August 2, 2017

Musical Adventuring

Variant Rules

Rules for Musical Adventuring

When people first encounter the bard class in D&D, their response is often a little incredulous. They fight by singing? Really? It seems a little... cute. But I've been thinking: what if we flip that on its head and make everyone fight by singing? We'd have a Battle of the Bards!

Then, the Thumb wrote up his excellent College of Rhyme, which blended the medieval theme of the bard class with a modern style of music. Very soon, the Digits were all talking about which of the other classes was which other modern genre, and I felt inspired to write some of them up, along with additional rules to facilitate a more musical game. Here's a taster of those rules to get you warmed up!

Spontaneous Musical Numbers

Sometimes, an adventurer will break out in song. Typically, this will be in an attempt to convince someone of something that they otherwise would not even entertain, though it could also be a means for a character to give voice to their inner feelings, venting their sorrows and expressing their joys.
     If a character with proficiency in one or more musical instruments makes a Charisma (Deception, Intimidation or Persuasion) check and fails to get the desired response, they can choose to launch into an elaborate musical number in an attempt to improve the result. The song lasts 10 minutes and enables the character to make a Charisma (Performance) check. They must then subtract 15 from the result and, if the outcome is positive, they may add that as a bonus to their previous deception/intimidation/persuasion attempt.
     Spontaneous song-and-dance shows are tiring, however. Once the performance is over, the singer must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or gain a level of exhaustion.


Performing a duet can be a great way to get to know someone, bonding with them over a shared piece of music.
     Whenever a character makes a Performance check that involves playing music, another character who is proficient with one or more instruments may take the Help action to join in and give them advantage on the check. Furthermore, if the two characters are using different instruments, a 1d4 ‘fusion’ bonus can be applied to the check.
     For one minute after two characters have performed a duet with each other, they know each other’s surface thoughts and emotional state, as if they had cast the spell detect thoughts on each other. This effect is not magical and cannot be blocked by effects such as the mind blank spell or a Ring of Mind Shielding, because the thought sharing is conducted voluntarily.

One-on-One Duels

The most intense and personal music contests are those where two incredible talents go head-to-head in an ultimate exhibition of skill, technique and flair.
     In a duel, the the contestants take turns; turn order can either be agreed beforehand or determined by an initiative roll. On each turn, the players can use their action to play a short melody (or whatever would be appropriate for their instrument), which deals damage to their opponent, or perform some other action from the list below.

     Melody. Make an attack roll using Dexterity (representing timing and precision) - and applying your proficiency bonus if you are proficient in the instrument you are using - against the opponent’s AC. On a hit, they take damage equal to 1d6 + your Dexterity modifier.
     Harmony. If you are equipped with two instruments that can be played simultaneously, such as a lute and your singing voice, you can make one attack with each, as per the melody action. However, both of these attacks have disadvantage.
     Chorus. You play a simple, resounding motif that deals no damage to your opponent but restores your will to fight. You regain 1d4 hit points.
     Retune. You quickly recalibrate your instrument. You have advantage on the next two attack rolls you make with it.
     Distract. You play a discordant mess to confuse your opponent. Their next two attacks have disadvantage.
     Cast a Spell. You cast a spell. Contestants in a duel are immune to all damage from spells cast by their opponent, except for psychic and thunder damage.

The contestants both start with 20 hit points -- it should be noted that these are separate from their physical health and no injury is sustained in the duel -- and their AC is equal to 10 + their Charisma modifier. The winner of the duel is whoever reduces their opponent’s HP to zero first. The victor gains XP equal to the sum of the loser’s Dexterity and Charisma scores.

Battles of the Bands

When all the members of a band are in sync with one another, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, a full battle between rival bands requires some set-up: a stage needs to be prepared and an audience assembled. For this reason, they usually take place at regular events such as festivals and holidays. Any number of bands can take place in a battle; traditionally the show is contested by at least three acts.
     Each band gets to play one song, for which they generate a ‘performance score’. The performance score combines several different elements into a grand total; the winner of the contest is whoever compiles the highest score. The DM should determine appropriate rewards for the winning band - this could include XP, treasure or other boons.

Stage Presence
The core of the performance score is determined by the presence, style and showmanship of the band members up on stage. Each musician rolls a Charisma (Performance) check. The two highest rolls are then added together: this is the stage presence component of the performance score.

Special Moves
Two of the band members may perform one ‘special move’ each to make their performance more memorable. Each type of special move requires a DC 20 ability check; on a success the band gains a +10 bonus to its performance score. Some suggested special moves include:

     Instrument Smash. Strength check
     Breakdance. Strength (Athletics) check
     Stage Dive. Dexterity (Acrobatics) check
     Killer Solo. Dexterity (Instrument) check
     Cut Shapes. Dexterity (Performance) check
     Instant Costume Change. Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check
     Breathe Fire. Constitution (Arcana) check
     Improvise! Wisdom check
     Audience Participation. Charisma (Persuasion) check

Audio-Visual Effects
Some members of the band may elect not to appear on stage, but instead help the performers by providing behind-the-scenes support. Generally, this takes the form of magic. Up to one band member may roll an Intelligence (Arcana) check to determine the quality of the effects; this result is added to the band's overall performance score. If any of the band members who remain backstage know any of the following spells, they can add +1 to the result of the roll for each spell available:

     Dancing lights, faerie fire, fog cloud, gust, major image, minor illusion, prestidigitation, programmed illusion, pyrotechnics, silent image, skywrite and thaumaturgy.

In addition, one band member must do an acoustic check before the show to make sure the band will sound good. This requires a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check; on a success, the performance score increases by +5; on a failure, a -5 penalty is applied.

Costume & Make-Up
Before taking to the stage, bands spend hours making sure their costumes are just right, often employing specialist hirelings to do their hair and make-up. A band can gain a +1 bonus to their performance score for every 10gp spend on costumes and other preparations, up to a maximum of +10.


  1. W3lp i needed this now the next time my little blade singer goes back home to the underdark ots time to sing bitches

  2. On the one hand, you've created a way to turn D&D into Scott Pilgrim.
    On the other hand, you've created a way to turn D&D into D&Disney.

    On both hands, THIS IS FREAKING AWESOME.

    1. All I could picture were the Cabinet Battles from Hamilton.

    2. And just Hamilton in general. I may or may not have a problem.

  3. Now i can do a character like Richard or Pella from LFG and I'm imagining scenarios from When Your Evil or Slaughter Your World (LFG/Blind Ferret)

  4. Love it.

    I have so much fun with my Tabaxi bard. I'll have to see if my DM will allow any of this.

  5. So a quick question how do i actual do the musical number i see a -15 to the roll but is that a one time roll or do i roll multiple times durring my performance

    1. I have it that you roll once per performance. It's basically a bonus where you can add anything over 15 to the previous Persuasion check, in exchange for 10 minutes of singing.

    2. So can you give me an example nail of how this works for the rolls. I want to understand fully how this works im going to use this as dark elf blade singer bard i really want to spontaneus bust into song as much as possible.

    3. So, you make a DC 20 Persuasion check, but roll a 19. So you're 1 short of the DC, and the person you're talking to isn't doing what you want.

      You then perform a song to change their mind, roll a Performance check, get an 18. 18-15=3, so you can add a +3 bonus to the Persuasion check. 19+3=22, which is a success. The target changes their mind.

      I hope that makes sense, because I can't explain it any better.

    4. It helped but what if i just want to spontainously sing a musical without the persuasion even get spiders to dance like a disney princess.

  6. Also what do you mean by cut shapes

    1. It's basically...

      Here's a tutorial:

  7. Guess I can finally build my Brutal Legend campaing!

    1. Yeah!

      ...But you also might want to wait until we publish a few more archetypes: I've got a metalhead-style barbarian and charismatic frontman-style rogue in the locker, plus plenty of support for other genres. Basically, I want to make it so that you can do a Brutal Legend game without overloading on bards.

  8. I got a question for you. For Audio-Visual Effects, it says "Up to one band member may roll an Intelligence (Arcana) check to determine the quality of the effects. If any of the band members who remain backstage know any of the following spells, they can add +1 to the result of the roll for each spell available:" Does this get added directly to the performance score, is there a DC to beat for a specific bonus, or...?

    1. Oh, wow, I completely forgot to say what happens to that roll, eh?

      It gets added directly to the performance score. So you Roll the Arcana check, plus a bonus for spells known, and add the total to the performance score. But you can't add any spells known bonus if no one makes the Arcana check - you've got to have someone to co-ordinate the effects.