One to beam up for Star Trek Adventures live streaming game

There are so many awesome tabletop roleplaying games i want to play! On top of that, several fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaigns i’m itching to run or play. Plus my ongoing Spelljammer campaign – now supported two separate parties of adventurers.

One of the games i’m really excited about is Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. i’ve been a Star Trek since childhood, getting hooked on the original series i watched with my mom.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the airwaves i was 10 years old and dutifully watched it every week. i thought it was so cool and often daydreamed about being on the show. Not as a person living in the Star Trek universe though – i wanted to be on the set as a cast member!

As future series rolled around, my interest continued but certainly waned. i dabbled in Deep Space Nine, watched the premiere and a few episodes of Voyager and caught one or two episodes of Enterprise. The newest series, Discovery, is exciting and fresh. i’ve seen all the movies, in both the prime and Kelvin timelines, too.

But TOS is still the best. There’s a distinct quality to the series episodes that doesn’t carry over to any of the other entries in the franchise. Along these lines, there’s a fantastic fan-created program called Star Trek Continues produced by the nonprofit charity Trek Continues Inc. My preference for TOS remains strong in Star Trek Online, as well, where my Vulcan captain and all the crew proudly wear TOS uniforms despite the vast variety of options. Continue reading


Playing D&D with class: Fighter

Coming up with a great backstory, personality, motivations and goals goes a long way toward making memorable D&D characters. But the nuts and bolts of what you can do get determined primarily by class. (Race and background play a role though, too.) Consider it your character’s vocation, calling, profession or craft, class picks up where backstory leaves off, giving skills and abilities for a life of adventure.


Rather than analyze the mechanics of each class in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, extolling the benefits of one option and admonishing the suboptimal drawbacks of another, what you’ll find in “Playing D&D with class” are musings and hopefully some insight into different ways to approach the various classes in D&D.

As a longtime player and Dungeon Master i’ve never put much emphasis on mathematical optimization. And when it comes to characters i’m a purist – multiclass characters have never appealed to me. Instead, it’s always been about the concept, the who of a character more than the what. Continue reading

Getting back to my roots

What a year 2017 has been so far!

After moving back to my beloved hometown of Cleveland, Ohio from sweltering Austin, Texas i laser-focused on a few life goals.

Squad goals! If by ‘squad’ i mean myself

One lofty ambition was becoming debt free. Mission accomplished! (Not counting the consolidated school loan i’ll likely take to my grave.) Savings sustained massive damage and frivolity was curtailed, but monies owed are no more.

Another priority was getting back to my roots as a tabletop gamer. This goal has enjoyed great success throughout the year. In Austin, the tabletop gaming community was a lifeline to a social life in a new city after moving there alone for my muggle job in journalism. Every night of the week was game night at one of the city’s many hobby shops. The gaming culture is strong in there.

Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League and a steady diet of board games reinvigorated my lifelong love of tabletop gaming, and i brought that passion back to Cleveland. Friends were cajoled into forming a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons group, which is still going strong. Aside from our main campaign, we’ve played several one-shots and even welcomed a new player to the hobby. He’s already taken a turn behind the Dungeon Master’s screen and started a secondary campaign for the group. Continue reading

Staying nerdy with Nerdarchy

i couldn’t tell you which video i watched first, or how i stumbled upon it on YouTube. And with roughly 1,500 videos on their channel as of this post, i certainly can’t boast of having viewed them all. A substantial sum, to be sure, but it would be a Herculean task to catch up, especially with the prodigious amount of content they create and share.


With their three-year anniversary approaching on May 4, 2017, the folks behind Nerdarchy show no signs of slowing down or running out of nerdy stuff to talk about. Recently hitting 30,000 subscribers, they are more dedicated than ever to growing their brand and fostering their own unique contribution to nerd culture.

Nerdarchists Dave and Ted took time from their lives to chat with me about the earliest days of Nerdarchy, how far they’ve come and how far they hope to still go. The same charm, humor and excitement for nerd culture on display in their videos was evident in our conversation, along with the camaraderie between them that lends their content a dynamic set apart from a sea of single-person YouTube personalities.


Unabashed geeks, Dave’s chat location was packed with gaming rulebooks (lots of 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons stuff if i recognize the book spines correctly) as well as a magnificent wood-carved Spanish knight display. In Ted’s chat window, the familiar Domo-kun figure seen in many of their videos loomed over his shoulder.

“The original impetus was not to start a roleplaying game channel,” Dave revealed. His brother Ryan was moving back to their hometown in South Jersey from New Mexico, where he’d been pursuing a career as an artist. The brothers wanted to create content for the internet together, and after some back-and-forth settled on tabeltop RPGs. For Dave, it was a matter of finding something close to his heart, and if you watch any of their videos, it’s clear how passionate he and the rest of the team are about their hobby.

“You have no idea how many iterations of ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ we went through before we could find a domain name that was available,” explained Dave. “The cool thing about that was we realized (Nerdarchy) is actually a word in the urban dictionary, and it was available. So we went with that and started doing it.”

Dave, who had experience with internet marketing, knew going in that the key to success in their endeavor meant putting a team together. “You can’t Lone Ranger it – that stuff only works in the movies.” Reaching out to Ted, they set to work making videos. And they haven’t stopped since.

Early Nerdarchy videos touched on broad topics, including one of my favorites where Dave discussed releasing his inner geek. At that time, their gaming group was playing a lot of Mutants & Masterminds as well as 4E D&D and Pathfinder, and several videos discuss those games as well the cult classic Paranoia and others. More generally, Nerdarchy videos touched on topics applicable to any sort of tabletop RPG. They also expanded beyond games to include a trip to their neighborhood comic book store to talk comics, demonstrations of yo yo tricks, movie reviews and interviews with game designers.

“Then we discovered 5th edition (Dungeons & Dragons) was coming out, and we’re like well, if we’re doing this website maybe we should talk about this,” Dave recalled. “As soon as we started talking about 5th edition D&D, we exploded. It just so happened that we really like the system, so that was a benefit.”

With an eye towards building Nerdarchy into a viable business, Dave, Ted, Ryan and fourth principal member Nate are constantly seeking improvement. Part of their growth included their video format evolving from a single person speaking to the audience to the conversational atmosphere seen in their content now. There’s a practical side to creating lots of videos as a group, too.

“As our stuff grew, we realized the more videos we wound up doing, the more ad revenue we’d wind up getting,” Ted pointed out. “And the more potential there is to find something that people are going to hit on.”

Expansion meant one video each day, Monday through Friday. Then two videos a day. Then an additional weekend video. And live gameplay sessions. And gameplay sessions with fans…

“Let’s just do more videos,” Ted said of their approach. “It was really a more business and financial decision.”

“I can’t even believe we have this much to say,” Dave chimed in.


Nerdarchist Ted, Nerdarchist Dave, Nerdarchist Ryan and Nate the Nerdarch

As a testament to Nerdarchy’s dedication, creativity and affection for their hobbies and nerd culture, they maintain an enormous database of topics and ideas for videos. Inspiration comes from myriad sources, including viewer comments both good and bad, pop culture and the ever-growing nature of the tabletop gaming hobby itself.

Audience interaction is certainly an important part of the formula. Some of their favorite videos to create come through the GM 911 playlist, where they answer questions from fans about the challenges faced at their own gaming tables. Opportunities for them to be creative also rank among their favorites, with series like MageForge, Terrible Terrains and D&D-izing characters from pop culture, literature or history.

These come with a caveat, however – viewership. Nerdarchy is not shy about letting their audience know they’re growing a business, and that means casting a wide net when creating content. This isn’t to say they’re unscrupulous or compromising any principles, far from it. The challenge is knowing when to share the content they create.

“We really do have to be strategic about how we put content out,” said Dave. “The hardcore fans really like the more creative stuff, but the community as a whole wants to see character builds, what we think is broken or what’s overpowered. Using ‘most,’ ‘best’ or numbers almost guarantees we’re going to get higher views.”

Their efforts have paid off, too. “We can officially employ someone to be a poor person this year – just one person.,” said Dave. The first couple of years saw very little profit, with even that going right back into the business in terms of improving equipment, maintaining their website and so forth. With continued growth, Nerdarchy continues to set goals for themselves and treading carefully to ensure they can reach them.

The addition of staff writers for their website, under the direction of website manager Ty Johnston, is one area Nerdarchy would like to focus on. Currently, the stable of writers creates content on a volunteer basis. As a staff writer myself, the possibility of compensation is certainly appealing. On the other hand, i’m satisfied to contribute my part to help Nerdarchy grow. So if they can funnel those funds into continued growth, i’ll happily share my weekly column until the business takes off if it helps. Just don’t forget about me when you’re shoulder to shoulder with Nerdist and Geek + Sundry!

Because Nerdarchy has become such a big part of their lives, time is a precious commodity for the folks in front of the camera. Families, full-time jobs and other interests can sometimes take a hit from the work they put into the business, but the support of friends and loved ones keeps them motivated to keep going forward.

On the other side of the coin, they’ve had a lot more opportunities to engage with their favorite hobby through Nerdarchy. One of the fringe benefits, as Dave explained, is more chances to play games, which is justified because it’s a business. “The best way to ensure you always have a full gaming table is to have a mildly successful YouTube channel,” Dave joked.

What both Dave and Ted agree is one of their greatest achievements is that Nerdarchy has begun to operate on its own to some extent, at least the website aspect. With a steady flow of articles, the site is becoming somewhat autonomous, expanding in scope and depth without requiring their direct daily participation. As evidence, Dave cites the recent announcement of a free 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure in the works from several staff writers in honor of Geek + Sundry’s International Tabletop Day celebration on April 29.

Looking ahead, Nerdarchy aims to continue growing their subscriber base on YouTube as well as expanding the website. Additional goals include possibilities such as hosting a convention and publishing custom content and creating more Nerdarchy products, as well as reaching the point where Nerdarchy can be full-time employment. Fun events like a Nerdyque and Nerdcation are on the idea board as well, the latter consisting of an all-inclusive weeklong vacation with the Nerdarchy crew filled with themed events and tabletop games.

The most rewarding part of Nerdarchy, though, is an easy question for Dave to answer.

“The people,” he said. “The friendships we make, the contacts we’re making, that makes it all worthwhile – that’s the best part.”

“Hands down,” agreed Ted.

D&D Design diary: Blue Magic

With my first foray into creating content for Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon Masters Guild, i offered my own take on a popular concept: the blue mage from Final Fantasy lore.

The Dungeon Masters Guild is a new program that allows you to create content (adventures and locations; new monsters; character classes, archetypes, and backgrounds; etc.) using Wizards of the Coast intellectual property (IP) and to make some money while you’re at it. – from the DM’s Guild website


A Blue Mage from Final Fantasy reflects on the creatures whose abilities he’s acquired.

In the Final Fantasy games, blue mages are mystical warriors with the ability to acquire unusual powers from the monsters they face and add them to their repertoire. There are many homebrew versions of this character option for D&D across several editions. After reading a bunch of them and giving it some thought, i decided to take a shot at my own version. The outcome is something i’m really happy with and excited about, and i hope other D&D gamers give it a try in their campaigns.

What i thought i’d do here is give gamers a look into how i developed this idea, and generate feedback into ways to improve and refine the concept. Before getting started, i encourage heading over to the DM’s Guild and downloading the PDF version of this class option for yourself.


Initially, i began working on the blue mage as a Sorcerous Origin option. After writing about the sorcerer in the Playing D&D with Class series, my imagination was really taken away with these arcane spellcasters, generally considered rather suboptimal from a mechanical standpoint. Longtime Long Shot readers and those who know me know that game mechanics are far less important to me than cool character concepts and storytelling potential.

In this version of the blue mage, these sorcerers could learn new spells that directly affected them. Only spells with a single specific target were eligible, with a higher level ability including those that a character was affected by, which included area of effect spells. I went through every spell in the Player’s Handbook and made a list of all of the eligible spells.

The list was quite long! The potential to acquire any spell specifically targeting the sorcerer would greatly expand the breadth and depth of their spell list. The opportunity to add healing magic was there, as well as numerous other spells from every other spell list. There were a lot of spells that wouldn’t be eligible at first, in particular area of effect spells (fireballs, e.g.) and spells with a range of Self. One idea, mentioned above, was to expand the eligible spells as a higher level ability, to make any spell that affects the sorcerer eligible to learn.

Tinkering around with this for a while, i came to an impasse for a couple of reasons. From a mechanical perspective, this felt way too overpowered to me. The niche of a sorcerer is having a small pool of spells overall but with the benefit of being able to manipulate those spells in various ways through metamagic. By giving a sorcerer the potential to acquire basically any spell that affects them, it threw the class off balance.

Another drawback was that sorcerers are squishy. With d6 hit die, they aren’t known for having a lot of hit points. Sorcerers also don’t generally wear any armor, and despite the option for magical defenses loading up your limited spell pool with protection spells would kind of make the character a wash. So the idea of a character that wants to be struck and affected with lots of spells, while at the same time being relatively fragile and unprotected, did not sound like a very good idea at all. A blue mage needed to rely on their body’s fortitude to pursue their path to power, and the sorcerer just wasn’t going to cut it.


And then an idea came to mind. What class is known for being tough? The barbarian! With Constitution as a primary ability for these warriors, they had the natural toughness needed to withstand punishment. They’re reckless, and what’s more reckless than willingly going out of your way, nay, seeking out opportunities to get struck with all manner of strange effects? Additionally, the barbarian doesn’t have any other spellcasting to interfere or unbalance the blue magic abilities.

On the contrary, building this as a barbarian primal path option would open up new options for these characters, leveraging their focus on melee combat to give them interesting options for ranged attacks and utility abilities. The existing primal paths in both the Player’s Handbook and Unearthed Arcana focus almost exclusively on melee combat. There’s a smattering of noncombat utility here and there. My reasoning was that blue magic would offer an alternative path. A barbarian’s core class abilities would still allow them to be competent melee warriors, and blue magic had the potential to bolster this facet depending on what abilities were acquired while at the same time opening up different avenues and options for playing your barbarian character.

Using the spell list i’d made for the sorcerer idea, i struck all the spells that required concentration from the list. My thinking was that the primal path would allow them to cast spells, but only while raging. However, that was a deviation enough from rage’s limitations so i felt like allowing concentration spells on top of that was too much.

The spell list that was left was not very exciting, frankly. Most of them were damaging spells, which would be kind of cool since a large number of them are ranged – a common issue for barbarians as they rise in level is being stuck as a one-trick melee combat specialists when enemies start flying, teleporting and so forth. Outside of these, there’s some interesting stuff but really, how many times do you think you’ll cast Rary’s telepathic bond while raging? Tongues, water breathing, message and the like all fall under this perspective. On the other hand, there’s nifty stuff like the power word spells and healing that would be nice options to have for a barbarian. Taking it all into consideration, it felt plainly lackluster. The real nail in the coffin was asking myself “would i choose this primal path, over the ones in the Player’s Handbook or from Unearthed Arcana?” The answer was no.

More than that, it deviated too much from what makes blue magic so cool in the Final Fantasy games – the ability to collect and use monster powers as a player character!

Thus began my pouring through the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual, seeking some formula to convert creatures’ Challenge Rating into something equivalent to character and/or spell levels. Without getting too involved in describing my amateur mathematical equations, suffice it to say these efforts were fruitless.


Only a barbarian would recklessly go toe-to-toe with a beholder…but the possibility of being able to use those eye rays…!

The solution i came up with after nearly abandoning the idea altogether, though, i feel is an elegant one: categorize creatures according to their placement in the Tiers of Play. Since characters would more or less face creatures whose CR matched the tier they were in, it felt natural to group them that way. So CR 0-4, 5-10, 11-15 and 16-20 creatures were translated into a table based on the Eldritch Knight Spellcasting table, minus the cantrips. That felt about the right balance of uses for the strange abilities the blue mage barbarian would acquire.

In keeping with the naming conventions of other barbarian primal paths, my blue magic creation was dubbed The Path of the Azure.

To a barbarian following the Path of the Azure, the dangerous monsters they face
become their strength. As reckless or moreso than others of their kind, these barbarians willingly put themselves in harm’s way against terrible aberrations, magical creatures and extraplanar threats. When their foes affect them with strange powers, barbarians of the Path of the Azure harness their fury to turn these creatures’ attacks back on them by unlocking those abilities within their raging souls. As varied as the foes they’ve faced, these barbarians build unusual repertoires of additional powers they are able to unleash while in the throes of their rage.

The first draft edition of this that i shared on the DM’s Guild was offered with the caveat of fully understanding it needed more work and refining, and an encouragement to discuss, share feedback and offer suggestions and criticisms in the comments. Additionally, i posted in several D&D-centric forums seeking that same engagement.

Based on feedback from those sources, i did some revising that clarified some of the language on the mechanics of how blue magic works. As it was originally written, a Path of the Azure barbarian could acquire things like a goblin’s scimitar attack, various creatures’ multiattack ability or a giants’ rock-throwing attacks. It wasn’t difficult to circumvent this by clarifying that creature Actions listed as melee weapon attack, melee spell attack, ranged weapon attack or ranged spell attack are not eligible.

Also, someone pointed out that the 6th level ability granted by the Path of the Azure was very similar to a College of Valor bard’s Battle Magic, which wasn’t gained until 14th level, making it overpowered. To address this, the 10th level ability to Consume a creature and thereby acquire an ability that doesn’t target a creature moved from 10th level into the 6th level slot.

While working on the the first revision, i went through each entry in the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and the Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press and made a spreadsheet of every potential ability a Path of the Azure barbarian could acquire. It is huge! There are 381 creatures for a total of 542 possible abilities. Of these, 89 are only available through the Consume ability.

Because of the huge variety, and noting that several would be useful out of combat and particularly not useful at all during combat, the 10th level ability allowed for expending one use of the barbarian’s rage to activate an ability.

There are some other details i still plan to refine. The capstone Reflection ability needs some work, and i also want to take another pass at the Blue Magic table. But overall, this concept keeps me excited to continue tinkering with it. My hope is that gamers will give the Path of the Azure barbarian a try at their own gaming tables and have fun doing so. With any luck, they’ll head back to the DM’s Guild and leave some comments that will help further refine the archetype.


Seething with blue magic, this Path of the Azure barbarian is ready to rock.

In the meantime, i’ve got a great idea for introducing a Path of the Azure barbarian in my own campaign, and i’m looking forward to seeing how that goes. More than that, i am really impressed with the whole experience sharing content on the DM’s Guild and working on some other projects to submit there. If you have any cool ideas for custom D&D content, give it a shot and see what happens.

If you give the Path of the Azure a spin at your gaming table, please share your thoughts, opinions, suggestions and feedback below or at the DM’s Guild and let me know how it went!

Playing D&D with class: Sorcerer

Coming up with a great backstory, personality, motivations and goals goes a long way toward making memorable D&D characters. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of what you can do, it’s all about class. Consider it your character’s vocation, calling, profession or craft, a character’s class picks up where their backstory leaves off, giving them the skills and abilities they’ll use on their life of adventure.

Rather than analyze the mechanics of each class, extolling the benefits of one option and admonishing the suboptimal drawbacks of another, what you’ll find in this “Playing D&D with class” is the usual musings that accompany any topic and hopefully some insight into different ways to approach the various classes in D&D 5E.

As a longtime player and DM, i’ve never put much emphasis on mathematical optimization, and when it comes to making characters i’m a purist – multi-class characters have never appealed to me. Instead, it’s always been about the concept, the who of a character more than the what.

The power chooses you

D&D had been around quite some time and evolved through several editions before the mighty sorcerer was introduced as a character class.


Prior to 3rd edition, wizards/magic-users and the various permutations of specialists like illusionists, abjurers and the like, were the undisputed masters of arcane magic. There were some other classes with limited access, like bards in 2nd edition, but by and large when it came to arcane magic it was wholly the purview of wizards.

Unlike wizards that learn the ability to manipulate arcane magical forces through intense study and discipline, sorcerers have an innate link to these forces that surround them, penetrate them and bind the universe together.

Compared to other primary casters, including divine magic users like clerics and druids, a sorcerer has a much more limited selection of spells to wield. But because their magic is so personal and particular to them, sorcerers have an incredible amount of control over and manipulation of their magic.


For a sorcerer, magic is in their blood and suffuses every fiber of their being. Sorcerer characters don’t choose to wield magic. Instead they are conduits of arcane forces that manifest and grow within them. In this way, they’re reminiscent of comic book characters like Marvel’s mutant X-Men.

Intrinsic origins

A sorcerers’ power stems from a mystical connection to strange events or events in their own past or in the recesses of ancient history. Unlike a warlock, whose magic is granted directly through a bargain with a powerful being, sorcerers owe allegiance to no such patron.

The meat and potatoes of sorcerous magic in 5E is represented by sorcery points. With this pool of resources, a sorcerer can manipulate their magic in a variety of ways – not the least of which is by gaining additional spell slots! Conversely, spell slots can be converted into sorcery points that fuel the core sorcerer mechanic: metamagic.

Metamagic abilities allow sorcerers to exert control over the spells they cast. They can extend the duration or range of spells, make their spells harder to resist, increase the damage, cast them faster, protect allies caught in area effect spells and even twin a spell and cast it two times simultaneously!


The Player’s Handbook presents two different sorcerous origins for characters to draw power from: a draconic bloodline or wild magic, with the Sword Coast Adventurers’ Guide adding a third with storm sorcerer. If those aren’t enough, there’s two offerings from Unearthed Arcana playtest materials: the shadow origin and the favored soul.

That’s quite a bit of variety to inspire your imagination when creating a sorcerer character. Arcanists who rely on force of will alone to harness magical powers come in several flavors but all share the common trait that they don’t use magic – they are magic.

Because of this, it’s easy to imagine a sorcerer coming from any sort of background. Anyone from a noble to an urchin has the potential to manifest a sorcerous origin that turns their world upside down. Draconic blood in the character’s ancestry could have lain dormant for millennia. A fluke of nature, random chaotic surges of wild energy, genetic disposition, the touch of planar energy or the whims of the gods are just a few of the possibilities of where sorcerers gain their powers.

Looking for inspiration

Fictional characters who have unexplained powers are vast and varied. Marvel Comics’ mutant characters are a good place to start for drawing inspiration. The manifestations of mutant powers, triggered by a significant event like trauma or puberty, are a terrific parallel for the emergence of sorcerous magic. This could provide a wealth of roleplaying and story opportunities as well. It’s just as likely that people who possess unexplained magical powers could be just as “hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason” as those comics characters with an X-gene.


Force-users from the Star Wars universe share a lot of similarities to sorcerers, too. Arcane magic, like the Force, exists all around the world and for whatever reason (except the reason of midi-chlorians, which is stupid) some people have a sensitivity and affinity for it that allows them to channel and manipulate the energy.


For less specific examples, literature, film, TV, comics, video games and other media have countless examples of characters around whom strange things occur. Leaning more towards the wild magic aspect of sorcery, perhaps a sorcerer character is themselves largely unaware of their own power or ability to manipulate it. It’s not too difficult to imagine and roleplay your sorcerer not as a competent wielder of raw magical might, but instead as an instinctual caster. From a game perspective, sure, the desired effects are the the spells you as a player choose to cast. But in terms of your character’s existence in the world, it could be interpreted as dumb luck. (Also, there’s always the chance of wild magic surges…)

Roles not rolls

As with any class in D&D, the best advice i can offer is to set mechanical concerns aside and instead focus on creating memorable characters. Unusual race, class and background combinations are just as viable as character built to take advantage of every stat and ability. What you’re giving up from category A only means you’ll be stronger at something in category B or C.


D&D gives players a chance to create the kind of game they want to play, using as many or as few of the rules as those gathered at the table wish. At the core, it is a group-centered game and your characters come to life as individuals working with others to achieve their goals, so what works in one group might not be optimal in another, and that’s something number crunchers might overlook.

Sorcerers rely on their Charisma in every regard for any class features that reference an ability score. This alone can inform your character in a variety of ways. Is your charismatic sorcerer charming? Manipulative? Domineering? Maybe they’re reluctant to tap into their strange magical powers and instead try to use their personality to navigate encounters as best they can.

A sorcerer with higher Strength might wield a great sword and focus on buff spells like false life and mirror image (yes, there are nonconcentration buff spells out there!). Maybe your sorcerers’ magic manifests itself as personal enhancements like this. They could even be somewhat unaware of what is truly happening when their magic works.

Crowd control isn’t a bad choice for sorcerers either, using their metamagic to make resisting things like web, hold person or stinking cloud more difficult. Perhaps your sorcerer is appalled by the violence of the adventuring life they were thrust into as a result of their strange magical powers.


Sorcerers are one of those classes that are really only dependent on a single ability score (Charisma) so the direction you take with your character is as wide open as anything else about this class.

The next time you’re creating a character, whether as a DM or player, consider the sorcerer. At their core, sorcerers are possessed of strong will to harness innate magical powers. The limited selection of spells you choose for your sorcerer will determine what specialty they’ll bring to the party, with their metamagic providing flexibility to use those spells in different ways than any other spellcasting class.

Sorcerous origins give characters an avenue to think about where their powers derive from, whether the character is aware of them or not. But no matter how you envision your sorcerer character, they are if nothing else a truly magical character.


Consider the role your sorcerer will play, how their origin, background and spells combine to make them a unique individual in the game world. Will they be hated and feared by those who don’t understand, or fear themselves and what they’re capable of? Will they seek to understand and gain more control over the torrent of magical power in their veins, or give in to the whims of fate and ride along like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream? Like any character, your sorcerer comes to the table with a story to tell, as well as one that has yet to be written.

Playing D&D with class: Bard

Coming up with a great backstory, personality, motivations and goals goes a long way toward making memorable D&D characters. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of what you can do, it’s all about class. Consider it your character’s vocation, calling, profession or craft, a character’s class picks up where their backstory leaves off, giving them the skills and abilities they’ll use on their life of adventure.

Rather than analyze the mechanics of each class, extolling the benefits of one option and admonishing the suboptimal drawbacks of another, what you’ll find in this “Playing D&D with class” is the usual musings that accompany any topic and hopefully some insight into different ways to approach the various classes in D&D 5E.

As a longtime player and DM, i’ve never put much emphasis on mathematical optimization, and when it comes to making characters i’m a purist – multi-class characters have never appealed to me. Instead, it’s always been about the concept, the who of a character more than the what.

We are the music makers

The dreamers of dreams. A jack of all trades, but master of none (and oftentimes better than master of one). Minstrels, poets, virtuosos, storytellers and loremasters.


The D&D bard is all of these things and more, tracing their origins way back to a 1976 edition of The Strategic Review.

In 1st edition AD&D, bards were sequestered away in the back of the Player’s Handbook. There, the bard was a hybrid multi-class/prestige class of sorts. A character had to gain levels as a fighter, then thief, and then a druid – but at that point the character is a bard under druidic tutelage. As a bard they gained bonuses to charm things, legendary lore knowledge, defenses against musical magical effects and abilities to inspire their comrades.

Refined in 2nd edition AD&D, the bard was a subclass of rogue, retaining the same inspirational, influential and musical abilities with the addition of some thief skills and wizard spells.


The bard didn’t change much since then, settling into its position as a multi-faceted class mixing skills, magic and fighting with unique performance-based powers. Often regarded as the ultimate fifth member of a classic party of fighter, wizard, cleric and thief, the bard can fill in or support any of those four roles, as well as bring a few of its own tricks to the party.

Better with age

Bards have been a favorite class of mine and a frequent go-to since 3rd edition. Prior to then i never much enjoyed magic and almost always played thieves or rangers. In 1st edition i wouldn’t have strayed from fighter and thief to pick up druid and a chance at a few specialty abilities, and since my days playing 2nd edition i’m almost always the DM.

But then came 3rd edition, and a rather large gaming group i joined with about ten players – the perfect situation to add a bard. These folks were all pretty power-gamey min-maxers so the idea of a character whose strength lay in helping others achieve success was anathema to them. They were more than happy to take their inspiration bonuses, and for my part i considered a significant (maybe even majority) amount of the damage being dealt out stemming from my otherwise weak and clumsy bard.

Because the group was so large, i was free to focus all the character’s advancement on his performance skill and utility spells. He didn’t even carry any weapons because a) he couldn’t carry very much at all thanks to Strength as a dump stat and b) he was terrible in combat. It was probably the most fun character i ever played. IIRC the campaign ended with a battle against a lich. The bard was the last man standing, and with his dirge singer prestige class was able to defeat the powerful undead with a haunting violin song.


5E bards are the pinnacle of a class that’s only gotten better with each edition. To be fair, all the classes in 5E are presented well. With their signature inspire ability functioning as a bonus action, bards of today can boost their allies AND do their own thing, giving players a lot more opportunity to feel bard-like without being just a mobile stereo system. Countercharming magic, bonuses to all skills and expertise in couple of them are built into the core chassis.

The pen or the sword

When it comes time to choose a bard’s archetype at 3rd level, the choices in the PHB offer one path focusing more on combat and the other further diversifying the bard with more interactions with skill bonuses and magical knowledge, plus the power to inspire yourself and a reaction to unspire (negatively inspire) other creatures when they attack an ally.

Represented by Colleges that the bard presumably studied at, the colleges of lore and valor stay true to the bard’s origins as a daring loremaster, while offering distinct methods to go about that task.

Unearthed Arcana adds two additional colleges: glamour and whispers. The former increases the bard’s performances to greater heights with illusory and captivating effects, while the latter offers a dark twist to the bard’s repertoire that makes them deceptive assassins who capture and use the shadows of others to mask their activities.

Looking for inspiration

Although it’s difficult to separate the idea a bard’s performance being musical, that’s one place to start thinking about a bard character.


Comedic bard

A bard’s specialty could be stand-up comedy, oration or rhetoric. Their performance might be juggling or whip mastery. A more martial-minded bard’s kata, shadowboxing or acrobatics routine perhaps inspires allies and intimidates enemies. An amazing performance and display of skill is moving regardless of the medium. Ballet, performance art, visual effects shows – these and more all have the potential to enthrall audiences and evoke emotional responses.


Dancing bards

Keep in mind, too, that D&D takes place in a world where magic is real. Not only does a bard hone their skill with diligence, their mastery imbues their actions with mystical qualities the same as wizards tap into arcane forces or even a highly skilled warrior can make multiple devastating attacks with unnatural celerity.


Object-manipulating bard

Classically, characters like the Pied Piper, minstrels, Norse skalds and the Kingkiller Chronicle’s Kvothe are excellent examples of audio-inclined loremaster types. Likewise, any musician can provide some inspirado for a bard’s adventures. Freddie Mercury, a high-level bard, sold out stadiums and inspired millions. Tenacious D literally went on an adventure to acquire an artifact and wound up battling the devil in a musical rock-off.

Without getting into a rules and mechanics discussion, the Performance skill in 5E is used for any sort of entertainment. This can certainly include such things as acrobatic demonstrations and magical light shows, for a different take on bardic (or any) performance. The skill check is determining how entertained audiences are, not necessarily how technically sound the performance is. A low-Dexterity character can absolutely attempt to entertain a crowd with juggling or tumbling, and if it were an Acrobatics check they’d more than likely fail miserably. Who’s to say their routine isn’t a comic spectacle that ensnares onlookers through sheer peculiarity?

It’s not hard to imagine Willy Wonka as a bard. He’s charismatic, sings, does a bit of tumbling, creates magical concoctions and has gathered strange lore from all over the world.

The public persona a bard affects might be a mask they wear while pursuing another agenda, too. Good bards are welcome most places, and a traveling entertainer is a perfect cover for a spy or other sort of clandestine operator to go about without arousing suspicion.

A bard at the core is an adventuresome sort with a smattering of skills, abilities and traits from several disciplines. Look at your bard’s ability scores, background and skills and imagine what performances they might enrapture audiences with. You can get a lot of roleplaying mileage out of what your bard’s talent expertise stems from.

Roles not rolls

As with any class in D&D, the best advice i can offer is to set mechanical concerns aside and instead focus on creating memorable characters. Unusual race, class and background combinations are just as viable as character built to take advantage of every stat and ability. What you’re giving up from category A only means you’ll be stronger at something in category B or C.

D&D gives players a chance to create the kind of game they want to play, using as many or as few of the rules as those gathered at the table wish. At the core, it is a group-centered game and your characters come to life as individuals working with others to achieve their goals, so what works in one group might not be optimal in another, and that’s something number crunchers might overlook.


Epic-level bard

More than anything else, bards rely on high Charisma for their primary abilities. Inspiration and spellcasting are both dependent on a bard’s force of personality that Charisma represents and even if all the other stats are low, a bard can still do pretty well with a high Charisma. Vicious Mockery as a cantrip never gets old; despite low damage, which is of the psychic variety and does scale with level, it doles out the ever-important disadvantage for the target’s next attack. The Performance skill is Charisma-based, as is the pool of Bardic Inspiriation dice.

If you imagine your bard as a daring warrior in addition to their charismatic persona, by all means the bard can hang in there with other warriors, or likewise providing cover fire from range. A bard more interested in lore and NOT getting into life-and-death battles can tap into more magical secrets or rely on skills more as an adventurer.

The bard is a great class that leverages complete mastery of a single pursuit for decent aptitude in several. With so many options, a bard can evolve in many different ways and come up with solutions to problems that surprise the bard player themselves as much as their companions and fellow players.

The next time you’re creating a character for your game, consider giving the bard a chance to perform. At their core, bards are charming, personable, confident, entertaining and inspiring. Their big personalities are as diverse as the focus of their skills and abilities. No matter what methods the bard employs, bards are going to be influential performers whose allies count themselves lucky to have them along.

Think about what role your bard will play in their group. Will they shy away from bloodshed, preferring to aid more aggressive companions to overcome perilous monsters? Will they use their talents to cover the party’s activities from enemy eyes? Perhaps your bard has little taste for dangerous journeys and adventures, instead building a career and reputation as a performer who has fell in with more adventuresome folk as protection from the threats the world poses.