent men who, like me, feel helpless in the face of a mighty exploitive entity. And much to my unhappiness, I discover that this book is embraced, nay, publicly celebrated by the united forces of the KKK, who claim it as the modern bible of their cause.
What am I to do? My name is now certainly being exploited by an entity over which I have no control, while at the same time every stranger I meet presumes immediately that I must be part of the KKK because I wrote the book for them. Talk of the solitude in the face of an oppressor. My career is over, my name is over . . . the most I can do is change my name and hope I can disappear into obscurity. That is, if I haven't put my picture on the cover of my book.
"Success," then, is the opposite of all this. Success is communicating, success is inspiring others to make product, success is not having one's name spoiled or being misunderstood, not being vilified and not being burned in effigy. And, potentially, getting a little money out of it too. Perhaps a little fame, but this is the 17th century and without the benefit of mass media, fame is in small packets. We all know the name of Cyrano de Bergerac, technically alive at the time my world takes place, but it is probable that most of the people living in Paris had never heard of him, certainly most of the people in the countryside of France hadn't and only a tiny percentage of people outside of France would have ever read him. About the same number of people who have read him today. Yes, we know who he was, but have you read his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon? ~ had you even heard of it? Can you confirm without a doubt that I'm not inventing that title without looking him up?
We want a metric that will let the bard character, once having obtained the inspiration, to create an artwork without having to actually create the artwork. But we also want that character to have some influence over what the artwork will be, how big it is, what it's general tone and subject will be and what general direction of effect it will have.
I propose that we use the universal condition of all D&D characters, the character stats. A bard looks over the options presented and decides what to take a chance on ~ because, yes, while the quality of the art is not in dispute, the reputation and comprehension of the art is. But before we get to that, let's define the stats in terms of artwork.
Charisma is obviously beauty, the awe-inspiring pleasure of form and appeal that causes the viewer to drop jaw and stare. Of course, the opposite is there as well, the desire to horrify, to force others to turn away, like Hieronymus Bosch, to use a relatively contemporary example. Opposites apply to all the art forms that can be made - and success does not depict necessarily beauty or ugliness, but which the bard desires.
Constitution is health, the patriotic, the celebratory depiction of the present culture, religion or state. It is also the demise of the state, anarchy, subversion, treason and rebellion.
Dexterity is difficulty, intricacy, the making of something that seems so absurd in its construction that it cannot possible stand, or something that the human body cannot possibly do; or making a tool do something that no one could have imagined was possible. It is also the pure naturalness of form, of movement, of perfect ease and embrace.
Wisdom is educational, it is making the viewer, listener or subject aware of what has happened, how things work, how the universe functions, what is truth. And it is also what is not truth, it is fantasy, it is strangeness, it is using the preconceptions of the mind to subvert the mind.
Intelligence is the call to think, to see, to obtain realization, to seek paths of greater understanding, to investigate, to ask questions, to insist that there is more than what we understand. And it is tradition, ignorance, hate, resistance against reason, the insistence that investigation is evil and that things should be taken on faith.
Strength is strength; it is military might, it is a call to arms, it is compelling, bombastic, it is marching music, it is beating feet and booming drums, it is sinew and force of will and personal success. It is also weakness, pandering, the denial of personal responsibility . . . and it is porn, it is debauchery, it is hedonism and lust, it is all the crutches that people lean upon because they are too weak to endure.
Some can take that list as moralistic. I'm not too worried about that, I'm only interested in a metric for defining. That is because, once we hammer out rules for what makes an inspiration into an artwork, we need rules for what effects an artwork has.
And we can begin those rules by saying that AFTER the artwork is made, after it is released, the character makes a check on the ability they have chosen.
Most characters will play it safe. Bards have a high wisdom and a high charisma, it will be safest to make artworks that play to those abilities. But whatever they case, they'll have to do the work before they can know if the work was in vain or not, or what the outcome will be.
THAT is the player understanding what it means to be a bard. That we are inspired, we pick our chosen message, we pick our form, we start the work, we keep at the work, we finish the work . . . and all the while, we're not sure. Will it work? Will it?
It is easy for a player to say, "I write a song," then throw a die and know.
What if we make the player wait to roll. What if the player has to sacrifice time for session after session, until at some point in the future, the time comes for the die to be cast. What will that feel like?
It will feel like an artist.