A song for the ages
The latest variation on the Bard sees us visiting a college that believes the multiverse was created from a song – a song that you are able to manipulate to grant benefits to your friends and bring life to inanimate objects! Have you ever wanted to be followed around by an animated tuning fork? Do you like the idea of a barstool resolving an argument in a tavern while you keep your hands in your pockets? Then read on!
Each of the subclass features below includes a brief summary of the relevant rule, but to see them in full you can download the Unearthed Arcana article for free from the Wizards of the Coast website, here.
Note of Possibility - 1st Level
Use Bardic Inspiration to set a note floating around a friendly target that can grant it various benefits.
Before we get into these benefits, it's worth a comment on the flavour of this particular ability. When I read the initial intro text for the class, I thought it was really interesting, with plenty of potential for deep philosophy, but this definitely cements in the whole children's animated film vibe. My issue with the fact that the ability is defined this way is that codifying a little floating magical note into the rules has the potential to jar with certain settings. Imagine playing the final encounter in Rise of Tiamat or the Underdark chase in Out of the Abyss with a Bard that gives you animated musical notation? That seems like it would break immersion fairly quickly and encourage players to be silly.
Don't get me wrong – I'm absolutely not against silliness in a D&D adventure. They are, after all, supposed to be fun. The thing is, looking at this alongside the Clockwork Soul Sorcerer, you can see an example of how players could be given the opportunity to have a little note orbiting them or for the inspiration to take some other form. I'm not sure whether a musical note needed to be written down as the way this manifests when there is so much flexibility elsewhere in the way that spells, or other actions can be described.
Just as an example – if I played this subclass, I might want my Bard to inspire people by singing the song of creation and having it echo quietly around them until they decide they want to cash it in for one of the features below. Obviously this is a bit of a fussy thing to fixate on, because a player and a DM can always come to an arrangement of how they would like things to look or not look, but some people do like to stick to what's written in the game text and it seems a shame to define this rather than offer them a choice of how they want it to appear.
Either way, that's just my opinion, and creating the musical note is not where this ability ends! As you'll see, I think the mechanical side of this ability is actually very good.
Note of Destruction
(When used when making an attack) Each creature within 5 feet must make a Con save or take damage equal to a roll of the Bardic Inspiration dice.
This seems like a great way for melee characters to cash in this ability – a bit of free damage to their enemies, with particular benefit if they've been surrounded. I like this a lot.
Note of Potential
(When used when making a Saving Throw) Roll the Bardic Inspiration dice and add your Cha modifier to the total. The inspired character gains that many Temporary HP.
This is also a really useful way to be able to cash in your Bardic Inspiration, and it could potentially be lifesaving! It's of most use against damaging spells (you may not want to cash it in when trying to resist a Charm Person spell, for example), particularly for low level characters that don't have many HP.
Note of Ingenuity
(When used when making an Ability Check) Roll the Bardic Inspiration dice twice and choose which one to apply to your ability check.
This helps to guarantee that you get a decent bonus to an ability check and avoid the inevitable disappointment that comes with hyping up a Bardic Inspiration roll and seeing the dreaded 1 make an unwelcome appearance – always good!
Animating Performance - 6th Level
Turn a large or smaller non-magical item into a companion for 1 hour.
If you're looking for items to animate, remember that stones count. Your backpack is probably full of non-magical items, like torches, a tinderbox, a length of rope... the sky's the limit, and everything animates to the same stat block. At 6th level, you're looking at a creature with a base of 33HP (if your Cha bonus is 0, which is unlikely – by now you're probably looking at at least 37HP), and they're pretty hard to hit being as they have an ability that effectively puts any foe at disadvantage when attacking them. You just got your own personal mini-tank!
There's the potential for some real hilarity here, depending on your setting. If you're tromping around Waterdeep then you could choose a chamber pot or picnic basket, whereas if your setting is more serious then there's probably a good chance you can find a suit of armour or even a skeleton that you can give life to... without even having to multiclass and take Necromancer!
Performance of Creation - 14th Level
Create a non-magical item of size large or smaller until the end of your next turn.
I love the idea of this. You're limited only by your imagination in very many ways, and if you are able to use this ability outside of combat, you'll be able to benefit from whatever you create for hours. It's worth noting that the rules direct you to look at the Vehicles panel in the Player's Handbook but that the size restriction of the object means you won't be able to do anything too fancy – for small parties, being able to conjure up a carriage is not a bad thing, but once you get past 4 players you might have to negotiate with the DM to fit everyone inside.
This could be useful in a situation where items are lost or stolen as a story progresses, or if a member of the party wants to get better armour. Plate armour, for example, can be expensive. If you're short on gold as a group and one of your melee fighters needs to get themselves some new gear, there's no reason why you can't toot your horn and conjure it out of thin air!
One thing to bear in mind with this is that creating things during combat is not ideal – using your action for 10 consecutive rounds to keep a vital item on the same plane of existence as you is not necessarily the best use of your abilities. If for any reason you were to be knocked out or unable to complete the 1 minute ritual, you would also then find that the item you conjured disappears rather sooner than you were hoping, potentially leaving another member of your party vulnerable.
Oh, and it looks like the musical notes are back, too.
Mechanics-wise, I love this. It's quirky, it's got a lot of potential for a lot of fun, and the take on Bardic Inspiration in particular gives us something different rather than just a plain old d6 to roll. Being able to rock around with a decent companion is a nice addition, too. The final ability could have limited use, depending on your campaign, but it's certainly something that a creative player should be able to use to their advantage. I'm just not sold on the visual representation of the power in the way that's set out in black and white, and I'd love to see that replaced by a table of suggested ways that the power could manifest if these subclass rules are finalised.