Thursday, January 12, 2017


Reading through some Buddhist content about happiness (sukha), joy (piti), equanimity (upekkha) and Brahmavihara ( I found myself having some strange thoughts on bard performance and the "better life."  When in doubt, always go east young man.  Always go east.

I ended up with a series of platitudes which today I cannot find, but are fundamentally tied into benevolence and charity.  The content person does not quest for wealth or power, but for well-being, well-being for self and well-being for others.  This is what the bard does ~ transmits a sense of well-being.  We have been describing this as happiness . . . but we have lacked any meaningful game benefit that this can offer.  And as I've said, I don't want to fall back on hit points, morale, saving throws or any of the usual things that get modified in the game.

On wikipedia, under piti, there's an excellent distinction made between "happiness" and "bliss" that is attributed to the 5th century treatise, the Visuddhimagga:

"If a man exhausted in a desert saw or heard about a pond on the edge of a wood, he would have happiness.  If he went into the wood's shade and used the water, he would have bliss."

This is what we want the bard to produce in game terms.  Something that the players will identify only with the bard: some effect that only the bard can cause.

With our last post, we were discussing the varying qualities of Aristotle: that happiness makes us flourish, that happiness causes us to behave virtuously, that we embrace temperance, justice, the desire to better ourselves, the encouragement of efficiency, proficiency, friendship, worthiness and respect.

We were describing experience.  We just didn't think of that.

But this is what the bard gives: experience.  Having an evening with the bard creates that sense of bliss as we immerse ourselves into the performance.  It focuses us, it reminds us of why we persevere, the experience provides us with resolve, bravery, a sense of duty, a sense of strength and possibility . . . in short, ALL the characteristics that we associate with being better in battle, with standing up to the enemy and taking a hit for the crew that we work with, with potentially sacrificing ourselves to save a fallen comrade.

I have often argued that we can't give experience for things that don't contribute to being a better combatant . . . and yet I would argue that attending a show does make one a better combatant.  It gives us something to fight for.

I can see it quite clearly.  The benefit of the bard character is that it gives other characters experience.  And the bard, in turn, gets experience from other bards.

Ah, but how?

I see two paths.  We can call them Upekkha (or Upeksa, in sanskrit), the sense of peace and well-being (equinimity, composure, the state of being sublime) and Sukha (happiness, bliss).  For certain, those terms are not going to be confused with any other term used in D&D.

In terms of bardic performance, Upeksa is the feeling we get from encountering something familiar and immensely satisfying, or what we have already defined as "product" where it comes to bardic creation. Sukha is, therefore, the feeling we get from encountering "art" ~ something wholly new that astounds our senses and overwhelms our thoughts.  Take note that I am using the word "encounter" deliberately. Visiting a theatre or attending a concert is, in D&D terms, an encounter.

Now, that is going to mess some people up.  And some people will feel that I am going a long way to completely break the game.  But rest assured, I'm being very careful in what the effects will be of either Sukha or Upeksa.


Very well, our bard gets up in front of an audience at a local roadhouse or inn and gives a recitation of a familiar poem, or perhaps a poem that has made its impression on audiences before but is not overly known to this audience.  There are perhaps twenty, perhaps fifty persons in the common room, warming themselves by the fire, ending their conversation because poets are rare and poetry is appreciated in that culture like it will never be in ours.  What happens?

Nothing, right away.  The bard has co-opted someone else's art as product and, while having produced a warm and fuzzy feeling among the crowd, we are speaking of contentment and well-being.  We are not speaking of epiphany or the scattering of formerly possessed ideals.  We're not talking Archimedes running down a street naked.

But . . . the audience goes away from the performance affected.  They are warmer in their hearts, they are a bit more interested in the world around them, they are more attentive.  Our bard isn't the greatest of bards and the venue isn't the greatest of venues, but there has been a change.

We could stipulate that for the period of a week after the encounter, each person in attendance (the party included!) will gain +1% experience above anything they would normally gain.  That's not profound, that's not game breaking, but it is significant and the party will certainly not turn it down.  It is, of course, not cumulative.  Still, having a bard on tap, knowing that small bonus will be there as long as the bard is with the party, casting poems around the campfire before we turn in, will have its impact.  If the bard dies, the party will certainly notice a little bit more than they would losing a thief or a druid.

Of course, as the bard progresses in level, that percentage will increase also.  We already give a 10% bonus for having a better strength for a fighter or a better wisdom for a cleric; why not a 2-5% bonus for having a better bard?  It may only be an additional 20-50 points on every thousand, but it will be 20-50 points for every person in the party.  When thinking about the online Juvenis party right now, with four characters and five followers, that's 180-450 additional experience for every thousand gained.  That's not peanuts.

But let's take the next step.  What about improving the venue?

We were talking about the bard performing at a bar.  What about an open-air stage?  What about an enclosed theatre, an opera house?  And what if we are not just talking about any poem, discussed for a few minutes or half an hour, but an epic poem that takes an hour to tell.  What about an National Epic, memorized in its entirety, tailor-made for an audience that gets weepy every time it is heard (and being the 17th century, it isn't heard often).  What is the benefit from that?

I can see going as high as 15-20%, for the space of a week afterwards.  Such events would be spectacularly expensive, they might last only one performance or perhaps for a run of a week, like the Bayreuth festival (but in my world it is too early for Wagner).  It would be hard to seriously to keep attending something like this and still get any proper adventuring done . . . but imagining travelling seven hundred miles just to attend the festival.

And perhaps it might have a diminishing effect.  The most profound concert in Europe, given perhaps in Vienna, gives a 20% for the first week . . . and a drop of 1 or 2% for each week thereafter.  The players could space out on the bonus for months, making their plans to visit the same concert next year, every year.  THAT is granting something to the players that they really want.

Really, the potential is masterful.  Players are suddenly asking if there's a theatre in the city; they want to go to the city instead of the town because there might be something more.  The bigger the city, the more profound the encounter they might have.  And it is something else for them to spend their money on (at prodigious prices ~ it cost more than $350 to see Springsteen in concert in 2016).

Moreover, it gives something concrete for a bard to shoot at.


Now, this is different.  The benefits of Sukha can be obtained only once per artwork ~ and only from the artist actually responsible for that artwork.  So before Sukha can occur, the bard has to produce something personal and unique . . . and before that can happen, the bard has to get an inspiration and then work to make that inspiration happen.

That is a lot suddenly resting on top of the bard's being successful.  Now it isn't just getting the work finished.  Now it isn't the work bringing happiness or causing the locals to be more productive (though it might do that too).  Now it is the players waiting for the work to be done, because they are going to get experience from it.

Now the bard is hearing, "Is it done yet?  Is it done?"  And when the DM asks for the bard to roll the die to see if it is, every neck at the table is outstretched to see what the result is.

That's combat.  That's what happens with combat.

And because the bard's work isn't going to be accomplished with just one roll, there are going to be stages to the success of this thing.  And with each stage, the players get a little closer.

To make that work, the benefit for hearing the work has to be meaningful.  That is, if it works, right?  We talked about art not working.  If it doesn't, the bard won't be the only failure.  The whole party should be banging their heads on the table.

Want to know what it means to be an artist?  It means when we fail, everyone fails.  Just look at the favorite sport on the internet.

So what is that benefit?  Well, that depends on the amount of work done.  And that depends on how hard core the bard wants to be before risking total failure (and possibly an in-party lynching).  Working for a quick result might require two success rolls and then the final check against the stat indicated . . . and it might give 4% of the bard's total experience on hand to listeners (with some sort of adjustment for the level of the listener or lack thereof).  If the bard is first level and has a thousand experience, that's no big deal.  Oh, too bad, we lost 40 x.p.   Big whoop.

But let's say we have a poet that is more ambitious, deciding that this is going to be a serious poem, an epic.  There are going to be a series of 10 needed successful rolls that will extend the making of the poem to perhaps a year, until such time as the bard reaches 5th level and has a total of 20,000 x.p.  Suppose that the fallout from this poem will be 20% percent of the bard's total experience; that's 4,000 experience, bang, all in one swoop.  Wow, what a poem!

As I say, that would have to be reduced for characters of less than 5th level.  It could be argued they just don't "get it" ~ it is above their experience level.  Still, we could have an adjustment like two to the power of whatever the difference in levels was: so divided by 2 for 4th level, by 4 for 3rd level, by 8 for 2nd level, by 16 for 1st level and by 32 for the non-leveled persons.  This would still mean 125 x.p. for the common listeners.

The limitation is that each person hearing the poem can get this benefit only once (after which it becomes just another Upeksa), but there are virtually an unlimited number of persons the poem can be given to.

"Oh, just joined the party?  Oh, you must take some time and get the bard to recite his Clown's Panurge . . . it's fab!  You'll be changed, I promise you."


The potential changes here are enormous.  I was talking it over with my daughter just now and making jokes about the party rallying around the "culture stick" and screw the mage.  In my daughter's words,

"There are two characters hanging off a cliff and you can only save one.  Do you save the mage or the bard?"

I know that I am crazy half the time and that I am constantly raising the bar on the game to the point where most would find it impossible to run ~ but I'm just going to say that this is the most profound idea I think I've ever had.  It is nowhere near the "thread" I talked about yesterday.  Five hours ago I had not one iota of a wisp of a dream of this idea.

But now I think I'm the most brilliant person who ever wrote anything about D&D.  Feel free to just write "OMG" or "Wow" in the comments.