By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 1 page sub-header, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC and SRD, leaving 8 pages of content.
The aim of the Bard’s Tales-series is to provide your Bards with in-game fluff to tell and thus, no game mechanics are given, but rather we are presented with stories, chants and limericks. I gave the first Bard’s Tales a severe beating, so let’s take a look how the sequel holds up, shall we?
The first page presents us with 10 limericks, which I enjoyed bar one, that actually mentioned “characters” and is thus utterly unsuitable for in-game recitation.
On the next page, we get two short stories, “Pride and Fall” and “Donovan’S Relic”. The first is a rather lame rendition of the Trojan Horse-trope, while the second is an ok story. Nothing to write home about, though.
The next two short stories, each taking up a page “The Seven Sisters” and “Forlorn Hope”, I did enjoy: The first is a traditional slumbering-evil story of hags and the second is a combination of the “Masque of the Red Death” and a mysterious travelling city in the mountains. While not brilliant per se, I can see a bard telling these around a campfire or in a tavern without eliciting yawns.
The next story about “Hook-nosed Moll” made me want this accessory to have stats, as it sounds like the quintessential associated haunt to me. (Associated haunts are haunts that tie together, see RiP’s Haunt-books)
Then, we get two entries about legendary items: I hate the “Twin Blades of Amras Krishnak”. I just do. It’s premise is that there was an orc-elf-hybrid. Yeah, you read that right. That might actually screw up some implications of your campaign. Plus, the blades are essentially describes with powers in their text and it just feels like a suggestion for a magic weapon sans any stats. The blades are quite clichéd, too, one representing dawn, the other dusk. The symbolism of this duality is too obvious.
The other one, though, I really enjoyed: The Graven Grimoire (a Necronomicon/Book of Vile Darkness-like tome) is SUNG about. In a nice, rhyming SONG. You know. Like Bards use to do. And the song is actually cool and I can almost hear the lyrics and instruments in my head, too! Why is there not more of stuff like this?
Finally, we get another winner: A battle chants of barbarians, performed via call-and-response between shaman and warriors – This gave me goose-bumps while envisioning it. Another definite winner.
Layout is as clear and printer-friendly as you’ve come to expect of Raging Swan. The b/w-artworks are of a similarly high quality and, for such a small pdf, I applaud this! Editing is ok, although I noticed a stray comma. Let’s move to the content then, shall we? First, I was not too impressed. Why? Because of the story-focus. Most rpg-rounds won’t want for the bard to tell these stories and sit idly by and for hooks, most of them don’t work. The limericks are amusing, but have only a limited usability. What I want of this series, and to some extent get here, is songs – there are two excellent ones herein, showing that the author CAN write them. These songs have the added benefits of both being tied to things the PCs might hear about or encounter, having direct relevance to the game, something unfortunately absent from most of the shorts stories who feel rather like hooks or mechanics in disguise. So let me spell it out: I want more of the songs, focused on things adventurers actually encounter: E.g. one on climbing a mountain. Or one about fighting a dragon. A dirge for a fallen comrade (preferably one for each class), a sombre tune before a great battle, in case the PCs perish. A dark necromancer’s chant to wake the dead, the insane litanies of demon- or elder-evil cultists – stuff like that. Stuff that actually gets used. You can chant a verse of a song per round when your initiative is up, as a DM you can chant one every time an NPC is up – that DOES enrich a game. Waiting for a Bard-PC tell a long story potentially bores the DM as well as the players.
What’s my final verdict, then? Due to the improvements to the series as well as the very low price, I’ll settle for 2.5 stars, which I’ll round down for the purpose of this platform – A definite improvement, but not there yet. If Bard’s Tales III continues on the Path, we’re looking at an excellent addition to any group, but the series is not there yet.
Bards Tales II is available from: