Monday, August 12, 2019

The Summer Bards

It begins with a simple flaccid horn from the woods - the herald, sounding as a prepubescent child would play the trumpet, more spit than sound. It then, accompanied by another, joins its second in a cacophonous duet, like a toddler pounding her open-fisted hands upon a piano to enjoy the reaction more than the sound.

Then comes a third, and a fourth, and then an exponential increase in fumbled music so loud that cows a county away turn tail and flee from the sound, and dogs begin angrily barking a hundred leagues away. The noise of incompetent music rises to such a volume that the nearby peasants of the village must fill their ears with wax and encase their heads in wool at the peak of summer heat, least they go deaf.

These are the Summer Bards, and they are universally hated and despised. They arrive but once a year, converge but once a generation, and cause such horrid noise from the wood that the very agents of Nature and Civilization, in an impossible alliance, join forces in their extermination.

Welp, time to go a-murdering!
An Annual Concert
For every man, every occurrence is different. One year the Bards will arrive with chitinous drums sounding of bashing pots. Another, with flutes of caliber akin to elementary classes' recorders. Still yet, they may arrive screaming in pitched voices like their football team just won a game, or with wash-boards that cry like dried-out cats. For every instrument known to man and Gentle Kin the Bards may replicate, though only the eldest of elves have witnessed every iteration.

The Summer Bards come in generations of duration numerological. Certain kinds will appear every 3 or 5 years. Some 13 or 17 years. Other 29 or 41 years. Others, 111 or 2083. Always Prime Numbers. Generally, the longer the wait, the more spectacularly annoying the Bard.

Some years they don't arrive at all, and in these times there are festivals in the fall to celebrate their not-coming, filled with decent music and beer and pumpkin-based foods, and most importantly NO DRUNKEN SINGING and NO ERRANT WHISTLING... Unless it's in good tune, of course.

And sometimes the emergence of the Bards is manageable. Maybe only one type of Summer Bard will emerge in the wood, one with a quieter instrument and in smaller numbers. One that's easily culled by mere Nature.

But sometimes it's not. Sometimes there is a convergence of the breeds of Bard, and in these times folk from far and wide will arrive, hearing the horrid mating calls of ten million incompetent flute-players, drum-beaters, and well-whistlers, to partake in their massacre.

The Great Audible Cleansing! Death to the Bards! Partake in the Holy Chordophonic Crusade, and the Pope-of-Good-Taste will grant you clemency for your sins!

And so they come, from far and wide, with peasant pitchfork and with ear-muffed horse and lance, to kill every last Summer Bard.

Murdering Bards
It's not so difficult to slay a Bard. Though they be as big as a full-grown man, and have sharp teeth and strong legs, each one lives in the waking world but for a few weeks, in which it has little time to learn and no time to develop survival instinct. They tend to bumble about, playing their embedded instruments, climbing on trees and falling into ponds, oblivious to the obvious threats. They are more concerned with mating than with the genocidal peasants and adventurers nearby. A single untrained peasant can slaughter two dozen of them with the proper motivation (and their noise is good at producing that). Though, occasionally one of the Bards may get lucky!

And this is what the entire Summer Bard species depends upon: producing so many Bards in one giant bardic wave that it absolutely overwhelms all of their predators, that despite their complete un-coordination and utter lack of survival instinct and dexterity, that there are simply too many of them to kill all at once.

"Kill the Bards, burn their shells!
Send them back to Seven Hells!"

Doughty - Robert Kett leads the Peasants Revolt
Many, many, many will die - eaten by giant rocs and basilisks; skewered by angry cloud giants, peasants, and wandering knights; and drowning in ponds and mud puddles from their own sheer clumsiness.

This makes for strange scene - for all predators will have more than their fill of high-protein Bard, leaving them somewhat stuffed and torpid. You will see giant bloated snakes sunbathing next to giant eagles. You will see peasants resting next to basilisks and manticores. You will see natural enemies forsake their grudges in a feast of overabundance. For this reason more than mere rabble is drawn - it presents an excellent opportunity for zoological study, hence procuring all matter of alchemists and academics.

However, despite all this slaughter, some Summer Bards will get lucky, stumble upon a mate, and reproduce the next generation by the thousands.

They leave quite a mess, too, when they're finished (dying, that is). By the time the last gurgle-trumpet-as-loud-as-a-wind-tunnel has died down, there will be hundreds of thousands of man-sized Bard corpses laying about, and millions of their skins, which they shed to reach maturity. It's gross. It's a public hazard. Nobody wants to enter the wood after that, except wild dogs, corpse eaters, ghostly hermit crabs, and necromancers. Thankfully, the corpses of the Summer Bards do not produce much of a stink.

A Mountain of Corpses. An Ocean of Shells.
Folk have tried to find good uses for all those leftover Bard shells. They've tried making armor, but it's a bit too brittle and thin. They've tried crushing it to powder, using it as medicine, but the most it's good for is making your stomach gurgle. At best, folk have used the shells for decoration - they use them as cast molds, or like lamps for fires, as they seem to be at least a little flame resistant.

The Corpses, though... For them a use is found. There is little energy left after a Bard slaughter to resist the Necromancers that follow, and zombie Bards are far scarier and more threatening than their living cousins. Necromancers scoop them up like candy, gaining potentially dozens, if not hundreds of servants in a single night. Sometimes, if they're ambitious, enough minions to march on the living, playing their instruments of dread and torture. The Cacophonic Crusade.

Thankfully, though, even the Necromancers are limited by their resources, for there are far too many corpses than even they can handle. That, and the height of summer is fortuitously poor climate for necromancy.

Summer Bard
No Appearing: 1-300
AC  Unarmored   HD 0   HP 1   Dex 3
1d2  Clumsy Flailing Limbs
Uncoordinated: Summer Bards get disadvantage to all actions.
Fumbling: Summer Bards can only perform actions and movements every other Round.
Deafening Cacophony: Anyone within X feet of the Bards is considered Deafened, where X = the # of Bards present. Unless ear protected, they must also Save vs. Petrification or become permanently Deaf.

Summer Bards will not help each other in combat, or notice danger until it is already upon them. Each of them will die of natural causes within 1d4 Weeks.

Summer Bard Characters

Art by Robin K Herman
Ahhh... I see now. You want to play as a Summer Bard? Well, good on you! They are the Bard-est of Bards, after all. Who wouldn't want to play a living Dungeons and Dragons meme with a month-long lifespan? (If they're lucky!) Here's how it works:

1. You are a Bard.
However Bards work in your system, you get to be that.

2. You always start at Level 1.
Regardless of how far along in a campaign you are. No exceptions.

3. Your Dexterity and Wisdom are 3.
Or, the lowest possible score, always.

4. You get one random instrument.
This instrument is embedded in your body. You probably suck at playing it!
You can use this instrument to attempt to Deafen everyone within 30ft.
Save vs. Petrification. Unlimited use. It's like:
1) Inane Screaming Lute
2) Jangling Trash Bag Full of Empty Beer Bottles In Garbage Disposal
3) Out-of-Tune Whistling But It's 150 Decibels
4) A Thousand-Thousand Elementary School Recorders
5) Thigh Cymbals But Instead Screaming Goat
6) Microphone Feedback But Never Gets Quieter

5. You gain experience like a normal party character.
You may even reach Level 2!

6. Flight
Oh, I guess you get Flight, too.

7. You die of natural causes in 1d4 Weeks.
Make good use of that time!

8. If you find a mate, and then do the deed, and said mate isn't murdered...
There will be about a thousand more of you in 3d10 Years time! Hooray!


  1. Wow. Thank you for the prose and for the idea.

    This will happen in our realm some soon summer.

    1. I myself can't wait for the inevitable nonstop "BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

  2. As someone who grew up in an area thick with cicadas, this both resonates with me and makes my ears ring.

    1. Now, just imagine they're as big as you, with the same numbers, and you've got the jist of this post right there.