So, onto Dani's next bard post: Art within D&D.
About a decade ago, I began with the premise that Dani describes: that the object that a bard creates is a 'magical item.' The character began producing a number of items and very quickly I found myself disliking the ability of characters to produce magic items at will; it simply gave them too much control over the world, in ways that challenged the risk and tension factors in the game.
At the time, however, I had not conceived of sage abilities or truly minor magical effects ~ the effects I awarded were battle friendly and that was the primary error. Dani is right in her post when she describes 'softer' effects such as those coming from the Legendary Moonlight Sculptor. She's right, as well, when she points out that the magical effect ought to diminish ~ I had not incorporated that aspect, either, because I didn't think of that. It would have solved a lot of the magical item on spigot problems that arose.
Still, while I am revisiting the magical concept once again, I have considerable reservations. My sage abilities are built into four levels of expertise: amateur, authority, expert and sage. Amateurs tend to possess knowledge and a little practical skill, but certainly nothing magical. Authorities possess a lot of practical skill, but again, little or nothing that is magical. It takes an expert to crack the magical ceiling, with the limitation that an expert can only create magic that others have created before. It takes a sage to create magic that is thoroughly original.
As an example, let's suppose we are a gastronomic bard, that we are artists with food. As amateurs, we know cooking techniques and we're very comfortable with the use of knives. We might receive an automatic proficiency (over and above our class proficiencies) in knife (a knife does 1-3 damage; it is not a dagger). We might also know enough about food that we can extend the value of the food ten or twenty percent, meaning that we would know how to get more food out of a pound of meat than an ordinary person, simply because we know better how to handle the product. I can say from experience that a cook is easily able to do this in a number of ways, from preparation to managing spoilage. Those who have been reading my Juvenis campaign can quickly understand how this, as a first level skill, would be of great value in a strapped first level party (since I am stingy about supplying money). Certainly, none of this is magic.
With time, we become bardic authorities. Our food is now amazing. Members of the party, particularly followers, are more than ready to remain in our fellow party members' service because they get to eat at the table we create. The next day, well sated on nutritiously created food, they're ready to work harder ~ and they're ready to work harder knowing that at the end of the day a good meal is on it's way. Moreover, once we convince anyone to sit at our dinner table, making friends is much easier. Local town mucky-mucks are conciliatory once we've had them over for dinner, we have many of them asking us for recipes and cooking advice, while certainly we're developing a local fame. On top of this, we're finding new sources for food. We're expanding into owlbear steaks, dragon egg soup and the remarkable sauce-stiffening qualities of properly rendered gelatinous cubes. Still, no magic, but definitely pushing the boundaries of taste.
Then, after a lot more time, we're gastronomic experts in a magical world. Now we're beginning to grasp all the possibilities of emotional and theoretical sustenance, something that does not end with just the stomach. I am not speaking of potions ~ that is crass alchemy. I am speaking of that which we consume that gives us the power to maintain life and produce growth, mentally as well as physically. Not the making of strength for an hour, but a permanent gain in strength (albeit a lesser gain than a potion might grant) or intelligence. We speak of the repair of charisma or constitutionally poor health, not as an instant cure but through consistent nourishment of body and soul.
As for our abilities as a sage . . . that may best be left to the imagination. What might we truly to with a whole culture, where we can create national dishes that every person will eat at once, bringing them to the same thoughts, the same ideals, the same desired futures?
My first point, then, is a structured gain from level of ability that coincides with other classes; we cannot give the bard extra magical abilities at the start if we withhold the same level of magical ability from clerics, thieves and fighters.
From there, keeping with Dani's program, she produces a table for the effect length that artists of various levels are able to produce. If I understand the table correctly, for the journeyman to produce a journeyman-level artwork, the time required is 2d6 days. I can remember in the past producing tables exactly like this . . . but I'm steadily changing my perspective on these things.
Art is never finished, it is abandoned; and it is only abandoned when the artist grows exhausted with the art in question. In my experience, artists never feel that something can't be improved . . . I could go back easily and rewrite my book, How to Run, then probably go back and write it again. There are many artists who get caught in the trap of doing that, perpetually. Therefore, it isn't a question of something taking 2 to 12 days to get something done ~ it is a question of the bard recognizing that it IS done.
Let us take a project that we, as gastronomic bards, want to 'perfect' ~ though as I've said, perfection is maddeningly impossible. We have an idea of inventing a cake made from carrots, sugar and cinnamon. I won't use Dani's criteria, I'll use my own, so again we are amateurs, about the level of Dani's apprentice. This is the best food we can make, so we'll be experimenting for a maximum of 16 days. We'll get rid of the random number of days and just say that it will take us 16 until it is impossible for us to improve on the cake.
Now, we may have made the best cake we can make with out ability on the 3rd day, but I've never met an artist who would be convinced that was the case, no matter how amazing it tasted. As I said, the artist is forever convinced of doing better. Therefore, we will taste that 3rd days' cake and think, "Fantastic! I bet if I adjust the sugar and add a very little nutmeg . . . then try a few pecans . . . woah, that would make this! I'll do that!"
This is what artists do. They bang their heads against things.
So, do we abandon the effort after 16 days, when it is obvious we're out of ideas? Have you met an artist? I would argue that after 16 days, the bard must start making wisdom checks to leave the problem alone, or else keep spending time and money on it, in a fervent obsession that the artist has no power to resist. What are we doing when we get to the new town? We're rolling that d20, failing, then rushing out to buy flour, spices and sugar again. And spending another day banging our heads against that wall.
Until, of course, we have the breakthrough when we reach authority status (journeyman) . . . and then, following Dani's table, we can now cheerfully spend 3d10 months working on that cake, knowing we're making real progress. At this point, we're not just cooking carrots, we're growing them ourselves and exploring avenues of crossbreeding carrots to get the best possible starch out of the vegetable. And in turn, the cake is having wonderful effects on others.
Of course, it can be argued that the effects are felt by others according to the random schematic that Dani proposes. The carrot cake we made on the 3rd day DID have a great positive effect upon the eaters. But we bards being bards, we don't make that cake again because we go off on a tangent cooking up failures for two weeks before coming back around to what worked. We're not convinced until we have to abandon our work.
Seeing it this way, we need to conceive of greater artworks as specific projects that a player chooses ~ not just a plethora of songs and recipes. This plethora is there, we can cook whatever we want, we have that knowledge. We can make your steak however you want it . . . but that's just process. The real fascination we have is for that damn carrot cake ~ the carrot cake that will change the world.