User:Phol ende wodan/BardScratchpad

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This is a proposal to add a new role to NetHack, the Bard, and ensure it has interesting and varied gameplay. Many community members have expressed interest and contributed ideas towards the addition of such a role.

The Bard is not intended to be particularly similar to the Troubador role in dNetHack or the Bard in SLASH'EM, though it takes some ideas from the patch. The issues with those implementations are that bards cannot effectively play to their main strength (area buffs and debuffs through magical songs) early in the game, and their game is somewhat still based on the player taking an active hand in combat.

Instead, the Bard needs to excel at performing songs to empower their allies and harm their enemies from the get-go, and starting with a little dog or kitten is not going to cut it. Thus, the Bard begins the game leading a party of three other adventurers, which are tame NPC player monsters of various other roles. The Bard is the obvious leader because they are the only one under the player's direct control, but the others are expected to do nearly all of the fighting.

Instead of using music to duplicate the effects of a limited set of spells, the Bard uses new songs, which are focused less on helping the player directly and more on affecting an area in the player's favor. Songs can be played by any role, but the Bard excels at it.

This is not yet a complete proposal, and some components are not fleshed out yet. If you have ideas or criticisms, please post them on the talk page.

Bard details

Bards can be either humans (as any alignment) or chaotic elves.

Starting inventory

The Bard begins the game with:

The magic whistle serves to prevent headaches in herding all of the other adventurers to the stairs, and the wand of undead turning is a somewhat kludgy solution to the problem of one of the other adventurers dying. The Bard is thus granted two free resurrections of the allies before they need to either find another wand or master the Elegy to the Fallen.

Bards start out with all musical instruments identified.


Bard skills
Max Skills


The Bard pantheon is drawn from the Muses from Greek mythology.

  • Lawful: Polyhymnia
  • Neutral: Euterpe
  • Chaotic: Terpsichore


Not quite sure on what this should entail. Probably Orpheus should be involved somewhere, either as the quest leader or in the artifact (taking the idea of the Lyre of Orpheus). The quest should either be themed around a competing musician, or around something that wants to bring silence across the world and end all music. I have some half-formed ideas about having the quest be a journey into increasingly magically silent locations, with monsters that cause deafness. The Bard's abilities will become less and less useful as this quest progresses.

Either way, the quest artifact should probably be a magic flute or harp, so it enjoys the benefits of having magical charges and being able to play all songs. Then it would probably have some additional carry affects, and its invoke effect could be to recharge itself.

Role bonuses

The Bard is expected to kill very few things on their own. Because of this, gaining levels normally will be very arduous. Therefore, the Bard gets a special role bonus of experience sharing: the player receives one-quarter of the experience points from any monster killed by their allies. This is raised to one-half of the experience points if the Bard is playing music at the time. The player is therefore able to see whenever a pet kills something even when it is out of sight, but this is fine, because the Bard can probably hear it anyway; see below.

Another small role bonus of the Bard is very good hearing. This allows them to hear which gears turn and which tumblers click when attempting the passtune ("You hear a tumbler click on the second note. You hear a gear turn on the fourth note."), so they can figure it out faster. Their good hearing also enables them to detect where a monster stepped on a squeaky board trap, and the game will place an I on that location if they can't already see it, regardless of how far away it is.

Music skill

Music skill is the biggest factor in whether you will succeed at playing the sequence of notes you intended to. The goal with this is to make music accessible to other roles, and not only for the Bard. I am not sure what a fair formula is for evaluating whether a single note in a song is played successfully should be, but it should have the following general properties:

  • Music skill has the biggest effect.
  • Dexterity plays a part, but its effect is largely flat once it's above 8 or so, and is more of a penalty for low Dexterity than a bonus for high Dexterity.
  • Bards themselves get a special role bonus here.
  • Confusion and stunning cut the chance of success sharply; blindness less so (finger memory). These effects stack.
  • Not sure what hallucination should do; maybe it doesn't affect your chance to play the note but could randomize the actual note played.
  • If you are playing a real song and are carrying its corresponding songbook, your chance of success is increased.
  • Basic music skill and average Dexterity (around 10-12) should allow unpracticed songs of around 5 notes to be played fairly reliably, unpracticed songs of around 10 notes to be played occasionally, and longer unpracticed songs to be played pretty rarely.

The Bard is the only role that can reach Expert music skill. The Tourist can reach Skilled, and the Archeologist, Monk, Rogue, Valkyrie and Wizard can reach Basic.

This skill is trained by playing a full turn's worth of notes correctly, or by practicing songs from a songbook. It will need approximately 200 trainings to get to Basic, 1000 to get to Skilled, and 4000 to get to Expert.

Music skill level should probably also scale the effects of songs, but the details for this are not worked out yet.

Party member details

The party members are intended to be somewhat weaker and more poorly equipped versions of their own roles. In general, the game should give the party one melee fighter (Knight, Valkyrie, Barbarian, Samurai, Monk, Caveman), one ranged fighter (Ranger, Rogue, possibly Tourist), and one magic user (Wizard, Healer, Priest). The Tourist, Healer, and Archeologist start out so weak that it might be a challenge to keep them alive in this game, so they might be ineligible. The inclusion of friendly spellcasters in the party means that some work probably needs to be done with monster spellcasting, so they don't just charge into every battle and try to punch everything to death.

The adventurers' race will match the Bard if possible, and will be done in such a way that no starting team will contain both elves and orcs. Their starting equipment will be reduced in such a way that the Bard should not want to take their gear for himself and ditch everything else, and so that early bones are not overly rich with items. This involves taking away any magical items they would normally get. They also each get at least 2 food rations, so the Bard doesn't have to run around finding food for 4 different people right at the beginning.


Songs are the main feature of the Bard, and they provide a variety of magical effects that indirectly influence the outcome of a battle in the Bard's favor. Because the player usually needs to be playing the song for these effects to matter, the player can't take advantage of them on their own. There are some combat-agnostic or non-combat songs, but their uses are limited. The idea is that any song should be good to use with the starting party (unlike some starting spells). Each song is a randomized-per-game sequence of ABCDEFG notes, of varying length.

You play 5 notes per turn, but most songs are longer than this and will require you to stand in place and finish the song before its effects can be realized. While this is happening, you are technically considered helpless, and any death's multi_reason will be "while playing a song", but you can be interrupted (see below for how interruptions might need to change). You can use a numeric prefix for a song, which only does anything if longer than the song itself takes; this will cause the player to play it repeatedly, which may be useful for certain songs which have continuous effects only when being played.

Producing the music depends only on playing the sequence of notes correctly; it doesn't actually matter how well you know the song. Thus, it is possible to play a song without actually knowing it. However, brute-forcing is discouraged both by having more useful songs be too long to attempt within a reasonable amount of time, and by making many songs not identify in typical safe circumstances for brute forcing. Songs are indeed a form of magic, and have an associated Pw cost, but it is not very high. Pw drains slowly, one point per a certain number of notes, as you play the song. If out of Pw, you are still be able to play the notes, but magical effects won't happen.


Songs can be learned via songbooks. These are + class items of weight 20 that contain one of the sequences of ABCDEFG notes that corresponds to an actual song. Playing these notes is equivalent to playing the known song. You produce the corresponding effects either at the end of the song (for songs without continuous effects) or on each turn where you played all five notes properly (for songs with continuous effects). The longer a song is, the more complex and powerful it is, and the harder it is to play correctly. (This is accomplished by evaluating the success of each note in the song). Song lengths are fuzzed somewhat, so they cannot be trivially identified based on length. Existing musical effects (pacifying nymphs and snakes, putting monsters to sleep, charming monsters) are either migrated to short songs or dropped (see below).

Songbooks are not only good for reading: while you carry one, you have a much higher chance of playing its song correctly. Because they weigh less than spellbooks, carrying around several of them is a feasible strategy, though carrying around a full library of them probably isn't.

Balancing songbooks against spellbooks for generation purposes might be a bit difficult. They can both be used by any role, but spellcasters are likely to get frustrated when they get songbooks they can't use rather than spellbooks, and bards are likely to get frustrated when they get spellbooks they can't cast instead of songbooks. Possibly, the book generation rate needs to be increased.

Songbooks do not go blank through repeated use, and can be used for practice indefinitely. However, polypiling a songbook will always produce a spellbook with one read charge remaining, so you cannot farm different songs through polypiling. Songs also do not have memory like spells do; once you know a song you know it for good. Amnesia will not remove it from the song menu, either.


Songs are intended to be melodic, which means that leather drums get a bit shafted here. Drum songs could be randomized using three or so notes (different sounds produced by hitting different parts of the drum) but that's not a great solution.

It is now impossible to play flutes, harps, or bugles while wearing gauntlet-slot armor, for obvious logistical reasons. The message is "You can't play your <instrument> with gloves on." You cannot play songs on a drum either while wearing gloves, though you can still beat a deafening row or use a drum of earthquake.

As mentioned above, magic harps and flutes don't have their current effects of taming and sleeping. Instead, they guarantee that you will play every note successfully, for up to a maximum of 10 turns. I think this will be useful for both bards and other roles.

All instruments require two hands to play; if you are wielding a weapon or wearing a shield, you will not be able to use your instrument. However, you do not actually need to wield your instrument in order to play it; this is in fact a Bad Idea, since it may break the instrument.

For realism, bugles can no longer play the notes A, B, D, or F. If you try, you get the message "You can't play <note> on a bugle!" without actually attempting the song.

(I'd also like to add in some TDTTOE on certain sequences of notes, for references to other games like The Legend of Zelda which also have predefined playable songs like FABFAB. Maybe it only works while hallucinating. Or maybe while you're hallucinating, you try to play these other songs instead.)

Monster equipment and item use rules

The existing system of monster equipment and item use is not really sufficient for a bard, who has to manage three other characters' gear as well as their own. Some substantial changes are required to make this less of the headache it would currently be. These don't apply only to the bard; any role will be able to take advantage of the new system.

First, the player can use the directional #loot command on adjacent allies to access their inventory, give them items, and unequip gear they are wearing. I'm undecided on whether they should be able to equip gear directly on the allies' behalf like the dnethack #equip command, or whether inducing them to wear it by taking away all other items of that type so they have no other choice is enough. Of course, if an ally's gear is cursed and stuck to their body, this will not work. (This replaces the existing system for applying saddles to mounts, as well.) Unintelligent pets still have an effective inventory size of 1, and will continue picking up and dropping items at random. Something will need to be done here to make stealing from shops non-trivial; perhaps follow the existing shopkeeper code to call the player to "Please pay before leaving" if the player is standing in the shop doorway and #loots a shop item from a pet that picked it up.

Second, while allies will still pick up gear from the floor and equip it, they will by default favor any item the player has given to them (this would probably be accomplished with an object flag that is set when the player gives the ally somehing and removed when the player takes it out of inventory), in order to prevent cases like an adventurer on the Plane of Fire taking off his player-given red dragon scales in favor of some nice AC 8 plate mail, and they will never drop such an item. An option will be needed to restore the vanilla behavior, if the player wants to let his allies be pragmatic about their choices of gear.

Third, allies will never use items that the player has not formally identified (because they don't know what it is either), and they will only use items defensively, unless the item was given by the player, in which case they may decide to use it offensively. Implementing strategies where an ally in distress uses unidentified items, as a player might, is likely to backfire. I am not sure whether allies should use miscellaneous items, because they are likely to do so when not strategically significant, and this is probably more annoying.

Fourth, to avoid player headaches, allies will never wield or wear known cursed gear. Player monsters might need to be able to detect curses passively (without being a priest); this is consistent with other pets, but seems out of place for other starting adventurers. It might be necessary to avoid having the game turn into a lug-everything-to-an-altar-fest, though. A possible middle ground is that allies will pick up cursed gear when its beatitude is unknown, but will not wield or wear it.

General pet rules

Again, these rule changes do not apply only to bards; they take effect in all games. Rules that are specifically about player monsters would still work that way in other games if another role managed to tame one.

Intelligent pets will never attack always-peaceful monsters or peacefuls of the same monster symbol (humans and elves use different monster symbols, and can attack each other). Tame player monsters (perhaps this should extend to all intelligent pets as well) will never attack peacefuls, either, unless aggravated.

Intelligent pets will never eat food off the floor if they have suitable food in inventory, and will not pick up corpses. They also will never commit cannibalism (eating any corpse or tin of a monster with the same monster symbol), which prevents the party from eating the corpse of one of their fallen buddies. The bug (?) where a pet that takes one bite of a corpse fully destroys the corpse, regardless of how long it actually spends eating, should probably also be fixed so that it only changes it to a partly eaten corpse. All player monsters are omnivorous (this could probably be accomplished by making all the base races omnivorous so no special case is needed.)

Interface or technical tweaks

Songs and spells do not go together in the interface. By default, a song menu similar to the spell menu is present and appears when you apply an instrument to begin playing it. Songs that are known but have not been formally identified appear in this menu as their sequence of notes. For convenience, there should probably be an option that allows songs to be listed in the Z menu as well, and ordered with +.

We do not want players to have to type out songs manually at any point. The song menu should list every song that the player knows is an actual song (having studied its songbook), and allow the player to play it with a single button press. It should also list things like chance of failure, Pw cost, and minimum number of turns to play.

Interruptions to music are going to be tricky to get in a form that satisfies everyone. Perhaps this will require interrupts to be classified into "weak" or "strong" versions, wherein a weak interrupt (e.g. becoming hungry, or a monster across the room opening a door) will not stop the song, whereas a strong one (e.g. taking a hit from a monster, having a monster move adjacent, or becoming Weak) will stop it, and force the song to be restarted. Or instead of weak and strong, they could simply be numeric, and give the player an option to control which level of interruption they would like to stop their current occupation.

List of songs

This list is not complete; expect other songs to be added.

Assume the affected monsters are only those in range of the music unless otherwise specified.

Songs that do not have continuous effects activate once when they are completed successfully.

Name Approximate length Estimated Pw/turn Continuous effect? Affected monsters Effects Auto-identifies:
Ditty to Nymphs 3-5 0 No Hostile nymphs Pacifies If successful
Ditty to Snakes 3-5 0 No Hostile snakes Pacifies If successful
Ditty of Discord 4-8 1/4 Yes Allies Makes tame player monsters temporarily attack peacefuls. Other pets will ignore their usual HP and level checks for whether they should fight a monster, and will always attack any monster they can reach that is not the player or another pet. Never
Song of Speed 8-13 1/3 Yes Allies Grants speed Always
Healing Hymn 10-15 2 Yes Allies and player Regenerate 1 hit point per turn for the duration of the song Never
Retreat 16-20 0 No Hostile soldiers May pacify, but only when played with a bugle. For flavor, this song should only generate with C, E, and G notes. Never
Aria of Dismay 13-18 1/3 Yes Hostiles Occasionally flee for d2 turns, not long enough to escape the fight, but long enough for allies to get some hits in. Never
Elegy to the Fallen 25-30 1 No Corpses of dead pets Returns the corpse to life Only if it returns a corpse to life
Lay of Protection 4-8 1/3 Yes Allies Treats as if they have 1 extra point of AC. Not sure if this should scale up with skill level. Never
Ballad of Perplexity 8-13 1/4 Yes Hostiles Occasionally confuse for d4 turns When you see a monster become confused
Lullaby 13-18 1/3 Yes Hostiles Occasionally put to sleep for d4 turns When you see a monster fall asleep
Minuet of Light 4-8 1/3 No Allies Allies in range become light sources of radius 2 for the next d20+20 turns When you see this affect an ally

Elegy to the Fallen is not intended to be mastered till around the Quest, but may be possible to use somewhat before then. Obviously, if the bard dies, none of the other party members will be able to play the song to resurrect them.

There should be a song like Inspire Courage, which increases ally damage, but it should either scale or have more complicated and powerful versions.

Drawing on notes from the bard patch's author, it seems like the main way to balance songs is to make their effect small, or not linger long after the song stops being played.

Other notes

Bard bones may be problematic, since the next player will encounter three fairly well-equipped player monsters. Perhaps they could simply hang around the grave listlessly and are peaceful unless someone else steps onto the grave, at which point they turn hostile.

Also problematic, for class distinctiveness purposes, is that the Bard is usurping the Healer's role as de facto petmaster. Healers are now strictly worse at pet-wrangling, and don't really have any combat method they excel at anymore compared to other roles (healing isn't really that useful in combat). Combat avoidance is a possible route for them to take instead, but the class overhaul proposal calls for that to be Archeologists' specialty.

I'm tempted to add some silly but useless effect for when the Bard is playing a song, or improvising, while standing on a squeaky board that has an sharp or flat note sound; this enhances the range of notes they can play, obviously.