The Case For “Fluffy” D&D Characters (For Bards and Monks)
“Oh I just knew you would pick a fluffy character, Luke”
The number of times I have heard someone say that. Almost every D&D campaign, or one shot I am a part of (assuming I am not the DM), starts that way. It starts with someone complaining about my character because it is too soft or too weak. It has too few hit points, or too many pointless items.
Yet there is something beautiful about playing a “fluffy” character in Dungeons and Dragons. We all know the types – they are not your half-orcs, your dwarves, or your beefy humans. They are not your Clerics, Barbarians, or Rogues. No, instead I am talking about the types of characters that make most players wince when you mention them. Yes, I have two types of character I like to play the most – a Human Monk and a Gnome Bard.
I can almost feel your face wrinkle in disgust from here.
Okay, so with one of those I can completely understand why people assume it is a fluffy character. The other, however, unfairly gets labelled as a weak character when he/she is far from it. Monks have long since been considered fluffy by players, and all because they don’t wear armour or have huge weapons. There is nothing overtly terrifying to look at with a Monk. They cannot call down lightning from the sky, smite, or summon elementals. They are, in all intents and purposes, not scary to look at due to large amounts of equipment, and nor are they scary to know due to magic. The amount of stick a Monk player gets depends massively on the group they are playing with, as those who know the true power Monks have will likely not want to mess with one. However, those who do not know, or those who do not geek out as much on a regular basis, will often be caught saying: “You’re playing a what?” and “What’s the point in that?”.
Bards, however, and Gnome Bards at that, do get a lot of stick, no matter who the group are. They are often considered the weakest and worst of the classes, coming below Druids on the usefulness scale, and often leaving groups asking: “Why did we bring him along again?”
Bards have, or are perceived to have, absolutely no use to steadfast adventurers – so much so that literature that jests with the likes of D&D, such as Critical Failures and Kings of the Wyld, often poke fun at Bards for how weak they are. Well, dear reader, today all of that changes. This is the case for “fluffy” D&D characters.
It’s not how big your weapon is – it’s how you use it.
One of the biggest misconceptions in D&D is that weapons are good. Okay, hang on, let me rephrase that. One of the biggest misconceptions in D&D is that weapons are needed. Yeah, that feels better.
Weapons are, for all intents and purposes, an optional accessory in D&D. We have all been in those scenarios where a charismatic Elf manages to charm his way past guards, or where an Illusionist (I’m thinking AD&D here) manages to hide the whole party as a rock. Those are always sweet moments. I mean, watching a Barbarian use a goblin as a paint roller is also pretty sweet, but there is something satisfying as using a different skill other than the standard “hit things hard” to get past an obstacle.
Fluffy characters need to rely on thinking outside the box to survive, and this makes for a really interesting campaign. In a different RPG, Space Opera, I always play a weak character with non-lethal weapons. Why? Because they are designed to immobilise things quickly. Why shoot with a laser if you can cover an entire area in a sticky web of gunge? It means you don’t have to worry about killing, but instead just need to shoot up an enemy in a giant ball of snot. It is thinking outside of the box for a solution that can make the game so much more interesting to play in the long run, turning a weak character into a badass.
This is one of the many strengths of fluffy characters. They open the door to more abstract thinking by not having as many options open to them in the traditional sense. Yes, a Bard can hit something (or he can try) but he may as well try singing to it first. Make love, not war. Serenade that orc – don’t just thwack him one.
Moving onto the more obvious argument here – weapons are not always needed (that was a smooth slide into talking about the Monk if I may say so myself). Instead, the Monk is a living weapon, having hands that can deflect arrows and being able to run along treetops in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Halfling kind of way. A good Monk has no need for anything bar the clothes on his back and a begging bowl. This is again, in its own way, kind of badass. We always cheer when Mr. Miyagi beats up the bullies because he uses skill whereas they just use strength. The same principle applies to D&D. We like seeing the unexpected happen, and seeing the weak triumph over the strong let’s that happen.
Wax on, wax off.
Expect the Unexpected
Fluffy characters are, by default, fun. The classic characters, the basic races and standard classes, the Cleric, Barbarian, Fighter, Rogue etc. they all behave in a certain way. If you are playing a Rogue and I am playing a Cleric, and we are both fairly D&D savvy, the odds are we know what we are going to be playing like. Clerics are healers, Rogues are sneaky – a Bard, however – well, how does a Bard react? How will a Bard respond to the scenario they find themselves in?
This is not due to the versatility of the characters, all characters are pretty versatile (malleable – I like that word), but more to do with the meta of the game. Everyone knows how a Fighter can behave, but rock up to a party with a Bard and they will probably be fairly surprised at most things you can do. Yes, a Bard is a support character, however, it is a character that can do some really awesome things for the group. If you are a Fighter and you clear a path through a horde of enemies, then that’s just kind of what you do. If you are a Bard and you do it then you will get two reactions:
- “What the heck?”
- “Why the hell did you not do that before?”
My Gnome Bard once ran through a crowd of goblins using Thurderwave, with another player, a Gnome Wizard, doing the same. Goblins were flying everywhere, and we had the time of our lives.
We also worked out that any goblin in the ven diagram of where our Thunderwaves crossed over would probably end up looking like they had gone through a Nutribullet.
Then take the Monk as an example – Disciple of the Elements allows Monks (in v.5) to cast Elemental spells. Who would expect that? I mean you can turn your hands and fists INTO FREAKING FIRE. That’s awesome, and the mental image alone is enough to fill a person with awe. It is those moments that D&D is made for. It is those moments that make it so unique as a game.
Jack of All Trades and Friend To Everyone
Just in case you hadn’t guessed, I love Bards, and here’s the big secret: Eventually, everyone loves a Bard in the party. You may not admit it now, or even know why, but you will. Here’s the reasoning:
- Bardic Inspiration can inspire you to get an extra die (D6) to add to any roll you wish, at any point within any 10-minute space in the game. There are Ts & Cs, but generally speaking, it’s awesome, and as the Bard gets better it can be used more and more.
- Cutting Words is using insults to make an enemy physically worse. You can spend your Bardic Inspiration dice to shout insults at an enemy, rolling the dice and taking that away from any of their rolls.
- You can inspire with any medium of your choice – for my Gnome it was interpretative dance, which provided everyone with entertainment.
Bards are the best, and really help other characters out. They can make or break a battle, with their own magic that they weave with their art. They are not defenseless. They are not weak. They are not pointless. They make everything better.
What is more, they can learn Cure Wounds. Did I mention that? Yep, you love them even more now.
Love The Fluff
Okay, so I hope I have persuaded you. Fluffy Characters, at least the two I have mentioned, are absolutely amazing. They are fun, they can have unexpected moments of awesomeness, they can hold their own, and they are fun. Yes, I know I mentioned that, but they are double fun.
With that in mind, here is a ballad I have written to summarise this post –
There once was a Bard and a Gnome
Who thought he was hard as a stone –
He would sing a good song,
But when it went wrong –
He’d just kick his opponent’s shinbone.