February 3, 2021

Fiddler of the Mad God Redux

Bardic College
Comments from the Finger: "Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window."

College of the Mad God

In the middle of the night, you hear the music. Every time, it begins the same way, rising from a low drone into a deafening cacophony. The noise is maddening. In your waking hours, your fingers learn to imitate this melody and bring others to your level of psychosis.
    Some attribute the dreadful nightmares to a curse or stress, but you know better. You and others like you are called nightly by the beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes, the sounds of a mad god who echoes the pandemonium of the universe, and summons you to do something. You know not what.

Bonus Proficiencies
When you join this college at 3rd level, you gain proficiency in one skill, which is selected for you by the GM. Whenever you finish a long rest, your GM can change this selection.

By 3rd level, the discordant sounds of your instrument can drive others to tears and utter madness. Once on each of your turns, when a creature fails an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma saving throw against one of your bard spells or features while you are holding an instrument, you can expend a use of your Bardic Inspiration to play a cacophonous noise. A deafened creature is immune to this effect. Choose one of the following effects:
  • The creature takes psychic damage equal to a roll of your Bardic Inspiration die. 
  • The creature is deafened and cant speak until the end of its next turn. 
  • The creature moves up to 10 feet in a direction you choose. This movement doesn't provoke opportunity attacks. 

Frenzied Strings
Starting at 6th level, as an action, you can play a mind-infecting tune for a creature that can hear you within 60 feet. This creature must make a Wisdom saving throw or be frenzied for up to 1 minute. The creature can repeat this saving throw whenever it takes damage, ending the effect on itself on a success.
A frenzied creature loses the ability to distinguish between friend and foe, regarding all creatures it can see as enemies. While frenzied, the creature chooses the targets for its attacks, spells, and ability randomly from among the creatures it can see within range, and it must make an opportunity attack if any creature provokes one. 
Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Mad Melody
Beginning at 14th level, you can use your action to begin playing the accursed melody which haunts your dreams. On each of your subsequent turns, you can use your action to continue the melody. Only creatures you choose within 60 feet of you can hear the melody; all other creatures hear it as discordant noise. Even deafened creatures can hear the haunting melody. 
    When you use your action to play the melody, a creature that can hear the melody must make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC. On a failed save, it takes psychic damage and suffers an additional effect based on the number of consecutive turns you have been playing the melody, as shown on the Mad Melody table. After four consecutive rounds, or if no creature hears the melody for one round, the melody begins again at the first round.

Mad Melody
1st4d8The target is deafened.
2nd7d8The target can't speak and has disadvantage on ability checks.
3rd4d8The target is charmed by you until the end of its next turn.


  1. First, let me just say I really like the flavor of the class. Centering one's music around the madness of some insane 'god' is some serious cool.

    Bonus Proficiencies: I dislike this ability for a couple of reasons. First, it seems incongruous with the flavor of the class. I don't know what it says, but it doesn't say "Maddening music". Second, the DM already has a massive amount of fiat power in a game. Giving an ability explicit DM fiat removes player agency and sets a bad precedent. The DM has enough in his toolbox. PC abilities should be about player spotlight.

    An idea that occurs to me right away is repurposing the College of Cantors Song of Divines' damage dealing aspect. It sticks to the theme of the College, and gives a shadow of things to come in the form of Mad Melody - perhaps the earlier version evolves into the latter?

    Cacophony: Does this take any kind of action/reaction? Or is it a freebie? Also, it would synergize well with the above suggestion.

    1. Regarding the bonus proficiencies: I think the idea behind it is the eldritch-given genius, which is a pretty pervasive theme in The Music of Erich Zann (the story that inspired this subclass, afaik). Although I can see why it can be seen as a bit of an awkward one and I hear that problem with the DM choice.

      I was thinking, maybe it needn't be a skill at all and it can be used to reinforce the quasi-warlock theme instead. So, how about this: instead of skill proficiencies, the PC can recieve warlock cantrips that count as a bard spells for them? And I reckon it could be chosen on finishing a long rest by either the player or the DM, depending on which would be a better design choice.

    2. @Jonathan Mullenax:

      I absolutely see what you're saying about the bonus proficiencies. In my mind, a random character aspect is an interesting way of representing the sort of "inspired" madness that this subclass wants to delve into. It doesn't _have_ to be a skill, but given that you have a good number of skill to begin as a bard, this can only be a plus. Replacing it with a more powerful feature probably isn't called for (especially if said feature is a damage option), but perhaps there's a less GM-centric way of handling it.

      To think aloud for a moment: perhaps a proficiency which you randomly change whenever you use it? Feels like that's more cumbersome than useful. Maybe we give out a specific proficiency with stringed instruments? That's sort of wasted if you already took your chosen instrument prof at 1st. What if we grant a minimum roll on Performance checks?

      Cacophony doesn't require an action; it's a pure rider effect.

    3. I have a couple of ideas, sticking within the confines of proficiencies.

      1 - An ability that grants proficiency in a skill/language/tool you don't have, lasting until it is no longer needed (basically as long as the story needs you to have it). Not only can the player claim the agency, but the DM can grant it if the player hasn't thought of it.

      2 - When you use a bardic inspiration die to grant a bonus to a an ability check, that check is also made with advantage.