Dungeons & Dragons Online

A system for a battle of the bards

Fellow DMs,

I organized a battle of the bards for my group and thought to share. I spent some time looking for ideas but was not satisfied, although it inspired the final system. While the spotlight is on the bard, everyone gets to shine.

It is a two step skill challenge, involving every one who desires to participate, going over several rounds. Each round, at least one participant is eliminated, until there is only one bard standing.

  • First, roll for initiative
    • Initiative is rolled using CHA instead of DEX modifier.
    • Initiative is used to determine turn order each round.
    • Initiative is used to determine who picks the "theme" of each round. Each round a different participant picks a theme going down the initiative order. The theme must be different from the one used in the previous round.

  • HYPE AND SABOTAGE PHASE = for non-contestants only
    • Non-concurrent can attempt to hype their favorite or sabotage another bard. The attempt must be justified and the player must determine exactly which roll/contested is targeted.
    • If successful, the hype/sabotage gives avantage/disadvantage on one check from one contestant.
    • Any use of violence and excessive use of intimidation leads to automatic disqualification.
    • Option: if the skill check is failed by more than 5 or 10, it has the opposite effect than desired.
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  • SHOW = for contestants only

Here, roll 5 different skill checks. Describe the performance first and apply the roll after. The more description the better. Use of musical cues also helps a lot.

  • "Performance" roll (Performance, CHA) = to assess their stage presence is.
    • It is judged by the crowd with the following general stats if needed: -/-/-/12/12/12
  • "Instrument" roll (DEX+proficiency) = to assess their pure musical skills.
    • It is judged by a loremaster, watching and judging actual musical talent from the performance with the following stats if needed -/-/-/18/16/20
  • "Adaptation" roll (Insight, WIS) = checks to see what the audience is liking or disliking, allowing your character to stay with the flow.
  • "Influence" roll (Persuasion/Deception/Intimidation) = to gain favors from the crowd or loremaster. If using intimidation, consider penalizing excessive use or add a malus if the roll is failed.
  • AND ONE SKILL AS DETERMINED BY THE THEME. Suggestions: history checks to tell stories, acrobatic check for performing advanced tricks/dance, animal handling checks to use add an animal in their show, sleight of hand check for juggling, Intimidation to tell a scary story, …

    • Add the results of all skill checks.
    • Each turn, the contestant with the lowest score is eliminated.
    • Each turn, a minimum DC is required, and this increases every round: 50, 60, 70, 80, … (equivalent to an minimum DC of 10, 12, 14, 16, … ).
      • If their are only 2 contestants left, ignore the DC.
      • Option: increase the DC to quickly weed out the contestants.
    • More than one contestant may be eliminated in one turn.
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  • The Battle of the Bards ends in a final without theme. Pure raw bard skills.

I made 5 NPC bards that you are free to use. Each with its own theme, flavor. All quite tough to beat. See here: https://bit.ly/3sVjVmc. I included some theme songs for each bard and one player (not the bard) was in charge the music.


The only chance for the bard of your party to win is with the help of the group.

This lets some non-bard musician PCs participate and likely be eliminated in the first round(s) before helping the bard of your group.

Admittedly, it is heavy on checks. But it allows to not rely on a single check, makes use of the Jack-of-trades ability and general creativity from all players.

Macros on roll20 really helped streamlining the rolls of the NPCs. For example: Performance << 1d20 + 8 >> Instrument << {2d20}kh1 + 6 >> Influence << 1d20 + 11 >> Adaptation << 1d20 + 3 >> Theme << 1d20 + 8 >>. One player (not the bard) was in charge of the math for all the skill checks.

The music cues really help giving flavor. Past the first description of the gimmicks of each bard, I only described the general results of the dice rolls.

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Getting helps from players really helped me to manage everything as there's a lot to do.


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